Are you an NPR junkie? Do you never jones for public radio human interest stories, but feel peace knowing you’re not the only one telling hardness-of-life, love-of-God stories week after week? In other words, are you a This American Life listener? If so, you’ve come to the right place. This American Gospel: Public Radio Parables and the Grace of God is Mockingbird’s latest publication and we couldn’t be more excited about it. So excited, in fact, that we’ve decided to give you a taste of the introduction.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
The last verse of John’s Gospel says everything that needs to be said about the endless riches found in the National Public Radio weekly broadcast This American Life. Amusement parks, big business conspiracies, summer camps, marital strife, rest stops, long lost siblings, long lost penpals, every hour-long program brings listeners into some strange—and strangely familiar—world of human experience. They are stories that span the scope of any relationship: there are stories about enemies, “frenemies,” unconditional love, and break-ups; you hear people crying, laughing, praying, shaking fists, gossiping, changing, trying to change and not changing, and hoping above all hopes.
Yet despite the zaniness of some of the stories, This American Life never fails to engage the hearts of its listeners. You may not have called Phil Collins the last time you went through a break-up, but you know the feeling. You may have never trained yourself not to fall asleep, but you know what it’s like to set out to do something, only to find that it has unexpected consequences. And even if you have never given your life savings to a woman who came to your door with a real-life story about a walking, moving, weight-lifting snowman, you have wanted to believe in something so much that you would throw everything into the pot for its sake. This is what makes This American Life so affecting, what has made it consistently the #1 most downloaded iTunes podcast every week since its inception: it has the remarkable power of delivering strange stories about strange people who tend to, by the end of the act, sound a lot like someone you know very well (maybe even, well, you know). It can convey the normalcy of these once unknown characters, or the paradoxically common strangeness of you. Inasmuch as people feel less alone when sharing a common experience, the truth is that either of these receptions is comforting. This American Life accomplishes in a very deep way what radio has always sought to do, namely, unite people with truthful, smart and entertaining stories, all the while maintaining a sense of humor that is both honest and life-affirming.
The hope with This American Gospel has been to, with equal playfulness, expound on where these complicated illustrations are pointing. To that end, we have selected some of our favorite moments in This American Life’s tenure and applied them to the paradoxical and no-less-complicated realities of the Christian faith. In these stories we hope to hit upon that “foolish wisdom of God,” to shed some light on the Good News of Jesus Christ itself. It is likened to the one-way love of an adoptive mother and the violently abusive adopted orphan; to the murderer freed by a stand-in; to the ‘wet house’ where the only admission ticket for alcoholics is that they are, well, alcoholics. In these stories the heart of reality, the heart of God, is brought near. And who doesn’t want more stories, more illustrations, to bring us good news, and to bring that good news home?