Does Mockingbird have a specific focus? Isn’t it basically a pop-culture blog?
Yes and no. The idea on the website is to locate the various places where Christian truth is bearing out in everyday life. Reality being what it is, if our eyes are open, and if Christianity is true, we will see it wherever we look. We consciously avoid dividing the world into ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ categories, since we seldom experience it that way. So the range of subjects we cover on our website and in our publications is simply reflective of where our contributors are looking, which also happens to be where their interests lie (where their hearts are!). So yes, while aspects of pop culture are certainly covered, so is literature, theology, psychology, social science, parenting, sports, and especially humor.
In what way is Mockingbird a ministry? Why would you use that word?
Obviously not everyone has the same definition of “ministry.” Some feel that the word should be restricted to certain activities or contexts, and while we’re definitely sympathetic to more traditional understandings, Mockingbird is an attempt to think about the subject more broadly. We want people to interact with the material they encounter at Mockingbird both intellectually and emotionally. We believe the Gospel message is aimed at the human heart, and we self-consciously seek to follow the same trajectory with everything we do. Not coincidentally, many readers report looking to Mbird for spiritual sustenance and even community. They report finding themselves being ministered to by our work – and who are we to contradict them?!
But can ministry happen in a virtual medium like the Internet? Again, not everyone sees it as a viable venue, and that’s okay. We believe that ministry can, that it does, happen online, that people give and receive all sorts of messages over the Web, that we can either decry the increasing amounts of time and investment people spend online, or we can (try to) embrace it. To meet people where they are, in other words. It certainly meets us where we are!
Of course, we all know that the Internet makes a pretty poor forum for debate. Despite some bright spots, the Christian blogosphere is nearly as mean-spirited and narrow as the partisan politics one, in which entrenched parties throw stones and build cases from behind their screens. But the Web does make a great evidence room or showcase for the endless stream of corroboration that the media (i.e. human beings) produce so constantly and naturally: for example, even the most mundane news stories are capable of testifying that love in the face of deserved judgment bears fruit, or that criticism provokes rebellion. Again, we live in a fairly divided society, and we believe that people, ourselves included, are much more likely to engage from a place of safety – which the Internet, with all its dubious anonymity, does provide, for better or worse.
You guys seem pretty pessimistic about the human condition. Where’s the hope?!
As much as we love The Big Lebowski, we are not nihilists. Not by a long shot! In the Bible, we find a description of human nature that, while sobering, accounts for the full spectrum of our behavior. A realistic anthropology, AKA an awareness of the universal level playing field of self-centeredness, allows us to affirm deconstructed understandings of human enterprise, without being defined or threatened by them. Life as a tragic impasse, rife with suffering and self-inflicted trauma, is precisely the condition the Cross addresses. Acknowledging the depth of the problem, rather than papering over it with platitudes (theological or otherwise), serves our fellow sufferers – if nothing else, they feel known, and they feel understood.
So while from the human point of view the Seinfeld motto of “no learning, no hugging” stands – in other words, the idea that hypocrisy is a defining trait of the “Hollow Men” (T.S. Eliot) does not need to be explained away or denied — it is also not the end of the story. In this honest, gospel light, human foibles lose their frustrating aspect and become a refreshing place of humor! You will know them by their self-deprecation… At the same time, we believe that God is the Great Physician, and that he heals people. As countless recovering addicts would testify, healing happens, and people do experience victory over compulsive patterns. But when such “progress” becomes attached too closely to the Gospel message, people can be set up for disappointment, disillusionment and self-righteousness. This is especially true if God is actually involved in the suffering, as the Cross suggests that he is. As G.K. Chesterton is reported to have said: “The optimist looks at the world and thinks ‘The situation: serious, not hopeless.’ But the Christian looks at the world and thinks, ‘Situation hopeless, but not serious.’”
Do you ever worry that you’re ascribing religious motives or meanings to works of art that are consciously the opposite? Isn’t that “using” culture in a way that you criticize?
Hopefully not! When well-meaning Christians turn film or music or poetry into an ideological instrument, they do it a disservice, often paradoxically excluding the very people they are trying to reach with their interpretation. We must let (good) art speak for itself, and if it has any quality – that is, if it has any grounding in reality – it will inevitably shed light on life and therefore, truth — even the one who is the Truth.
Furthermore, as men and women who, by and large, subscribe to the idea of “imputed righteousness,” we understand the basis of our relationship with God to be outside of us, to be found in Christ. This, in turn, makes us very uncomfortable with any assertion of qualitative differences between the Christian and the non-Christian, or any of the “us vs. them” sense (“us vs. us” is more like it!) that can creep into religious understandings of art and artist. We align ourselves instead with a more universal understanding of human nature, of original sin as evenly distributed: male or female, black or white, and most importantly, both believer and non-. Just as none of us is outside the bounds of human reality, none of us is outside of our culture. This gives us an understandably wide interpretative berth when consuming or experiencing it.
Where are you coming from theologically? What is your tradition? What are you touchstones?
One of the advantages of not being a church is that we do not have to formulate doctrinal statements. And there’s not really a one-size-fits-all label for Mockingbird. But that isn’t to say there isn’t a point of view. You’ll hear some big phrases bandied about on our website, e.g. the distinction between the Law and the Gospel, the theology of the cross, the bondage of the will, grace in practice, etc., and these are certainly a few of the ties that bind. Our glossary spells out what we mean when we talk about them. There’s also a shared appreciation of the Protestant Reformation, including documents like The Heidelberg Disputation and The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion. Historical figures such as Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer also figure strongly, as do more recent ones like Gerhard Forde and Paul Zahl. Our ever-evolving reading list might shed some light on the books we’ve found particularly formative. But our contributorship comes from all over the map, geographically, demographically, denominationally, politically, and aesthetically – and we have no wish to change that. We prefer not to define things too strictly, or needlessly confine ourselves to something monochromatic. Lord knows we do not have all the answers!
How does one become an editorial contributor? Does Mockingbird take submissions?
While we are currently at our maximum number of contributors, spots sometimes open up, and we are always on the lookout for quality material. To submit something for consideration, simply email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t promise anything, but we will take a look. Naturally, the best way to get a sense of what we are looking for is to read the site.
What is Mockingbird’s relationship to the Church?
We have no formal denominational affiliation, nor do we plan on adopting one. In other words, we have no official relationship to the Church, period. Church can be wonderful; it can also be hurtful. We see the church as a hospital for suffering, broken people, not as a clubhouse or school (or military base!) for Christians, as it sometimes can be. So we fully acknowledge the painful baggage that churchgoing connotes for some, that not all churches think of themselves as a collection of sinners (a la AA), and that oftentimes ‘church’ and ‘god’ come to feel inextricably linked – even if in reality they aren’t. Sometimes it helps to be able to engage or re-engage from a safe distance (like, say, from behind a computer screen), and we have heard that Mockingbird has served that function for some, praise God.
Still, a good church is worth its weight in gold! And we would certainly love to see as many as possible of these pop up. We even hope that Mockingbird might be help in that regard.
How is Mockingbird funded?
The work of Mockingbird is made possible by the gifts of private donors and churches. Our annual operating budget is roughly $170,000, and with virtually no overhead, your gift translates directly into mission and ministry. For a separate Q&A on the finances of Mockingbird, or to support our work, please head over to our Support Page.