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About David Zahl

David Zahl is the director of Mockingbird Ministries and editor-in-chief of the Mockingbird blog. He and his wife Cate reside in Charlottesville, VA, with their two sons, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church.

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Author Archive
    
    A Potentially Massive Misjudgment (about Dreaming)

    A Potentially Massive Misjudgment (about Dreaming)

    “But What If We’re Wrong?” is the fascinating question that Chuck Klosterman asks in his new book (of the same name). He spends roughly 250 pages attempting to “think about the present as if it were the past”, meaning, he’s looking to uncover what we’ll look back on in 30, 50, 100 years and be shocked/embarrassed by the casual certitude with which we accepted it as truth. That is, what will our future generations thumb their noses at about our present day, the way we thumb our noses about, say, pesticides? What that we think is second-rate will be remembered…

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    From the Archives: Optimizing the Sabbath (One Pillow at a Time)

    From the Archives: Optimizing the Sabbath (One Pillow at a Time)

    The following originally appeared as a guest post to Amy Julia Becker’s Thin Places blog over at Christianity Today. Some readers may notice a few, er, congruencies with past Mbird posts:

    A couple of years ago, The New York Times ran a remarkably astute editorial about the state of American sleep. Apparently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently declared insomnia to be a full-blown public health epidemic. The “Sleep Industry”—a $32 billion/year endeavor—has responded. They’ve introduced a spate of new soporific technology, from pills and teas and chocolates to bracelets and mattresses. (The number one selling paid app on…

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    The Secret to Long-Term Relationships: Insanity?

    The Secret to Long-Term Relationships: Insanity?

    We’ve all been there. You say something to a friend or family member or spouse that seems innocuous. “Have you seen my sunglasses?”. “I may have to postpone our lunch.” Or maybe you do something thoughtless but minor. You forget to return an email. You borrow a piece of clothing without asking. The response you get is vicious–way out of proportion with whatever you’ve said or done.

    This happens with alarming frequency in relationships, especially romantic ones. Soon both parties have shifted into “combat mode” and the conflict has escalated to painful heights. Your action or comment has triggered something significant in the other party, what psychologists…

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    From the Archives: In Praise of Guilty Pleasures

    From the Archives: In Praise of Guilty Pleasures

    I brought two books with me on vacation last week: a collection of Jonathan Franzen essays and the recent Dark Tower prequel by Stephen King. One guess as to which one I read. That’s right: both books stayed shut as I inhaled 20 or so Batman comics on my iPad and caught up on Beach Boys message boards. Guilty pleasures in other words.

    So upon returning to the world of ‘serious’ reading I was pleasantly surprised to discover a wonderful little piece in The New Yorker by critic Arthur Krystal, tracing the history and appeal of literary guilty pleasures. He touches…

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    Calvin in Hobbes in 3D

    Wow.

    When the Solution Isn’t a Solution

    When the Solution Isn’t a Solution

    It’s only July, I know, but the 2016 Podcast Episode of the Year can already be announced. I wish I could give the nod to The Mockingcast or PZP (“Ecumenical Apocalypse” tied with “Cook’d Book” for runner-up, and Gladwell’s “The Lady Vanishes” took bronze), but alas, top honors go to Invisibilia’s “The Problem with the Solution”, which first aired this past Friday, ht CWZ & LM.

    The cast takes a lengthy look at a place we’ve written about a couple of times before, the town of Geel in Belgium, where instead of being cooped up in a facility mental patients live…

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    You Know You’re Ready to Get Married When…

    You Know You’re Ready to Get Married When…

    A few more quotes from Alain de Botton’s wonderful new book, The Course of Love, all taken from the penultimate chapter where he outlines what it might look like to be “Ready for Marriage”:

    Pronouncing a lover “perfect” can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them. We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.

    However, the problems aren’t theirs alone. Whomever we could meet would be radically imperfect: the stranger on the train, the old school acquaintance, the new friend online… Each of these, too, would be guaranteed to let…

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    July Playlist

    Smells Like (Dream) Team Spirit

    Smells Like (Dream) Team Spirit

    The first Summer Olympics I remember being fully invested in were the ’88 games in Seoul. Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith Joyner dominated the track, while Matt Biondi and Janet Evans ruled the pool. It was an exciting time to be an American, especially a pint-sized one. My nine year old self looked at these people and saw honest-to-God superheroes. I resolved that when Barcelona rolled around in ’92, I wouldn’t miss a moment.

    In the weeks and months leading up to the opening ceremonies that year, one story overshadowed all others: the advent of the Dream Team, AKA the USA Olympic Men’s Basketball team. For…

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    What Children Teach Us About Love (and God)

    What Children Teach Us About Love (and God)

    Chalk it up to feeling a bit sentimental as my wife and I enter the final stretch of waiting for baby number three (most likely our last prenatal go-round). Or maybe it has to do with the increasing number of conversations I’ve been having with young couples perplexed by why anyone would ever want to reproduce, given the obvious insanity of the contemporary parenting treadmill and the (largely recreational) venting that occupies so much online real estate. Or perhaps it’s that I’m trying to think of something to say this Sunday about Naaman, the leper-warrior who, at the prophet Elisha’s behest, begrudgingly “went down and…

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    The Worst F-Word There Is (On the Elephant in the Room)

    The Worst F-Word There Is (On the Elephant in the Room)

    I feel sorry for those who have to put up with me this month. It gets pretty unbearable. You see, some people try to lose weight in January. For me, it’s June, the month when the calendar empties out and I can devote what little willpower I have to the project of reduction. The other eleven months of the year, for whatever reason, such attempts have always proven to be “subject to futility”.

    So for thirty days at the beginning of each summer, the majority of my mental energy is occupied consumed by dieting. I try to play the single-mindedness for laughs, but it’s irritating.

    The…

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    The Love You Gave Me, Nothing Else Can Save Me

    A stunning cover of ABBA’s “S.O.S.” appeared this week on Portishead’s Facebook page, in response to the killing of British politician Jo Cox last week. The song transcends context, however, something which the new arrangement makes all too clear. A prayer of epic proportions:

    This comes only three weeks after the Swedish megastars occupied the same stage for the first time in almost 30 years. What better opening to post a few paragraphs from the “Crying ABBA” chapter of A Mess of Help:

    If there’s a downside to scoring so many number one singles, it’s that [ABBA’s] albums have been overshadowed by their hits. They recorded eight LPs over the course of nine years, and all of them are pretty terrific. But albums are what serious artists make, and up until very recently, ABBA were considered pop stars. Their squeaky clean image—the silly outfits, the disco dance routines, the somewhat loose grasp of English—has not helped their reputation as bubblegum fluff. Of course, you cannot completely blame the public. A song like “Put On Your White Sombrero” doesn’t exactly command respect.

    And yet, if we know anything about the group, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. The smiling publicity shots hid the crumbling marriages of both couples in the band: Bjorn & Agnetha and Benny & Frida. (Or, as they’re more commonly known, the Mullet & the Blonde, the Beard & the Redhead.) The ultimate feel-good band of the 70s did not sing about very happy subjects. “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, with its sparkling guitars and upbeat melody, tells a heartbreaking and rather hopeless story of divorce. “S.O.S.” surfs a joyous chorus to relate feelings of genuine desperation. “The Name of the Game” is almost too vulnerable for words. The sexual bluster of “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)” is a red herring. Behind the disco gloss, the song reeks of loneliness and depression, a prayer for someone to “chase the shadows away” and “take me through the darkness to the break of the day”. (It’s also about as Christological as they ever got). Perhaps they were more Scandinavian than we thought.

    The secret to ABBA’s lasting popularity (or at least ubiquity) is that their relationship songs are more concerned with emotional truth than propriety or correctness. Listen to a later single like “One of Us”—the singer has left her lover, she’s got her own space now, but she is not happy. Late at night, when she can’t sleep, she knows she is lying to herself. If she could do it all over again, she wouldn’t have left. Such an admission may not sound like that of a ‘strong woman’, but it certainly sounds like that of a real one. Or their devastating “The Winner Takes It All”, which presents love in startlingly binary terms, acknowledging that, as one critic read the song, “a person should be able to have it all, but it’s just not possible.” In other words, ‘should’ and ‘is’ collide in the music of ABBA, and the results have enduring power.