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 three sons, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church (christchurchcville.org).
That time again! Click here to check out last year’s. Babylon Bee has a pretty funny parody up, too. To shop on Amazon this year in a way that benefits Mbird, use this link.
For your fiercely devoted and possibly a little unstable mother, especially if you grew up in the 80s: Stranger Things Christmas Sweater
For the post-grad urbanite in your family who’s looking to up their nativity game while remaining safely non-committal, faith-wise: Hipster Nativity or Playmobil Nativity
For the cousin who’s going to need some serious caffeine if they’re going to make it through ten straight screenings of Rogue One:…
2. Yesterday Commonweal posted a wonderful exchange between theologians Simeon Zahl (
no relation) and David Bentley Hart about Hart’s recent salvo for them, “Christ’s Rabble”. Recommended not just as an example of two extraordinarily nimble minds at work, but in a tone befitting the subject matter. A favorite passage from Simeon’s entry:
Indeed, the New Testament reveals an unbearable moral standard on a great many topics—we are commanded never to be angry and never to lust, for example (Matthew 5)—and that is precisely why “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Viewed through this lens, Hart’s point about Christian ethical mediocrity in the era of late capitalism can be transfigured into an argument for why salvation is better understood as preceding moral transformation rather than as enabling it (“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” [Romans 5:8]).
“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, pg 416
Also, this, taken from God Is in the Manger, a collection of Bonhoeffer’s reflections of Christmas and Advent, ht SC:
“God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
Another Week Ends: Silent Scorsese, Chinese Credit, Stigma Supremacy, Moralized Rationality, Merciful Madness, and Anderson Xmas
1. If there’s a must-read article this week, it’s the profile of director Martin Scorsese that Paul Elie produced for The NY Times Magazine. Elie is always a joy to read and “The Passion of Martin Scorsese” is no exception. Most of it centers around Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, a ridiculously Christocentric project that he’s been working on for 27 years. The article is not short, but you’ll kick yourself if you skim over the anecdotes Martin relays from childhood. Basically, he had the polar opposite experience of the Roman Catholic Church than you normally hear about in…
What is so frightening is the extent to which we may idealize others when we have such trouble tolerating ourselves–because we have such trouble… I must have realized that Chloe was only human, with all the implications carried by the word, but could I not be forgiven for my desire to suspend such a thought? Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one and decide that everything within it will somehow be free of our faults. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.
Beloved, we are always in the wrong,
Handling so clumsily our stupid lives,
Suffering too little or too long,
Too careful even in our selfish loves:
The decorative manias we obey
Die in grimaces round us every day,
Yet through their tohu-bohu comes a voice
Which utters an absurd command – Rejoice.
Rejoice. What talent for the makeshift thought
A living corpus out of odds and ends?
What pedagogic patience taught
Preoccupied and savage elements
To dance into a segregated charm?
Who showed the whirlwind how to be an arm,
And gardened from the wilderness of space
The sensual properties of one dear face?
Rejoice, dear love, in Love’s peremptory word;
All chance, all love, all logic, you and I,
Exist by grace of the Absurd,
And without conscious artifice we die:
O, lest we manufacture in our flesh
The lie of our divinity afresh,
Describe round our chaotic malice now,
The arbitrary circle of a vow.
One of the clear refrains I’m hearing post-election has to do with the cost of virtual communication. We are only starting to come to terms with the degree to which our current climate of divisiveness has been amplified by the limitations of the Internet. Physical remove makes it (much) easier to dehumanize another person and (much) harder to empathize with them. Or, as we put it in the tech issue of The Mockingbird:
At its best, the disembodiment [of the web] engenders safety, the permission to engage with someone or something you otherwise find threatening, e.g., a Gospel that seems too…
A few passages from Karl Holl’s classic “The Distinctive Elements in Christianity” (1937) that will never lose their urgency:
Jesus preaches a God who wants to have dealings with sinful men, a God to whom he who has sunk deep stands, in certain circumstances, especially near. And Jesus does not do this from undue consideration for weakness. His preaching begins with the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, which implies at the same an imminent ruthless judgment…
Jesus regards the will to forgiveness as rooted in God’s very innermost being.
He dealt a blow at everything that earnest ethical thinking about the relation…
Another Week Ends: Jailed Dads, Imperfect Moms, Failed Perfectionists, Leonard Cohen, Kenny Lonergan, and Atlanta
1. There’s been a lot of talk of reconciliation these last few days, and for good reason. It’s a topic that can get dangerously abstract, dangerously quickly. Fortunately, we couldn’t have asked for a more powerful, gut-level picture of what reconciliation looks like than the clip below. Guilt, shame, forgiveness, mercy, second chances, estranged fathers (little-f and capital-F), prayer, gratitude–this one has it all. Just be sure to have some tissues handy. I haven’t cried so hard since my son was born. Praise God (for a Day!), ht GWL:
While we’re on the subject of kids being reunited with parents, if you have…