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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 three sons, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church (


Author Archive
    How to Turn a Neighbor into an Other (According to Thomas More and Martin Luther)

    How to Turn a Neighbor into an Other (According to Thomas More and Martin Luther)

    Another incisive excerpt from How To Think, the fantastic little book by upcoming conference speaker Alan Jacobs, this time about the origins of cultural repulsion and “othering”—featuring none other than Martin Luther and Thomas More. There’s some choice language in the following, but the parallels to modern online discourse are too spot-on not to share. 

    From How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, pages 81-82:

    “Thomas More’s attacks on Martin Luther and his followers, and Luther’s attacks on Catholicism (and especially the papacy), make most of today’s online insult fests seem tame. More wrote to Luther about “your…

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    Another Week Ends: De-Konged, Earning Easter, Natural Causes, Deep Laziness and American Recordings

    Another Week Ends: De-Konged, Earning Easter, Natural Causes, Deep Laziness and American Recordings

    1. Not quite sure what to make of the fact that in the eleven or so years I’ve been writing on Mbird, I have never been forwarded a single news item more than this one. I suppose I should take it as a compliment, as Lord knows there are worst things to be associated with. But it’s true: the mighty have fallen–and they have fallen hard. We’re talking here about Billy Mitchell, erstwhile record holder on both Donkey Kong and Centipede, AKA he of the perfect Pac Man game. The fulfillment of all (arcade) righteousness has been shown to be…

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    NYC Conference Update (T-Minus 2 Days and Counting!)

    Our 11th Annual Conference in NYC (4/26-28) is almost here, and we wanted to relay a few exciting details that have just come together:

    1. The Pixie and the Scout sent us the final menu earlier this week and it looks scrumptious as can be. Click here to read. Reminder: registration for meals cuts off a few days before the event, so if you plan to eat but have yet to sign up, please do so at your earliest convenience.
    2. On Thursday evening, as people are arriving, we’ll be doing a live taping of The Mockingcast! 5:45-6:30pm-ish in the main sanctuary of St George’s. (Also, The Mockingcast is now on Spotify – new episode coming this weekend.)
    3. The talk schedule has been rejigged somewhat: Jason Micheli will now be speaking with Fleming Rutledge on Saturday morning, after a second talk from Alan Jacobs. Charlotte Getz, Stephanie Phillips & Chad Bird will all be presenting on Friday afternoon. Tim Blackmon will be that morning. Sorry if that messes with anyone’s plans. Click here to view.
    4. The evening after the conference ends, Saturday the 28th, Sea Dog Theater is offering all conference attendees a discount to their stellar production of Inherit the Wind. Click here for more details. Very, very cool.
    5. We’ve added two more breakouts to the slate:
      • Sam Bush will be speaking about David, Nathan and SNL.
      • Nate Lee will be presenting on “Justice is Good, Grace is Better: Reflections on Martin, Malcolm, and the Way Forward for Race in America.”
    6. All of the talk titles are now up on the main Schedule page.
    7. Lindsey Buckingham has just been fired from Fleetwood Mac…

    Click here to pre-register – and you’ll be flyin’ high!

    April Playlist

    Another Week Ends: French Police, Long Hours, Divine Pranks, Self-Aware Addicts, Oldham's Charms, and Wild Country

    Another Week Ends: French Police, Long Hours, Divine Pranks, Self-Aware Addicts, Oldham’s Charms, and Wild Country

    1. First, if you didn’t catch the headlines about French policeman Arnaud Beltrame, they’re tailormade for today, e.g., “French officer who swapped places with a hostage in terror attack dies.” The story is really something:

    The Daily Mail ran an interview with the Catholic monk who gave Beltrame last rites and was in the midst of preparing the gendarme to be married. It would appear that faith was not a minor part of the fallen man’s life.

    2. Elsewhere, Elizabeth Bruenig penned the brief yet moving “It Will Happen Again and Again” on the long hour that passes between Peter’s second and third…

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    The Most Compelling Argument for the Truth of Christianity

    According to Fleming Rutledge, that is. From her stellar collection of reflections on Christ’s Passion, The Undoing of Death, pgs 142-144:

    “Religious figures are not usually associated with disgrace and rejection. We want our objects of worship to be radiant, dazzling avatars offering the potential of transcendent happiness. The most compelling argument for the truth of Christianity is the Cross at its center. Humankind’s religious imagination could never have produced such an image. Wishful thinking never projected a despised and rejected Messiah. There is a contradiction at the very heart of our faith that demands our attention. We need to put a sign on it, though, like the signs on trucks carrying chemicals: Hazardous material, highly inflammatory cargo. Handle at your own risk.”

    Crying ABBA: An (Over-)Annotated Introduction to the Second-Best Selling Group of All Time

    Crying ABBA: An (Over-)Annotated Introduction to the Second-Best Selling Group of All Time

    Inspired by Ben Self’s wonderful Bruce Cockburn playlist the other day (pts 2-3 coming soon!), here’s what I’ve affectionately been informed is “the toughest sell” in A Mess of Help. No apologies:

    The Church of Wilson has drawn scores of worshippers over the years, including a disproportionate number of musicians. Those who are interested in the craft of pop music—writing, production, arrangement—invariably find themselves in The Beach Boys’ tractor beam sooner or later. There has been no more successful Wilsonite than Benny Andersson of 70s Swedish megastars ABBA. The influence is writ large on every one of their records, even their…

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    March Playlist

    I think I speak for everyone who was in Tyler when I say, do yourself a favor and check out some Josh White! I’ve had Pilgrim on repeat since we got back…

    Grace in the Age of Fentanyl

    Grace in the Age of Fentanyl

    “[Karl] Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses, but these days opiates are the opiates of the masses.”

    That’s the first variation of this observation I came across last week, via Tim Kreider’s new I Wrote This Book Because I Love You. The second run-in occurred a couple days later, toward the middle of Andrew Sullivan’s mammoth “The Poison You Pick” essay in New York Magazine. He writes:

    “If Marx posited that religion is the opiate of the people, then we have reached a new, more clarifying moment in the history of the West: Opiates are now the religion of…

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    'S' Is For 'Swaddle': On Baby Anxiety and New Parents

    ‘S’ Is For ‘Swaddle’: On Baby Anxiety and New Parents

    There we were, him holding his newborn son and me with my 1.5-year-old clinging to my legs. We were talking, as men do these days, about baby books, and I was trying to remember the last two of the “Five S’s”. I had “Swing,” “Swaddle” and “Shush,” but couldn’t for the life of me remember the others. (Note: “Side” and “Suck”).

    It’s not as though I lacked experience. My wife and I are currently cruising through month 90 of uninterrupted “diaper life”; babies have been our M.O. for what feels like forever. I should’ve had the lingo down cold. My friend…

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    The Gift of Fork and Knife Earrings (from Ruth and Billy Graham, RIP)

    Sad but also not-sad to hear of Billy Graham’s death this morning – if ever there was someone who had “the sting” in perspective… Feels like the right time to post this wonderful anecdote from his grandson Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love:

    One-way love is often what distinguishes a warm household from a cold one. Children often move across the country to get away from a toxic home life where two-way conditionality has come to rule the roost via the judgments of parents and other siblings. A house full of conditions feels like a prison. Rules are one thing—take out the trash; don’t hit your brother. They govern the day-to-day and protect us from one another. Conditions are different and more emotional in nature. “If you really loved us, then you wouldn’t spend so much time with those people.” “We will approve of whatever career choice you make, provided it’s between medicine, law, and business.” “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” Even small differences between family members can be the source of tremendous friction. Yet grace has the power to bind generations together.

    I am fortunate to have experienced the power of one-way love not just from my parents but my grandparents as well. In fact, whenever people learn that I was kicked out of the house at sixteen, they invariably ask how my grandparents responded. What they usually mean is “How did Billy and Ruth Graham respond to actual sin in their midst?” People looked up to them, not just as spiritual leaders, but as role models for how to raise godly children and grandchildren. “Weren’t you shaming the family name?” The truth is, my grandparents never said a single word to me about getting my act together. They never pulled me aside at a family gathering and told me about how I needed to submit myself to Jesus, etc. Never. Only God knows what they were thinking or feeling, but I never picked up on a shred of judgment from them. They treated me exactly the opposite as how I deserved to be treated.

    For example, I wore earrings back in those days. One in the left, and one in the right. It used to drive my parents nuts. Every time my grandmother—Ruth Graham—came down to visit, she would bring me a fresh set of earrings to wear! They were always funny. At Christmastime, she would bring me ornament earrings and make me put them in and take a picture. At Thanksgiving, she brought fork and knife earrings, and she took a picture. She made light of it. She wasn’t making fun of me. She was saying, “This isn’t that big of a deal. He’s going to grow out of it.” It may sound pretty trivial, but it meant the world to me. Everyone else was on my case, and instead of giving me one more thing to rebel against, my grandparents drew me in closer. (pg 151-52)

    See also: Carrie’s post about The Crown from last week. And this momentous meeting of the minds in 1968. And bubblegum maestro Tommy James’ jaw-dropping testimony about the man’s influence on his hit “Sweet Cherry Wine.”

    Another Week Ends: Rebecca's Reformation, Mr Rogers' Pneumatology, Male Shame, New Love Languages, and Lenten Fasting Biohacks

    Another Week Ends: Rebecca’s Reformation, Mr Rogers’ Pneumatology, Male Shame, New Love Languages, and Lenten Fasting Biohacks

    Before we dive in, a quick reminder that next Friday and Saturday (2/23-24) we’ll be in Tyler, Texas for our fourth annual conference there! Speakers include John Zahl, John Newton, Charlotte Getz, Aaron Zimmerman, yours truly, and a bunch of others. Would love to see you – just be sure to register beforehand.

    1. To begin, we couldn’t ask for a more wondrous February dispatch than Dante Stewart’s re-telling in Christianity Today of early African-American Christianity and “The Black Reformation of 1736”. At the heart of the piece lies the key question of why (and how) an enslaved population would not…

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