About David Zahl

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


Author Archive

    From The Onion: Law-Abiding Citizen Keeps Herself On Track With Weekly Cheat Day

    -3NEW YORK—Saying that sometimes she just needs a little break from her daily regimen, law-abiding citizen Karen Garver told reporters Tuesday that she keeps herself on track with a weekly cheat day in which she allows herself to commit any crime she wants. “I’m pretty strict Sunday through Friday, but come Saturday I tell myself it’s okay to bend the rules a little and improperly dispose of hazardous substances or rob a liquor store,” said Garver, explaining that by setting aside one day a week during which she can evade tax regulations, cause thousands of dollars in property damage, or assault a stranger, she’s able to resist temptation the rest of the week. “Being able to pause from living within the law now and then definitely helps keep me on the right path. Sometimes I’ll make a big day out of it with my girlfriends and we’ll all go out and set a forest fire, and then lead police on a high-speed chase through a crowded residential neighborhood.”… Read the rest here.

    Launching a Book (and Squirting Reddi-Whip Into Brian Wilson’s Mouth)

    An extremely heartfelt thank you to all who helped put on the launch party for A Mess of Help this past Saturday at The Olmsted Salon in NYC, especially Dusty Brown, Melina Smith, and William Brafford. It was a blast, from start to finish. If you weren’t able to make it (and/or are currently trapped by snow), the audio is available! You can listen below in fact:

    I was also gratified to see a couple of reviews crop up on outlets that I greatly respect. Perhaps it’s gauche for the author to publicly thank his critics, but who cares–it’s a rare thing to feel so deeply understood by anyone, let alone people you admire. First, there was John J Thompson’s flattering and supremely articulate write-up for ThinkChristian. The opening remark mirrors how I felt after reading his review:

    “I would say that books like David Zahl’s A Mess of Help make me feel less alone in the world, if there were any other books like David Zahl’s A Mess Of Help to be found. The fact is, there are not… With great humor, candor and spiritual insight – and an insanely passionate musical vocabulary – Zahl crafts rant after rant that would be equally at home in the film High Fidelity as in a Bible study. It’s like he’s having a long, funny, interesting and rambling conversation with all of the voices in his head. That some of those voices seem also to be the ones in my head is overwhelmingly comforting.”

    That’s the kind of thing that makes you want to keep writing. Prost, Herr Thompson! Second, Curator Magazine published a full-length treatment by William Brafford, who conducted the interview on Saturday. I always knew I liked him…! There are any number of paragraphs I could excerpt. Here’s one:

    IMG_6822“Humor and passion practically drip from the pages of A Mess of Help. Love of paradox is said to be Lutheran trait. You’ll find it here, especially in an amazing essay that rediscovers the bizarre Elvis movie Change of Habit in all its kitschy glory. Dave writes, “Elvis Presley was not ridiculous, then amazing. He was both at the same time.” Dave’s collection of bizarre Elvis anecdotes is rivaled only by his collection of bizarre Brian Wilson anecdotes, like the one where Wilson tells a reporter something amazing and profound about God’s love as the power behind the universe, and then totters off into the kitchen to squirt Reddi-Whip into his mouth.”

    Thanks again to everyone who came, don’t forget to stay tuned to the Olmsted page for future events, and please, for the love of God, keep on chooglin!

    Rick Moody on the Parable of the Hidden Treasure

    From the fascinating little volume Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited, in which a wide array of American writers offer decidedly non-academic, gut-level interpretations of NT passages. It was edited by Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm, Right Livelihoods, and most recently my personal fave, On Celestial Music) and Darcy Steinke (Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, Easter Everywhere), and published in 1997. This passage from Rick’s introduction stuck out:

    51GvNP+0GZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_My own interpretation of the parable of the hidden treasure (Mark 13:44) is, somewhat ironically, rigidly allegorical…: the treasure at the heart of this story is the message of the kingdom itself, and the fact of grace offered therein — grace in spite of the way you have lived your life, grace in spite of your crimes or your peccadilloes, grace in spite of your religion, grace in spite of mean birth of lofty one, grace in spite of your sexuality or the color of your skin or your creed or anything else, grace simply because grace is what God gives. That’s the message buried in the New Testament, as treasure is buried in a field, the message often overpowered by the fire and brimstone of evangelists going all the way back to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, through two long millenia of Swaggarts and Robertsons. The Kingdom of Heaven, as opposed to the kingdom of PACs, multinationals, gun lobbyists, tax-exempt charitable organizations, et al., is a place of grace, and this is born out, moreover by the fact that the protagonist of the parable of the hidden treasure is a reprobate. The treasure, after all, is in somebody else’s field when he finds it. The treasure belongs to somebody else. So what kind of guy is this, who has hidden the veritable kingdom of heaven so that he can come back later and swipe it?

    He’s like all of us… This hit-and-run, morally dubious miscreant is myself.

    Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks – Jane Kenyon

    I am the blossom pressed in a book,
    found again after two hundred years. . . .

    I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….

    When the young girl who starves
    sits down to a table
    she will sit beside me. . . .

    I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .

    I am water rushing to the wellhead,
    filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

    I am the patient gardener
    of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

    I am the stone step,
    the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

    I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .
    the longest hair, white
    before the rest. . . .

    I am there in the basket of fruit
    presented to the widow. . . .

    I am the musk rose opening
    unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

    I am the one whose love
    overcomes you, already with you
    when you think to call my name. . . .

    The Risk of Grace Pt 2 – Tullian Tchividjian

    Herr Tchividjian’s second talk from Houston, in which he comes clean about the Christian life in no uncertain terms:

    The Risk of Grace, part 2 – Tullian Tchividjian from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

    Speaking of our man Tullian, just found out that he’ll be with us in NYC in April to lead an on-stage conversation with his good friend Nadia Bolz Weber (on Saturday morning). Should be incredible. And don’t forget: the LIBERATE conference is only a month away!

    The Cost and Benefit of Forgiveness (Class)

    The Cost and Benefit of Forgiveness (Class)

    I remember a conversation some years ago where a friend was voicing her chief objection to Christianity. It had nothing to do with science, or politics, or even suffering (at least not explicitly). What she found offensive about the faith was the notion/assertion/accusation that one of our primary needs as human beings is for forgiveness. In her view, the Christian emphasis on forgiveness was part and parcel of a defeatist anthropology that undermined human dignity, perpetuating negative self-understandings that we would be better off without. Furthermore, it set people up as guilty by default, which, when it came to systemic…

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    Launch Party This Saturday (1/24) in NYC!


    Really excited about this – click on the image for more details. Would love to see you there! I’ll also be preaching the following day at all three services of Calvary St. George’s in Manhattan.

    On Playing Catch Up (In Case You Missed It)

    On Playing Catch Up (In Case You Missed It)

    God bless Portlandia. Their first season contained a skit that has proven to be more than a little prophetic. In case you missed it (ICYMI):

    On the surface, Fred and Carrie are emphasizing how people compete over being well informed, how prideful our relationship with information has become. They’re lampooning a world where ‘staying on top of things’ has become an increasingly treasured form of righteousness, where the mastery of information–for certain personality types–is as tantalizing as it is illusive.

    One expression of this pursuit is the barrage of links we receive and share with others over social media. Taken individually, such…

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    The Voice of God – Mary Karr

    Published last month over at Commonweal.

    Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you
    could be cured with a hot bath,
    says God from the bowels of the subway.
    but we want magic, to win
    the lottery we never bought a ticket for.
    (Tenderly, the monks chant, embrace
    the suffering.) The voice of God does not pander,
    offers no five year plan, no long-term
    solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
    Don’t look for your initials in the geese
    honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
    darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
    put down that gun, you need a sandwich.

    From The Onion: Career-Driven Man Beginning To Worry Entire Identity No Longer Tied To Job

    familymanNEW YORK–In an alarming shift of mindset that is said to have occurred so gradually that he failed to notice it at first, Westport Data Systems senior manager and career-driven man Matthew Bowers expressed concern Friday that his identity was no longer exclusively tied to his job. “I always saw myself as a high-performance individual who was focused solely on working my way up to VP, but lately I’ve been worried that I may be developing aspects of my personality that have nothing to do with climbing the corporate ladder,” said Bowers, 42, noting that he has recently observed in himself an “unhealthy” level of preoccupation with personal interests, activities, and relationships that can in no way give him a leg up professionally. “Just the other day, I was telling my boss about my son’s soccer game—at work, mind you—and he responded by calling me ‘a real family man.’ My boss called me that. It was a huge wake-up call.”…

    Read the whole thing here.

    Another Week Ends: Technologic Prophecies, Bad Buzzwords, Kindness Diets, Hooker Wisdom, Herzog Humor, Andrae Crouch, and The Only Animal

    Another Week Ends: Technologic Prophecies, Bad Buzzwords, Kindness Diets, Hooker Wisdom, Herzog Humor, Andrae Crouch, and The Only Animal

    1. If only I’d held off on writing about sushi and productivity a couple days, I could’ve leaned on Leon Wieseltier’s masterful column for The New York Times Book Review, “Among the Disrupted.” It stands out amongst the sobering (translation: grim) crop of forecasts that have appeared over the first week of the year. I almost wish I didn’t agree with so much of what he writes, but alas, it’s hard to object when your arms have been nailed to the wall…! The erstwhile New Republic editor’s prognostications cover a remarkable amount of ground, from intellectual and journalistic history to…

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    Sneezing Over Sushi (On the Cult of Productivity, Take 76b)

    Sneezing Over Sushi (On the Cult of Productivity, Take 76b)

    The New Yorker made me laugh out loud this morning with their poking fun at the ever-escalating ‘cult of productivity’ in this country. In their Daily Shouts column, “3 under 3″, Marc Philippe Eskenazi introduced us to “the innovators and disruptors of 2014, all under the age of three years old, all impatient to change the world.” It’s really funny. For example, their top “pick” is two and a half year old Cheryl Kloberman, who is apparently making major strides as an Energy Conservationist:

    What does it take to power an entire household with a flick of a switch? This toddler…

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