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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
    Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

    Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

    “There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy and don’t know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person. An exhaustive search yielded no research on such people, and nothing in the way of therapeutic protocols, publicly listed support groups, or therapists who specialize in their treatment…”

    Thus opens the second section…

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    From The New Yorker

    A Fatal Attraction: The Law As Means of Control

    A Fatal Attraction: The Law As Means of Control

    One of passages from our Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) that we hear about most often:

    If no one fulfills the law, the question naturally arises: Why should we care about it? If it accuses and condemns us—two things that no one likes—why do we pay it such mind? Why does it keep coming back?

    Perhaps because the law [of God] is a true and good thing. Just because we are not able to live up to God’s standard does not somehow invalidate it. That is, we may find it impossible to stop worrying about the future, but…

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    Why We Eat (and Think About Eating) Too Much

    Another excerpt from Mark Greif’s intimidatingly excellent essay collection Against Everything, this time as an excuse for posting the accompanying de Botton video almost as much as the quote itself:

    It will be objected that the care for food is a fascination only of the rich; this is false. Stretching from high to low, the commands to lose weight, to undertake every sort of diet for the purposes of health, to enjoy food as entertainment, to privatize food care as a category of inner, personal life (beyond the shared decisions of cooking and the family dinner), have communicated new thought and work concerning food to the vast middle and working classes of the rich Western countries, too.

    I think there is something wrong with all this. Underlying my opposition is a presumption that our destiny could be something other than grooming–something other than monitoring and stroking our biological lives. Many readers will disagree. I respect their disagreement if they are prepared to stand up for the fundamental principle that seems to underlie their behavior: that what our freedom and leisure were made for, in our highest state, really is bodily perfection and the extension of life.

    One of the main features of our moment in history, in anything that affects the state of the body (though, importantly, not the life of the mind), is that we prefer optimization to simplicity. We are afraid of dying, and reluctant to miss any physical improvement. I don’t want to die, either. But I am caught between that negative desire and the wish for freedom from control. I think we barely notice how much these tricks of care take up our thinking, and what domination they exert. (pgs 38-39)

    One of the Cruel Betrayals of Sexual Liberation

    Merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fascinating observations about inverted “little l law” in n+1 co-founder Mark Greif’s masterful collection, Against Everything:

    Liberation implies freedom to do what you have already been doing or meant to do… But a test of liberation, as distinct from liberalization, must be whether you have also been freed to be free from sex, too–to ignore it, or to be asexual, without consequent social opprobrium or imputation of deficiency… One of the cruel betrayals of sexual liberation, in liberalization, was the illusion that the person can be free only if he holds sex as all-important and exposes it endlessly to others–providing it, proving it, enjoying it.

    This was a new kind of unfreedom… sinfulness redefined as the unconditioned, unexercised and unaroused body, and a new shamefulness for anyone who manifests a nonsexuality or, worst of all, willful sexlessness. (pg 26-27)

    Another Week Ends: Lonely Campuses, Unvisited Tombs, Cajun Navies, Misguided Minds, Big Ideas, and Low High Schools

    Another Week Ends: Lonely Campuses, Unvisited Tombs, Cajun Navies, Misguided Minds, Big Ideas, and Low High Schools

    1. With Labor Day behind us and Fall semester officially begun, it’s no wonder that higher education is back in the national spotlight. If only the news were a bit lighter… Alas, the atmosphere out there is one of concern bordering on alarm, and while the explanations vary, there seems to be widespread agreement that we’re experiencing something of breakdown in our nation’s universities, not just along ideological lines (predominantly left vs far left) but generational ones as well (students vs faculty, faculty vs administrators).

    Writing in The NY Times, however, Frank Bruni claims the “real campus scourge” is not censoriousness…

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    An Impossible Position (and a Minor Aspect)

    Here’s one from Stephen Marche’s (fantastic) recent book, The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth About Men and Women in the 21st Century:

    To be a mammal and to be a human being is an impossible position, it should be pointed out. No gender politics, no politics of any kind, is going to solve the problem of being a body that wants to be more. No mere philosophy will ever solve the confusion of biology and aspiration and desire that is the massive human mess. Maybe at some point, though I don’t see how, we’ll reconcile being animals with the desire to be something more.

    We pretend that family life is achievement and negotiation, a logic puzzle from an aptitude test. We fantasize that life is something built by the person living it, so that we may pretend that our fate is in our hands and that others are to blame for their failures. Control is, at best, a minor aspect of the human condition. Love is something into which we fall. The problem of work-life balance divides life into negotiable responsibilities, but there is no real balance, or rather the balance is a pose that is hard to hold. There is only falling down and getting up. There is loss and gift. (pg 50-51)

    September Playlist

    I didn’t know Jakob Dylan (and co) had been writing songs like that either…

    Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC

    Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC

    There’s a scene about fifteen minutes into Accidental Courtesy, the 2016 documentary about musician Daryl Davis, that so blew my hair back that I immediately looked up his contact info for the purposes of begging him to join us at our upcoming event in Washington, DC.

    The scene begins with a clip from Geraldo Rivera’s old daytime talk show, Geraldo, where the titular host is interviewing various families involved in Neo-Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan, the focus being on those who are “too young to hate”. Daryl is also on the show that day, presumably as a resident expert, albeit…

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    Another Tragic Irony

    Following on from the section of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age that we posted a couple weeks ago:

    We fight against injustices which cry out to heaven for vengeance. We are moved by a flaming indignation against these: racism, oppression, sexism, or leftist attacks on the family or Christian faith. This indignation comes to be fueled by hatred for those who support and connive with these injustices; and this in turn is fed by our sense of superiority that we are not like these instruments and accomplices of evil. Soon we are blinded to the havoc we wreak around us. Our picture of the world has safely located all evil outside of us. The very energy and hatred with which we combat evil proves its exteriority to us…

    Another tragic irony nests here. The stronger the sense of (often correctly identified) injustice, the more powerfully this pattern can become entrenched. We become centres of hatred, generators of new modes of injustice on a greater scale, but we started with the most exquisite sense of wrong, the greatest passion for justice and equality and peace. (pg 698)

    A Consolation You Could Believe In

    Via the introduction to Francis Spufford’s wonderful Unapologetic, pg 13-14:

    A consolation you could believe in would be one that didn’t have to be kept apart from awkward areas of reality. One that didn’t depend on some more or less tacky fantasy about ourselves, and therefore one that wasn’t in danger of popping like a soap bubble upon contact with the ordinary truths about us, whatever they turned out to be, good and bad and indifferent. A consolation you could trust would be one that acknowledged the difficult stuff rather than being in flight from it, and then found you grounds for hope in spite of it, or even because of it, with your fingers firmly out of your ears, and all the sounds of the complicated world rushing in, undenied.

    Hated For Loving: The World According to Morrissey

    Hated For Loving: The World According to Morrissey

    There was a a lot of music that sustained and soundtracked my recent sabbatical, but none more effervescent than that of the man in question. Which seems fortuitous, as his is a particularly comforting voice at moments when the veil is pulled back on the human condition, as it was here last week. What follows is a slightly revised version of the Moz chapter in A Mess of Help, a personal favorite which I was pleasantly surprised had never found its way onto the site (in its entirety). So, if you have five seconds to spare…:

    You cannot write about Steven…

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