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.

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Author Archive

    From The Onion: Woman Who Changed Self To Please Boyfriend Enjoying Happy Long-Term Relationship

    greaseSPOKANE, WA—Ten months after altering her interests, appearance, behavior, and opinions to please her boyfriend, Michael Gartner, local woman Gabrielle McMullen is now enjoying a happy, lasting relationship with her long-term partner, the cheerful 27-year-old told reporters Friday. “When I first started dating Michael, things were a little tense and uncomfortable because there were aspects of my personality that didn’t appeal to him, but once I suppressed my thoughts and feelings and completely changed who I am, everything got better,” McMullen said of her formerly flagging romance… “Michael was clearly unhappy because he wanted me to be a different person from who I am, so all I had to do was take note of what he did and didn’t like about me and mold myself into a person who satisfied all his requirements. That really helped resolve a lot of our issues, which is why almost a year later our relationship is better than ever.”

    Click here to read the whole thing.

    A (Quick) Journey to the End of Taste

    A (Quick) Journey to the End of Taste

    One of my all-time favorite posts from our “early years” is the NY Times Magazine article from 2009 about a man who was horrified to learn that he liked Celine Dion. The realization came during an email exchange with an official at Pandora, the free internet music service that creates custom playlists based on your personal taste. Apparently the man in question was upset by the Canadian diva’s conspicuous appearance on his curated Sarah McLachlan station—there must be some mistake! He was assured by their staff that the algorithm was functioning well. The Pandora official explains: “’I wrote back and…

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    Jamming on Pentecost II: “Full of Fire” – Al Green

    All The Things David Foster Wallace’s Parents Said to Him

    All The Things David Foster Wallace’s Parents Said to Him

    I’ve been making my way through Conversations with David Foster Wallace, and as expected, it’s chock-full of interesting exchanges. You also get to witness a certain evolution in his thought. Anyway, three favorite quotes thus far would be the following. The first comes from an interview with Salon in 1996, post-Infinite Jest:

    “It seems to me that the intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that’s gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like ‘It’s really important not to lie.’ OK, check, got it. I nod at that…

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    Jamming on Pentecost: “I’m On Fire” – The Dwight Twilley Band

    Mary Gaitskill Reads Revelation (Again, For the First Time)

    A stirring second excerpt from Mary Gaitskill’s essay “Revelation”, this part comes toward the end, where she talks about how her approach to the last book of the Bible has evolved since her initial conversion:

    dragon-sun-womanWhen I look at Revelation now, it still seems frightening and impenetrable, and it still suggests a fearful, inexorable order that is unknowable by us, in which our earthly concerns matter very little. However, it no longer reads to me like a chronicle of arbitrarily inflicted cruelty. It reads like a terrible abstract of how we violate ourselves and others and thus bring down endless suffering on earth. When I read “And they blasphemed God of heaven because of their pain and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds,” I think of myself and dozens of other people I’ve known or know who blaspheme life itself by failing to have the courage to be honest and kind. And how we then rage around and lash out because we hurt. When I read “fornication,” I no longer read it as a description of sex outside marriage: I read it as sex done in a state of psychic disintegration, with no awareness of one’s self or one’s partner, let along any sense of honor or even real playfulness. I still don’t know what to make of the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, among other things, but I’m now inclined to read it as a writer’s primitive attempt to give form to his moral urgency, to create a structure that could contain and give ballast to the most desperate human confusion.

    In the past, my compassion felt inadequate in the face of Revelation because my compassion was small–perhaps immature is a better word–and conditional. I could not accept what I read there because it did not fit my idea of how life should be, even though I could feel the truth of it in my psyche. Now I recognize, with pain, a genuine description of how hellish life can be, and how even God can’t help us because we won’t allow it. Paradoxically, I find that the more you accept the pain and fear inherent in human experience, the greater your compassion can become, until finally it is no longer merely your compassion but a small part of the greater love epitomized in the Bible as Jesus.

    Another Week Ends: The Age of Forgiveness, Hollywood Denials, Good Fathers, Real Time Internet, Streakers, Sister Cristina, and Summer Camp Grace

    Another Week Ends: The Age of Forgiveness, Hollywood Denials, Good Fathers, Real Time Internet, Streakers, Sister Cristina, and Summer Camp Grace

    1. Turns out we’ve been writing quite a bit about memory and regret these past few months. Not sure why exactly–most of the posts predate the Google fracas happening in Europe–other than it feels like a fresh way into the old story. Just last week Bryan J. highlighted a piece of commentary worth revisiting, Giles Fraser’s prediction that “the internet generation will be a lot better at forgiveness than older people”. One can’t help but admire the optimism, or rather, envy it, ht RW:

    For if we are going to find it more and more difficult to forget, then we are…

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    Unexpected, Strange and Courageous: Cat Stevens Escapes the Mousehole

    Unexpected, Strange and Courageous: Cat Stevens Escapes the Mousehole

    I happened to catch a few minutes of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony when it aired on HBO the other night. Awards ceremonies usually make for great channel surfing interruptions (if awful destinations) and this one was no exception. KISS was giving their acceptance speech when I tuned in: Peter Criss gave thanks for his remission from male breast cancer (say what?), a self-congratulatory Ace Frehley struggled to read his notes through enormous rose-tinted glasses, and then Paul Stanley lambasted the board of the Hall of Fame for not allowing more people to vote. I must…

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    Mary Gaitskill’s Desultory (First) Conversion

    From her stunning essay, “Revelation”:

    gaitskill200“When I was twenty-one, I became a born-again Christian. It was a random and desperate choice; I had dropped out of high school and left home at sixteen, and while I’d had some fun, by twenty-one, thinks were looking squalid and stupid. My boyfriend had dumped me and I was living in a rooming house and selling hideous rodium jewelry on the street in Toronto, which is where the “Jesus freaks” approached me. I had been solicited by these people before and usually gave them short shrift, but on that particular evening I was at a low ebb. They told me that if I let Jesus into my heart right there, even if I just said the words, that everything would be okay. I said, all right, I’ll try it. They praised God and moved on.

    Even though my conversion was pretty desultory, I decided to pray that night. I had never seriously prayed before, and all my pent-up desperation and fear made it an act of furious psychic propulsion that lasted almost an hour. It was a very private experience that I would find hard to describe; suffice to say that I felt I was being listened to.”

    June Playlist

    Shipping in two weeks! Click on the cover to subscribe.

    Shipping in two weeks! Click on the cover to subscribe.

    1. The Girl I Can’t Forget – Fountains of Wayne
    2. California Man – Cheap Trick
    3. Kicks – Paul Revere & The Raiders
    4. The House That Jack Built – Aretha Franklin
    5. Shame Shame – Magic Lanterns
    6. Play On – The Raspberries
    7. Jejune Stars – Bright Eyes
    8. Talking Backwards – Real Estate
    9. Heavy Metal Clouds – Crocodiles
    10. Disco 2000 – Pulp
    11. Painted by Numbers – The Sounds
    12. Six Feet Under – Jon Auer
    13. Wall of Death – Richard and Linda Thompson
    14. Champaign Illinois – The Old 97s
    15. Brothers Under the Bridge (’83) – Bruce Springsteen
    16. Cheater – Michael Jackson
    17. Play in the Sunshine – Prince
    18. Stand Tall – Burton Cummings


    Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets / Trailer from Intermission Film on Vimeo.

    Another Week Ends: Critical Minds, Ironic Irony, Doing What You Love, Bad Moms, Superhero Funerals, Busy Status, and Episco-Pools

    Another Week Ends: Critical Minds, Ironic Irony, Doing What You Love, Bad Moms, Superhero Funerals, Busy Status, and Episco-Pools

    1. With a fresh flock of college graduates entering the fray this week, a number of articles have appeared taking their pulse, and the pulse of higher education in general. Writing for The NY Times, Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, aka Joss Whedon’s alma mater, issued some warnings about the over-development of our students’ critical faculties, a trend which naturally has implications well beyond the classroom. It’s certainly endemic to the blogosphere, for instance, both religious and otherwise. Plus, the phrase “fetishizing disbelief” strikes me as a potent one:

    Liberal education in America has long been characterized by the…

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    It’s Not/All About the Numbers

    It’s Not/All About the Numbers

    via thisisindexed.com

    The NY Times tossed us quite a softball this week in the form of Bruce Feiler’s “The United States of Metrics”. The premise of the article is a familiar one: the advent of ‘smart’ technology has allowed us to quantify things that we couldn’t quantify before, from the steps we take per day to the friends we have to the size of our carbon footprint, and as a result, we are “awash in numbers. Data is everywhere.” It may sound alarmist, but Feiler tempers the diagnosis with some fascinating trivia and bits of humor. For example:

    Samsung just added…

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    From The Onion: Man’s Insecurities Versatile Enough To Be Projected Onto Any Situation

    The well of inspiration over there just never seems to run dry! Breathtaking, ht JD:

    albertbrooksRALEIGH, NC—Marvelling at how often he finds himself consumed by doubt and anxiety throughout the course of his day, local 32-year-old Ross Erickson told reporters Tuesday that his array of personal insecurities was versatile enough to be projected onto any type of situation. “Sure, my fears that I’m a fraud who won’t amount to anything and that I’m inherently unlikeable crop up in the usual places—like in my relationship or when I’m dealing with my parents—but what’s really remarkable is that they’re also adaptable enough to find their way into the most everyday situations, like interacting with strangers or even just thinking of speaking up in a work meeting,” said Erickson, noting that his exceptionally flexible worries could assume control and cause him to completely freeze up in scenarios as diverse as attending a friend’s barbecue, sharing an elevator with a coworker, or simply being in the presence of an attractive woman… “There’s really no limit as to when or where [my personal fears] can make me feel self-conscious and force me to analyze and obsess over every little detail involved.” At press time, Erickson was mentally berating himself, convinced he had given a terrible, embarrassing interview to reporters.

    The Spirit of Play (and the Lack of Self-Addressed Envelopes)

    The Spirit of Play (and the Lack of Self-Addressed Envelopes)

    A beautiful section from pages 183-184 of the new book by theologian Nimi Wariboko, entitled The Pentecostal Principle. Contains more than a few echoes of a recent post on ‘play to order and the gamification of parenting’, not to mention the talk Simeon Zahl gave at our NYC Conference way back in 2010. Brackets are ours, but parentheses are from the text:

    “Grace is a negation of work. But play is its style of negation… The greatest proof of divine graciousness is that grace is repeated again and again. For those under grace, for every act, every day it is available….

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    From The New Yorker

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