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
    Midlife Crises and Expectation Gaps

    Midlife Crises and Expectation Gaps

    As suspected, the cover story for November’s Atlantic Monthly, Jonathan Rauch’s “The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis”, contains more than a handful of relevant tidbits. The article is concerned less with the particulars of sports cars and second marriages and more with the “U-Curve of Happiness”–the phenomenon reported across countries, cultures and even species(!) of self-reported wellbeing dipping significantly in one’s 40s, and rising in one’s 50s and 60s, often peaking during one’s 70s. Rauch makes a terrific guide through all the research and theorizing, along the way telling us his own story of mid-life discontent. There are plenty of things…

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    Existential Modesty and the Death of Brittany Maynard

    Existential Modesty and the Death of Brittany Maynard

    A striking editorial by Lisa Miller appeared in New York Magazine last week about the recent death of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old who had elected (and advocated for the right) to commit suicide after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Miller is less interested in the ethics of Maynard’s decision and more interested in the unprecedented outpouring of adulation it has garnered. Miller tells us, “in the days since she died, [Maynard] has quickly become something more, especially in the ethereal space of social media, where she has risen to the status of a martyr-saint.” Strong words, and Miller…

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    What Shall We Be? (According to Gerhard Forde)

    It’s been a while since we posted one of Gerhard Forde’s inspired rants. This one comes from his essay “Radical Lutheranism”, which you can read here. The identity crisis to which he refers is that of confessional Lutherans in the late 1980s America, but the insights apply more widely:

    radical“What shall we be? Let us be radicals: not conservatives or liberals, fundagelicals or charismatics (or whatever other brand of something-less-than gospel entices), but radicals: radical preachers and practitioners of the gospel by justification by faith without the deeds of the law. We should pursue it to the radical depths already plumbed by St. Paul, especially in Romans and Galatians, when he saw that justification by faith without the deeds of the law really involves and announces the death of the old being and the calling forth of the new in hope. We stand at a crossroads. Either we must become more radical about the gospel, or we would be better off to forget it altogether.

    We should realize first of all that what is at stake on the current scene is certainly not Lutheranism as such. Lutheranism has no particular claim or right to existence. Rather, what is at stake is the radical gospel, radical grace, the eschatological nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen as put in its most uncompromising and unconditional form by St. Paul. We need to take stock of the fact that while such radical Paulinism is in itself open to both church and world (because it announces a Christ who is the end of the law, the end of all earthly particularities and hegemonies), it is, no doubt for that very reason, always homeless in this age, always suspect, always under attack, always pressured to compromise and sell its birthright for a mess of worldly pottage…

    We must realize there is not just external reason for our identity crisis but deep theological and, for want of a better word, existential reason. It lies simply in Lutheranism’s fateful attachment to the Pauline gospel in a world whose entire reason for being is opposed to it. All who adopt such a stance will find themselves constantly on the defensive not only before the world but especially before the religious enterprises, not to say the churches, of the world…

    If we are to probe to the root, the radix, of our identity crisis, however, we must dig beneath even the world’s general disapproval. Theological anthropology, the understanding of human existence itself before God, is perhaps the place where the crisis becomes most apparent. The fact is that the radical Pauline gospel of justification by faith without the deeds of the law calls for a fundamentally different anthropology and with it a different theological ‘‘system’’ (if there be such!) from that to which the world is necessarily committed. The radical gospel of justification by faith alone simply does not fit, cannot be accepted by, and will not work with an anthropology which sees the human being as a continuously existing subject possessing ‘‘free choice of will’’ over against God and/or other religious goals. The radical gospel is the end of that being and the beginning of a new being in faith and hope.”

    From Czeslaw Milosz’s “The Separate Notebooks”

    You talked but after your talking all the rest remains.
    After your talking—poets, philosophers,
    contrivers of romances—everything else,
    All the rest deduced inside the flesh
    Which lives & knows not just what is permitted.
    I am a woman held fast now in a great silence.
    Not all creatures have your need for words.
    Birds you killed, fish you tossed into your boat,
    In what words will they find rest & in what heaven?
    You received gifts from me; they were accepted.
    But you don’t understand how to think about the dead.
    The smell of winter apples, of hoarfrost, and of linen.
    There are nothing but gifts on this poor, poor Earth.

    A New Comic From Bill Watterson!

    Created for France’s Angoulême International Comics Festival, it’s vintage stuff. Bravo, ht KW:


    The comic’s appearance prompted one fan to ask, “Is Bill Watterson Staging a Comeback?”

    Can’t pass up the opportunity to mention our “Resolving to Love Calvin and Hobbes” post from a few years ago. A personal favorite.

    Another Week Ends: MacNicol Burns Out, Winton’s Discretion, Lomax Forgives, Skeletor Insults, Lena Bares, and Zissou Goes Digital

    Another Week Ends: MacNicol Burns Out, Winton’s Discretion, Lomax Forgives, Skeletor Insults, Lena Bares, and Zissou Goes Digital

    1. In an unintentional bit of foreshadowing, yesterday’s dispatch from The Onion condensed a number of today’s (anti-Gospel) themes into a succinct bit of satire: the frenetic pace of modern-day America, the exhaustion and restlessness and the humble-brag workaholism endemic to our way of life, the overvaluing of accomplishment/career and the cult of productivity, the fear of idleness and aversion to ‘being’, the compulsive, non-stop proving afforded by technology–the sum total being what we not-so-lovingly refer to as the World of Demand. The stakes were drawn afresh for me this week in an article that came across my desk from an unexpected source, Elle magazine….

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    Open the Door, Homer


    Never thought the day would come when The Complete Basement Tapes would be a legitimate release, but as they say, with Bob Dylan all things are possible. There are volumes and volumes to be written on those sessions, and indeed, some already have been. For today, we’ll have to make do with the final verse of “Open the Door, Homer”:

    “Take care of all your memories”
    Said my friend, Mick
    “For you cannot relive them
    And remember when you’re out there
    Tryin’ to heal the sick
    That you must always
    First forgive them”

    My favorite version of the song would have to be the one that Pete Townshend produced for Thunderclap Newman. Enjoy:

    From The Onion: Laid-Back Company Allows Employees To Work From Home After 6 P.M.

    The hits just keep coming. Check the original here

    Newsletter-College03-320GRESHAM, OR—Underscoring the benefits of working for a laid-back company like SocialFire Marketing, founder and CEO Matt Avalon told reporters Tuesday he had instituted an office-wide policy permitting employees to work from home anytime after 6 p.m. “If it helps them be efficient and get more done, I have no problem with people working remotely once they’ve left the office for the day,” said Avalon, who noted that as long as they’re doing their jobs, the location where his staff members choose to work between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. is “completely up to them.” “That’s the kind of relaxed culture we strive to create here—one where you can even be working from your living room couch at two in the morning if you’d like.” Avalon added that since they don’t have to be in the office for any meetings, employees are free to work from home on weekends and holidays as well.

    The Uncertain Lessons of Lie Witness News

    The Uncertain Lessons of Lie Witness News

    We haven’t done a straight social science post in a while, so here goes. The Pacific Standard published a goldmine of fallibility and low anthropology last week in David Dunning’s not-so-subtly titled “We Are All Confident Idiots,” ht TB. Dunning, a professor at Cornell, takes as his jumping off point the brilliant “Lie Witness News” segments that Jimmy Kimmel does on his late-night show, where street respondents fake knowledge about a fictitious subject rather than admit they don’t know, or aren’t aware of something. It’s hilarious… until you realize that you do the exact same thing, all the time. Just yesterday…

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    Wednesday Afternoon Gospel: Dorothy Love Coates’ “Strange Man”

    Good grief this is fabulous:

    When a Foodie Repents

    When a Foodie Repents

    It’s been coming for a while now, but this past month may have been the tipping point. For the first time, more of the TV viewing in our household had to do with food than not. The new episodes of Top Chef were the least of the culprits. I’m talking about entire seasons of The Mind of a Chef and No Reservations, about on-demand movies like The Trip to Italy and Chef. (They’re all pretty great, btw). The only thing saving us from drowning in our own saliva was fresh Portlandia on Netflix. That show’s relentless, hilarious lampooning of foodie-ism was just the artisanal…

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    November Playlist

    1. Fight Test – The Flaming Lips000part
    2. Writing’s on the Wall – OK Go
    3. Running Up That Hill (Deal With God) – Kate Bush
    4. Letters to Elise – The Cure
    5. O Girlfriend – Weezer
    6. Sit Down – James
    7. Alien – 20/20
    8. I Don’t Know What I Want – The Raspberries
    9. Long Song Comin – Bob Seger
    10. The North Star – Roddy Frame
    11. Hometown USA – Slaid Cleaves
    12. As Long As There’s You – The Partridge Family
    13. The Scientist – Aimee Mann
    14. Walk Away – Del Shannon
    15. Kisses of Fire – ABBA
    16. No More Looking Back – The Kinks
    17. Bible Black Starless Sky – Andy Fairweather Low
    18. Hymnsong – Sons of Bill