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
    Failed Confessions of a Success-o-holic

    Failed Confessions of a Success-o-holic

    We’re told that learning how to handle failure is an important part of growing up. Yet we do everything we can to make sure our kids never experience it. What did Samuel Beckett actually mean when he told us to “fail better”? And what does it have to do–if anything–with the theology of the cross? All this and (not) much more!

    On the Unattainability of Social Righteousness

    Pretty clever, this, ht BJ:

    What Is Not Working for Christian Wiman

    MAGIC-IN-THE-MOONLIGHT-posterWe are about six weeks away from the publication of Christian Wiman’s new collection of poetry, Once in the West, and what better way to prepare than with quick quote from that gift that keeps on giving, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer:

    If God is a salve applied to unbearable psychic wounds, or a dream figure conjured out of memory and mortal terror, or an escape from a life that has become either too appalling or too banal to bear, then I have to admit: it is not working for me. Just when I think I’ve finally found some balance between active devotion and honest modern consciousness, all my old anxieties come pressuring up through the seams of me, and I am as volatile and paralyzed as ever…

    Be careful. Be certain that your expressions of regret about your inability to rest in God do not have a tinge of self-satisfaction, even self-exaltation to them, that your complaints about your anxieties are not merely a manifestation of your dependence on them. There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion that, paradoxically, unites us with others in a shared sense of complete isolation: you feel at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world. (pg 9-10)

    The Difference Between the Prophecies of Orwell and Huxley

    A provocative quote from the introduction to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, ht VH:

    brawndo2“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, [Aldous] Huxley and [George] Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

    What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

    From The Onion: Man’s Anxiety Not About To Let Depression Muscle In On Turf

    tumblr_static_willAmerica’s Finest News Source reports:

    PHOENIX—Unwilling to cede decades of hard-won advances, local man Roger Cannon’s persistent anxiety vowed Monday that it would not let clinical depression muscle in on any of its turf. “Look, I’ve had a vise-grip on this guy for 30 years, so I’m not about to roll over now and let some despondent feelings and an overriding aversion to activity waltz in and take over his emotional state,” said the mental disorder… “Roger’s mental condition is my domain. And if all-encompassing thoughts of hopelessness and inadequacy think they can parade around like they own the place, trust me, they’ve got another thing coming.” The neurosis then promised that it wouldn’t make the same mistake it did in 2011, when it briefly let its guard down and disastrously allowed happiness to take hold.

    A Few Thoughts on Righteous Minds and Religious Liberty

    A Few Thoughts on Righteous Minds and Religious Liberty

    I believe it was Austin Powers’ father Nigel who once remarked, “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures… and the Dutch.”

    That movie came out while I was in college, and the joke struck a chord. Having been educated in proudly ‘progressive’ institutions, I grew up hearing a lot about tolerance. My secondary school, for example, hosted a semi-annual ‘Diversity Day’, where the student body took part in workshops designed to expose us to different cultures and points of view. Of course, there’s nothing more cynical than a bunch…

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    Everything I Never Learned From Seinfeld

    Everything I Never Learned From Seinfeld

    To celebrate the 25th anniversary of our all time favorite show’s premiere, we offer up a re-run of “a breakout session about nothing”:

    Rochelle Rochelle. Yo Yo Ma. Vandelay Industries. Marble Rye. Del Boca Vista. Get Out! The sea was angry that day. I’m a Da-ay Person. These. Pretzels. Are. Making. Me. Thirsty.

    You got that right, mojambo–our 2012 NYC Conference included an hour long session on about the greatest sitcom of all time, Seinfeld.

    W.H. Auden once wrote that “Christian comedy is based upon the belief that all men are sinners; no one, therefore, whatever his rank or talents, can claim…

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    Another Week Ends (Quickly): Buzzfeed Ambivalence, Forgiving Bieber, The Jayhawks, Swedish Conversions, Ayn Rand Goes to Hogwarts, and Habsburg Sinners

    Another Week Ends (Quickly): Buzzfeed Ambivalence, Forgiving Bieber, The Jayhawks, Swedish Conversions, Ayn Rand Goes to Hogwarts, and Habsburg Sinners

    A digest version this week as we head out of town for the holiday weekend. May the Fourth be with you:

    1. The NY Times Magazine brought us Heather Havrilesky’s brilliant “794 Ways in Which BuzzFeed Reminds Us of Impending Death”. It may not inspire immediate feelings of patriotism, but what do you expect:

    American pop culture leaves little room for mixed feelings, thereby inciting mixed feelings every step of the way. No wonder filmmakers and TV producers like Steven Spielberg and Matthew Weiner have inserted the ambient glee of Saturday-morning cartoons and radio D.J.s gasping over sunny weather in order to…

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    July Playlist

    1. mjgooniesBang-A-Boomerang – ABBA
    2. Take Me To Church – Sinead O’Connor
    3. Sister Shadow – Roddy Frame
    4. Lovers on the Run – Echo & The Bunnymen
    5. Who Gets Your Love – Dusty Springfield
    6. The Night – Frankie Valli
    7. Synthetic World – Jimmy Cliff
    8. Sitting – Cat Stevens
    9. Unbreak My Heart – Weezer
    10. Our Song – Matchbox Twenty
    11. Forgiveness – Bob Mould
    12. Tellin Stories – The Charlatans
    13. The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead – XTC
    14. Letting Go – Squeeze
    15. Lula Lula – The Zombies
    16. Wot’s Uh the Deal? – Pink Floyd
    17. Happy – John Fullbright
    18. The Battle – Whiskeytown

    On the Divine Injunction to Just Relax

    On the Divine Injunction to Just Relax

    Was delighted to be asked to contribute a guest post to Amy Julia Becker’s Thin Places blog over at Christianity Today last week, something dealing with the topic of Sabbath rest. Those who read the whole thing may notice a few, er, congruencies with past Mbird posts, but I was pleased with how it turned out. Here are a few paragraphs from the second half:

    Talk to a member of the “greatest generation” about their childhood Sundays and they will invariably relate youthful frustrations about Sabbath prohibitions. They will tell about blue laws. About no baseball on Sunday. No…

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    A Few Words on the Paradox of Christian Living

    Another set of quotes from Mark Seifrid’s phenomenal essay about Romans 7, found here:

    shazam“As weak and fallen human beings we are bound to have a lord. It is not in our power to choose that lord. We do not make Christ our Lord. Rather, God in grace has given us Christ as our saving Lord…

    The apostle does not think in terms of the transformation of the fallen human being–at least not in the way we usually conceive of “transformation”–but of our being created anew by the saving power of God in Christ… All growth and progress are a growth in faith, which in the changing circumstances of life grasps Christ and what God has done in him…

    Christian faith, by virtue of its confession of Christ, remains sober and realistic about the limits of progress. We are called to reject all idealistic fantasies and to accept the painful and humbling truth that we–both individually and corporately–remain sinners so long as we remain in this body and life. Indeed, we must delight in being sinners: not sinning, nor in being sinners per se, but in the painful yet joyful confession of being sinners who live under the saving lordship of Christ. Our weakness is more than matched by Christ’s strength.

    Progress in Christian living is thus paradoxical. We go forward by ever going back to Christ crucified and risen for us. Christian growth often is construed as a gradual, upward path to sanctification. This picture is false and unbiblical. It implicitly carries us away from Christ and the liberation from ourselves that only his cross and resurrection can give. We are not called to progress in ourselves away from Christ but to progress in Christ away from ourselves–away from the fallen reality that determines us as children of Adam. All progress is a return to the beginning of the Christian life, where it enters more deeply into the wonder of God’s love in Christ in the face of our sin and misery. The “flesh” can neither be reformed nor rehabilitated. It must be crucified.”

    P.S. This version truly smokes:

    Yes, You Are Communicating Wrong (And No, You Will Not Like This Post)

    Yes, You Are Communicating Wrong (And No, You Will Not Like This Post)

    Des: Aren’t you a bit of a cad for leaving town with your girlfriend in the hospital?

    Jimmy: It might look that way. I’ve been through this before. After graduation Laurie and I were going to break up, but the same day she came down with terrible back spasms. I hung around the hospital all summer, almost bankrupted her parents, and as soon as I left town she recovered. By going away and putting an ocean between us, i.e. making a definitive break, Charlotte’s likely to recover much faster.

    Des: What makes you think that putting…

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    From The New Yorker


    NBW on How the Light Gets Out

    Those who’ve just received the new issue of know that it includes a fascinating interview with preacher/ pastor/author Nadia Bolz-Weber. We’ll be posting some excerpts once our esteemed magazine editor returns from honeymooning, but if her words have left you wanting more, here’s an excerpt from an incredibly powerful sermon she gave earlier this year on Matthew 5:13-14, ht LM:

    nbwIt’s so easy for us to default to hearing Jesus’ sermon on the mount as pure exhortation. As though he is giving us a list of things we should try and be so we can be blessed – be meeker, be poorer, and mournier a little more and you will meet the conditions of earning Jesus’ blessing. But the thing is, it’s hard to imagine Jesus exhorting a crowd of demoniacs and epileptics to be meeker…

    I [used to think] that to be the light of the world, to let your light so shine before men, you have to be whole, be strong, be perfect. That special class of people I’ll never belong to. But perhaps this is when we best listen to the words of the prophet Leonard Cohen: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There’s a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.” In other words, it is exactly at our points of weakness, of pain, of brokenness, of insufficiency that force us, like those who originally followed Jesus, to stand in the need of God. To stand in the need of the true light.

    So perhaps those cracks… made from bad choices, from anxiety and depression, from addiction, from struggle and remorse, maybe those cracks are what lets the light of God’s love in. And maybe those same cracks are also how the light gets out.

    We perhaps should not miss the fact that Jesus does not say “here are the conditions you must meet to be the salt of the Earth.” He does not say, here are the standards of wholeness you must fulfill in order to be light for the world. He looks out into the crowd of people in pain, people who have been broken open – those cracks that let in and let out the Light, who have the salt of sweat and tears on their broken bodies, and says you ARE salt. You. You are light. You have that of God within you, the God whose light scatters the darkness. Your imperfect and beautiful bodies are made of chemicals with holiness shining in it… you are made of dust and the very breath of God.

    In other words, you are a broken jerk and Jesus trusts you. Don’t wait until you feel as though you have met the conditions of being holy. Trust that Jesus knows what he is doing. And that you already are salt and light and love and grace. Don’t try and be it. Know that you already are.

    Five Records To Soundtrack the Summer

    Five Records To Soundtrack the Summer

    With summer officially here, a quick list of some recent discoveries and friendly listening options:

    1. Seven Dials – Roddy Frame. Last year Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne penned a remarkable column for The NY Times about songwriting in which he praised the genius of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame. Frame may have ditched the Aztec Camera moniker years ago, but he never lost his muse, as evidenced by Seven Dials, his first solo record in eight years. As vaunted as my expectations were, nothing could have prepared me for the first single, “40 Days of Rain”, a veritable flood of…

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