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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 (christchurchcville.org).

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Author Archive
    
    Unshackle the Should: An Overlong Post on the Art of Failure (and the Failure of Art)

    Unshackle the Should: An Overlong Post on the Art of Failure (and the Failure of Art)

    I had the honor of presenting earlier this week at “The Art of Failure” event here in Charlottesville, alongside Invisbilia co-host Lulu Miller and musician Devon Sproule. You can listen to all of the recordings on the Christ Church site, but here’s the modified/edited transcript, the first portion of which is adapted from A Mess of Help. Sincerest thanks to New City Arts and The Garage for co-sponsoring! What a fabulous evening.

    In 1966, The Walker Brothers reportedly had a bigger fan club in the UK than The Beatles. Boggles the mind but it’s the truth, or close to it. The…

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    Perfection, Perfection – Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB

    From the acclaimed poet/monk’s 2003 collection Swift, Lord, You Are Not, published when he was 82.

    (“I will walk the way of perfection.” Psalm 101:2)

    I have had it with perfection.
    I have packed my bags,
    I am out of here.
    Gone.

    As certain as rain
    will make you wet,
    perfection will do you
    in.

    It droppeth not as dew
    upon the summer grass
    to give liberty and green
    joy.

    Perfection straineth out
    the quality of mercy,
    withers rapture at its
    birth.

    Before the battle is half begun,
    cold probity thinks
    it can’t be won, concedes the
    war.

    I’ve handed in my notice,
    given back my keys,
    signed my severance check, I
    quit.

    Hints I could have taken:
    Even the perfect chiseled form of
    Michelangelo’s radiant David
    squints,

    the Venus de Milo
    has no arms,
    the Liberty Bell is
    cracked.

    March Playlist

    Why Won’t You Apologize?

    Why Won’t You Apologize?

    “Okay,” [Charlotte] conceded. “Anything I did that was wrong, I apologize for.

    “But,” she added, addressing Alice’s receding form with increasing volume as Alice got farther down the stairs, “anything I did that was not wrong, I don’t apologize for!”

    There are at least four reasons why this little scene from The Last Days of Disco has been replaying itself in my head this past week. First, and most embarrassingly, I found myself issuing just such a non-apology to someone close to me the other day. I had made a boneheaded scheduling mistake that had seriously inconvenienced this person (again), and needed…

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    The God Who Can’t Hate His Fingers

    A passage from W.H. Auden’s posthumously published The Prolific and the Devourer, which comes to us via the inestimable Matthew Sitman:

    Both in the substance and the parabolic method of his teaching about love, Jesus never asks anyone to accept anything except on the basis of their personal experience of human love. In using the terms Father and Son to express the relation of the divine and the human, rather than, say King and subject, he makes the relation a physical not an intellectual one, for it is precisely because in the relation of parent and child the physical material relation is so impossible to deny, that it is so difficult for a human parent not to love their children irrespective of moral judgment. They can do so, but it is very much more difficult for them than for those who have not such an obvious physical connection.

    Jesus in fact is asserting what the psychologists have confirmed: that one does in fact always conceive of one’s relations with life in terms of one’s relations with one’s parents, and in proportion as these were bad, one’s attitude to life is distorted [ed. note: see video below]. But though parental love is often imperfect, it is good enough and often enough for us to have no doubt about what it should be like. We expect parents to love their children whether they act well or badly because it is our experience that they usually do: we expect a physical relation to override morals. In speaking of the fatherhood of God, Jesus is teaching that God does not love us because we are ‘good’ or because he is very ‘good’ and merciful but because he has to, because we are part of him, and he can no more hate us if we act badly than a man can hate one of its fingers when it aches: he can only want it to get well.

    Another Week Ends: Rude Saviors, Happy Students, Married Valentines, Fifty Shades, Christo-Singularity and Crashing

    Another Week Ends: Rude Saviors, Happy Students, Married Valentines, Fifty Shades, Christo-Singularity and Crashing

    1. Writing in The NY Times Magazine this past weekend, Rachel Cusk pondered “The Age of Rudeness.” Her jumping off point likely goes without saying, and yet, I was refreshed by how much fresh ground the essay tilled. Namely, we laud honesty and authenticity but demonize rudeness, when the line between them is often a very thin and fluctuating one. What is the moral status of rudeness? Cusk asks–why might it have possibly cost Hillary the election (“basket of deplorables”) and won it for Trump? When does decorum cease to facilitate discourse (a vehicle of communication/connection) and begin to stifle…

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    David Brooks Addresses the (Ecclesial) Cubs

    Last Sunday, David Brooks gave a remarkable sermon (or talk) at the National Cathedral in DC. There’s a lot of wonderful stuff in here, addressing both our “moment”–the attenuation, the loneliness, the over-politicization, the blandness of religion, the emotional avoidance–but more than that as well. If you stick with it til the end (and you can get past some of the agency language), you may even find he follows a bit of a familiar scheme, ht TB:

    The Joys of Agnostic Eating

    The Joys of Agnostic Eating

    Ethan has joked elsewhere about our recent Food & Drink Issue: we had selected a topic that was intentionally “lighter fare” to chase Mental Health and then watched as the stuff that came in delved into the heaviest possible corners of gastronomic experience (pun sort of intended). Addiction, mortality, moralism, Marduk… sheesh. Good thing we had plenty of Capon on the menu to balance the palate and steer us clear of potential (food) comas. From what we’ve heard back thus far, the fun still comes across, thank God.

    The point here is not to issue some vague humblebrag about #depth. No,…

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    From The Onion: Alcoholic’s Plan For Turning Life Around Doesn’t Involve Getting Sober

    America’s favorite news source, on point yet again. Mercy mercy me:

    SAVANNAH, GA—Realizing something needed to change before it was too late, local alcoholic Darren Weller laid out a plan for turning his life around Monday that had absolutely nothing to do with getting sober. “Today’s the day that I finally clean up my act and start taking the steps I need to better myself,” said the visibly intoxicated Weller to his fellow bar patrons, outlining a series of dramatic steps aimed at improving his physical and mental health that will in no way interfere with his crippling addiction to alcohol. “No more excuses. It’s time I went back to school and finished my degree. No more pizza and beer every night. I’ll probably live five more years just by having salad and beer. Who knows, I might even start getting a run in every night before I hit the bars. Yeah, I really feel like this is a new beginning.” At press time, Weller had passed out on his bar stool, already making good on his plan to get to sleep at a more reasonable hour.

    Insanity, Marriage, and the Virgin Mary

    Insanity, Marriage, and the Virgin Mary

    I couldn’t let this day pass without posting my favorite passage from Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love, in which our favorite Swiss pop-philosopher/religious atheist hints at the appeal of ‘true religion’ under the guise of abreactive art and in the process gives us a crash, er, course on grace in relationships. It comes from mid-way through the book in the chapter on “Universal Blame” (ouch!), just after one of the protagonists, Rabih, finds out that his position at work may soon be up for grabs. In other words, if things don’t turn around, he’s going to lose his…

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    From the Archives: Sneezing at the Cult of Productivity (over Sushi)

    From the Archives: Sneezing at the Cult of Productivity (over Sushi)

    The New Yorker made me laugh out loud the other day 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…

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    Another Week Ends: Food, Drink, Sermons, Apologies, Snackadiums, Haters, Finders and Keepers

    Another Week Ends: Food, Drink, Sermons, Apologies, Snackadiums, Haters, Finders and Keepers

    Here in the office we’re drowning in Food & Drink! The issue, that is, which arrived today and is already out the door to subscribers. To quote Seinfeld’s Poppy, it turned out “more succulent than even we hadda hoped”! Click here to check out the Table of Contents and whatnot. #humbled

    Why not kick things off then with a couple of food-related items from the world of social science? First, The Telegraph reported on a new study out of UPenn on the effects of fat shaming. Surprise surprise, it tends to have the opposite effect than what’s intended:

    Professor Rebecca Pearl, of…

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