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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
    Another Week Ends: Leaders, Video Games, FJM, Malick, Aimee Mann, and the Jesus Slingshot

    Another Week Ends: Leaders, Video Games, FJM, Malick, Aimee Mann, and the Jesus Slingshot

    1. Toward the end of Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress one of the characters makes a comment that’s proven more than a little prescient. Lily observes, “There’s all this propaganda in favor of uniqueness, eccentricity, independence, etc, but does the world really want or need more of such traits? Aren’t such people usually terrible pains in the neck? What the world needs to work properly is a large mass of normal people — I’d like to be one of those.” The irony is thick, of course, as the characters, by saying something so overtly counter-cultural, reveal themselves to be independent…

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    Please Help the Cause Against (Middle Age Male) Loneliness

    Please Help the Cause Against (Middle Age Male) Loneliness

    The plan was to hit some tennis balls before heading to dinner. Take advantage of the beautiful weather, maybe grab a drink al fresco on the way to the restaurant. Sounds awesome, I nodded, and I meant it. They always have a blast together, my wife and her friends.

    I didn’t feel left out. Nor did I begrudge putting the kids down on my own. I was glad this was happening. So too, I’d wager, were the other dads involved. But that didn’t mean we’d follow suit. Occasionally we talk about organizing a male-only outing, but nothing has ever materialized. Which,…

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    A Quick Calvin and Hobbes

    Six Highlights from Bob Dylan's New Interview

    Six Highlights from Bob Dylan’s New Interview

    Late last week, in anticipation of his upcoming triple album Triplicate, Bob Dylan’s website published a rare, lengthy Q&A with the man himself, and while the whole thing’s very much worth reading, a few of his answers were simply too remarkable not to reproduce here. No, not as remarkable as these but nevertheless. Talk about an independent soul:

    1. Interviewer: No one can hear “As Time Goes By” and not think of Casablanca. What are some movies that have inspired your own songs?

    Dylan: The Robe, King of Kings, Samson and Delilah, some others too. Maybe, like, Picnic…

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    NYC Conference Countdown and Update: Final Plenary Speaker!

    Believe it or not, this time next month (Thursday, 4/27), we’ll be setting the tables for the opening feast in NYC–the enchiladas will be roasting, the ceviche nearly prepped, the churro bites ready to fry, with the sangria on ice. Needless to say, conference-related posts will be coming chock-a-block these next few weeks. We’ll be publishing the full slate of breakout sessions later this week (brace yourself) but first, I am beyond thrilled to announce that our final plenary speaker will be someone whose byline you may recognize from major articles in The NY Times, The Atlantic, Harper’s, or The Nation. Lord knows we haven’t been shy about highlighting his work over the years. I’m talking about none other than noted author and critic William Deresiewicz (Excellent Sheep, A Jane Austen Education).

    Not ringing a bell? Take, for example, his pot-stirring 2014 editorial in The New Republic, “Don’t Send Your Kids to the Ivy League”:

    So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.

    Or his 2012 column for The NY Times, “A Matter of Taste?”:

    “Eat, Pray, Love,” the title goes, but a lot of people never make it past the first. Nor do they have to. Food now expresses the symbolic values and absorbs the spiritual energies of the educated class. It has become invested with the meaning of life. It is seen as the path to salvation, for the self and humanity both… A good risotto is a fine thing, but it isn’t going to give you insight into other people, allow you to see the world in a new way, or force you to take an inventory of your soul.

    And let us not forget his recent essay for The American Scholar,  “On Political Correctness: Power, Class, and the New Campus Religion”:

    The assumption on selective campuses is not only that we are in full possession of the truth, but that we are in full possession of virtue. We don’t just know the good with perfect wisdom, we embody it with perfect innocence. But regimes of virtue tend to eat their children. Think of Salem. They tend to turn upon themselves, since everybody wants to be the holiest. Think of the French Revolution. The ante is forever being upped.

    Suffice it to say, no one has a more finely tuned radar for the mechanics of righteousness (and performancism!) in contemporary culture, the ways that religious impulses find ‘secular’ expression–a la DFW’s classic “everybody worships” line–than William Deresiewicz. He not only sees “the thing beneath the thing”, but articulates it time and again with boldness, precision, and compassion. I consider it an immense honor that he’s agreed to join us on Friday afternoon, April 28th.

    Click here to pre-register today!

    P.S. There is still some limited scholarship funds available. Email us at for more info.

    Can Love Survive Addiction and Co-Dependency?

    This is a serious honor. We’ve received permission from filmmaker Kurt Neale to post his incredible new documentary, Ask: Can Love Survive Addiction and Co-Dependency?, here on Mockingbird. As you’ll see, he and his crew have given us an enormous gift, not just to those of us who’ve experienced the fearful realities of addiction and co-dependency, but to anyone who has drawn breath in the world described in Romans 7. Not to mention anyone who’s come into contact with what Andrew Sullivan calls “this generation’s AIDS crisis”. You could almost call it Grace in Addiction: The Movie. That is, the whole thing brims with honesty and humanity and compassion and, yes, real hope–the Polyphonic Spree is just icing on the cake.

    Naturally, the film contains mature subject matter and language. Viewer discretion is advised.

    P.S. As you’ll see, this is a work of art ideally suited for discussion. If you’re interested, I know Kurt and co are open to arranging screenings around the country. You can contact him via his website.

    P.P.S. If it all sounds a tad on the heavy-side, fast forward to minute 1:19 for a hilarious Easter egg.

    The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils

    The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils

    They say you can trace the exact moment the Great British Public fell out of love with Morrissey to the release of his 1996 album, Southpaw Grammar. It sounds like just the sort of brazen pronouncement rock critics love to make, more of a conversation-starter than a statement of fact. And yet, you can’t really argue that opening a ‘pop’ record with a 12-minute glam-rock dirge heavily sampling Shostakovich was the safest strategy for holding onto the affections of a wide audience. Which is precisely what Morrissey did with his “The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils”, an epic that…

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    Another Week Ends: Buffy Summers, Joan Didion, Progressive Comfort Zones, Petrified Wood, Hapless Patriots, and Silent Faith

    Another Week Ends: Buffy Summers, Joan Didion, Progressive Comfort Zones, Petrified Wood, Hapless Patriots, and Silent Faith

    1. Believe it or not, today marks the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No small thing for those who grew up in the 90s and/or appreciate good television. The AV Club has been mining the series all week for great articles, but the single best thing I’ve read is Sophie Gilbert’s piece in The Atlantic about “The Radical Empathy of Buffy‘s Best Episode”, AKA season 5’s “The Body”, which Gilbert calls “one of the most sophisticated analyses of the impact of death ever produced on television”. Amen to that. As for our own celebration, I invite you to…

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    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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    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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