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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
    Whatever You Do, Don’t… Empathize?

    Whatever You Do, Don’t… Empathize?

    I guess it’s unavoidable: once something becomes a buzzword it’s doomed. Perhaps that’s the whole point of calling something a “buzzword”. Like a celebrity with a rabid following, the quality or concept being described reaches a level of public esteem where there is more to be gained from tearing it down than embracing further. More attention, revenue, fame, credibility, etc.

    Truth or falsity may not be completely beside the point, but it matters only so much when a bunch of pundits are roaming the interwebs hunting a sacred cow to mount on their wall. As if the first among us to…

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    The Most Necessary Conversion (in Advent)

    In response to several requests, here’s the wonderful quotation Scott read at the end of the most recent Mockingcast, taken from Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa second Advent sermon in 2008 to the Pontifical household:

    linusThis is the most necessary conversion for those who have already followed Christ and have lived at his service in the Church. An altogether special conversion, which does not consist in abandoning what is evil, but, in a certain sense, in abandoning what is good! Namely, in detaching oneself from everything that one has done…

    This emptying of one’s hands and pockets of every pretension, in a spirit of poverty and humility, is the best way to prepare for Christmas. We are reminded of it by a delightful Christmas legend that I would like to mention again. It narrates that among the shepherds that ran on Christmas night to adore the Child there was one who was so poor that he had nothing to offer and was very ashamed. Reaching the grotto, all competed to offer their gifts. Mary did not know what to do to receive them all, having to hold the Child in her arms. Then, seeing the shepherd with his hands free, she entrusted Jesus to him. To have empty hands was his fortune and, on another plane, will also be ours.

    A Mockingbird Gift Guide (2016 Edition)

    A Mockingbird Gift Guide (2016 Edition)

    That time again! Click here to check out last year’s. Babylon Bee has a pretty funny parody up, too. To shop on Amazon this year in a way that benefits Mbird, use this link.

    For your fiercely devoted and possibly a little unstable mother, especially if you grew up in the 80s: Stranger Things Christmas Sweater

    For the post-grad urbanite in your family who’s looking to up their nativity game while remaining safely non-committal, faith-wise: Hipster Nativity or Playmobil Nativity

    For the cousin who’s going to need some serious caffeine if they’re going to make it through ten straight screenings of Rogue One:…

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    Two Bits of Good News

    1. Both of our new publications are now available on Amazon! Click here to order Churchy and here to grab More Theology & Less Heavy Cream.

    2. Yesterday Commonweal posted a wonderful exchange between theologians Simeon Zahl (no relation) and David Bentley Hart about Hart’s recent salvo for them, “Christ’s Rabble”. Recommended not just as an example of two extraordinarily nimble minds at work, but in a tone befitting the subject matter. A favorite passage from Simeon’s entry:

    img_1472Indeed, the New Testament reveals an unbearable moral standard on a great many topics—we are commanded never to be angry and never to lust, for example (Matthew 5)—and that is precisely why “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Viewed through this lens, Hart’s point about Christian ethical mediocrity in the era of late capitalism can be transfigured into an argument for why salvation is better understood as preceding moral transformation rather than as enabling it (“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” [Romans 5:8]).

    Not a Bad Picture of Advent

    “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, pg 416

    Also, this, taken from God Is in the Manger, a collection of Bonhoeffer’s reflections of Christmas and Advent, ht SC:

    “God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

    Another Week Ends: Silent Scorsese, Chinese Credit, Stigma Supremacy, Moralized Rationality, Merciful Madness, and Anderson Xmas

    Another Week Ends: Silent Scorsese, Chinese Credit, Stigma Supremacy, Moralized Rationality, Merciful Madness, and Anderson Xmas

    1. If there’s a must-read article this week, it’s the profile of director Martin Scorsese that Paul Elie produced for The NY Times Magazine. Elie is always a joy to read and “The Passion of Martin Scorsese” is no exception. Most of it centers around Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, a ridiculously Christocentric project that he’s been working on for 27 years. The article is not short, but you’ll kick yourself if you skim over the anecdotes Martin relays from childhood. Basically, he had the polar opposite experience of the Roman Catholic Church than you normally hear about in…

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    The Triumph of Hope Over Self-Knowledge

    A quick paragraph from Alain de Botton’s marvelous first book, On Love (1993):

    41m6kn3sf-l-_sx326_bo1204203200_What is so frightening is the extent to which we may idealize others when we have such trouble tolerating ourselves–because we have such trouble… I must have realized that Chloe was only human, with all the implications carried by the word, but could I not be forgiven for my desire to suspend such a thought? Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one and decide that everything within it will somehow be free of our faults. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.

    A Little Post-Thanksgiving Humor

    Courtesy of Thanksgiving Day episode of The Mockingcast:

    Three Stanzas of W.H. Auden’s “In Sickness and in Health” (1940)

    crc4mugwgaay0pyBeloved, we are always in the wrong,
    Handling so clumsily our stupid lives,
    Suffering too little or too long,
    Too careful even in our selfish loves:
    The decorative manias we obey
    Die in grimaces round us every day,
    Yet through their tohu-bohu comes a voice
    Which utters an absurd command – Rejoice.

    Rejoice. What talent for the makeshift thought
    A living corpus out of odds and ends?
    What pedagogic patience taught
    Preoccupied and savage elements
    To dance into a segregated charm?
    Who showed the whirlwind how to be an arm,
    And gardened from the wilderness of space
    The sensual properties of one dear face?

    Rejoice, dear love, in Love’s peremptory word;
    All chance, all love, all logic, you and I,
    Exist by grace of the Absurd,
    And without conscious artifice we die:
    O, lest we manufacture in our flesh
    The lie of our divinity afresh,
    Describe round our chaotic malice now,
    The arbitrary circle of a vow.

    Searching Low and High for the Who Behind The Who

    Searching Low and High for the Who Behind The Who

    A flurry of thinkpieces circulating at the moment about the dark side of identity politics—for reasons that should be fairly self-evident. Just before starting in on a contribution of my own, a guardian angel reminded me that I’d already spilled plenty of ink on that subject in The Who chapter of A Mess of Help, an earlier version of which appeared in the Identity Issue of The Mockingbird. Somehow that essay never made it onto the site. Well, no longer:

    It was the mid-90s, and one of my older brother’s friends had decided to make our house a stop on…

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    The Rising Tide of #selfharmmm

    The Rising Tide of #selfharmmm

    One of the clear refrains I’m hearing post-election has to do with the cost of virtual communication. We are only starting to come to terms with the degree to which our current climate of divisiveness has been amplified by the limitations of the Internet. Physical remove makes it (much) easier to dehumanize another person and (much) harder to empathize with them. Or, as we put it in the tech issue of The Mockingbird:

    At its best, the disembodiment [of the web] engenders safety, the permission to engage with someone or something you otherwise find threatening, e.g., a Gospel that seems too…

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    A Quick Calvin and Hobbes