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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 two sons, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church.

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    A (Prose) Poem for Good Friday: “Decency” by Czeslaw Milosz

    “When I was, as they say, in harmony with God and the world, I felt I was false, pretending to be somebody else. I recovered my identity when I found myself again in the skin of a sinner and nonbeliever. This repeated itself in my life several times. For, undoubtedly, I liked the image of myself as a decent man, but, immediately after I put that mask on, my conscience whispered that I was deceiving others and myself.

    “The notion of sacrum is necessary but impossible without experiencing sin. I am dirty, I am a sinner, I am unworthy, and not even because of my behavior but because of the evil sitting in me. And only when I conceded that it was not for me to reach so high have I felt that I was genuine.”

    Maundy Thursday Miscellany: Mr Rogers, Stinky Feet, Memes, Cartoons, and Jams, plus Love & Friendship!

    Maundy Thursday Miscellany: Mr Rogers, Stinky Feet, Memes, Cartoons, and Jams, plus Love & Friendship!

    First, if you didn’t get around to the Mr. Rogers’ story a few weeks ago, TODAY is the day!

    Second, no one tells a better foot-washing story than Sally Lloyd-Jones in The Jesus Storybook Bible, for which an animated version exists. God loves stinky feet, people:

    Third, the Last Supper Meme of the Year is definitely:

    Fourth, Six Maundy Thursday Jams That Aren’t “Sweet Cherry Wine”

    The Last Supper – Johnny Cash
    Sister I Need Wine – Guided by Voices
    Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread – Bob Dylan
    (Gotta Get) A Meal Ticket – Elton John
    Pass Me Down the Wine – Oasis
    Hollywood – Tobias Jesso…

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    Jesus Fulfilled None of W.H. Auden’s Dreams

    Writing for The Chimera in the summer of 1943, W.H. Auden let fly this zinger, appropriate for Holy Week:

    www2_664561_400x400If a man who is in love is asked what gives his beloved such unique value for him over all other persons, he can only answer: “She is the fulfillment of all my dreams.” If the questioner has undergone any similar experience, the subjectivity of this answer causes no offense because the lover makes no claim that others should feel the same. He not only admits that “she is beautiful” means “she is beautiful for me but not necessarily for you” but glories in this admission.

    If a man who professes himself a Christian is asked why he believes Jesus to be the Christ, his position is much more difficult, since he cannot believe this without meaning that all who believe otherwise are in error, yet at the same time he can give a no more objective answer than the lover: “I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image.”

    Thus, if a Christian is asked: “Why Jesus and not Socrates or Buddha or Confucious or Mahomet?” perhaps all he can say is: “None of the others arouse all sides of my being to cry ‘Crucify Him’.”

    A Royal Progress and a Parody of a Royal Progress

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    How better to kick off Holy Week than with Francis Spufford’s memorable description of the Triumphal Entry, via Unapologetic?

    They arrive at the walls, but it’s too late in the evening for the entrance Yeshua has in mind, so they wait till the next day in the straggly settlement outside the gates. Then in they go, Yeshua and the nucleus of twenty or so men and women who have been following him about. The narrow stone streets are packed with visitors who’ve come in from the province for the biggest festival of the year, a festival of death averted, in which the people of the one God remember how he saved them by smiting the rest; and the visitors see, well, something like a parade, with Yeshua riding on a borrowed donkey, and the friends around him shouting make way, make way. Who’s this? It’s another bloody prophet. It’s that crazy preacher who says we don’t need the law. It’s the rabbi from up north who heals people. What, the river-dipping one? No, he’s dead. This is another one. It’s a kind! Rubbish, kings ride on horses, not donkeys. But there are prophecies about donkeys. Maybe he’s the one. Oh come on. This fellow? Where’s his sword? It’s the king, it’s the king! Keep your voice down, idiot. Better get the children indoors, just in case.

    Is it a king? The scene is hard to read. It’s like a royal progress and a parody of a royal progress, all at once. Yeshua is doing exactly what a christos would do if he were making a momentum play, gambling on snowballing crowd support. Yet the details are off-script somehow, from the donkey, to the way that only some of the friends seem to be shouting the slogans you’d expect, to the way that the man himself doesn’t have his face set in the shining megawatt mask of charisma. It isn’t clear what’s happening. But something is, and though only a portion of the crowd are young enough, or hopeful enough, or desperate enough, or unwary enough, to give Yeshua their acclaim, quite a lot of them are curious enough to follow and see what comes next: for the parade, or procession, or whatever it is, is clearly heading for the temple, up the twisting alleyways to the top of the city, and.. into the wide forecourt of the one God’s most sacred place…

    Yeshua looks around. He sees the doves in their wicker cages, and the half-grown spring lambs in their straw, and the nervous cattle sidling, kept perpetually antsy by the smell of blood that drifts out of the temple’s doors. He sees the money-change stalls where, before you can even buy your animal for the sacrifice, you have to swap the emperor’s dirty coinage for the temple’s own clean currency, good nowhere else. He sees the whole apparatus for keeping this one little walled acre of ground separate from the compromised, colonized world outside. And he begins to shout. Do you call this pure? Do you think any of this keeps you clean? Do you think any of this keeps that at bay?–waving his arms out at the city, the hills, the entire empire. Nothing is pure! This is the house of the loving father who welcomes home his lost children! This is the house of my father, and your father! Do you think you can sell his forgiveness? Do you think there is a price for peace with him? It cannot be bought! It cannot be sold! It can only be given! These are thieves! They promise you are buying what can only be given! God gives freely! (pgs 134-136)

    To wit, a few days later, ht JE:

    From The Onion: 80% Of Americans Would Get In Vehicle With Stranger For Chance At New Life

    Can’t believe we missed this one when it came out a couple years ago (ht PZ, who kicked off a sermon this past week with it – embedded below):

    1200WASHINGTON—According to a poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of Americans would, if given even one opportunity, enter a stranger’s vehicle for a shot at starting a new life. “Our research indicated that as long as the driver was headed somewhere else, anywhere else, more than three quarters of Americans would get in that person’s car without any hesitation,” said Pew spokesperson Sylvia Ettinger, adding that neither the make of the vehicle, its intended destination, nor the appearance or temperament of the driver would have any bearing on the decision. “Provided that entering the vehicle offered even the remotest possibility of a clean break from the past, eight out of every 10 people we surveyed said they were happy to toss their cell phone and wallet into a ditch and put their destiny in the hands of the very first person who pulled over.” The poll found, however, that only 3 percent of Americans would pick up some weirdo standing on the side of the road with his thumb out.

    Another Week Ends: Officer Clemmons’ Feet, Ego Depletion, Episcopal Bingo, Borgen, Togetherness, & Choral Benefits

    Another Week Ends: Officer Clemmons’ Feet, Ego Depletion, Episcopal Bingo, Borgen, Togetherness, & Choral Benefits

    Click here to listen to the accompanying episode of The Mockingcast. It’s a special one.

    1. This first one got me in the gut, as I bet it will anyone who grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. NPR’s StoryCorps interviewed Francois Clemmons this week, who played the role of friendly Officer Clemmons on the series for over 25 years. It turns out that Clemmons was the first black actor to have a recurring role on an children’s television series. I had no idea. But what makes this so poetic is that Mr Rogers had him play a policeman, AKA a representative…

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    From the Archives: What Kind of Anxious Are You?

    From the Archives: What Kind of Anxious Are You?

    “To some people, I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck—paddling, paddling, paddling…” – Scott Stossel

    You don’t have to have a therapist on speed-dial to relate. You don’t need a prescription to Xanax or Ativan, or a shelf full of ‘how to reduce stress’ books to know what he’s talking about. You don’t even need to be interested in mental health. All you need is a pulse, and possibly an Internet connection, to know that the ducks are multiplying.

    Indeed, the level of anxiety in America is skyrocketing. Every…

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    A TED Talk About Nothing

    Another Week Ends: Inflamed Parents, Static Vanderpumps, Hopeless Habits, Leadershipology, and Desktop Dining

    Another Week Ends: Inflamed Parents, Static Vanderpumps, Hopeless Habits, Leadershipology, and Desktop Dining

    Click here to listen to this week’s episode of The Mockingcast.

    “Footprints” via XKCD.com (http://xkcd.com/1575/)

    1. Don’t think we’ve ever led off with the Social Science Study of the Week, but this one is so good it bears all our attention. Quartz reported this week on new research confirming that “Being a good parent will physiologically destroy you”. Check it out, ht JD:

    Researchers surveyed 247 pairs of parents and their adolescent children on how often and to what degree parents could understand their children’s feelings and respond with appropriate concern. They also took blood samples. Empathetic parents and their children…

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    March Playlist

    A Deathbed Summary of the Main Message (of Jesus)

    A Deathbed Summary of the Main Message (of Jesus)

    Last year, the story of Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi went viral–and for good reason. The 36 year old Dr. Kalanithi was dying of lung cancer and had written an article for Stanford Medicine, in which he addressed his infant daughter in such moving terms that it feels trite to try to describe them. It turns out that the essay was merely an excerpt of a book-length reflection, When Breath Becomes Air, which was published posthumously last month. Suffice to say, it will leave you in a puddle on the ground (his widow’s epilogue – Oh My Lord). Sarah commented powerfully…

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    A New Translation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son

    A New Translation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son

    As requested, here’s the (ridiculous) opening of the talk on self-righteousness I gave at the Christ Hold Fast conference last weekend, “Amnesty for the Older Brother”, which kicked off with a fresh translation of Luke 15:11-22. Let’s just hope the father’s affections extend to those who’re impressed with their own cleverness:

     

    And Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his…

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