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

    From The Onion: I’m Sorry, But You’re Just Not the Man I Hoped You Would Become When I Married You


    Woah, this one is painful, ht TM:

    “Back when we first met, my irrational and entirely unfounded vision of what you could someday become seemed almost too perfect: kind, thoughtful, caring. That fictional mental construct that I envisioned you eventually developing into was everything I ever wanted. I thought that imaginary version of you and I would be happy together forever.

    How wrong I was.

    Today, it’s evident that you’re simply not the nonexistent, purely hypothetical person I always wanted to grow old with. Just last week, for example, when you didn’t so much as look up from your laptop after I came home from work, even though you knew I was supposed to hear about my promotion that day, I realized that you aren’t even capable of magically changing into what I need in a husband. When I look at you now, all I see is a workaholic with intimacy issues who has persisted unchanging for the past decade and a half—no longer the ideal husband I convinced myself you would morph into through some miracle. And that’s just sad.

    I see it all now. Your outright lack of interest in my sculpture classes and my volunteering work at church, your single-minded obsession with your career, the fact that you explicitly told me on our first date that you never wanted children. I thought those things were important to the theoretical idea of who you’d become in the future that has long lived in my head, and it breaks my heart to realize that they are not.

    Honestly, it’s almost as if you’re the exact same man I married.”

    Read the rest here.

    Later, Skater: How to Stop Procrastinating (Now!)

    Later, Skater: How to Stop Procrastinating (Now!)

    I meant to have this post up first thing in the morning. What happened? An email here, a phone call there–the trailer for the new P.T. Anderson film (with Joaquin Phoenix channeling Dennis Wilson!) isn’t going to watch itself–and here we are, late-afternoon. The feeling is not a good one. It sounds so silly on paper, and indeed, if you subscribe to anything like a hierarchy of suffering, few things seem more trivial than procrastination, so much so that to write about it inspires, well, more procrastination.

    I once heard procrastination described as the battle between Want and Should, one where…

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    From The New Yorker


    Another Week Ends: Axiomatic Romance, TMI Troubles, Welby’s Doubts, Antrim’s ECT, Recovering Moms, Reuniting Replacements, and Alien Baptisms

    Another Week Ends: Axiomatic Romance, TMI Troubles, Welby’s Doubts, Antrim’s ECT, Recovering Moms, Reuniting Replacements, and Alien Baptisms

    1. Love has been on the brain here in Cville as we put the finishing touches on the upcoming ‘Relationships’ issue of The Mockingbird. Among other things, we’ve been watching insane documentaries, interviewing experts, and listening to (un-)godly amounts of ABBA. So it was serendipitous this week to come across The Atlantic’s “Love Is Not Algorithmic”, a review of/reflection on Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), the new book by online dating guru and OKCupid co-founder, Christian Rudder. Most of it falls into captain obvious territory re: love & identity & control, but a couple of…

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    Josef Pieper Mistrusts Everything That Is Effortless

    Taken from the German philosopher’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture, ht BS:

    “The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refused to have anything as a gift.”

    Cue this past Sunday’s sermon on the Parable of the Worker’s in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16):

    Face Down – Mary Karr

    Face Down – Mary Karr

    Woah. A devastating one from the new issue of The New Yorker (click here to hear her read it):

    What are you doing on this side of the dark?
    You chose that side, and those you left
    feel your image across their sleeping lids
    as a blinding atomic blast.
    Last we knew,
    you were suspended midair
    like an angel for a pageant off the room
    where your wife slept. She had
    to cut you down who’d been (I heard)
    so long holding you up. We all tried to,
    faced with your need, which we somehow
    understood and felt for and took
    into our veins like smack. And you
    must be lured by that old…

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    Another Week Ends: American Immortals, Henry James, U2charists, Authentic Nerdists, AWK Prays, and Reclusive Deities

    Another Week Ends: American Immortals, Henry James, U2charists, Authentic Nerdists, AWK Prays, and Reclusive Deities

    1. Part and parcel of the juvenilization we touched on earlier this week is the phenomenon UPenn bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel (best name ever?!) describes as “the American immortal”, that not-so-peculiar species that devotes so much of its time/energy to prolonging life that it kills them (often before they die). Surprise surprise–underneath the aversion to growing up may lurk a denial of human limitation which is ultimately a denial of death. In the latest bit of watercooler bait from The Atlantic, “Why I Hope To Die at 75″, Emanuel challenges the notion of “compression of morbidity”, the widespread presumption that the…

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    God Helped The Girl

    God Helped The Girl

    I guess it’s impossible to write about God Help the Girl, the new musical film written and directed by Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, without weighing in on the larger aesthetic it embodies, what some have even called a movement: Twee. But I’m going to try, as we’ve tread that ground a number of times already. Suffice it to say, if ice cream cones (with pirouette cookies), Left Banke singles, and coonskin caps turn your stomach, you probably won’t be able to get beyond the window-dressing on this one. As the opening line of The Vulture review put it,…

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    Almost Like The Blues – Leonard Cohen

    The sage’s brilliantly titled new record, Popular Problems, comes out on Tuesday, but NPR is streaming the whole thing this week. Of particular note, thus far, is the Exodus-leaning “Born in Chains”, to say nothing of lead “single” “Almost Like the Blues”, the words of which were printed in verse form in The New Yorker a few weeks ago. The final verse stopped me in my tracks:

    There is no G-d in heaven
    And there is no Hell below
    So says the great professor
    Of all there is to know
    But I’ve had the invitation
    That a sinner can’t refuse
    And it’s almost like salvation
    It’s almost like the blues

    Liv Ullmann on Something Better Than Violence

    While we’re on the subject of social media, a highly unusual interview came across my desk this week, with Swedish actress-director Liv Ullmann, widely known for her collaborations with Ingmar Bergman. If at first it sounds like the rant of a septuagenarian, keep reading–would that we all could be so frank. It’s almost enough to make a person want to go rewatch Scenes from a Marriage (which is really saying something!):

    Liv+Ullman+2012+IIFA+Awards+Day+2+1gzfVbxS37Il“What is this chatting? And then they Twitter, and I understand the Twitter can be so mean and horrible and people are killing themselves because of what they’re reading about themselves. A lot of evilness comes when you are anonymous.” It’s a false democracy, [Ullman] thinks, a veneer behind which powerful groups can slip in and assume power.

    Maybe being famous means she can’t understand why others might want to be celebrities. It’s true, she can’t fathom it – why people would set their self-worth by such a measure. “We should tell them what is really to be cared for. It’s not because you’re suddenly famous, it’s really when you’re sitting one person to another and you are listening to each other and the other person is seeing you and then you have maybe a strange thought and you say it and suddenly see some understanding in the other person. Or you go to a movie and things you didn’t have words for are there. That is the communication I prefer.”

    Ullmann apologises. She’s gone off topic, she says. Her eyes are gleaming. She’s made this screamingly mean movie [an adaptation of Strindberg's 'Miss Julie', starring Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell] to try to show people how not to behave. People ought to feel bad more than they do, she says, to try to make amends. “If you have a row with your husband and you see them lying down trying to sleep and you see they’re so scared, instead of saying: ‘You have to change or I’ll leave’, you should say: ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’” When Jesus hung on the cross, he asked forgiveness of the brutes. There’s something that is better than violence. ‘Forgive me’, you should say, even if you have been wronged.”

    Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

    Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

    There I was, reclining in the waiting room while my son met with his speech therapist, as I do every week. Computer on my lap—heaven forbid I sit there unoccupied—I was reading A.O. Scott’s new treatise for The Times on “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” I like Scott’s writing, so I ignored the instinct to roll my eyes at the prospect of yet another think-piece about stunted millennials; I had time to kill, after all. It opens with some bold claims:

    Something profound has been happening in our television over the past decade, some end-stage reckoning. It is the…

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    The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians – Christian Wiman

    Good news! Yesterday saw the release of Christian Wiman’s new book of poetry, Once in the West. While my copy is still in mail, I couldn’t resist sharing the opening portion of what Dwight Garner in the NY Times has already called a “major performance” and “near-masterpiece”, one that Wiman was kind enough to preview for us when he was here in 2013, “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians”. It’s biting and uncomfortable but also extremely funny, a veritable catalog of churchy tropes, both inane and indicting. Given its tone, the ending, which you’ll have to buy the book to read, may surprise you.


    9780374227012_p0_v2_s260x420I tell you it’s a bitch existence some Sundays
    and it’s no good pretending you don’t have to pretend,

    don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Help
    and whip the sorry chariot of yourself

    toward whatever Hell your Heaven is on days like these.
    I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slake

    to be so twitchingly intent on the pretty organist’s pedaling,
    so lizardly alert to the curvelessness of her choir robe.

    Here it comes, brothers and sisters, the confession of sins,
    hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn

    we don’t so much sing as haunt: grounded altos, gear-grinding tenors,
    three score and ten gently bewildered men lip-synching along.

    You’re up, Pastor. Bring on the unthunder. Some trickle-piss tangent
    to reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.

    I tell you sometimes mercy means nothing
    but release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstep

    sideways, as it were, setting passion on autopilot (as if it weren’t!)
    to gaze out in peace at your peaceless parishioners:

    boozeglazes and facelifts, bad mortgages, bored marriages,
    making a kind of masonry in faces at once specific and generic,

    and here and there that rapt famished look that leaps
    from person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.


    Anyone interested in Wiman would do well to read Matthew Sitman’s excellent new essay for The Deep Dish, “Finding the Words for Faith”, in which he dubs CW “America’s most important Christian writer.”