Matt is the Canon for Parish Life and Evangelism at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL, where he lives with his wife Hawley and two children. In addition to regularly contributing to Mockingbird, he is an amateur humorist and recently won The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. He likes to ride bikes.
Each year I make a hobby during graduation season (May/June) of paying attention to college commencement speeches. We’ve covered quite a few here on Mbird over the years. It’s a rhetorical phenomenon that sheds light on philosophies of the world that are either long on law or lame optimism about human potential: Look inside yourself, follow your heart, failure is just a stepping stone to future success. Oh, the places you’ll go! These are some of the many cliches that are repeated year after year. They’re also often insufferably boring.
Yet, it seems each season a glimmer of hope breaks through the the cracks from…
I recently came across a book that really spoke to me called The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People (2012) by Matthew B. Redmond. The thing I like most about the book is it’s pastoral—it really ministered to me as I read it. It’s main thrust is that God is at work in the ordinariness of our mostly mundane lives. This is actually the opposite of what one often hears in Christian circles (across the ideological spectrum) that urge us to do radical things and find God in mountain-top experiences.
Here is the description on the back of the book:
“Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin being so deeply curved in on itself (incurvatus in se) that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them, as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites, or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.” —Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans
Several months ago I wrote a post on the well known and now deceased “Painter of Light,” Thomas Kinkade. I addressed Kinkade’s tragic backstory of suffering and how his pain never came through in his I’m-OK-you’re-OK artwork. Most of all I lamented that Christians in particular promote his brand of sentimental artwork because it is safe. What I originally thought would be an obscure post actually got a lot of attention. I was surprised that it struck such a nerve. One redditor called me patronizing: “F*ck Matt Schneider. This piece was condescending and nauseating.”
I don’t usually criticize individual artists and thinkers publically,…
A yearly Christmas pleasure is King’s College at Cambridge’s famous Festival of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, nine lessons and nine carols with a beautiful choir and traditional music. For those who just can’t wait, here’s a bit of the rationale of the King’s College service, followed by an Mbird-friendly, fresh and down-to-earth spinoff to tide you over:
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who, at the age of thirty-four, had just been appointed Dean of King’s after experience as an army chaplain which had convinced him that…
Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, is now in its fifth season. After four hit-or-miss seasons, the show really is getting better, and Seinfeld had one his most interesting guests recently: Bill Burr. One thing I love about the episode is the chemistry between Burr and Seinfeld. By the end of the episode they literally didn’t want to end it, and neither did I. Plus Burr had some gem riffs/monologues and one-liners. Seinfeld had his share, too.
Something I love about really great comics is that they “get it,” at least implicitly. They’re perceptive about life and human nature, and they are…
If you don’t know Humans of New York, it’s one of the few creative things worth following on Facebook. It is curated by a guy named Brandon who simply collects quotes and photos of the people he meets (mostly in New York City), posting them on his blog and social media. He has a huge following. I was struck by a recent post. It’s a down-to-earth presentation of a theology of the Cross versus one of glory:
“I’ve written so many stories and novellas that nobody will look at, plays that I can’t get produced, screenplays that will never be made. Everything is so branded these days in the art world, it’s so hard for an outsider to get work.”
“In what way would you consider yourself an ‘outsider?’”
“I’m interested in failure, so those are the themes that I like to explore. But we live in a society that celebrates triumphalism. A society wants art that reaffirms itself. We want to read about characters that win.”
“What was your lowest moment as an artist?”
“I worked on a screenplay for two years, and it had just been turned down by the fifth theater in a month, and I remember walking down 5th avenue in the middle of winter, tossing the pages one by one into the slush, vowing never to do it again. It was just a few blocks from here, actually.”
In the film Dead Poets Society, Neil Perry, a young prep school boy, goes against his father’s wishes and performs in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The father blames the boy’s teacher, John Keating (played by Robin Williams) for Neil’s disobedience, demanding Mr. Keating stay out of the boy’s life. In reaction to the situation, that evening Neil’s father takes him home, telling Neil he plans to enroll him in military school.
Later that night Neil, unable to handle the thoughts of his possible future, takes his own life.
Of course, today this plot holds a bitter irony since one of Robin…
I usually roll my eyes at and delete email forwards. But I just received one worth passing on that had the subject “The endings of All the fairy tales……….” The email included about a dozen images of fairytale, cartoon, and superhero characters later in life with children on their hips, grey hair, beer bellies, and the like. Maybe you received this one back in 1999 or thereabouts, and I’ll admit that the quality degraded as I scrolled down, but the first couple are gems:
To be honest, I didn’t even know Thomas Kinkade was dead. That was until I read this fascinating piece on Kinkade, America’s favorite sentimental “Painter of Light,” from The Daily Beast by Zac Bissonnette: “The Drunken Downfall of Evangelical America’s Favorite Painter.” I also had no idea Kinkade was (a) an Evangelical Christian and (b) an alcoholic. The story is at once alarming, yet not surprising, and ultimately really sad. Thus, I can’t help but explore it here.
(Before I move on, I should preface this essay by noting that Kinkade died on Good Friday two years ago, so I was probably distracted…
In our perennial pursuit of children’s books that address true-to-life issues, my wife and I recently stumbled across a gem at the library called Yours Truly, Louisa by Simon Puttock. The story explores a theme of passive aggression, which is not normally seen in children’s books, but it should be, given how pervasive an issue it is (and ultimately a dead end). As such, there is a theological undercarriage of the law, since passive aggressive communication tends to be a symptom of legalism. The book has a hopeful (almost Biblical) ending, though, that makes it all the more worthwhile.
It has been a Mockingbird tradition to highlight worthy graduation speeches amidst the vast sea of snoozers. As the spring commencement season approaches, I want to point out that Ed Helms, the actor who played Andy Bernard on The Office, will be giving a speech at Cornell University’s graduation on May 24. This is noteworthy because Andy Bernard, the sycophantic airhead with anger-management issues, always brags about how he went to Cornell (’93). “Ever heard of it?”
Helm’s upcoming speech is bound to go at least semi-viral just by his showing up at Cornell. But it’s even more likely to go viral…