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Mockingbird is devoted to connecting the Christian message with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways.


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    The Irreligion of the Cross

    From Fleming Rutledge’s masterful new work, The Crucifixion, this comes from her chapter “The Godlessness of the Cross” (ht LM):

    Yet at the most fundamental level—and this can’t be emphasized too strongly—the cross is in no way “religious.” The cross is by a very long way the most irreligious object ever to find its way into the heart of faith. J. Christiaan Beker refers to it as “the most nonreligious and horrendous feature of the Gospel.

    The crucifixion marks out the essential distinction between Christianity and “religion.” Religion as defined in these pages is either an organized system of belief or, alternatively, a loose collection of ideas and practices, projected out of humanity’s needs and wishes. The cross is “irreligious” because no human being individually or human beings collectively would have projected their hopes, wishes, longings, and needs onto a crucified man.

    From The New Yorker


    A Just Relief: How the Gospel Inspires Justice and Mercy – Raleigh Sadler

    Just when you thought the NYC Conference videos were finished!

    A Just Relief: How the Gospel Inspires Justice and Mercy – Raleigh Sadler from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

    This Week: Come See Stars in My Crown With PZ in Stamford, CT!

    You Are Invited: This Wednesday Aug 24th at 7:30pm to the final installment of our summer film series, “Religious Hope From the Movies”, at the Avon Theater in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. To whet your appetite our host, Paul Zahl, produced the following blurb:

    stars-in-my-crown-movie-poster-1950-1020537482I’ve never met someone who didn’t fall for this movie. We’re talking about a Hollywood Western entitled Stars in My Crown, which was released in 1950 and starred Joel McCrea. Stars in my Crown was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who made many movies you’ve heard of, such as Cat People (1942) and Out of the Past (1947).

    Interestingly, Stars in my Crown was Joel McCrea’s favorite movie in which he acted, and Jacques Tourneur’s favorite movie that he directed.

    You’ve got to come see this movie with us next Wednesday at the Avon Theater in Stamford.


    Well, it presents a Christian minister who is the essence of grace in practice. Somewhat episodic, Stars in my Crown tells the story of a sincere, delightful, and persistent minister who is faced with problem after problem after problem in the small town where he has planted a church — from the strong resistance of the local doctor, who is a rationalist, to a power play from the town’s “big man” (and also the Klan) against an African-American senior, to an inward assault upon the minister’s own faith and confidence when a typhoid epidemic brings his ministry to a standstill.

    Stars in my Crown is one of the few mainstream movies — together with the French movie Leon Morin, Priest (1961), and a small handful of others — that depicts a minister or priest with accuracy, empathy, and sympathy — in short, with Christian understanding.

    At 7:30pm PZ will introduce the movie — which we featured, by the way in Mockingbird at the Movies (2015) — and right after the movie’s over, we have a special guest. Our special guest is Peter McCrea, son of Joel McCrea, who will talk about his father’s spirituality, and why it is that Stars in My Crown was his dad’s favorite.

    Hope you can come.

    Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Five Verses Forty Four Through Forty Six

    This morning’s devotion comes to us from Ben Phillips.

    How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (John 5:44-46, ESV)

    There is a very strong courtroom motif throughout the Gospel of John. At the end, John actually frames his account of Jesus’ life like a courtroom eyewitness testimony (21:24). Here it is certainly true: Jesus is dealing with the legal accusations of a group of Pharisees who haimageve objected to his healing miracles. Earlier in this chapter Jesus very boldly claims, “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (5:22). In God’s courtroom, Jesus is not the defense attorney; he is the Judge. Jesus goes on to state here that Moses (the Law) will serve as the prosecution.

    It must be understood that while God’s Law shows us the divine moral ordering of the universe, it also always accuses sinners of their sinfulness. The Law shows no one is right with God—and that was the Pharisees’ problem. And ours too. The fact that they—and we—overlook the truth about our legal standing means that we end up missing our need for a savior.

    When we hear talk about God’s holiness or glory, very often the response is pie-eyed delight, not run-and-hide Edenic fear. Many contemporary worship songs go on and on about God’s holiness and grandeur, but they also fail to recognize the fact that God’s holiness shames us. Next to the perfect, the imperfect is obliterated. It’s true.
    But the Gospel of John tells us something else entirely. Way back in the introduction to the Gospel, John writes that “The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:17).

    The Gospel tells us that Judge Jesus is also Jesus the Condemned. The reason Jesus can make a non-condemning ruling and declare sinners righteous is that the price for not keeping the Law has been paid in his own blood—the judge takes all the blame himself, freeing us from the defendant’s chair.

    Grace and William Trevor’s Piano Tuner

    Grace and William Trevor’s Piano Tuner

    This comes to us from Mockingfriend, Larry Parsley.

    William Trevor, the Irish master of the short story, opens “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” with words that could almost launch a parable. “Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man. Belle married him when he was old.” In the story that follows, Trevor renders Belle’s jealousy of the departed Violet with dozens of deft brushstrokes.

    The piano tuner, Owen, is blind. In his younger years, he was loved both by Violet and Belle. Owen chose Violet over the younger and more beautiful Belle, and subsequently Belle never married. During the four decades…

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    Lost Sunglasses and the World’s Last Night

    Lost Sunglasses and the World’s Last Night

    This one comes from our friend Eric Youngblood.

    I lost my sunglasses.

    They were serving their vocation as shields to my eyes at a baseball game. But eventually the sun retired for the day, relinquishing its post to the moon.

    The polarized lenses–affording me the pleasures of squint-less visibility and protection from ultra-violet ocular violence–suddenly became little more than stylish, removable blind-folds.

    So I removed them. Of that much I am sure. I’m even marginally certain they were then perched over the brim of my cap, giving my Lookout Mountain All-Stars cap the appearance of possessing its own set of eyes.

    But then again, I could have…

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    From the New Yorker


    An Upholder’s Confession

    An Upholder’s Confession

    This one comes to us from friend and contributor Lindsey Hepler:

    In her recent book about habit formation, Gretchen Rubin describes four types of people: obligers, rebels, upholders, and questioners. Without ever taking her short quiz, I already know which type I am: an upholder, through and through. Upholders, Rubin says, respond readily to outer and inner expectations. Basically, we are rule followers and rule lovers.

    On the positive side, being an upholder often contributes to success in school, where being a good rule follower is essentially seen as the same thing as being a smart/gifted child. An adult tells us what…

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    Grace in Practice 10 Years Later: A Conversation

    Don’t think we’ve posted the wonderful on-stage conversation that took place in NYC between PZ and Scott Jones:

    Grace in Practice 10 Years Later: A Conversation Between Scott Jones and Paul Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

    Another Tribute to the Rev. Robert Capon

    Another Tribute to the Rev. Robert Capon

    Here is another fantastic reflection from Cody Gainous. 

    I can’t remember where I first read the name Robert Farrar Capon — whether it was Mockingbird that led me to Capon or Capon that led me Mockingbird, I’m not sure. Classic chicken/egg scenario. But I can remember where I was when I heard that he had passed away. We are approaching the third anniversary of his death this September. That day, I was sitting on the couch in my tiny apartment, incidentally reading Between Noon and Three. When I put down the book and picked up my computer, the news came: Robert…

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    Hopelessly Devoted: Luke Chapter Twenty Two Verses Forty Nine Through Fifty One

    This morning’s installment from The Mockingbird Devotional comes from PZ himself. 

    And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51, RSV)

    This exchange between Jesus and his disciples at an urgent and dangerous moment says more than just a “No” to taking matters into your own hands. It says a great “Yes” to healing, and loving, your enemy. (I resent this, by the way, about Jesus, as he always goes that extra step toward the crumb who hurt you.)

    Poster - Ben-Hur (1959)_04The disciples carry two swords among them, and like Ben-Hur, they are ready to give their lives in service of their teacher and friend. Peter is the one who by tradition takes instant aim at the high priest’s slave, and slices off the man’s ear. Jesus cries, Stop! Then he heals the stricken man. It’s in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, and you can still visit the actual scene, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

    Jesus forbids violence in his defense, and then takes that extra step. This is the rocky part. For myself, I am right with him on the passivity. We have seen and see every day what happens when you try to take matters into your own hands. The better way is to concede things, right down the line—“It’s out of my hands!” When you take things into your own hands, it always seems to backfire. Let things come to you. Let the result come to you. And if you’re in the wrong, let the result go the other way. I think all of us who embrace the iustitia passiva are with Christ here in this lightning encounter. Our theological and personal instincts run in that direction.

    But there are limits, right? Do we really have to go the extra mile, and stitch up the minion who “vuz just folloving orrderz?”

    The way to look at this is not to ask whether you or I can do it, whether you or I can take that extra magnanimous step. The way to look at it is rather to remember when you or I were in the body of that temple servant, that little man in service of the wrong who was nevertheless helped along to a better path. This is that one extra step—Neil Armstrong’s one small but giant step—in service of our fellow earthlings. We are not so much “Peter,” who needs to be instructed to put away his sword. We are “Malchas,” which is the traditional name given to the temple slave. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Come, Lord Christ, and help me get up. I am Malchas and my right ear is lying in a puddle of blood on the ground.

    The other day I was with a depressed young man, age 29. His face was completely blank and he could barely get out a word. Turns out he is well educated, graduated from an excellent college, and has a skilled job. But he is depressed and needs help. How could I help him, as he was pretty alienating—no smile, no laugh, dead eyes, no affect of any perceptible kind? The key, for me, was relating to my own depression, my own personal history of depression. The man in my study didn’t have to know that, but my love for him was going to have to be tied to one thing: whatever identification I could effect with his disease. Thank God I could. The link was not whether I could reach out in my own strength to this affect-less person, but whether I could reach out to my own personal affect-less self. And that self exists. All I need to do is recollect one long night in Manhattan years and years ago when my wife went into a movie theater to see a movie with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep and I couldn’t even go in, but pleaded depression and just walked around the block, at least 25 times, until the movie was over, and we could go back home. Stranger to depression? No. Possibility of connection? Yes.

    This is how I can make Christ’s magnanimous gesture somehow my own.