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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.


Author Archive
    Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty One Verses Four and Five

    Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty One Verses Four and Five

    A Holy Week-appropriate reflection from Paul Zahl, via The Mockingbird Devotional.

    This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.’” (RSV)

    Palm Sunday is a day in the Christian Calendar, and a day in history, that could define the word “irony.”

    It depicts the advance on Jerusalem of the city’s “King,” but in the form of a man seated on a donkey. It begins a week of ‘triumphal entry’ that only ends in…

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    Zen and the Art of Law and Gospel: A Conference Breakout with Jim McNeely

    Zen and the Art of Law and Gospel: A Conference Breakout with Jim McNeely

    I am very excited about the upcoming Mockingbird Conference! First, and possibly most importantly, I have been asked to do a few magic tricks at the conference. If you come, you will be one of the few humans ever to witness a one-time demonstration of the power of the amazing Cords of Shastri, which have been lost for over 600 years, but which have recently come into my possession. I will bring these to New York City for this one event. I repeat, this is a feat of legerdemain which has not been performed for over 600 years! I swear its…

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    “On Earth As It Is In Heaven”: Stories of Grace (A Conference Breakout with John Zahl)

    Continuing our NYC Conference breakout previews, this one comes to us from the Rev. John Zahl:

    No single word better describes the heart of the Christian message than “grace”. Grace defines our relationship with God, and describes the shape of our response to it. But it is also the case that life and people are not always gracious; sometimes our day-to-day experience seems devoid of charity. And so grace typically breaks into our midst like a wonderful surprise.

    RedBeardw_originalWith that in mind, I wonder, are you familiar with that wonderful feeling when a film moves you to cry tears of joy? This breakout presupposes that we do well to draw attention to such moments, for they remind us of the things in life that are most important, and point us back toward their point of origin. This breakout is an attempt to ground those experiences within the context of Christian spirituality.

    Not only that, Gospel illustrations help our hearts to connect with the good news that we hold so dear. In “Stories of Grace,” with the help of film clips, newspaper articles, and excerpts from literature, we will reflect upon some of these special instances. If you don’t cry tears of joy in this break-out, then you need a (second) heart transplant.

    “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Cor 16:23).

    Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

    Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

    This reflection on aging comes to us from Ryan Sanders:

    A recent study conducted by two professors at New York University revealed that people are more likely to make big decisions or create big regrets just before milestone birthdays. The study divined that “people audit the meaningfulness of their lives as they approach a new decade in chronological age, further suggesting that people across dozens of countries and cultures are prone to making significant decisions as they approach each new decade.”

    This study tells us what we already know: as people face milestone events, they often review their lives and make adjustments. And often,…

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    PZ’s Podcast: One Toke Over the Line (Sweet Mary)

    PZ’s Podcast: One Toke Over the Line (Sweet Mary)

    EPISODE 185: One Toke Over the Line (Sweet Mary)

    Call it another “Envoi”. A Last Word, The Summing Up (Maugham). Which is what it is.

    I’ve tried to bring it on home, wrap it up: the message of PZ’s Podcast. Remember I tried to distill things once in an episode entitled “My Sharona”? That was in July 2011 and it was the 54th cast. Well, this is “My Sharona” revisited and it’s the 185th.

    I had a vision on the 29th of January (2015). It was not a fun or reassuring vision. Far from it! But it seemed important. I can’t shake it.


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    NYC Breakout Preview: Faith through Imagination

    This begins our series of previews for our Mockingbird NYC Conference this April. It comes from the one and only Melina Smith.  

    Until a character becomes a personality it cannot be believed. Without personality, the character may do funny or interesting things, but unless people are able to identify themselves with the character, its actions will seem unreal. And without personality, a story cannot ring true to the audience. – Walt Disney

    We can all recall being small people and being captured through imagination. For me this experience came through vivid stories and films my father shared with me as a child. I can honestly say faith did not come through Sunday School. I can recall being disappointed in the presentation of your average Bible story– they came across as stale, rigid, and lacking in any creativity. As a child I preferred being in the big church; it was there, at the very least,that I heard more compelling and imaginative readings of the Bible. Sunday School felt like a threat–a boring one.

    Walt-Disney-and-Mickey-Mouse-at-Disneyland-walter-e-disney-6626898-400-512Fast forward to 2007 when I find myself in the basement of the church, working with a couple of volunteers to create Sunday School programing. I call upon my own childhood, remembering the felt board Jesus, watching Salty, and reading through the KJV. I knew going forward we would not be using materials I grew up with. As our small team continued, we bought curriculums, and worked with Godly Play, the programs we used were good, but I found something was missing.

    Why is it that in the Christian subculture we miss our opportunity to capture the imaginations of our youngest members during the time when its development is MOST vivid? As children we are not bound to what’s “real”–we are open to story. Take Walt Disney for instance: you could argue the world of Disney is its very own religious sphere. Disney said, “Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.” He was onto something here. Disney understood the power or imagination, he knew how to communicate the impossible with the hope of plausibility.

    Children and grown-ups are captivated by the strength of a story. Sure, the Bible may not include singing lobsters, but each story includes enough drama and risk to capture any listener, if the story is told well.

    Join us for “Faith Through Imagination” at the 2015 Mockingbird conference. Jackie DeMarco and I will share how our team has created programing that captures the imaginations of our youngest members. The imagination is the natural way to the heart of our youngest members. Can you imagine creation, the stormy story of Noah, and Jonah’s time in the belly of a whale? Children can so long as the story is told well. Join Jackie and I as we share our process, our vision, and hope for sharing the Gospel through story.

    Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.

    Hopelessly Devoted: Radars, Gift Certificates and Three-Eyed Cats

    In lieu of our regular devotional, here are the two that JAZ gave at Liberate last month. Memorable is an understatement:

    “Into Great Silence”: Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer

    “Into Great Silence”: Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer

    This guest post comes from Mockingbird friend Michael Centore. This piece is a wonderful companion to his amazing Los Angeles Review of Books piece on the Evergetinos, which can be read here.

    “The great difficulty for filmmakers is precisely not to show things,” Robert Bresson once declared during an interview for French television. “Ideally, nothing should be shown, but that’s impossible.” Reading Notes on the Cinematographer, his 1975 collection of memoranda, fragments, quotes, and aphorisms, one gathers he felt the same way about writing: that, in both media, a sense of reverence for the “secret laws” of life is best…

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    PZ’s Podcast: Dr. Syn and Hysteria

    PZ’s Podcast: Dr. Syn and Hysteria

    Episode 183: Dr. Syn

    Oh, to encounter an integrated minister! We all want to be integrated — to be ourselves in the pulpit and also out of it. But it’s tricky to pull off. Pharisaical elements in the church — usually one or two individuals in the parish, who are present — unconsciously — in order to hide out themselves in some way or another — can’t long abide a minister who is himself or herself.

    Most of your listeners love it. But there are one or two who, well, have an allergy. (They are the ones that can get you every…

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    Mbird in Tyler, TX (3/27-28): Tangled Up in Grace – FULL SCHEDULE!

    Calling all mathematicians and carpenters’ wives! Thanks to a truly amazing group of volunteers, later this month we are coming back to Texas–Tyler this time. The event has come together beautifully, as you’ll see below. The theme is Dylan-derived, ptL, and we’ve even gotten a local brewery in on the action! Best of all, local supporters have come together to ensure that the entire thing is only $40/person. For more information, or to pre-register, click here.

    Friday March 27th  (Christ Episcopal Church)

    Mockingbird_FB-Poster-full4:30pm – Registration and Welcome

    5:15pm – Call to Worship – Matt and Megan Magill and Robert Finney

    5:30pm – David Zahl Talk #1: “Lay Down Your Weary Tune: Everyday Life and the Roots of Exhaustion”

    6:30pm – Stanley’s BBQ Dinner

    7:30pm – True Vine Beer Tasting

    8:30pm – Bob Dylan Tribute Show at The Foundry Coffee House (202 Broadway)

    Saturday March 28th  (The Foundry Coffee House)

    9:00am – Coffee Talk w/ Jonathan Ramm and Josh Modisette

    9:45am – Morning Worship – The Magills & The Downtowners

    10:00am – Aaron Zimmerman talk #1: “A Mockingbird in Capernaum: The After-party for the Sermon on the Mount (In Which the Sinners Get the Good Stuff)”

    11:00am – Breakout sessions at The Foundry Coffee House/Bethel Bible:

    • Keith Pozzuto: ”Management, Control, and Getting It Together: a Work in Failure”
    • Randy Randall: “What the #$%* is A Jackson Pollock: The Messy Grace of Modern Art”
    • Ryan Dixon: “Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Beer is Good, God is Great, People are Lonely”
    • Sarah Condon: “Hiding in the Bathroom: Why Inspired Parenting Will Kill You”

    12-1:30pm – Curbside Taco at The Foundry back Lot. (Cost not included in registration.)

    1:45pm – David Zahl Talk #2 “Shelter From The Storm: Rest, Refuge, and Our Merciful Friend”

    3:00pm – Round Table Discussion and free time

    4:00-5:30pm – Free Time (Area Attractions)

    5:30pm – “Open Taps” at True Vine Brewery, 219 S. Englewood (This is a separate event that you are invited to attend click here for more info.)


    Hopelessly Devoted: Second Samuel Chapter Nine Verse Thirteen

    Happy Monday! Here’s your daily supplement of Gospel juju, coming at you piping hot. This one comes from DZ.

    And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet. (2 Samuel 9:13, NIV)

    Try saying “Mephibosheth” five times in row—it’s a mouthful! But it’s also a name that should conjure up only the most positive associations. To set the scene: After David becomes king of Israel (following Saul’s defeat and suicide), his first order of business is to find any surviving relations of his late, beloved friend Jonathan, Saul’s son, so that he might show them kindness.

    r15David soon finds out that Jonathan’s sole living heir, Mephibosheth, is “crippled in both feet” and not exactly regal material. Mephibosheth seems to have internalized his disabilities, referring to himself in front of David as “a dead dog” (9:8). Yet without any hesitation, David restores to him all of his family land and issues the command that Mephibosheth is to dine at the king’s table at every meal, henceforth.

    This is a touching example of grace in the Old Testament. An unworthy person receives love and favor on account of something that someone else has done. Even more, there is a deep security to the new situation—Mephibosheth will always eat at David’s table, like one of his sons. What is the result of this radical decree? We are told that Mephibosheth himself has a son. That is, hope springs where there was once desperation and life where there once was death. (Of course, the feet remain crippled…)

    Sometimes we get to witness grace like this, and occasionally we even get to experience it. Even though acts of grace astound us, it is only a shadow of the real thing: the grace given by God on account of the death of Jesus.

    Have you ever felt like a dead dog? Or perhaps there is something in your life that feels (or looks) like a dead dog? That’s where the voice of the King is to be heard, the voice of unconditional love that makes dead things alive and brings hope to the hopeless. The voice that says, “Because of My beloved son, you will always eat at my table.”

    FEBRUARY BOOK SALE – 20% Off All Mbird Books!


    A little self-promotion: Whenever we find a theme here on the blog we’re especially excited about and feel we’ve done some of our best writing on, we’ll take a few months, get an editor onboard, and take the time to basically do it way better and more in depth than we can find time for on the blog – thus Mockingbird books. They’re a little underused, but we love all of them – and want you to, as well. So we’re offering 20% off through the end of February. Get some books, tell your friends. IMHO, they’re solid work. Catalogue below:

    A Mess of Help, by David Zahl: Our newest book presents the best of DZ’s music writing, revised, rethought and expanded, plus a good bit of never-before-done material, too. Get to know the ‘cruciform’ shape of the lives/work of many of the best rock n’ roll artists, and don’t miss the ultimate annotated playlist.


    Eden and Afterward, by Will McDavid: Mockingbird’s most ambitious biblical foray yet, it gives a pretty good deal of thought/reflection on the beginning of the Bible, Genesis. By reading it with fresh eyes and a view toward its character as literature, EAA makes these old stories fresh, new, and surprising.

    PZ’s Panopticon, by Paul F.M. Zahl: PZP does comparative religion through the only lens that really matters, i.e., how do the different religions look to a dying person? Immensely provocative, entertaining, and profound, in classic Paul Zahl style.

    The Mockingbird Devotional, edited by Ethan Richardson and Sean Norris: Our bestselling book by a good stretch, this 365-day devotional, by over 60 contributors, provides the Gospel every day. Called the “best devotional on the planet” by Tullian Tchividjian.

    Grace in Addiction, by John Z: When it comes to the bound will and the crucial question of if, and how, people change for the better, look no further. This is our most practical book, an extended meditation on the Twelve Steps with almost infinite application to ‘Christian life’, and inexhaustible comfort.


    This American Gospel, by Ethan Richardson: A rare work of what might be called ‘personal theology’, TAG starts in the gritty, everyday stories of the popular radio program “This American Life”, and it weaves them together beautifully into deep meditations on themes of human life. Packed with insight.

    The Gospel According to Pixar, edited by David Zahl and Todd Brewer: Just what it sounds like; Pixar’s golden age not only resulted in exceptional children’s movies, but also a surprising Gospel bent to almost everything they did. Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and others strike a remarkable balance between story and parable. Perfect for young Sunday School courses, adult nostalgia, or a good cry.

    Judgment and Love, edited by Sean Norris: One of our earliest books, Judgment and Love takes a bottom-up approach to the old theme of Law and Gospel, telling personal stories of how these themes play out in real life.

    Promo code for everything is 4FYR46BT – except for Pixar and J+L, which are already discounted. Pick up yours today!