Mockingbird is devoted to connecting the Christian message with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways.
- “Lazaretto, or Where Is That Moral Progress I Was Promised?” – Scott Johnson
- “The Kingdom of Heaven According to Hollywood: It’s Not Where You Think It Is” – Carrie Willard
- “Repentance as an Act of Rebellion” – Jonathan Mitchican
- “Grace All the Way Down” – Mac Stewart
Great news: As of this afternoon, The Mental Health Issue of The Mockingbird is out the door! After months and months of hard work, we could not be more excited to get this thing into your hands. We poured our heart and soul into every page (the most yet in a single issue, but who’s counting), and we think it shows. Be sure to peruse the Table of Contents and/or read Ethan’s Opener if you haven’t already.
Subscribers and those who pre-ordered should be receiving their copies this week. All other orders will be processed as they come in–click here to place yours.
To celebrate the launch, we put together a special episode of The Mockingcast. It features a bunch of exclusive interviews, including one with self-justification guru Carol Tavris. Like the magazine itself, this is not something you’ll want to miss. Oh and by all means help us spread the word on social media!
This one was written by the inimitable Duo Dickinson, who also guested on this past Friday’s episode of The Mockingcast.
What is faith?
For those who are very proud of the absence of faith in anything other than facts, faith is a desirable implication of combined data points: if you are having a picnic you have faith in the “Partly Cloudy” forecast on Weather.Com but are not-so-faithful to the verity of The Farmer’s Almanac.
For those who are faithful in the absence of data points faith tends to be what is hoped to be true because you want whatever that unknown is to happen:…
EPISODE 221: Centennial
Healing, one’s healing, doesn’t come from fiat, i.e., from declaration. Nor does it come from deletion, i.e., from living as if events in your past never took place.
Healing comes from abreaction and merger, from engagement, even the ‘clash by night’, with the past and with your hurt, rejection and pain.
I saw this recently “up close and personal” during a visit to my old college.
It was the centennial of my final club (i.e., fraternity), and the whole world had returned to show good faith and loyalty. Suddenly I became witness to an ancient institution that is throbbing with life….
This post comes to us from Matthew Wilkins.
Wednesday, musician/poet Leonard Cohen celebrated his 82nd birthday, and gave us a gift in the midst of this particularly saddening week by releasing the title track from his upcoming album “You Want it Darker.”
Cohen has never been one to shy away from religious themes in his music, even deeply Christian themes though he considers himself both Jewish and a Buddhist, and “You Want it Darker” is no exception.
Over a somewhat brooding backing track with well timed choral support, Cohen delves into questions of God, evil, and human suffering in a way that not only…
With just over a month until our Fall Conference in Oklahoma City (10/28-29), we are excited to announce the final schedule, including talk titles, below. We’ll be exploring the theme, “Grace in the Grind: The Gospel in Contemporary Culture”, and we hope the weekend will provide rest and respite from the stress of daily life. As a reminder, thanks to the generosity of The Anglican Foundation and All Souls Episcopal Church, this conference is completely free! Just please be sure to pre-register ASAP so that we can plan accordingly.
Friday Oct 28th
12:30 – Registration opens
1:00pm – Welcome and “Falling Into Grace, Pt 1” – John Newton
2:15pm – “The Gospel Monday thru Friday: Glimpses of Grace in Relationships” – Alex Large
3:15pm – Breakouts
6:00pm – “Falling Into Grace, Pt 2” – John Newton
6:45pm – Anglican Foundation presentation
7:00pm – Dinner and Drinks! (menu coming soon)
Saturday Oct 29th
8:30am – Doors open
9:00am – “Sacraments, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Pop Culture and the Loss of the Enchanted Imagination” – Jonathan Mitchican
9:45am – “A View from the Back Pew: Grace in the Grind of Family and Church” – Carrie Willard
10:45am – “Things Done and Left Undone: Hope Beyond the To-Do List” – David Zahl
11:30am – Concluding service
12:30pm — Book Table closes
This morning’s devotion comes to us from Mockintern extraordinaire Margaret Pope.
As of May 14, 2016, I am an adult. Maybe more accurately a pseudo-adult because my dad still pays my cellphone bill and insurance, but nevertheless, I am no longer an undergrad. I went straight from graduation in Oxford, Mississippi, to summer camp in North Carolina to a new job in Charlottesville, Virginia, so I did not fully comprehend the reality of my newly-minted adulthood until today. A restless weekend and an exceptionally long Monday hit me like a ton of bricks. The honeymoon phase of moving to a new city and starting a new job came to a screeching halt. Cue the tears and the hour-long phone call to mom. I explained to her that I felt as if I might crumble into a million pieces at any given moment, that life was not all sunshine and rainbows. She admitted that she had a similar day last week, confirming that, despite appearances, no one actually has it all together.
The world tells us that as adults, we must have our lives completely figured out with a sense of who we are, where we want to be, and how we are going to get there. When we cannot meet that standard, we feel like utter failures. Fortunately, the world’s definition of a successful, put-together adult is contrary to what God requires of us. In fact, not having it all together is the only requirement for receiving the immeasurable grace that God offers. He knew full well that we would never be able to get our acts together because of the sin that permeates every aspect of our lives. Therefore, He sent His Son to earth to live a perfect life on our behalf that would cover up our bad days, our failures, and our complete inability to get it together. And the best part is that no matter how many bad days we have, God never turns away, leaving us to fend for ourselves: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 2:22-23).
In no way do I pretend to have adulthood figured out or to live perfectly in this grace. I write this to preach to myself and to remind myself of the God who saved me, forgave me, and guided me to where I am now. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This one comes to us from our friend Connor Gwin.
I have started reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead five times. I know, I know; I really should read it. Everyone says it is so profound and wonderful and moving. It won the Pulitzer for God’s sake.
And I haven’t finished it yet.
I bought the audiobook so that I could easily listen in my car but I haven’t made it past the first few chapters. Perhaps it is the narrator’s voice.
I know I should read it because my well-read friends have read it. I know I should read it because I want to be…
This post comes to us from Samuel Son.
Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. – Mark 3:1-2 (New Living Translation)
No story gets me more steamed than this one of the Pharisees salivating because Jesus is about to heal a man on the Sabbath; it gives them the ammunition to finally “nail” Jesus with a Sabbath infraction, a serious charge. Jesus knows they are springing…
Here’s another great one from Larry Parsley.
For years I have referred to this well-worn paperback not by its title (“The Elements of Style”) but by the authors’ last names — “Strunk and White.” E.B. White (of New Yorker and children’s lit fame) was a college student at Cornell under English professor William Strunk Jr. White studied his professor’s self published volume, referred to by Strunk as “the little book.” It was, in White’s words, “a forty-three-page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English.” In 1957, White (who had published “Charlotte’s Web” five years…
This one comes to us from our friend Jason Thompson.
David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water must be the year’s most unintentionally Christian film. Aimed more at capturing the mood and the cultural atmosphere of rural Texas than it is at making an argument for or against religion, the film ironically succeeds at presenting us with a rich tapestry and various threads of religious iconography, Biblical themes, and a soundtrack (performed partly by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) that not only underscores key plot points, but accurately reflects the inner lives of the conflicted characters, namely a bank robbing fraternal duo hellbent on…
At long last, the eighth (!) issue of The Mockingbird is now available. Click here to get the one issue…or here if you’d just like to go ahead and subscribe. (If you’re already subscribed, help us out and spread the word on social media!)
To whet your appetite, here’s Ethan’s Opener and the Table of Contents.
They share a rare, controversial illness called Morgellons Disease, where strange fibers grow beneath the skin, causing severe itching, which leads to more fibers, and more itching. The scientific term is formication—the sensation of insects crawling under the skin. While rare, Morgellons also happens to be extremely contagious.
Scientifically speaking, however, the disease does not exist. While it remains all too real for the sufferers involved—and for their loved ones—doctors are adamant that Morgellons is a figment of the imagination. They diagnose it as “delusional parasitosis,” a form of mental illness.
The essayist Leslie Jamison writes about attending a Morgellons conference in Austin, Texas. Sitting in a room full of anxious-maybe-delusional hypochondriacs, she fully expects to be able to suss out the real from the imagined. But she can’t. In fact, she kind of becomes one of them. The itch she has come to write about becomes an itch she’s pretty sure she has, too. “Itching that starts in the mind feels just like itching on the skin—no less real, no more fabricated—and it can begin with something as simple as a thought.”
After reading this I was itching for weeks! Can you feel it? Jamison argues that Morgellons, real or not, reveals the kinds of lines we draw between sickness of the body and sickness of the mind. But she goes further than that: when it comes to caring for those who are sick, we prefer bodily ailments. We prefer external agents of harm—germs, bites, viruses—because they are justifiable.
If someone is sick in the mind, though, the agents of harm lie within. Mental illness shows us an uglier side of illness: a person not only dependent upon outside help, but inwardly self-sabotaging. Rather than extend empathy for these crazies, we opt instead for moral litigation: only if someone hasn’t colluded with their misfortune are we willing to invest our care. Otherwise, no deal—which is precisely where Morgellons sufferers find themselves. Beyond the purview of doctors. Beyond the care of loved ones.
Jamison goes on to say that mental illness is a barb to the American understanding of self-reliance.
The abiding American myth of the self-made man comes attached to another article of faith—an insistence, even—that every self-made man can sustain whatever self he has managed to make. A man divided—thwarting or interrupting his own mechanisms of survival—fails to sustain this myth, disrupts our belief in the absolute efficacy of willpower, and in these failures also forfeits his right to our sympathy…
Jamison wonders if this fractured soul should not warrant more, not less, of our care. It also sounds an awful lot like a Romans 7 self—the kind in a perpetual state of civil war. Theologically speaking, this is the human being whose willpower is bound. Contrary to the American myth Jamison references, this divided self is the signature of Christianity’s across-the-board, sweepingly low anthropology: you are at odds with God, and at odds with yourself. Paradoxically, this sobering take on the human species is also the beginning of loving them.
Negotiating the divide between sick and well has proven to be the chief challenge in putting together a “mental health” issue. While we are quick to note the brain science, the aberrant trends reported by the APA, we simultaneously deceive ourselves about the ‘normal’ people, the mentally stable, i.e., me. In an effort to cover mental illness, we hoodwink ourselves about whom exactly that term defines. The Bible lays a wider net than the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; as Nathan says to King David, “You are the man” (2 Sam 12:7). You, in fact, are the liar, the worrier, the narcissist. That line on the spectrum, which so nimbly dictates who is healthy and who is ill? Look closer. It is right there inside you.
I don’t mean to play down the diagnosable disorders with which many of us live. It is to say, though, that our diagnoses often prohibit the inclusive understanding of illness that might, in turn, include us. Jesus is perpetually doing this, flipping the script on who is and isn’t “ill.” The ones who “don’t need a doctor”—the ones who find themselves mostly capable, mostly virtuous, mostly sane—are for Jesus the ones who most desperately do need a doctor. Their virtue has obscured their need. For Christ, there is no distinction. If there’s a madhouse, we should all be living in it.
In the small town of Geel, Belgium, there are no madhouses. Geel has been the subject of articles and books for centuries for its revolutionary care of the mentally ill. Instead of cordoning them off, Geel citizens became famous for welcoming them into their homes, making them part of the family. The families who host these “boarders” do so on average for 28.5 years! What characterizes the success of Geel’s system, which has been around for over 700 years, is the unconditional acceptance given to its residents.
Lulu Miller, of the podcast Invisibilia, tells the story of one middle-aged boarder in Geel who habitually twisted the buttons off his shirts, forcing his host mother to sew them back on every night. When a visiting American suggested that she perhaps use fishing line instead of thread, the host gave a surprising response:
That’s the worst thing you could do…I will never use fishing line because this man needs to twist the buttons off. It helps him to twist them off every day…Accept these odd behaviors, don’t try to make them go away.
Geel provides us with an alternative to the usual classifications between what’s crazy and what’s sane: grace. As opposed to the world of solutions, for which these boarders have received caseworkers and medications and cognitive behavioral fixes, Geel gives them the opposite. They have “let go of the mission to cure.” Sounds crazy to me.
In the modern framework of “mental health,” it is radical to ask what might be healed by the radicality of grace. But, let’s ask it: what might be healed by the radicality of grace? This is where we plot our course in this issue. As you might have guessed, it isn’t light fare—the landscape of the human psyche tends to prompt questions about our lives we’d naturally evade. But Jesus asks these questions. As the Great Physician, he gently addresses the wounds we’ve long kept covered. But in doing so, he also administers healing. He shows us that our wounds are carried in his.
In this issue we cover everything from self-help to suicide. We have psychopathic children and their pathological parents; we have pathological churches run by pathological pastors; we even have pathologies of pathologies! We have great interviews with “Ask Polly” columnist Heather Havrilesky and self-justification gurus Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Poems from the masterful Gray Jacobik. And so, so much more.
So, welcome to the cuckoo’s nest! There’s no need here to be anyone but you—we wouldn’t want it any other way. And if you need someone to sew your buttons on for you, we know just the person.
Ethan Richardson, Editor
The Epidemic by DAVID ZAHL
Mockingbird Asks Polly: Our Interview with HEATHER HAVRILESKY
Confessions of Parental Recidivists by BRIAN & DEBBIE SOLUM
For the Record: Cures of Yore
Overmedicated, Under God: Help in the Age of Antidepressants by ETHAN RICHARDSON
A Poem by GRAY JACOBIK
Justifying Our Lives Away: A Q&A with CAROL TAVRIS & ELLIOT ARONSON
Schemers, Clingers, and Frank Lake’s Schizoid Self by SCOTT JONES
For the Record: Bookshelf, Non-Self-Help Reads, Mental Health at the Movies
The Laws of the Megachurch by JOEL GREINER
A Poem by GRAY JACOBIK
The Psychology of Attachment in Our Relationship with God by BONNIE POON ZAHL
For the Record: Know Thy Bias!
A Word of Acceptance: An Interview with JOANNA COLLICUTT
Notes from the Funny Farm by KATHRYN GOURLEY
A Poem by GRAY JACOBIK
How to Cope with the Modern World: A Short Guide by WILL MCDAVID
Life in a Dark Place: A Sermon by DAVID BROWDER