Mockingbird is devoted to connecting the Christian message with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways.
Here’s one from Matthew Metevelis:
I work as a chaplain for a non-profit hospice in Las Vegas. Anyone who has served as a chaplain will tell you that the work can be routine but it is never dull. The problems and situations that you find yourself working through with people in hospice run the gamut from the touching to the tragic to the hilarious (“hospice humor” is a thing – next time you meet a hospice worker, ask). But one thing has never come up in seven years. Nobody has ever asked me if they’ve gotten their politics correct. I’ve never…
This one was written by Clayton Hornback.
Today I was driving around Birmingham, listening to the radio. It was about 3:00 o’clock. And rather than tune into The Paul Finebaum Show, which can be both full of law and humorous grace, I instead turned the dial to the local NPR station (90.3 WBHM). I’m so glad I did, because NPR’s afternoon program Here and Now was in the middle of a piece titled, “LISTEN: These 5 Fake Ads Will Sell You On Some Of Life’s Real Delights.” The basic gist of the piece was highlighting five completely made-up ads which were created…
The following comes to us from Bill Walker.
The kind of religion many people in America grew up with went something like this: do or believe these things in order to be “right with God.” But as experience will show, following either of these directives tends to lead to greater frustration, disillusionment and anxiety. “Am I really good enough?” “Am I really saved?” This encounter with church or Christianity for many did not enable a more joyful, tranquil and abundant life. It did the opposite. Sometimes it told folks they had to vote Republican. In other instances, it made them feel…
First of the talks from the Dallas event last month (“Grace on the Big Screen”) is here! What an incredible time that was. Many thanks as always to Mark Babikow for making the trip and capturing it all on tape:
Here’s a beautiful reflection from our friend, Elsa Wilson.
We don’t do a lot of waiting nowadays. A few extra seconds of Internet load time merits a complaint call. We don’t like waiting, but we’re asked to do a lot of it. We especially don’t like waiting when it comes to movies. We tend to favor fast cuts and snappy punch lines. These movies “reward” the viewers (and also usually the characters) for their time by pairing questions with answers, effects with causes, and situations with explanations. There are actually storytelling formulas that dictate how long the viewer should be left to wonder…
We’re humbled (by which I mean, deeply flattered) to offer up this generous contribution from Prof. Matthew Milliner, who also happens to be speaking at our upcoming NYC Conference (4/27-29):
I imagine there are some enthusiastic Mockingbird recruits out there, but I feel drafted. Visiting the Limelight Marketplace – a onetime church turned legendary nightclub turned bourgeois boutique (which advertises a “slice of heaven” from its gourmet pizza shop) – was my Protestant rock bottom. Limelight is not far from where I had attended Father Richard John Neuhaus’ funeral, who had been keen (as he was everyone) to see me come…
Just as your New Year’s resolutions are running out of steam, a lyrical reflection from S. Burns.
Behold, a zealous devotion to suffering, with the burnt offering of calories rising to meet the demands of the cult of extreme fitness. The CrossFit genre is, on the whole, resistant to the promotional Globo-Gym world, preferring the stripped down “box” to plush facilities, the practical motion of sledgehammers and tire-flipping to specialized pulley-equipment and the elliptical machine. America is the fattest it has ever been and yet the most militarized in its fitness. There is a striving for a reactionary cleansing, an elusive…
Here’s another from our anachronistic friend Madeline D’Elia.
Every winter in the seasonal slump of dismal gray, I find myself turning to the same source of hope—the sunny sound walls of the Beach Boys.
Growing up in the millennial generation, I was the only one who considered Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson’s voices to be the harmonies of my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, my sister and I did our fair share of self-choreographed dancing to NSYNC’s harmonies (yes, you read that right, self-choreographed dancing), but I always loved the music my dad played for us more than the music of my own generation. Which…
Stencils not included, sadly (#mattmagillismyhero):
Ladies and gentlemen, diners and tipplers, gather ’round! The ninth issue of The Mockingbird is officially available for order! Note, too, we have a deal for bulk orders. If you/your church/your favorite hole-in-the-wall needs a bundle of copies, email us: email@example.com. And, as always, we place before you the menu and the first course: Mr. Richardson’s Opener and the Table of Contents to (apologies) whet the appetite. A votre santé! Zum wohl! Dig in!
A Free Lunch: the Spiritual Economics of the Church’s Most Cliché Ministry by CJ GREEN
Orthorexia: The New Etiquette by CARRIE WILLARD
A Poem by JOY ROULIER SAWYER
The Cheap Grace of Cheap Food by BENJAMIN SELF
For the Record: What Would You Eat If You Weren’t Afraid?
The Compleat Leftoeuvriére by ROBERT FARRAR CAPON
Modern Food, Moral Food: Our Interview with HELEN ZOE VEIT
For the Record: Ode to the Church Cookbook, On Our Bookshelf
In Praise of Excess by ETHAN RICHARDSON
Freedom Isn’t Free by CONNOR GWIN
A Poem by SARAH BROWN WEITZMAN
The Hospitality Sting by SARAH CONDON
I Eat Therefore I Am? by SCOTT JONES
For The Record: Capon’s Sauce Primer
The Curse of Eglon: Weight Loss Under the Weight of the Cross by BRYAN J.
A Poem by BRAD DAVIS
Champion of the Vernacular: Food Criticism in a Nation of Experts by DAVID PETERSON
Hungry for Religion: A Sermon by DAVID ZAHL
Diet Pills and Dinner Parties
In his bestseller The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon opens one chapter with a parable: A wise man decides to throw a dinner party. Among his guests are an eligible bachelor and a beautiful widow. His hope, through the merriment of wining and dining, is to play a little matchmaking, too. The other guests are skeptical.
The widow, throughout the entire evening, complains about the monotony of cooking. She only wishes that someone would come around and invent new kinds of meat to enjoy, because the old ones—chicken, veal, beef, pork—are so played out. The bachelor, on the other hand, argues that there is too much variety and not enough consistency. With a scientist’s eye, he only wishes there were one substantive, sensible plant to meet all our dietary needs.
As the wise host had predicted, love blossoms: the two become one in their deep and abiding joylessness. They are soon married, develop a nutrition pill, and live “efficiently ever after.” Capon signs off with a reassuring word for his readers: “Anyone with an ounce of playfulness is sure to be spared the anguish of their company.”
We are not past the day of the diet pill. Just this year, Aeon’s Nicola Twilley wrote about a real food substitute called (sadly) Soylent, the brainchild of a Silicon Valley engineer. This product, stemming from research that says we spend 90 minutes a day on our food, is meant to give us our time back. Soylent, right in tune with Capon’s couple, is a “thick, odorless, beige liquid” with “every substance the body needs to survive, plus a few extras shown to be beneficial.” Twilley hoped to try the goo for a week, but cracked after five days. As for all the extra time she had? “I spent [it] joylessly clicking around on the Internet, my brain resisting every effort to corral it into more productive activities.”
Despite Soylent’s allure, it would not be fair to say we’re in an age of dietary minimalism. In contrast to Capon’s couple, we also inhabit a food and drink age of high-art decadence. Chefs are celebrities—their restaurants have years-long waiting lists. In even the remotest towns, brewers and distillers are a dime a dozen. The makers of Pappy Van Winkle, the famed Kentucky bourbon, have boasted that their product is so sought after that it hasn’t been on shelves in the past three years. Even billionaires can’t get their hands on the stuff. “They’d have an easier time buying our company,” the owner said.
Beneath the fads, there is a pseudo-religious quality to the way we talk about food. Food ethics have become some of the heated global conversations, whether they concern small farms or carbon emissions or childhood obesity. But there’s also a new spirituality implicit in the foodie craze. As Bill Deresiewicz once disputed in his Times op-ed entitled “A Matter of Taste?” food is today’s high ideal:
Just as aestheticism, the religion of art, inherited the position of Christianity among the progressive classes around the turn of the 20th century, so has foodism taken over from aestheticism around the turn of the 21st … “Eat, Pray, Love,” the title goes, but a lot of people never make it past the first.
It is no simple religious path, either. Regardless of where you shop, the produce aisles are littered with all of your foodie liabilities, all demanding your obeisance: Food waste. Childhood obesity. Eating disorders. Organic produce. Your sister-in-law’s food blog. For a part of life that should mean sustenance and pleasure, food is often a collective human experience we can only describe as, sorry, constipated. If moral scrutiny ever soured a delightful human enterprise, it began with your cereal bowl—or granola bowl—or smoothie bowl—or whatever you do or don’t eat for breakfast. The Law of Food is everywhere. You cannot escape it, and yet you always find yourself behind it. Food choices make up some of the chief ways we tell others who we are and what we care about. (Needless to say, I was wrong when I thought Food & Drink might be a “lighter” issue than its predecessor, Mental Health.)
To some extent, food has always carried this moral weight. Before juice cleanses, even before frozen dinners, Leviticus was lined with rules about food—all the way down to which joint-legged insects you could eat. Food and drink—the way it was prepared, consumed, and sacrificed—has always been a marker of a deeper creedal code.
The same is true for those who call themselves Christian. Some of the most elemental pictures from the tradition come from the sacraments of food and drink. The bread and the wine, the fatted calf and the wedding feast—Christianity’s hope is literally laid out upon the table. So maybe Alice Waters and Michael Pollan are on to something! Thomas Cranmer, the English reformer behind the Book of Common Prayer, once wrote:
For as the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears; so likewise these elements of water, bread, and wine, joined to God’s word, do, after a sacramental manner, put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses.
Food and drink, in other words, help us taste God’s provision in Christ. Like a good sermon, the meal is a physical reminder of whose table we’re ultimately at. Wendell Berry said that “Eating is an agricultural act.” It is also a heavenly one. Which is why this issue is for everyone. You may not see yourself as a high-brow epicurean or a coffee snob. Maybe you, like Capon’s pill-maker, wish there were fewer options. But you do hunger in the ways we all hunger. Because you are human, you too come to the table to have your fill. And from the first course to the last bite, you’ll find this elemental hunger (and thirst) to be our running theme.
Which leads me to one last editor’s note to pass on to you before you take your seats: all credit, besides that which is due to the Almighty Host, goes to this issue’s spiritual sous chef, the Rev. Robert Farrar Capon. His words are everywhere in these pages, both directly and indirectly. Even when he is not being directly quoted, he is making his presence known. Capon, the food writer and priest, is not keen on table manners: God is to be liberally consumed and enjoyed. Capon insists that you, the guest, have no responsibility but to taste, and to laugh at your own party fouls. This one’s for him.
And so, enough talking, let’s dig in. There’s lots to try, but we have all the time in the world, so take your jacket off. We have decadent feasts and church cookbooks; we have mid-century etiquette and down home hospitality; we’ve got the heavy fare, too—from addiction to agribusiness. There are plenty of cocktails and simmering sauces, and we’ll finish the night with some forbidden fruits (and, yes, fast food). It’s all there for the taking, really—and the blessing’s already been given! So …
Prost! Pass the salt! Amen and amen!
Ethan Richardson, Editor
It was the flash of black among the yellow billion.
It was the green chink on the chapel’s sphere.
It was some rust or recalcitrance in us
by which we were by the grace of pain more here.
It was you, me, fall and fallen light.
It was that kind of imperfection
through which infinity wounds the finite.
Episode 227: Do the Bus Stop
The animus expressed in connection with the Inauguration has made me think about events that happened almost 47 years ago. The catalyst was the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, and then Kent State. Everyone went wild.
A few of us were conservatives then. (Don’t blame me, please. It’s just a statement “du fait”.) And did we get clobbered!
One night five or six of us were having lunch in Adams House. That particular residence hall was “crawling” with SDS (i.e., Students for a Democratic Society). We had somehow forgotten about that. All of a sudden, our table in the refectory was surrounded by yelling SDS’ers….