About Will McDavid

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...

Contact

Author Archive
    What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

    What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

    The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

    Read More »

    On TV: “Two Swords”, Game of Thrones (4.1)

    On TV: “Two Swords”, Game of Thrones (4.1)

    Spoilers Below

    “Chaos isn’t a pit; chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. They cling to the realm or the gods or love – illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

    -Littlefinger, Season 3

    By the end of Season 3, the realm-spanning “War of the Five Kings” was well at a close. After the Blackwater, the Lannisters had eliminated their main threat from the South, and the Red Wedding took care of the…

    Read More »

    “XLIX” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    tennyson-01-reducedBe near me when my light is low,
    When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
    And tingle; and the heart is sick,
    And all the wheels of Being slow.

    Be near me when the sensuous frame
    Is racked with pangs that conquer trust;
    And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
    And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

    Be near me when my faith is dry,
    And men the flies of latter spring,
    That lay their eggs, and sting and sting,
    And weave their petty cells and die.

    Be near me when I fade away,
    To point the term of human strife,
    And on the low dark verge of life
    The twilight of eternal day.

    Mockingbird at the Movies: Noah

    Mockingbird at the Movies: Noah

    Director Darren Aronofsky’s new biblical epic, Noah, is wild – think of it as the 300 of Bible stories, an exaggeratedly Aronofskyan Silent Spring, or simply Kon-Tiki 6.0. It’s the director at his most ambitious yet, no longer content with harrowing tales of addiction or dark meditations on doppelgängers. His reach is as high as the firmament, and his grasp only slightly behind. The movie’s received a good deal of the wrong kind of attention from Christian viewers, who cite its (admittedly generous) artistic license, veering away from the original Bible story. Unfortunately, the biblical version contains few details, so some amount of improvisation…

    Read More »

    Another Week Ends: Robots, Children, Busybodies, Grocery Store Flowcharts, Self-Hating Memories, Money-Burning Radio, Noah Dissent and Eight-Year-Old Guitar

    Another Week Ends: Robots, Children, Busybodies, Grocery Store Flowcharts, Self-Hating Memories, Money-Burning Radio, Noah Dissent and Eight-Year-Old Guitar

     A quick update: we had some trouble with the Kindle version of The Mockingbird Devotional, but it’s now available here. It’s been tested with Kindle Fire and should work for older Kindles, too – Paperwhite compatibility is a little dubious (if there are problems, let us know so we can gripe to Amazon) – and it should work for iPad/iPhone and Android, too. 

    1. The robots are coming: it’s a major upheaval we’ll see in the next few years, and one that’s flown relatively under the radar. So many avenues for exploring how we’ll relate to them, how they’ll change things – surrogate…

    Read More »

    Bible Tuesdays: The Serpent in the Wilderness

    Bible Tuesdays: The Serpent in the Wilderness

    It’s become fashionable in some Protestant circles to talk about inspiring virtue not through dry rules or frustrated self-discipline, but through a vision of the moral life. ‘Living into the Kingdom’, or looking at a beautiful vision of God’s restoration in the eschaton and ‘mapping backwards’ (see Ethan’s TFA piece in The Mockingbird) to see how we act in light of God’s redemption are ideas and phrases enjoying broad use in American Christianity. Even those who haven’t read the intellectual mainstays of this idea (Wright, Smith, etc) still implicitly think this way. I know I’d rather show my children Caillou’s…

    Read More »

    Grace In Everyday Life: Parents and Children; Law and Freedom

    A young man’s mother refuses, then allows, him go to see a show with an actress he’s always wanted to see – simple enough, right? Maybe not – from Within a Budding Grove, by Marcel Proust.

    1448[W]ith my eyes fixed upon that inconceivable image [of the actress], I strove from morning to night to overcome the barriers which my family were putting in my way. But when those had at last fallen, when my mother… had said to me, ‘Very well, we don’t wish for you to be unhappy; – if you think that you will enjoy it so very much, you must go; that’s all;’ when this day of theatre-going, hitherto forbidden and unattainable, depended no only upon myself, then for the first time, being no longer troubled by the wish that it might cease to be impossible, I asked myself if it were desirable, if there were no other reason than my parents’ prohibition which should make me abandon my design. In the first place, whereas I had been detesting them for their cruelty, their consent made them now so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain stabbed me also with a pain through which the purpose of life shewed itself as the pursuit not of truth but of loving-kindness, and life itself seemed good or evil only as my parents were happy or sad.

    -Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, trans C.K. Scott Moncrieff

    For a student of the complex human interior like Proust, forces of conscience andcommand are always at work. The parent here has authority, and the parent must guide the child into what’s best for him. This guidance may look like arbitrary command, which inspires resistance, but in the command’s absence, the narrator realizes his parents love him, and therefore he begins to approach the situation based not on a simplistic assertion of his freedom and desire, but instead gratitude sharpens his vision; he begins to see his parents not as authoritarians, but as those who have his best interests at heart. A new good and evil emerges, one in which loving-kindness is prime and their happiness of sadness calibrates what is best for him, too.

    He ends up disappointed by the play, which isn’t surprising: this situation is partial and fleeting, serving more to illustrate a small corner of our relation to law, and nothing more. But it is also true-to-life, and it points to a transition from command to freedom which must take place before we can properly see the law for what it is. For now, it’s through a glass darkly, but sometimes a glimpse of a hand, a face, the traces of a gesture barely seen on the other side – a gesture of love – can give the slightest hint as to what’s beyond the smudged surface, and those rare occasions when it happens can be remarkable.

     

    Another Week Ends: Amy Chua’s Three Traits for Success, Nietzsche’s Subversion of Atheism, Why Fun Is Fun, The Eighth-Grade Ubermensch, Dostoevsky’s Internet Anxiety and Lena Dunham’s Eden

    Another Week Ends: Amy Chua’s Three Traits for Success, Nietzsche’s Subversion of Atheism, Why Fun Is Fun, The Eighth-Grade Ubermensch, Dostoevsky’s Internet Anxiety and Lena Dunham’s Eden

    1. What happens when you combine an unshakeable superiority complex with deep insecurity? Probably a nervous breakdown in mid-life, or Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. But Amy Chua (of “Tiger Mother” fame) asks us to guess again. The real answer is… success.

    For those unfamiliar with her work on hyper-controlling parenting (using that adjective as value-neutrally as possible), it’s ruffled our feathers before. And her new book on success – with its threefold foundation of superiority, insecurity, and impulse control – promises to do so again, ht ER:

    Some have denounced the book as racist. This loaded term is often bandied about in discussions about culture…

    Read More »

    Fighting a Long-Lost Battle in Romans 7

    From Mark Seifrid of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

    perspectives-on-our-inner-struggle“Paul does not speak of the Christian struggle with sin in Romans 7. He describes a battle already lost, long ago in Adam. Nevertheless, in sheer wonder, the long-lost battle has been decided in our favor by God in Christ. The Christian is thus called to walk the very narrow path marked by the intersection of the new creation with the present fallen world. On the one side we are subject to the danger of the despair that loses sight of God’s work in Christ. On the other hand, we are subject to the danger of a pride that falsely supposes that the power of salvation is now ours, if only we realize its potential. Such a pride in its own way also loses sight of God’s work in Christ. It brings a ‘therapeutic Christianity’ that turns outward achievements, whether individual, corporate, or social, into a measure of spiritual progress and a mark of the presence of the kingdom. It does not see that what has been accomplished in Christ is located abidingly in Christ, not in ourselves. Our salvation, and therefore all true progress, both individual and corporate, does not rest in our hands…

    As Paul tells the Philippians, progress is a progress in faith (Phil 1:21). It is not a turning inward but a being-turned-outward. It is hearing the address of the gospel afresh within the changing circumstances of life. To use Paul’s language, it is again and again ‘reckoning yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 6:11)… Not only the first step but every step of Christian progress begins with Paul’s sober and realistic confession in Rom 7:25b [...with my flesh I serve the law of sin]. It begins with the acknowledgment that as long as we remain in this body and life the unhappy truth that we ‘serve the law of sin’ remains.”

    -Mark A. Seifrid, Perspectives on Our Struggle with Sin

    On TV: “Form and Void”, True Detective

    On TV: “Form and Void”, True Detective

    [Spoiler Alert]

    The closing installment of the hitherto brilliant True Detective may have disappointed some. There were all sorts of outlandish theories, complex and convoluted, some with only minimal support from prior episodes. Most notably, people thought that Maggie was going to be a killer, or her father, because her and Marty’s children arrayed their male dolls in a circle around a prostrate female one, re-enacting the show’s central, unseen cultic rape. The show is stronger without Maggie’s involvement – in that case, her children’s sexual acting-out is a plot clue, the result of a traumatic past. But the way things went down,…

    Read More »

    Does Raising Awareness Work?

    Does Raising Awareness Work?

    Sometimes, but maybe not as well as we’d like to think. I work in a downtown pedestrian area, and on any given walk to a coffeeshop or lunch spot, if the weather’s nice there will be environmentalists, Global Medical Brigades reps, pro-Tibetans, and other generally worthy and important causes. ‘Did you know…”. I can say, personally, that I do know, most of the time, what’s going on – I just tend not to act on it. I know the environment’s deteriorating but am often too lazy to recycle, etc. The assumption behind raising awareness is that if more people know…

    Read More »

    Another Week Ends: Negatively Positive Thinking, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, Love and Friendship, Fun Families, Facebook Sociology and Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories

    Another Week Ends: Negatively Positive Thinking, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, Love and Friendship, Fun Families, Facebook Sociology and Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories

    1. Think positive! The New Yorker this week pushes back against the “think I can” trend, famously espoused by Thomas the Train – and even in adult media, too. While it’s certain that confidence often sometimes helps (Seahawks defensiveback Richard Sherman self-imputed the title “best cornerback in the league” and subsequently grew into it), it tends to break down in the long run, ht TB:

    According to a great deal of research, positive fantasies may lessen your chances of succeeding. In one experiment, the social psychologists Gabriele Oettingen and Doris Mayer asked eighty-three German students to rate the extent to which they “experienced positive thoughts, images,…

    Read More »

    NYC Preview: Death and Resurrection in Flannery O’Connor

    NYC Preview: Death and Resurrection in Flannery O’Connor

    A proud man, one who anticipates everything and is never caught off-guard, takes his grandson into the city to introduce him to the strange, new world which is old news to the proud grandfather, named Mr. Head. The man gets himself and his grandson lost, leaves his napping grandson dozing so he’ll wake up alone and learn about the value of so worldly and wise a grandfather as Mr. Head. The grandson runs off, knocks an old woman down, and gets accosted by the police. Mr. Head denies he knows him, and the two wander around the city, separated by…

    Read More »

    Karl Barth on The Humanity of God

    The great Swiss theologian  addresses the task of preaching, from a late-career book of the same name:

    barth“A fourth consequence [of God's humanity]: the sense and sound of our voice must be fundamentally positive. Proclamation of the covenant of God with man, announcement of the place which is once for all opened and assigned to man in this covenant, the message of Immanuel, the message of Christ – this is the task. The dialogue and encounter which are our theological theme involve God’s grace and man’s gratitude. To open up again the abyss closed in Jesus Christ cannot be our task. Man is not good: that is indeed true and must once more be asserted. God does not turn toward him without uttering an inexorable ‘No’ to his transgression. Thus theology has no choice but to put this ‘No’ into words within the framework of its theme. However, it must be the ‘No’ which Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself for us men, in order that it may no longer affect us and that we may no longer place ourselves under it. What takes place in God’s humanity is, since it includes that ‘No’ in itself, the affirmation of man.

    The direction of our word is given therewith. The man with whom we have to do in ourselves and in others, though a rebel, a sluggard, a hypocrite, is likewise the creature to whom his Creator is faithful and not unfaithful. But there is still more: he is the being whom God has loved, loves, and will love, because He has substituted Himself in Jesus Christ and made Himself the guarantee… And with this explanation the statement that the human spirit is naturally Christian may also be valid as an obstinately joyful proclamation. That is what we have to testify to men in view of the humanism of God, irrespective of the more or less dense godlessness of their humanism – everything else must be valid only in the framework of this statement and promise.”

    John Milbank’s Beyond Secular Order (or: Why I Can’t Sleep at Night: A Theo-Political Inquiry)

    John Milbank’s Beyond Secular Order (or: Why I Can’t Sleep at Night: A Theo-Political Inquiry)

    My Learn to Play Bridge program talks to me. Upon entry, “Welcome to Bridge Baron 23.” Upon exit, “Hope to see you again soon.” Mere visuals don’t work because, well, the voice is extraneous, but it’s hard to play a social game in solitude. I’m probably playing it alone, at any given time, only because I can’t find people to play with. The voice acts as an assurance, a psuedo-human element in an enterprise in which the human element could not be more glaringly absent.

    The idea of depersonalization occupies us more and more: social media in particular serves as a…

    Read More »