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Champions She Shall Never Want

Champions She Shall Never Want

I recently decided to leave Mockingbird. I do not mean that I was convinced over a bourbon-fueled colloquy with a recent Catholic convert that Sylvester Prierias was unimpeachably correct to respond to Luther’s attack on indulgences by defending papal authority. Nor do I mean that I brushed up on recent Pauline scholarship and determined that Luther’s existential read of Romans is passé. Least of all do I mean, by leaving Mockingbird, that the Mainline Protestant status quo—with its newfangled gospels—holds any lingering appeal. By leaving Mockingbird, I simply mean to relate what it was like, just a few months ago…

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Dear Evan Hansen, I'm Missing Richard Simmons from S-Town, or: A Note from the Outcast

Dear Evan Hansen, I’m Missing Richard Simmons from S-Town, or: A Note from the Outcast

I saw the emotional avalanche that is Dear Evan Hansen two weeks ago, on a yearly childless pilgrimage my husband and I make to the city where we fell in love, and conveniently, where Mockingbird holds an annual conference. Maybe it’s the range and sincerity displayed by headliner Ben Platt, with whose image I am considering adorning my bedroom walls (I think my husband will be fine with it; considering our age difference, it would be more of a proud Teen Mom situation). Maybe it’s the poignant and earworm-ridden soundtrack. Maybe it’s the tendency of the cast to depart from the…

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What Sort of World? Trivial Expressions of the Transcendent ~ Randy Randall & Mary McCleary

You thought we had posted all the videos from the Tyler conference? Wrong again! Here’s Randy Randall’s enthralling (and highly relevant) on-stage discussion with renowned artist Mary McCleary. As you’ll see, audio alone wouldn’t have made much sense:

What Sort of World? Trivial Expressions of the Transcendent ~ Randy Randall & Mary McCleary from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Designing Justification: A Conference Talk Preview

You would think that having a full belly, a good night’s sleep, love, and shelter is the bottom line. But it’s not. Things disappoint. Promise thrills, and expectations rise.

I wanted to play. I wanted to start. Then captain. Then Harvard (got Cornell). Then Alison, Helen, Jane, Barbara, finally Liz. Marriage became babies, then Great Kids, then adults. Degree became license, became firm. Building became awards, lectures, writing.

Now I receive justification I did not ask for. But then kicked ass to get. I never wanted to be a part of the American Institute of Architects. I helped make places to live for 25 years then my publisher made me join at 48 to sell the next book.

Then the world had a decade that said my last 25 were part of economic salvation: homes were the way everyone could be great again: forever. I helped make a place for architects who did that: and the instant I joined they asked to get me in ever deeper, running a tiny piece of the AIA.

No, I said.

I always had had my own obsessions – and soon the balloon popped. I kept on doing what I do for the last decade, but there are, now, 50% less of us doing it – like it was 20 years ago. Between 3 or 4 other booms.

But now, in 2 weeks or so, I get to be one of 3,000 of 111,000. First you need justification enough to get licensed (down to the 200,000 who have degrees), then pay $700 a year to be a member of the AIA (down to 60,000). Then a branch has a committee who reviews nominations (are you kidding?) or as per me, that committee, one of a hundred, finds the Fellow in their midst.

So, at 61, but only just after the AIA decade required for nomination, I get the verification I never sought – but always wanted, and that can never be had and go to Florida to wear a robe – 9 hours on the ground.

Doing is not satisfaction. Getting things done is not verification. Swimming to push air over your gills is not breathing.

There are infinite measures, goals, achievements: but, really, there is only one: living – being given everything – Everything – by a simple, completely unknown, Faith.

I do not think that guy asked to have his last 3 years become billions of humans 2,000 years ago. I do not know if he, in this last week, felt verification. I doubt it.

To hear Duo’s full talk, “Architect: Fellow & Failing,” join us Saturday morning, April 29, at the 10th Annual Mockingbird Conference.

As you may have read elsewhere, we have officially reached capacity for dining at the NYC conference. If you have yet to pre-register but would like to eat, please purchase your tickets ASAP and send us an email at to reserve a spot on the waiting list. We’ll do all we can to accommodate everyone and will let you know as soon as your plate(s) is guaranteed. Thanks for understanding! Please note: there’s still plenty of room for those who want to attend the sessions. Last-minute walk-ins are always welcome.

Hearing Law, Seeing Gospel: A Mockingbird History of Art – A Conference Breakout Preview

Today’s first conference breakout preview comes to us from Matthew J. Milliner, an associate professor of art history at Wheaton College.

It doesn’t take long at Mockingbird before one hears about… yes, here it comes… Law and Gospel. It is the name of the book after all. And while most of the fun is to be had in observing this versatile skeleton key to the human condition illustrated in everything from Finding Dory to David Bowie, or from Black Mirror to Axl Rose, the original Law/Gospel illustration, of course, came from Martin Luther’s BFF, Lucas Cranach the Elder, as evidenced below. On the left, expectation and obligation – with help from sin and death – send a helpless streaker toward an unwelcome barbeque (that’s Law). On the right, expectation is met by fulfillment. As the good news sinks in, a super-soaker of imputing blood jet streams from a side-wound, while sin and death get busted by a deputized sheep (that’s Gospel).

It would be perfectly serviceable to offer an extended talk on such wonderful illustrations, one of which bedazzles the front of Paul Zahl’s Short Systematic Theology. Cranach, after all, painted several variations, each of which convey different nuances to Law/Gospel dynamic. Nevertheless, addled as I am by the oppressive law of academia, with its merciless demand for originality, I am incapable of delivering something so straightforward, which, at any rate, has been done well in several top-notch publications.

Instead, I thought I’d look to artists from whom one would not expect such a message. Indeed, at the tenth anniversary conference I shall contend the Law/Gospel message can be found concealed in artists a long way from Wittenberg. The thrilling truth of grace emerges in art history just where you’d expect to hear something different (hence my title, “Hearing Law, Seeing Gospel”). What if the dynamic famously painted by Cranach could be found incognito in Orthodox icons, peeking from the unsurpassable achievements of Michelangelo and Pontormo, concealed in Catholic kitsch, even shining through the cult of creativity in contemporary art?

It’s all succinctly conveyed in the witty title, “camouflage Cranach,” really, but my wife said that sounded terrible.

Join us April 27-29 in NYC for the 10th annual Mockingbird conference!

The Red Turtle, Beautiful but Not Sublime

The Red Turtle, Beautiful but Not Sublime

The following is brought to us by Japanese film veteran Jeremiah Lawson, a look at the Oscar-nominated film The Red Turtle.

There are times when you simply have to spoil the entire film in a few sentences to even discuss the film in a meaningful way. Where some reviewers hedge and equivocate as to what the core of the story for The Red Turtle is, I’m going to put in simple terms.

Think of the world as an island; then think of the island as being embodied in flesh and spirit by a red turtle. The Red Turtle — a feature-length film from Studio…

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Slow Zoom Toward the Mysterious Unseen

Slow Zoom Toward the Mysterious Unseen

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…

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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

However many years a man may live,
   let him enjoy them all.
   But let him remember the days of
   for they will be many.
— Ecclesiastes 11:8

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
— John 1:5

I wake up mornings in the darkness, to get ready for work, or writing if it’s a day off. I let my wife sleep and I close the bedroom door after I press the switch for the hall light. I turn on all the lights in the kitchen, even the under-cabinet fixtures that have separate switches because it’s…

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The Cruelty of Age in "The Crown"

The Cruelty of Age in “The Crown”

Carrie Willard’s recent assessment is dead-on — “The Crown” deserves to be savored instead of binged. In the ninth episode, one of the more interesting subplots had the artist Graham Sutherland being commissioned to paint Winston Churchill’s portrait for his 80th birthday [spoilers follow]. Churchill (John Lithgow) is anything but a willing subject, nor is he excited about the unveiling of the finished product before an audience at Westminster Abbey. And while the audience applauds politely at the unveiling, Churchill’s initial disgust is barely masked by a forced smile. “A fine patriotic piece of modern art,” he manages.

After hearing that Churchill has…

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“Young, Scrappy, and Hungry”:  The Restless Hearts of Hamilton, Bruce Springsteen, and St. Augustine

“Young, Scrappy, and Hungry”: The Restless Hearts of Hamilton, Bruce Springsteen, and St. Augustine

This one comes to us from Nancy Ritter. 

If you had told me in 2010 that in six years I would spend my Saturday nights watching a documentary on a musical about Alexander Hamilton or cheering its star Lin-Manuel Miranda as he hosted SNL, I would have scoffed at you. I was in high school when a friend showed me the video of the Pulitzer Prize-winning star performing at the White House for the Obamas, rapping about the life of Alexander Hamilton. I had been raised on 1776 and was consequently a loyal John Adams girl.

“I’m not into it,” I told her….

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Reflections on Art, Irony, and the Good News of Goosebumps

Reflections on Art, Irony, and the Good News of Goosebumps

Children’s book author Adam Gidwitz rang in the most wonderful time of the year (October, what else?) with an article in The New Yorker about the world-renowned series, Goosebumps. Marveling at the franchise’s unparalleled success, Gidwitz posed an unexpectedly contentious question: Should good children’s books teach a lesson?

The conundrum of the “good” children’s book is best embodied by the apparently immortal—or maybe just undead—series “Goosebumps,” by R. L. Stine. “Goosebumps” is a series of horror novellas, the kid’s-lit equivalent of B-horror movies. It’s also one of the most successful franchises in the business, selling over three hundred and fifty million copies…

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Run Don't Walk: 'Martin Luther's Reformation' at the Morgan Library in New York

Run Don’t Walk: ‘Martin Luther’s Reformation’ at the Morgan Library in New York

Calling all Mockingbirds! Attention, all Mockingbirds!

Adam and Eve in excellent company

Run Don’t Walk to the Martin Luther exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York. And first let’s get a couple of details straight. The Morgan is at the corner of 36th Street and Madison Avenue, which is exactly six blocks south of Grand Central Station. You can check out the opening hours on line, and the Morgan is only closed Mondays. Also, it’s a great place to go to the bathroom — always an issue in New York — and the cafe is excellent, and never crowded. Plus,…

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