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Reviews

Before the Big Top, There Was Love: The Greatest Showman

Before the Big Top, There Was Love: The Greatest Showman

The many movies that contemplate men experiencing work/dream/family conflicts have not, generally, been helpful to viewers—men or otherwise. This category of film is vast, of course, but they almost always posit that fathers who sincerely return their gaze to family in Act 3 will achieve a previously inconceivable version of whatever they were pursuing to their children’s detriment in Act 1. It’s a bit like the pop theology “let go [of yourdesires/needs/wants] and let God [lavishly reward your moment of selflessness with all the riches and favors you’ve ever wanted].” If I can just trick myself into believing that my…

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The Last Jedi's Last Rites: The Weight of Failure in Star Wars

The Last Jedi‘s Last Rites: The Weight of Failure in Star Wars

It’s really tempting to dismiss December’s new Star Wars movie premiere tradition as the same-old same-old. Three years into this new chapter, and one worries the franchise is falling into the same pattern as the Marvel movies we all have trouble keeping up with. Good guys, bad guys, heroes, villains, you’d be forgiven for writing it all off as a film studio’s easy money or an exercise in blissful nostalgia. It’s an easy critique of 2015’s The Force Awakens, which some panned as an unoriginal remix of A New Hope (a major critique that soured me on the film).

Thankfully, The Last…

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A Conspiracy of Hope and Light: Reviewing U2's Songs of Experience

A Conspiracy of Hope and Light: Reviewing U2’s Songs of Experience

I don’t think I’ve ever read a review of a U2 record that isn’t preceded by a lengthy prologue wrestling with the band’s stature, either in the culture at large or the reviewer’s upbringing or both. They’re the kind of band that provokes not just adulation and irritation but qualification, even from their most ardent fans. I guess when you court importance–and the record release as Event–as Bono and co have done so doggedly these past 30-ish years, you’re kind of setting yourself up for it. Whatever the case, people have baggage when it comes to U2.

Earlier this year David…

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Waiting At the Altar (No Longer!): Bob Dylan's Gospel Years

Waiting At the Altar (No Longer!): Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years

As promised, a review of the long-awaited Trouble No More boxed set documenting Bob Dylan’s gospel years, courtesy of resident Dylanologist Ken Wilson, who’ll be seeing his 55th (!) show on Friday.

In a career full of surprises, the most amazing is still the “born again” period. Sure Bob Dylan had shocked his folkie fans, and enraged Peter Seeger (or so the legend goes), by going electric, i.e. commercial, at Newport. Sure, he’d retreated from public view and been rumored dead in the wake of a serious motorcycle accident, rhymed “moon and spoon” and crooned with Johnny Cash, and toured…

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Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 1)

Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 1)

On the TV front, two new seasons of Mockingbird favorites are now out for your viewing pleasure. Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty just finished its third season, with Nielsen knighting it the most popular comedy on television, and Bojack Horseman’s fourth season is now available for binging on Netflix. Both shows are regulars in our “best of TV” columns each December, occupying a fair amount of Mockingbird HQ water cooler chitchat. It’s a little silly to think that TV shows featuring an alcoholic super-genius grandfather and a washed up 90s sitcom-star horse garner critical acclaim and commercial success, but that’s…

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With My Own Eyes by Bo Giertz - A Review

With My Own Eyes by Bo Giertz – A Review

By personal habit, and soon by way of formal study (again), I read a good deal of academic theology. It isn’t always easy going down – sometimes quite far from it, as most working theologians are not sparkling writers. By contrast, I don’t read much popular Christian literature. It isn’t my thing, and I justify this opinion by noting that a huge proportion is bound to be saccharine, moralistic, anti-intellectual, or just plain bad art (though somewhere in this Venn diagram of horror there must be a kitschy sweet spot). There do exist, however, Christian writers who have addressed head…

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On Our Bookshelf (This Time Around)

As summer winds down, here’s what we’ve been reading over here at Mockingbird HQ (and on sabbatical), as published in the Love & Death Issue

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

George Saunders’ widely acclaimed first novel addresses death, grief, and the afterlife. Narrated by a graveyard full of, um, lively ghosts, this novel is a roller coaster from start to finish. With humor and empathy, Saunders powerfully illustrates that “the truth will set you free.”

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott

Published this spring, Lamott continues to sing the song of grace: “Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves forgiving the debt, absolving the unabsolvable.” Pulling from St. Augustine and the Dalai Lama, she weaves her thoughts on mercy with such honesty and humor that you might feel like you’re sitting down as one of her Sunday School students.

The Kingdom by Emmanuel Carrère

Emmanuel Carrère’s new book (novel? memoir? biography?) on St. Paul and the early Christians often reads like a diary fused with historical fiction. Carrère, well-known in France for his unique non-fiction storytelling, believes that the only way he can really communicate a subject is by looking as honestly as possible at himself. In this book, then, that means capturing the New Testament through his own relationship with and (un-)belief in its God. A powerfully honest and captivating reimagining of both the nature of belief and the radical message Paul carried.

The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about Men and Women in the 21st Century by Stephen Marche

Stay-at-home dads get no respect, women are still almost never in the boardroom, and feminism has failed us. Why, Marche ponders, have we come so far and are still inundated with the same bizarre problems? Because women are still women and men are still men, and no one wants to make the damned bed. If you are in ministry, your premarital counseling couples should read this brilliant book alongside Capon’s Bed and Board.

My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir by Macy Halford

Halford, who spent several years working as a staffer at The New Yorker, writes with immense care and loyalty about the devotional that shaped (and continues to shape) her life, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. Halford, who was raised in an Evangelical family in Dallas, uses the devotional (and Chambers’ own life story) as a way of excavating her own life and Christian faith.

Against Everything: Essays by Mark Greif

Greif is the co-founder of culture magazine n+1. This book synthesizes the strangeness of the modern world by challenging it and unpacking everyday taboos like exercise, hipsters, and punk music. Greif shows his cards as an Enneagram 8, but that doesn’t stop him from writing some real sizzlers on everyday life through a decidedly intellectual lens.

Abandon Me: Memoirs by Melissa Febos

One of our guests on The Mockingcast, Febos’ cutting collection of memoirs wrestles with addiction and sexuality and offers up a gratifying depth of spirituality. Her riff on the Jonah story and our innate calling towards “choose your own adventure stories” is one for the ages. She writes, “every love is a sea monster in whose belly we learn to pray.”

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Ripping its title from a Dostoevsky classic, Elif Batuman’s debut novel follows Selin through her first year at Harvard. Upon arriving at school, she’s given an email address, her first. One night, she sends a snappy message to Ivan, the mysterious boy in her Russian class, and hilarity ensues. The romance would fit well in a 19th century novel—excepting Selin and Ivan’s preferred form of communication. Armed with a healthy suspicion of her surroundings and a sharp wit, Selin makes for a revelatory, refreshing narrator.

Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by Harriet Lerner

This little book ranks up there with our other social science fave, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me). Lerner gives us a powerful glimpse into all the strategies and self-deceptions we have around our wrongdoing–on what counts as an apology, and on what keeps us from giving (and receiving) it. She also insightfully keys in on the prime impulse that makes the non-apologizer a non-apologizer: the need to be perfect.

Phases: Poems by Mischa Willett

Poems playful, at times, epigrammatic, conscious of things Italian and incongruous—they are delightful and plain spoken, rhythmic and musical, at times difficult enough to slow the reader’s march through them, most times sufficiently welcoming and placed (e.g., the Pacific Northwest) to keep the reader coming back for more. The collection’s nine brief sections are laid out as though phases of a voyage. An exciting new volume in the Poiema Poetry Series (Cascade Books), curated by poet/editor D. S. Martin.

Sometimes We Do Dance: The Light in London Grammar

Sometimes We Do Dance: The Light in London Grammar

In the past, I’ve sneakily slipped London Grammar music videos into various posts on this site for little reason other than that I just really enjoy them, and I’ve written about their music once before, several years ago. Much of it is slow—a lot of silence accompanied by sparse, echoey thrums from Dan Rothman (guitar) and Dot Major (drums/keys), woven together by Hannah Reid’s almost operatic voice. (Starting off here by setting your expectations low; then you can be pleasantly surprised.)

Truth is a Beautiful Thing is the name of their second album, which was released on June 9. Needless to…

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Right-Wing Fathers, Left-Wing Sons, and The Reason You're Alive

Right-Wing Fathers, Left-Wing Sons, and The Reason You’re Alive

Matthew Quick has a gift for telling stories around a lovable, self-destructive hero, a gift that’s made the novelist a Hollywood go-to. His first novel, Silver Linings Playbook, we all know about. But there are several more in the stable that have been optioned by producers, including the one just released this spring (and immediately optioned by Miramax), called The Reason You’re Alive.

The story is told by our crusty first-person narrator, a Vietnam veteran named David Granger, a foul-mouthed (very politically incorrect) 68-year-old American patriot recovering from a recent brain surgery. The brain tumor—which Granger attributes to too much exposure…

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Wonder Woman and the Side Effects of Losing Innocence

Wonder Woman and the Side Effects of Losing Innocence

This review of the new Wonder Woman comes to us from Caleb Ackley. 

Typically when I hear the words ‘summer’ and ‘blockbuster’ uttered in the same sentence, a shudder runs down my spine. Forehead wet with anxiety-induced sweat, I try with every ounce of strength I possess to keep from imagining the latest franchise subjected to the dreaded ‘reboot’ or, worse still, the newest installment in an ever-widening and ever more deafening Transformers universe. This summer, however, thanks to a certain female superhero, change was in the air, and when that fateful weekend in June finally came, I ran to the…

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Book Review: Unchained by Noel Jesse Heikkinen

Book Review: Unchained by Noel Jesse Heikkinen

One of the Bible’s more notorious verses appears in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he writes: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1). So much of the New Testament — including Jesus’ ministry and most of the epistles — puts stock in a God who “sets the captives free” (Lk 4). But popular Christian discourse often reduces this integral concept of freedom to one of two things:

First, and perhaps most common among the well-seasoned faithful, ‘freedom’ is a cautionary freedom; that is, freedom “in perspective.” In this interpretation, ‘the but’ is of utmost importance,…

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It's Gospel Law the Way Down

It’s Gospel Law the Way Down

I woke up yesterday morning feeling like I had time traveled 10 years back into the wonderful world of mockingbird.blogspot.com. Back then, a group of us were invited by David Zahl to start up a blog dedicated to the exposition of justification by faith alone as understood through the hermeneutical lens of the distinction between law and Gospel. This was not our first attempt at blogging, but it was different in that, as I wrote in a 2008 post, “Can’t See the Forest for the Blogs,”

Most theological blogs that I’ve found, like many political ones, are so rife with acrimony…

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