1. Where to start with a hierarchy of most severe ‘little-l law’ in ‘secular’ society? We could start with body image, health, having cool experiences, and the like, but prosperity honestly takes the cake. And among the people who have already checked that box, it’s fast becoming political correctness. Political correctness is important, but its ascendant, uncompromising severity and occasional use as a class-code leads to a totalization which is, to say the least, in tension with the traditional (L/l)iberal ideal of discourse. Cue Camille Paglia, who had some fantastic things to say in America Magazine (Jesuits) about the backslide of feminism and…
Another Week Ends: Even More Camille Paglia, Digital Soul-Training, Backstabbing Enablers, Apolitical Auden, and Masculine Christianity
Stars, spattered out through lifeless night from end to end, like jewels scattered in a dead king’s grave, tease, torment my wits toward meaningful patterns that do not exist.
-From John Gardner’s Grendel
When I first picked up John Gardner’s novel Grendel, I expected a quirky, fun read; something along the lines of Gregory Maguire’s bestseller turned Broadway hit Wicked that creatively reimagines the Wizard of Oz. What I got was something starkly different. This is not to say Grendel isn’t frequently funny, it certainly is. And like Wicked, Grendel is told from the antagonist’s perspective, by the monster of Beowulf’s heroic…
A little self-promotion: Whenever we find a theme here on the blog we’re especially excited about and feel we’ve done some of our best writing on, we’ll take a few months, get an editor onboard, and take the time to basically do it way better and more in depth than we can find time for on the blog – thus Mockingbird books. They’re a little underused, but we love all of them – and want you to, as well. So we’re offering 20% off through the end of February. Get some books, tell your friends. IMHO, they’re solid work. Catalogue below:
A Mess of Help, by David Zahl: Our newest book presents the best of DZ’s music writing, revised, rethought and expanded, plus a good bit of never-before-done material, too. Get to know the ‘cruciform’ shape of the lives/work of many of the best rock n’ roll artists, and don’t miss the ultimate annotated playlist.
Eden and Afterward, by Will McDavid: Mockingbird’s most ambitious biblical foray yet, it gives a pretty good deal of thought/reflection on the beginning of the Bible, Genesis. By reading it with fresh eyes and a view toward its character as literature, EAA makes these old stories fresh, new, and surprising.
PZ’s Panopticon, by Paul F.M. Zahl: PZP does comparative religion through the only lens that really matters, i.e., how do the different religions look to a dying person? Immensely provocative, entertaining, and profound, in classic Paul Zahl style.
The Mockingbird Devotional, edited by Ethan Richardson and Sean Norris: Our bestselling book by a good stretch, this 365-day devotional, by over 60 contributors, provides the Gospel every day. Called the “best devotional on the planet” by Tullian Tchividjian.
Grace in Addiction, by John Z: When it comes to the bound will and the crucial question of if, and how, people change for the better, look no further. This is our most practical book, an extended meditation on the Twelve Steps with almost infinite application to ‘Christian life’, and inexhaustible comfort.
This American Gospel, by Ethan Richardson: A rare work of what might be called ‘personal theology’, TAG starts in the gritty, everyday stories of the popular radio program “This American Life”, and it weaves them together beautifully into deep meditations on themes of human life. Packed with insight.
The Gospel According to Pixar, edited by David Zahl and Todd Brewer: Just what it sounds like; Pixar’s golden age not only resulted in exceptional children’s movies, but also a surprising Gospel bent to almost everything they did. Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and others strike a remarkable balance between story and parable. Perfect for young Sunday School courses, adult nostalgia, or a good cry.
Judgment and Love, edited by Sean Norris: One of our earliest books, Judgment and Love takes a bottom-up approach to the old theme of Law and Gospel, telling personal stories of how these themes play out in real life.
Promo code for everything is 4FYR46BT – except for Pixar and J+L, which are already discounted. Pick up yours today!
Here’s an Ash Wednesday appropriate portion of A Mess of Help, taken from the final chapter, “Sing Mockingbird Sing: The Alpha and Omega of Annotated Playlists”. This is track 18 of 20. You can listen to the entire playlist here.
I am sure I’m not the only one whose ears perked up during the scene in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the now-classic documentary about the band Wilco, where lead singer Jeff Tweedy plays an unknown song imploring the listener to “Be Not So Fearful”. Plaintive and disarming and, most of all, comforting, the tune employs biblical language without…
It’s a Fifty Shades world this week, and we just live in it. Not sure how close attention you’ve been paying to the ‘debate’ surrounding the film, but it’s a fascinating one, touching as it does on a number of our current hot potatoes, most notably sex and gender. Everyone seems to agree that the astronomical number of books (and tickets) sold indicates something larger going on, though no one seems to agree on what that is. Some say the success of the franchise reveals a deep faultline in 21st century bedrooms between Should and Is, between what’s acceptable to want and what is actually wanted, the ideal of egalitarian…
It’s not that one’s “dialing back” on insights hard won from the last five years. No, it’s just that you have to be true to the whole of experience. And experience teaches that monism — the “bulk” picture of what we see and face — requires an element of enhancement. That element comes under the heading “dualism”.
Thus when Kerouac, a faithful Catholic, saw through the overly acute dualism of his upbringing in favor of a monism derived from Dwight Goddard, he was making a necessary correction. On the other hand, that correction was not sufficient to break every bondage. Far from it! So at…
They were talking to him about resurrection, about law,
about the suffering ahead.
They were talking as if to remind him who he was and
who they were. He was not
Like his three friends watching a little way off, not like
At the foot of the hill. A gray-green thunderhead massed
from the sea
And God spoke from it and said he was his. They were
About how the body, broken or burned, could live again,
Only the fiery text of the thunderhead could explain it.
And they were talking
About pain and the need for judgement and how he would
A law of pain, both its spirit and its letter in his own flesh,
and then break it,
That is, transcend it. His clothes flared like magnesium,
as they talked.
(Spoilers for George Eliot’s Middlemarch ahead.) Dorothea was a devout and idealistic girl whose greatest desires were to help other people and to serve some high purpose for God. When she met Mr. Casaubon, a scholarly middle-aged man in the midst of writing his opus, a “Key to All Mythologies”, she saw a chance to serve him dutifully as a wife (it was 1830 or so) and was thrilled to be a part of this higher purpose. Yet Casaubon is vain, self-important, and deeply insecure. Dorothea has overestimated both her capacity to sacrifice all for him and has overestimated Casaubon’s value…
An extremely heartfelt thank you to all who helped put on the launch party for A Mess of Help this past Saturday at The Olmsted Salon in NYC, especially Dusty Brown, Melina Smith, and William Brafford. It was a blast, from start to finish. If you weren’t able to make it (and/or are currently trapped by snow), the audio is available! You can listen below in fact:
I was also gratified to see a couple of reviews crop up on outlets that I greatly respect. Perhaps it’s gauche for the author to publicly thank his critics, but who cares–it’s a rare thing to feel so deeply understood by anyone, let alone people you admire. First, there was John J Thompson’s flattering and supremely articulate write-up for ThinkChristian. The opening remark mirrors how I felt after reading his review:
“I would say that books like David Zahl’s A Mess of Help make me feel less alone in the world, if there were any other books like David Zahl’s A Mess Of Help to be found. The fact is, there are not… With great humor, candor and spiritual insight – and an insanely passionate musical vocabulary – Zahl crafts rant after rant that would be equally at home in the film High Fidelity as in a Bible study. It’s like he’s having a long, funny, interesting and rambling conversation with all of the voices in his head. That some of those voices seem also to be the ones in my head is overwhelmingly comforting.”
That’s the kind of thing that makes you want to keep writing. Prost, Herr Thompson! Second, Curator Magazine published a full-length treatment by William Brafford, who conducted the interview on Saturday. I always knew I liked him…! There are any number of paragraphs I could excerpt. Here’s one:
“Humor and passion practically drip from the pages of A Mess of Help. Love of paradox is said to be Lutheran trait. You’ll find it here, especially in an amazing essay that rediscovers the bizarre Elvis movie Change of Habit in all its kitschy glory. Dave writes, “Elvis Presley was not ridiculous, then amazing. He was both at the same time.” Dave’s collection of bizarre Elvis anecdotes is rivaled only by his collection of bizarre Brian Wilson anecdotes, like the one where Wilson tells a reporter something amazing and profound about God’s love as the power behind the universe, and then totters off into the kitchen to squirt Reddi-Whip into his mouth.”
Thanks again to everyone who came, don’t forget to stay tuned to the Olmsted page for future events, and please, for the love of God, keep on chooglin!
Getting close to the end of our video rollout. This one comes from the incomparable Mr. McD:
From the fascinating little volume Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited, in which a wide array of American writers offer decidedly non-academic, gut-level interpretations of NT passages. It was edited by Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm, Right Livelihoods, and most recently my personal fave, On Celestial Music) and Darcy Steinke (Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, Easter Everywhere), and published in 1997. This passage from Rick’s introduction stuck out:
My own interpretation of the parable of the hidden treasure (Mark 13:44) is, somewhat ironically, rigidly allegorical…: the treasure at the heart of this story is the message of the kingdom itself, and the fact of grace offered therein — grace in spite of the way you have lived your life, grace in spite of your crimes or your peccadilloes, grace in spite of your religion, grace in spite of mean birth of lofty one, grace in spite of your sexuality or the color of your skin or your creed or anything else, grace simply because grace is what God gives. That’s the message buried in the New Testament, as treasure is buried in a field, the message often overpowered by the fire and brimstone of evangelists going all the way back to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, through two long millenia of Swaggarts and Robertsons. The Kingdom of Heaven, as opposed to the kingdom of PACs, multinationals, gun lobbyists, tax-exempt charitable organizations, et al., is a place of grace, and this is born out, moreover by the fact that the protagonist of the parable of the hidden treasure is a reprobate. The treasure, after all, is in somebody else’s field when he finds it. The treasure belongs to somebody else. So what kind of guy is this, who has hidden the veritable kingdom of heaven so that he can come back later and swipe it?
He’s like all of us… This hit-and-run, morally dubious miscreant is myself.