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Literature

Deconstructing the Christian Music Industry, or, “What’s in a Name?” by Robert Farrar Capon

Deconstructing the Christian Music Industry, or, “What’s in a Name?” by Robert Farrar Capon

The following is excerpted from the recently released collection of shorts, More Theology and Less Heavy Cream: The Domestic Life of Pietro & Madeleine, by the inimitable Robert Farrar Capon. Below, the protagonists (Robert and his wife’s alter-egos) go toe-to-toe about, among other things, the nature of “Christian” anything.

Madeleine zapped off the TV set with the remote control switch. “I refuse to look at that dumb name anymore.”

“What dumb name?” Pietro asked, looking up from his newspaper.

“Pacific Telesis,” she snapped. “It sounds more like a skin disease than a phone company.”

“Maybe it’s not a phone company. Maybe it’s just a Christian punk rock band hiding…

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The Eternal Solution of Vampirism or, “If I Were a Vampire”

The Eternal Solution of Vampirism or, “If I Were a Vampire”

Last weekend I made what I should publically refer to as a “shame-purchase.” When nobody was looking, I bought the entire movie collection of The Twilight Saga. Don’t make it a thing, but modern teen vampire stories are my kryptonite, and they almost always follow the same plot structure:

Awkward, fragile human (female) falls in love with strapping, obsessive vampire (male). Love between them is so sexy and intense that only way for the human to survive and thrive — to live — is for her to become vampire. Needs more blood.

This script hits really close to home. Mortality is so…

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Personal Inventory: Fearless (Temporis Fila) by Kaveh Akbar

Personal Inventory: Fearless (Temporis Fila) by Kaveh Akbar

The following poem evokes AA’s fourth step (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”) and the gravity of apologies. This is from Kaveh Akbar’s chapbook/collection, Portrait of the Alcoholic.

Personal Inventory: Fearless (Temporis Fila)

“I know scarcely one feature by which man can be distinguished from apes, if it be not that all the apes have a gap between their fangs and their other teeth.”
– Carolus Linnaeus

A gap, then,
a slot for fare.

I used my arms to learn two,
my fingers to learn ten.

My grandfather kept an atlas so old
there was a blank spot in the middle of Africa.

I knew a girl…

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Alexa, Now!

Alexa, Now!

Whenever a new technology comes on the scene, there’s always a bridge that needs to be built. That bridge is a cognitive bridge and it takes some powerful envisioning (and marketing!) to communicate that vision to the public. It is a bridge between what before was only manageable by human intuition and hard work, and what can now (supposedly) be entrusted to another. In short, every new technology today is a bridge from human agency to automation, a bridge that will deliver us from the toil of Egypt into the Promised Land, from the land of servitude and strife into…

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Mary Oliver’s Scrambled Turtle Eggs

Mary Oliver’s Scrambled Turtle Eggs

Living in the country, there are some beautiful things you get to experience that you simply don’t experience elsewhere. Without sounding too much like a Kubota tractor ad, I will say that nothing quite beats an early morning walk down to the river with a hot thermos of coffee, except perhaps doing that and bringing your swimsuit. Or the thick racket of peepers and bullfrogs and cicadas in the night.

But it’s not all joy and romance. Sometimes I’ll step out into the night air and look up at the stars, do some deep breathing, hope to “have a moment,” appreciating…

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The Post-Millenials, or Generation X at the End of the World

The Post-Millenials, or Generation X at the End of the World

I do not read Revelation regularly. I’m scared of it. Not of the actual text, mind you — I’m scared of being overwhelmed by half-remembered theological positions and theories about eschatology. I’m skeptical that anything in the text is meant to be a prediction — thief in the night, etc. — but I’m neither biblically sophisticated nor spiritually courageous enough to actually read and contemplate what “the end of all things” does or should mean to me. Essentially, I’m stuck in a state of indecision and irony (i.e., my position is I don’t have one). My prophet clearing the way in…

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Not Made for These Times: Looking for Answers in 4 O’Clock Moments

Not Made for These Times: Looking for Answers in 4 O’Clock Moments

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…

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On “Omniscient” Narrators: W.C. Heinz’s “Death of a Racehorse”

On “Omniscient” Narrators: W.C. Heinz’s “Death of a Racehorse”

Sportswriters are not generally awarded the prestigious seats at writer’s guild meetings. But when the Library of America brings out a collection of your sportswriting, as they did for W.C. Heinz, the guild must make an exception. Imagine what Heinz’s reportorial eyes witnessed —  the right crosses of Rocky Marciano, the mercurial shouts of Vince Lombardi, and the sweet swing of Stan Musial (not to mention the Battle of the Bulge). Writing his best work at mid-20th century, Heinz bridged the golden era of sportswriters like Grantland Rice with the New Journalism of Tom Wolfe. His boxing novel (“The…

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“Poem Ending with a Sentence from Jacques Maritain” by Christian Wiman

48371f41bb6f5d05f255b10fc9d18d0aThis poem by Christian Wiman was recently published in America Magazine. His newest collection, Hammer is the Prayer (such a cool title), is available now.

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.

“Mockingbird Turns 10” Interviews: David Zahl

“Mockingbird Turns 10” Interviews: David Zahl

This is the first installment in a series of monthly interviews between myself and various Mockingbird writers and members of the Mockingbird community. These posts will explore some aspects of each individual’s personal story and some aspects of Mockingbird’s larger story and ministry as we celebrate its 10th Anniversary.

Charlotte Donlon: What has surprised you most about Mockingbird since it was started ten years ago?

David Zahl: Well. I’m a little surprised it’s still here. When we started, our vision was (purposefully) rather vague. We had our theological convictions in mind, and a good deal of sincerity/energy, but we didn’t know how the…

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“The Only Thing You’ve Got Is What You Can Sell”: Making Peace with the Stories We Tell Ourselves

“The Only Thing You’ve Got Is What You Can Sell”: Making Peace with the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Death of a Salesman is one of my favorite stories, not because it is a piece of great “litracha,” but because it is about a man to whom I can profoundly relate. For anyone who wasn’t subjected to Arthur Miller’s masterpiece in high school, here are the basics: Willy Loman is a salesman harboring great expectations for his son, Biff. When grown-up Biff returns for a visit (“I’m mixed up very bad,” he says), Willy’s delusions about who Biff should be collide with who Biff really is. Willy nevertheless maintains a blind sort of optimism: “Certain men just don’t get started…

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From Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote

Last week, DZ posted from Oliver Burkeman’s excellent article on time management and the law of unread emails. I just finished up his 2012 book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, and, boy, good points of connection abound. Trying to get to the bottom of why we have such difficulty doing what we are told to do, or, rather, not doing what we are told not to do, Burkeman uses a study conducted by Daniel Wegner at Harvard’s ‘Mental Control Laboratory.’

When you try not to think of a white bear, you may experience some success in forcing alternative thoughts into your mind. At the same time, though, a metacognitive monitoring process will crank into action, to scan your mind for evidence of whether you are succeeding or failing at the task. And this is where things get perilous, because if you try too hard – or, Wegner’s studies suggest, if you are tired, stressed, depressed, attempting to multi-task, or otherwise suffering from ‘mental load’ – metacognition will frequently go wrong. The monantidote-oliver-burkemanitoring process will start to occupy more than its fair share of limelight on the cognitive stage. It will jump to the forefront of consciousness – and suddenly, all you will be able to think about is white bears, and how badly you’re doing at not thinking about them.

Could it be that … our efforts to feel positive seem so frequently to bring about the opposite result? … When experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss. Our efforts at mental suppression fail in the sexual arena, too: people instructed not to think about sex exhibit greater arousal, as measured by the electrical conductivity of their skin, than those instructed to suppress such thoughts.

He concludes this chapter, entitled “On Trying Too Hard to be Happy,” with the metaphor of a Chinese finger trap. In the case of striving for our own happiness, he writes, “‘doing the presumably sensible thing is counterproductive.’ Following the negative path to happiness is about doing the other thing – the presumably illogical thing – instead.” In other words, try to climb out of that ditch and before long human nature kicks in, handing down a shovel.