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Peace/Love/Elvis: The Death of Ambition, and Also of Denis Johnson

Peace/Love/Elvis: The Death of Ambition, and Also of Denis Johnson

It’s hard to say exactly when the plummet of Elvis Presley began. Some say in the late 60s, some say the early 70s. Some might say as early as 1958, when he was drafted into the Army. In any case, there’s no denying the devilish phase of physical and mental deterioration which carried him to his death, at age 42, in 1977. The last thing the King saw in this world was the cold tile, probably, of his bathroom wall.

During the height of his career, Elvis seemed a different man, if even a man he was. I need not say…

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Incomplete Math and the Paradox of Grace

Incomplete Math and the Paradox of Grace

Achilles: “Well, the best way I know to explain it is to quote the words of another old Zen master, Kyōgen. Kyōgen said: ‘Zen is like a man hanging in a tree by his teeth over a precipice. His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb, and under the tree another person asks him: “Why did the Bodhidharma come to China from India?’ If the man in the tree does not answer, he fails; and if he does answer, he falls and loses his life. Now what shall he do?”

Tortoise: “That’s clear; he should give up Zen,…

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On Anxiety Attacks and the Fiction of Scientific "Reality"

On Anxiety Attacks and the Fiction of Scientific “Reality”

This one, from our archives, remains every bit as relevant (and comforting!) as when Ethan wrote it in 2013.

A typical description of an anxiety attack or a panic attack goes something like this: a routine behavior suddenly and emphatically goes rogue. You are driving, you are eating an orange slice, taking a test, conversing at a party, and the moment becomes obstructed by an impossible–not just mental but also physical–and inimical weight. You suddenly feel you cannot breathe, that your chest is closing like one of those cavern doors in the Temple of Doom. Or maybe you feel like your…

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The Precision of Pain and the Blurriness of Joy

This poem comes from the recent anthology Joy: 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman.

I, Tonya Justifies the 90's

I, Tonya Justifies the 90’s

Where were you in 1994 when Nancy Kerrigan took the famous billy club to the knee? Can you believe that event took place nearly a quarter century ago? It’s one of those strange decade-defining events that’s lasted in our minds alongside the Milli Vanilli lip syncing scandal of 1990, the Clinton affair scandal of 1998, or the O.J. Simpson trial of 1994. For those who weren’t following the illustrious world of 1990’s U.S. figure skating, or for those who simply weren’t born yet, there’s a fresh chance to get in on the story with this year’s Oscar bait dark comedy I,…

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But Now Let's Have a Surprise

But Now Let’s Have a Surprise

I love church mishaps. Once, at a Baptist service, I spilled my little cup of communion Welch’s on a neighbor’s new white pants. He was so kind about it but also probably mad, and I was so embarrassed. There was a soft piano playing in the background while the preacher, up front, invited the congregation to commune with the Lord and, when we were ready, to go ahead and drink. I tried mopping up the spill with my sleeve, until parishioners from all sides descended upon me and told me to stop: “It’s okay,” they said, “it’s okay.” It didn’t…

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Wendell Berry's Plea for Grace

Wendell Berry’s Plea for Grace

Have you ever seen your dog or cat suddenly turn its head, tense up, and stare intently into an unoccupied space? It’s quite unnerving. They obviously see something we can’t, and if the more instinctual part of our brain trusts their superior senses enough, we tense up as well. It’s an interesting cross-species bit of performance art that happens, and we, of course, have learned to harness those senses for our benefit and protection.

There are certain people throughout history that fill those roles in our own species. Martin Luther, and his namesake, Martin Luther King Jr., are obvious examples of…

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The Top Theology Books of 2017

The Top Theology Books of 2017

Were you given an Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card, but don’t know what to spend it on? Or perhaps you’re a bibliophile like me and have an insatiable appetite for the latest and greatest theology books. In either case, I’ve got just the list for you: the top Mockingbird theology books from 2017. Click here to read last year’s list.

Books on St. Paul

Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul’s Anthropology by Susan Grove Eastman

This is a fantastic book. According to Eastman, Paul believed that one’s identity is irreducibly social, determined by the influence of external powers—whether it be…

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Consuming 2017: Favorite Music, Media, Humor, and Books

Consuming 2017: Favorite Music, Media, Humor, and Books

Alrighty, my friends, it’s time for our annual round up of favorites, which I had way too much fun putting together. As always, these are predominantly personal picks, albeit ones with an eye toward Mocking-resonance. TV went live last week. (Click here to check out last year’s list). Here goes:


Favorite Discoveries

Jimmy Webb. This one counts as about 20 discoveries wrapped up into one. I had known the hits–“Galveston”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Macarthur Park”, who doesn’t?–but that was as far as it went. Talk about the tip of the iceberg! Webb’s is a gift that’s been giving for nigh on…

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PZ's Podcast: A Disease I Do Not Have the Courage to Name

PZ’s Podcast: A Disease I Do Not Have the Courage to Name

EPISODE 239: A Disease I Do Not Have the Courage to Name

This Christmas cast is about communication between people, and God. Moreover, it’s about the cost of poor communication, which can be suicide, let alone habitual alienation. And the rich advantage of good communication, which can be the difference between life and death, let alone satisfaction and personal happiness.

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The Very Persistent Pirate: A Thank You Note from Houston

Dear Mockingsupporters,

This isn’t a normal post. I’m not here to talk about the wonders of Martin Luther or to tell you that Advent could be more chill. I am writing to thank you.

Yesterday I visited our neighborhood school and talked with a room full of first graders about what it’s like to be a published author. This past fall, they worked for months writing and “publishing” their own books. The topics ranged from Pokémon to Cats to Jesus (“’cause it’s close to Christmas”). As St. Whitney profoundly sang, I do believe the children are our future.

I fielded questions about what it is like to be a published author. I wanted to share some of my favorites with you:

  1. Does your book have any explosions in it?
  2. Did you know that the Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas?
  3. I have a sister named Maddy.

Of course, in talking about being a published author, there was no way I could actually read from my own book. Not only is Churchy not public school safe, it’s not really “safe church” either. Besides, it didn’t seem like the place to offer the little girls a cautionary tale about the difficulties of being a mother and a priest.


When they asked me to spend some time with the kids I knew immediately the book I had to read: Mockingbird’s own The Very Persistent Pirate. It casts a picture of grace that is foreign to most of us in this frightening world. The Kid in the story keeps doing the wrong thing and the Pirate continues in his persistent generosity. They even have a party at the end. I needed to hear it more than the children did.

Plus, The Persistent Pirate has the word “booty” in it no less than 4 times. Which is a real riot when you are 7.

But these are not just any kids at any school. These are kids at a school in Houston. They are from neighborhoods that were hit particularly hard by Hurricane Harvey. Many of their houses flooded which meant that entire childhood libraries were lost. Many of you donated to make sure that every one of those first graders received their own copy of The Very Persistent Pirate. So thank you.

As one little girl exclaimed to me, “YOU MEAN WE GET TO TAKE IT HOME?!”

Yes. Yes you do.



Music, Truth, and David Zahl’s A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll

Music, Truth, and David Zahl’s A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll

Last week I was revising an essay that’s in my thesis for my MFA in creative writing. It’s about music and memory, and I write about how music roots us to past, present, and future versions of ourselves. While I was revising that piece, my soon-to-be-15-year-old daughter asked me to review one of her essays. It was also about music and memory. It was about other things, too (essays are usually about other things besides the obvious things), but it was a sort of exploration of different seasons of her life and music was the vehicle that carried me through…

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