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The Man Who Ate with Capon

The Man Who Ate with Capon

Robert Farrar Capon is dead.

That means, by necessity, he is now a finite resource post September 5th, 2013. I had read a little of him previous to that date, heard him referenced and quoted by people I respected. His death prompted, as things like that often do, a serious search for his books, many now sadly out of print. I looked for old interviews, articles about him, finding some funeral tributes by those who knew or loved him. That search led to Mockingbird, of course, but also to a man named Jamie Howison. He had one of the few audio…

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When God Watches Movies

When God Watches Movies

This review was written by Mockingbird intern Jeff Dillenbeck.

What is the purpose of movies? Is it to entertain? To communicate? I’ve typically seen movies as meant to be artistic expressions (especially after seeing most of the best picture Oscar nominees, this past year), works that evoke emotion or relay something about the human experience in way that the written word can’t quite capture. Like other the other art forms, film has the power to move its human audience—to provoke thought, to encourage, to empower.

But what do movies have to say to the divine?

That’s what film critic Josh Larsen (of the…

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How to Turn a Neighbor into an Other (According to Thomas More and Martin Luther)

How to Turn a Neighbor into an Other (According to Thomas More and Martin Luther)

Another incisive excerpt from How To Think, the fantastic little book by upcoming conference speaker Alan Jacobs, this time about the origins of cultural repulsion and “othering”—featuring none other than Martin Luther and Thomas More. There’s some choice language in the following, but the parallels to modern online discourse are too spot-on not to share. 

From How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, pages 81-82:

“Thomas More’s attacks on Martin Luther and his followers, and Luther’s attacks on Catholicism (and especially the papacy), make most of today’s online insult fests seem tame. More wrote to Luther about “your…

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The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everyone – John Zahl

From our recent conference in Tyler, TX, here’s the incredible second talk from John Zahl, inspired by his book Grace in Addiction. Topics include: the founding of AA, the spirituality of the 12-steps, a plaid peg-leg, an empathetic high priest, and cat curling.

The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everyone – John Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

A Visit to Another World: Modern Fiction and Life After Death – A Conference Breakout Preview

Christians have long puzzled over whether literary fiction is of any use to the remnant of believers in the world. Of course, most of the Western canon is essentially Christian; you can’t get anywhere in a lit course without some basic familiarity with the Bible. But many of today’s stories seem postmodern, remaining thematically ambiguous and unresolved. Even so, stories remain one of our surest avenues for (something like) transcendence.

Good fiction describes the reality of everyday life—describes, in the words of Flannery O’Conner, “what is.” But for many Christians this seems too earthly a goal. Where have the symbolic references to Calvary gone? How long do we wait for this character’s redemption? Good stories are not always innocent or sentimental, nor necessarily redemptive. O’Connor, a Catholic herself, seemed just fine with this: “We lost our innocence in the Fall,” she writes plainly, “and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite.” Oof!

During this breakout session, we’ll spend some time looking at the work of 3 contemporary writers—Denis Johnson, George Saunders, and Ottessa Moshfegh—who I haven’t been able to get out of my head this year. Their stories relate, sometimes brutally, sometimes humorously, “what is.” These writers are not Christians (actually one of them is), but they nevertheless “reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete, observable reality” (O’Connor). These stories poke fun at the absurdity of our everyday reality and illuminate our desperate need for a life after life. My hope is that their words will help us put some fresh “skin on the bones” of the Christian message (in the words of John Zahl). It should be fun and maybe a little weird! Hope to see ya there.

Click here to register for the upcoming Mockingbird conference in NYC! And check out the incredible line-up of speakers here.

Inside the Bounds of Grace: The Not-So-Lovely Love Story of David and Michal

Inside the Bounds of Grace: The Not-So-Lovely Love Story of David and Michal

This piece was written by Stephanie Matthiessen.

I’m writing a novel about Michal, the first wife of David and the daughter of Saul. Don’t worry, no one else has heard of her either, unless maybe they’re from Israel. Someone recently asked me what the book is about and, instead of giving my usual, vague, I’d-rather-not-say answer, I actually told them. Spoiler: it’s about forgiveness. Unconditional forgiveness. I added the qualifier for fear one would assume it’s about personal atonement and self-improvement. It’s not. It’s not a self-help book in disguise. It’s a love story.

Michal and, of course, her much more famous…

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Everything Happens for a Reason ... And Other Lies I've Loved

Everything Happens for a Reason … And Other Lies I’ve Loved

My mom has a very useful phrase that, because she’s our mom, my siblings and I use to mock her mercilessly: “Gently but firmly.”

“Gently but firmly” works for closing the microwave door, breaking up with a bad boyfriend, and asking for a raise. It doesn’t work for everything — sometimes a person has to be more firm than gentle, or vice versa, but it works for a surprising number of situations. It works so well in Kate Bowler‘s new memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Bowler is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, a graduate…

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True Belonging and the Perils of Braving the Wilderness on Social Media

True Belonging and the Perils of Braving the Wilderness on Social Media

In the most recent On Being interview with Krista Tippett and Brené Brown, they discuss Brown’s latest book Braving the Wilderness and many of Brown’s concepts.  Early in their conversation, they talk about how we are made for connection. Brown says, “It’s partly because we are neuro-biologically hardwired for belonging and connection. We’re hardwired to want it, and need it so much, that the first thing we do is sacrifice ourselves and who we are to achieve it.”

Brown’s claims here align with my research on social media and my personal experience with social media. Many of us engage social media…

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A New Chapter

A New Chapter

One of the most memorable moments in all of Western literature is in Augustine’s Confessions. In 383, the future Bishop of Hippo was 29 years old, and not yet a baptized Christian. He was, however, a brilliant and earnest inquirer after truth, and Christianity was a young thing with many sharp competitors. Augustine had traveled from his birthplace in North Africa to Rome: the capital of its time and world, if not yet of gelato. He sought learning there in the schools of rhetoric, supported by his holy mother Monica, and working as a teacher to patrician Latin-speakers. In attitudes…

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"A Broth of False and True": Frederick Buechner's Godric

“A Broth of False and True”: Frederick Buechner’s Godric

My friend John and I are the sole members of an organization we call “The Nerd Book Club.” Once a month or so, we grab coffee and talk about books we’ve always wanted to read but lacked the self-discipline to finish on our own. Recently, we committed to read a novel that has been on my bookshelf for nearly two decades: “Godric,” by Frederick Buechner. After finishing it, I warmly recommend its perusal at any Mockingbird-sanctioned soirée.

Here’s why. The novel, loosely based on the historical account of a 12th-century Anglo-Saxon holy man, Godric of Finchale, narrates the story…

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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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