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Woody Allen, Walker Percy and “The Search”

Woody Allen, Walker Percy and “The Search”

“You suffer from despair,” Emma Stone tells Joaquin Phoenix’s character in the trailer for Woody Allen’s new movie, Irrational Man. “It was at this moment that my life came together,” Phoenix chimes in later via voiceover, “I’m Abe Lucas, I’ve had many experiences and now a unique one … This was the meaningful act I was searching for!” With this exclamation, he seems to have shaken his despair, assumedly the inner conflict that the film will center around. But, unless Woody Allen has had an extreme change of religious conviction, I suspect that Phoenix’s transcendent, unique act won’t lead to…

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Why Harper Lee Is a Prophet

Why Harper Lee Is a Prophet

The overall response to Harper Lee’s newly published novel of sketchy origins, Go Set a Watchman, has been nothing short of hysterical. This review contains spoilers, but if you’ve Googled Watchman at all in the past week, then there’s really nothing left for me to spoil: Atticus is a racist, and that’s the main cause of nationwide collywobbles.

I was surprised to find that this isn’t just a dilemma of literary proportions: The turn of events has real-life implications, as when, only a month ago, bombshell Jennifer Love Hewitt named her newborn son Atticus, thereby suffering an actual bombshell when she…

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CAST AWAY, US 2000 TOM HANKS CASTAWAY US 2000 TOM HANKS Date 2000, Photo by: Mary Evans/C20TH FOX / DREAMWORKS/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection(10305969)

Law & Gospel: News from Across the Sea

The following is excerpted from Mockingbird’s newest resource, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints), which is available here. This comes from the beginning of the Gospel section:

‘News’ expresses something different from ‘knowledge.’ We live in a time of unprecedented knowledge: a day’s worth of new data now would, in terms of raw amount of information, be the envy of entire centuries past. Knowledge equips us to better live in the world around us: The scientist must be in control in the lab, and the factory manager needs good data on her employees’ output, the cost of raw…

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From the Forgiveness Issue: A Q&A with Philip Yancey

From the Forgiveness Issue: A Q&A with Philip Yancey

For this fifth issue of the magazine, we had the privilege of talking to author and journalist Philip Yancey about the message of grace in today’s churches. We also got a chance to re-print a small sample of his most recent book Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?.

To order a copy of The Forgiveness Issue, look no further than here. There’s more where this comes from. 

In May of 2015, the Pew Research Center released its latest findings on the “changing religious landscape” of the United States. According to the survey, 70% of Americans identified as Christian in 2014,…

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David Brooks Goes to the Basement

David Brooks Goes to the Basement

A buzzword like “character” could mean just about anything you want it to mean. Like a lot of reclaimed, lofty words from Ancient Greece or Rome — virtue, beauty, culture — character has picked up a lot of fuzz along the way, enough to become a proverbial lightning rod for just about any self-help guru and pop academic and thought-leader under the sun. Which is why David Brooks’ newest title, The Road to Character, did not exactly grab me like the earlier Bobos in Paradise. It sounded too much like the kind of book a dad pushes on an eighteen-year-old graduate. Or an HR executive plants in her office giftbags.

But Brooks is…

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I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Grace: Thoughts on The Useful Sinner

I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Grace: Thoughts on The Useful Sinner

Culturally we spend a lot of time talking about a kind of “pay it forward” do gooderism. You know, you pay for a random stranger’s Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks and then they pay for somebody’s Lemonade Coolerista (just kidding, they haven’t started making those yet). Perfect strangers in perfect harmony, as the thinking goes. Or maybe you are familiar with the pebble theory. We drop a pebble of kindness into water and the ripple effect is such that even more encouraging acts come from this one moment of positivity.

I love this way of seeing humanity. But it lives in denial…

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Alfred Hitchcock: Artist of Anxiety

Alfred Hitchcock: Artist of Anxiety

Alfred Hitchcock agreed to sit down with François Truffaut for a five-day interview in August 1962. The Frenchman aimed to pick the master’s brain and snag some good tidbits for interested cinephiles. Gradually, their conversation started to flow and the product was a wonderful book. In its introduction, Truffaut calls Hitchcock an “artist of anxiety.” While he is pointing at his knack for touching on our “nighttime, metaphysical anxieties,” I found the examples of Hitchcock’s own daily worries very interesting.

Here’s Hitchcock on his anxious desire to keep everything running according to plan:

I’m full of fears and I do my best…

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Vast Construction Work in O’Connor’s Wise Blood

A quick passage from Flannery’s first novel, Wise Blood, that comes just after protagonist Hazel Motes has arrived in Taulkinham (“Town of the Little Cross”). The following doubles as both a dark look at how consumerism has limited our vision and a metaphor for O’Connor’s fiction falling on unreceptive ears:

His second night in Taulkinham, Hazel Motes walked along down town close to the store fronts but not looking in them. The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying attention to the sky. The stores in Taulkinham stayed open on Thursday nights so that people could have an extra opportunity to see what was for sale.

Fight-Club-image.jpg

Motes goes on to found the “Church Without Christ” and preaches from atop the hood of his car before blinding himself with lime and ending up dead in a ditch (can you say BLEAK!?). Yet despite his efforts to physically blind himself, he still has the tools to see Christ. He desires after the truth that O’Connor’s fiction tries to present. But he’s not quite there yet. Fortunately, the beauty of the prose – the description of the sky as God’s “vast construction work” – is also an encouraging reminder of His presence in and around us.

 

On the Fragile Souls of Imperial Sycophants

Another one from Ted Peters’ Sin Boldly!:

51lU3StHrKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Measurements, milestones, merits, awards, and orthodoxies rule over our psyches like Caligula ruled Rome. Like sycophants in the emperor’s royal court, we create a fictional public image by bowing and fawning before the ambient opinions of what is acceptable, respectable, admirable, good, just, and true. And in our rare moments of self-bolstering, we assure ourselves that we stand for eternal justice, the unassailable good, and what is absolutely right–what Luther refers to as “the Law.” In doing so, the fragile soul becomes temporarily hidden beneath self-justifying bravado. Nevertheless, fragility is ever present, sapping our soul of honesty, integrity, and authentic caring. To make matters worse, Christian sermonizers–preachers whom Cathleen Falsani calls “spiritual bullies”–man their pulpits like a captain on the bridge; they manipulate our already innate anxieties and turn timidity into terror. The perpetual fear of eternal damnation turns a fragile soul into a petrified self. We fragile ones go through the motions of life, but we don’t really live it.

Romans 8:33b, “God is the one who justifies,” should be heard by us as good news, as grace, as gospel. The gospel is aimed at liberating our selves from fragility and our souls from the endless unrolling of [spiritual] duct tape.” (pgs. 16-17)

The Real Value of Justification By Faith (For Fragile and Broken Souls)

The Real Value of Justification By Faith (For Fragile and Broken Souls)

I’m a couple of chapters in to a remarkable new book, Sin Boldly!: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls by Ted Peters. It’s an approachable yet meaty treatise on the everyday value of Justification By Faith, what the author calls, “the key that unlocks the prison door, the hand that rips off the blindfold, the aloe that cools the burning gash, and the elixir that tastes of Eden.” To say that it’s shot through with our favorite themes would be a supreme understatement. Moreover, the text bristles with humor and personality, drawing on enormous wells of empathy and even…

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Reading Memoirs: David’s Little Helper

Reading Memoirs: David’s Little Helper

I love reading memoirs. Turning to personal accounts of people’s paths through life is fun; it allows me to enter into their experiences for a while. I can’t deny, though, that implicit in my reading is a vague desire to live vicariously through the subject. I read stories to be transported and transformed. Art that deserves merit can have this transformative effect, but with memoirs I think my aim is less lofty. Some of the more memorable ones I’ve encountered were by Chuck Lidell, Rob Lowe and Jony Ive, among others– an eclectic bunch, yes, but all with flourishes of…

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Thoughts on the S—- Word and Left-Handed Power

Thoughts on the S—- Word and Left-Handed Power

You guessed it – secularization! There was that recent Pew survey release showing that 78% of Americans identified as Christians in 2007, but only 70% in 2014. DZ’s already covered that topic pretty well, and the stats are disheartening, but it’s worth thinking about some possible silver linings.

First, from a Law/Gospel perspective, pressure engenders rebellion, so it’s nice that Christianity is less mandatory than before. The people I know least receptive to religion of any kind are megachurch children or people who went to (the wrong kind of) Catholic gradeschool. As long as Christianity’s a cultural status quo, people can…

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