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When God’s Will Is the Only Thing Left

Acclaimed writer Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart and the forthcoming Abandon Me, graced us as a guest on the most recent episode of The Mockingcast. During their fantastic interview — would have reposted the whole thing if I could have — Scott read this beautiful excerpt from Abandon Me:

Jonah, whose name means “dove,” is not brave. He simply exhausts all his other choices. The only thing left to choose is God’s will, and even then, after proclaiming his prophecy, Jonah shakes his fist at the Lord. His destiny does not give him peace; it enrages him. It’s not what he wants. He begs God to kill him. But God doesn’t kill Jonah. God’s mercy often doesn’t come in the form of erasure. And the story of Jonah seems a parable of what I have often suspected, that life is a great “choose your own adventure story.” Every choice leads the hero to the same princes, the same cliff. There are alternative routes, but there is only one ending, if you make it there…every love is a sea monster in whose belly we learn to pray.

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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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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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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“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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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.

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) reacts after hitting a 3-point basket during the second half of Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans, Saturday, April 25, 2015. The Warriors won 109-98 to sweep the series. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Prejudice Like Crack: Confirming Confirmation Bias with Michael Lewis

I’ve been enjoying Michael Lewis’s new book, The Undoing Project, which picks up where Moneyball left off: When it comes to sports recruitment, if the numbers are more reliable than human judgment, the next question is why? What’s going on in the human mind that makes even the experts’ top picks hit-or-miss?

One answer is the inevitable confirmation bias. The following definition comes to us from our magazine’s recent Mental Health issue: “The tendency to experience the world through the lens of your already held beliefs. If you think, before you’ve eaten there, that La Frontera is a terrible restaurant…the odds are in favor of you hating it…

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PZ’s Cure for Existential Beastliness

PZ’s Cure for Existential Beastliness

The other day I was suffering from the normal post-holiday, first-of-the-year, what-has-happened-to-my-life, dear-God-help-me blues. We’ve all been there, right? Right? I was scanning my bookshelf, as you do, desperate for some encouragement, and my eyes lit on PZ’s Panopticon.

I have quite a few of Paul Zahl’s books and have given away Grace in Practice, specifically, more times than I care to count. I even own Comfortable Words, edited by J.D. Koch Jr. and Todd Brewer, the festschrift (isn’t that a great word–literally means “celebration writing”) devoted to his life and work. Suffice it to say, I am a fan. There is…

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One Reader’s Favorite Fiction from 2016

One Reader’s Favorite Fiction from 2016

My two favorite entertainments this year were Greg Jackson’s Prodigals – a collection of short stories on seekers at various life stages – and Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash – a sleek, psychological drama set on a gorgeous Italian island. This post is about books, but I wanted to mention the film because it hasn’t appeared on the site yet, and it’s one that our consumption patterns indicate could be of interest. Here’s a scene from the movie that’s up there with the “City of Stars” montage in La La Land and Michelle Williams’ impromptu run-in with Casey Affleck in Manchester…

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