Books
The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Finds a Place in First Grade

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Finds a Place in First Grade

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbcher Goes to School (by Laurie Halse Anderson) is a children’s picture book about a young girl who has  untamable red hair with a mind of its own. Zoe loves her hair, her parents love her hair, and last year, her free-spirited kindergarten teacher loved Zoe’s hair since it helped around the classroom, picking up trash, erasing the chalkboard, setting the snack table, and comforting the children during nap time. But things change this year when Zoe goes to first grade. “School has rules,” her new teacher, Ms. Trisk, likes to say. “No wild hair in…

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Ministry as Leisure, from Comfortable Words

Ministry as Leisure, from Comfortable Words

In NYC a couple of weeks ago, we held a reception for Paul Zahl’s Festschrift, Comfortable Words (more details here), edited by Jady Koch and Todd Brewer. The work honors Paul Zahl’s life-giving influence upon academics, pastors, laypeople, and everything in between. Among many extraordinary essays, Dylan Potter’s “Ministry as Leisure” struck a note with its insight and empathy into a commonly neglected problem with ministers, one which easily extends to lay Christians, too:

One indication that a clergyperson has come under the law’s heavy hand is that they begin to eschew leisure in order to pursue what are perceived to be…

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What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

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How the Pout-Pout fish Becomes the Kiss-Kiss Fish

How the Pout-Pout fish Becomes the Kiss-Kiss Fish

In my perennial search for great children’s books written by people other than the beloved Sally Lloyd-Jones (there are few), I recently came across the clearest illustration of the law (demand) and grace (love) paradigm in storybook form: The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen. The story is about sad Mr. Fish, and all the other fish of the sea, who each in their own special way tell him to smile and cheer up. You know, what’s wrong with you? Mr. Fish’s constant refrain to these well-intended yet naive advice givers goes like this:

I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face. So I spread the…

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2014 NYC Book Table / Reading List

Thanks so much to volunteers, speakers, and attendants of our 2014 NYC Conference! Recordings and videos should be coming soon, but for now, here’s our conference book table, which doubles as a recommended reading list from Mbird. Titles with asterisks are either new or new to us:

LITERATURE

photo 2-W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays
-Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King (Penguin Classics)*
-T.S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party
-George Herbert, Herbert Poems
-Mary Karr, Lit: A Memoir (P.S.)
-Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome: Poems
-C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
-Sally Lloyd-Jones, Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale*
-Sally Lloyd-Jones, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing
-Sally Lloyd-Jones, Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story
-Reynolds Price, A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing
-J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
-Oscar Wilde, De Profundis: The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Writings
-Thornton Wilder, Theophilus North: A Novel
-Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing: Poems

CHRISTIANITY / THEOLOGY

-Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation
-Todd Brewer and David Zahl, The Gospel According to Pixar
-Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace
-Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus
-Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought
-Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Theology)
-Gerhard Forde, Where God Meets Man
-Bo Giertz, Hammer of God
-John D. Koch and Todd Brewer, Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F. M. Zahl*
-Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Luther Classic Commentaries)
-Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will
-Brennan Manning, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

photo 3 (1)
-William McDavid, Eden and Afterward: A Mockingbird Guide to Genesis*
-Jim McNeely, The Romance of Grace
-Sean Norris, Judgment and Love
-Ashley Null, Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love
-Ethan Richardson, This American Gospel: Public Radio Parables and the Grace of God
-Ethan Richardson and Sean Norris, The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day)
-Ethan Richardson, The Mockingbird (Magazine)*
-Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
-Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free
-Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World
-Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
-Paul F.M. Zahl, Grace in Addiction: The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everybody
-Paul F.M. Zahl, The Merciful Impasse
-Paul F.M. Zahl, PZ’s Panopticon: An Off-the-Wall Guide to World Religion*
-Paul F.M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life
-Paul F.M. Zahl, Who Will Deliver Us?: The Present Power of the Death of Christ

photo 4

SOCIAL SCIENCE
-Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
-Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Vintage)
-Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing: Essays*
-Dorothy Martyn, Beyond Deserving: Children, Parents, and Responsibility Revisited
-Walker Percy, Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays
-Adam Phillips, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life*
-Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought
-Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

MUSIC

-Sam Bush and Kathryn Caine, Love and Mercy*
-High Street Hymns, High Street Hymns
-High Street Hymns, Love Shall Be Our Token

Comforting the Disturbed and Disturbing the Comfortable (According to DFW)

Comforting the Disturbed and Disturbing the Comfortable (According to DFW)

The time has come to post four rather astounding quotes from the 1993 interview that Larry McCaffery conducted with David Foster Wallace. It first appeared in Review of Contemporary Fiction, and the second paragraph will be familiar to those who attended last week’s conference:

I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves….

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NYC Preview: What’s My Faction? (Teen) Angst in Dystopian Young Adult Fiction and Film

NYC Preview: What’s My Faction? (Teen) Angst in Dystopian Young Adult Fiction and Film

This comes from Rev. Deborah Leighton. To view the other conference breakout titles, or to register, click here.

“The more things change the more they stay the same.”  How many of us have reflected on our internal challenges as adults only to realize that they derive from the same root as the anxieties that possessed us at age 13?

The powers that be have given YA author Veronica Roth a bad rap for writing a dystopian trilogy that rides the coattails of The Hunger Games without measuring up to its complexity and wider market appeal.  Indeed, time and money are much better…

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Grace In Everyday Life: Parents and Children; Law and Freedom

A young man’s mother refuses, then allows, him go to see a show with an actress he’s always wanted to see – simple enough, right? Maybe not – from Within a Budding Grove, by Marcel Proust.

1448[W]ith my eyes fixed upon that inconceivable image [of the actress], I strove from morning to night to overcome the barriers which my family were putting in my way. But when those had at last fallen, when my mother… had said to me, ‘Very well, we don’t wish for you to be unhappy; – if you think that you will enjoy it so very much, you must go; that’s all;’ when this day of theatre-going, hitherto forbidden and unattainable, depended no only upon myself, then for the first time, being no longer troubled by the wish that it might cease to be impossible, I asked myself if it were desirable, if there were no other reason than my parents’ prohibition which should make me abandon my design. In the first place, whereas I had been detesting them for their cruelty, their consent made them now so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain stabbed me also with a pain through which the purpose of life shewed itself as the pursuit not of truth but of loving-kindness, and life itself seemed good or evil only as my parents were happy or sad.

-Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, trans C.K. Scott Moncrieff

For a student of the complex human interior like Proust, forces of conscience andcommand are always at work. The parent here has authority, and the parent must guide the child into what’s best for him. This guidance may look like arbitrary command, which inspires resistance, but in the command’s absence, the narrator realizes his parents love him, and therefore he begins to approach the situation based not on a simplistic assertion of his freedom and desire, but instead gratitude sharpens his vision; he begins to see his parents not as authoritarians, but as those who have his best interests at heart. A new good and evil emerges, one in which loving-kindness is prime and their happiness of sadness calibrates what is best for him, too.

He ends up disappointed by the play, which isn’t surprising: this situation is partial and fleeting, serving more to illustrate a small corner of our relation to law, and nothing more. But it is also true-to-life, and it points to a transition from command to freedom which must take place before we can properly see the law for what it is. For now, it’s through a glass darkly, but sometimes a glimpse of a hand, a face, the traces of a gesture barely seen on the other side – a gesture of love – can give the slightest hint as to what’s beyond the smudged surface, and those rare occasions when it happens can be remarkable.

 

Another Week Ends: Amy Chua’s Three Traits for Success, Nietzsche’s Subversion of Atheism, Why Fun Is Fun, The Eighth-Grade Ubermensch, Dostoevsky’s Internet Anxiety and Lena Dunham’s Eden

Another Week Ends: Amy Chua’s Three Traits for Success, Nietzsche’s Subversion of Atheism, Why Fun Is Fun, The Eighth-Grade Ubermensch, Dostoevsky’s Internet Anxiety and Lena Dunham’s Eden

1. What happens when you combine an unshakeable superiority complex with deep insecurity? Probably a nervous breakdown in mid-life, or Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. But Amy Chua (of “Tiger Mother” fame) asks us to guess again. The real answer is… success.

For those unfamiliar with her work on hyper-controlling parenting (using that adjective as value-neutrally as possible), it’s ruffled our feathers before. And her new book on success – with its threefold foundation of superiority, insecurity, and impulse control – promises to do so again, ht ER:

Some have denounced the book as racist. This loaded term is often bandied about in discussions about culture…

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Scripting Others: Stephen Covey on Imputation?

Scripting Others: Stephen Covey on Imputation?

Despite my instincts to steer clear of self help literature, I recently read Stephen R. Covey’s classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Can anything good come from the self help genre? To my surprise, yes, especially this excerpted section below on “Scripting Others” from Habit 7: Sharpening the Saw (basically, self care). In the following section he talks about something akin to imputation—the act of attributing to someone a trait not otherwise natural to themselves.

At some time in your life, you probably had someone believe in you when you didn’t believe in yourself. They scripted you. Did that…

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Another Week Ends: Secret Auden, Eagleton Deicide, Remembering Wes, Method Acting, True Detective, and Russian Tourist Tips

Another Week Ends: Secret Auden, Eagleton Deicide, Remembering Wes, Method Acting, True Detective, and Russian Tourist Tips

1. Holy smokes! Have you read Edward Mendelson’s “The Secret Auden” in the NY Review of Books?! If not, run don’t walk. It’s a jaw-dropping, incredibly inspiring catalog of the clandestine episodes of grace initiated by our all-time favorite Wystan–about as honest a Matthew 6:5 vibe as I’ve come across in ages. Lest these remarkable stories be dismissed as mere hagiography, Mendelson (author of the indispensable Later Auden) doesn’t lionize the great poet, instead tracing the ‘good works’ back to their root–which is not a sense of earning or credit (clearly) but of genuine humility brought on by piercing self-knowledge….

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NYC Preview: Death and Resurrection in Flannery O’Connor

NYC Preview: Death and Resurrection in Flannery O’Connor

A proud man, one who anticipates everything and is never caught off-guard, takes his grandson into the city to introduce him to the strange, new world which is old news to the proud grandfather, named Mr. Head. The man gets himself and his grandson lost, leaves his napping grandson dozing so he’ll wake up alone and learn about the value of so worldly and wise a grandfather as Mr. Head. The grandson runs off, knocks an old woman down, and gets accosted by the police. Mr. Head denies he knows him, and the two wander around the city, separated by…

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Karl Barth on The Humanity of God

The great Swiss theologian  addresses the task of preaching, from a late-career book of the same name:

barth“A fourth consequence [of God's humanity]: the sense and sound of our voice must be fundamentally positive. Proclamation of the covenant of God with man, announcement of the place which is once for all opened and assigned to man in this covenant, the message of Immanuel, the message of Christ – this is the task. The dialogue and encounter which are our theological theme involve God’s grace and man’s gratitude. To open up again the abyss closed in Jesus Christ cannot be our task. Man is not good: that is indeed true and must once more be asserted. God does not turn toward him without uttering an inexorable ‘No’ to his transgression. Thus theology has no choice but to put this ‘No’ into words within the framework of its theme. However, it must be the ‘No’ which Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself for us men, in order that it may no longer affect us and that we may no longer place ourselves under it. What takes place in God’s humanity is, since it includes that ‘No’ in itself, the affirmation of man.

The direction of our word is given therewith. The man with whom we have to do in ourselves and in others, though a rebel, a sluggard, a hypocrite, is likewise the creature to whom his Creator is faithful and not unfaithful. But there is still more: he is the being whom God has loved, loves, and will love, because He has substituted Himself in Jesus Christ and made Himself the guarantee… And with this explanation the statement that the human spirit is naturally Christian may also be valid as an obstinately joyful proclamation. That is what we have to testify to men in view of the humanism of God, irrespective of the more or less dense godlessness of their humanism – everything else must be valid only in the framework of this statement and promise.”

Fanny Howe and Ilona Karmel are “Keepers of the Image”

Fanny Howe and Ilona Karmel are “Keepers of the Image”

This comes from an essay Fanny Howe wrote, called “Keepers of the Image,” about her mentor, Ilona Karmel, and a short essay she wrote, also called “Keepers of the Image.” Howe describes Karmel, a Jew who survived the WWII Polish labor camps, as a woman of Dostoevskian realism, someone who sought to write about her experiences not for sentimental purposes, but for an exact depiction of abject human darkness. She wrote of the conflict in each person, between the self they know everyday, and the self they long to be, the “secret self.”

Like Dostoyevsky, Ilona Karmel pursued truth (without quotes)…

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John Milbank’s Beyond Secular Order (or: Why I Can’t Sleep at Night: A Theo-Political Inquiry)

John Milbank’s Beyond Secular Order (or: Why I Can’t Sleep at Night: A Theo-Political Inquiry)

My Learn to Play Bridge program talks to me. Upon entry, “Welcome to Bridge Baron 23.” Upon exit, “Hope to see you again soon.” Mere visuals don’t work because, well, the voice is extraneous, but it’s hard to play a social game in solitude. I’m probably playing it alone, at any given time, only because I can’t find people to play with. The voice acts as an assurance, a psuedo-human element in an enterprise in which the human element could not be more glaringly absent.

The idea of depersonalization occupies us more and more: social media in particular serves as a…

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