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Our Daily Liturgies: An Excerpt from Bed and Board

Our Daily Liturgies: An Excerpt from Bed and Board

Returning to an Episcopal Church during college after some years worshiping in different traditions, I was surprised that the various creeds and dictums came back to me quickly. It was so assuring to hear the words that I had been so familiar with growing up, finding them still there in the recesses of memory. When the pastor said, “Hear these comfortable words” after the Confession and the Prayers of the People, the scripture then, and also the familiar liturgy throughout, really were that to me: comfortable words. Dwelling on them in content was important, no doubt, and a few teaching series I’d…

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Calling a Thing What It Is: Ruminations by Lemony Snicket, Pt 1

In anticipation for Netflix’s 2016 adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events (no release date as yet), we’ll be posting a wonderfully pessimistic Snicket quote every now and again–a consistent dose of reality (and compassion) for the suffering. The following comes from The Wide Window:

There is a way of looking at life called “keeping things in perspective.” This simply means “making yourself feel better by comparing the things that are happening to you right now against other things that have happened at a different time, or to different people.” For instance, if you were upset about an ugly pimple on the end of your nose, you might try to feel better by keeping your pimple in perspective. You might compare your pimple situation to that of someone who was being eaten by a bear, and when you looked in the mirror at your ugly pimple, you could say to yourself, “Well, at least I’m not being eaten by a bear.”

You can see at once why keeping things in perspective rarely works very well, because it is hard to concentrate on somebody else being eaten by a bear when you are staring at your own ugly pimple.

To Tide You Over: Capon Closes Down the Religion Shop

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Hopefully you’ve all heard the big news by now: Mockingbird has been given the wonderful privilege of bringing back to life 5 out-of-print books by our favorite salty lamb, Robert Farrar Capon, beginning with a previously unpublished manuscript to be released around Christmastime! To support this endeavor click here. Meanwhile, our greasy fingers are flipping through the texts as we speak.

To help tide you over, here’s an excerpt from Capon’s chef-d’œu·vre Kingdom, Grace, Judgment (still in print), a study on the parables of Jesus. The excerpt below responds to hypothetical objections to Capon’s emphasis on death and free grace: “Grace works only in those who accept their lostness,” he writes on page 204. “Jesus came to call sinners, not the pseudo-righteous; he came to raise the dead, not to buy drinks for the marginally alive.” In an interlude on pages 252-253, he continues:

“What ever happened,” you want to object, “to the positive idea of Christian living? If all we have to do to be saved is drop dead, why bother even trying to live–especially, why bother to be good, loving, or moral? Why not just go out and sin all we like? What role have you left for religion in the world, if everybody is going to get home free for nothing?” …

167935703_200acd7747_zWhat role have I left for religion? None. And I have left none because the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.

The reason for not going out and sinning all you like is the same as the reason for not going out and putting your nose in a slicing machine: it’s dumb, stupid and no fun. Some individual sins may have pleasure still attached to them because of the residual goodness of the realities they are abusing: adultery can indeed be pleasant, and tying one on can amuse. But betrayal, jealously, love grown cold, and the gray dawn of the morning after are nobody’s idea of a good time.

On the other hand, there’s no use belaboring that point, because it never stopped anybody. And neither did religion. The notion that people won’t sin as long as you keep them well supplied with guilt and holy terror is a bit overblown. Giving the human race religious reasons for not sinning is about as useful as reading lectures to an elephant in rut. We have always, in the pinches, done what we damn pleased, and God has let us do it. His answer to sin is not to scream “Stop that!” but to shut up once and for all on the subject in Jesus’ death.

The Culture of Narcissism, Pt 4: Good News for Narcissists

The Culture of Narcissism, Pt 4: Good News for Narcissists

Here is the conclusion to the series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s book, The Culture of Narcissism. Find the rest of the series here.

“Our society is narcissistic, then, in a double sense. People with narcissistic personalities…play a conspicuous part in contemporary life…these celebrities set the tone for public life and of private life as well…The beautiful people…live out the fantasy of narcissistic success….Modern capitalist society not only elevates narcissists to prominence, it elicits and reinforces narcissistic traits in everyone.”

So concluded historian and cultural analyst Christopher Lasch thirty-seven years ago in his influential book, The Culture of Narcissism. The intervening years have only more…

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From Grace in Practice: The Problem with Christianity

Here’s another excerpt from Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice, from pages 36-38, in the sections entitled “What is Grace?” and “Grace in the New Testament.”

otis-redding-try-a-little-tend-290448In 1965 Joe Meek produced a would-be pop single that was sung by Bobby Rio and The Revelles and was entitled “Value for Love.” It was a great tune, but, like almost everything Joe Meek produced, it only grazed the Top Thirty. The lyrics were wildly false. The singer keeps telling the girl she should go for him because he is “good value for love.” He is “worth” her falling for him. Sure, Bobby Rio! That line never works. It never will. It is all weights and measures. Grace is one-way love.

The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. You can find this out for yourself by taking a simple inventory of your own happiness, or the moments of happiness you have had. They have almost always had to do with some incident of love or belatedness that has come to you from someone outside yourself when you were down. You felt ugly or sinking in confidence, and somebody complimented you, or helped you, or spoke a kind word to you. You were at the end of your rope and someone showed a little sympathy. This is the message of Otis Redding’s immortal 1962 song, “Try a Little Tenderness.” […]

One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved. Speaking in terms of Christian theology, God loves the world in a kind of reverse relationship to its moral unfitness. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In the dimension of grace, one-way love is inscrutable or irrational not only because it is out of relation with any intrinsic circumstances on the part of the receiver. One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to he specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murderers and abusers, the people who cross the line. God has a heart — his one-way love — for sinners. This is the problem with Christianity. This piece of logical and ethical incongruity and inappropriateness is the problem with Christianity.

From Grace in Practice: “Grace in Everyday Life”

From Grace in Practice: “Grace in Everyday Life”

The following is an excerpt from pages 73-76 of Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life by Paul F. M. Zahl. Soak it up!

Grace has the power of the mallet. Every other prong and heavy-lifting device that seeks to change people is an expression of law and accomplishes the opposite of what it intends. People fear that grace will give permission to be bad. This is the classic fear: that grace will issue in a license–“007”–to do whatever you want, without consequences.

Yet that never happens! In fact, the opposite happens. When you treat people gracefully, they always end up…

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Condemned By Illness to Passivity

Condemned By Illness to Passivity

This amazing passage from Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology is perhaps the best reading of Mark 2 ever written. As we prepare for the Mental Health Issue, it has much to say about Christ’s office being (quite literally here) at the end of our rope. And that pastoral care–in every facet, from simple friendship to hospital chaplaincy–does not mean giving power to those who are powerless over their afflictions, but instead digging the grave they are too powerless to dig for themselves.

The pastoral dimensions for the healing of the person with schizoid characteristics can be seen in the Gospel record of the healing…

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The Culture of Narcissism, Part 3: The Religion of “Me”

The Culture of Narcissism, Part 3: The Religion of “Me”

Here is the penultimate post in a series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s book, The Culture of Narcissism.

Back in 1987, when the New Age movement had not yet become just another part of the spiritual background noise of postmodern America, ABC television mainstreamed one branch of the movement in the miniseries “Out on a Limb,” which was based on actress Shirley MacLaine’s autobiographical book about her adventures in New Age spirituality. Just over a decade had passed since my own brief involvement in the New Age, so much of the mindset and the jargon was familiar to me. One scene in…

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Jayber Crow on Church Hymns and Why We Really Go to Church

Another gem from Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow:

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What I liked least about the service itself was the prayers; what I liked far better was the singing. Not all of the hymns could move me. I never liked ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ or ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ Jesus’ military career has never compelled my belief. I liked the sound of the people singing together, whatever they sang, but some of the hymns reached into me all the way to the bone: ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,’ ‘Rock of Ages,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past.’ I loved the different voices all singing one song, the various tones and qualities, the passing lifts of feeling, rising up and going out forever. Old Man Profet, who was a different man on Sunday, used to draw out the notes at the ends of the verses and refrains so he could listen to himself, and in fact it sounded pretty. And when the congregation would be singing ‘We shall see the King some-day (some-day),’ Sam May, who often protracted Saturday night a little too far into Sunday morning, would sing, “I Shall see the King some-day (Sam May).'”

“I thought that some of the hymns bespoke the true religion of the place. The people didn’t really want to be saints of self-deprivation and hatred of the world. They knew that the world would sooner or later deprive them of all it had given them, but still they liked it. What they came together for was to acknowledge, just by coming, their losses and failures and sorrows, their need for comfort, their faith always needing to be greater, their wish (in spite of all words and acts to the contrary) to love one another and to forgive and be forgiven, their need for one another’s help and company and divine gifts, their hope (and experience) of love surpassing death, their gratitude. I loved to hear them sing ‘The Unclouded Day’ and ‘Sweet By and By’:

We shall sing on that beautiful shore

The melodious songs of the blest…

And in times of sorrow when they sang ‘Abide With Me,’ I could not raise my head.”

 

The Culture of Narcissism, Part 2: Sex and the Self

The Culture of Narcissism, Part 2: Sex and the Self

This is the second part in a series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book, The Culture of Narcissism.

Narcissism is the self in love with itself; it’s believing the world revolves around one’s ego. While narcissists lack regard for the needs of others, they crave attention, admiration, and even envy to bolster their own self-esteem. And they will manipulate others for their own self-aggrandizement and personal satisfaction. Narcissists see others, and the world, as mirrors reflecting their own ego needs. Christopher Lasch, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, argued that “every society reproduces its culture…in the individual, in the form…

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When God Closes a Door… (There By the Lake of God Go I)

When God Closes a Door… (There By the Lake of God Go I)

I’ve never been more religious than when God closed a door, literally, in the form of a rejected housing application. It was for a little cottage on the edge of town, a “starter home” for me and my wife-to-be, and it was all but ours until, one miscommunication and a phone call later, I learned that the lease had already been signed by someone else’s eager, sweaty fingers. When the same thing happened again, twice, it became very clear that there was a bearded man in the sky, pulling levers and shutting doors, blessing the broken road that would lead…

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The Culture of Narcissism, Part 1: Politics and Personhood

The Culture of Narcissism, Part 1: Politics and Personhood

This is the first in a four-part series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism.

In the present presidential contest, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was the first person to say it out loud, to use the “N” word for Donald Trump. That’s right, he called Trump a narcissist. Specifically, in his news conference on September 10, 2015, Jindal said, “Donald Trump is not a serious candidate. He’s a narcissist. He’s an egomaniac. The only thing he believes in is himself” and expounded on the meaning of this description for nearly ten minutes. Harsh words, indeed; but I do…

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