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A Quick Quote from Richard Rohr

fallingupwardA quote by Richard Rohr recently struck me, from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Rohr admittedly sounds new-agey sometimes, and this is no exception, but he talks in the book about how things fall apart from the “first half” of life, characterized by identity-building and Law, and then the “second half” – analogous to what we might call life under the cross – happens. This second moment is marked by mystery, surrender, destitution, and spiritual maturity, traits which often go together, as Rohr’s monastic tradition remembers. How does this passage from worldliness to spirituality, identity-building to identity-surrender, life under law to life under grace, happen? At Mbird, we talk a lot about theology of the cross, the idea that suffering can expose the pride and futility behind our self-justification schemes and free us from their burden. (It’s not the healthy who need a doctor anyway, but the sick.) Rohr describes this transition in his own, to me fresh, way:

Today we might use a variety of metaphors: reversing engines, a change in game plan, a falling off the very wagon that we constructed. No one would choose such upheaval consciously; we must somehow ‘fall’ into it. Those who are too carefully engineering their own superiority systems will usually not allow it at all. It is much more done to you than anything you do yourself, and sometimes nonreligious folks are more open to this change in strategy than are religious folks who have their private salvation project all worked out. This is how I would interpret Jesus’ enigmatic words, ‘The children of this world are wiser in their ways than the children of light’ (Luke 16:8)…

The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling or changing or dying. The ego is the part of you that loves the status quo, even when it is not working. It attaches to past and present, and fears the future.

The rest of Rohr’s book explores the mechanism of this transition, and I think he does well to remind us, that God’s work to change is often deconstructive, undesired, even violent. And it reminds me that whatever else people might say about the Bible, its books are some of the only ones written with sufficient originality to speak against the grain of any time or place or culture, since it speaks against the Adamic ego itself. And he does well to remind us that nonreligious people often do best with the message; early Christianity got the most traction among Gentiles, after all. Which means that, far from the prevalent American model of preaching the Gospel to unbelievers and (baptized) self-improvement to the ‘mature’, we religious people need the message just as deeply as anyone – though we’re more likely to resist it.

Law and Gospel on Kindle (and YouTube)

Good news! Our new book, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) is now available on Kindle. We’re also excited to debut a little promotional video we made for the project (thank you Mark Babikow!) and invite you to share it as you see fit. Oh, and let’s not forget: those Amazon reviews aren’t going to write themselves.

2015 NYC Conference Book Table

2015 NYC Conference Book Table

Thanks again, so much, to all the volunteers, speakers, and attendees of our 2015 New York Conference! Recordings and videos are on their way, but for now, here’s what we featured this year on our conference book table. A bunch of familiar suspects with a few new additions (for more Recommended Reading, click here):

Photo courtesy of Ellis Creek Photography (www.elliscreekphotography.com/)

LITERATURE

W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays
T.S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party
Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome: Poems
Flannery O’Conner, The Complete Stories
J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
Ted Scofield, Eat What You Kill
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis: The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Writings
Thornton…

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Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane

Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane

I recently came across a book that really spoke to me called The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People (2012) by Matthew B. Redmond. The thing I like most about the book is it’s pastoral—it really ministered to me as I read it. It’s main thrust is that God is at work in the ordinariness of our mostly mundane lives. This is actually the opposite of what one often hears in Christian circles (across the ideological spectrum) that urge us to do radical things and find God in mountain-top experiences.

Here is the description on the back of the book:

This…

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Social Media, Shame, and the Prescience of DFW

Social Media, Shame, and the Prescience of DFW

This month’s edition of Christianity Today features a cover story, “The Return of Shame,” that draws a clear, causative link between the prevalence of social media and its corollary stripping of privacy with the emergence of a shame-fame culture. I couldn’t help but relate this to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (and Billy Idol’s “Eyes without a Face”).

n contrast to a guilt culture wherein morality is evaluated on the basis on individual conscience, a shame culture’s efficacy rests on community’s conception of your behavior. According to Crouch, “you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you.” This…

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James, an “Epistle of Straw”? Not So Fast!

James, an “Epistle of Straw”? Not So Fast!

Whenever I read the letters of Paul and his great doctrine of justification by faith, there is always lurking in the background the problem posed by the Epistle of James and its not-so-apparent direct refutation of Paul. And in any discussion of justification by faith there always lurks the specter of James, always calling into question whether Paul was really correct in his understanding. Admittedly, for the longest time I never quite knew what to make of James 2, and its contradiction of Paul’s thesis that Abraham the ungodly was justified by faith, without works (Romans 4). It was Martin…

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No Hands Are Clean But Christ’s: Phil Klay’s Redeployment

No Hands Are Clean But Christ’s: Phil Klay’s Redeployment

“Twenty centuries of Christianity,” I said. “You’d think we’d learn.” I fingered the small cross. “In this world, He only promises we don’t suffer alone.”

-Phil Klay, Redeployment

2014’s National Book Award winner is an unusual one in several ways. First, it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its author is part of a new generation of writers who served in the War on Terror. And finally it goes beyond a simple celebration of the ‘other 1%,’ Americans who serve in the armed forces, and looks deeply and with a tone both tragic and colloquial into the moral…

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Thursday Afternoon Law, pt 1 – Conrad’s Lord Jim

Walker Percy said that Wednesday afternoon is the worst time of the week, when an existential fugue settles over you – and as T-Bone Walker sang, “Thursday’s also sad.” The narrator of Ikiru said, “he will have to get a lot worse before he can get better.”  So here’s some afternoon Law to help, from Conrad’s Lord Jim, as he describes a man trying to define himself, to narrate a shameful mistake from his past in such a way as to lessen his guilt:

It was solemn, and a little ridiculous too, as they always are, those struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be, this precious notion of a convention, only one of the rules of the game, nothing more, but all the same so terribly effective by its assumption of unlimited power over natural instincts, by the awful penalties of its failure.

God in The Storm

God in The Storm

Like you, I’ve currently been trying to move through season three of House of Cards as slowly as possible, and not watch the whole thing in one sitting. It’s hard to do, even though this season is a lot less binge-friendly than the first two. And it’s hard to do predominantly because the Underwood’s ‘house of cards’ is nearly finished, and also never finished. While manipulative play after manipulative play proves time and again that control is only one move ahead of them, the thrill in watching the show comes from this precise tension–that one slip of the hand, or…

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“Into Great Silence”: Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer

“Into Great Silence”: Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer

This guest post comes from Mockingbird friend Michael Centore. This piece is a wonderful companion to his amazing Los Angeles Review of Books piece on the Evergetinos, which can be read here.

“The great difficulty for filmmakers is precisely not to show things,” Robert Bresson once declared during an interview for French television. “Ideally, nothing should be shown, but that’s impossible.” Reading Notes on the Cinematographer, his 1975 collection of memoranda, fragments, quotes, and aphorisms, one gathers he felt the same way about writing: that, in both media, a sense of reverence for the “secret laws” of life is best…

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The Ever-Present According to George Eliot

A fantastic quote from her novel Middlemarch concerning, interestingly enough, a devoutly Christian man. She wrote like no one else, ht PW:

The terror of being judged sharpens the memory: it sends an inevitable glare over that long-unvisited past which has been habitually recalled only in general phrases. Even without memory, the life is bound into one by a zone of dependence in growth and decay; but intense memory forces a man to own his blameworthy past. With memory set smarting like a reopened wound, a man’s past is not simply a dead history, an outworn preparation of the present: it is not a repented error shaken loose from the life: it is a still quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and the tinglings of a merited shame.

John Gardner’s Grendel and the Incisive Power of Fiction

John Gardner’s Grendel and the Incisive Power of Fiction

Stars, spattered out through lifeless night from end to end, like jewels scattered in a dead king’s grave, tease, torment my wits toward meaningful patterns that do not exist.

-From John Gardner’s Grendel

When I first picked up John Gardner’s novel Grendel, I expected a quirky, fun read; something along the lines of Gregory Maguire’s bestseller turned Broadway hit Wicked that creatively reimagines the Wizard of Oz. What I got was something starkly different. This is not to say Grendel isn’t frequently funny, it certainly is. And like Wicked, Grendel is told from the antagonist’s perspective, by the monster of Beowulf’s heroic…

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