Top Ten Films of 2014, Pt. 2: Nos. 5-1

Top Ten Films of 2014, Pt. 2: Nos. 5-1

Yesterday, we revealed the bottom half of the best ten films of 2014, according to me. I’ll skip the pleasantries and jump right in. Here are my top five films of 2014.

5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Lots of dollying, panning, and surface fade to reveal shots create the illusion that Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman was filmed in one, long continuous take. Which is not true. Howbeit, the film is made up of many continuous one shot scenes, sometimes lasting up to ten minutes long, and it’s all done, essentially, at one location. That’s tough to do. Not a lot of directors can do it, or do…

Read More »

Top Ten Films of 2014, Pt.1: Nos. 10-6

Top Ten Films of 2014, Pt.1: Nos. 10-6

Simply put, which is the best way to put it, 2014 was a pleasing year for the avid movie-goer. Now that it’s nearing its end, I thought it fitting to give the Mockingbird reader a list of personal favorites in a two-part top ten list. Disclaimer: Alas, I am not yet a member of the Academy. I do not get the year’s best films delivered to my doorstep free of charge. I will admit, there are many (presumably) good films that I have just have not seen yet, because, well, movies cost money. But here are the bottom five of Joe Nooft’s personal, paid for, top…

Read More »

The Best of the Year in Television 2014

The Best of the Year in Television 2014

Another phenomenal year on the small screen, and thankfully not one where we can come even close to being comprehensive. Series that’ve gotten raves that we’re waiting to binge on would be The Good Wife, The Americans, and You’re the Worst. Here’s our best shot at rounding up what we’ve watched this year. I had some serious help with this (ht McD, EKR, HE).

Top Twelve Television Series of 2014

12. Parenthood. The Bravermans didn’t make it terribly easy to keep watching this year–what with the Joel and Julia debacle–but even after four-plus years, the show can still bring the waterworks like…

Read More »

NOW OPEN: Earlybird Pre-Registration for 2015 Spring Conference!

Earlybird pre-registration is now open for our annual Spring Conference, which happens April 16-18th in New York City! Details for the event are still coming together, but we assure you that you’ll not want to miss this one. Speakers already confirmed include author and preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber, journalist Jamin Warren (founder of Killscreen magazine), Mockingbird’s own Jacob Smith, Sarah Condon, and David Zahl, among many others. Our chaplain will be The Rev. Jim Munroe.

As always, in addition to the main presentations, there will be a number of breakout sessions, covering a wide range of topics, from theology to literature, television to psychology, music to parenting. If the past eight years are anything to go by, the conference is sure to be a time of grace, humor, and maybe even a little emancipation (not to mention delicious food). We hope you can join us! We’ll announce the full schedule in mid-January.

The event is open to anyone and everyone. If you plan on attending, we only ask that you pre-register beforehand. The earlybird rate is $100/person, which covers the entire event, meals and program, a significant discount on the normal price ($150/person)–makes a great Christmas present! Please note that the earlybird option is only available for those who wish to register for the entire event. The offer expires on January 16th, at which point all other pricing tiers will open.

Click here to Pre-Register!

Joyce Manor, Father John Misty, and Other 2014 Favorites

Joyce Manor, Father John Misty, and Other 2014 Favorites

As I’ve gotten older (read: lazier), I’ve had seemingly less time to scour the internet for hours for new music.  I think I’ve consumed less and less music each year after college to the point where I always feel the need to play catch-up this time of year when websites start publishing their end of year lists and roundups. I spent a lot of time in 2014 though just trying to enjoy the albums I enjoyed again and again without the need to seek out and explore all the albums that I was “supposed to listen to” (this is not…

Read More »

PZ’s Podcast: Summer Rain

EPISODE 181: Summer Rain

It’s pathetic how little we know. And that’s not just some “secular” concession to the Uncertainty Principle. I’m talking about ourselves, about other people, and about what God is “up to” in our lives.

Not only do we not know a lot, but what we think we know is often wrong at root. At best it is partial.

I had an acute example of my colossal ignorance fall on my life recently — about ten days ago, in fact. Some old documents from college days dropped out of a book. They were primary sources about something that mattered to me. They revealed beyond a “Shadow of Doubt” (Alfred Hitchcock/Thornton Wilder) that I had mis-remembered something important, and mis-remembered it from stem to stern.

I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. (In fact I am typing this in a cave near Lake Tahoe. But you know that.) Yet I didn’t, and I won’t. Which is mainly because the 51st Psalm was also in that book. I’ve got a place to go, my knees for lack of a better term, with some damaging new info. If I didn’t have Psalm 51 (King James Version, please), well, then I really would die. I’m actually not expecting to.

This podcast is dedicated to Adrienne Parks Bowman.

Another Week Ends: Elephant Mothers, New Journalism, More Lumbersexuals, Passwords, Tauntauns and Nettles

Another Week Ends: Elephant Mothers, New Journalism, More Lumbersexuals, Passwords, Tauntauns and Nettles

It’s Christmas time, and it feels like everyone on the Internet is talking about…the Internet.

In Hard Cover!

As the debate continues about what journalism is becoming—in light of the fall of the New Republic and the retracted reporting of a certain Rolling Stone article—much of what gets talked about is money, and the kind of click-bait that tends to get corralled for the sake of it. As the age of online news matures, it seems that content is more the handmaiden to investors than public dialogue and interest.

But deeper than this, other discussions have emerged pointing to the “radical liberal”…

Read More »

When I Was an Adult I Read Books, to Remain a Child

When I Was an Adult I Read Books, to Remain a Child

The following piece was recently shared with Mockingbird. The “librarian,” whose name is not Paul Zahl (seriously!), has given us permission to post it here.

Note from the librarian: This reading diary, penned by LeVar Burton, was recently discovered in the archives of a theological library. The manuscript, handwritten on napkins and folded away inside an old volume of George Herbert’s poetry, suggests that Burton found gold at the end of the (Reading) Rainbow.

[Books are] a children’s game which God has given me in order that the time till his appearing should not be long for me.”

~ Johann Georg Hamann


William Hale…

Read More »

Living By Grace (and According to Frankenstein) – Matthew Fenlon

Watch out, here comes another session from the Houston Conference:

Living by Grace (and According to Frankenstein) – Matthew Fenlon from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Reflections on America’s Happiest City

Reflections on America’s Happiest City

Four and a half months ago, Charlottesville, VA was named the happiest city in America. As the happiest blogger in the happiest city, I feel like I should do some commenting.

In the original paper for the happiness study, the researchers are careful to note that they’re measuring only “self-reported” happiness, a qualifier lost in some of the news outlets which reported it. To oversimplify things, we could view one’s self-reported level of happiness as consisting of three factors: (1) happiness itself, (2) pressures to lie on the survey, and (3) self-deception about perceived happiness. Since the survey was anonymous and Sandford,…

Read More »

A Mockingbird Gift Guide (2014 Edition)

A Mockingbird Gift Guide (2014 Edition)

Last year’s gift guide was so popular that we’ve decided to make it an annual tradition. Apologies in advance for once again not straying too far from our books/movies/music wheelhouse.

For Those About to Host a Christmas Party: A Very Love and Mercy Christmas by Sam Bush and Kathryn Caine

For Your Friend Who Is Always Complaining About How Bad the Sermons Are at Their Church: Sermons of Grace by John Zahl

For Anyone Looking to Spice Up Their Office or Bring Their Inner Child to Work: An assortment of Funko’s “Reaction Figures”. Recommendations include Chunk from The Goonies, Zoe from Firefly, Kane…

Read More »

A Mess of Answers about A Mess of Help

An exciting day for yours truly! My brand-new book A Mess of Help is finally available for order on Amazon (and Createspace, where Mbird keeps more of the revenue). To celebrate, we put together a little Q&A about the project below. There’s also an interview about the book over at Key Life, along with a sample chapter (MJ!). Help us spread the word!

What is A Mess of Help and how did it come about?

A Mess of HelpMoHwebcover is a book of essays that split the difference between music, memoir, and theology. I’d been encouraged to collect some of my writing, and when I looked back at seven-plus years of it on the site, the subject of music had inspired much of what I was most proud of. So almost all of the eighteen chapters (click here for the table of contents) started out as posts for Mockingbird in some form or another. I took those as the skeleton, and then spent that last year rewriting and expanding everything, doing my best to weave it all together like an album. The end result is more than twice as long as those original posts, roughly 80,000 words, and a whole lot more polished, thank God.

When I reread it as a whole, a number of non-musical plumb-lines stuck out. This is a book about creativity and grace, identification and sympathy, law and pressure, hope, religion, self-sabotage, success, sin, as well as my own life and faith. Also, since most of the characters I deal with are pretty eccentric, a certain amount of humor was inescapable. I suspected it would be a fun project, and it was.

What does the title mean?

The title refers to one of my favorite Beach Boys songs, “You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone”, which hopefully speaks for itself. The subtitle “From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll” refers to how many of the artists profiled in the book point to some sense of strength being found in weakness, of inspiration being bound up with suffering rather than apart from it. The more precise word would probably be “cruciform” but that’s too academic to go in the title.

Will I enjoy A Mess of Help even if I don’t like music that much (or the music you write about)?

That’s certainly my hope! The task of an essay is to make its subject interesting to those who might not be otherwise drawn to it, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. Again, I think if you appreciate the Mockingbird “voice”–the breadth, the perspective, the playfulness–you’ll enjoy this book greatly. Of course, it won’t hurt if you like some of the music already, but it’s not a prerequisite by any means. Here’s how I explain the focus in the introduction:

“For better or worse, pop music became my way of making sense of both myself and the world around me… So perhaps it should come as no surprise that when Christianity took root in my life, I not only found its core message of grace so exciting and enlivening as to be compelled to write about it, but music would become one of the primary lenses through which I came to do so. Not just music but culture itself—high, low and in between (T. Van Zandt).”

So it’s a book about Christianity and culture? Or a Christian approach to popular culture?

the-beach-boys-you-need-a-mess-of-help-to-stand-alone-1972-7Not really. I hate to say it but that phrase “Christian approach” often implies an agenda, unspoken or unconscious, that culture is valuable only insofar as we can harness it in some way, or how it stacks up against the standards of our faith. But to quote someone I admire, I’m convinced that “any goodness, beauty, truthfulness, or enlivening candor we have the wit to discern is something for which we have God to thank.” That is, that it’s already been harnessed. So this isn’t a Christian “take” on secular music, at least as I see it. The artists I wrote about are the ones that have spoken and continue to speak to me rather than vice versa; I talk more about what I’ve learned from them than how their work filters through a pre-existing framework. That said, I gave myself plenty of room to explore, so who knows–“preacher brain” is not the easiest thing to shut off. Again from the introduction:

“It wasn’t that I set out to write about the intersection of Christianity and culture; it was simply that music was the most honest language available to me—the lingua franca of my inner life, my immediate vocabulary for understanding what was happening to me. In fact, so immersed in it was I, that to avoid pop culture would have been to embrace precisely the kind of phoniness that permeates so much religious “engagement” with it these days.”

Any parts you’re particularly proud of?

I’m really happy with the whole thing, actually–mainly cause I had such a great editor in Will McDavid. But if you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked which sections I like best, the 15,000-word annotated playlist that closes the book (“Sing Mockingbird Sing”) is probably a favorite. It gave me an opportunity to be a bit outrageous, going on long tangents about ecclesiology and aging and failure and addiction, to name a few. The Michael Jackson essay was the most ambitious, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. The Beach Boys may be the funniest, with ABBA and Elvis tied for second.

Can you decipher the cover for us?

elvis-steves_RJ_33Sure. Stephanie Fishwick, who’s designed a number of our covers, really outdid herself with this one. All the elements of the crest allude to bands that are covered in the book. The surfboards and “woody” wagons refer to The Beach Boys. The “TCB” lightning bolt was the slogan and logo (“Takin’ care of business”) of Elvis Presley’s entourage, also known as the Memphis Mafia. Michael Jackson’s sequined glove occupies a central place. The surfboards are flanked by upside-down Hofner basses of the kind that Paul McCartney is known for. The dice are the “tumblin” variety, immortalized in song by The Rolling Stones. There’s some English mod regalia courtesy of The Who. The platform boots were added with Mott the Hoople, David Bowie and ABBA in mind. The guns and roses and big stars should be self-explanatory. And those flowers are gladioli, the kind that Morrissey would carry in his back pocket during the early years of The Smiths. Oh, the sunglasses are Phil Spector’s trademark. Finally, the (crowned) lamb of God presides over the whole affair with a banner that reads “Vobis Petrum Deus Dedit”, or “God gave you the Rock”, making a St Peter-Argent-KISS triple entendre.

Why this book now?

Well, as cliched as it may sound, it’s the book I most wanted to write because it’s the book I most wanted to read. I genuinely don’t think that something like A Mess of Help exists, something that combines music and theology and coming of age in a way that’s both honest and entertaining. My fear is that it’s overly niche—too much of a stretch for religious audiences and too theological for secular ones. But that’s out of my control. Plus, Mockingbird has put out quite a few books at this point, but almost none about pop culture–which is a tad ironic, since “pop culture” is a term that’s often used when people describe our work, even though I don’t see Mbird like that at all (which I spell out in the book). Still, it was time for that part of our scope to be represented in the publications, and the MoH direction was where the inspiration felt most genuine and free. The next one will likely be about social media, we shall see.

Order your copy today on Amazon or Createspace! And by all means write a review if you feel so led.