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(Face-)Liftoff!

eye_of_beholderNo April’s Fools, people – welcome to the decluttered, reorganized, made-over, tuned-up Mbird! We’re really excited about this facelift. What’s new besides the look? The dropdown menus above, larger font for the posts, vertical social media buttons, to name a few features — we’ve also added a long-awaited “I’m New Here” page, which compiles some of our ‘greatest hits’, as well as recommended reading and listening. There are a ton of other little touches here and there that you’ll likely notice over time, a handful of things taken away. But don’t worry – it’s still the same site, with all the same content and the same basic flow/form. The hope is that the many new tweaks and twists add up to a more welcoming and easier-to-navigate site.

Thank you for your patience while we’ve been working on it (and continue to fine tune), and thank you, as always, for reading! Don’t hesitate to be in touch if you have trouble finding anything (info@mbird.com).

Filling the Void with Fitness: A Conference Breakout Preview

Filling the Void with Fitness: A Conference Breakout Preview

This one comes to us from Mockingtern Evan Brush:

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote last fall about the decline in the number of cults capturing America’s attention. He recalled the 1980s when cults worried the parents of estranged children and often caught headlines for all the wrong reasons. However, Douthat actually saw the decline in cults as indicative of a lack of vitality in American religious life: less people seeking to go outside the mainstream in search of the answers to the big questions. He thinks that the lack of a somewhat radical fringe is indicative of stagnation within…

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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”).

In 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.”…

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Zen and the Art of Law and Gospel: A Conference Breakout with Jim McNeely

Zen and the Art of Law and Gospel: A Conference Breakout with Jim McNeely

I am very excited about the upcoming Mockingbird Conference! First, and possibly most importantly, I have been asked to do a few magic tricks at the conference. If you come, you will be one of the few humans ever to witness a one-time demonstration of the power of the amazing Cords of Shastri, which have been lost for over 600 years, but which have recently come into my possession. I will bring these to New York City for this one event. I repeat, this is a feat of legerdemain which has not been performed for over 600 years! I swear its…

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Attagirl Mo’ne!

2o14’s Little League World Series heroine Mo’ne Davis, Monday, on forgiving the derogatory tweet (directed toward her) that got a high school baseball player kicked off his team:

“On Earth As It Is In Heaven”: Stories of Grace (A Conference Breakout with John Zahl)

Continuing our NYC Conference breakout previews, this one comes to us from the Rev. John Zahl:

No single word better describes the heart of the Christian message than “grace”. Grace defines our relationship with God, and describes the shape of our response to it. But it is also the case that life and people are not always gracious; sometimes our day-to-day experience seems devoid of charity. And so grace typically breaks into our midst like a wonderful surprise.

RedBeardw_originalWith that in mind, I wonder, are you familiar with that wonderful feeling when a film moves you to cry tears of joy? This breakout presupposes that we do well to draw attention to such moments, for they remind us of the things in life that are most important, and point us back toward their point of origin. This breakout is an attempt to ground those experiences within the context of Christian spirituality.

Not only that, Gospel illustrations help our hearts to connect with the good news that we hold so dear. In “Stories of Grace,” with the help of film clips, newspaper articles, and excerpts from literature, we will reflect upon some of these special instances. If you don’t cry tears of joy in this break-out, then you need a (second) heart transplant.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Cor 16:23).

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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Another Week Ends: The Purity Witchhunt, March Madness, Punitive Gods, Better Call Saul, The TED Testament and Forgiving Racists

Another Week Ends: The Purity Witchhunt, March Madness, Punitive Gods, Better Call Saul, The TED Testament and Forgiving Racists

1) “Purity” talk is not just for the Evangelicals, it would seem. Despite the characterization of purity rings and abstinence devotionals and root beer pong, Richard Beck at Experimental Theology points to the moral fixation implicit in progressive Christians like himself, too. It’s not a difference in value, it’s merely a difference in where the self-justifying finger is pointed. Referring to an article written by Aurora Dagny, Beck argues that the fixation itself is complicit in making “everything problematic.”

For progressive Christians moral purity will fixate on complicity in injustice. To be increasingly “pure” in progressive Christian circles is to become less and…

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Tim Tebow, Battle Creek, Nice Guy Displacement…and the NCAA Comeback

Tim Tebow, Battle Creek, Nice Guy Displacement…and the NCAA Comeback

All Tim Tebow does is win – NCAA Championships, Heisman Trophies, NFL Playoff Games, “guy I most want to date my daughter contests”, etc. He’s still looking for a job in the NFL though, because, even though he wins, teams don’t trust him. He takes too long to get rid of the ball and isn’t particularly accurate. In short, he’s the opposite of the NFL “prototype” quarterback. That’s a tough label to shake.

There’s a rumor this week that he may get another shot–as a third string QB for The Philadelphia Eagles and Coach Chip Kelly. Kelly worked out Tebow this…

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NYC Breakout Preview: Faith through Imagination

This begins our series of previews for our Mockingbird NYC Conference this April. It comes from the one and only Melina Smith.  

Until a character becomes a personality it cannot be believed. Without personality, the character may do funny or interesting things, but unless people are able to identify themselves with the character, its actions will seem unreal. And without personality, a story cannot ring true to the audience. – Walt Disney

We can all recall being small people and being captured through imagination. For me this experience came through vivid stories and films my father shared with me as a child. I can honestly say faith did not come through Sunday School. I can recall being disappointed in the presentation of your average Bible story– they came across as stale, rigid, and lacking in any creativity. As a child I preferred being in the big church; it was there, at the very least,that I heard more compelling and imaginative readings of the Bible. Sunday School felt like a threat–a boring one.

Walt-Disney-and-Mickey-Mouse-at-Disneyland-walter-e-disney-6626898-400-512Fast forward to 2007 when I find myself in the basement of the church, working with a couple of volunteers to create Sunday School programing. I call upon my own childhood, remembering the felt board Jesus, watching Salty, and reading through the KJV. I knew going forward we would not be using materials I grew up with. As our small team continued, we bought curriculums, and worked with Godly Play, the programs we used were good, but I found something was missing.

Why is it that in the Christian subculture we miss our opportunity to capture the imaginations of our youngest members during the time when its development is MOST vivid? As children we are not bound to what’s “real”–we are open to story. Take Walt Disney for instance: you could argue the world of Disney is its very own religious sphere. Disney said, “Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.” He was onto something here. Disney understood the power or imagination, he knew how to communicate the impossible with the hope of plausibility.

Children and grown-ups are captivated by the strength of a story. Sure, the Bible may not include singing lobsters, but each story includes enough drama and risk to capture any listener, if the story is told well.

Join us for “Faith Through Imagination” at the 2015 Mockingbird conference. Jackie DeMarco and I will share how our team has created programing that captures the imaginations of our youngest members. The imagination is the natural way to the heart of our youngest members. Can you imagine creation, the stormy story of Noah, and Jonah’s time in the belly of a whale? Children can so long as the story is told well. Join Jackie and I as we share our process, our vision, and hope for sharing the Gospel through story.

Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.

Addressing the “Grace Gap” in American Churches

Addressing the “Grace Gap” in American Churches

The widely loved writer and thinker Philip Yancey (who also happens to be coming to Mockingbirdtown this week) has come out with a new book, called Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? In it, he seems to have a lot to say about the falling state of American Christendom in its cultural conception, not as being lovers and welcomers and forgivers, but as being rigidly judgmental, self-oriented, and more or less “anti-” everything.

I’m excited about the book, mainly because I’ve seen Yancey speak before, at St. George’s in Nashville, and the guy has a dispensary of stories about grace. He…

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The (Beginning and) End of Scorekeeping

Here’s my presentation at last month’s Liberate Conference, which is much indebted to Paul Walker’s talk on the same subject back in 2011. Those who came to the Fall conference in Houston (or have read the new issue of The Mockingbird) may be tempted to subtract points for the overlap:

LIBERATE 2015 | David Zahl from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.