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Today Is The Day: The Mental Health Issue Is Here!


Where’s Izzy CJ?

Great news: As of this afternoon, The Mental Health Issue of The Mockingbird is out the door! After months and months of hard work, we could not be more excited to get this thing into your hands. We poured our heart and soul into every page (the most yet in a single issue, but who’s counting), and we think it shows. Be sure to peruse the Table of Contents and/or read Ethan’s Opener if you haven’t already.

Subscribers and those who pre-ordered should be receiving their copies this week. All other orders will be processed as they come in–click here to place yours.

To celebrate the launch, we put together a special episode of The Mockingcast. It features a bunch of exclusive interviews, including one with self-justification guru Carol Tavris. Like the magazine itself, this is not something you’ll want to miss. Oh and by all means help us spread the word on social media!

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What is Faith?: A Look at the Religiosity of Football Fans

What is Faith?: A Look at the Religiosity of Football Fans

This one was written by the inimitable Duo Dickinson, who also guested on this past Friday’s episode of The Mockingcast.

What is faith?

For those who are very proud of the absence of faith in anything other than facts, faith is a desirable implication of combined data points: if you are having a picnic you have faith in the “Partly Cloudy” forecast on Weather.Com but are not-so-faithful to the verity of The Farmer’s Almanac.

For those who are faithful in the absence of data points faith tends to be what is hoped to be true because you want whatever that unknown is to happen:…

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Another Week Ends: Leo’s Apartment, The Boss’s Dad Issues, Jung’s Advice, the None’s Affiliation, and the FitBit’s Failure

Another Week Ends: Leo’s Apartment, The Boss’s Dad Issues, Jung’s Advice, the None’s Affiliation, and the FitBit’s Failure

1. I think we have to lead off with this one: Leo DiCaprio’s Malibu beach property is on the market (for a measly $11M), and the folks from LAist decided to have some fun with the realtors over at Redfin, in a nihilistic sort of way. With some help from their friends—Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche—the journalists ponder whether or not this future home could ever bring meaning to an otherwise meaningless and, well, imponderable existence.

LAist: Hi! Love the house!! Just a few questions. Albert Camus once said “At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman.” This house is obviously…

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Lay Down Your Smartphone and Follow Me? (Just a Second…)

Lay Down Your Smartphone and Follow Me? (Just a Second…)

I owe you an apology. Or at least a confession. Nine months after switching to a flip phone, and about six months after making a big stink about it, I went back to a smart one. I’m not proud.

What got me in the end wasn’t Internet itself. I stand by what I wrote about the cost, both personal and communal, of non-stop web access. I probably undersold it. What made me, er, flip back was two things: music and texts. They were the rationalization, in any case.

I realized about a month into the experiment that I wasn’t willing to live…

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Life Is Too Politicized When Seth Meyers Stops Being Funny

Life Is Too Politicized When Seth Meyers Stops Being Funny

Abraham Kuyper once said that there’s not a microbe in the universe that Christ doesn’t look at and declare “mine”. It feels like American political combative discourse makes the same claim today. Whether it’s chicken sandwiches or late night television, everything is turning shades of red and blue, which will likely lead to us all becoming increasingly black and blue.

I’m a political person. I’ve donated money to a presidential candidate this year. I watch lots of cable news, I sometimes take perverse delight in the combative rhetoric. I’d like to say political infotainment is a guilty pleasure, but I feel…

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Oklahoma City Conference Schedule!

With just over a month until our Fall Conference in Oklahoma City (10/28-29), we are excited to announce the final schedule, including talk titles, below. We’ll be exploring the theme, “Grace in the Grind: The Gospel in Contemporary Culture”, and we hope the weekend will provide rest and respite from the stress of daily life. As a reminder, thanks to the generosity of The Anglican Foundation and All Souls Episcopal Church, this conference is completely free! Just please be sure to pre-register ASAP so that we can plan accordingly.


Friday Oct 28th

12:30 – Registration opens

1:00pm – Welcome and “Falling Into Grace, Pt 1” – John Newton

2:15pm – “The Gospel Monday thru Friday: Glimpses of Grace in Relationships” – Alex Large

3:15pm – Breakouts

  • “Lazaretto, or Where Is That Moral Progress I Was Promised?” – Scott Johnson
  • “The Kingdom of Heaven According to Hollywood: It’s Not Where You Think It Is” – Carrie Willard
  • “Repentance as an Act of Rebellion” – Jonathan Mitchican
  • “Grace All the Way Down” – Mac Stewart

6:00pm – “Falling Into Grace, Pt 2” – John Newton

6:45pm – Anglican Foundation presentation

7:00pm – Dinner and Drinks! (menu coming soon)

Saturday Oct 29th

8:30am – Doors open

9:00am – “Sacraments, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Pop Culture and the Loss of the Enchanted Imagination” – Jonathan Mitchican

9:45am – “A View from the Back Pew: Grace in the Grind of Family and Church” – Carrie Willard

10:45am – “Things Done and Left Undone: Hope Beyond the To-Do List” – David Zahl

11:30am – Concluding service

12:30pm — Book Table closes


See you in Oklahoma!

Another Week Ends: Knuckled Mascots, Poetry Haters, Holy Fools, Healthy Teenagers, Q-Tip Effects, and Beloved Waterboys

Another Week Ends: Knuckled Mascots, Poetry Haters, Holy Fools, Healthy Teenagers, Q-Tip Effects, and Beloved Waterboys

Click here to listen to this week’s episode of The Mockingcast, which features an interview with Kenneth Woodward, the former religion editor at Newsweek and recent author of Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.

1. First off, The Huffington Post was kind enough to alert us of our new mascot: Injured Mockingbird Given Pair Of Wee ‘Snowshoes’ To Heal Its Feet. Just wonderful, ht SB.

2. Really interesting article in The Atlantic asking why people hate poetry. The answers they come up with–via Ben Lerner’s new book The Hatred of Poetry–are not…

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Welcome To My Neuroticism, I Mean, My House

Welcome To My Neuroticism, I Mean, My House

If you’ve ever embarked on a remodeling project, chances are you’ve found yourself–at some point–way in over your head, cheekily quoting Tom Hanks’s Walter from The Money Pit: “It’s going to be fun, fixing it up. You’ll see…A little imagination, and it’s gonna be great…” Little did he know…

The ups and downs of ‘making house’ were chronicled in The New York Times’ recent mammoth, “Making House: Notes on Domesticity,” by Rachel Cusk, which is all at once a cultural critique, a philosophy dissertation, and a comedy sketch (don’t miss the story about her ex-boyfriend’s table). Cusk’s article, primarily, is about the human impulses behind the urge to…

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Tough Love Lessons in a Year of Jail Ministry

Tough Love Lessons in a Year of Jail Ministry

Before even beginning this post, you probably noticed the one giant, smug asterisk that naturally attached itself to the title: *Oh goodness, that’s right. Can’t believe I forgot to tell you! I do jail ministry. NBD. I’d love to, you know, grab a beer and tell you more about it sometime…

Let me alleviate any forespoken superiority with a quick rejoinder: God did not equip me with enough confidence to throw “successful tips” out about much, and definitely not about doing jail Bible studies. I do not have tips. I am a “sensitive” guy, which does not exactly disqualify me from…

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The Mission of Self-Justification in Hell or High Water

The Mission of Self-Justification in Hell or High Water

This one comes to us from our friend Jason Thompson.

David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water must be the year’s most unintentionally Christian film. Aimed more at capturing the mood and the cultural atmosphere of rural Texas than it is at making an argument for or against religion, the film ironically succeeds at presenting us with a rich tapestry and various threads of religious iconography, Biblical themes, and a soundtrack (performed partly by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) that not only underscores key plot points, but accurately reflects the inner lives of the conflicted characters, namely a bank robbing fraternal duo hellbent on…

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The Mental Health Issue of The Mockingbird: Opener and Table of Contents!

At long last, the eighth (!) issue of The Mockingbird is now available. Click here to get the one issue…or here if you’d just like to go ahead and subscribe. (If you’re already subscribed, help us out and spread the word on social media!)

To whet your appetite, here’s Ethan’s Opener and the Table of Contents.

The Itch

8coverThere is a group of people whose entire lives have disintegrated because of an itch.

They share a rare, controversial illness called Morgellons Disease, where strange fibers grow beneath the skin, causing severe itching, which leads to more fibers, and more itching. The scientific term is formication—the sensation of insects crawling under the skin. While rare, Morgellons also happens to be extremely contagious.

Scientifically speaking, however, the disease does not exist. While it remains all too real for the sufferers involved—and for their loved ones—doctors are adamant that Morgellons is a figment of the imagination. They diagnose it as “delusional parasitosis,” a form of mental illness.

The essayist Leslie Jamison writes about attending a Morgellons conference in Austin, Texas. Sitting in a room full of anxious-maybe-delusional hypochondriacs, she fully expects to be able to suss out the real from the imagined. But she can’t. In fact, she kind of becomes one of them. The itch she has come to write about becomes an itch she’s pretty sure she has, too. “Itching that starts in the mind feels just like itching on the skin—no less real, no more fabricated—and it can begin with something as simple as a thought.”

After reading this I was itching for weeks! Can you feel it? Jamison argues that Morgellons, real or not, reveals the kinds of lines we draw between sickness of the body and sickness of the mind. But she goes further than that: when it comes to caring for those who are sick, we prefer bodily ailments. We prefer external agents of harm—germs, bites, viruses—because they are justifiable.

If someone is sick in the mind, though, the agents of harm lie within. Mental illness shows us an uglier side of illness: a person not only dependent upon outside help, but inwardly self-sabotaging. Rather than extend empathy for these crazies, we opt instead for moral litigation: only if someone hasn’t colluded with their misfortune are we willing to invest our care. Otherwise, no deal—which is precisely where Morgellons sufferers find themselves. Beyond the purview of doctors. Beyond the care of loved ones.

Jamison goes on to say that mental illness is a barb to the American understanding of self-reliance.

The abiding American myth of the self-made man comes attached to another article of faith—an insistence, even—that every self-made man can sustain whatever self he has managed to make. A man divided—thwarting or interrupting his own mechanisms of survival—fails to sustain this myth, disrupts our belief in the absolute efficacy of willpower, and in these failures also forfeits his right to our sympathy…

Jamison wonders if this fractured soul should not warrant more, not less, of our care. It also sounds an awful lot like a Romans 7 self—the kind in a perpetual state of civil war. Theologically speaking, this is the human being whose willpower is bound. Contrary to the American myth Jamison references, this divided self is the signature of Christianity’s across-the-board, sweepingly low anthropology: you are at odds with God, and at odds with yourself. Paradoxically, this sobering take on the human species is also the beginning of loving them.

Negotiating the divide between sick and well has proven to be the chief challenge in putting together a “mental health” issue. While we are quick to note the brain science, the aberrant trends reported by the APA, we simultaneously deceive ourselves about the ‘normal’ people, the mentally stable, i.e., me. In an effort to cover mental illness, we hoodwink ourselves about whom exactly that term defines. The Bible lays a wider net than the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; as Nathan says to King David, “You are the man” (2 Sam 12:7). You, in fact, are the liar, the worrier, the narcissist. That line on the spectrum, which so nimbly dictates who is healthy and who is ill? Look closer. It is right there inside you.

I don’t mean to play down the diagnosable disorders with which many of us live. It is to say, though, that our diagnoses often prohibit the inclusive understanding of illness that might, in turn, include us. Jesus is perpetually doing this, flipping the script on who is and isn’t “ill.” The ones who “don’t need a doctor”—the ones who find themselves mostly capable, mostly virtuous, mostly sane—are for Jesus the ones who most desperately do need a doctor. Their virtue has obscured their need. For Christ, there is no distinction. If there’s a madhouse, we should all be living in it.8faces

In the small town of Geel, Belgium, there are no madhouses. Geel has been the subject of articles and books for centuries for its revolutionary care of the mentally ill. Instead of cordoning them off, Geel citizens became famous for welcoming them into their homes, making them part of the family. The families who host these “boarders” do so on average for 28.5 years! What characterizes the success of Geel’s system, which has been around for over 700 years, is the unconditional acceptance given to its residents.

Lulu Miller, of the podcast Invisibilia, tells the story of one middle-aged boarder in Geel who habitually twisted the buttons off his shirts, forcing his host mother to sew them back on every night. When a visiting American suggested that she perhaps use fishing line instead of thread, the host gave a surprising response:

That’s the worst thing you could do…I will never use fishing line because this man needs to twist the buttons off. It helps him to twist them off every day…Accept these odd behaviors, don’t try to make them go away.

Geel provides us with an alternative to the usual classifications between what’s crazy and what’s sane: grace. As opposed to the world of solutions, for which these boarders have received caseworkers and medications and cognitive behavioral fixes, Geel gives them the opposite. They have “let go of the mission to cure.” Sounds crazy to me.

In the modern framework of “mental health,” it is radical to ask what might be healed by the radicality of grace. But, let’s ask it: what might be healed by the radicality of grace? This is where we plot our course in this issue. As you might have guessed, it isn’t light fare—the landscape of the human psyche tends to prompt questions about our lives we’d naturally evade. But Jesus asks these questions. As the Great Physician, he gently addresses the wounds we’ve long kept covered. But in doing so, he also administers healing. He shows us that our wounds are carried in his.

In this issue we cover everything from self-help to suicide. We have psychopathic children and their pathological parents; we have pathological churches run by pathological pastors; we even have pathologies of pathologies! We have great interviews with “Ask Polly” columnist Heather Havrilesky and self-justification gurus Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Poems from the masterful Gray Jacobik. And so, so much more.

So, welcome to the cuckoo’s nest! There’s no need here to be anyone but you—we wouldn’t want it any other way. And if you need someone to sew your buttons on for you, we know just the person.

Ethan Richardson, Editor



The Epidemic by DAVID ZAHL

The Confessional

Mockingbird Asks Polly: Our Interview with HEATHER HAVRILESKY

Confessions of Parental Recidivists by BRIAN & DEBBIE SOLUM

For the Record: Cures of Yore

Overmedicated, Under God: Help in the Age of Antidepressants by ETHAN RICHARDSON


Justifying Our Lives Away: A Q&A with CAROL TAVRIS & ELLIOT ARONSON

Schemers, Clingers, and Frank Lake’s Schizoid Self by SCOTT JONES

For the Record: Bookshelf, Non-Self-Help Reads, Mental Health at the Movies

The Laws of the Megachurch by JOEL GREINER


The Psychology of Attachment in Our Relationship with God by BONNIE POON ZAHL

For the Record: Know Thy Bias!

A Word of Acceptance: An Interview with JOANNA COLLICUTT

Notes from the Funny Farm by KATHRYN GOURLEY


How to Cope with the Modern World: A Short Guide by WILL MCDAVID

Life in a Dark Place: A Sermon by DAVID BROWDER

Click here to Order!

P.S. Don’t forget: everyone who signs up for any amount of monthly giving to Mbird gets a complimentary subscription.

Another Week Ends: Irrational Minds, Dangerous Parents, Anthony Weiner, Metallica References, Llama Drama, Post-Olympics Depression, and the Tastiest Fast Foods in America

Another Week Ends: Irrational Minds, Dangerous Parents, Anthony Weiner, Metallica References, Llama Drama, Post-Olympics Depression, and the Tastiest Fast Foods in America

1. This week The New York Times published an op-ed by Robert A. Burton entitled “A Life of Meaning (Reason Not Required)” which argues that most people would agree that (1) our lives ought to have a personal sense of “meaning” or “purpose” and (2) our lives should be “shaped by reason” or “rationality.” As concepts, however, reason and rationality get a little bit fuzzy when we consider the recent barrage of brain research evidencing the less-calculated “unfree” will of man. Burton explains:

“[T]he brain generates action-specific electrical activity nearly half a second before the subject consciously ‘decides’ to initiate action. Though interpretations…

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