Social Science

The Theology of Everything: Jane and Stephen Hawking Head to the Cross

The Theology of Everything: Jane and Stephen Hawking Head to the Cross

The title of the Oscar-nominated movie The Theory of Everything might seem a little ambitious, maybe even ironic in its grandiose magnitude, and, in some ways, it is. The title pokes at real-life physicist Stephen Hawking’s initial desire to find a theory of everything, a single equation to explain the creation of the universe. Having never settled on such an equation, Stephen’s ambition ensures an ironic sort of surrender even in the title, which unexpectedly exudes earnestness, too, given that the film’s themes are endless: Everything’s here. The Theory of Everything investigates the very beginning of the universe as well…

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Mining Netflix: Vulnerability on Notting Hill

Mining Netflix: Vulnerability on Notting Hill

There’s this girl. She’s someone who can’t be mine, and uh… it’s as if I’ve taken love heroin and I can’t ever have it again. I’ve opened Pandora’s Box and there’s trouble inside.

If Hugh Grant vowed to collaborate exclusively with writer Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually) for the rest of his career, the rom-com world would perhaps recover the stability it has sought for the better part of the past decade and a half. Curtis’ ability to present the humorous ills of love with allegorical excellence, marries splendidly with Hugh’s boyish but bold delivery of lines….

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Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

This reflection on aging comes to us from Ryan Sanders:

A recent study conducted by two professors at New York University revealed that people are more likely to make big decisions or create big regrets just before milestone birthdays. The study divined that “people audit the meaningfulness of their lives as they approach a new decade in chronological age, further suggesting that people across dozens of countries and cultures are prone to making significant decisions as they approach each new decade.”

This study tells us what we already know: as people face milestone events, they often review their lives and make adjustments. And often,…

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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.

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.

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.

David Carr Took Good Cards and Set Them on Fire

David Carr Took Good Cards and Set Them on Fire

A remarkable passage from the opening to the late David Carr’s unbelievably good memoir of addiction, The Night of the Gun, in which he lays out the difficulty of investigating and recapitulating one’s past. Reminded me of Tavris and Aaronson’s description of memory as editor, i.e. one of the chief instruments of self-justification. Turns out the stories we tell about ourselves, especially the harrowing ones, reveal the narratives we have constructed around our identities–AKA the laws to which we are beholden and which drive our editing/dishonesty, such as Thou Shalt Be Transformed (and Stay That Way). Also one of the…

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To Practice Dying

To Practice Dying

Last week, yet another beautiful story about death came across my newsfeed. There are a lot of things I can avoid clicking on (kitten videos, I’m looking at you), but tell me a story about dying and I’m all ears. While the inclination might have something to do with my time spent working in hospital chaplaincy, I don’t think that’s all. We are all intrigued and moved by dying. Otherwise, these stories would not always find a place in our social media cycle. But this one was different. Paul Kalanithi was a doctor, new father, husband, and writer. He was…

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Nadia Bolz-Weber Pawns Off Narcissism as a Virtue

2015 NYC Conference speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s book, Pastrix, is a curious beast: self-deprecating memoir, accidental handbook for church planters, compendium of dark comedy, and loads of inspiration, though not (remotely) the Hallmark variety. Among the many excerpt-worthy passages, one about darkness, light, and self-deception stood out to me. As backstory here, Candace was a fellow alcoholic, though less of a recovering one, whom Nadia tried to support for a while, before her sister accused her of  imprudently squandering her emotional energy just to maintain her idea of herself as a loyal friend:

RNS-FALSANI-COLUMN

Years later, after I had started House for All Sinners and Saints, I thought of Candace when I was writing a sermon about when Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit. (Revised Nadia Version.) I thought of all the time I spent trying to be good and all the time she spent trying to pretend she wasn’t high and how perfectly matched all our crap was. And all it took was my sister speaking the truth about it for light to come in and scatter the darkness. I thought about how, just like Candace, when I want desperately for something about myself to be hidden, for it to stay in the darkness, I am really good at lying. And if I can go an extra step and make it look like I’m actually being good – if I can pawn off narcissism as a virtue – then I win. Like when I am just sick of giving a shit about other people and want to be selfish so I call my two days of watching Netflix and getting mani-pedis ‘self-care.’ Or when I say I’m on ‘a cleanse’ so no one knows I’m really on a diet.

The list goes on, and the last thing I want is for any light to be cast on the darkness that I’ve spent so much energy curating, protecting, enjoying. But it’s not a cleanse. It’s a diet. It’s not about my health, it’s about my vanity.

There’s a popular misconception that religion, Christianity specifically, is about knowing the difference between good and evil so that we can choose the good. But being good has never set me free the way the truth has…

Very often I will avoid the truth until my face goes red like a toddler avoiding her nap; until limp limbed, she finally stops flailing and falls asleep and receives rest – the very thing she needs and the very thing she fights. When someone like me, who will go to superhero lengths to avoid the truth, runs out of options – when I am found out or too exhausted to pretend anymore or maybe just confronted by my sister – it feels like the truth might crush me. And that is right. The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.

Mindful of Our Busyness: Notes on Another Epidemic (and Its Relief)

Mindful of Our Busyness: Notes on Another Epidemic (and Its Relief)

A pair of (somewhat) related articles came across my desk yesterday that seem especially relevant with the new ‘Work and Play’ issue of The Mockingbird shipping today. The first is the latest dispatch on that cultural flashpoint known as Busyness. In a pithy blogpost for The Huffington Post, Scott Dannemiller contends that “Busyness Is a Sickness”. Particularly interesting to me was the distinction he makes between ‘busyness’ and ‘stress’, one being elective (in theory) and the other not, ht SM:

Dr. Susan Koven practices internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. In a 2013 Boston Globe column, she wrote:

In the past…

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My Relationship With God Is Better Than Ever

My Relationship With God Is Better Than Ever

(This essay was originally published in issue 3 of The Mockingbird. All issues and subscriptions, including issue 4 which ships tomorrow, are available available here).

“We can permit ourselves to be more romantic than the romanticists and more humanistic than the humanists. But we must be more precise.” —Karl Barth, “The Christian’s Place in Society”

image courtesy of Lutheran Satire

Every recess for eight years, I was picked last on the team for two-hand-touch football. The turning point came in the ninth grade, when recess was replaced by study hall.

But, before that, there was another turning point I had blundered right past: the opportunity…

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Girls Rule the World?

Girls Rule the World?

I saw the original Pitch Perfect on a spring afternoon, taking advantage of a day off work and a child in daycare to indulge in some solo popcorn-eating and foot-tapping in the darkness of a movie theater–one of this introvert’s favorite refuges. Now that this introvert is a mother of two, I watch movies in thirty-minute increments via On Demand from the “refuge” of my bed–a decidedly less interruption-free zone than that inviting theater. Perhaps this is why I so enjoy the movie trailers that I watch on my phone these days during nursing sessions or in stolen/guilt-ridden moments on…

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