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Individualism, Community, and Kafka

Individualism, Community, and Kafka

This post, first published on our site in 2008, remains a timely critique that cuts straight to the heart! Written by David Browder:

If one is to enter any sort of seminary situation or spend time in any form of Christian subculture, that person will encounter two things. They are two sides of the same coin. One is “community” and the other is Western individualism. The first (one is told) is good, and the second is bad. I have been doing some thinking on both and would like to publicly “air” out what I have come up with. Perhaps the reader…

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Mixtapes from Anyone Who is Not Your Husband: Sounds of Earth and Heaven

Mixtapes from Anyone Who is Not Your Husband: Sounds of Earth and Heaven

There are facts about my story that will never change this side of heaven, barring total tragedy in some cases. And forgive me for saying so, but while the permanence of many things in this life is blessed, that same permanence can also be awful.

FACT: I will always have my two children. Praise Jesus, and also holy hell. Until the day I die, I will always be worried about them, responsible for them, and expected to put their needs before my own. The full weight of this appointment as “parent” is overwhelming. And again, excluding some unspeakable event, this will…

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Truly Beyond Deserving: Remembering Dorothy Martyn

Truly Beyond Deserving: Remembering Dorothy Martyn

This past weekend I learned that the pillar of grace known as Dr. Dorothy Martyn died after suffering a stroke at her home in North Carolina. An accomplished child psychologist (of the Freudian persuasion), Dorothy possessed a rare gift for helping the sufferers of the world, and I include myself in that number. We talk a lot about “grace in practice” on here. Dorothy Martyn was grace in practice. To me at least.

Every other week for about five years, I would drive out to the home she shared with her husband, Pauline scholar Louis Martyn, in Bethany, CT, where she…

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Behind the Veil

Behind the Veil

This one was written by Andrew Taylor-Troutman.

“You may kiss the bride,” I said in my preacher voice just like I always did. This time the groom actually paused as if seeking permission—but not from me. He looked hesitantly at the jailer standing over his right shoulder. She nodded. So he dove in!

“Alright kids,” the jailer intoned after a few moments. Maybe that’s how jailers always talk. But this one had been smiling the whole ceremony.

~

I am a pastor’s kid, which affords insider’s perspective. So I have known for as long as I have been aware of such ceremonies…

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"Chip in My Brain": This American Life Buried the Lede

“Chip in My Brain”: This American Life Buried the Lede

Like many here at Mockingbird, I’m a big fan of This American Life and Serial/S-Town and all of those NPRish, WBEC Chicago Public Radio podcasts. I’ve been listening to the TAL podcasts for going on four years now, and “Chip in My Brain” (Jan 13, 2018) is the most compelling to date, for me. That’s a huge compliment in my opinion, because, while TAL (much like 60 Minutes) can be a bit “hit or miss,” it usually hits, and this time, I wonder if it even knows what it has stumbled upon.

Going forward here, there will be some spoilage, and that is significant….

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Something Major Has Gone Wrong Here: Why Alain de Botton Loves the Concept of Original Sin

A quick excerpt from a recent interview with School of Life founder Alain de Botton in the current Believer. Here, de Botton defends the concept of original sin as the starting point for functional relationships:

BLVR: Did you grow up atheist?

ADB: I grew up totally atheist… Christians were a naive lot who had sort of fallen for Jesus. They were sentimental, they were too emotional… It was all very tribal and just ridiculous in a way. But that was the ideology I grew up with. And now I’m very interested in Christian vulnerability, the taboo. So I spend quite a lot of time discussing that, you know… I love the concept of original sin, the idea that we’re all fundamentally broken and fundamentally incomplete. 

BLVR: Why do you love that idea?

ADB: Because it seems to be such a useful starting point. You know, if you imagine a relationship in which two people think they’re great—you know, perfect—that’s going to lead to intolerance and terrible disappointment when they realize that they’re not great, they’re not perfect. Whereas imagine a relationship that begins under the idea that two people are quite broken and therefore they need forgiveness from the other and they need to apply charity to the other and they need to forgive the other, and so that seems a much better starting point. I like these descriptions of human beings as being really quite flawed and crazy and out of control and you find that in Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity. The human being is presented as a very fragile, sort of broken creature. And I like that. It’s a good starting point and also it feels true to my experience.

BLVR: How are you defining broken?

ADB: By broken I mean “not quite right.” And that could mean so many different things but it could mean “with a great tendency to anxiety,” say, or “with a great tendency toward despair,” say, or “with a tendency to panic.” Any of these fundamental dispositions toward low self-esteem or whatever it is; many of us have a background of ways in which we’re not quite right.

BLVR: That’s all of us.

ADB: Yes, all of us. So that’s why the concept of original sin seems so plausible and applicable and also kind, because it basically says, Look, when you meet someone new, don’t just look for the positives; just assume that something major has gone wrong here. Treat everybody you meet as though they were laboring under some really big problem, basically. That’s the starting point of any encounter. Rather than how great are they, it’s more like, OK, where’s the broken bit of them? That’s a much kinder and more interesting way of getting to know someone. And also to say, That’s the bit of you I’m actually interested in. Like, I don’t really want to hear—that’s fantastic that you’ve been promoted, and you know that’s great, but, like, I don’t think that’s where your real self is.

Kinda reminds me of a line from Grace in Practice“Once the grievous nuance and unplumbable depth of the psyche were named, the power of the absolution could rise to the occasion. Once the total depravity of original sin was out of the closet, then the magnificent response latent within the grace of God in the cross of Christ could be portrayed. It could be displayed for people to see.”

Yep, Still Crying About This Is Us

Yep, Still Crying About This Is Us

You would think that after almost two seasons of This Is Us (and writing about it a lot), I would be able to keep my emotions in check for an hour every Tuesday, remembering that these are fictional characters. But alas, I find myself, week after week, staring at my television with bated breath and tears rolling down my cheeks. And this week was certainly no exception.

Minor spoilers ahead but nothing major!

So many posts could be written about this week’s episode—forgiveness, hope in broken relationships, second chances—but one plotline in particular stuck out in which we see the unconditional love…

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PZ’s Podcast: 8 Days a Week

EPISODE 240

I don’t talk about romantic love because it is worshipful in its own right. I talk about romantic love because it is the closest signpost we have to God.

Whether it’s the Beatles (“Eight Days a Week”) or Hugo (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) or Wagner (“Tannhauser”) or Jimmy Webb (“Wichita Lineman”) or James Gould Cozzens (“By Love Possessed”), the inspired listeners of the world have not failed to miss the Back Story, underneath all our ‘narratives’ and front stories, of the noble search for love and merger, the absolutely right and proper desire of every human person to merge with another human person. This Back Story underwrites every natural life. If you won’t see it — because everybody can see it — then your life will end on a note of unconquerable wistfulness.

Yet romantic life is never quite right! It is always a little “off”. This is because it calls the almost-Absolute — i.e., another human being — the Absolute — i.e., God. Romantic love, when not subsumed to God, i n e v i t a b l y disappoints, because it takes place between bodies, which decline and die; and it takes place in time, which “must have a stop” (Shakespeare/Huxley). In other words, romantic love is an almost exact dress rehearsal of the Real Thing, but not the Real Thing itself.

That is why this podcast begins with “Eight Days a Week” but ends with “Tell Me Why (You Cry)”. LUV U!

Step Back From That Ledge? Outdoor Activity, 'the Progression Mindset,' and the Pressure of Experience

Step Back From That Ledge? Outdoor Activity, ‘the Progression Mindset,’ and the Pressure of Experience

Imagine you’re on a hike. (Where I live, everyone loves to hike.) Imagine you’re out in the woods, and you’ve been on the trail for hours, going steadily uphill, stepping carefully over rocks and slippery wet roots. By the time you reach the summit, you’ve eaten all your snacks, drunk most of your water, and rolled your ankle once or twice. But you’re there! You’ve made it. And you’re enjoying the view when suddenly you notice, in the distance, another peak, just slightly higher than the one you’re on.

It turns out you haven’t reached the summit. That’s another mile along….

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Daryl Davis: Grace, Race, and the KKK

Very excited to share this talk from our recent conference in DC, featuring the incredible blues musician Daryl Davis. Here Davis talks about how, over the course of 30 years, he made meaningful friendships with some of his greatest antagonists…members of the Ku Klux Klan. Talk about grace in practice! (Also, you won’t want to miss that boogie-woogie piano at the end!)

Daryl Davis: Grace, Race, and the KKK from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

On Anxiety Attacks and the Fiction of Scientific "Reality"

On Anxiety Attacks and the Fiction of Scientific “Reality”

This one, from our archives, remains every bit as relevant (and comforting!) as when Ethan wrote it in 2013.

A typical description of an anxiety attack or a panic attack goes something like this: a routine behavior suddenly and emphatically goes rogue. You are driving, you are eating an orange slice, taking a test, conversing at a party, and the moment becomes obstructed by an impossible–not just mental but also physical–and inimical weight. You suddenly feel you cannot breathe, that your chest is closing like one of those cavern doors in the Temple of Doom. Or maybe you feel like your…

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Unordained in the Diocese for the Sake of Porcupines: Some Thoughts on "Detachment" in Ministry

Unordained in the Diocese for the Sake of Porcupines: Some Thoughts on “Detachment” in Ministry

“I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” was how I started the conversation with my buddy’s wife. And yes, I was quoting Zoolander, but it was the perfect description for my experience of being friends with her husband. I felt awkward talking to her about it, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. I remember we were sitting outside their home, and I was fiddling with a leaf plucked off some landscaping, making my own ersatz fidget spinner. That particular habit has proven to be a fantastic way to discover which plants cause me contact dermatitis. Quite a few as…

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