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Theology/Religion

Autoimmunity and the Heart Curved Inward

Autoimmunity and the Heart Curved Inward

I am sick. That’s pretty much all I can tell you about it with any real confidence. For two years, a harvest of strange and debilitating medical maladies have continued to hurl wrenches into the functioning of my poor and puzzled body (I’ve detailed some of that elegant saga here and here). In my time not writing about being sick on Mockingbird, I slug from one doctor to the next, submit myself to pokes, prods, needles, and indelicate personal questions. Everyone agrees things aren’t right. Yet I am still without a clear diagnosis. There have been rabbit-hole-suspicions by many-a-medical professional,…

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Hope, Realism, and the Protestant Face of Anglicanism

Hope, Realism, and the Protestant Face of Anglicanism

Back in 1998, my father wrote an unfashionable yet characteristically compelling little volume entitled The Protestant Face of Anglicanism. With the big anniversary finally here, it seemed like an ideal time to remind people of its existence (and merit)! Coincidentally, the book shares the title of PZ’s latest project, a tumblr devoted to, well, you guessed it. He’s provided us with a personal introduction to the project below, but first, a couple of zinging paragraphs from the final chapter of the book in question:

The Reformers saw the message of justification as a word of comfort, first and primarily, to the troubled conscience. The conscience, unable…

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From Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote

Last week, DZ posted from Oliver Burkeman’s excellent article on time management and the law of unread emails. I just finished up his 2012 book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, and, boy, good points of connection abound. Trying to get to the bottom of why we have such difficulty doing what we are told to do, or, rather, not doing what we are told not to do, Burkeman uses a study conducted by Daniel Wegner at Harvard’s ‘Mental Control Laboratory.’

When you try not to think of a white bear, you may experience some success in forcing alternative thoughts into your mind. At the same time, though, a metacognitive monitoring process will crank into action, to scan your mind for evidence of whether you are succeeding or failing at the task. And this is where things get perilous, because if you try too hard – or, Wegner’s studies suggest, if you are tired, stressed, depressed, attempting to multi-task, or otherwise suffering from ‘mental load’ – metacognition will frequently go wrong. The monantidote-oliver-burkemanitoring process will start to occupy more than its fair share of limelight on the cognitive stage. It will jump to the forefront of consciousness – and suddenly, all you will be able to think about is white bears, and how badly you’re doing at not thinking about them.

Could it be that … our efforts to feel positive seem so frequently to bring about the opposite result? … When experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss. Our efforts at mental suppression fail in the sexual arena, too: people instructed not to think about sex exhibit greater arousal, as measured by the electrical conductivity of their skin, than those instructed to suppress such thoughts.

He concludes this chapter, entitled “On Trying Too Hard to be Happy,” with the metaphor of a Chinese finger trap. In the case of striving for our own happiness, he writes, “‘doing the presumably sensible thing is counterproductive.’ Following the negative path to happiness is about doing the other thing – the presumably illogical thing – instead.” In other words, try to climb out of that ditch and before long human nature kicks in, handing down a shovel.

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The Pastor in the Batter’s Box

Get your elbows up! Watch the ball! Bend your knees! Be a hitter! Keep your elbows down! Choke up on the bat! Jump on that fastball! Wait for your pitch!

I remember standing in that little league batter’s box, with coaches and random parents and teammates all yelling their well-meaning directives to me at the same time. And I wanted to please them all. I wanted with all my 9 year old body to actualize all their shouted instructions simultaneously — even when they contradicted one another. But most of the time, I felt practically paralyzed by their imperatives. The…

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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

However many years a man may live,
   let him enjoy them all.
   But let him remember the days of
      darkness,
   for they will be many.
— Ecclesiastes 11:8

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
— John 1:5

I wake up mornings in the darkness, to get ready for work, or writing if it’s a day off. I let my wife sleep and I close the bedroom door after I press the switch for the hall light. I turn on all the lights in the kitchen, even the under-cabinet fixtures that have separate switches because it’s…

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Martin Luther King, Jr: “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”

This an excerpt from the conclusion to MLK’s 1959 sermon, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart.”

8f582_MLK-Home-thumb-400xauto-29178[1]I am thankful that we worship a God who is both tough minded and tenderhearted.  If God were only tough minded, he would be a cold, passionless despot sitting in some far-off Heaven “contemplating all,” as Tennyson puts it in “The Palace of Art.”  He would be Aristotle’s “unmoved mover,” self-knowing but not other-loving.  But if God were only tenderhearted, he would be too soft and sentimental to function when things go wrong and incapable of controlling what he has made.  He would be like H. G. Well’s loveable God in God, the Invisible King, who is strongly desirous of making a good world but finds himself helpless before the surging powers of evil.  God is neither hardhearted nor soft minded.  He is tough minded enough to transcend the world; he is tenderhearted enough to live in it.  He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles.  He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.

At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice.  When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the Earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the Greek herb.  When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man.  But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy.  When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.  When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

Hopelessly Devoted: Joshua Five Verses Thirteen Through Fifteen

Hopelessly Devoted: Joshua Five Verses Thirteen Through Fifteen

This morning’s devotion comes to us from SM White.

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are…

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In Defense of 2016

In Defense of 2016

This past calendar year, known by many of us as 2016, was nothing if not controversial. Populated as it was by unexpected outcomes, celebrity demises, and global tragedies, the year stands out as, at the very least, memorable. And at the very most? Well, it may be the first time I’ve heard a quartet of numbers get accused of killing people. Who knew those four digits carried around a sickle and political machinations in their back pockets?

Whether the loss of Prince and Princess (Leia) ruined your year or just amounted to a footnote in it, overall apathy about the past…

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Searching for Hope in Raising a Mentally Ill Child

Searching for Hope in Raising a Mentally Ill Child

One last peek into the Mental Health Issue, right before we send off the Food & Drink Issue to print (in one short week). This one came from Brian and Debbie Solum, who were also featured in the Mockingcast special during that time, which you can listen to here. (Not to be missed!) If you’d like to send the story, or the whole issue, to a friend–they’re still available here. 

We will be the first to admit that we are cynics when it comes to parenting. After almost twenty years of experience, we feel we can easily dismantle every Christian how-to book…

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The Surprising, Unsought Gift of Sylvia

Can’t believe we’ve never posted a quote from Anne Long’s classic (and now sadly out of print) treatise on Listening, much of which was inspired/informed by the work of her longtime mentor and teacher, the hallowed Dr. Frank Lake. The book is a must, not just for those involved in ministry, but for anyone hoping to traverse an increasingly divided world. Here’s an excerpt from Section 2:

41m7cmrifql-_sx314_bo1204203200_Looking back, we may well recall individuals who have meant something to us at particular, sometimes crucial, points on our life journey. For me, it was Sylvia Lake, wife of the well-known Dr. Frank, yet with an experience and contribution very much her own. I first met her when training as a Clinical Theology tutor. There was an honesty, humanity, wisdom and wholeness about her which were, for many of us, a ‘fleshing out’ of integrity. She was ‘fully human, fully alive’, in touch with both joy and pain. And, as I discovered  in the times when she listened to me, there was a quality of loving in her that was resilient, straight and unsentimental. Gordon Allport, the Harvard psychologist, said that love as described in 1 John 4 is ‘incomparably the greatest psychotherapeutic agent — something that professional psychiatry cannot of itself create, focus nor release’.

This was so with Sylvia. Certainly it was more than a collection of human qualities that attracted me, rather a uniting of them into what felt both personal and beyond personality. She was at home in her humanity yet at the same time pointing beyond herself. At various points when I have been depressed I have turned to Sylvia and been helped, not only by her good listening skills but by something deeper–the presence of grace and God in her. I can think of others who, in similar ways, have been given to me at various, often critical, points in my life. They may or may not have been trained in counseling skills, which has helped me to see that, [in the words of Alastair Campbell] “In the last analysis there is no cleverness or accomplishment in pastoral care. It is no more (and no less) than sharing with another in the experience of grace, a surprising, unsought gift.” (pg 44-45)

PZ’s Cure for Existential Beastliness

PZ’s Cure for Existential Beastliness

The other day I was suffering from the normal post-holiday, first-of-the-year, what-has-happened-to-my-life, dear-God-help-me blues. We’ve all been there, right? Right? I was scanning my bookshelf, as you do, desperate for some encouragement, and my eyes lit on PZ’s Panopticon.

I have quite a few of Paul Zahl’s books and have given away Grace in Practice, specifically, more times than I care to count. I even own Comfortable Words, edited by J.D. Koch Jr. and Todd Brewer, the festschrift (isn’t that a great word–literally means “celebration writing”) devoted to his life and work. Suffice it to say, I am a fan. There is…

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PZ’s Podcast: Christiaan, Yes

PZ’s Podcast: Christiaan, Yes

EPISODE 226

I’m feeling optimistic about our future — both mine, and Mary’s, personally; and also the future of our country and the world. This is partly because we are witnessing a kind of up-ending of shibboleths and “narratives” that have neglected universals in engaging with our deep human struggles and woundedness and given the floor to secondary elements, in particular identity-predicates. Secondary traits and qualities of a human being do not solve the inward hauntedness and heartbreak and rejections that make a misery of so many people’s lives. One’s color and background — the accidents of birth and inheritance: these…

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