Theology/Religion
When “Idiot” Became a Term of Endearment

When “Idiot” Became a Term of Endearment

When I was in college (many years ago) I was driving with a friend and someone cut us off in traffic.  I called the guy an idiot – because that’s just what people who cut you off in traffic are.   My friend chastised me for the comment – “you know Jesus said that if you call someone an ‘idiot’ (Matt. 5:22) you won’t be able to escape the fires of hell, right?”  Yikes!  That little lecture from my friend has stuck with me for over 30 years.  I always (kind of) cringe when that word comes out of my mouth,…

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From The Mockingbird: What Are the Side Effects of the Modern Hospital?

From The Mockingbird: What Are the Side Effects of the Modern Hospital?

We have been delighted (and humbled) to hear all the encouraging words about the first issue of The Mockingbird. If you’re without a copy, it’s not too late to place an order. We’re not biased, but we think you’ll be glad you did. In the following weeks, we’ll be publishing some of the essays from that issue on our magazine’s page, beginning with this one, from R-J Heijmen, on the art of dying in the era of the modern hospital.

While there’s no good way to enjoy a long-form read online–and as far as the look and feel of the magazine,…

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The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Finds a Place in First Grade

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Finds a Place in First Grade

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbcher Goes to School (by Laurie Halse Anderson) is a children’s picture book about a young girl who has  untamable red hair with a mind of its own. Zoe loves her hair, her parents love her hair, and last year, her free-spirited kindergarten teacher loved Zoe’s hair since it helped around the classroom, picking up trash, erasing the chalkboard, setting the snack table, and comforting the children during nap time. But things change this year when Zoe goes to first grade. “School has rules,” her new teacher, Ms. Trisk, likes to say. “No wild hair in…

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W.H. Auden Was There on Good Friday

This one has been making the rounds a bit recently, but fortunately no amount of familiarity can detract from its power. From Wystan’s long out of print ‘commonplace book’ A Certain World:

daisy_nookJust as we are all, potentially, in Adam when he fell, so we were all, potentially, in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday before there was an Easter, a Pentecost, a Christian, or a Church. It seems to me worthwhile asking ourselves who we should have been and what we should have been doing. None of us, I’m certain, will imagine himself as one of the Disciples, cowering in agony of spiritual despair and physical terror. Very few of us are big wheels enough to see ourselves as Pilate, or good churchmen enough to see ourselves as a member of the Sanhedrin. In my most optimistic mood I see myself as a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria visiting an intellectual friend. We are walking along, engaged in philosophical argument. Our path takes us past the base of Golgotha. Looking up, we see an all too familiar sight – three crosses surrounded by a jeering crowd. Frowning with prim distaste, I say, ‘It’s disgusting the way the mob enjoy such things. Why can’t the authorities execute people humanely and in private by giving them hemlock to drink, as they did with Socrates?’ Then, averting my eyes from the disagreeable spectacle, I resume our fascinating discussion about the True, the Good and the Beautiful.

Ministry as Leisure, from Comfortable Words

Ministry as Leisure, from Comfortable Words

In NYC a couple of weeks ago, we held a reception for Paul Zahl’s Festschrift, Comfortable Words (more details here), edited by Jady Koch and Todd Brewer. The work honors Paul Zahl’s life-giving influence upon academics, pastors, laypeople, and everything in between. Among many extraordinary essays, Dylan Potter’s “Ministry as Leisure” struck a note with its insight and empathy into a commonly neglected problem with ministers, one which easily extends to lay Christians, too:

One indication that a clergyperson has come under the law’s heavy hand is that they begin to eschew leisure in order to pursue what are perceived to be…

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Eminem Writes the Textbook on Reconciliation… Sort Of

Eminem Writes the Textbook on Reconciliation… Sort Of

When I teach students about reconciliation, I start with an unexpected source: Eminem. Believe it or not, his new track, “Headlights,” serves not only as a musical olive branch to his mother but as a beautiful example of human reconciliation. At the same time, the rapper demonstrates an interesting deviation from this approach when he considers divine reconciliation.

Eminem describes his tense, explosive arguments with his mother as “atomic bombs” and the climate of his house growing up as “Vietnam.” He suggests that his mother struggled with alcoholism to such a degree that the state ultimately seized his younger brother, Nate,…

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D.G. Myers on the Art of Dying

A powerful (and very Holy Week-appropriate) reflection on death came from literary critic D.G. Myers, who faces his own mortality in the throes of prostate cancer. This was originally uncovered by our friends over at The Dish.

tumblr_kvtcvdVG4q1qzkyblo1_500Dying is the problem, not death. As an Orthodox Jew, I believe with perfect faith in the resurrection of the dead, but until that happens, death is the termination of consciousness. No peeking back into life. I won’t get to keep a scorecard of who is crying at my funeral, who is dry-eyed, who never bothered to show up. If I want someone to cry at my funeral, I need to patch things up with him before the last weak images flicker out.

In the past few weeks I have been approaching ex-friends whom I have damaged to ask their forgiveness. I’ve been behaving, in short, as if dying were a twelve-step program. Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Not that I mind having enemies. One person whom I approached recently accused me of “basking in self-importance,” which is one possible way, I suppose, of describing the tireless knowledge that death is near. But there are other persons, including some with whom I have had very public fallings-out, whom I don’t want as enemies when I pass away. To die without accepting responsibility for the damage I have done to relationships that were once meaningful to me would be shameful and undeniably self-important.

2014 NYC Conference Recordings: Identity, Anxiety & the Christian Message

2014 NYC Conference Recordings: Identity, Anxiety & the Christian Message

An incredibly heartfelt thank-you to everyone who helped put on this year’s Mockingbird Conference in NYC, especially our friends at Calvary St. George’s Church. We took some risks this time around, and if reports are to be believed, it sounds like they paid off. Phew!

We are once again making the recordings available at no charge; we only ask that those who were not able to attend this year *consider* making a donation to help cover the cost of the event. Download links are followed by an in-line player for each recording. Almost everything was videotaped, and we’ll be rolling the…

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What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

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Ron Lester Has the (Varsity) Blues

Ron Lester Has the (Varsity) Blues

Palm Sunday is an annual reminder that what goes up must come down. As if we needed reminding.

Remember Varsity Blues? Honestly, I don’t. I never saw the movie. But it was a huge success at the box office, and, as a Friday Night Lights knockoff, it really couldn’t miss, especially since it starred Paul Walker, James van der Beek, Ali Larter, and Scott Caan. The most unforgettable performance, though, (I’m told) came from one Ron Lester, who played the enormous offensive tackle, Billy Bob.

At the time Varsity Blues was filmed, Lester weighed close to 500 pounds, which, combined with his…

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A Reality Check from Bad Suns (and John Calvin)

A Reality Check from Bad Suns (and John Calvin)

I recently discovered Bad Suns, an up-and-coming band from California, whose song “Salt” seems to be played almost daily during my commute. Listen to what it says: “Look in the mirror and tell me/ What it is like to be free/ How do I grasp reality/ When I don’t have an identity?/ Who, who can I look to ’cause I’m not like you, you?/ And I don’t believe in the truth, truth/ Because all of my life’s built on lies.”

When I hear these lyrics, I can’t help but think of what Paul Zahl recently says in PZ’s Podcast episode #162 called “Rain Dance”. Simple…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty Seven Verse Forty Six

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty Seven Verse Forty Six

This Holy Week-inspired devotion comes from Jeff Hual.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV)

When these sorts of questions are asked, the asker is calling out from a deep place of hurt in the heart, not the head. Unfortunately, those of us who try to help answer such questions often make the mistake of trying to answer questions of suffering from the head rather than the heart.

My grandfather dying was my first experience with these sorts of questions. I was 22…

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Another Week Ends: Normcore, Eterni.me, Colbert’s Late Show Prospects, Post-Grad Advice, and “I Love You, Buts”

Another Week Ends: Normcore, Eterni.me, Colbert’s Late Show Prospects, Post-Grad Advice, and “I Love You, Buts”

Real quick before we get going: Conference recordings should be up early next week! Videos will roll out gradually after that. Also, we’ve pulled Eden and Afterward to make some final changes. Look for a release announcement in the next ten days.

1) Even getting out of the game is part of the game, now. In fact, it is the game de rigueur. If you thought you weren’t in a fashion trend, if you didn’t know a group existed for people who were actually dressed just like most people, now there is, and you are, and it is the innest…

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How the Pout-Pout fish Becomes the Kiss-Kiss Fish

How the Pout-Pout fish Becomes the Kiss-Kiss Fish

In my perennial search for great children’s books written by people other than the beloved Sally Lloyd-Jones (there are few), I recently came across the clearest illustration of the law (demand) and grace (love) paradigm in storybook form: The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen. The story is about sad Mr. Fish, and all the other fish of the sea, who each in their own special way tell him to smile and cheer up. You know, what’s wrong with you? Mr. Fish’s constant refrain to these well-intended yet naive advice givers goes like this:

I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face. So I spread the…

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Glimmers of Civilization (and Grace) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Glimmers of Civilization (and Grace) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

I was bonding with a friend in New York last week over our mutual affection for the new Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. After swapping a few favorite lines, he asked, with a twinkle in his eye, “So how’re you going to shoe-horn this one into your theological framework?” Quick wit that I am, I responded, “A story about adoption and inheritance that ends with an act of radical self-sacrifice – probably won’t need my shoehorn for this one”. Badabing! Obnoxious, I know. What’s even more obnoxious is that I’d been thinking for days about Grand Budapest and…

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