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From the Archives: God Is Not The Archives

From the Archives: God Is Not The Archives

A throwback from Adam Morton. 

One great benefit of regularly preaching and teaching from the Bible in exchange for money, aside from the money itself (fine, not spectacular), is that it forces me into confrontation with portions of scripture that would otherwise escape notice. My spiritual discipline is inadequate to compel this in any other way. Take that under advisement as you read. By the call of God I have a certain limited authority, and by sheer divine grace expressed through good genes I have fair powers of recall–nevertheless, my knowledge of chapter and verse would not impress anyone who has long made…

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This Is Babylon

This Is Babylon

A moving piece by Jay Wamsted:

I leave my room and head downstairs, paperwork in hand. Today is my first day back from an extended absence, and I have to get my principal to sign a form stating that I have, indeed, returned to work. He is not in his office, and though I briefly debate taking off for other errands, I decide to hang out in the lobby of the high school where I teach, catching up with a couple of colleagues I have not seen in some weeks. Our conversation is interrupted, however, when across the atrium I see…

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Theology Lessons from a Ghetto Star

Theology Lessons from a Ghetto Star

Another amazing one from our friend Chad Bird. 

When the phone rang at his friend’s house, Tommy Shakur Ross picked up the receiver. And into his ears fell razor-sharp words that would keep falling and falling, shredding his insides in their violent descent…

Tommy—who goes by Shakur—was a member of the L.A. gang, the Eight Trays. Raised by a minister father and church-going mother, Shakur discovered within the gang a new identity, a new culture, new aspirations. He even received a new name; he became Joker.

But despite his moniker, Joker was dead serious. He was out to earn a reputation, score points,…

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The Celebration Department

The Celebration Department

I want to be clear about something from the very start: I adore my cell phone. From the very first time I found myself in the grocery store, not knowing if my wife wanted tuna fish packed in water or in oil and I was actually able to call and find out, I was in love. I like social media, being able to keep up with my friends…GPS maps…weather prediction…google at my fingertips…it’s all incredible. I do admit, though, to a certain disturbing compulsion with the phone. Whenever there’s a moment in which nothing else is going on, I feel…

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When God Leaves It Unresolved

When God Leaves It Unresolved

As it goes when its 90-plus outside and no body of water is cold enough to cool you off, much of my time the past few weeks has been spent on the couch, in the air conditioning, streaming television. Lately, Hannah and I were recommended the crooked-cop show, Line of Duty, and in the past couple weeks we have sped through three seasons. It’s a terrific show, the best kind of cop show, where the dialogue is smart and the plot twists are both conceivable and completely unforeseeable. As expected, we start with one episode in mind and, bleary-eyed and…

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The God of Order and the God of Cabbage Hill

The God of Order and the God of Cabbage Hill

Most Sundays you can find me in the pulpit of an imposing brick church on the western edge of downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. One-way streets join in odd angles and strange numbers before its disused front doors; Cabbage Hill at once rises and descends behind it into a labyrinth of narrow alleys, overhead power lines, and crumbling Edwardian row houses. Not a hundred feet out of sight is our parking lot, one of very few in that corner of the city, but woe to the one who seeks it without aid of GPS. I have on occasion suggested a sign for…

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Freedom in Christ, or, How Can We Do What You Do…On The Dance Floor ~ Drew Rollins

A timely meditation from the best dancer hands down at this year’s EpiscoDisco, Drew Rollins. From our recent conference in NYC:

Devotion: Freedom in Christ or How Can We Do What You Do…On The Dance Floor ~ Drew Rollins from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty Verses One Through Sixteen

“…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, NRSV)

We humans are in love with justice. It is probably one of the most recurring themes in cultural expression since the Stone Age. Today, it’s not just that we have our Judge Judy and Law & Order courtroom obsessions—we also just love the narrative of justice served. This is Quentin Tarantino’s shtick (Kill Bill and, more recently, Django Unchained), and this is why his movies are so critically successful. They playfully enter into a long line of comeuppances and vengeance stories that people have loved since their dawn-of-time inception.

More than just the retributive brand of justice—of bad guys getting what’s coming to them—we are also fascinated with the restorative form. Politicians, policy-makers, and administrators all use words like “social justice” and “the common good” and “equality” to talk about defending the defenseless and bringing up the lowly. This is a very good and true thing—the Bible itself speaks highly of advocacy for the poor.

But it seems that we only want this kind of advocacy for others so long as it is expressed in terms of “deserving.” One of the most glaring examples of this is the feel-good era of reality television, like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. We’ve all seen it: Ty Pennington yells aloud, “Move that bus!” and a disadvantaged family is captured, mouths agape, before their brand new house, their excessively nice cars, their new full-size basketball court. For a moment, it feels like the cosmos has been generously righted, but in truth, this kind of generosity is only warranted for the “right” kind of poor. These programs—and people in general—are comfortable with generosity only as a leg up for the hardworking, stand-up variety of unfortunates. Generosity for us does not mean blind “handouts,” but trustworthy “investments” with reimbursements. (I wonder how long these shows would last if the same generosity landed upon chronic gamblers, crooks, and sexual deviants?)

This is what Jesus is saying about the human brand of justice in relation to God’s. As Feist sang, “There’s a limit to your love.” The kind of deep generosity we may accept for ourselves runs counter to the deep judgment we hope others get. This parable gives a new—and too-often revolting—take on equality: everyone gets this generosity, without repayment plans, starting with those who deserve it least.

Couldn’t Never Figure Out How to Love: When a Rebel Breaks the Chain

Couldn’t Never Figure Out How to Love: When a Rebel Breaks the Chain

In the town where I live, I’ve noticed the word “LOVE” cropping up in sneaky places, spray-painted on highway signs and under bridges. Under one particular bridge, it’s repeated over and over, almost urgently: LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE, as if it were—and I think it is—the key to life.

What makes Jesus one of the great moral teachers, right up there with Gandhi and MLK, even to atheists and agnostics, is that love was of utmost importance to him. On the night of his betrayal, he spoke to a small group of his most trusted followers: “A new commandment I…

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What Is It About Fargo?

What Is It About Fargo?

This past week, the third season wrapped up in FX’s Fargo. Just like the first two seasons, I remain blown away that show creator Noah Hawley and company have continued to create new narrative worlds that fit so perfectly into the landscape of the Coen brothers’ original film. What I’m writing here below is not just for those who have seen this season—the final episode of this season just got me thinking about what it is exactly that makes the show’s (and the original film’s) storytelling so compelling, beyond the impressive cinematography and soundtrack and Minnesotan accents and Peter and…

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Jesus Christ the Pelican Mother

Here at Mbird HQ, sometimes you get an advance copy of a book from a publisher and you’re not exactly thrilled about opening it. This one, though, is an exception. It is a prayer book from the days of Shakespeare, written by layman (and playwright) Thomas Dekker. The book is divided into four parts, each part a “bird,” or form of prayer, flying from Noah’s Ark. The notion of the Ark as the human body/experience is a powerful one. This is Dekker’s introduction to his third bird, The Pelican. You can pre-order the book here.

The third bird that I call out of Noah’s ark is the Pelican. The nature of the Pelican is to peck her own bosom and with the drops of her blood to feed her young ones. Christ, the Son of God, is the Pelican whose blood was shed to feed us. The physician made a medicine of his own body to cure us. Look upon him well, and behold his wounds bleeding, his head bowed down (as if to kiss us), his very sides opened (as if to show how his heart loved us), his arms stretched out to their length (as if to embrace us). And judge by all these if Christ be not our truest Pelican.

He who was King of Heaven and Earth suffered his brow to wear a crown of thorns. He received wounds that are our health. He tasted the bitterness of death that is our salvation—what Pelican can do more for her young ones?

Our souls were spotted: Sin had pawned them, sin had lost them, sin had made them foul. All the medicine in the world could not purge our corruption, all the fountains in the world could not wash our spots, all the gold and silver on earth could not redeem our forfeitures, all the kings under heaven could not pay our ransoms. Nothing could free us from captivity but to make Christ a prisoner. Nothing could give us life but the heavenly Pelican’s death.

From Matt Johnson’s Getting Jesus Wrong

Another great find from our friend Luke Mackinnon.

Getting Jesus Wrong, written by Matt Johnson, is an insightful invitation to give up spiritual vitamins and checklist Christianity. The freelance writer and editor gives a breath of fresh air to the worn out soul trying to follow caricatures of Jesus that are far from the Jesus we read about in the Bible. Johnson assures us that life does not become better by swallowing religious pills or crossing things off inventories, but becomes better by God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice. This comes from the chapter titled “The Problem,” and it unearths our tendency to shove Jesus into the mold we want him to be instead of grasping his true essence and character on the cross.

Everyone has an image of Jesus they prefer, a Jesus who values what they value: Tough-guy Jesus, Wise Sage Jesus, Bearded, Tattooed, Skinny Jeans Jesus, Khakis and Polo Shirt Jesus, Suit and Tie Conservative Jesus, or Social Revolutionary Jesus. On a deeper level, our personal images of Jesus reveal that we think the Christian faith is about furthering our hopes and dreams, and that Jesus is the primary catalyst for getting us where we want to be in life. This is another way of saying, in the words of Gerhard Forde, we all are ‘inverted theologians of glory.’ When we operate within the glory-story paradigm, it reveals we’re in love with all the attractiveness of power, influence, success, or possessions, and we call it being ‘blessed.’ We’re encouraged by all the cliché slogans ‘reach for the stars’ and ‘don’t give up on your dreams,’ but then like a flaky boyfriend or girlfriend, when we don’t ‘feel the chemistry’ anymore, when real life really falls apart, suddenly our relationship with Jesus is on shaky ground…

God works in ways that are the opposite of our lofty imaginings. If we take the story of Jesus at bare-bones face value, he wasn’t a great success. God sent Jesus into the world to be born in a barn. He was born into scandal (imagine the naysayers: ‘Yeah, right, Mary conceived of the “Holy Spirit”’), he worked a regular job, he didn’t study under a famous Rabbi, he claimed he was God, many people thought he was crazy or demon possessed, and he was executed like a criminal. In our day and age where only good things in life constitute being blessed, it would seem that Jesus was anything but.

It’s only by faith that we can grasp the God reveals his character on the cross. On the cross, God subverted everything we intuitively understand about power. ‘Of all the places to search for God, the last place most people would think to look is the gallows.’ Instead of demanding power for himself and presenting himself as a God who ‘… could knock heads and straighten people out when they got out of line…,’ God, in Christ, laid down his power and died for us.