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Death

Death in a Penthouse Apartment

Death in a Penthouse Apartment

About two months ago, my five housemates and I began to notice a strange, persistent odor emanating from the left bathroom of our “penthouse” (read: dingy attic) apartment. For close to a week no one said anything, all suspecting each other of some unmentionable mishap we couldn’t prove. Of course, we ourselves couldn’t be the culprit, but surely someone had to be responsible for the funk. It was a tense time we spent giving each other the sidelong through squinted eyes.

Days passed and we began to give up on each other’s good will and ability to do right, so we…

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We’re All Gonna Die: Sufjan Stevens and the Unavoidable Reality

We’re All Gonna Die: Sufjan Stevens and the Unavoidable Reality

This one comes to us from Connor Gwin:

It was perhaps one of the most interesting gatherings of people that I have ever seen. Bearded, flannel-clad hipsters crowding into a concert venue next to political operatives in dark suits wrinkled by the days ordeals. Teenagers with their parents, young and old couples, friends and strangers – the whole muddled mess of humanity gathered in DAR Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. to see Sufjan Stevens.

While not up-to-date with his current work, I still had a place in my heart for his warbling falsetto when a friend of mine offered me a ticket…

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Eight Must-See 30 for 30s: A Magazine List

Eight Must-See 30 for 30s: A Magazine List

Another list from Issue 4, this one covers all that the sports world could not leave behind:

It would seem that the reach of ESPN’s 30 for 30 project surprised even ESPN. One might have imagined that a selection of human-interest stories and documentaries from the nether regions of the sports world could have some cult potential for the multitude of fans out there, but people are almost always surprised to know that there are more than just 30 of these documentaries under the franchise’s belt. They are also not 30 minutes long, another misconception. No, the reason for the name 30…

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Imagining Death: New Hope from the Anatomy Lab

Imagining Death: New Hope from the Anatomy Lab

This comes from Mockingfriend Lex Booth. 

A. On your whole brain specimens, cut horizontal sections to dissect the dorsal cerebrum bilaterally down to the level of the corpus callosum using ~1cm thick slices. Please keep the blade wet throughout this lab.

I’m nearing the end of my first year in medical school, and the other day I dissected a brain. For those of you who might be wondering, I’d say the consistency lands somewhere between tofu and Jello, but apparently the formaldehyde makes everything look and feel different. Either way, that stuff smells nasty.

After a semester of hurrying in the anatomy lab…

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Cold Dead Hands: The Everything and Nothing of a Clean Slate (A Conference Preview)

This morning’s conference preview comes from Sarah Condon. Oh, and may we refer you to the (ridiculous!) menu we’re offering at the conference? Goodness.

After an especially long days at Casa Condon, when the kids are demanding, the husband is cranky, and I am starting to treat my family like there’s a camera crew from Bravo about to capture my own personal breakthrough/breakdown, one thought often comes into my mind: Someday, I get to be dead. Gosh, that’s going to be nice. Everything will be quiet.

shutterstock_201599033But the news of a Clean Slate rolls in and tells me I already am dead. Or, at least I am in the process of dying. I have been given a Clean Slate in Christ and in the immortal words of Mbird favorite Robert Farrar Capon:

The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn’t going to flunk you because your faith isn’t so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.

I also want to talk about what we mean when we trot out the much beloved Romans 6, “Dead to sin, alive in Christ.” What do we mean by this death? What do we lose by dying? And are we really the ones who choose to give it up?

If you’re thinking this sounds dark, you are right on the money. But if you’re sick of acting like Starbucks platitudes are life-giving, then join us for this talk. We’ve got a club and a handshake. And the only requirement is inevitable death.

The world tells us we can control our behavioral destinies. We can make choices to improve ourselves and our nasty, hidden habits. Well, bullhockey. I don’t think we do anything, except that we start dying. And God, in all of His mercy, pries our #bestlifenow from our cold dead hands. And offers us the sweet relief of a Clean Slate. Clean of our heartbreak. Clean of our grudges. Clean of our sin.

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty One Verses Four and Five

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty One Verses Four and Five

A Holy Week-appropriate reflection from Paul Zahl, via The Mockingbird Devotional.

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.’” (RSV)

Palm Sunday is a day in the Christian Calendar, and a day in history, that could define the word “irony.”

It depicts the advance on Jerusalem of the city’s “King,” but in the form of a man seated on a donkey. It begins a week of ‘triumphal entry’ that only ends in…

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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.

The Mercy of Heaven: A Reflection on Jürgen Moltmann’s Death-Row Penpal

The Mercy of Heaven: A Reflection on Jürgen Moltmann’s Death-Row Penpal

Here at Mbird we spend a good deal of time hemming and hawing against the myth of humanism – that we are free to shape our own destinies, unconstrained, or mostly unconstrained, by our past, circumstances, and vices – unbound, that is, to our deeply distorted wills. The facts dismantle this myth quickly: the fact that the worst human atrocities have been committed in our most advanced century, that New Year’s resolutions quickly dwindle into February guilt, that the decades in our lives when we’re advancing and progressing tend to be the most unhappy ones. When people actually do change for the better, it…

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Why Ash Wednesday Is Nadia’s Favorite Day of the Church Year

A couple years ago our Spring Conference speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber posted a couple reflections on why she loves Ash Wednesday and Lent. Every year since I’ve found myself ripping her off. To wit:

AmRzkRlCMAAFt0UAsh Wednesday is my favorite day of the church year and Lent is my favorite season. Our culture has quite ruined Christmas and Easter with Santa and the Easter bunny and all the grotesque consumerism and made for TV specials behind all of it. But oddly nobody waits every year to watch the Ash Wednesday Peanuts Special. There are no Doorbuster sales at 4am on the first day of Lent. There are no big garish displays in the middle of Cherry Creek Mall with mechanical Children in sack cloth and ashes. Nope. We get this one all to ourselves. Our culture has no idea what to do with a day that celebrates the fact that we all sin and are going to die…

I love to talk about sin, which makes little sense to people who want to label me as a liberal. I think perhaps that actual liberals equate admitting we are sinful with having low self esteem. And then the conservatives equate sin with immorality… So one end of the church tells us that sin is an antiquated notion that only makes us feel bad about ourselves so we should avoid mentioning it at all. While the other end of the church tells us that sin is the same as immorality and totally avoidable if you are just a good squeaky clean Christian.

But when sin is boiled down to low self esteem and immorality then it becomes something we can control or limit in some way rather than something we are bondage to. The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self. I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can… I am trying to do what is only God’s to do…

There’s no shame in the truth that our lives on earth will all end and that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. It’s not depressing. What’s depressing is the desperation of trying to pretend otherwise. What’s depressing is to insist that I can free myself I just haven’t managed to pull it off yet. What is so wonderful about Ash Wednesday and Lent is that through being marked with the cross and reminded of our own mortality we are free. We are free to hear the song of our own salvation which tells of Christ who offers life and forgiveness.

The 21 Beheaded Egyptians Make Me Proud to Be a Christian

The 21 Beheaded Egyptians Make Me Proud to Be a Christian

From Cairo to Rome and beyond, the reaction to the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS has been swift and profound: anger and condemnation, sadness and solidarity. Yet, as I have thought over this horrific event, another emotion has swelled within in me: pride. For while the Islamic State considers itself to be following in the footsteps of its religious founder and leader (see here,  here and here), the 21 Egyptians were undoubtedly following in the footsteps of theirs.

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent…

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Living By Grace (and According to Frankenstein) – Matthew Fenlon

Watch out, here comes another session from the Houston Conference:

Living by Grace (and According to Frankenstein) – Matthew Fenlon from Mockingbird on Vimeo.