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To Tide You Over: Capon Closes Down the Religion Shop

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Hopefully you’ve all heard the big news by now: Mockingbird has been given the wonderful privilege of bringing back to life 5 out-of-print books by our favorite salty lamb, Robert Farrar Capon, beginning with a previously unpublished manuscript to be released around Christmastime! To support this endeavor click here. Meanwhile, our greasy fingers are flipping through the texts as we speak.

To help tide you over, here’s an excerpt from Capon’s chef-d’œu·vre Kingdom, Grace, Judgment (still in print), a study on the parables of Jesus. The excerpt below responds to hypothetical objections to Capon’s emphasis on death and free grace: “Grace works only in those who accept their lostness,” he writes on page 204. “Jesus came to call sinners, not the pseudo-righteous; he came to raise the dead, not to buy drinks for the marginally alive.” In an interlude on pages 252-253, he continues:

“What ever happened,” you want to object, “to the positive idea of Christian living? If all we have to do to be saved is drop dead, why bother even trying to live–especially, why bother to be good, loving, or moral? Why not just go out and sin all we like? What role have you left for religion in the world, if everybody is going to get home free for nothing?” …

167935703_200acd7747_zWhat role have I left for religion? None. And I have left none because the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.

The reason for not going out and sinning all you like is the same as the reason for not going out and putting your nose in a slicing machine: it’s dumb, stupid and no fun. Some individual sins may have pleasure still attached to them because of the residual goodness of the realities they are abusing: adultery can indeed be pleasant, and tying one on can amuse. But betrayal, jealously, love grown cold, and the gray dawn of the morning after are nobody’s idea of a good time.

On the other hand, there’s no use belaboring that point, because it never stopped anybody. And neither did religion. The notion that people won’t sin as long as you keep them well supplied with guilt and holy terror is a bit overblown. Giving the human race religious reasons for not sinning is about as useful as reading lectures to an elephant in rut. We have always, in the pinches, done what we damn pleased, and God has let us do it. His answer to sin is not to scream “Stop that!” but to shut up once and for all on the subject in Jesus’ death.

The Irresistible Father: Grace in The Water Diviner

The Irresistible Father: Grace in The Water Diviner

I know it may not have received very good reviews, but Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner may be one of the greatest movies I have ever seen.

In my opinion, it’s better than The Mission. It’s better than Of Gods and Men. It may even be better than Red Beard.

Why? It’s because you don’t see it coming. You have no idea of the irresistible grace that is headed your way as you watch the movie unfold.  And it hits you, again, and again (and again).

Russell Crowe portrays an Australian farmer, Joshua Connor, who allows his three sons to enlist with the ANZAC troops in World War I….

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Richard Rohr on Why We Kiss the Cross

Richard Rohr on Why We Kiss the Cross

The “performance principle” is a guiding mythology that, according to Richard Rohr, guides the first half of our religious lives. It is the mythology that suggests we are defined, more or less, by our achievement. It is also a mythology that is rooted in and propelled by fear: the expectation of punishment. Our achievements are meant to secure for us a way out of this punishment. In short, we live to prove. I don’t know a better summation of the Law.

What must happen, then, is death. Our first self must die. Thankfully, as Rohr’s meditation illustrates, this is the nature of the cross…

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Condemned By Illness to Passivity

Condemned By Illness to Passivity

This amazing passage from Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology is perhaps the best reading of Mark 2 ever written. As we prepare for the Mental Health Issue, it has much to say about Christ’s office being (quite literally here) at the end of our rope. And that pastoral care–in every facet, from simple friendship to hospital chaplaincy–does not mean giving power to those who are powerless over their afflictions, but instead digging the grave they are too powerless to dig for themselves.

The pastoral dimensions for the healing of the person with schizoid characteristics can be seen in the Gospel record of the healing…

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The Ubiquity of Grief (and How I Tried to Climb the Ladder)

The Ubiquity of Grief (and How I Tried to Climb the Ladder)

Another powerful one from our friend Connor Gwin. 

Last year I wrote a piece for Mockingbird about grief and Sufjan Stevens. I wrote about the cathartic experience I had at a Sufjan Stevens concert featuring his newest album (Carrie & Lowell) which centered on the death of his mother.

It has now been two years since my father died and I am still grieving. Do you know how frustrating that is for me? I believed the cultural maxim that eventually things would return to “normal” and I would “move on”. I believed that if I allowed myself to feel my feelings in the…

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From the Archives: The Saddest Epidemic of All

From the Archives: The Saddest Epidemic of All

Had every intention of re-running this last week, in observance of national Mental Health Awareness month. Apologies!

I was shocked by something a couple of years ago. At our Fall conference in Charlottesville (Sept 2012), RJ Heijmen showed a clip of a father telling the story of his son’s suicide and the emotional and spiritual agony it caused. The man’s words could not have possibly been heavier, and I almost questioned whether we had crossed a line. But that wasn’t what shocked me. What shocked me was the number of people who approached me afterward to share a similar story. Nearly…

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UnREAL Season 1, Part 2: Death by Suicide, Death to Self-Pity

UnREAL Season 1, Part 2: Death by Suicide, Death to Self-Pity

This is part two in a series on UnREAL, a Lifetime drama returning for its second season on June 6. You’ll find part one here. Mega-super-nuclear-option spoiler alert: the following discloses the ending of the show’s first season.

Reality TV often has an ambience of controlled insanity. The contestants act in violent, conniving, or erratic ways, and one can legitimately wonder how many are (a) truly acting or (b) truly mentally ill. In the latter category, were they chosen because of their illness by cynical producers? Are the producers exacerbating antisocial behavior in mentally ill contestants, or are the producers (probably pleasantly) surprised? The uncertainty is…

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Angels with an Incredible Capacity for Beer: A 1986 Interview with Brennan Manning

Angels with an Incredible Capacity for Beer: A 1986 Interview with Brennan Manning

Before The Babylon Bee, there was The Wittenburg Door, a satirical Christian journal with some serious humor–a cartoon called “Dogs Who Know the Lord”, fake news headlines, a Theologian of the Year (with winners like Xena Warrior Princess and Mister T)–all pointed in cornball fashion at the Church and its bizarre inner- and outer-workings. Our mentor and spirit-guide Robert Farrar Capon was, in fact, a “Keeper of the Door”–he started a column series he called “Pietro and Madeleine,” a theological love story (of sorts). But The Door, as it later became known, also did some very serious interviews. In these interviews, they were both just playing…

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The Sultry Sounds of Vin Scully and the “Jack Rabbit Resurrection”

88-year-old Vin Scully has been doing Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers’ games for 60+ years. He’s always been the “Garrison Keillor of Sports Broadcasting” – weaving yarn after yarn between pitches to keep listeners engaged (the vast majority of his work having been on radio). In this, his final season, Scully has become a social media phenomenon with this true tale he told in a Giant-Dodger game last week. Madison Bumgarner (pitcher pictured here) and his wife, are the story’s hero/heroine:

The Good News About Death: Your Story Can’t Make It Out Alive – Sarah Condon

Continuing with the videos of our Tyler talks, here’s Sarah’s keynote from Saturday. Can’t wait to hear what she cooks up for NYC!

The Good News About Death: Your Story Can’t Make It Out Alive – Sarah Condon from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

The Relief of Grief: A Conference Breakout Preview

Here’s our latest preview of a conference breakout session! For more relief, honesty and good news, join us during our upcoming conference in NYC, April 14-16.

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If I’m completely honest with you, which I typically am, I’d have to confess that death scares me. Whether it’s walking through the grief of losing loved ones or facing the Grim Reaper’s bony finger pointed in my own direction, death makes me quake in the deepest and most intimate fibers of my being. On my worst days, I’m quite certain that if Lestat de Lioncourt himself knocked on my front door, I’d not only willingly open said door, but cast my very person upon him begging for both bite and bodice.

I know I’m not alone with these feelings about death–both the fear of and the grief from. While you may not have contemplated embracing vampiric life, there are things you do to run from, ignore, suppress, etc., those feelings of fear and grief brought on by the reality of death. Whether it’s by the pursuit of healthy life and healthy body or by taking on helicopter relationality with all those whom we love and can’t bare to lose, we try, by our own strength, to keep death at bay….at far, far, far bay.

The good news lies apart from The Vampire Chronicles and outside of ourselves and our meager and feable attemps to protect ourselves and others (and that in and of iself is good news, too). The good news lies in Jesus Christ and that he says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:4). And I’d like to be bold and add to that, “Blessed are those who are afraid, for they shall be comforted, too.”

So, this is what my break out session, “The Relief of Grief,” is all about: the Word of Jesus Christ (who is the Word), the Gospel of the jusification of sinners, that comes to us from with-out us in to the midst of our grief and fear brought on by death to bring us true and real comfort and relief.

So come and join me; Vampires welcome.

Pre-register here!

Hopelessly Devoted: John Twelve Verse Twenty Four

Hopelessly Devoted: John Twelve Verse Twenty Four

This one comes to us from Luke Roland.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Lately I’ve been meeting with a lot of clergy. They have unanimously said the same thing to me, “you are going through a slow death-like experience!” I feel like I should start preparing for some sort of weird metaphorical funeral.

Here lies Luke Roland the dearly departed. Or as Richard Pryor so eloquently says:

“We are gathered here today on this sorrowful occasion to say goodbye to the…

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