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Grace in Practice


Spiritual Podiatry

It’s true: our feet tell the story of where we’ve been. Whether we like it or not, they record the terrain we’ve traversed, from the immediate substances tracked in – mud and dirt and chewing gum – to the deeper battering caused by missteps and accidents and just life. Not surprisingly, our feet are seldom the first thing we show other people. They’re covered, protected, hidden. Unless we’re in flip-flops.

Our feet, in other words, contain our age. One of the most beautiful things about a baby is how soft and pristine their feet are. No callouses or bunions or weird hairs. An adult foot, on the other hand… I remember being so grossed out by my father’s feet as a boy (to say nothing of my grandfather’s). Nowhere on the body was the discrepancy in our ages more pronounced.

There’s something democratizing about feet. The opening paragraph of David Foster Wallace’s Broom of the System has always stayed with me:

“Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. They’re long and thin and splay-toed, with buttons of yellow callus on the little toes and a thick stair-step of it on the back of the heel, and a few long black hairs are curling out of the skin at the tops of the feet, and the red nail polish is cracking and peeling in curls and candy-striped with decay.”

You could say that unlike most body parts, feet tend to be a source of commiseration rather than comparison, a body part that places us all on similar, er, footing. It’s no coincidence that Jerry Seinfeld once quipped about one of Elaine’s boyfriends, “He’s not a doctor, he’s a podiatrist.”

How do we deal with our feet? Some of us get really into shoes, I suppose. We spend exorbitant amounts of money on that pair which can most transform the appendage into something attractive or exotic or extra-performative. Come to find out, the shiniest surfaces have a way of suffocating the puppies within.

Of course, many of us simply avoid and ignore our feet. It’s not that tough, since they’re the furthest thing from our face. We all remember the key plot point in Shawshank Redemption: Andy Dufresne is able to escape from jail because people tend not to look at other people’s feet.

On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus and his relationship to feet. Remember, we hear next to nothing about his facial features in the New Testament. Yet his feet get a number of mentions (his sandals too). We hear about people sitting at them, we hear about people anointing them–and not anointing them. Ultimately, we read about him showing his disciples “the full extent of his love” by going for–you guessed it–their feet. (John 13)

It’s remarkable, really: he knows the end is near, and this is how he chooses to spend their final moments together. Apparently he’s not interested in what they think makes them presentable, but what doesn’t–that which they’re ignoring or avoiding or covering up, the grime they’ve accumulated, their most unglamorous common aspect.

That’s where he goes to work. Doing for them what they cannot do for themselves. Rinse, absorb, repeat.

Just like Mr. Clean. And just like another Mister we know and love:

The Gospel According to Beauty and the Beast

The Gospel According to Beauty and the Beast

Well, Disney, you did it again. You brought yet another animated classic to life with stunning costumes and incredible effects, transporting every audience member back to her childhood.

I am referring, of course, to Beauty and the Beast. Although a more seasoned film critic might find fault with aspects of the movie—yes, parts are slightly hokey and some of the acting is off—I would advise against arguing about the quality of the movie with a 90s kid who grew up on this story and was thrilled at the idea of enjoying it again. I loved every minute of it. I laughed. I…

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You Complete Me? Grace, Loneliness and the Religion of Romance – David Zahl

Carrying on with the videos from Tyler, here’s the first of the breakouts, courtesy of DZ:

You Complete Me?: Grace, Loneliness and the Religion of Romance ~ David Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

“Mockingbird Turns 10” Interviews: Sarah Condon

“Mockingbird Turns 10” Interviews: Sarah Condon

This is the second installment in a series of monthly-ish interviews between myself and various Mockingbird writers and members of the Mockingbird community. These posts will explore some aspects of each individual’s personal story and some aspects of Mockingbird’s larger story and ministry as we celebrate its 10th Anniversary. My subject this time was The Rev. Sarah Condon.

Charlotte Donlon: How has your involvement with Mockingbird impacted you over the past several years?

Sarah Condon: It’s changed the kind of priest I am. I think that’s fundamental. Had I stayed in seminary on the path I was headed, I think I would’ve quit by…

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How Low Can You Go? The Soul of the Gospel – Paul Zahl

The opening talk from Tyler is here! As as you’ll see, it was really something else:

How Low Can You Go?: The Soul of the Gospel ~ Paul Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Unshackle the Should: An Overlong Post on the Art of Failure (and the Failure of Art)

Unshackle the Should: An Overlong Post on the Art of Failure (and the Failure of Art)

I had the honor of presenting earlier this week at “The Art of Failure” event here in Charlottesville, alongside Invisbilia co-host Lulu Miller and musician Devon Sproule. You can listen to all of the recordings on the Christ Church site, but here’s the modified/edited transcript, the first portion of which is adapted from A Mess of Help. Sincerest thanks to New City Arts and The Garage for co-sponsoring! What a fabulous evening.

In 1966, The Walker Brothers reportedly had a bigger fan club in the UK than The Beatles. Boggles the mind but it’s the truth, or close to it. The…

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Dear Reformation, It’s Not You It’s Me: Theology We Love to Hate – Sarah Condon

The first video from Tyler is here! And as you’ll see, the footage fills in a number of blanks from the recording, so if you’ve yet to listen to the audio, definitely start here. The good Rev. Condon brought the house down – truly one for the ages (and an immediate addition to the “I’m New Here” page). Asshats not included sadly:

Dear Reformation, It’s Not You, It’s Me: Theology We Love to Hate ~ Sarah Condon from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

P.S. We’ll have PZ’s opening talk soon – the separate venue made for a slight delay.

“Logan” (Wolverine) – The Incarnate Superman

“Logan” (Wolverine) – The Incarnate Superman

I’ve never been a Superman guy. I think that started when he reversed the rotation of the earth to save Lois Lane. It just seemed sooo…lame. My logic was simple: if a superhero is so strong that he can (one) stop the earth’s movement, and (two) PUSH IT BACK in the opposite direction, who can beat him? For me, buying into Superman was like randomly deciding that I was a Cowboys fan who never lived in Texas, or a Yankees fan who had never traveled west of the Mississippi. Superman fandom felt like “front-runnerism” — i.e. “I’ve picked the best…

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“You Impute Me”: Thoughts on Rude Patients and Kind Teachers

“You Impute Me”: Thoughts on Rude Patients and Kind Teachers

I’m still reflecting on Sarah Condon’s excellent talk at Mockingbird Tyler last week, particularly her discussion of imputation. Once you see imputation in action, it is hard not to notice its presence and absence all over the place.

Take my newsfeed this week. The New York Times ran an article called, “What Happens When Parents are Rude in the Hospital.” A researcher at Tel Aviv University investigated simulated crisis scenarios in a neonatal ICU. Actors, posing as parents of tiny patients, gave a variety of feedback to the medical staff. For example, one rude “mother” in the study emoted…

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What Once Was Lost

What Once Was Lost

I have two older sisters who both grew up to be teachers. They are about ten years older than I am, and we lived in a very rural part of Wisconsin, and there was no cable or internet at our house. In other words, we had a lot of time on our hands, and my sisters used that time to teach me how to read and write and do math. And so, by the time I got to kindergarten, I could read fairly proficiently, while other children were still picking out the letters in their names.

When I complained to my…

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The Magic in Magical Thinking

The Magic in Magical Thinking

“…conscious uncoupling…”

“…and Mexico will pay for it!”

“We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

We cannot help it. Humans desperately need to square the circle. I want to find a cosmic thread or Special Sauce that allows the New York Football Giants to somehow, over about 6 coaching changes and zillions of players post-LT/Simms, to somehow get to the Super Bowl every year.

That is Magical Thinking.

But not every illogical extrapolation is as delusional as the Giants making the Super Bowl in the next few years. Not all desire-driven reality-bnding is magical. Heroin, smoking, and bacon have no objective merit: to…

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Roll Credits: Freedom, Grace and the Neverending Sequel – David Zahl

Here is the grand finale video/talk from our recent Mockingbird event in Dallas, “Grace on the Big Screen.” Enjoy!

Roll Credits: Freedom, Grace and the Neverending Sequel – David Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.