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Grace in Practice


The Gift of Fork and Knife Earrings (from Ruth and Billy Graham, RIP)

Sad but also not-sad to hear of Billy Graham’s death this morning – if ever there was someone who had “the sting” in perspective… Feels like the right time to post this wonderful anecdote from his grandson Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love:

One-way love is often what distinguishes a warm household from a cold one. Children often move across the country to get away from a toxic home life where two-way conditionality has come to rule the roost via the judgments of parents and other siblings. A house full of conditions feels like a prison. Rules are one thing—take out the trash; don’t hit your brother. They govern the day-to-day and protect us from one another. Conditions are different and more emotional in nature. “If you really loved us, then you wouldn’t spend so much time with those people.” “We will approve of whatever career choice you make, provided it’s between medicine, law, and business.” “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” Even small differences between family members can be the source of tremendous friction. Yet grace has the power to bind generations together.

I am fortunate to have experienced the power of one-way love not just from my parents but my grandparents as well. In fact, whenever people learn that I was kicked out of the house at sixteen, they invariably ask how my grandparents responded. What they usually mean is “How did Billy and Ruth Graham respond to actual sin in their midst?” People looked up to them, not just as spiritual leaders, but as role models for how to raise godly children and grandchildren. “Weren’t you shaming the family name?” The truth is, my grandparents never said a single word to me about getting my act together. They never pulled me aside at a family gathering and told me about how I needed to submit myself to Jesus, etc. Never. Only God knows what they were thinking or feeling, but I never picked up on a shred of judgment from them. They treated me exactly the opposite as how I deserved to be treated.

For example, I wore earrings back in those days. One in the left, and one in the right. It used to drive my parents nuts. Every time my grandmother—Ruth Graham—came down to visit, she would bring me a fresh set of earrings to wear! They were always funny. At Christmastime, she would bring me ornament earrings and make me put them in and take a picture. At Thanksgiving, she brought fork and knife earrings, and she took a picture. She made light of it. She wasn’t making fun of me. She was saying, “This isn’t that big of a deal. He’s going to grow out of it.” It may sound pretty trivial, but it meant the world to me. Everyone else was on my case, and instead of giving me one more thing to rebel against, my grandparents drew me in closer. (pg 151-52)

See also: Carrie’s post about The Crown from last week. And this momentous meeting of the minds in 1968. And bubblegum maestro Tommy James’ jaw-dropping testimony about the man’s influence on his hit “Sweet Cherry Wine.”

In Defense of Thoughts and Prayers

In Defense of Thoughts and Prayers

Tragic school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida this week are becoming an all-too-common occurrence in our culture. Ubiquitous screens and news outlets surround us as we encounter these tragedies, in a second-handed fashion, in a strange collective way (only those directly affected can experience them). As with any repeated and communal form of storytelling, the presentation of the events in the media take on a familiar, almost ritualistic form. As different as the various tragedies are, their presentation to us can seem more and more the same. Familiar breaking news graphics, talking heads, pundits and policy advocates are…

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The Immensely Disconcerting Truth About Our Adversaries

I honestly cannot say enough good things about Alan Jacobs’ How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. And that’s not just cause he’s speaking for us in NYC this year (though that doesn’t hurt). He’s put together something that’s both simple and hopeful, gently prescriptive in a way that’s more matter-of-fact than guilt-inducing, grounded in humility and refreshingly non-rationalistic (despite what the title may imply). Indeed, this short book–really a guide to uncovering the ideological blindspots and biases that’ve allowed us to turn our neighbor into an “other”–oozes compassion for our fractured culture and selves. It has helped me immensely, and continues to do so. If I had to pick a favorite chapter, it would probably be the one on “Repulsions,” from which the following paragraphs are taken. Quick note is that Jacobs is riffing here on Roger Scruton’s understanding of “unscrupulous optimism” AKA the core belief, either stated or un-, that “the difficulties and disorders of humankind can be overcome by some large-scale adjustment”:

When you believe that the brokenness of this world can be not just ameliorated but fixed, once and for all, then people who don’t share your optimism, or who do share it but invest it in a different system, are adversaries of Utopia. (An “adversary” is literally one who has turned against you, one who blocks your path.) Whole classes of people can by this logic become expendable–indeed, it can become the optimist’s perceived duty to eliminate adversaries. As a nineteenth-century pope notoriously commented, “Error has not rights.” Caught up by the momentum of his or her cause, the Optimist can easily forget the vital addendum to the papal statement made by Orestes Brownson: “Error has no rights, but the man who errs has equal rights with him who errs not.”

Over the years, I’ve had to acknowledge that some of the people whose views on education appall me are more devoted to their students than I am to mine; and that some of the people whose theological positions strike me as immensely damaging to the health of the church are nevertheless more prayerful and charitable, more Christlike, than I will ever be. This is immensely disconcerting, even when it doesn’t mean that those people are right about those matters we disagree on. Being around those people forces me to confront certain truths about myself that I would rather avoid; and that alone is reason to seek every means possible to constrain the energies of animus.

Pity, Compassion, and the Emotional Prison Where She Kept Her Parents

Pity, Compassion, and the Emotional Prison Where She Kept Her Parents

To be loved is to be known, the saying goes. Or as Tim Kreider memorably puts it, “if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.” This is what we believe makes God’s love so miraculous, so fundamentally gracious.

Of course, when it comes to other human beings, this kind of thing is risky business. Because getting to know someone in all their unkempt reality, i.e., beyond the surface facsimile, often provokes a feeling opposite to love. The problem comes when we think we know someone fully but don’t, as is…

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PZ's Podcast: Urgent

PZ’s Podcast: Urgent

EPISODE 241

People are so good at minimizing the human situation. I’ve encountered this throughout Mary’s and my ministry, right from the very start, in Silver Spring, MD.

The religious “professionals” detested my message, that the world was in incomparable conflict with itself, and that each human being experiences comparable conflict inwardly. People would say, your message is too “down”, and I just don’t like it. It’s too dark, or depressing, or gloomy.

But what actually happened is that a majority of the people listening tuned in fast! And then they started inviting their friends.

It’s not that the human condition is hopeless. With…

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Behind the Veil

Behind the Veil

This one was written by Andrew Taylor-Troutman.

“You may kiss the bride,” I said in my preacher voice just like I always did. This time the groom actually paused as if seeking permission—but not from me. He looked hesitantly at the jailer standing over his right shoulder. She nodded. So he dove in!

“Alright kids,” the jailer intoned after a few moments. Maybe that’s how jailers always talk. But this one had been smiling the whole ceremony.

~

I am a pastor’s kid, which affords insider’s perspective. So I have known for as long as I have been aware of such ceremonies…

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"Chip in My Brain": This American Life Buried the Lede

“Chip in My Brain”: This American Life Buried the Lede

Like many here at Mockingbird, I’m a big fan of This American Life and Serial/S-Town and all of those NPRish, WBEC Chicago Public Radio podcasts. I’ve been listening to the TAL podcasts for going on four years now, and “Chip in My Brain” (Jan 13, 2018) is the most compelling to date, for me. That’s a huge compliment in my opinion, because, while TAL (much like 60 Minutes) can be a bit “hit or miss,” it usually hits, and this time, I wonder if it even knows what it has stumbled upon.

Going forward here, there will be some spoilage, and that is significant….

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PZ’s Podcast: 8 Days a Week

EPISODE 240

I don’t talk about romantic love because it is worshipful in its own right. I talk about romantic love because it is the closest signpost we have to God.

Whether it’s the Beatles (“Eight Days a Week”) or Hugo (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) or Wagner (“Tannhauser”) or Jimmy Webb (“Wichita Lineman”) or James Gould Cozzens (“By Love Possessed”), the inspired listeners of the world have not failed to miss the Back Story, underneath all our ‘narratives’ and front stories, of the noble search for love and merger, the absolutely right and proper desire of every human person to merge with another human person. This Back Story underwrites every natural life. If you won’t see it — because everybody can see it — then your life will end on a note of unconquerable wistfulness.

Yet romantic life is never quite right! It is always a little “off”. This is because it calls the almost-Absolute — i.e., another human being — the Absolute — i.e., God. Romantic love, when not subsumed to God, i n e v i t a b l y disappoints, because it takes place between bodies, which decline and die; and it takes place in time, which “must have a stop” (Shakespeare/Huxley). In other words, romantic love is an almost exact dress rehearsal of the Real Thing, but not the Real Thing itself.

That is why this podcast begins with “Eight Days a Week” but ends with “Tell Me Why (You Cry)”. LUV U!

Daryl Davis: Grace, Race, and the KKK

Very excited to share this talk from our recent conference in DC, featuring the incredible blues musician Daryl Davis. Here Davis talks about how, over the course of 30 years, he made meaningful friendships with some of his greatest antagonists…members of the Ku Klux Klan. Talk about grace in practice! (Also, you won’t want to miss that boogie-woogie piano at the end!)

Daryl Davis: Grace, Race, and the KKK from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Jesus Just Makes More Sense When We Lose…

Jesus Just Makes More Sense When We Lose…

Tua Tagovailoa (the freshman QB) came off the bench after halftime last week and led Alabama to (yet another) College Football National Championship, and below was his first interview right after the game. Wow! Did he just say what I think he said? (20 seconds in). “My parents will be mad, so, first, excuse me, but I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…”

Wow! — he did say that! His parents will be mad? Why? Is it because his parents think that Jesus would probably prefer that their son give direct answers to direct questions, and not try…

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Can’t Stop the Signal: Enduring Hope for Divided Times

Been waiting for the right opportunity to post a video of this talk, which I had the privilege of giving twice this past Fall. I actually prefer the San Diego one (from the Here We Still Stand conference – sorry, DC!), partly cause it’s a little more theological, partly cause the lighting was better–read into those signals what you will. But as I was ruminating on a possible ‘state of the union’-type New Years post, I realized it contained a good deal of what I’d want to say:

p.s. As you’ll discover, you can hear but not see the clips I reference. The second one makes sense without the video (read a description), but the first one from Curb Your Enthusiasm is a lot funnier if you can see Larry’s face.

Let's Not Talk About Money (With PZ)

Let’s Not Talk About Money (With PZ)

I’ve got stories, good ones, I mean, good ones. Working behind the scenes in church ministry for over a decade, even as a layperson, you build up a huge archive of unbelievable things you’ve seen. I’ve often thought they would make for a good book. Here are a few sample chapter titles:

I’m 99% sure the tech volunteer is in the witness relocation program.

Household idol trafficking in the church parking lot.

At this point, fewer guns in the sanctuary would be a win.

And many, many more. The thing is — I can’t tell these stories, because, honestly, I don’t want to tell…

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