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Grace in Practice

From Grace in Practice: The Problem with Christianity

Here’s another excerpt from Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice, from pages 36-38, in the sections entitled “What is Grace?” and “Grace in the New Testament.”

otis-redding-try-a-little-tend-290448In 1965 Joe Meek produced a would-be pop single that was sung by Bobby Rio and The Revelles and was entitled “Value for Love.” It was a great tune, but, like almost everything Joe Meek produced, it only grazed the Top Thirty. The lyrics were wildly false. The singer keeps telling the girl she should go for him because he is “good value for love.” He is “worth” her falling for him. Sure, Bobby Rio! That line never works. It never will. It is all weights and measures. Grace is one-way love.

The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. You can find this out for yourself by taking a simple inventory of your own happiness, or the moments of happiness you have had. They have almost always had to do with some incident of love or belatedness that has come to you from someone outside yourself when you were down. You felt ugly or sinking in confidence, and somebody complimented you, or helped you, or spoke a kind word to you. You were at the end of your rope and someone showed a little sympathy. This is the message of Otis Redding’s immortal 1962 song, “Try a Little Tenderness.” […]

One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved. Speaking in terms of Christian theology, God loves the world in a kind of reverse relationship to its moral unfitness. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In the dimension of grace, one-way love is inscrutable or irrational not only because it is out of relation with any intrinsic circumstances on the part of the receiver. One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to he specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murderers and abusers, the people who cross the line. God has a heart — his one-way love — for sinners. This is the problem with Christianity. This piece of logical and ethical incongruity and inappropriateness is the problem with Christianity.

From Grace in Practice: “Grace in Everyday Life”

From Grace in Practice: “Grace in Everyday Life”

The following is an excerpt from pages 73-76 of Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life by Paul F. M. Zahl. Soak it up!

Grace has the power of the mallet. Every other prong and heavy-lifting device that seeks to change people is an expression of law and accomplishes the opposite of what it intends. People fear that grace will give permission to be bad. This is the classic fear: that grace will issue in a license–“007”–to do whatever you want, without consequences.

Yet that never happens! In fact, the opposite happens. When you treat people gracefully, they always end up…

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Capon and Cupcakes: My Daughter’s Baptism

Capon and Cupcakes: My Daughter’s Baptism

I’m a new mom stuck in a game where no matter how skilled I might be at changing a blowout diaper on the side of the road in a pencil skirt or making a chicken salad without too much mayo for my husband, I lose. An illustration for you: our daughter was baptized a couple weeks ago, and I must admit that I had been daydreaming about her big day for quite a while (for a variety of reasons, some holier than others).

Amidst my daydreams, I naturally would smile thinking about the waters of baptism running over her bald head….

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PZ’s Podcast: The Monolith


80s-hair-funny-weddingWe’re just awash — aground! — in “narratives” these days. “Narratives” are conceptual stories or frameworks that are designed by the ever-grinding mind to organize and categorize realities of everyday life. Many of the realities faced by the ordinary person, starting with me, are unsatisfactory and distressing. “Narratives” are a form of mental control, to vitiate and diminish some of the distress of life..

But “narratives” don’t work! They are seldom completely true; and more often, they are cataclysmically partial. In both senses! This cast examines two “narratives” — one regarding an apparently neglected English hymn writer and the other being racism — and comes up with a caution.

I then expand the caution to account for irrational experiences within personal relationships. I had a vision a year ago, at a lovely beach wedding in the Carolinas, which invalidated almost everything else in front of me. (And it happened to be a great wedding.) But my vision rendered null and void the entire situation. “Let me take you there.”

Let’s hear it, too, for General Johnson.

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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PZ’s Podcast: Cook’d Books


070409_r16088a_p646-320The text is from a leading Presidential candidate, but it applies to two of them — two persons who are ideologically apart but have one main thing in common.

That main thing is: They are exposing the Cook’d Book of life, which is designed — “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” (S. Wonder) — to sign, seal and deliver YOU over to utter captivity and soullessness.

The New Testament is not a world-affirming document. On the contrary, it pits the human being against the world. Or rather, it posits the world as being against us. Our task, an impossible one without Help — “Help!” – The Beatles, 1965 — is to dodge the world. Kerouac wrote that we are born into this world in order to be saved from it.

The Cook’d Book of the world is not only true of political parties. It is true of institutions generally, job environments generally, schools and universities generally (which is why youth is eternally looking for the ‘Mr. Chips’-type altruist — one in a million), you name it.

I’m glad that Bernie and the other one are cutting to the nerve. Je repete: this is not about ideology, it’s about control. And this world’s control is not — I repeat, not — designed to enable and deliver. It is designed to suppress and captivate. LUV U!

When Jesus Brings Cheerios: A Memory for Mother’s Day

When Jesus Brings Cheerios: A Memory for Mother’s Day

Eleven years ago, I was sitting in a senior seminar class with a group of people I had come to know and love. The Southern Studies Department at Ole Miss is as small as one might imagine. And each individual class felt like its own group of buddies.

On this particular afternoon, class was set to start when we noticed that Catherine hadn’t shown up yet. Catherine was the kind of person everyone wanted to be friends with. She loved jazz. She lived in an actual house. And, perhaps most exotically, she was a mother.

I would see Catherine around town in Oxford…

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13 Signs of Bad Pastoral Care

13 Signs of Bad Pastoral Care

Another glimpse into our Church Issue, which is out now! If you haven’t gotten one, order it here. If your beloved but painfully awkward pastor/therapist hasn’t received one, subscribe them here.

How many times have you needed a shoulder to cry on, and got cold moralism, instead? How many times have you dealt the flip side of that same coin? Here is a list for anyone who has ever received counsel or has ever given counsel and wondered what went wrong. They are a paraphrased version from Frank Lake: The Man and His Work, by John Peters, and were compiled by…

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2016 NYC Conference Recordings: Relief!

2016 NYC Conference Recordings: Relief!

Thank you again to everyone who helped put on this year’s conference in NYC, especially our invaluable friends at Calvary St. George’s. Feels rather poetic that a conference about “grace in world of expectation” so exceeded our own. Praise God for that.

We’re once again making the recordings available gratis; we only ask that those who were not able to be there in person consider making a donation to help cover the cost of the event. Download links are followed by an in-line player for each recording (with the exception of Eric Klinenberg’s talk, which was an in-person-only deal and CJ Green’s, which was a technology-is-the-enemy deal)….

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PZ’s Podcast: Mystic Traveler

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What are we all looking for in this life…? The new being, rebirth, meeting your inner child again for the first time. However you name it, whatever you make of it, the truth of reality is this: we all withhold a few things from everyone including and especially from ourselves. We lose so much in the withholding and the repression, which is quite understandable. But there is hope! You can go forward through going backward. Aldous Huxley did it. He became a theological psychologist par excellence, and we can follow his lead. A graced archeological excavation can produce so much in the way of the teleological imagination.


The introduction to this cast is done by Bill Borror and Scott Jones, co-hosts of New Persuasive Words. Scott also hosts The Mockingcast.

A Just Relief: A Conference Breakout Preview

This conference breakout preview comes to us from Raleigh Sadler.


“Do you not care about the orphans?” she asked. “Because if you actually do, then you will support my ministry.” I was at a loss. I simply stared back at her as she continued to take me on her “guilt trip.” Though she was asking me to do something “good,” I couldn’t help but feel bad.

Oftentimes, conversations about “relief” can make us feel anything but relief. If you are honest with yourself, you will have to admit that at some point, you’ve felt this way.

For this reason, many of us resist following the latest social justice trends. Though we are not against “digging wells” or “fighting human trafficking,” we struggle with exhaustion at the very thought of it.

This year at the 9th annual mockingbird conference, I will be leading a discussion entitled “A Just Relief: How the Gospel produces Justice.” Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as our paradigm, we will discover how we can use law and Gospel to radically change how we approach social justice.

In this breakout, we will discuss shifting our motivation from law to grace, how “rest” in the gospel leads us to good “works,” and how to free your church to enjoy doing mercy and Justice in your community. See you next week!

Pre-register here – Walk-ins are always welcome but Tuesday 4/12 is last day to guarantee food.

“I’m New Here: What’s Going On?” A Conference Preview

What a joy it is to host everyone at Calvary St. George’s for the 9th Annual Mockingbird Conference! Things are shaping up for a memorable weekend with great food, excellent speakers, and a topic that any human being in 2016 can appreciate–Relief. For friends who are new to church, new to Mockingbird, new to Christianity, new to New York, here’s a pre-conference word of Relief for you.

We are Mel Smith and Bryan Jarrell, and we’ll be hosting the breakout session “I’m New Here: What’s Going On?” At this session, we’ll talk about The Law, The Gospel, the Bible, everyday life, and Mockingbird’s vision to connect all those things with the human heart. If it’s your first time at a Mockingbird event, if you’ve come to the conference by yourself, or even if you have attended the last 8 and are wondering “what am I doing here?”, join us!

Together we will explore how God’s immeasurable grace intersects with our human experience through the culture, faith expressions, and everyday living. Here at Mockingbird we can seek to explore the threads of truth & grace as we interact with the world around us.

Travel safe, see you next week!

Nothing else in the world matters but the kindness of grace, God’s gift to suffering mortals. ~Jack Kerouac

Pre-register here!