Grace in Practice
Ministry as Leisure, from Comfortable Words

Ministry as Leisure, from Comfortable Words

In NYC a couple of weeks ago, we held a reception for Paul Zahl’s Festschrift, Comfortable Words (more details here), edited by Jady Koch and Todd Brewer. The work honors Paul Zahl’s life-giving influence upon academics, pastors, laypeople, and everything in between. Among many extraordinary essays, Dylan Potter’s “Ministry as Leisure” struck a note with its insight and empathy into a commonly neglected problem with ministers, one which easily extends to lay Christians, too:

One indication that a clergyperson has come under the law’s heavy hand is that they begin to eschew leisure in order to pursue what are perceived to be…

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2014 NYC Conference Recordings: Identity, Anxiety & the Christian Message

2014 NYC Conference Recordings: Identity, Anxiety & the Christian Message

An incredibly heartfelt thank-you to everyone who helped put on this year’s Mockingbird Conference in NYC, especially our friends at Calvary St. George’s Church. We took some risks this time around, and if reports are to be believed, it sounds like they paid off. Phew!

We are once again making the recordings available at no charge; we only ask that those who were not able to attend this year *consider* making a donation to help cover the cost of the event. Download links are followed by an in-line player for each recording. Almost everything was videotaped, and we’ll be rolling the…

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What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

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How the Pout-Pout fish Becomes the Kiss-Kiss Fish

How the Pout-Pout fish Becomes the Kiss-Kiss Fish

In my perennial search for great children’s books written by people other than the beloved Sally Lloyd-Jones (there are few), I recently came across the clearest illustration of the law (demand) and grace (love) paradigm in storybook form: The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen. The story is about sad Mr. Fish, and all the other fish of the sea, who each in their own special way tell him to smile and cheer up. You know, what’s wrong with you? Mr. Fish’s constant refrain to these well-intended yet naive advice givers goes like this:

I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face. So I spread the…

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Glimmers of Civilization (and Grace) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Glimmers of Civilization (and Grace) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

I was bonding with a friend in New York last week over our mutual affection for the new Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. After swapping a few favorite lines, he asked, with a twinkle in his eye, “So how’re you going to shoe-horn this one into your theological framework?” Quick wit that I am, I responded, “A story about adoption and inheritance that ends with an act of radical self-sacrifice – probably won’t need my shoehorn for this one”. Badabing! Obnoxious, I know. What’s even more obnoxious is that I’d been thinking for days about Grand Budapest and…

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“He loved them all…”  James Rebhorn and the Unanxious Life

“He loved them all…” James Rebhorn and the Unanxious Life

It appears that, before he died on Friday, actor James Rebhorn (Homeland, The Game, Seinfeld) wrote his own obituary. Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church of Jersey City, New Jersey has posted a letter entitled “His Life, According to Jim” which is dated March 2014 and signed by the actor.

This is a rare opportunity for a person who is dying: to have enough notice of one’s impending death in order to make final arrangements, including in this case the crafting of one’s own obituary. Most obituaries, in my honest opinion, are just dreadful–they’re usually written for the distraught family by a close friend, and…

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Another Week Ends: Overprotected Kids (and their Legos), Disney Therapy, Katims Gold, Malaysian Obsessions, Performance Reviews and Symmetrical Wes

Another Week Ends: Overprotected Kids (and their Legos), Disney Therapy, Katims Gold, Malaysian Obsessions, Performance Reviews and Symmetrical Wes

1. I had every intention of giving the subject of parenting a rest. Really, I did. But then The Atlantic put Hanna Rosin’s “The Overprotected Kid” on their cover this month and what can you do. Rosin touches on many of the same points that Heather Havrilesky raised in her polemic on ‘scripted play’, tracing the adverse effect that the decrease in unsupervised, unstructured time is having on our nation’s children, and the mounting tyranny of control (some would say paranoia) among parents. As Rosin notes, “failure to supervise has become, in fact, synonymous with failure to parent”. And yet,…

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Play to Order and the Gamification of Parenting

Play to Order and the Gamification of Parenting

One of the most difficult and awkward things about being a youth minister was billing the events we would organize. We would tell kids about how much fun or profound something would be, hoping they would come, and we wouldn’t be lying. We knew the retreat/camp/outing would be a great time; they always were. But the second those words escaped your mouth (“the most fun you’ll ever have! the trip of a lifetime!”), they rang hollow. You could see it in the looks on the faces of whomever you were addressing. How fun could something be if you had to…

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Grace In Everyday Life: Parents and Children; Law and Freedom

A young man’s mother refuses, then allows, him go to see a show with an actress he’s always wanted to see – simple enough, right? Maybe not – from Within a Budding Grove, by Marcel Proust.

1448[W]ith my eyes fixed upon that inconceivable image [of the actress], I strove from morning to night to overcome the barriers which my family were putting in my way. But when those had at last fallen, when my mother… had said to me, ‘Very well, we don’t wish for you to be unhappy; – if you think that you will enjoy it so very much, you must go; that’s all;’ when this day of theatre-going, hitherto forbidden and unattainable, depended no only upon myself, then for the first time, being no longer troubled by the wish that it might cease to be impossible, I asked myself if it were desirable, if there were no other reason than my parents’ prohibition which should make me abandon my design. In the first place, whereas I had been detesting them for their cruelty, their consent made them now so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain stabbed me also with a pain through which the purpose of life shewed itself as the pursuit not of truth but of loving-kindness, and life itself seemed good or evil only as my parents were happy or sad.

-Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, trans C.K. Scott Moncrieff

For a student of the complex human interior like Proust, forces of conscience andcommand are always at work. The parent here has authority, and the parent must guide the child into what’s best for him. This guidance may look like arbitrary command, which inspires resistance, but in the command’s absence, the narrator realizes his parents love him, and therefore he begins to approach the situation based not on a simplistic assertion of his freedom and desire, but instead gratitude sharpens his vision; he begins to see his parents not as authoritarians, but as those who have his best interests at heart. A new good and evil emerges, one in which loving-kindness is prime and their happiness of sadness calibrates what is best for him, too.

He ends up disappointed by the play, which isn’t surprising: this situation is partial and fleeting, serving more to illustrate a small corner of our relation to law, and nothing more. But it is also true-to-life, and it points to a transition from command to freedom which must take place before we can properly see the law for what it is. For now, it’s through a glass darkly, but sometimes a glimpse of a hand, a face, the traces of a gesture barely seen on the other side – a gesture of love – can give the slightest hint as to what’s beyond the smudged surface, and those rare occasions when it happens can be remarkable.

 

An Introduction to the Excessive World of The Mockingbird

An Introduction to the Excessive World of The Mockingbird

This letter from the editor opens up our first issue of The Mockingbird, our quarterly magazine which has just arrived in mailboxes! To subscribe to The Mockingbird, click here. 

“Tell me which kinds of excesses fascinate you, tell me which kinds of excesses appall you, and I will tell you who you are.” –Adam Phillips, “In Excess”

If Phillips is right, and excesses are the ways we are revealed, then there’s plenty to say about what’s been passing through my Newsfeed. Just this week: Kanye West commissions a Kim Kardashian pop-art portrait from one of Andy Warhol’s cousins in Arizona….

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All You Need Is (One Way) Love, or Looking at All the Lonely People

Pleasantly surprised by how well this came together and greatly encouraged by the response it received. Filmed at the Liberate Conference in Fort Lauderdale, FL on 2/22:

Liberate 2014 – David Zahl from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.

Buried Radioactive Material: Introducing The Guess Who (and Burton Cummings)

Buried Radioactive Material: Introducing The Guess Who (and Burton Cummings)

Recently a friend asked me to recommend something that a young man considering a call to ordination might profitably read. I went through “the usual suspects” (i.e., Bishop Lightfoot, John Stott, W.H. Griffith-Thomas), but actually came up with a novel, or rather a novella, to help him spell out the issues.

It is sometimes true that a work of art — a song or painting or short story or movie — gets through to me in a way that propositional non-fiction, say Bishop Lightfoot’s treatise on the ministry, does not, or maybe even cannot. I believe this is because music or…

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Another Week Ends: Secret Auden, Eagleton Deicide, Remembering Wes, Method Acting, True Detective, and Russian Tourist Tips

Another Week Ends: Secret Auden, Eagleton Deicide, Remembering Wes, Method Acting, True Detective, and Russian Tourist Tips

1. Holy smokes! Have you read Edward Mendelson’s “The Secret Auden” in the NY Review of Books?! If not, run don’t walk. It’s a jaw-dropping, incredibly inspiring catalog of the clandestine episodes of grace initiated by our all-time favorite Wystan–about as honest a Matthew 6:5 vibe as I’ve come across in ages. Lest these remarkable stories be dismissed as mere hagiography, Mendelson (author of the indispensable Later Auden) doesn’t lionize the great poet, instead tracing the ‘good works’ back to their root–which is not a sense of earning or credit (clearly) but of genuine humility brought on by piercing self-knowledge….

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Baby Names and Family Secrets

Baby Names and Family Secrets

Perhaps it’s just because I’m 30 weeks pregnant, but there seem to be articles about choosing the right baby name everywhere. Wait But Why’s exhaustive “How to Name a Baby” made the rounds recently, for example, inspiring anxiety in people who named their daughter Sophia and/or hitting all the wrong buttons for those whose parents had made the unknown mistep of naming them Jennifer in the 1970s. And then there was this gem, which, as the title suggests, is a personal account of “How Not to Name Your Baby.” The author, Tania Lombrozo, offers her story of using crowd-sourcing (no,…

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What Would Jesus Tweet? The Gospel in the 21st Century (Conference Recordings!)

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An enormous thank you to all the fantastic people at St Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church in Louisville, KY, who made the What Would Jesus Tweet mini-conference possible earlier this month! What a privilege it was to meet so many new friends; the warmth and graciousness of the welcome we received was nothing short of overwhelming. To read a (very generous!) re-cap of the event, go here. The recordings are now available, both on our Resources page and here, in the order in which they were given. Click on the talk titles to download, or on the players below to listen:

Talk 1: What Would Jesus Tweet? – David Zahl


Talk 2: Everybody’s Anxious, Nobody’s Bored – David Zahl


Everything New Is Moralism Again – The Rev. Jacob Smith


The Psychology of SalvationDr. Eric Johnson


Talk 3: What We Talk About When We Talk About Freedom and Closing Q&A – David Zahl and Jacob Smith