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Grace in Practice

Closer Than You Think (The Trouble With Deconstruction)

Closer Than You Think (The Trouble With Deconstruction)

Deconstruction is having a moment.

There are podcasts and books galore about the process of deconstructing (usually damaging or negative) religious belief. Take one step back from deconstruction and you have the phenomenon of doubt in modern Christian writing. At some point in the last ten years, doubt began to be the prerequisite for an “authentic” Christian life.

Charles Taylor wrote about this in his 2007 book, A Secular Age. In this seminal work, Taylor argues that authenticity is the hallmark of the secular age, which is why doubt is in. Authentic doubt or disbelief is better than inauthentic faith…

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PZ's Podcast: Bay of Angels

PZ’s Podcast: Bay of Angels

Episode 242

I’m always surprised when proponents of One Way Love fail to apply it in concrete cases. In other words, we can talk a good game — about how Christ is always there, gets there first (!), when we are at our lowest ebb, in our worst place of sin and paralysis — how no sin, no sinner is ever beyond the reach of His “saving embrace” — but when we or someone close to us — someone we really KNOW, in other words — is lying there bleeding to death from a self-inflicted wound, well, then… I just don’t…

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Training My Enemies

Training My Enemies

This one comes to us from Geoffrey Sheehy.

When I pulled from the Greek treasury for bedtime stories, I frequently became a mythological revisionist. Zeus’s appropriation of any woman he desired? Excised, or, if necessary, declared legal marriages. Hera’s rage over Zeus’s infidelity? Simple quarrels. I knew they were important, but not to my three and five-year-old daughters. Not yet, anyway.

I take solace in knowing I was in good company. In his Tanglewood Tales, Nathaniel Hawthorne manipulates the story of the Minotaur to save Ariadne and Theseus’s reputations. They both have reputations worth saving: Theseus is the Athenian prince who has volunteered…

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Mbird Tyler 2018 Recordings: The Wonder of Grace

A Texas-sized thank you to everyone who helped put on our conference in Tyler last month, especially the fabulous–and ridiculously ecumenical–steering committee, led by the indefatigable Matt Magill. Huge thanks to all the sponsors as well: B3 Ministries, Bethel Bible, Christ Episcopal, Redeemer Pres Tyler, Moon River Naturals, Porch Culture Coffee Roasters, Sola Bread Co, The Kalos Foundation, Center for Creative Media, The Foundry Coffee House, and True Vine Brewery, not to mention Mark Babikow, who once again came to our rescue on the A/V front, and Casey & Travis Squyres at Stellate Photography who take the best photos ever. And to Josh White for putting on such an extraordinary performance!

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As per usual, we’re making the recordings available at no charge; we only ask that those who were not able to attend this year *consider* tossing something in the hat to help cover the cost of the event. Download links are followed by an in-line player for each session. They’re also up The Mockingpulpit feed if you’d like to stream on your mobile device. We’ll be rolling out the videos super soon (Seinfeld one doesn’t really make sense without the clips). Enjoy!


John Zahl — “How to Annoy Jesus”

Aaron Zimmerman — “Five Feet High and Rising: Finding God…While Drowning in Fear”

Charlotte Getz — “My Empire of Dirt: Delusions of Grandeur & the Grace That Promises to Dethrone Us”

John Newton — “Giving Up On Growth: Rest in a Restless World”


John Zahl — The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everyone”

Stacy Canion — “Controlled Chaos: An Artist’s Journey to Peace”

Josh White — “The Love of Jesus in a Post Christian City”

David Zahl — “Everything I Never Learned from Seinfeld”

Ricky Garner — “If It Ain’t Broke It Can’t Be Fixed: Why the Cross is the Only Hope for Your Marriage”

Brent Kirkley – What’s Wrong With Me? Why Everyone Needs Therapy

And be sure to check out Josh White in concert.

From Ruth Graham: Why Imputation Parenting Books Will Never Sell

From Ruth Graham: Why Imputation Parenting Books Will Never Sell

Some years ago, when we had our first child, the trend of putting babies in a kind of “truth telling” onesie had begun. We got several as well meaning gifts. You know the ones. They blaze phrases like, Loud and Proud or Troublemaker in Training across an infant’s tiny chest. Interestingly, I was given many more of these for our son than I was for our daughter. But in either case, I could not bear to put my newborn into a onesie that read, IN CHARGE. And not because I felt like I was in charge. In the first few weeks of having a baby…

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Hopelessly Devoted: ‘Grace At Work’ – James Chapter One Verse Seventeen

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

Grace is not always guaranteed to work on the horizontal plane — i.e. as we attempt to steward it in the midst of our relationships with one another. We can however be sure that grace is always at work. We don’t get to define what this has to look like. We don’t always get the privilege of discerning its results or activity. In fact, grace specializes in disappointing and confounding our every expectation of what God ‘should be’ and what His people ‘should be’.

You’re free, though you often feel like a slave. You’re forgiven, though you often feel the weight of judgment. You’re victorious, though you often feel like a chump. The gospel confronts our self-righteousness and confirms the righteousness of Jesus as being ours. We walk by faith, not by sight…yes, but rarely in an experiential or functional manner. All we have ultimately is the faithful witness (James 1:17) of the indwelling Spirit bringing us back to a ridiculous, impossible-to-believe verdict: “You are absolved.”

Grace in the Age of Fentanyl

Grace in the Age of Fentanyl

“[Karl] Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses, but these days opiates are the opiates of the masses.”

That’s the first variation of this observation I came across last week, via Tim Kreider’s new I Wrote This Book Because I Love You. The second run-in occurred a couple days later, toward the middle of Andrew Sullivan’s mammoth “The Poison You Pick” essay in New York Magazine. He writes:

“If Marx posited that religion is the opiate of the people, then we have reached a new, more clarifying moment in the history of the West: Opiates are now the religion of…

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"A Broth of False and True": Frederick Buechner's Godric

“A Broth of False and True”: Frederick Buechner’s Godric

My friend John and I are the sole members of an organization we call “The Nerd Book Club.” Once a month or so, we grab coffee and talk about books we’ve always wanted to read but lacked the self-discipline to finish on our own. Recently, we committed to read a novel that has been on my bookshelf for nearly two decades: “Godric,” by Frederick Buechner. After finishing it, I warmly recommend its perusal at any Mockingbird-sanctioned soirée.

Here’s why. The novel, loosely based on the historical account of a 12th-century Anglo-Saxon holy man, Godric of Finchale, narrates the story…

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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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