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Grace in Practice

Seeking Freedom from Dieting and Body Shame: Part Two

Seeking Freedom from Dieting and Body Shame: Part Two

I’m sitting at Barnes and Noble at The Summit shopping center in Birmingham while my daughter is watching Wonder Woman with a friend at the movie theater here. I thought about going home and coming back later to pick her up when the movie is over, but I chose alone time with my computer and a cup of mediocre decaf instead. The traffic on Highway 280 is especially bad this time of day. And time by myself is always a good option.

There are three (maybe) college students—a young woman and two young men—at the table across from me talking about…

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An Extravagant Inversion of Values

An Extravagant Inversion of Values

As we’ve highlighted before, Emmanuel Carrère’s new book (novel? memoir? biography?) on St. Paul and the early Christians often reads like a diary fused with historical fiction. Carrère, well-known in France for his unique non-fiction storytelling, believes that the only way he can really communicate a subject is by looking as honestly as possible at himself. In this book, then, that means capturing the New Testament through his own relationship with and (un-)belief in its God. A powerfully honest and captivating reimagining of both the nature of belief and the radical message Paul carried, this passage gives a glimpse of…

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Identity and Summer Selfies: A Reminder

Identity and Summer Selfies: A Reminder

It’s that time of year again, when all of us at some level look at our bodies and realize that we’ve been more, let’s say, “relaxed” about our health during the colder months. We also see — well, some of us do, anyway — our offensively pale skin or winter-weight and dread the first day of shorts, or sun dresses, or swimsuits. It’s difficult because when everything is green and bright, there is much work to do. That is, those social media photos aren’t going to take themselves.

There’s tremendous pressure, isn’t there, to have a good time when times…

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Gregory Boyle’s Touchstone Image of God

Another great excerpt from Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart, about the Jesuit priest’s twenty years as director of Homeboy Industries in LA. Seriously, if we wouldn’t get in trouble for copying the entire book on the site, we’d do it.

God can get tiny, if we’re not careful. I’m certain we all have an image of God that becomes the touchstone, the controlling principle, to which we return when we stray.

My touchstone image of God comes by way of my friend and spiritual director, Bill Cain, S.J. Years ago, he took a break from his own ministry to care for his father as he died of cancer. His father had become a frail man, dependent on Bill to do everything for him. Though he was physically not what he had been, and the disease was wasting him away, his mind remained alert and lively. In the role reversal common to adult children who care for their dying parents, Bill would put his father to bed and then read him to sleep, exactly as his father had done for him in childhood. Bill would read from some novel, and his father would lie there, staring at his son, smiling. Bill was exhausted from the day’s care and work and would plead with his dad, “Look, here’s the idea. I read to you. You fall asleep.” Bill’s father would impishly apologize and dutifully close his eyes. But this wouldn’t last long. Soon enough, Bill’s father would pop one eye open and smile at his son. Bill would catch him and whine, “Now, come on.” The father would, again, oblige, until he couldn’t anymore, and the other eye would open to catch a glimpse of his son. This went on and on, and after his father’s death, Bill that this evening ritual was really a story of a father who just couldn’t take his eyes off his kid. How much more so God? Anthony De Mello writes, “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.”…What’s true of Jesus is true for us, and so this voice breaks through the clouds and comes straight at us. “You are my Beloved, in whom I am wonderfully pleased.” There is not much “tiny” in that.

“Behold the One beholding you and smiling.” It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our own image. It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be part of God’s DNA. God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment.

Heaven Side Encouragement for Earth Side Ministry: A Remembrance of Ed Salmon

Heaven Side Encouragement for Earth Side Ministry: A Remembrance of Ed Salmon

The first time I met the Rev. Ed Salmon, he was ordaining a friend of mine at All Saints, Chevy Chase. I was immediately struck by just how much he felt like a bishop. He was open-hearted, generous, and incredibly Southern.

Later I came to realize that he had either worked with or had a major impact on many of the Episcopal clergy who I know and love. Years ago, when one of my friends came into the Diocese of South Carolina as a newly ordained priest, Bishop Salmon told him, “In the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina…

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The Mockingbird Devotional: Finding Grace and Being Found

The Mockingbird Devotional: Finding Grace and Being Found

After scrolling through my Twitter feed and seeing a prominent Christian leader post something that made me want to climb in my bed, pull my down alternative comforter over my head, and hide from the world; I tweet-confessed that remembering the gospel doesn’t undo the bad stuff. My proclamation got a couple of likes so there are at least two other people in the world who might agree that oh-remember-the-gospel-and-god-and-the-kingdom-everything-is-better-now just doesn’t work sometimes. Maybe we aren’t Christian-y enough, but using the gospel and the reality of God’s kingdom as a bandaid for all that is wrong in the world…

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The God of Seven Buses

The God of Seven Buses

I recently started reading Gregory Boyle’s excellent Tattoos on the Heart, a memoir of his powerful ministry in Pico-Aliso, a low-income area in L.A. dominated by gangs. So far, it’s full of incredible stories about the action of grace upon those who had spent years cultivating facades of toughness and independence, almost as a matter of survival. Boyle, a Jesuit, and the grace-brimming adults (predominantly women) of his community find, through the love they show, an inside look at the hearts of the ‘homies’ they befriend. My favorite vignette from the first chapter is below:

At Camp Paige, a county detention facility near Glendora, I was getting…

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Free as a Mother: Telling the Devil to Sit on a Tack

Free as a Mother: Telling the Devil to Sit on a Tack

Last week, as my kindergartner and I approached the pool for his first swimming lesson of the season, I noticed all of the children sitting there in goggles. I panicked. Goggles! Of course! Forget that I learned how to swim without goggles. Forget that we go through 14 pairs of goggles a summer because we lose them like we are getting paid to. Forget that children the world over have swum without protective eye covering for millennia. My baby needed goggles and I forgot them.

One more check in the Sarah is a Crappy Mom column.

I always…

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2017 NYC CONFERENCE RECORDINGS

Thank you again to everyone who helped put on this year’s conference in NYC, especially our invaluable friends at Calvary St. George’s! What a truly special celebration it was.

We are rolling out the recordings a little differently this year, making them available first as fresh episodes of The Mockingcast. All of the plenaries are now up over on Fireside and iTunes for you to listen to, download and share–minus William Deresiewicz’s (which was an in-person-only deal).

Please note: The Mockingcast ‘feed’ is a fresh one as of a couple weeks ago, so even if you think you’re subscribed, you may not be. Just click here to sign back up, and you’ll be notified as soon as the breakouts are ready (not to mention when The Mockingcast itself returns, post-summer/DZ sabbatical. Hopefully these’ll tie you over til then!). We’ll also add everything to the Resources page in the coming days.

Major thanks go to Mark Babikow, Lino Martinez, and Collin Anderson for making our AV dreams come true. Major thanks also goes to Casey and Travis Squyres at Stellate Photography for capturing it all on camera! A few highlights below:

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As per usual, we are making the recordings available for free; we only ask that those who were not able to be there consider making a donation to help cover the cost of the event. Pretty much everything was videotaped, and we’ll be posting those clips over the next few weeks (a couple of the presentations won’t make much sense without the accompanying footage).

SAVE THE DATE: Next year’s NYC Conference will take place April 26-28th, 2018.

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.