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Another (Conference) Week Ends: Paranormativity, Dream Deprivation, Millennial Morticians, Martin Luther, Christian Book Titles for the Age of the 'Net, and More Russell Brand

Another (Conference) Week Ends: Paranormativity, Dream Deprivation, Millennial Morticians, Martin Luther, Christian Book Titles for the Age of the ‘Net, and More Russell Brand

1. I think it was PZ who said that belief in the paranormal is almost a precondition of Christianity. It’s easy to think that science – which is properly concerned with empirically testing and proving/disproving those things which are subject to empirical testing – has vanquished the paranormal. Back in the old days, supernatural forces pressed on human existence from all sides. Beyond the village perimeter, the brooding night contained many things, and they were all threatening. Across Europe, peasants reported sightings of the Wild Hunt, a ghostly cavalcade of riders spreading terror and heralding catastrophe. In a world where…

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The Hidden Link Between Martin Luther and… Peter Parker?

Can’t say I was expecting the following (timely!) illustration to pop up in the Substitution chapter of Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion, ht RS:

A substantive argument against the motif of atonement and substitution is that people in other cultures around the world do not see themselves in the categories we have been discussing–guilt, incapacity, bondage, shame, failure, defeat. Yet the more one hears this, the more the categories seem to pop up. Here is an example that originated in American comic-book culture and spread around the world. In a highbrow essay review of Spider-Man, the blockbuster movie of 2002, Geoffrey O’Brien, editor in chief of the Library of America, harks back to the original comic of 1962:

The crucial plot point in the original episode was that Peter Parker’s initial burst of unwonted arrogance on receiving his spider powers led… to the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. The notion of a moral lapse (his momentary hubris) that could never really be atoned for gave the comic book its air of perpetual dissatisfaction; being Spider-Man was… a perpetual reminder to the hero of his own shortcomings, a kind of penance. There was always the possibility that he would fail again, and so he was condemned to a vigilant monitoring of his own reactions and impulses. In such a situation an unqualified sense of triumph was by definition impossible. In its goofy way, The Amazing Spider-Man acknowledged the tragic sense of life.

This remarkable paragraph from a secular journal incorporates much of what we have been trying to say all along. Moreover, it mirrors in an almost uncanny way the struggle of Martin Luther to monitor his behavior and his consequent discovery that an “unqualified sense of triumph” is “by definition impossible,” and can only be experienced through the victory of Christ…. In his reference to the “tragic sense of life,” O’Brien means to set the guilt of one individual into its context, that of ubiquitous human failure. In great novels of universal significance such as those of Joseph Conrad, the same dynamic is revealed. Conrad’s narrator Marlow tells stories showing that the guilt and shame of one man (Lord Jim) are made to stand for us all, and the guilt of the British Empire (Heart of Darkness) is drawn into the larger saga not only of the individual soul but also of cosmic entrapment in the infernal stream… of darkness.”

If this be “Western,” make the most of it. (pg 491-92)

Running from Law, Running from Grace

Running from Law, Running from Grace

There’s enough indication in Scripture to make the case that we naturally run from law when it confronts us in everyday life: in the preached Word of God as a ‘first word’ and when we experience its damning effects and accusatory sting in the midst of our relationships. But more subtle and implicit is the notion that we also, in a sense, run from grace.

In the book of Jonah (Jonah 1:1-3) we see that the renowned “Prophet to the Nations” runs from the law…but in Jonah 4:1-2, we see that he despises the grace of God. Jonah ran from both……

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Performance-Based Culture Is Killing Us

Performance-Based Culture Is Killing Us

Grateful for this one written by The Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase, whose book Done and Left Undone: Grace in the Meantime of Parish Ministry hits in January.

When I preached at the closing Eucharist of our recent Cursillo on Sunday, I reminded participants that they’d just been gifted with a cross on which was written: “Christ is counting on you.” I told them (to a few gasps in the congregation) to please forget about that for now. They should rather be “counting on Christ.” Later, when they’re a bit more mature in faith, they might heed the words on their crosses, while…

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An Obituary from Beyond the Grave

An Obituary from Beyond the Grave

With Halloween right around the corner, it’s the perfect time of year to remember the sobering reality that death comes for us all. Hooray! That’s the case for many as the streets fill up with ghosts, ghouls and zombies, though that certainly isn’t the case universally. In my neighborhood, the ghosts and ghouls are generally outnumbered by the hoards of Jedi, Avengers, and Disney Princesses that come with open pillowcases. For a master primer on our cultural denial of death, look no further than Ethan Richardson’s piece in the Mockingbird Magazine’s Love & Death issue.

While we may be in a…

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What Happened After Mister Rogers Visited Koko the Gorilla

What Happened After Mister Rogers Visited Koko the Gorilla

A lot going on in this wonderfully upside-down excerpt from the profile of Mr Rogers that Esquire ran in 1998, the sort of thing that if it hadn’t actually happened, no one would believe it. A beautiful reminder that grace and law do not follow a linguistic formula, thank God, ht G&AP:

Once upon a time, there was a boy who didn’t like himself very much. It was not his fault. He was born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is something that happens to the brain. It means that you can think but sometimes can’t walk, or even talk….

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When Death Happens To The Unknown Next Of Kin

When Death Happens To The Unknown Next Of Kin

My 67 year-old brother-turned-sister had retreated into work over the last 15 years. She was a bus dispatcher, but was, by all accounts, totally dedicated to being “at work”. No friends outside of the office, no hobbies.

So when she told her co-workers that she was going home after a morning shift to return for the night shift to “Do some things at home” it was unusual.

She never returned. They found her body, in bed, on Monday morning.

I wish it was a surprise. I wish I could say I now will miss her. But we had not spoken since I was…

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Stories of Grace and This American Gospel

Stories of Grace and This American Gospel

In an article from The Atlantic, Cody C. Delistraty writes about the psychological comforts of storytelling. He writes, “Stories can be a way for humans to feel that we have control over the world. They allow people to see patterns where there is chaos, meaning where there is randomness.” He also says stories can impact and form our emotional lives. Storytelling pulls back the curtain on others’ minds so we can see how people operate and think. This process can validate and challenge our own beliefs. Another reason we tell stories is that we all want to be a part…

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No Need to Explain

No Need to Explain

A lovely piece by Andrew Taylor-Troutman:

“Behold, I shew you a mystery.” (1 Corinthians 15:51 KJV)

It was our first visit. I sat on the sofa in her living room surrounded by pictures of their four children, eight grandchildren. And pictures of him. The shades were drawn against the sunlight as we chatted: get-to-know-you preliminaries about where I was from, the obligatory lament concerning the weather (I forget, now, whether it had rained too much or too little). Her recently deceased husband hovered in picture frames. In their most recent church directory photo, he smiled above her right shoulder, his moustache trimmed, his…

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Navigating the Denominational Food Court

Navigating the Denominational Food Court

One of the mixed blessings of Martin Luther’s 500-year-old legacy is finding one’s place among the hundreds of denominations which roughly fly under the Protestant banner. In other words, how does one find the “right” denomination, assuming you profess faith in the lower-case catholic church? This is a particularly acute question for me, born and raised by Southern Baptist parents and educated and ordained in Southern Baptist institutions. As you might have guessed, Southern Baptists are rarely invited to sit at the cool tables in the denominational cafeteria (and often for good reason). A pastor friend once led his well-heeled…

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This Weekend in DC: Talk Titles and Lineup! (T-Minus 4 Days and Counting)

For those who haven’t yet been wooed, take a look at the unbelievable lineup for our event this weekend in DC. Things kick off on Friday evening with a talk from Nick Lannon, dinner courtesy of Broad Branch Market (with Starr Hill beer & wine from Keswick Vineyards), and music by Mark Miller. The party continues Saturday morning with with coffee sponsored by our friends at Anchor Coffee Roasters, followed by talks from Jacob Smith, Sarah Condon, Daryl Davis (of Accidental Courtesy fame), and, post-lunch, David Zahl. We’ll have books for sale and cheer aplenty.

Pre-registration closes this Wednesday. Last minute walk-ins are more than welcome; we just can’t guarantee food. Oh and there’s still some limited scholarship funds available – hit us up at info@mbird.com if that’d be a help. Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 27

5:30pm  —  Registration
6:30pm  —  Welcome Worship Service
7:00pm  —  “No, Actually, I Don’t Work Out: Good News for Unwilling Hearts” – Nick Lannon
7:30pm  —  Dinner catered by Broad Branch Market & Music with Mark Miller

Saturday, October 28

8:00am  —  Coffee (courtesy of our friends at Anchor Coffee Roasters!)
9:00am  —  Morning Talks

  • “Robert Barnes and 500 Years of Justification by Grace Alone” – Jacob Smith
  • “When Katie Met Luther: A New Kind of Love” – Sarah Condon

10:45am  —  Daryl Davis speaks on Race and Grace
12:00pm  —  Lunch courtesy of Broad Branch Market
1:15pm  —  “Can’t Stop the Signal: Enduring Hope in Divided Times” – David Zahl
2:00pm  —  Mockingbird Panel Q&A and Closing Communion Service
3:30pm  —  Book table closes

Sunday, October 29 (Post-Conference)

7:45am, 9am, & 11am — DZ preaches at all three Reformation Sunday worship services at All Saints

CLICK HERE TO PRE-REGISTER

Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 1)

Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 1)

On the TV front, two new seasons of Mockingbird favorites are now out for your viewing pleasure. Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty just finished its third season, with Nielsen knighting it the most popular comedy on television, and Bojack Horseman’s fourth season is now available for binging on Netflix. Both shows are regulars in our “best of TV” columns each December, occupying a fair amount of Mockingbird HQ water cooler chitchat. It’s a little silly to think that TV shows featuring an alcoholic super-genius grandfather and a washed up 90s sitcom-star horse garner critical acclaim and commercial success, but that’s…

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