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Did It Have to Be Jesus? ~ Nicole Cliffe

One of the more vitalizing talks from our conference in NYC came from Nicole Cliffe, who co-founded of one our favorite humor sites, The Toast (may it now rest in peace). Be ready to laugh and cry as you hear this story of how a sarcastic Harvard grad found God.

Did It Have to Be Jesus? ~ Nicole Cliffe from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

The "Centre Point" of Paradox

The “Centre Point” of Paradox

I suffer from what psychologytoday.com calls ‘polarized thinking’ (self-diagnosed). This is a way of seeing the world in ‘either/or’ terms. When I judge something — which happens, let’s face it, all the time — it’s either this or that, good or bad, right or wrong. It’s not some of this and some of that — and certainly not all of both. Though it often means being harsh to myself and others, thinking in a polarized way helps me simplify the more complex aspects of the world, while staying comfortably seated in my judge’s chambers.

For example: if I hit a green…

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Acceptance is the Difference Between Evaluation and Condemnation

Acceptance is the Difference Between Evaluation and Condemnation

This passage comes to us from John Jacob Raub’s 1992 book, Who Told You That You Were Naked: Freedom from Judgment, Guilt and Fear of Punishment. Raub is a Trappist Monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, the abbey Thomas Merton called home. The book, so far, is a deep dive into the helpful waters of psychological Christianity, and his distinction between evaluation and condemnation has been particularly helpful:

Jesus said, “Do not judge” (Mt 7:1), but just what type of judging was he prohibiting? Certainly we are to make practical judgments. We judge to say “this” rather than “that,” “do this,”…

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From Matt Johnson’s Getting Jesus Wrong

Another great find from our friend Luke Mackinnon.

Getting Jesus Wrong, written by Matt Johnson, is an insightful invitation to give up spiritual vitamins and checklist Christianity. The freelance writer and editor gives a breath of fresh air to the worn out soul trying to follow caricatures of Jesus that are far from the Jesus we read about in the Bible. Johnson assures us that life does not become better by swallowing religious pills or crossing things off inventories, but becomes better by God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice. This comes from the chapter titled “The Problem,” and it unearths our tendency to shove Jesus into the mold we want him to be instead of grasping his true essence and character on the cross.

Everyone has an image of Jesus they prefer, a Jesus who values what they value: Tough-guy Jesus, Wise Sage Jesus, Bearded, Tattooed, Skinny Jeans Jesus, Khakis and Polo Shirt Jesus, Suit and Tie Conservative Jesus, or Social Revolutionary Jesus. On a deeper level, our personal images of Jesus reveal that we think the Christian faith is about furthering our hopes and dreams, and that Jesus is the primary catalyst for getting us where we want to be in life. This is another way of saying, in the words of Gerhard Forde, we all are ‘inverted theologians of glory.’ When we operate within the glory-story paradigm, it reveals we’re in love with all the attractiveness of power, influence, success, or possessions, and we call it being ‘blessed.’ We’re encouraged by all the cliché slogans ‘reach for the stars’ and ‘don’t give up on your dreams,’ but then like a flaky boyfriend or girlfriend, when we don’t ‘feel the chemistry’ anymore, when real life really falls apart, suddenly our relationship with Jesus is on shaky ground…

God works in ways that are the opposite of our lofty imaginings. If we take the story of Jesus at bare-bones face value, he wasn’t a great success. God sent Jesus into the world to be born in a barn. He was born into scandal (imagine the naysayers: ‘Yeah, right, Mary conceived of the “Holy Spirit”’), he worked a regular job, he didn’t study under a famous Rabbi, he claimed he was God, many people thought he was crazy or demon possessed, and he was executed like a criminal. In our day and age where only good things in life constitute being blessed, it would seem that Jesus was anything but.

It’s only by faith that we can grasp the God reveals his character on the cross. On the cross, God subverted everything we intuitively understand about power. ‘Of all the places to search for God, the last place most people would think to look is the gallows.’ Instead of demanding power for himself and presenting himself as a God who ‘… could knock heads and straighten people out when they got out of line…,’ God, in Christ, laid down his power and died for us.

The New Gnosticism of the Transhumanists

The New Gnosticism of the Transhumanists

For the (very very quickly) upcoming Love & Death Issue, I had the chance to interview the journalist, Mark O’Connell, who is the author most recently of To Be A Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death. He also wrote that amazing piece in the New York Times Magazine a few months ago about Zoltan Istvan, the transhumanist who ran for president and drove across the country in a coffin-shaped bus. O’Connell’s new book reads like a travelogue among characters like Zoltan, futuristic types (mostly from California) that O’Connell describes with a…

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The Raising of the Crucified One ~ Fleming Rutledge

The speaker from the talk below received a standing ovation at our 10th Anniversary conference in NYC. Her book, The Crucifixion, has gone as viral as a 700-page theological magnum opus can. She’s Fleming Rutledge, speaking this time about the resurrection.

The Raising of the Crucified One ~ Fleming Rutledge from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

PS. Expect an excellent interview with Fleming in the upcoming Love & Death Issue of The Mockingbird. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here!

Genesis, Instagram, and Eden and Afterward: A Mockingbird Guide to Genesis

Genesis, Instagram, and Eden and Afterward: A Mockingbird Guide to Genesis

I started following a legit “Lifestyle Blogger” on Instagram a couple of weeks ago. This is my first significant foray into this social media genre and I’m fascinated. This woman is young and beautiful and spunky and I want to be her friend. I’ve fallen into her trap—I even ordered some protein powder she featured on one of her recent Instagram stories. Why? Why do I want to be friends with this woman? She seems to be everything I’m not. And if I think too much about her lifestyle and the energy required to document various aspects of it, I…

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We Are All Henry VIII, or, Why the Reformation Is More Than Rome

We Are All Henry VIII, or, Why the Reformation Is More Than Rome

The following comes to us from Cal Parks and is based upon material found in John Schofield’s Philip Melanchthon and the English Reformation (75-77).

This year is the 500th anniversary of the so-called beginning of the Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. While a rather common and innocuous act (this was a way of inviting scholarly debate), it hit at a truly critical moment in European affairs, both spiritual and temporal. This event has become immortalized as a myth, and as a historian by trade, I tend to scoff at such reductions and over-simplifications…

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The Taste of Freedom

The Taste of Freedom

Reading through Noel Jesse Heikkinen’s book, Unchained, I was struck by this incredibly moving story about North Korean prison camp survivor, Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped in 2005:

His father and mother were born in the same prison because his uncles had defected to South Korea. North Korea has a well-known policy of “three-generations of punishment” they inflict on those who oppose (or are even suspected of opposing) the government. Because Shin was born in the prison, he knew no other life. In his mind, the entire world was Camp 14, and there were only two types of people in the world: prisoners and guards. You…

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Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin – Simeon Zahl

Another wonderful talk from this year’s NYC conference: theologian  Simeon Zahl examines the inconvenient but foundational doctrine of sin.

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin ~ Simeon Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

The Humanity Of God: An Ascension Day Reflection

The Humanity Of God: An Ascension Day Reflection

Commencement season is almost over (there are some college graduations still happening, if you can believe it!). This year I learned of a tradition I didn’t know existed. Apparently a newly elected president’s first commencement address is usually given at Notre Dame. But Donald Trump broke with this convention, recently delivering his first commencement address at Liberty University. In my opinion, it was one of his better public addresses. But he did do one conventional thing in the speech itself: he quoted from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Quotations from this poem are ubiquitous at graduations, along with inevitable misinterpretations.

Here is…

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The King of Dissonance

The King of Dissonance

Well, I’ve been taking up DZ’s advice and making my way through Harriet Lerner’s slim little power-punch of a book, Why Won’t You Apologize? (He actually left it on my desk before the sabbatical…Soooo, did he mean for me to read it? Did I say, or not say, something?) The book is a powerful glimpse into all the strategies and self-deceptions we have around our wrongdoing–on what counts as an apology, and on what keeps us from doing it. As Dave mentioned, Lerner keys in on the prime impulse that makes the non-apologizer a non-apologizer: the need to be perfect.

Some people are so hard…

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