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Take Me to Church

Take Me to Church

I wore jeans on Easter Sunday.

I don’t remember the last time I missed church on Easter—or if there ever even has been a time. The Lord’s triumphant return from the grave, spring’s return to our calendars, and lapsed parishioners’ return to pews amalgamate into an unmissable Super-Bowl-Sunday among the observant. It’s like the newest club that has everything: fashion. Crowded sanctuaries. Clogged parking lots. Boisterous hymns.

 

And we missed it all. My family—husband, boys aged three years and six months, and I—have unintentionally participated in a sabbatical from church since our youngest was born last fall. We knew we would take…

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Low Anthropology Is My Love Language

Low Anthropology Is My Love Language

Often, when I try to explain what Mockingbird is I am faced with the daunting task of articulating a “low anthropology”. That is, an unflattering view of humanity. People accuse me of being negative or of losing sight of the fact that human beings are “mostly good.” So I pause and consider their opinions. And then I start to judge them for having those opinions. “How naïve” I say to myself. Then I realize I’m sinning in the middle of a theological discussion. Which brings me back to square one: low anthropology it is.

Recently, I met a lovely person who…

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Disembodied Truth Part I: Biblical Science, Creationism, Truth in Love, and Dover Beach

Disembodied Truth Part I: Biblical Science, Creationism, Truth in Love, and Dover Beach

I want to think for a second about the ways we tend to process language in different places. At our conference last weekend, Nadia Bolz-Weber spoke eloquently about how a sermon is a local event, preached to a specific people at a specific time in the contexts of the larger worship service, the community’s makeup, the identity of the pastor, and so on.

To use just one of these vectors, community makeup, a sermon on the prodigal son parable could differ by audience. To an audience of religious burnouts who have committed the obvious sins over and over, a focus on…

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Every Single Thing Anne Lamott Knows

Every Single Thing Anne Lamott Knows

Perhaps you’ve seen Anne Lamott’s Facebook post that went viral over the weekend, in which she lists “every single thing she knows” on the eve of her 61st birthday (which turns out to be fifteen things)? If not, do yourself a favor. Filled with characteristic wit and wisdom, not to mention memorable turns of phrase, it’s a crash course in effective communication, especially in regards to Christianity. In fact, it’s enough to make a person wonder: why is it that so many of the most compelling religious voices these days belong to women in recovery? It’s almost uncanny. Whatever the…

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The Way to God Is the Way Into Darkness: Bultmann on Hope and the Cross

Another appropriate Easter quote comes from a sermon on Lamentations 3:22-41, found in Rudolf Bultmann’s sermon collection, This World and Beyond:

imageThe way to God leads not to hell but through hell, or, in Christian terms through the cross. It leads us not to hopelessness but to a hope which transcends all human hope; and we must silence all human hope, if that divine hope is to dawn for us.

We must make this clear to ourselves: for man as he is, laden with wishes and plans, with longings and hope — and this means for us all, we who form our dream pictures as to how our life should go according to our desire and will — for all of us the way to God is the way into that darkness which for us means hell…. the breath of the Lord can sweep away everything of ours in a second and for our eyes there is nothing left but comfortless waste. That is the meaning of God: His majesty annihilates whatever stands independently. His word is a word that slays.

This hell we must traverse; before the life of the resurrection stands the cross. “It is the essence of God” says Luther, “first to destroy what is in us before He bestows on us His gifts.” (p 233)

Christianity for Losers: Giles Fraser on Good Friday and Easter

It’s a rare moment when someone in the Net thinkpiece world not only gets Christianity ‘right’ but also breaks through to something very near to its essence. Enter Giles Fraser at The Guardian, who published an extraordinary piece on Christianity for losers that we at Mbird will envy for weeks to come. Apologies to the folks at The Guardian for quoting almost everything – click the link above and view their ads, maybe click around some (they deserve it, and the other Fraser stuff is probably awesome):

ted_turner_color_2When he was nothing but a suspended carcass, dripping with his own blood and other people’s spit, there were no worshippers around clapping their hands and singing their hymns. They were long gone. At the very end, ironically at the moment of greatest triumph, he had no followers left. That says something profoundly counterintuitive about what a successful church looks like. For if the core of the Christian message – death first, then resurrection – is so existentially full-on that nobody can possibly endure it, then a church that successfully proclaims that message is likely to be empty and not full. Which is also why, quite possibly, a successful priest ought to be hated rather than feted. For here, as elsewhere in the Christian story, success and failure are inverted. The first will be last and the last first. The rich are cast down and the poor are exulted. The true king is crowned with mockery and thorns not with gold and ermine…

Deep failure, the failure of our lives, is something we occasionally contemplate in the middle of the night, in those moments of terrifying honesty before we get up and dress for success. Ecce homo, said Pilate. Behold, the man. This is humanity. And the facade of success we present to the world is commonly a desperate attempt to ward off this knowledge. At the beginning of Lent, Christians are reminded of this in the most emphatic of ways: know that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Those who used the period of Lent to give things up are invited to live life stripped bare, experiencing humanity in the raw, without the familiar props to our ego. This has nothing to do with the avoidance of chocolate and everything to do with facing the unvarnished truth about human failure. There is no way 100 top business leaders would endorse the cross. It is life without the advertising, without the accoutrements of success. It is life on a zero-hours contract, where at any moment we can be told we are not needed.

But here’s the thing. The Christian story, like the best sort of terrifying psychoanalysis, strips you down to nothing in order for you to face yourself anew. For it turns out that losers are not despised or rejected, not ultimately. In fact, losers can discover something about themselves that winners cannot ever appreciate – that they are loved and wanted simply because of who they are and not because of what they achieve… This is revealed precisely at the greatest point of dejection. The resurrection is not a conjuring trick with bones. It is a revelation that love is stronger than death, that human worth is not indexed to worldly success.

In a world where we semaphore our successes to each other at every possible opportunity, churches cannot be blamed for failing to live up to this austere and wonderful message. The worst of them judge their success in entirely worldly terms, by counting their followers. Their websites show images of happy, uncomplicated people doing good improving stuff in the big community. But if I am right about the meaning of Christ’s passion, then a church is at its best when it fails, when it gives up on all the ecclesiastical glitter, when the weeds start to break through the floor, and when it shows others that failure is absolutely nothing of the sort. This is the site of real triumph, the moment of success. Failure is redeemed. Hallelujah.

Not much more to say, really. We’ll be taking today, Easter Monday, off on the blog, but for those who are looking for more content, check out David Zahl’s Good Friday sermon, and then finish up your triduum with Jacob Smith’s Easter sermon from last year. Happy Easter!

You Do You, Genghis

You Do You, Genghis

I was a little worried when The NY Times Magazine changed its format in February and did away with “Riff”, a column we’ve mined over the years almost more than any other. Lo and behold, my concern was misfounded. What they’ve done is clever, funneling those observations into a handful of thematically-defined columns, the language-oriented “First Words” being the prime example. For the second time in as many months, writer Colson Whitehead has utilized that new umbrella to deliver a tour de force of cultural commentary. Last time he explored the appeal of the ‘loser edit’, this time he goes…

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Another Week Ends: Abrahamic Evolution, More Cookie Monster, The Law of Higher Ed, G.K. Chesterton as Saint, and the Puritan Legacy

Another Week Ends: Abrahamic Evolution, More Cookie Monster, The Law of Higher Ed, G.K. Chesterton as Saint, and the Puritan Legacy

1. Over at aeon, Benjamin Grant Purzycki once again demonstrates the poverty of discourse about religion – the fact that little understanding of its required to make grand pronouncements. Anyway, he says some interesting things along the way, and it’s worth a read. First, we’re all biased toward thinking of God as a cosmic judge:

In a 2013 article in Cognition, I reported that Christian students from the University of Connecticut who claim that God knows everything will nonetheless rate His knowledge of moral information (Does God know that Sebastian robs grocery stores?) as better than His knowledge of non-moral information (Does God…

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No Hands Are Clean But Christ’s: Phil Klay’s Redeployment

No Hands Are Clean But Christ’s: Phil Klay’s Redeployment

“Twenty centuries of Christianity,” I said. “You’d think we’d learn.” I fingered the small cross. “In this world, He only promises we don’t suffer alone.”

-Phil Klay, Redeployment

2014’s National Book Award winner is an unusual one in several ways. First, it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its author is part of a new generation of writers who served in the War on Terror. And finally it goes beyond a simple celebration of the ‘other 1%,’ Americans who serve in the armed forces, and looks deeply and with a tone both tragic and colloquial into the moral…

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Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

This reflection on aging comes to us from Ryan Sanders:

A recent study conducted by two professors at New York University revealed that people are more likely to make big decisions or create big regrets just before milestone birthdays. The study divined that “people audit the meaningfulness of their lives as they approach a new decade in chronological age, further suggesting that people across dozens of countries and cultures are prone to making significant decisions as they approach each new decade.”

This study tells us what we already know: as people face milestone events, they often review their lives and make adjustments. And often,…

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Ricky Eat Acid’s Aural Law/Gospel

Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Ricky Eat Acid’s Aural Law/Gospel

While listening to music, I’ve found there are certain details or aspects in songs that I will tend to gravitate toward or focus on more.  A lot of times, these aspects can, in a sense, make or break a song for me and can be something as menial as a specific chord change, a song’s particular drum sound or pattern, a short musical riff, etc. When I gravitate toward an aspect like this, I tend to disregard a lot of other elements in the song to the point where if that one aspect were missing, I might not enjoy the…

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We All Have Our Own Bunkers: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Law, and Grace

We All Have Our Own Bunkers: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Law, and Grace

Warning: some spoilers ahead, but no major plot developments, I don’t think. It’s hard to tell with sitcoms, especially one in the 30 Rock vein.

Netflix’s newest “original” show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, very quickly won me over with its blend of goofy characters and cultural commentary. From the mind of Tina Fey, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feels a lot like 30 Rock, but has a slightly different, more optimistic tone, mainly due to Ellie Kemper’s portrayal of the titular character. Kimmy’s demeanor is reminiscent of Leslie Knope, so it’s nice see another solid female character step in to fill the void left…

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