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The Strangest Symbol: A Fellowship in Suffering

The Strangest Symbol: A Fellowship in Suffering

This reflection comes to us from our friend and esteemed magician, Jim McNeely. 

1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by…

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Calling a Thing What it is: Ruminations with Lemony Snicket, Pt 2

Here’s yet another quote from the celebrated children’s author, Lemony Snicket, posted for your amusement (and in anticipation for Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the filming of which wrapped last month!). 

Snicket may be one of the only children’s authors who dares to raise an eyebrow at the rosy outlook of the optimist. He wants his young readers to know that emotions, even sad ones, are allowed to be felt and that “a good, long session of weeping can often make you feel better, even if your circumstances have not changed one bit.” From The Miserable Mill:

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“Optimist” is a word which here refers to a person who thinks hopeful and pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my left arm anymore, but at least no body will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed,” but most of us would say something along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!”….

If you have ever had a miserable experience, then you have probably had it said to you that you would feel better in the morning. This, of course, is utter nonsense, because a miserable experience remains a miserable experience even on the loveliest of mornings. For instance, if it were your birthday, and a wart-removal cream was the only present you received, someone might tell you to get a good night’s sleep and wait until morning, but in the morning the tube of wart-removal cream would still be sitting there next to your uneaten birthday cake, and you would feel as miserable as ever. My chauffeur once told me that I would feel better in the morning, but when I woke up the two of us were still on a tiny island surrounded by man-eating crocodiles, and, as I’m sure you can understand, I didn’t feel any better about it.

Of Blessed Memory on September 11: Welles Crowther

Of Blessed Memory on September 11: Welles Crowther

The first time I wrote something for Mockingbird, it was in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. Often, after these tragedies happen, a reactionary narrative responds with stories that are meant to “restore our faith in humanity,” as if the people on the ground are all heroes and the people who set off the bombs were actually robots from another planet. Turns out, we are all human beings. Plus, it is a well-documented fact that I gave up on restoring my faith in us a very long time ago.

I was a senior in high school in May of 2001….

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Mind-Controlling Nanobots and Love in the “Lows”

Mind-Controlling Nanobots and Love in the “Lows”

Only recently have I come to appreciate ‘preventive care’ in daily life: Put air in your tires so they don’t wear down; lock your windows at night so your PlayStation doesn’t get stolen; brush your teeth everyday so you don’t get gingivitis. But, even though a lack of foresight can lead to chaos and, most frustratingly, drain the bank account, things nevertheless get a little hairy when every daily activity is preventive. We quickly find ourselves living of life of control-freakedness–of trying to finagle a life lived according to our expectations.

Last week’s episode of Science Friday mentioned a developing technology in the vein of preventive care, and I was reminded why I don’t…

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When Life’s Gappers Get Your Goats

When Life’s Gappers Get Your Goats

A good starting place for reading the stories of George Saunders might not be Tenth of December, but The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, a fable that is as appropriate for kids as it is for adults. The story centers around the seaside town of Frip, which consists of three families: The Ronsens, a husband and wife who look exactly alike, and have two daughters who stand very still; Bea Romo, a big, angry woman with two big, angry sons, all of whom are big, angry singers; and our heroine, Capable, and her father, who live in the red house closest…

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Grace and William Trevor’s Piano Tuner

Grace and William Trevor’s Piano Tuner

This comes to us from Mockingfriend, Larry Parsley.

William Trevor, the Irish master of the short story, opens “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” with words that could almost launch a parable. “Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man. Belle married him when he was old.” In the story that follows, Trevor renders Belle’s jealousy of the departed Violet with dozens of deft brushstrokes.

The piano tuner, Owen, is blind. In his younger years, he was loved both by Violet and Belle. Owen chose Violet over the younger and more beautiful Belle, and subsequently Belle never married. During the four decades…

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Lost Sunglasses and the World’s Last Night

Lost Sunglasses and the World’s Last Night

This one comes from our friend Eric Youngblood.

I lost my sunglasses.

They were serving their vocation as shields to my eyes at a baseball game. But eventually the sun retired for the day, relinquishing its post to the moon.

The polarized lenses–affording me the pleasures of squint-less visibility and protection from ultra-violet ocular violence–suddenly became little more than stylish, removable blind-folds.

So I removed them. Of that much I am sure. I’m even marginally certain they were then perched over the brim of my cap, giving my Lookout Mountain All-Stars cap the appearance of possessing its own set of eyes.

But then again, I could have…

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The Ministry of Personal Concern

From Henri Nouwen’s classic The Wounded Healer, this excerpt seems to describe pastoral care (and relationships) 101: the power of one’s own inner-archaeology to “break the fourth wall” with another; to actually reach out and meet another by first reaching in.

ec85f5bc2fe180880ec3f2c022986e5687045070_mIt is not just curiosity which makes people listen to a preacher when speaks directly to a man and a woman whose marriage he blesses or to the children of the man whom he buries in the ground. They listen in the deepseated hope that a personal concern might give the preacher words that carry beyond the ears of those whose joy or suffering he shares. Few listen to a sermon which is intended to be applicable to everyone, but most pay careful attention to words born out of concern for only a few.

All this suggests that when one has the courage to enter where life is experienced as most unique and most private, one touches the soul of the community. The man who has spent many hours trying to understand, feel, and clarify the alienation and confusion of one of his fellow men might well be the best equipped to speak to the needs of the many, because all men are one at the wellspring of pain and joy.

This is what Carl Rogers pointed out when he wrote: “…I have–found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets who have dared to express the unique in themselves.” It indeed seems that the Christian leader is first of all the artist who can bind together many people by his courage in giving expression to his most personal concern.

Grace in the Unladylike Event of Pooping Your Pants: An Ode to God and Granny Panties

Grace in the Unladylike Event of Pooping Your Pants: An Ode to God and Granny Panties

Everyone poops. But not everyone always poops in a toilet. For now, I am sometimes one of those people. My wonderful, sassy, proper and Southern mother would literally come at me with a shiv of her finest china if she knew I was writing this article. Talking about soiling your pants (to the public, no less) is about as unladylike as eating your entrée with a salad fork, or slouching in a chair with your knees spread-eagle (maybe even worse…). But I can no longer stay silent about this issue.

Believe it or not, there is a weird kind of grace…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Luke Chapter Twenty Two Verses Forty Nine Through Fifty One

This morning’s installment from The Mockingbird Devotional comes from PZ himself. 

And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51, RSV)

This exchange between Jesus and his disciples at an urgent and dangerous moment says more than just a “No” to taking matters into your own hands. It says a great “Yes” to healing, and loving, your enemy. (I resent this, by the way, about Jesus, as he always goes that extra step toward the crumb who hurt you.)

Poster - Ben-Hur (1959)_04The disciples carry two swords among them, and like Ben-Hur, they are ready to give their lives in service of their teacher and friend. Peter is the one who by tradition takes instant aim at the high priest’s slave, and slices off the man’s ear. Jesus cries, Stop! Then he heals the stricken man. It’s in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, and you can still visit the actual scene, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

Jesus forbids violence in his defense, and then takes that extra step. This is the rocky part. For myself, I am right with him on the passivity. We have seen and see every day what happens when you try to take matters into your own hands. The better way is to concede things, right down the line—“It’s out of my hands!” When you take things into your own hands, it always seems to backfire. Let things come to you. Let the result come to you. And if you’re in the wrong, let the result go the other way. I think all of us who embrace the iustitia passiva are with Christ here in this lightning encounter. Our theological and personal instincts run in that direction.

But there are limits, right? Do we really have to go the extra mile, and stitch up the minion who “vuz just folloving orrderz?”

The way to look at this is not to ask whether you or I can do it, whether you or I can take that extra magnanimous step. The way to look at it is rather to remember when you or I were in the body of that temple servant, that little man in service of the wrong who was nevertheless helped along to a better path. This is that one extra step—Neil Armstrong’s one small but giant step—in service of our fellow earthlings. We are not so much “Peter,” who needs to be instructed to put away his sword. We are “Malchas,” which is the traditional name given to the temple slave. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Come, Lord Christ, and help me get up. I am Malchas and my right ear is lying in a puddle of blood on the ground.

The other day I was with a depressed young man, age 29. His face was completely blank and he could barely get out a word. Turns out he is well educated, graduated from an excellent college, and has a skilled job. But he is depressed and needs help. How could I help him, as he was pretty alienating—no smile, no laugh, dead eyes, no affect of any perceptible kind? The key, for me, was relating to my own depression, my own personal history of depression. The man in my study didn’t have to know that, but my love for him was going to have to be tied to one thing: whatever identification I could effect with his disease. Thank God I could. The link was not whether I could reach out in my own strength to this affect-less person, but whether I could reach out to my own personal affect-less self. And that self exists. All I need to do is recollect one long night in Manhattan years and years ago when my wife went into a movie theater to see a movie with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep and I couldn’t even go in, but pleaded depression and just walked around the block, at least 25 times, until the movie was over, and we could go back home. Stranger to depression? No. Possibility of connection? Yes.

This is how I can make Christ’s magnanimous gesture somehow my own.

Our Grieving Hearts and the “Great Impertinence of Beauty”  (Or, Can Beauty Save the World?), Pt 1

Our Grieving Hearts and the “Great Impertinence of Beauty” (Or, Can Beauty Save the World?), Pt 1

This fascinating piece comes to us from Benjamin Self. This is the first in a two-part reflection.

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick…
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?

— Jeremiah 8: 18, 21-22

Painting by Gerald Cassidy

I.

The Sunday evening after this summer’s June 12th shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, several members of my church and I joined a few thousand other people from Louisville and Jeffersonville on the Big Four Bridge over the…

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The Lonely Island of Waiting to be Healed

The Lonely Island of Waiting to be Healed

I have an MFA in Photography. I tell you this because, obviously, it’s really very impressive. But also to prove my know-how in the metaphor I’m about to illustrate: Waiting is a lot like standing in front of the developing tray in a darkroom. From the Christian’s perspective – that before God formed us in the womb, He knew us – the film has already been exposed, developed, transferred to paper, and then set apart as a piece of incomparable and beloved craftsmanship. But as the photographer stands alone in the dark, gently rocking the tray of the developing bath,…

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