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Theology


The Irreligion of the Cross

From Fleming Rutledge’s masterful new work, The Crucifixion, this comes from her chapter “The Godlessness of the Cross” (ht LM):

Yet at the most fundamental level—and this can’t be emphasized too strongly—the cross is in no way “religious.” The cross is by a very long way the most irreligious object ever to find its way into the heart of faith. J. Christiaan Beker refers to it as “the most nonreligious and horrendous feature of the Gospel.

The crucifixion marks out the essential distinction between Christianity and “religion.” Religion as defined in these pages is either an organized system of belief or, alternatively, a loose collection of ideas and practices, projected out of humanity’s needs and wishes. The cross is “irreligious” because no human being individually or human beings collectively would have projected their hopes, wishes, longings, and needs onto a crucified man.

A Treatise Against Christian Hypocrisy

A Treatise Against Christian Hypocrisy

Because I am an immediate devotee to anything Mark Burnett produces, I suffered through an entire season of Fox’s Coupled this summer. If you aren’t familiar with this romantic tale, then pat yourself on the back for being a better person than me. The premise is simple: twelve single women get to filter through a lot of men to see if they can ultimately be “coupled” off. You know the drill: island location, loads of Mai Tais, one affront to feminism after another.

There was one character that had me rapt for the entire season. Her name is Alexandra “Alex” Clark,…

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Bad People in The Good Place

In case you missed it during the Olympics, NBC will have a new Thursday night sitcom this fall: The Good Place (I went to high school with Michael Schur!). It’s about an abominable woman (Kristin Bell), who, by some cosmic error, ends up in Heaven.

Not surprisingly, the show appears (admittedly from the 2-minute trailer) to propagate the notion that good people go to the “good place” and bad people go to the “bad place” (although I hold out hope that the creator of Parks & Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine will be a bit more insightful). Of course, this is the Law, not the Gospel. It is Karma, not Grace. In contrast, the New Testament affirms that the only Good Person went to the bad place so that bad people could go to the good place.

A Just Relief: How the Gospel Inspires Justice and Mercy – Raleigh Sadler

Just when you thought the NYC Conference videos were finished!

A Just Relief: How the Gospel Inspires Justice and Mercy – Raleigh Sadler from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Throwback Thursday: The 1983 Interview with…Robert Farrar Capon!

Throwback Thursday: The 1983 Interview with…Robert Farrar Capon!

Another gem from The Wittenburg Door, the satirical Christian magazine of yore which brought some heavy-lifting (and light-humored) interviews back in the day. This is their phenomenal interview with hero bon vivant Robert Farrar Capon (ht MM).

Door: You used to teach theology?

Robert Farrar Capon: Someone had to do it.

D: We’re glad it was you and not us.

RFC: So is the theological community.

D: We were going to be easy on you, but now you have forced us to ask the difficult questions. Here’s our first: What is theology?

RFC: That’s a difficult question?

D: Quit stalling.

RFC: Theology is a funny kind of knowledge. Unfortunately, most…

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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.

“I Must Have Done Something Good”

“I Must Have Done Something Good”

When I was a little girl, our family’s acquisition of a VCR coincided with my older sister’s debut in several small town musical productions. This meant that I could watch Annie, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and The Fiddler on the Roof to my heart’s content, when not elbowing my brother out of the way when he wanted to watch Star Wars. I watched the Fiddler on the Roof on VHS so many times that the tapes warped. We also had vinyl records of musical soundtracks, and hearing a needle hit the vinyl still makes my throat catch before I…

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Rest for the Fickle

Rest for the Fickle

We’re fickle. Human beings are fickle. You and I both know it and we’re free to confess it. Our hearts and minds easily change orientation and preferences by the mere shifting of the wind, our hearts and minds have a difficulty staying the course, being constant in our loyalty and affections.

I do want to be clear that I don’t think all moments of changing our mind are bad; sometimes our propensity toward changing our mind isn’t necessarily a bad thing; there are times receiving new information and incorporating it into our database of knowledge is good, in fact it’s an…

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When Forgiveness Flounders

Timely paragraph from Miroslav Volf’s volume Exclusion and Embrace, ht SJ:

exclusion-and-embrace-1“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”

The Seven Sacraments of Harry Potter

The Seven Sacraments of Harry Potter

In honor of the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, here is another essay from our new anthology of movie essays, Mockingbird at the Movies, available in print here and on Kindle here. 

Before anyone calls bluff on a Harry Potter essay found in a book about movies, let us first consider a fact about the Harry Potter movie franchise. As of July 2015, total movie sales for the eight Harry Potter films had almost surpassed total Harry Potter book sales, a ridiculous feat when you consider how much money that is (over $7 billion). And when you consider…

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Another Tribute to the Rev. Robert Capon

Another Tribute to the Rev. Robert Capon

Here is another fantastic reflection from Cody Gainous. 

I can’t remember where I first read the name Robert Farrar Capon — whether it was Mockingbird that led me to Capon or Capon that led me Mockingbird, I’m not sure. Classic chicken/egg scenario. But I can remember where I was when I heard that he had passed away. We are approaching the third anniversary of his death this September. That day, I was sitting on the couch in my tiny apartment, incidentally reading Between Noon and Three. When I put down the book and picked up my computer, the news came: Robert…

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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.