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Marilynne Robinson on Christmas, Easter, and Religious Dread

Marilynne Robinson on Christmas, Easter, and Religious Dread

From Marilynne Robinson’s essay “Wondrous Love”, one of several collected in When I Was a Child I Read Books:

I have a theory that the churches fill on Christmas and Easter because it is on these days that the two most startling moments in the Christian narrative can be heard again…...

Sharks in the Water: In the Event of a Failure (on Good Friday)

Sharks in the Water: In the Event of a Failure (on Good Friday)

I come from a pretty competitive family, so it should have been no surprise to find them enjoying the latest season of Shark Tank. Of this show’s many seductions — the edge-of-your-seat deliberations, the outlandish pitches (looking at you, Pinot Meow) — the biggest hook may be the sense of judgment hovering throughout each episode: a trembling entrepreneur stands up...

MLK, Bobby Kennedy, and the Monumental Grace of Sleep

MLK, Bobby Kennedy, and the Monumental Grace of Sleep

This wonderful reflection was written by Benjamin Self.

I.

The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor. It could not be from the want of assiduity or perseverance; for he would sit on a wet rock…and fish all day without a murmur, even...

2017 NYC Conference (4/27-29): New Video Invitation and Scholarships

2017 NYC Conference (4/27-29): New Video Invitation and Scholarships

With (magnificent!) Tyler behind us, it’s time to go full steam on the promotion for our big 10th Anniversary Conference in NYC which takes place the end of next month, April 27-29th. First up is our new video, which we encourage you to share to the ends of the Earth...

Hungry for Religion

Hungry for Religion

As the Church turns its attention to a certain supper, we thought we’d post the closing sermon from the most recent issue (Food and Drink) of The Mockingbird.

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no...

When Jesus Gets Crucified and Churches Get Bombed: Take a Seat this Holy Week

When Jesus Gets Crucified and Churches Get Bombed: Take a Seat this Holy Week

As has been well before established, I was not raised with parents who fixated all that much on church. We went every Sunday. But there weren’t a lot of “extras.” We didn’t come back for any Wednesday programming. I honestly cannot remember a potluck supper. And my mother would...

Between Death and Resurrection… He Descended Into Hell

Between Death and Resurrection… He Descended Into Hell

Holy Saturday is probably for most Western Christians the most insignificant part of the end of Holy Week. Most churches let it pass without much of a thought. The irony is that this day in between Good Friday and Easter is the day that seems to correspond closest to the...

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Science Is From Mars, Theology Is From Venus: A Conference Breakout Preview

This conference breakout preview comes from Bonnie Poon Zahl and Bethany Sollereder.

According to the Pew Research Center (see here and here), over half of American adults who were sampled (59%) believe that, in general, science is often in conflict with religion. But “conflict” is only one way of seeing how science and religion might relate. Other possibilities include “independent”, “competition”, “dialogue”, “discussion”, “engagement”, “partnership”, “collaboration”, among others. Some, like scientist and theologian Alister McGrath, take a more nuanced approach, and describe the relationship as complementary, while historian John Hedley Brooke (writing before Facebook was a thing) simply described the relationship as: “It’s complicated”. How about you? How do you view the relationship between science and religion?

We (Bonnie and Bethany) have spent a great deal of our professional and personal lives thinking about how science and religion might relate. We’ve heard people tell us that Christians can’t be scientists, on the one hand, and that theology is the queen of the sciences, on the other – and everything in between. One of us is a scientist (Bonnie) and one is a theologian (Bethany) and we’d like to invite you on a brief journey on the history of how we’ve gotten into this complicated relationship through our disciplines of psychology and theology– and more importantly, hear your thoughts on –the unanswered questions about how science and theology speak to the suffering in the world and in personal lives.

Retreat, Not Advance (or How I Made It to New York Without a Wallet)

Retreat, Not Advance (or How I Made It to New York Without a Wallet)

A wonderful post from Connor Gwin:

“It is called a ‘retreat,’ not an ‘advance.’”

That was the advice given to me by a Brother from the Society of St. John the Evangelist before my first week-long retreat.

This is not what I wanted to hear.

Think of all the books I could read with a week of silence. Think of all the writing I could do.

You should know that I am big on plans. I make plans in my head for pretty much everything. I plan how my day will go. I plan how phone conversations will turn out. I plan the shape of…

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All the Grief We Can’t Relieve: A Meditation on Pearl Jam and Holy Saturday

All the Grief We Can’t Relieve: A Meditation on Pearl Jam and Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday may have come and gone, but its meaning and importance remain ever with us. This moving piece was written by John Alexander.

My friend Dave died in a car accident in 2007. The ten-year anniversary of his death roughly coincides with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction of Pearl Jam, a band that is inseparable from Dave’s life and times. Their debut album Ten recently turned 25 years old (the Hall of Fame’s minimum age requirement for a band’s nomination), which was Dave’s age when he died. Their induction ceremony was held in Brooklyn last weekend, on…

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The Beautiful Truth of Collateral Beauty

The Beautiful Truth of Collateral Beauty

In the Gospel reading appointed for Good Friday, Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” He seems to really want to know. He seems to be searching for an answer to explain this bruised and beaten Jew standing before him and the chaotic scene outside in his courtyard. And the truth is what we come to church seeking each Good Friday. With Pilate we ask, “What is truth?” We show up before God on the day commemorating Christ’s death for us, asking such questions as, Why was this necessary? Why did God have to die for us? Why would God die for…

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Easter is God’s Great Yes to Earth

Easter is God’s Great Yes to Earth

This Easter Monday reflection comes to us from our friend Chad Bird.

This is the annual time of year some Christians roll their eyes as they tsk-tsk over eggs and bunnies smothering the real meaning of Easter.

I beg to differ. If anyone needs to roll his eyes, it’s God as he sees some of his followers more interested in heaven than he is.

Easter is God’s great affirmation of the earth and all it contains. The day when God says Yes to chocolate eggs and white bunnies, little girls’ pretty dresses and elaborate family dinners, trumpeting lilies and bodies of flesh and blood.

Easter…

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Between Death and Resurrection… He Descended Into Hell

Between Death and Resurrection… He Descended Into Hell

Holy Saturday is probably for most Western Christians the most insignificant part of the end of Holy Week. Most churches let it pass without much of a thought. The irony is that this day in between Good Friday and Easter is the day that seems to correspond closest to the everyday experience of the Christian life, which is lived in between the two comings of Christ. To walk by faith and not by sight eagerly awaiting our adoption and “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23) is to live between death and resurrection.

I’m told that some Eastern Orthodox Christians spit…

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Another Week Ends: Anger Rooms, Egyptian Widows, Cookie Monster Confessions, Mr Warmth & The Last Jedi

Another Week Ends: Anger Rooms, Egyptian Widows, Cookie Monster Confessions, Mr Warmth & The Last Jedi

1. Good Friday, here we go! First up, courtesy of Duke Divinity, is Wesley Hill’s devastating “Anger Room”. After reflecting on the loss of a childhood friend–and the inclination to whitewash negativity–he recounts an anecdote about W.H. Auden that cuts straight to the heart of what today means:

Martin Luther famously distinguished between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.” In the former you find yourself substituting a crown of thorns and a body of nailed flesh for a more palatable scene. But with a “theologia crucis,” you can call a spade a spade. You can look grief…

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Sharks in the Water: In the Event of a Failure (on Good Friday)

Sharks in the Water: In the Event of a Failure (on Good Friday)

I come from a pretty competitive family, so it should have been no surprise to find them enjoying the latest season of Shark Tank. Of this show’s many seductions — the edge-of-your-seat deliberations, the outlandish pitches (looking at you, Pinot Meow) — the biggest hook may be the sense of judgment hovering throughout each episode: a trembling entrepreneur stands up and pitches his or her idea before a squad of potential investors — the sharks! — who decide whether or not the business is worth their money.

The show’s producer, Mark Burnett, made an appearance at Unpolished 2015, an entrepreneurship conference described by Mya Frazier in her recent Bloomberg article, “What Would Jesus Disrupt?”…

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Art of Survival

Cold kitchen floor
Smooth basil leaves
Dog’s rubber tongue
Tree’s hardened skin

Bricks under foot
Grey chalky clouds
Paint sculpted on wood
Her shadow on blue

Steel’s sharpened edge
Soft swollen vein
This very pen
This scribbled painting…

Your hair. Your nape.
My fingers. Your lips.

All these surfaces
That I touch
Fade into stone.

A Passage from William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep

A Passage from William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep

William Deresiewicz (who will be speaking at our upcoming conference on Friday afternoon, 4/28!) made waves in 2008 when the American Scholar published his essay, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.” His full length book from 2011, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life, expounded upon the earlier essay and was a bestseller. The book’s premise is that kids arrive at Ivy league schools and other elite colleges proven experts at jumping through hoops. But beyond their noteworthy ability to ace tests, students are woefully unprepared for the real world. Deresiewicz found,…

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Spiritual Podiatry

It’s true: our feet tell the story of where we’ve been. Whether we like it or not, they record the terrain we’ve traversed, from the immediate substances tracked in – mud and dirt and chewing gum – to the deeper battering caused by missteps and accidents and just life. Not surprisingly, our feet are seldom the first thing we show other people. They’re covered, protected, hidden. Unless we’re in flip-flops.

Our feet, in other words, contain our age. One of the most beautiful things about a baby is how soft and pristine their feet are. No callouses or bunions or weird hairs. An adult foot, on the other hand… I remember being so grossed out by my father’s feet as a boy (to say nothing of my grandfather’s). Nowhere on the body was the discrepancy in our ages more pronounced.

There’s something democratizing about feet. The opening paragraph of David Foster Wallace’s Broom of the System has always stayed with me:

“Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. They’re long and thin and splay-toed, with buttons of yellow callus on the little toes and a thick stair-step of it on the back of the heel, and a few long black hairs are curling out of the skin at the tops of the feet, and the red nail polish is cracking and peeling in curls and candy-striped with decay.”

You could say that unlike most body parts, feet tend to be a source of commiseration rather than comparison, a body part that places us all on similar, er, footing. It’s no coincidence that Jerry Seinfeld once quipped about one of Elaine’s boyfriends, “He’s not a doctor, he’s a podiatrist.”

How do we deal with our feet? Some of us get really into shoes, I suppose. We spend exorbitant amounts of money on that pair which can most transform the appendage into something attractive or exotic or extra-performative. Come to find out, the shiniest surfaces have a way of suffocating the puppies within.

Of course, many of us simply avoid and ignore our feet. It’s not that tough, since they’re the furthest thing from our face. We all remember the key plot point in Shawshank Redemption: Andy Dufresne is able to escape from jail because people tend not to look at other people’s feet.

On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus and his relationship to feet. Remember, we hear next to nothing about his facial features in the New Testament. Yet his feet get a number of mentions (his sandals too). We hear about people sitting at them, we hear about people anointing them–and not anointing them. Ultimately, we read about him showing his disciples “the full extent of his love” by going for–you guessed it–their feet. (John 13)

It’s remarkable, really: he knows the end is near, and this is how he chooses to spend their final moments together. Apparently he’s not interested in what they think makes them presentable, but what doesn’t–that which they’re ignoring or avoiding or covering up, the grime they’ve accumulated, their most unglamorous common aspect.

That’s where he goes to work. Doing for them what they cannot do for themselves. Rinse, absorb, repeat.

Just like Mr. Clean. And just like another Mister we know and love:

Greetings from the Upside Down: A Conference Breakout Preview

Kendall Jenner once said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Just kidding! It was Maya Angelou who said that. But now that I have your attention, do you agree? Because I’ve had to give this topic A LOT of thought lately.

My family was recently uprooted from Atlanta to Sydney, Australia because #grace, and the fallout has been…a bit of everything. No demogorgons have shown up, but that hasn’t squelched the similarities with Stranger Things because a) said comparison allows me to equate myself with Barb in our hair color and suffering; and b) this new life in the Down Under feels not totally unlike the Upside Down–absence of Winona Ryder notwithstanding–what with the disorientation, opposing seasons, and strange lighting patterns (aka Daylight Savings flipped).

Kendall Jenner, Winona Ryder, and Barb: is that click-baity enough for you? Well, allow me to further tease that I’ll be providing handy keys on how not to assimilate in a foreign country, embarrassing stories about my (lack of) driving skills and language difficulties, further details of my IKEA breakdown–all as a guide to managing depression: Aussie Edition. But the big kicker will be what home means for those of us torn between an upside-down world and the Upside Down Kingdom. Spoiler alert: tons of ambivalence, a Ron Burgundy reference, cities with oceans attached. Oh, and wine. Lots of wine.