A Texas-sized thank-you to everyone who helped put on our conference in Tyler last month, especially the fabulous–and ridiculously ecumenical–steering committee, led by the indefatigable Matt Magill. Huge thanks to all the sponsors as well: B3 Ministries, Bethel Bible, Christ Episcopal, Porch Culture Coffee Roasters, and True Vine Brewery, not...
This conference preview comes from Ted Scofield.
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, it’s the last one on our list. Number seven, at the bottom, out of sight, out of mind. Anger, pride, gluttony, laziness, lust and envy — we’ll cop to all of those sins, but greed?
What? Who? Me?
Research shows that most of us agree: Greed is someone else’s problem, not mine. Wall Street fat cats are greedy, welfare freeloaders are greedy, millenials, baby boomers, short people, tall people, those people over there, anybody but me! During this breakout session at the upcoming Mockingbird conference (Friday, April 17, 10:30am), together we’ll explore how…
In the same Sunday issue, The New York Times Magazine published two articles that drew some not-so-subtle conclusions about the American prison system, about its problematic rise in numbers, about its entrenched recidivism, and about its inherent contradictions to the American themes of freedom, opportunity, and hope. Of the two articles, one of them was a character study of ADX in Colorado, “America’s Toughest Federal Prison.”
Since opening in 1994, the ADX has remained not just the only federal supermax but also the apogee of a particular strain of the American penal system, wherein abstract dreams of rehabilitation have been entirely…
I recently came across a book that really spoke to me called The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People (2012) by Matthew B. Redmond. The thing I like most about the book is it’s pastoral—it really ministered to me as I read it. It’s main thrust is that God is at work in the ordinariness of our mostly mundane lives. This is actually the opposite of what one often hears in Christian circles (across the ideological spectrum) that urge us to do radical things and find God in mountain-top experiences.
Here is the description on the back of the book:
A Texas-sized thank-you to everyone who helped put on our conference in Tyler last month, especially the fabulous–and ridiculously ecumenical–steering committee, led by the indefatigable Matt Magill. Huge thanks to all the sponsors as well: B3 Ministries, Bethel Bible, Christ Episcopal, Porch Culture Coffee Roasters, and True Vine Brewery, not to mention Mark and David Babikow, who once again came to our rescue on the A/V front. Vielen dank to Richard Dvorak for taking such awesome photos, too.
As per usual, we’re making the recordings available at no charge; we only ask that those who were not able to attend this year *consider* tossing something in the hat to help cover the cost of the event. Download links are followed by an in-line player for each session. The main sessions were also videotaped, and we’ll be rolling the clips out gradually over the next few weeks.
TALK 1. Lay Down Your Weary Tune: Everyday Life and the Roots of Exhaustion – David Zahl
TALK 2. Does Jesus Like Donuts? The After-Party for the Sermon on the Mount – Aaron Zimmerman
BREAKOUT 1. Hiding in the Bathroom: Why Inspired Parenting Will Kill You – Sarah Condon (click here for Powerpoint)
BREAKOUT 2. What the #$%* is A Jackson Pollock: The Messy Grace of Modern Art – Randy Randall
BREAKOUT 3. Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Beer is Good, God is Great, People are Lonely – Ryan Dixon
BREAKOUT 4. Management, Control, and Getting It Together: A Work in Failure – Keith Pozzuto*
*There was sadly a technological snafu and Keith’s session did not make it onto tape. He agreed to write it up for us, though, and you can read it here.
TALK 3. Shelter From the Storm: The Refuge of Our Merciful Friend – David Zahl
After an especially long days at Casa Condon, when the kids are demanding, the husband is cranky, and I am starting to treat my family like there’s a camera crew from Bravo about to capture my own personal breakthrough/breakdown, one thought often comes into my mind: Someday, I get to be dead. Gosh, that’s going to be nice. Everything will be quiet.
But the news of a Clean Slate rolls in and tells me I already am dead. Or, at least I am in the process of dying. I have been given a Clean Slate in Christ and in the immortal words of Mbird favorite Robert Farrar Capon:
The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn’t going to flunk you because your faith isn’t so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.
I also want to talk about what we mean when we trot out the much beloved Romans 6, “Dead to sin, alive in Christ.” What do we mean by this death? What do we lose by dying? And are we really the ones who choose to give it up?
If you’re thinking this sounds dark, you are right on the money. But if you’re sick of acting like Starbucks platitudes are life-giving, then join us for this talk. We’ve got a club and a handshake. And the only requirement is inevitable death.
The world tells us we can control our behavioral destinies. We can make choices to improve ourselves and our nasty, hidden habits. Well, bullhockey. I don’t think we do anything, except that we start dying. And God, in all of His mercy, pries our #bestlifenow from our cold dead hands. And offers us the sweet relief of a Clean Slate. Clean of our heartbreak. Clean of our grudges. Clean of our sin.
Another appropriate Easter quote comes from a sermon on Lamentations 3:22-41, found in Rudolf Bultmann’s sermon collection, This World and Beyond:
The 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)
Yesterday NPR debuted the new video by Dawes, for “Things Happen”, the terrific first single from their upcoming album, All Your Favorite Bands (out June 2). Who plays the central troubadour in the Sgt Pepper suit? You may remember him from such projects as The Mockingbird Devotional, and this post. Nate Michaux is my hero:
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):
When 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!
Another Holy Week Ends: Tinder Fixes, Going Clear, Oklahoma Grace, Online Shaming, Sufjan, and Preschool for Adults
1. Wow. The award for Best Unintentional Good Friday Article goes to novelist Diana Spechler, writing in The Times. It’s her latest entry in a series of short essays documenting the process of tapering off her anti-depressants, “Going Off”. This one has to do with her relationship to the popular dating app Tinder, appropriately titled “Tinder While I Taper”. She not only captures the Romans 7/bondage of the will aspect with harrowing vividness, she does a remarkable job of exposing the underside of a culture built on bootstrapping and the veneration of self-sufficiency, namely, the shame of self-insufficiency–the taboo of…
The Theology of False Absolution in Christian Kitsch
Have you ever unsuspectingly picked up a novelty mug from your local Christian book store, looked at the image on its side and found yourself thinking, “Hey, I thought Rembrandt was the ‘Painter of Light’? Who does this Thomas Kinkade guy think he is anyway!?” Well, you’re not alone! Join us as we explore how paintings and visual art speak a language all of their own; some words of which ring more true than you think, and others…well, you didn’t really think Kinkade’s work qualified as fine art, did you? J
1) First, we’ll look at paintings by artists such as Warner Sallman and Thomas Kinkade, and consider what the paintings themselves communicate about theology (by examining what subject they depict, and, more importantly, how).
2) Next, we’ll consider the theology of the gospel itself, and in what ways these paintings support or supplant that message.
3) Finally, we’ll examine works by Jeff Koons, Francis Bacon, and Vincent van Gough (among others), and repeat our strategy from above, though hopefully with a different outcome!
If you’re an artist, a theologian, or just an amateur art historian who’s curious to see in what ways theology and visual art may intersect, this breakout session is for you. The format of this session will be conversational, so come ready with lots of questions.
To know just how He suffered — would be dear —
To know if any Human eyes were near
To whom He could entrust His wavering gaze —
Until it settle broad — on Paradise —
To know if He was patient — part content —
Was Dying as He thought — or different —
Was it a pleasant Day to die —
And did the Sunshine face his way —
What was His furthest mind — Of Home — or God —
Or what the Distant say —
At news that He ceased Human Nature
Such a Day —
And Wishes — Had He Any —
Just His Sigh — Accented —
Had been legible — to Me —
And was He Confident until
Ill fluttered out — in Everlasting Well —
And if He spoke — What name was Best —
What One broke off with
At the Drowsiest —
Was He afraid — or tranquil —
Might He know
How Conscious Consciousness — could grow —
Till Love that was — and Love too best to be —
Meet — and the Junction be Eternity
Our first free-peek into The Work and Play Issue of The Mockingbird is our interview with Brigid Schulte, journalist and author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.
Ironically enough, it took a good bit of phone tag for this interview on busyness to happen. When we were finally able to coordinate a time to talk, Brigid Schulte was calling from a train station, heading back home from New York City, and she sounded rushed but told me she had a few minutes to talk and set up a time. When it came time for the…