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Patton Oswalt's Good Grief

Patton Oswalt’s Good Grief

This one was written by Aarik Danielsen.

“You gotta laugh to keep from crying.”

This is what passes for conventional emotional wisdom in 2017. And not without reason. Our moment feels, politically, psychically, and spiritually, like a stage play complete with buffoonish characters, bizarre stage directions and metaphors willing to do tasteful...

Lord God, From Even Our Motives, Save Us

Lord God, From Even Our Motives, Save Us

This past Sunday was the kind of Sabbath that heals me. It was All Saints Sunday, my husband preached about my grandmother, and the church was full of loud children. During communion, a guy played “Amazing Grace” on the horn. It was a taste of heaven.

And then I turned on...

Waiting At the Altar (No Longer!): Bob Dylan's Gospel Years

Waiting At the Altar (No Longer!): Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years

As promised, a review of the long-awaited Trouble No More boxed set documenting Bob Dylan’s gospel years, courtesy of resident Dylanologist Ken Wilson, who’ll be seeing his 55th (!) show on Friday.

In a career full of surprises, the most amazing is still the “born again” period. Sure Bob Dylan...

Four Points About Martin Luther on 31 October 2017

Four Points About Martin Luther on 31 October 2017

Prof. Simeon Zahl weighs in:

I’ve spent so much of the past ten years reading, thinking with, and writing about Martin Luther’s theology, and teaching his thought at three universities. But I confess at this point I have very little interest in the idea of Luther, or in hagiography, or in...

Secret Demodogs and (Spiritual) Black Holes: Stranger Things 2 Loses Its Innocence

Secret Demodogs and (Spiritual) Black Holes: Stranger Things 2 Loses Its Innocence

Spoilers galore in the following look at the latest season of the Netflix series.

A Christian take on the new season of Stranger Things begins and ends with Eleven and her relationship to Hopper. That relationship—its ups, its downs, and its upside downs—becomes the beating heart of this season.

When we last...

Sex Is Bigger Than You and Me (and Everyone We Know)

Sex Is Bigger Than You and Me (and Everyone We Know)

Two remarkable articles about sex–you know, coitus–have come across my screen in the past couple weeks, both of them refreshingly offbeat. The first comes from Alain De Botton, he of Religion for Atheists fame and the new How to Think More About Sex. It appeared in The Wall Street Journal...

Announcing a Mockingbird Take on Hamilton!

Announcing a Mockingbird Take on Hamilton!

We are excited to announce an ebook titled Never Satisfied Until Satisfied in Thee: Finding Grace in Hamilton—which drops on November 1!

America needed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical as 2016 left us with unprecedented division and cynicism about our national values. Fortunately, Hamilton modeled grace to America and its...

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"Mockingbird Turns 10" Interviews: Aaron Zimmerman

“Mockingbird Turns 10” Interviews: Aaron Zimmerman

This is the seventh installment in a series of interviews with myself and various writers and members of the Mockingbird community. These posts will explore some aspects of each individual’s personal story and some aspects of Mockingbird’s larger story and ministry as we celebrate its 10th Anniversary. Additional interviews in this series can be found here.

Charlotte Donlon: How did you find out about Mockingbird?

Aaron Zimmerman: Well, it was started around 2007 as a tiny blog by some friends of mine. I knew all of them from seminary and they asked me to be a writer for the website.

CD: How has the…

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Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 2)

Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 2)

Too long for one post, we’re looking at the advent of the “sadcom,” a unique TV comedy developed over recent years. Sadcoms are shows that find humor in the debauched and dysfunctional lives of lead characters, punctuating that wildness with sincere moments of sympathy. For a longer breakdown, check out part 1, with a review of BoJack Horseman‘s season four.

It’s worth asking how we got to this place, where alcoholic horses and mad-scientist grandpas become critically acclaimed television for adults. It’s a question that Elizabeth Bruenig’s write-up “Why is Millennial humor so weird?” worked to answer last August in the…

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Praying Twice

Praying Twice

Editor’s note: the following post touches on sensitive topics such as child abuse and should be read with discretion.

I am a member of one of the very smallest of American fraternities: the tiny and shrinking group of men who grew through early adolescence singing in Anglican boychoirs. Because I could and can sing, I was given in loco parentis when I was ten years old to an institution that trained boys to sing in an ancient English tradition of choral worship. We wore red or black cassocks and white surplices with ruffs loaned by the local Episcopal parish. The pictures were…

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November Playlist

Not easy to find tracks that fit the quincentennial theme…

Four Points About Martin Luther on 31 October 2017

Prof. Simeon Zahl weighs in:

I’ve spent so much of the past ten years reading, thinking with, and writing about Martin Luther’s theology, and teaching his thought at three universities. But I confess at this point I have very little interest in the idea of Luther, or in hagiography, or in his specific denominational legacy, or in his personality, or in his politics, or in his insults or his beer or whatever. And I disagree with quite a few of his main insights, and that’s before we even get to the hateful stuff.

But there remains no theologian I learn more from or I am more keen to teach. In the end if I am honest I am interested in Luther as a kind of artist who at his best transmuted his personal sufferings into theological ideas that can inform an utterly compassionate vision of Christianity as a religion of honesty and mercy for suffering and screwed up human beings. At his best – and he was very often not at his best – Luther remains unsurpassed here.

If I wanted to boil what I think has been most worthwhile for me down to a few points, on this quincentennial day, they would be these:

1. As a theologian, I return again and again to Luther’s theological method, especially his highly dynamic and creative way of transmuting his own sufferings and experiences into theological insight on behalf of others, in dialogue with Scripture. In this again I think he is usefully understood as a kind of artist or poet rather than simply as a thinker or exegete, and I think this is part of what Kierkegaard meant in his journals when he called Luther an ‘extremely important patient for Christianity’. As Luther puts it, ‘in tribulation [the exegete] learns many things which he did not know before; [likewise,] many things he already knew in theory he grasps more firmly through experience’ (WA 3:44; LW 10:49). We can seek to follow this method without having to agree with what Luther actually concluded at any given point. And I do personally think that a dose of this kind of experientialism, done well, is what theology today needs more than anything.

2. Luther’s account of the persistence of sin in the Christian in the later parts of Against Latomus is probably the darkest such account we have anywhere in the tradition, and in this it is enduringly profound. ‘[T]he motion of anger and evil is exactly the same in the godly and the godless, the same before grace and after grace’ (WA 8:91; LW 32:207). Luther argues at one point here that the way that sin persists in Christians is quite precisely analogous to the way that physical death persists: its ‘reality’ and ‘substance’ is unchanged, but its ‘sting’ is taken away. In this he is taking a major strand of Christian tradition and turning it up to eleven. In practice, the account in Against Latomus can and should function as a kind of firewall of divine mercy for Christians who feel like failures; there is no circumstance it cannot encompass. These bits of Against Latomus are not all that Luther had to say on the subject of the Christian life but they are the parts that have stood out the most to me over the years.

3. Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel, loosely held and experientially/affectively understood, remains one of the most powerful diagnostic tools for making sense of what people I see around me actually do in their lives – all the anxious striving – and why it so rarely feels like ‘enough’, and for explaining the power of Christianity as a clear-eyed but utterly compassionate response to this. It is a shame that this aspect of his thought which pastorally-speaking has dated so little in 500 years (in our cultural moment of performancism and overwork) has been so misunderstood in recent theology.

4. The theology of the cross, as expressed with such simplicity and depth in the Heidelberg Disputation, seems to me to match the reality of life as it is very often experienced by human beings in the world, better than any other such category I have come across. ‘God can be found only in suffering and the cross’ (proof of thesis 21). Whatever their tradition (or anti-tradition), students always respond to this extraordinary text, which (with the Disp. Against Scholastic Theology) is I think the paradigmatic example of Luther’s art.

Other people can talk about his theology of the Bible, his view of the sacraments, his relationship to modernity and authority and all the rest, but for me these are the reasons I continue to be interested in the legacy of Martin Luther in 2017.

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin ~ Simeon Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

When Kiss Means Kill: Reflections on the Apocalypse of Language

When Kiss Means Kill: Reflections on the Apocalypse of Language

“As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word water, firstly slowly then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt the misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened by soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free… Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought….

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He Descended Into Horror

He Descended Into Horror

The approach of Halloween and Reformation Day begs an interesting question for the modern Tertullian: what hath Halloween to do with Jerusalem? As a rhetorical move, the implied answer is: nothing at all. In the eyes of many a pious Protestant, it is some rough beast that slouches off towards Halloween while soldiers of the five solas parade to the fanfare of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” “Trick or treat!” and “Here I stand” seem poles apart, incommensurately opposite. But what if the convergence of the two in one day presents an apposite moment for reflecting upon solus Christus…

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Announcing a Mockingbird Take on Hamilton!

We are excited to announce an ebook titled Never Satisfied Until Satisfied in Thee: Finding Grace in Hamilton—which drops on November 1!

America needed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical as 2016 left us with unprecedented division and cynicism about our national values. Fortunately, Hamilton modeled grace to America and its people, past and present in its hip-hop, sung-through presentation of the life of our “ten-dollar founding father without a father,” Alexander Hamilton.

Never Satisfied Until Satisfied in Thee, edited by Tim Peoples and Cort Gatliff, explores the many ways that grace shows itself in Miranda’s musical: Cort Gatliff, Michael Sansbury, Matthew Linder, and Amanda McClendon each contribute essays on how Hamilton strove for more in this world but only found moments of peace in failure and death. Margaret Pope wonders whether it is better to be ruled by God or King George. Stephanie Phillips and Lauren R.E. Larkin explore their Hamilton­-character spirit animals—respectively, Aaron Burr and Angelica Schuyler. Tim Peoples closes the collection with thoughts on first and final drafts composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Creator of the Universe.

We are pleased to bring this chorus of voices to you on November 1! Click here to pre-order from Amazon.

Another (Conference) Week Ends: Paranormativity, Dream Deprivation, Millennial Morticians, Martin Luther, Christian Book Titles for the Age of the 'Net, and More Russell Brand

Another (Conference) Week Ends: Paranormativity, Dream Deprivation, Millennial Morticians, Martin Luther, Christian Book Titles for the Age of the ‘Net, and More Russell Brand

1. I think it was PZ who said that belief in the paranormal is almost a precondition of Christianity. It’s easy to think that science – which is properly concerned with empirically testing and proving/disproving those things which are subject to empirical testing – has vanquished the paranormal. Back in the old days, supernatural forces pressed on human existence from all sides. Beyond the village perimeter, the brooding night contained many things, and they were all threatening. Across Europe, peasants reported sightings of the Wild Hunt, a ghostly cavalcade of riders spreading terror and heralding catastrophe. In a world where…

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The Hidden Link Between Martin Luther and… Peter Parker?

Can’t say I was expecting the following (timely!) illustration to pop up in the Substitution chapter of Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion, ht RS:

A substantive argument against the motif of atonement and substitution is that people in other cultures around the world do not see themselves in the categories we have been discussing–guilt, incapacity, bondage, shame, failure, defeat. Yet the more one hears this, the more the categories seem to pop up. Here is an example that originated in American comic-book culture and spread around the world. In a highbrow essay review of Spider-Man, the blockbuster movie of 2002, Geoffrey O’Brien, editor in chief of the Library of America, harks back to the original comic of 1962:

The crucial plot point in the original episode was that Peter Parker’s initial burst of unwonted arrogance on receiving his spider powers led… to the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. The notion of a moral lapse (his momentary hubris) that could never really be atoned for gave the comic book its air of perpetual dissatisfaction; being Spider-Man was… a perpetual reminder to the hero of his own shortcomings, a kind of penance. There was always the possibility that he would fail again, and so he was condemned to a vigilant monitoring of his own reactions and impulses. In such a situation an unqualified sense of triumph was by definition impossible. In its goofy way, The Amazing Spider-Man acknowledged the tragic sense of life.

This remarkable paragraph from a secular journal incorporates much of what we have been trying to say all along. Moreover, it mirrors in an almost uncanny way the struggle of Martin Luther to monitor his behavior and his consequent discovery that an “unqualified sense of triumph” is “by definition impossible,” and can only be experienced through the victory of Christ…. In his reference to the “tragic sense of life,” O’Brien means to set the guilt of one individual into its context, that of ubiquitous human failure. In great novels of universal significance such as those of Joseph Conrad, the same dynamic is revealed. Conrad’s narrator Marlow tells stories showing that the guilt and shame of one man (Lord Jim) are made to stand for us all, and the guilt of the British Empire (Heart of Darkness) is drawn into the larger saga not only of the individual soul but also of cosmic entrapment in the infernal stream… of darkness.”

If this be “Western,” make the most of it. (pg 491-92)

Running from Law, Running from Grace

Running from Law, Running from Grace

There’s enough indication in Scripture to make the case that we naturally run from law when it confronts us in everyday life: in the preached Word of God as a ‘first word’ and when we experience its damning effects and accusatory sting in the midst of our relationships. But more subtle and implicit is the notion that we also, in a sense, run from grace.

In the book of Jonah (Jonah 1:1-3) we see that the renowned “Prophet to the Nations” runs from the law…but in Jonah 4:1-2, we see that he despises the grace of God. Jonah ran from both……

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Performance-Based Culture Is Killing Us

Performance-Based Culture Is Killing Us

Grateful for this one written by The Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase, whose book Done and Left Undone: Grace in the Meantime of Parish Ministry hits in January.

When I preached at the closing Eucharist of our recent Cursillo on Sunday, I reminded participants that they’d just been gifted with a cross on which was written: “Christ is counting on you.” I told them (to a few gasps in the congregation) to please forget about that for now. They should rather be “counting on Christ.” Later, when they’re a bit more mature in faith, they might heed the words on their crosses, while…

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