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Mockingbird is devoted to connecting the Christian message with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways.


Author Archive
    The Art of Subtlety in Faith (and Doubt): Our Interview with Meghan O'Gieblyn

    The Art of Subtlety in Faith (and Doubt): Our Interview with Meghan O’Gieblyn

    Our first peek into the Faith & Doubt Issue is this interview with Meghan O’Gieblyn, author of the new book of essays, Interior States. We also were lucky enough to republish parts of her essay, originally published in The Point, “The Insane Idea.” Copies of Faith & Doubt can be gotten here, and here.  If […]

    Mercy Fights for Losers (Mark 2:13-17)

    Mercy Fights for Losers (Mark 2:13-17)

    This morning’s devotion comes from Mockingbird’s latest publication, a slim devotional on the Gospel of Mark: An Easy Stroll Through a Short Gospel, by conference chaplain Larry Parsley. This resource is available for purchase through our online store and on Amazon. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the […]

    Liturgical Folk, vol. 4: LENT (Out Now!)

    Liturgical Folk, vol. 4: LENT (Out Now!)

    Liturgical Folk’s new album, Lent, is out today, and it’s beautiful. Quiet, contemplative, comforting, these songs are devotional works of art. The album offers ten songs and hymns for the upcoming season, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Based on collects from the Book of Common Prayer, these songs are extended prayers, with all the […]

    PZ's Podcast: Tip for a Happy Marriage & Surprise, Surprise

    PZ’s Podcast: Tip for a Happy Marriage & Surprise, Surprise

    EPISODE 264: Tip for a Happy Marriage Justin Hayward is a sort of archivist for romantic relationships. He is 72 and still going strong. Two ‘Live’ performances book-end this cast, which is intended as fresh therapy towards a happy marriage. Appeals to grace, forgiveness, and empathy in relating to this impossibly different person with whom […]

    A Discussion on Law and Gospel – Jady Koch and Steven Paulson

    Another one of our favorite talks from the OKC conference in the fall. “What we want to do more than anything is help equip you to go into the world to be … these people who can actually have their burdens relieved and then, by extension, help relieve other people of these burdens.” Just about as classic as it comes.

    A Discussion on Law and Gospel — Jady Koch and Steven Paulson from Mockingbird on Vimeo

    See It, Believe It! The Faith & Doubt Issue!

    As early as January 30, we will be putting the thirteenth issue of The Mockingbird onto mail trucks to readers like you. We’re incredibly excited for you to see it. It’s colorful, it’s insightful, and believe it or not, despite the heady-sounding theme, it’s as winsome and down-to-earth and heartfelt as all the others. But don’t take our word for it! Jump on it! Over half of our inventory will be out the door Thursday… until then, here’s Ethan’s Opener and the Contents page.

    The “I Surrender” List

    More often than not, pop culture depicts the faith of ordinary people about as badly as it depicts, well, ordinary people. People of faith are always “extra” somehow: ultrasincere, overeager, ubercaffeinated. On the rare occasion, though, you find a source that gets it right.

    Last year the podcast StartUp—which normally follows one new business for an entire season—followed a different kind of venture taking the runway: a church plant. Eric Mennel, the journalist covering the story, is himself struggling with faith and decides to join the head pastor AJ on a silent, all-day retreat. AJ recommends Eric try the following journal exercise to jumpstart his prayer time: take three pages and make three separate lists: “I want…” and “I fear…” and “I surrender…”

    The first two lists come easy: “I want someone to care for me… I want to fall in love…” And then, “I fear I’m not wanted… I fear there is no God…” But when it is time for his “I surrender” list, Eric stalls, and eventually resigns himself to leaving the page blank. When the day is up, AJ has of course had a splendid time with his best pal Christ. Eric, on the other hand, is despondent. He tells AJ, “The idea of surrendering is a real sticking point for me. I have a lot of trouble trusting God…trusting God will be around…or even if God would be that helpful.”

    AJ tells him he can relate. Who can’t? Even if you are the prayerful, retreat-loving type, transcendent experiences of God are probably rarer than you’d like. And meeting people like AJ can often exacerbate the feeling that faith is a wished-for athleticism the flabby multitude will never achieve. Certainty is impressive. Those who “have it,” have it 100 percent, and the doubters who don’t, don’t. This is the popular caricature drawn by old-time religionists and New Atheists alike: that faith and doubt are two rival schools of certainty, and never the twain shall meet.

    Faith isn’t certain, though. And neither is doubt. Both are by definition uncertain, always circumscribed by the unknown and unaccountable. This is why I appreciate Eric’s hesitation: I don’t even believe the neighbor when she says it’s recycling day. How could I possibly believe this Jesus nonsense? As the writer Richard Rodriguez says, any honest person going to church is also bringing their “inner atheist” down the communion line.

    So, in working up the essays that came to make up this issue, it has become clear that the opposite of faith is not doubt—doubt is the enduring human companion, even in faith. No, the opposite of faith is control, the need to be in the driver’s seat for every turn in the road. Just like Eric facing that silent room and that blank page, the invitation to faith also means a resignation of will, namely your will. Faith means surrendering the notion that you are the Higher Power guiding your life, and realizing instead that it might be better off in Another’s hands.

    Surrender is never considered a virtue, though, especially in a culture which champions, uh, champions, those who don’t surrender. Surrendering means failing—raising the flag of defeat or incompetence. And surrender is especially dubious when the terms are chartered by some less-than-appealing Religious Authority. Faith simply isn’t worth the risk with a God Who Vindictively Punishes or God Who Is Church Lady. But with a God Who Forgives?

    Our friend Jason Micheli tells the story of a Lutheran pastor named Jim Nestingen, a hulking 6’6” Minnesota beer drinker with the belly to prove it. Jim was boarding a plane to fly coast-to-coast when he saw who he would be sharing a row with: a man just as big as him. They awkwardly wedged up against one another and exchanged niceties, preparing for the long haul, basically sitting in one another’s laps. In response to the obligatory job question, Jim said, “I am a preacher of the Gospel.” The man next to him responded loudly, almost allergically, “I’m not a believer!” Jim assured him that was okay, and they kept talking. Turned out that the man had been an infantryman in Vietnam and ever since had carried with him all the awful things he’d seen and done there. As the plane flew from one end of the country to the other, the man dumped his entire story out into the lap of his seat mate.

    When he had finished, Jim asked the man, “Have you confessed all the sins that have been troubling you?”

    The man balked. “Confess? I haven’t confessed anything!”

    Jim boomed back, “You’ve been confessing your sins to me this whole flight long. And I’ve been commanded by Christ Jesus that when I hear a confession like that to hand over the goods and speak a particular word to you. So, you have any more sins burdening you? If so, throw them in there.”

    To which the man balked again, “No, that’s all. But I’m not a believer! I don’t have any faith in me!”

    Jim unbuckled his seatbelt mid-landing and stood over the man, which caused quite the stir with the flight crew. “Well, that’s quite all right, brother,” he said. “Jesus says that it’s what’s inside of you is what’s wrong with the world. I’m going to speak faith into you.” And he proceeded with the absolution: “In the name of Jesus Christ and by his authority, I declare the entire forgiveness of all your sins.”

    Flabbergasted, the man balked again: “You can’t do that!” To which Pastor Jim responded, “I can! And I just did! And I will do it again!” And he did. The man began weeping uncontrollably until finally he began laughing uncontrollably, all the way down the tarmac to the gate. As the two men were grabbing their overhead luggage, Jim grabbed the man’s hand and gave him his card and said, “You’re likely not going to believe your forgiveness tomorrow or the next day or a week from now. When you stop having faith in it, call me and I’ll bear witness to you all over again and I’ll keep on doing it until you do—you really do—trust and believe it.”

    The man did. He called him—no joke—every day until the day he died, just to hear the declaration spoken over him in Christ Jesus. Surrendering to this absolution became something he couldn’t live without.

    What if this were the kind of surrender on offer for the rest of us weary, incredulous passengers? What if the good news was actually this good, that no matter how many times you balked, no matter how many misgivings you had about belief, and how much you’d prefer to keep matters in your hands, the forgiveness of sins remained? As the man says to Jim, “It’s just too good to be true. It would take a miracle to believe something so good.”

    It takes a miracle for us all. And this is the theme we’re exploring in this issue: in the fluctuations of faith and doubt, the persistence with which God bestows his grace. We have words from Francis Spufford, Sally Lloyd-Jones, and Gordon Marino. We talk existentialism, the Flat Earth Movement, and anger at God. But through it all, this is what we’re getting at: that despite our earnest questions and heavy burdens, and even still our empty “I surrender” pages, Christ is our answer. He has surrendered all, and it is on his account, believe it or not, that we have hope.

    To subscribe to The Mockingbird, click here. To order Faith & Doubt alone, click here. 


    Gospel Band of Brothers (Mark 1:16-20)

    Gospel Band of Brothers (Mark 1:16-20)

    The following devotion comes from the latest Mockingbird publication, An Easy Stroll Through a Short Gospel: Meditations on Mark, by Larry Parsley (who will also be our chaplain at the upcoming Mockingbird conference in NYC)!  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Mark 1:17) So here’s the way […]

    2019 Mbird NYC Conference (4/25-27): “Beyond Deserving”

    A bunch of details about our upcoming 12th annual conference in NYC are now up on Some things to note:


    I’m So Worried: How God Loves Me Through Anxiety – Carrie Willard

    Another gem from our OKC Conference, this one from Carrie Willard. Come for the Monty Python tune, stay for the moving hymn sing, with a beautiful reflection on a mother’s angst in between.

    I’m So Worried: How God Loves Me Through Anxiety – Carrie Willard from Mockingbird on Vimeo

    The Time Has Come

    The Time Has Come

    From heightened expectations to regrets about past failures, the turn of the year offers plenty of unique difficulties. So for those of us who remain not-very-skilled at New Year’s resolutions (and other time-sensitive things), here’s a *timely* devotion from An Easy Stroll Through a Short Gospel: Meditations on Mark, by Larry Parsley. Take heart, and happy […]

    Pot Kettle Black: Keeping the Mocking-Score in 2018

    For those looking to while away the yuletide coma, here’s a rundown of what content got traction in 2018. It’s limited to stuff that was posted in 2018, rather than viewed then (if we were including previous years‘ output, for example, this post would’ve come in third). Enjoy!

    Top Posts

    1. If Your Church Doesn’t Preach the Gospel
    2. Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin
    3. Closer Than You Think (The Trouble with Deconstruction)
    4. Why Imputation Parenting Books Will Never Sell
    5. What Happened After Mr Rogers Visited Koko the Gorilla
    6. Everything Happens For a Reason… And Other Lies I’ve Loved
    7. My Church Is Not CrossFit
    8. God’s Two Words: An Introduction
    9. Why Is Jesus Slumming With that Denomination?
    10. Grace in an Age of Fentanyl
    11. What They Don’t Show You on Fixer Upper
    12. Improve Thyself! On the Fantasy Self You’re Failing to Become

    Honorable Mentions: Mother of All Mothers, We Were Not Made to Be Famous, Five Years of Grace and Bad Coffee, Johnny Cash and Our Culture of Mercilessness, The Gift of Profanity, Still in Diapers at Thirty, Wendell Berry’s Plea for Grace, On Being the Center of the Universe

    Three Most Popular Talkingbird Episodes

    1. Experiencing the Spirit in Failure and in Love – Simeon Zahl
    2. A Lucky Break: How Grace Frees Us From Being Control Freaks – Michael Horton
    3. Comforting the Heart of Hearing: Distinguishing Law and Gospel as Pastoral Care – Jady Koch

    Most Popular Facebook Post (From a Post Not Mentioned Above): This one and then, this one

    Most Popular Instagram: Aw shucks

    Most Downloaded Sermons

    1. Jesus Means Freedom – RJ Heijmen
    2. It’s All True – Sarah Condon
    3. The Great Invincible Surmise – David Zahl
    4. The Deadliest Catch – Jacob Smith
    5. Round Up the Usual Suspects – Matthew Schneider

    Most Watched Conference Talks

    1. Everything I Never Learned From Seinfeld – David Zahl
    2. A Dirty Church, Body Shame and God’s Twisted Smile – Chad Bird
    3. Not Weak on Sanctification: Christians Grow in Reverse – Nick Lannon
    4. The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everybody – John Zahl
    5. Let Not Conscience Make You Linger – Timothy Blackmon

    Please Come Home for Christmas

    This one comes to us from none other than Alan Jacobs.

    Christmas, properly understood from an adult perspective, is always tinged with melancholy. If we don’t grasp this instinctively, Advent will teach it to us. The church’s year begins with Advent, and Advent begins, really, at that moment when God says that Eve’s offspring will one day crunch the head of the serpent who tempted her. That’s when the waiting starts, and what we’re waiting for is someone to come fix the mess we’ve made of the things that were put in our trust. That He eventually comes is wonderful beyond hope; that we so desperately needed Him to come … well, that’s where the melancholy comes in.

    And that’s why the best Christmas song, for me, will always be Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

    The song begins with three peals of a bell, and for all we know it could be a funeral bell, what used to be called a “passing bell,” so slow and measured is the pealing. We may be encouraged when Charles tells us, straight off, that not just this bell but all the bells are ringing “the glad glad news” — except that Charles isn’t glad. He is loveless and friendless, and while he doesn’t say so explicitly, you get the sense that much of the blame for his condition is his own. Certainly he doesn’t condemn anyone else.

    He has only one hope — or maybe not even that, maybe just a plea: Please come home for Christmas. If that happens … well, let’s just say that what he wishes for places a great weight on one person’s shoulders, more weight than a mere mortal can bear. But if it’s a certain person — if it’s One who can indeed make all things right — then the plea becomes hope, and the hope comes to be fulfilled. In that case the last words of the song will be the best words of all:

    There’ll be no more sorrow
    no grief and pain
    ‘cause I’ll be happy at Christmas once again

    And then one last peal of the bell, a peal — no doubt this time — for the glad glad news.