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About Ethan Richardson

Ethan Richardson is a contributing staff member for Mockingbird. Born and raised in Lexington, KY, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 2009, majoring in Religious Studies and English. In June of 2011, he finished two years of teaching 5th grade in the inner city of New Orleans, and now lives in Charlottesville, VA and works for Mockingbird along with serving at Christ Episcopal Church.

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    For Those We Love, A Healthy Dose of Pessimism

    For Those We Love, A Healthy Dose of Pessimism

    Alain de Botton explains why we are cruelest to the ones we are closest to. Most of it has to do with the fact that we have such devastatingly high expectations for them to meet our devastatingly deep neediness. A section on “Pessimism” from The School of Life’s book, Relationships. 

    No one can disappoint and upset us as much as the person we’re in a relationship with–for of no one do we have higher hopes. It’s because we are so dangerously optimistic that we call them a c***, a s***head, or a weakling. The intensity of the disappointment and frustration is dependent…

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    Another Week Ends: Tom Wolfe, Royal Weddings, Unlikely Hospice Workers, Babylon Bee Book, New Marcionism, and More Loneliness

    Another Week Ends: Tom Wolfe, Royal Weddings, Unlikely Hospice Workers, Babylon Bee Book, New Marcionism, and More Loneliness

    1. As far as “theology of the cross” illustrations go, this one is unforgettable. A pastoral care initiative in a prison’s hospice wing, led entirely by fellow inmates, most of whom are convicted murderers serving a life sentence. Suleika Jaouad tells the story in this week’s New York Times Magazine, about the Pastoral Care Service Workers, a cohort of about two dozen inmates who have been trained and tested to provide end-of-life care for the sick and dying in the California Medical Center:

    A job in the hospice is not easy to come by. To qualify, Lyman and the others first…

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    What They Don't Show You On Fixer Upper

    What They Don’t Show You On Fixer Upper

    In keeping with the millennial stereotype of rustic appeal, my wife and I bought our first home this summer, a “fixer-upper” with a lot of character, wet insulation, and dead birds. We took a selfie out front, made a list of future projects, hired a contractor, personally knocked some walls out, and let some light into a house that had not been lived in for nearly ten years. We slapped a fresh coat of paint on the outside, with a green accent door, and voila! Home! Eat it, Chip and Jojo…got no time for that shiplap!

    Of course, it has not…

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    Transgressors, Transgression, and the Perilous Bridge of Forgiveness – A Conference Breakout Preview

    In this past week’s Another Week Ends, I mentioned very briefly the newest season of Invisibilia, one of our go-to podcasts. That particular episode, “The Pattern Problem,” tells the story of a woman with a seriously checkered past, some her fault, some not at all. She’s the child of addicts, an ex-addict and ex-felon herself, and yet she’s made an against-all-odds comeback: after a couple stints in prison, she gets into law school and is now studying for the bar. A panel of judges overseeing the bar in her state is deciding whether or not her past precludes her from such an unlikely future.

    I won’t give away what ends up happening, but you can see where the focus on “patterns” comes into play. Does her criminal past foreshadow the future? Can we really be sure she’s changed? Patterns provide ways for people to make sober decisions. They are the conditional protective measures for how we decide to invest our time, our money, and in this case, our forgiveness. Courts as institutions are not known to be particularly forgiving—it’s not their job—but the same patterns are at work for us, in our minds, in the ways we read the news and process the actions of our strangers and friends alike.

    Human beings don’t just dole out our forgiveness to anyone. To the contrary, unforgiveness is tended to like a formal garden. Each garden has hard boundaries with designated entrances, and strict guidelines for keeping its delicate order alive. It has to be that way. Otherwise, the garden would be indistinguishable from the chaos surrounding it. I am not trying to be glib. This is really how it has to be.

    At the same time, social science has made it clear that unforgiveness will, in the end, kill you. For all the sensible order our fine gardens provide, they are solitary places, kept alive by stress, numbness to intruders, and estrangement. In other words, unforgiveness may simplify the “pattern problem,” but forgiveness, we are told by social science (and by the New Testament), is the way to new life.

    In this breakout, we will talk about the psychology of forgiveness, its proven biological and psychosocial benefits, its various meanings in our culture, and the real, totally practical hope it expresses in the Bible.

    Register for the 11th Annual Mockingbird Conference here! Miss out, and you’ll never forgive yourself…

    Another Week Ends: Jean Vanier, Amen Dunes, Father Freeman, Invisibilia, 1 Corinthians (Ortberg Translation), and A Flock of (Hotel) Seagulls

    Another Week Ends: Jean Vanier, Amen Dunes, Father Freeman, Invisibilia, 1 Corinthians (Ortberg Translation), and A Flock of (Hotel) Seagulls

    1. Stephen Freeman, at it again, this time translating the story of the rich man and the eye of the needle. Freeman offers that maybe we should read the pronouncement today as saying that it is impossible for the middle-class man to make it to heaven, not just the rich man. Freeman argues that whenever we read this little bit from the bible, we immediately sigh a sigh of relief that, praise be Him, we are not, like totally loaded, at least not like Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So that have a ton of extra cash and extra homes. Freeman says…

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    At Long Last…The Humor Issue!

    Ladies and gentlemen, wisecracks, cornballs, jesters, and twerps! After what has felt like eons of soliciting writers, fielding interviews, landing interviews, losing interviews, editing, copy editing, proofing, and an entire magazine REDESIGN, we have finally reached the best part. Childbirth. Out of the womb and into the world. After all, what’s the fun of stockpiling jokes when there’s no one to share them with? We can’t wait to share the entirety of Issue 11 with you. In it, we cover the gamut: church humor, potty humor, dark humor, community humor, tumor humor, tv humor, and puppets. Hopefully, if we’ve halfway done our job, the writing is as lighthearted and truthful as the subjects we cover. Oh, and did I mention the magazine has a brand new look, too, which we think you’ll really dig? 

    Per usual, here’s a sampler of what’s to come, including the table of contents. Thanks for your patience as we’ve pulled this together. We’re sure it will be worth the wait. To order some extras for your nieces, nephews, and pets, go here. Until it lands in your mailbox, though, here’s Ethan’s Opener, where the magazine’s first wimple enters the stage.

    Your Very Own Magenta Wimple

    The secret sauce in every good New Yorker cartoon is juxtaposition. A good cartoon lines up two things you normally wouldn’t put together, and does it in a way that surprisingly makes a whole lot of sense. The illustration itself is usually an everyday life trope we know well: a patient and a doctor, employees in a business meeting, a husband and a wife out to dinner. They are situations we have a language for. Throw in an uninvited guest, though, and you have a recipe for jokes. Most of the time, the caption offers the curveball.

    There’s the one of a pro football player, giving an on-field postgame interview, with a nasty look on his face: “First, I’d like to blame the Lord for causing us to lose today.” There’s the man in a flower shop, asking the clerk at the counter, “I need something that says, ‘I’m sorry about that thing I said that caused you to totally overreact.’” There’s the yoga class, everyone cross-legged in the lotus pose. The instructor beckons: “And now I want you to send out peaceful, loving thoughts to all sentient beings on the planet who have exactly the same political, economic, and religious beliefs that you do.” With each cartoon, the illustration sets the stage, and the caption turns that stage upside down.

    This is how juxtaposition in humor works, by tearing down the barrier between the world we see every day and the subterranean, invisible world that we know but never talk about. Humor, in other words, peels back the shower curtain on our lives, revealing the banal and less-than-sexy truth, and yet does so with such a light touch that we can’t help but look. Somehow, looking makes us feel better.

    At least that’s what humor can do. But not lately. Whether the subject has been the President, or Hollywood scandals, or the racial divide in America, “humor” of late has not been all that funny. Even the staples—Comedy Central standup, SNL, The Onion—have been hit-or-miss, often trading punchlines for cheapshots and laughter for scathing ridicule. This is par for the course in divided times, I suppose: moral outrage may provide juicy material for satire, but it is a non-starter for poop jokes…

    I’m not saying that humor is only humor if it is toothless. Satire definitely has its place. What I am saying, though, is that humor is at its best when it is delivered at some expense to its teller and his/her audience, not at their behest. It was as true with Guildenstern as it is with Howard Stern: the joke must be on you to some extent. Somehow, the more particular that joke is, the more universal, and the more universal, the better.

    Think about the person/people in your life who you feel really love you—those ones who have seen behind the “shower curtain” and yet still pick up the phone when you call. Odds are, that person (nothing against you) is a funny person. Maybe not a stand-up comic, maybe not a big jokester, but certainly someone who can handle the odd dissonance between how you ought to be and how you actually are, and can laugh at it. It takes a sense of humor for one person to love another, because the task demanded of them is absurd.

    Humor has always been an emblem of grace for us here at Mockingbird. Since the beginning, we’ve felt humor is almost as essential as the message, as it tends to embody the “divine perspective” granted in being forgiven. If the world is a courtroom, full of accusations and demands, humor represents a recess in the proceedings, a superseding presence of mercy in a merciless world. Sure, some great humor comes from anger or despair, but the Christian message offers a different reason to laugh. If the Gospel is ever experienced for the ridiculous good news that it is, humor is, at least in part, an expression of relief.

    Steve Brown describes it perfectly in his story about a woman who, after years of hiding an act of infidelity from her husband, suddenly feels the need to admit it to him. Though nervous, she decides to do it.

    I saw her the next day, and she looked fifteen years younger. “What happened?” I asked. “When I told him,” she exclaimed, “he replied that he had known about the incident for twenty years and was just waiting for me to tell him so he could tell me how much he loved me!” And then she started to laugh. “He forgave me twenty years ago, and I’ve been needlessly carrying all this guilt for all these years!”

    Her laughter is the laughter of the forgiven. It stems from a simultaneous flood of relief (“He forgave me twenty years ago!”) and a corresponding lack of self-seriousness (“How ridiculous that I carried this around for so long!”). This sense of humor comes from the ridiculousness of your happy outcome, and the fact that it had nothing to do with you.

    This is why humor and hyperbole are reliable ministers of God’s grace. In various ways, they uncouple the truth from its sting. Humor has a way of including its speaker on the wrong side of the righteousness equation—there’s a delightful willingness to be wrong, because you can afford to be. Humor, in other words, is an expression of Paul’s great boast: “If Christ is for me, who can be against me?”

    And yet, as “easy” and “light” as humor is, the theme has made for a shockingly difficult issue to pull together. Humor’s the kind of topic you have to embody, not just describe; if you have to explain a joke, you kill it. On top of that, try telling someone to “be funny” and see what happens. Nothing will be funny. Humor is spontaneous; it can’t be coerced.

    That being said, we have plenty of laughs to dole out in this issue. We have an interview with comedian and show writer Jeannie Gaffigan, wife of comedian Jim Gaffigan, who talks to us about finding humor in brain tumors. We have an essay from award-winning humor writer Harrison Scott Key, and an essay on the sitcom of the century, Seinfeld, as well as a lesser-known puppet show from hell, Wonder Showzen. We have illustrations and comics from the New Yorker’s Miguel Porlan, from the zany and inimitable Glen Baxter, and from John Hendrix, creator of the “Adventures of the Holy Ghost” series. And that’s just to get your attention. The other gutbusters are merely waiting in the wings…

    So, here’s hoping that, like a good cartoon, this issue points out an absurd juxtaposition—the most absurd truth we’d all have to be idiots to believe. I’ll set it up: there’s you, cartoon you, standing in the atrium outside the Divine Courtroom. You’re awaiting your hearing, reading back through your permanent record, mostly hoping the Judge bypasses that rough patch in ’03 (and to a lesser extent in ’04). You stand at the threshold of that courtroom on that final day, testimony ready—only to find behind the door not a courtroom at all, but a very noisy dining hall, filled with all your favorite people. Do you have the wrong room? Has there been a mistake?

    The Judge approaches from the back, ensconced in light, but instead of the gavel, he’s got a serving tray. And he doesn’t hand you a verdict at all; with mock grandiosity, he instead offers you your party hat. The hat is magenta, a papier-mâché dunce cap, and if you look closely enough, the paper itself is your permanent record, all your life’s accomplishments, all glued up into this stupid-looking wimple. You’re not one for sporting magenta, or cone-shaped headgear, but everyone else has one on and, for once, being a dunce is a tremendous alternative to, well, the courtroom you expected. Lying before you on the Judge’s tray, though, lies the real test: Bud Light or Bud Light Lime.

    The caption below reads: The Final Judgment.

    Enjoy reading, and as always, remember the good news: that, by the grace of God, your life will one day amount to one magenta wimple, and that, most importantly, the joke’s on you.

    Ethan Richardson, Editor

    Subscribe today! Or preorder your copy here!

     

    Lonely People and Lonelier Communities

    Lonely People and Lonelier Communities

    Lately, the social science data, human interest stories, and public policy initiatives all seem to point every step of the way to one panacea: connection. It explains why Her Majesty’s Government has recently appointed the minister for loneliness. It explains why truck commercials are snagging MLK speech snippets, and why Elon Musk wants a girlfriend so badly. Human loneliness is the problem that precedes many others, as we’ve said so many times here on Mockingbird, and for much of the world, togetherness is the answer: If we can just be neighbors to one another, and get past our differences and…

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    Another Week Ends: Mental Health (x4), Wreck It Ralph 2, Curling Cats!, David Chang, Marilynne Robinson and Billy Graham

    Another Week Ends: Mental Health (x4), Wreck It Ralph 2, Curling Cats!, David Chang, Marilynne Robinson and Billy Graham

    1. A lot of mental health features this week, and we’ll start with this one published by Vox, and written by Johann Hari, whose new book Lost Connections, delves into the problem of depression, and the limits of its modern prognoses, most of which are medical. Not at all wanting to dismiss the anti-depressant as a useful tool, Hari points out that the problem starts when the medicalization of depression clouds our understanding of underlying social and environmental factors.

    Our focus on biology has led us to think of depression and anxiety as malfunctions in the individual’s brain or genes —…

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    Song for Picking Up–Tony Hoagland

    Every time that something falls
    someone is consigned to pick it up.

    Every time it drops or rolls into a crack,
    blows out the window of the car

    or down onto the dirty restaurant floor
    —a plastic bag, a paper clip, a cube of cheese from the buffet—

    and there somebody goes, down upon their hands and knees.
    What age are you when you learn that?

    After Dante finished the Inferno, someone
    cleaned up all the ink and crumpled paper.

    After the surgeons are done with the operating room,
    someone makes it spic and span again.

    After World War One, the Super Bowl,
    a night at the opera.

    After the marching feet of all humanity
    come the brooms and mops, the garbage men

    and moms, the janitors.
    One day you notice them.

    After that, you understand.
    After that, then, no more easy litter.

    No more towels
    upon the hotel bathroom floor. You bend over

    for even tiny bits of paper;
    or bitterly, you look back at your life—like Cain,

    upon the body of his brother.

    Another Week Ends: Minimizers, Teachers & Solvers, Super Bowl Winners & Self-Help Fixers, Unhappy Undergrads and Cradle Episcopalians

    Another Week Ends: Minimizers, Teachers & Solvers, Super Bowl Winners & Self-Help Fixers, Unhappy Undergrads and Cradle Episcopalians

    1. Kate Bowler’s new op-ed in the New York Times this week is one for the ages. Bowler, who we’ve written about before, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at 35, having just had a baby. She is also a professor at Duke Seminary, her research and first book on the history of the American Prosperity Gospel. In this op-ed she tackles the difficulty of conversations with someone like herself, how she represents the “Angel of Death” to most people, which prompts friends and family and acquaintances to awkwardly stumble around a difficult reality they spend much of their…

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    Another Week Ends: Breakfast with Dads, Dead Memoirist Romance, Twitter's Mercilessness, Sarah Silverman's Forgiveness, Metric Fixation, and the Wonder of Grace

    Another Week Ends: Breakfast with Dads, Dead Memoirist Romance, Twitter’s Mercilessness, Sarah Silverman’s Forgiveness, Metric Fixation, and the Wonder of Grace

    Click on the poster to see more about the Tyler Conference in February!

    1. Lots of amazing stuff hitting our inbox this week, including this news story from a middle school in Dallas. After deciding to hold a “Breakfast with Dad” event at the school, teachers worried that many of the 150 students who signed up for the breakfast would be without their fathers. So they took to Facebook and Twitter, asking for 50 male volunteers to come in their stead for the fatherless boys. Amazingly, SIX HUNDRED dads came.

    ‘I will never forget witnessing the young students surrounded by supportive…

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    A Genealogy of Wastrels

    A Genealogy of Wastrels

    Another great one from the Advent devotional, Watch for the Light. This one was written by Gail Godwin about the precariously long lineage recounted in Matthew’s Gospel, which moves from broken promise to broken promise, and finally ending with the Promised One.

    …These three minutes worth of tongue twisting names contain the essential theology of the Old and New Testaments for the whole Church, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant alike.

    Now that’s a pretty bold and sweeping ecumenical statement. But Brown tells us Zwingli was already preaching it back during the Reformation. Zwingli preached that Matthew’s genealogy contained the essential theology of…

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