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Literature

Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Ivan Karamazov Visits Westworld

Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Ivan Karamazov Visits Westworld

This post was written by Nate Mills. 

When Moses stood before the Burning Bush, he responded to the Lord by asking, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Moses’s hesitancy was rooted in a deep uncertainty surrounding his identity. He was unsure of his own right to be an actor in God’s plan for the Israelites. King David, wondering similarly about the weight of his duties, asked of the Lord, “What is man that you are mindful of him? What is the son of man that you care for…

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When God Watches Movies

When God Watches Movies

This review was written by Mockingbird intern Jeff Dillenbeck.

What is the purpose of movies? Is it to entertain? To communicate? I’ve typically seen movies as meant to be artistic expressions (especially after seeing most of the best picture Oscar nominees, this past year), works that evoke emotion or relay something about the human experience in way that the written word can’t quite capture. Like other the other art forms, film has the power to move its human audience—to provoke thought, to encourage, to empower.

But what do movies have to say to the divine?

That’s what film critic Josh Larsen (of the…

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How to Turn a Neighbor into an Other (According to Thomas More and Martin Luther)

How to Turn a Neighbor into an Other (According to Thomas More and Martin Luther)

Another incisive excerpt from How To Think, the fantastic little book by upcoming conference speaker Alan Jacobs, this time about the origins of cultural repulsion and “othering”—featuring none other than Martin Luther and Thomas More. There’s some choice language in the following, but the parallels to modern online discourse are too spot-on not to share. 

From How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, pages 81-82:

“Thomas More’s attacks on Martin Luther and his followers, and Luther’s attacks on Catholicism (and especially the papacy), make most of today’s online insult fests seem tame. More wrote to Luther about “your…

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The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everyone – John Zahl

From our recent conference in Tyler, TX, here’s the incredible second talk from John Zahl, inspired by his book Grace in Addiction. Topics include: the founding of AA, the spirituality of the 12-steps, a plaid peg-leg, an empathetic high priest, and cat curling.

The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everyone – John Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

A Visit to Another World: Modern Fiction and Life After Death – A Conference Breakout Preview

Christians have long puzzled over whether literary fiction is of any use to the remnant of believers in the world. Of course, most of the Western canon is essentially Christian; you can’t get anywhere in a lit course without some basic familiarity with the Bible. But many of today’s stories seem postmodern, remaining thematically ambiguous and unresolved. Even so, stories remain one of our surest avenues for (something like) transcendence.

Good fiction describes the reality of everyday life—describes, in the words of Flannery O’Conner, “what is.” But for many Christians this seems too earthly a goal. Where have the symbolic references to Calvary gone? How long do we wait for this character’s redemption? Good stories are not always innocent or sentimental, nor necessarily redemptive. O’Connor, a Catholic herself, seemed just fine with this: “We lost our innocence in the Fall,” she writes plainly, “and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite.” Oof!

During this breakout session, we’ll spend some time looking at the work of 3 contemporary writers—Denis Johnson, George Saunders, and Ottessa Moshfegh—who I haven’t been able to get out of my head this year. Their stories relate, sometimes brutally, sometimes humorously, “what is.” These writers are not Christians (actually one of them is), but they nevertheless “reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete, observable reality” (O’Connor). These stories poke fun at the absurdity of our everyday reality and illuminate our desperate need for a life after life. My hope is that their words will help us put some fresh “skin on the bones” of the Christian message (in the words of John Zahl). It should be fun and maybe a little weird! Hope to see ya there.

Click here to register for the upcoming Mockingbird conference in NYC! And check out the incredible line-up of speakers here.

What to Wear at Easter: A Sermon on the Resurrection

What to Wear at Easter: A Sermon on the Resurrection

This sermon was delivered yesterday by Paul Walker, Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. Happy Easter, everyone!

Welcome to Easter Day at Christ Church! Whether you are here every week or just once a year, Easter is THE day to come to church. The news we have to tell just doesn’t get any better than this.

Which is why the church is adorned with lilies and the choir is dressed up with brass. It’s also why you probably spent at least a little extra time thinking about what to wear on Easter Day. Easter stokes the urge, or remnant of the…

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Art for God’s Sake (and Mine): A Conference Breakout Preview

Here’s another preview for one of our NYC conference breakout sessions. This one is from Mischa Willett, author of the poetry collection Phases. 

When I exceed the reach of the FM signal, driving in some part of the country, and the stations fade out and switch, I scan quickly for a new set. And I can always tell when I’ve passed a Christian music station, not because of the lyrics, or because of a lack of appeals for someone named “baby” to alter a current course of action, but because of the sound, somehow. I don’t think the sound is worse, particularly—I love CCM in fact—but it is distinctive. What am I hearing? A brightness? A cleanliness of production? A forwarding of the vocal track? 

That’s what reading a lot of literature by people of faith has been like for me. Apart from a few examples, I find it, I don’t know, wholesome in a way that’s grating. Maybe the earnestness bothers me. In my poems, I wanted to get away from all that, while still very much attending to first things. 

In this breakout session, I’ll be reading poems from my book Phases, which has recently been called “alive with the strenuous Christianity that makes Donne and Hopkins such a pleasure to read, even in these post-Christian times.” 

What is strenuous Christianity? How do we get our literature to be alive with it? This session is best for people who want to think about what a Christian vision of the arts might look like. 

You can read more about Phases here, and check out some of Mischa’s poems, which we’ve posted here. For more, join us at Calvary St. George’s church in NYC on April 27th, at 3:00pm. 

Click here to register for the 11th annual Mockingbird conference! We hope to see you there!

The Psalm'ish Imagination

The Psalm’ish Imagination

This reflection comes to us from Cole Deike.

We have bloody imaginations.

As an opposite to the bloody imagination, I think of the Pixar animated movie Up. Early in the film, there is a montage of a young couple falling in love with one another. In one of the scenes, the young couple lays on a blanket and gazes up at clouds that breeze across the blue, summer sky. There is no audio of their dialogue, but they are pointing at specific clouds and talking about their shapes: this one reminds me of this animal, that one reminds me of that animal,…

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Inside the Bounds of Grace: The Not-So-Lovely Love Story of David and Michal

Inside the Bounds of Grace: The Not-So-Lovely Love Story of David and Michal

This piece was written by Stephanie Matthiessen.

I’m writing a novel about Michal, the first wife of David and the daughter of Saul. Don’t worry, no one else has heard of her either, unless maybe they’re from Israel. Someone recently asked me what the book is about and, instead of giving my usual, vague, I’d-rather-not-say answer, I actually told them. Spoiler: it’s about forgiveness. Unconditional forgiveness. I added the qualifier for fear one would assume it’s about personal atonement and self-improvement. It’s not. It’s not a self-help book in disguise. It’s a love story.

Michal and, of course, her much more famous…

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Training My Enemies

Training My Enemies

This one comes to us from Geoffrey Sheehy.

When I pulled from the Greek treasury for bedtime stories, I frequently became a mythological revisionist. Zeus’s appropriation of any woman he desired? Excised, or, if necessary, declared legal marriages. Hera’s rage over Zeus’s infidelity? Simple quarrels. I knew they were important, but not to my three and five-year-old daughters. Not yet, anyway.

I take solace in knowing I was in good company. In his Tanglewood Tales, Nathaniel Hawthorne manipulates the story of the Minotaur to save Ariadne and Theseus’s reputations. They both have reputations worth saving: Theseus is the Athenian prince who has volunteered…

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Everything Happens for a Reason ... And Other Lies I've Loved

Everything Happens for a Reason … And Other Lies I’ve Loved

My mom has a very useful phrase that, because she’s our mom, my siblings and I use to mock her mercilessly: “Gently but firmly.”

“Gently but firmly” works for closing the microwave door, breaking up with a bad boyfriend, and asking for a raise. It doesn’t work for everything — sometimes a person has to be more firm than gentle, or vice versa, but it works for a surprising number of situations. It works so well in Kate Bowler‘s new memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Bowler is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, a graduate…

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True Belonging and the Perils of Braving the Wilderness on Social Media

True Belonging and the Perils of Braving the Wilderness on Social Media

In the most recent On Being interview with Krista Tippett and Brené Brown, they discuss Brown’s latest book Braving the Wilderness and many of Brown’s concepts.  Early in their conversation, they talk about how we are made for connection. Brown says, “It’s partly because we are neuro-biologically hardwired for belonging and connection. We’re hardwired to want it, and need it so much, that the first thing we do is sacrifice ourselves and who we are to achieve it.”

Brown’s claims here align with my research on social media and my personal experience with social media. Many of us engage social media…

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