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"Mercy Goes First": An Address to Seminary Graduates

“Mercy Goes First”: An Address to Seminary Graduates

[What follows is an edited version of remarks I delivered to Truett Seminary’s Fall 2017 Graduates. My talk was heavily influenced by Mockingbird, and with gratitude I post this here.] It has been about 30 years ago now that I waited to hold my seminary diploma in my hands, and I was saddened this week […]

Jonathan Myrick Daniels: A Martyr with Mixed Motives

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian and a Civil Rights worker. He was martyred in 1965 when he shielded 17-year-old Civil Rights worker Ruby Sales from being shot in Hayneville, Alabama. He was 26 years old.

For those of us who work in ministry and are prone to messianic complexes, trying to save people ourselves, and who long to be the most righteous (or most moral or most prophetic or plain old loudest) ones in the room, we would honor this martyr for the Gospel by heeding his words:

I lost fear in the black belt when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.

I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one’s motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it.

Catch Me

Catch Me

This one comes from Andrew Taylor-Troutman.  A new friend, who is joining the church I serve, offered a Rumi reading to me from his morning devotional: Hold up a mirror to your worst destructive habits, for that is how the real making begins. ~ 1995 was my first year of high school. That spring, my […]

Charlottesville and Suffering: The Best Church Retreat I Ever Did

Charlottesville and Suffering: The Best Church Retreat I Ever Did

Last year, in late August, we began to hear that a storm was headed for our community. They were not sure what the extent of the flooding might look like, only that it was possible. My husband and I met during Hurricane Katrina, and I did relief work in the months that followed. I knew […]

The Undeserved Vacation: The New Sabbath

The Undeserved Vacation: The New Sabbath

Tis the season… “I am on vacation, away from my office, Email access is remote so I may not respond until my return.” We seem to need vacation.  My father had the month of August off, but we went near nowhere (once a drive to DC to see a friend along the way and see […]

The Déjà Vu Issue is Here!

Dear readers, Issue 12 is officially out to print and will be in your hands in a matter of days!

Maybe you’ve wondered to yourself, “What is Mockingbird all about? And what should I read to get some insight?” If you have, or know your nosy roommate has, this is the primer to get you (or anyone) started. Even if you’re a vintage reader, this issue will sit with you like an old friend. After all, this is what déjà vu is all about: old stories/friends cropping up in new ways you never expected. Here is a collection of refurbished, rewritten posts, talks, and interviews from the dark caverns of the Mockinglibrary, an issue packed with sturdy theology, plenty of personality and, always, light hearts. In a word, it is classic.

So, to tide you over until your copy gets there, here’s the Opener from Ethan and a glimpse at the Table of Contents. Grab them fast! ORDER UP TODAY!

The Missing Word

In broaching the phenomenon that is déjà vu, there is one memory that’s bubbled up from the depths for a lot of Americans recently. The memory is of a smiling, lanky man, who sort of talk-sings off-key, who enters his house and changes out his coat and shoes for a sweater and sneakers.

It’s not that we don’t recognize the man or the place. It’s Mister Rogers, of course, and we’re in his house, which is in his Neighborhood. The déjà vu moment has been brought to us via the new documentary about the man, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And it’s not that we’ve forgotten having watched this program as children. It’s that when we re-watch these scenes in the documentary—scenes of such simplicity and warmth—we momentarily access a feeling that we can’t quite source. It is a feeling that seems to predate our first experience of the show, and even predates us entirely. We have known the feeling before but we don’t know where from.

The new Mister Rogers documentary was inspired by an Esquire feature written in 1998 by Tom Junod. Junod tells the story of meeting Fred for the first time, in Rogers’ small, dingy New York City apartment. Before he could get down to any of his own questions, Rogers had his own.

“What about you, Tom? Did you have any special friends growing up?”

“Yes, Mister Rogers.”

“Did your special friend have a name, Tom?”

“Yes, Mister Rogers. His name was Old Rabbit.”

“Old Rabbit. Oh, and I’ll bet the two of you were together since he was a very young rabbit. Would you like to tell me about Old Rabbit, Tom?”

To his own surprise, the award-winning journalist jumped into a long lost, favorite story about Old Rabbit. It wasn’t a new story, like the one he was working up for Esquire, but a very old one. He became a child again.

We named this The Déjà Vu Issue out of a similar conviction that the old stories are the ones to pay attention to. This is not to stake a claim on the importance of tradition so much as to say that, while the world is kept spinning by fresh headlines and hot takes, the deepest stories pretty much stay the same. The experience of déjà vu is really the new experience of an old truth, maybe one you forgot you ever knew.

Déjà vu is also the experience of life in repetition. Contrary to the way we prefer to imagine our lives—as linear progressions, moving upward and onward towards an ever-improving end—they instead take on a more circular trajectory. You don’t have to look far for examples: we find ourselves saying things we only ever heard our father say. A history of some great war we read mirrors almost exactly the newspaper’s description of the political climate this week. And that old macramé lampshade in the attic, the one you nearly got rid of, is now all the rage.

Still, if these were the only kinds of repetitions, then déjà vu would be a harbinger of despair, a reminder that nothing ever changes. But Christianity proclaims that these are not the only repetitions we experience in life. The Christian faith announces that something—someone—broke through these circular histories and offered something truly new. It proclaims that this something new is like a fountain that continues to spring up all the time—it is good news, hope for a change, and it continues to surface in unexpected ways. In our own lives, we may see it crop up out of nowhere, much like déjà vu: we’ve never seen it before, but then again, maybe we have.

Mockingbird is named after this phenomenon of repetition: a mockingbird repeats what it hears. We are a group of people who have, in some way or other, witnessed paranormal déjà vu. We have experienced it in our lives, we have seen it bubble up in places no one expected it to, and we have felt compelled to share that story with others. Whenever it shows up it may be a new story on its own, but it’s really just an extension of the very old story that gave us the good news to begin with.[1]

This issue makes use of old stories to go back to the Old Story. The essays collected herein were published earlier in Mockingbird’s tenure—as blogposts, in chapters of books, in talks at conferences—and have been polished and reworked here in hopes to tell it, all over again, for you. We share parenting lessons from the late child psychologist Dorothy Martyn and the final interview with Robert Farrar Capon. We talk law and gospel, cross and glory, Halloween candy and wedding dresses, girly boys and gorilla moms. We also have a handful of brand-new lists and three brand-new poems from Mary Karr. Some of it you may remember, but none of it will be the same—that’s the way déjà vu works.

Later in that Esquire piece, after Tom Junod has followed Mister Rogers around Penn Station, and joined him on his daily morning swim and seen his office in Pittsburgh, he gets a sense that there is something heroic about the man. Despite the zip cardigans and wide-eyed wonder, maybe Mister Rogers himself is an agent of some kind of power, a reminder of an Old Story he never fully got to hear. He calls this Old Story “grace.”

What is grace? I’m not certain; all I know is that my heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella. I had never prayed like that before, ever. I had always been a great prayer, a powerful one, but only fitfully, only out of guilt, only when fear and desperation drove me to it… and now this was it, the missing word, the unuttered promise, the prayer I’d been waiting to say a very long time.

This missing word is what we hope you find here too.

[1] When we were initially planning this issue, we had thought of it as a Greatest Hits Issue. Besides the inherent judginess of such a theme, there was something else about it that didn’t seem to ring true. It was only after pulling these essays together that we realized why: it wasn’t just about which essays were our favorites, or garnered the most attention, it was also which stories have portrayed this Old Story so powerfully.

PRE-ORDER THE DEJA VU ISSUE HERE

The Difficulty of Drawing Near the Suffering

The Difficulty of Drawing Near the Suffering

This comes to us from Father Kenneth Tanner.  When I first came to the parish I serve, there were about twenty persons over the age of seventy. We have since buried a few, some have retired to Florida or warmer states, but until recently about half were still active participants in our worship and community. […]

Deep Water

Deep Water

This one comes to us from Jay Wamsted. It was only after the Parkland tragedy that the high school where I teach began having active shooter drills. We had dusty protocols in place already, and I can remember doing some sort of drill years ago. This winter, however, we reacted to the mass shooting in […]

The Weight of Living, Part 2: God Would Not Save What God Does Not Love

The Weight of Living, Part 2: God Would Not Save What God Does Not Love

Today in the Liturgical Calendar we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. Jesus and three of his disciples are on a mountaintop, and that’s significant. Think of the times we’re told that Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. He gives his first sermon on a mountain, the Sermon Mount. Before the Cross, he […]

A Dirty Church, Body Shame, and God’s Twisted Smile – Chad Bird

Beyond grateful for this eloquent, powerful talk from our recent conference in NYC, by guest speaker Chad Bird:

A Dirty Church, Body Shame, and God’s Twisted Smile – Chad Bird from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

The Weight of Living, Part 1: God's Grace for Busy People

The Weight of Living, Part 1: God’s Grace for Busy People

The Gospel of Mark can really be summed up in one word: busy. There’s an anxiousness to Mark’s writing that is palpable, a sense of urgency that is ever-present. In fact, it’s not too much to say that Mark’s Gospel is perhaps the busiest of the four Gospels. Throughout it we see a sense of […]

The Futility of Folly, the Frailty of Life, & Death’s Evening Score

The Futility of Folly, the Frailty of Life, & Death’s Evening Score

It is indisputable that Ecclesiastes is one of the most bizarre books in the canon of Scripture. This extended journal entry of sorts opens to us the mind of one of the greatest humans to ever walk this earth. Great not necessarily for his morality (which was often wanting) but for his achievements and advancements […]