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Gravity, Grace, Weight, Love

Gravity, Grace, Weight, Love

In one of her strange and gleaming essays in The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson describes grace this way: ‘Grace’ is a word without synonyms, a concept without paraphrase. It might seem to have distinct meanings, aesthetic and theological, but these are aspects of one thing—an alleviation, whether of guilt, of self-interest, or of limitation. […]

God's Two Words: An Introduction

God’s Two Words: An Introduction

Very pleased to share the following introduction to the new collection edited by our friend Dr. Jono Linebaugh, God’s Two Words—which hit shelves last week. On October 4, 1529, Martin Luther wrote a letter to his wife. He was in Marburg at the urging of Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who had brought together several leading […]

Announcing! The Déjà Vu Issue!

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 Trouble with Ladder Theology

From Gerhard Forde’s Where God Meets Man, pp 7-11, ht MF:

…what is wrong with our usual understanding of the Christian faith[?] We tend to think it has to do primarily with “going up” somewhere — either to heaven or to some kind of “religious perfection.” The Christian faith is often likened to climbing a ladder or, if you will, a staircase. Take, for example, the symbol of “Jacob’s ladder.” In the middle ages it was popular, especially among mystics, as a symbol of the struggle the Christian must undertake to reach perfection…

The difficulty with the idea of the ladder, however, is that it tends to send us off into the wrong direction. It tends to make us concerned with works of pious sublimation; it involves us in the task of ascending to heaven when we should be seeking like our Lord to come down to earth, to learn what it means to be a Christian here on this earth…

The troublesome question of the nature of law and gospel and the relationship between them…it is here, in the question of the law and the gospel, that our incurable tendency to go “up the down staircase” is most apparent… The main trouble is that this “ladder theology” inevitably distorts our understanding of the gospel. The gospel is taken captive by the system and turned into a new kind of law… The gospel comes to make up for the deficiencies of the law. The gospel does not come as anything really new. It is not the breaking in of a radically new age with an entirely new outlook. It is simply “a repair job.” …The net result is that the gospel itself simply becomes another kind of law. (pp. 7-11)

Not Weak on Sanctification: Christians Grow in Reverse – Nick Lannon

In this most prestigious breakout session from the 11th annual Mockingbird conference, Nick Lannon discusses the paradox of sanctification. Subtopics include: dentistry mishaps, good deeds, Han Solo, and the caverns of the heart.

Not Weak on Sanctification: Christians Grow in Reverse – Nick Lannon from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

The Apostles' Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism

The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism

I always judge books by their covers. In part, this habit is a terrible prejudice, but I also think it’s a useful way of deciding how to use limited time on an unlimited supply of books. Thankfully, Lexham Press crafted a beautiful design for their recent book The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient […]

Lex Semper Accusat

Lex Semper Accusat

The following is excerpted from Mockingbird’s Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints).  If the law were simply a matter of doing or not doing, commission or omission, we might reasonably imagine we have a shot at keeping it. And sometimes the echoes of law we hear in society are strictly behavioral. Not […]

PZ's Podcast: Sanctification (Is Making Me Late)

PZ’s Podcast: Sanctification (Is Making Me Late)

EPISODE 249 Ellis Brazeal recently pointed out a clear-and-present fact about what we call “sanctification”. Ellis observed that the moment we begin to think we have it, or have made it, it is completely nullified. In other words, the only actual sanctification at which one ever arrives is un-self-conscious. Another way of putting this would […]

Let Not Conscience Make You Linger: H.F. Kohlbrugge’s Comma – Tim Blackmon

What does Snoop Dogg have in common with the Netherlands’ best little-known theologian? Find out here, in this wonderful talk from our recent conference in NYC, featuring guest speaker Tim Blackmon.

Let Not Conscience Make You Linger: H.F. Kohlbrugge’s Comma – Tim Blackmon from Mockingbird on Vimeo

A (Qualified) Defense of Narrative

A (Qualified) Defense of Narrative

This is a follow-up to a recent piece titled The World Is Not a Story (According to Paul)—offering the other side of the coin. Paul wasn’t much of a storyteller. For him, the advent of Christ was principally a revelation of something unforeseen at a human level. It was an invasion of liberation into an […]

We Are All Sad Ben Affleck on a Beach with a Back Tattoo

We Are All Sad Ben Affleck on a Beach with a Back Tattoo

When I first clicked through to the New Yorker piece, “The Great Sadness of Ben Affleck,” I’ll admit that it felt a little bit like seeing the sad ex-boyfriend of a close friend. The momentary thrill of schadenfreude: “you’ve done her wrong, and look at how that worked out for you.” Ben Affleck is not […]

LeBron, Rest, and Execution, and Will

LeBron, Rest, and Execution, and Will

I ran into a fascinating juxtaposition in a fascinating (for a difference reason) article recently. The article in question, an ESPN piece by Brian Windhorst, is about LeBron James “perfecting the art of resting while playing.” If that sounds counter-intuitive, it probably should. We’re used to thinking of athletes “giving 100%” (if not more; there’s […]