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A New Recipe: Grace in Family Life

A New Recipe: Grace in Family Life

This is an edited version of a talk given by the famed child psychologist, Dorothy Martyn, at the second annual Mockingbird Conference in 2009 and republished in our most recent issue of the magazine, the Deja Vu Issue. She died in January 2018. I suppose that you are, in some way or another, engaged in […]

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

Six Times <i>Seinfeld</i> Illustrated Theological Dynamics

Six Times Seinfeld Illustrated Theological Dynamics

Another peek at our recent Humor Issue (which we’re starting to run low on — grab yours before it sells out…!): We all have a list of our favorite Seinfeld episodes. Mine are mainly clustered around seasons five and six (The Puffy Shirt, The Lip Reader, The Marine Biologist), with a special affection for season nine’s […]

Churches Dying for a Laugh

Churches Dying for a Laugh

Another glorious glimpse into The Mockingbird’s newest issue on Humor, this one from the Rev. Aaron Zimmerman. Copies can be ordered here, subscriptions here.  “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the Gospel.” — Young Life saying “The comedian always doubles down.” — Pete Holmes The Church Is No Laughing Matter (Sadly) Quick, grab […]

It’s Up! The Humor Episode of The Mockingcast

Sliding in right between last week’s podcast and next week’s live taping in NYC, we are delighted to deliver this ridiculous journey into the Humor Issue, at the direction of editor Ethan Richardson. Ethan is joined by Ben Maddison and Aaron Zimmerman, who provide enough foolishness on their own, as well as two special guests: Harrison Scott Key, author of The World’s Largest Man, which won the Thurber Prize for being funny, even when it was sad; and Caroline Henley, who invites us into the black, bizarro world of the short-lived, MTV2 comedy Wonder Showzen. We also play the first ever game of “Who Said It: Wonder Showzen or Soren Kierkegaard?” See if you can guess…

That description alone can’t hold a candle to the fun that awaits you, both within the cast and in reading the magazine. A huge shout-out to TJ for the amazing mixing and production.

LISTEN HERE!

And get your copy of the magazine here, also available in digital format!

On Bleeding Funny (A Magazine Sneak Peek)

On Bleeding Funny (A Magazine Sneak Peek)

Our first glimpse into the issue we’ve all been waiting for, this one comes from award-winning humorist Harrison Scott Key. Subscribers, orders should be hitting the mailbox this week! For the uninitiated, YAW! GIDDYUP!  When your book wins the Thurber Prize in American Humor, our nation’s most important literary prize for a funny book, people […]

Your Very Own Magenta Wimple: The Humor Issue Is Here!

Ladies and gentlemen, wisecracks, cornballs, jesters, and twerps! 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? 

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!

 

Just In Time for Christmas: The Mockingbird Box Set!

When we sent out our tenth issue, the Love and Death Issue, we decided we wanted to do something fun with the remaining copies of all our back issues. Thus, we unveil to you The Mockingbird Box Set! We can’t believe how beautifully they’ve turned out. Available now and ready to ship for Christmas! All of the first ten issues in a stunning slipcase, designed by our sensei Tom Martin. Price is $120 (including shipping) and quantities are limited, so if you know of a friend, clergyperson, ostracized in-law, or your very own mother, who just needs a little special treatment this Christmas, act quickly and click on the image below!

In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer

In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer

This poem was originally published in the Food & Drink issue of The Mockingbird. In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split, we stopped phoning Donna for her recipe for sugared baked beans; forgot Lorraine crocheted the soft blue […]

On Our Bookshelf (This Time Around)

As summer winds down, here’s what we’ve been reading over here at Mockingbird HQ (and on sabbatical), as published in the Love & Death Issue

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

George Saunders’ widely acclaimed first novel addresses death, grief, and the afterlife. Narrated by a graveyard full of, um, lively ghosts, this novel is a roller coaster from start to finish. With humor and empathy, Saunders powerfully illustrates that “the truth will set you free.”

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott

Published this spring, Lamott continues to sing the song of grace: “Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves forgiving the debt, absolving the unabsolvable.” Pulling from St. Augustine and the Dalai Lama, she weaves her thoughts on mercy with such honesty and humor that you might feel like you’re sitting down as one of her Sunday School students.

The Kingdom by Emmanuel Carrère

Emmanuel Carrère’s new book (novel? memoir? biography?) on St. Paul and the early Christians often reads like a diary fused with historical fiction. Carrère, well-known in France for his unique non-fiction storytelling, believes that the only way he can really communicate a subject is by looking as honestly as possible at himself. In this book, then, that means capturing the New Testament through his own relationship with and (un-)belief in its God. A powerfully honest and captivating reimagining of both the nature of belief and the radical message Paul carried.

The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about Men and Women in the 21st Century by Stephen Marche

Stay-at-home dads get no respect, women are still almost never in the boardroom, and feminism has failed us. Why, Marche ponders, have we come so far and are still inundated with the same bizarre problems? Because women are still women and men are still men, and no one wants to make the damned bed. If you are in ministry, your premarital counseling couples should read this brilliant book alongside Capon’s Bed and Board.

My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir by Macy Halford

Halford, who spent several years working as a staffer at The New Yorker, writes with immense care and loyalty about the devotional that shaped (and continues to shape) her life, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. Halford, who was raised in an Evangelical family in Dallas, uses the devotional (and Chambers’ own life story) as a way of excavating her own life and Christian faith.

Against Everything: Essays by Mark Greif

Greif is the co-founder of culture magazine n+1. This book synthesizes the strangeness of the modern world by challenging it and unpacking everyday taboos like exercise, hipsters, and punk music. Greif shows his cards as an Enneagram 8, but that doesn’t stop him from writing some real sizzlers on everyday life through a decidedly intellectual lens.

Abandon Me: Memoirs by Melissa Febos

One of our guests on The Mockingcast, Febos’ cutting collection of memoirs wrestles with addiction and sexuality and offers up a gratifying depth of spirituality. Her riff on the Jonah story and our innate calling towards “choose your own adventure stories” is one for the ages. She writes, “every love is a sea monster in whose belly we learn to pray.”

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Ripping its title from a Dostoevsky classic, Elif Batuman’s debut novel follows Selin through her first year at Harvard. Upon arriving at school, she’s given an email address, her first. One night, she sends a snappy message to Ivan, the mysterious boy in her Russian class, and hilarity ensues. The romance would fit well in a 19th century novel—excepting Selin and Ivan’s preferred form of communication. Armed with a healthy suspicion of her surroundings and a sharp wit, Selin makes for a revelatory, refreshing narrator.

Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by Harriet Lerner

This little book ranks up there with our other social science fave, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me). Lerner gives us a powerful glimpse into all the strategies and self-deceptions we have around our wrongdoing–on what counts as an apology, and on what keeps us from giving (and receiving) it. She also insightfully keys in on the prime impulse that makes the non-apologizer a non-apologizer: the need to be perfect.

Phases: Poems by Mischa Willett

Poems playful, at times, epigrammatic, conscious of things Italian and incongruous—they are delightful and plain spoken, rhythmic and musical, at times difficult enough to slow the reader’s march through them, most times sufficiently welcoming and placed (e.g., the Pacific Northwest) to keep the reader coming back for more. The collection’s nine brief sections are laid out as though phases of a voyage. An exciting new volume in the Poiema Poetry Series (Cascade Books), curated by poet/editor D. S. Martin.

One Day At A Time Is No Way To Live: Love, Death, and Parenting Teenagers

One Day At A Time Is No Way To Live: Love, Death, and Parenting Teenagers

A first sneak peek into the Love & Death Issue, which you can order here. It comes from the one and only Emily Skelding. Remember, subscribers/monthly givers get a discount on the upcoming D.C. Conference! I relish long-term planning and list-making. During this academic year, I planned to write a book, my son Sumner strategized […]

An Ode to Print: The Mockingbird Magazine

An Ode to Print: The Mockingbird Magazine

A quick Google search will show that researchers have studied and continue to study the differences that exist between print and digital reading experiences. There are pros and cons of both mediums, and it looks like neither format will disappear anytime soon. I love the physicality of real paper and definitely connect with Ferris Jabr’s […]