You can find this week’s episode of the Mockingcast here!

ONE. Singer-songwriter Derek Webb (whose album Mockingbird celebrates its 10th anniversary this year!) wrote a confession about his infidelity on Relevant, which aims for instruction but also camaraderie, because even if we can’t learn from his mistakes, at least we can admit our familiarity with the sentiments. He writes about his own guilt:

As much as I wish I could, I simply cannot change what I’ve done, nor the resulting consequences. I can only own these despicable actions, which have left me completely devastated and deeply ashamed. Sometimes, no matter how bad you want it or how hard you fight for it, broken things just can’t be mended.

Webb is proclaiming the law, and boldly. He doesn’t see through the destruction and jump right to grace and forgiveness, which he would technically be allowed to do, I guess. In an attempt to encourage others to learn from his mistakes, he writes, “DON’T DO IT. At the very least, risk telling someone immediately and give yourself the opportunity to hear some understanding and perspective.” He also explains that having one or two people by whom you can be fully known can be helpful in times of temptation or trial.

Webb addresses the dissonance he felt between his confessional song lyrics and his own life experience:

The tone and spirit of the songs I’ve written over the last decade or so have sometimes been called “prophetic,” a term I’ve worn with extreme discomfort. But it turns out my songs have been eerily prophetic in my own story. For years, I’ve borrowed this language from Ezekiel:

“I am a whore, I do confess, but I put you on like a wedding dress and I run down the aisle.”

Hard as they have always been to sing, I am especially grateful to have those words to confess today, as I’ve never known them to be more deeply true of myself as I am running down that aisle still.

There has always been some measure of distance between me and the content of my songs. There’s a sense in which even the most confessional of my songs, like “Wedding Dress” or its more recent sibling, “Heavy,” felt like they were about someone else. So, the accidentally prophetic sting of those songs is especially acute and painful in light of my great failures. Songs like those have never been more difficult to sing, but I’ve never been more grateful to have to.

I’ve said recently that my songs feel like my personal liturgy, things I don’t necessarily or always believe but I show up to recite again and again in hopes of believing them. If I’m honest, most of the time, I don’t believe the words in my songs. I have a hard time believing in a God that could make, let alone love a man who could do such things. So I’ll go on reciting and adding to my liturgy in hopes of believing the words, because I wish to. More than ever, I wish to.

TWO. Pacific Standard published an article, “Come All Ye Failures,” by Christopher Cokinos. Cokinos, tackling the subject of failure from a non-religious perspective, preaches the law as well. He addresses how people may tend to feel like failures, especially artists, regardless of where they stand on the ladder of success.

A friend—accomplished, compassionate, smart—admitted to me this summer that she usually wakes up feeling like a failure. I momentarily froze, coffee cup in mid-lift. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. Then, of course, I understood completely.

I remembered the time in graduate school when a writer who was being interviewed for a job in our department said…: “I feel like a fraud.” … How could this well-dressed poet visiting a prestigious private university feel like a fraud? (He got hired, by the way, and has had a distinguished career filled with books and awards.)…

In my office of the creative-writing program I now direct (how did that happen?) there is a bookcase of alumni titles, including such luminaries as David Foster Wallace. When The End of the Tour came out, I pulled down Girl With Curious Hair and leaned my forehead against it, as if, through osmosis, I might get some of his magic…

Of course there’s a paradox in all this. Whatever success the yardstick measures, it’s never enough…

David Foster Wallace was a depressive, and he took his own life.

Cokinos is pointing out the law–“You must be a creative genius, and a successful one”–and then admits that no matter how hard you try, no matter how recognized you may become, no matter how great your genius, you will never measure up. The law kills. He cites David Foster Wallace as an almost pharisaical example—DFW was the height of every artistic law, and yet his accomplishments under such laws could not save him.

The article tells us that not only is it ok to fail, but that we must convince ourselves that it is ok to fail; the alternatives are bleak. But when one lacks the willpower to stop self-judging, a third option becomes attractive–the Gospel, which tells us that while we were yet sinners, and unsuccessful failures, Christ died for us. While we continually fall short of our everyday ambitions, we have a friend who died for us, that we might live. The good news of this article is short but powerful: “The ambitions of our work, our projects, aren’t ours to impose.”

THREE. In other news, people are going gaga for John Barclay’s new book, Paul and the Gift, which was featured on Todd’s Top Theology Books of 2015 round-up. For those interested in gracial politics, Barclay advocates a marriage between the “old” perspective on Paul’s theology of grace and the “new” perspective–for budding Pauline scholars out there, Books & Culture provided a worthy read by Scot McKnight, who breaks down the rough distinctions between the two, and then proceeds to examine Barclay’s thoughts.

Additionally, our friend Wes Hill interviewed Barclay himself over at Christianity Today. Barclay explains that the word traditionally translated as “grace” in the original text was actually the word for “gift.” Grace is considered dangerous, Barclay says, because it’s a gift given freely, which upsets the typical balance of exchanges, threatening chaos. He concludes:

…there are no limits to the reach of God’s grace. Both Paul and Jesus stood alongside people who were not at all respectable. In doing so, they took big social risks. God’s grace operates beyond our norms of what is civil, proper, or fair. And it challenges our hidden prejudices. Why do we distrust immigrants, stigmatize the poor, or disdain certain socioeconomic groups? Why are we tempted to think that people who do not have a spouse or a job, or who do not have a physique matching cultural ideals, have somehow failed? Whose values are we applying?

Paul learned that God’s gifts did not follow the values he had always assumed were right. The gospel has its own value system, which may not match our inherited values as much as we think.

What we take for granted as having worth—our place in a hierarchy, our class, our wealth, our education, you name it—does not count for anything when we are encountered by Christ. In Paul’s day, the main forms of hierarchy were built around gender, ethnicity, and legal status. Men were considered more important than women, Jews were considered more valuable than non-Jews, and a free person was considered more valuable than a slave. Paul says that in God’s eyes, none of these social boundaries matter. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female” (Gal. 3:28).

What I find so profound is the capacity of grace to dissolve our inherent and inherited systems—what we might call social capital. What counts before God is not what we pride ourselves on—or what we doubt ourselves on. What counts is simply that we are loved in Christ. This is massively liberating, not only to us as individuals but also to communities, because it gives them the capacity to reform and to be countercultural.

FOUR. For those needing some easy encouragement, you may want to note that our team is winning.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Noami Schaeffer Riley wrote a review of Rodney Stark’s book The Triumph of Faith, which points out that, depending on which polls you look at (Beware the Pew, he says), religious perspectives are actually quite dominant globally.

Mr. Stark cites a poll that he trusts: the Gallup World Poll, which has been conducted annually since 2005 and now includes more than a million interviews from 163 different countries. According to Gallup, almost all South American countries are now less than 5% secular. While Catholicism used to be the dominant form of Christianity, because it was the official religion of the colonizing powers, Protestantism “has become a major religious presence in most of Latin America.”

Mr. Stark argues that, in general, the government sponsorship of religion is a hindrance to the growth of a faith. Monopoly destroys competition, and competition, he says, causes growth—in religious affiliation as much as in the marketplace for goods and services. In many places around the globe, the competition among Muslims, evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and hundreds of smaller religious groups has resulted in an atmosphere of revival. A smug complacency has been replaced by a fervor to win souls.

Not in Europe, however, where the churches, once so important, are now empty. For the champions of the secularization thesis, such a development is nothing to complain about: Empty churches are a sign of reason’s progress. Mr. Stark offers some amusing evidence to the contrary. Drawing on the Gallup poll, he notes that Europeans hold all sorts of supernatural beliefs. In Austria, 28% of respondents say they believe in fortune tellers; 32% believe in astrology; and 33% believe in lucky charms. “More than 20 percent of Swedes believe in reincarnation,” Mr. Stark writes; “half believe in mental telepathy.” More than half of Icelanders believe in huldufolk, hidden people like elves and trolls. It seems as if the former colonial outposts for European missionaries are now becoming more religious, while Europe itself is becoming interested in primitive folk beliefs.

Stark’s report is most useful, not in proving that Christianity is winning world domination, but in throwing into question the predominate fear-inducing idea that Christianity is globally falling apart.


FIVE. Another WSJ article reported on how German kindergartens often send kids into the wilderness for a few days to get some life skills. This method isn’t necessarily new for the Germans, but taken in stride with the rise of “parent helicopters” in America, the report comes off as somewhat shocking.

German kindergartens aren’t for crybabies. While U.S. preschoolers practice their ABCs, their counterparts in German kindergarten, age 3 to 6, head into the outdoors to learn to get dressed, prepare meals and go to bed—all without their parents.

There are no pencils or paper on the trips. Children in Germany aren’t taught to read and write until they are 6…

Wow! I don’t currently reside in the young parents’ social circle, but I’ve nevertheless had my fair share of encounters with young-reader braggers, parents whose ‘gifted’ kids have begun to read by age 3 or 4. What they haven’t done is fended for their lives in the wilderness, usually.

In rule-bound Germany, growing up is surprisingly rule-free. Parents send 5-year-olds to the bakery alone on Saturdays. Children typically settle their own disputes on the playground. And kindergartens are legally bound to try to develop their charges into self-reliant individuals. That means children often are out of sight of their teachers, making their own games and choosing their playmates.

“Parents these days don’t have faith in their children,” says Christiane Dittrich, the head of a kindergarten in an upscale Berlin neighborhood. “They can accomplish so much more than their parents think.” Ms. Dittrich recalls her own kindergarten trip some 50 years ago in the former East Germany. “I remember being scared and also looking forward to it,” she says.

Not all Germans are on board with sending babes into the woods. The trips are uncommon in some parts of the country. Newcomers to Berlin, where they are popular, are often shocked by the concept. Lena Altman, a Düsseldorf native who moved to Berlin after becoming a mother in the U.S., balked at enrolling her son in a kindergarten that took children as young as 3 on an annual four-day camping trip. “I had just come from a very New York helicoptering context,” she says. “That seemed like a lot.”

Not being a parent myself, I can’t judge too harshly one way or the other. But this seems cool. At the very least, it’s driving a hammer through parents’ illusion of control. Maybe even an example of left-handed power—the parents, by surrendering their control, might actually be exerting some kind of quieter power, in strengthening the bonds of trust between themselves and their children.


SIX. Emily Hylden’s blog featured a moving post about anxiety and the not-so-linear way that humans develop.

Linear progression–as far as human life experience goes–says that a person continually gets better. Like, if you aren’t always continually “on fire” for God, then you’re backsliding and there’s something very wrong with your spiritual life. Or, a person begins a weight-loss regimen, loses a pound a week for a few months, and then–poof!–is a new, thinner person. Anybody snorting yet?

Life very rarely–if ever–works out that way…

Just because I’d had fewer [anxiety] attacks and been able to do more chores in the last few months it doesn’t mean I’m–poof!–done with depression and anxiety forever (would that it did!). And when they come back, it doesn’t mean I’m failing and backsliding; various situations and events just affect me differently on different days. Lives are so much more complex than a linear progression toward some pinnacle…“Hello, anxiety. I see you are here today. Let me stop my busyness and pay attention to you.” Because, like little children, depression and anxiety just get all the louder and more insistent and more destructive the longer you leave them alone.

Perhaps it is more important and useful to learn how to respond to and live with our struggles than it is to banish and sweep away those life struggles. Our “progress” is really made in being transformed by clarity (truth) and compassion–transformed by God through trials–rather than shoving our way through obstacles and gaining the badges of accomplishment.