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About David Zahl

David Zahl is the director of Mockingbird Ministries and editor-in-chief of the Mockingbird blog. He and his wife Cate reside in Charlottesville, VA, with their three sons, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church (

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Author Archive

    Three Things That Aren’t Grim About the Future

    Just before Lent hits and the horizon darkens, how about a glimpse of sunny skies? This is taken from the recently released Future Issue of The Mockingbird Magazine – get your copy here: Rembrandt captured the scene marvelously. In his painting, “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem,” the wizened prophet slumps in a palace hallway, […]

    Another Week Ends: Anthropology Wars, Youth Anxiety, Type of Guy Theory, Fitness Scams, Nuclear Families, Age Rage, and Mirrors4sale

    1. A brilliant essay in The American Interest by Tara Isabella Burton on What The Culture War Is Really About in which the upcoming NYC Conference speaker burrows underneath the acrimony that surrounds us and reveals a conflict over, well, anthropology. In her view, the divide in our culture isn’t between those with a high […]

    The Mockingcast Goes to the Future (By Way of the Past)!

    Hard to believe we’re closing in on two months out from our annual conference in New York City (4/23-25)! The details are coming together beautifully – the lineup is pretty much set (not including a couple surprises we can’t disclose until the event itself), and the menus should be up in the next few weeks.

    Anyone who’s curious about why we asked author-not-actor Tom Holland to keynote this year should run not walk to the interview we got to do with him for the special new episode of The Mockingcast, devoted to The Future Issue of our magazine. You’re in for quite a treat! I’m not sure we’ve ever gotten so much feedback on a podcast so quickly, especially of the it-made-me-genuinely-excited-to-be-a-Christian variety. Oh and while you’re at it, grab a copy of his book Dominion.

    Also on the episode, Ethan speaks with NY Times tech columnist Nellie Bowles, and once-and-future Mbird authority Will McDavid mines the fertile ground at the intersection of Marcel Proust and the Left Behind series. A goldmine!

    You can listen to the episode here, and pre-register for the conference here.

    February Playlist

    This one serves as an unofficial soundtrack to the Future Issue, as well as a mini-companion to the new episode of The Well of Sound about Allen Toussaint. Oh and you can listen to about three quarters of it on Spotify by clicking here.

    Why Ada Calhoun Can’t Sleep

    I’ve been struck by the publicity surrounding Ada Calhoun‘s new book, Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, which takes as its subject the creeping insomnia, restlessness, and burnout Calhoun has noticed among American women of her own generation. While we wait for the book itself to arrive, a couple soundbites of Calhoun tracing the shape of today’s little-l laws were too tempting not to post. And probably goes without saying but her diagnosis extends beyond the demographic in question; as a non-GenX lady, I recognize much of this in my own life. Shades of #seculosity abound! (Note how many times the word “enough” is used). This first bit is from an interview she did with NPR:

    “One thing that a sociologist who studies the generations told me is that our generation [Gen X] tends to judge ourselves based on everything. So if, you know, in the past the question was, how nice is your home? Or how good are you at your job? Now it’s like, it’s all of the things. So it’s – are you a good parent? Are you good at work? Are you – you know, is your house nice? Are you in shape? Are you recycling? Like, it’s every single factor in life you have to excel at. And I think that level of pressure is unsustainable.

    These next paragraphs are taken from Calhoun’s Q&A with Maria Shriver:

    What I think happened to women in this generation was when we were girls we were told we could “be anything, even president!” And as I was interviewing all these women around the country I heard from them that the idea that they could do anything somehow morphed somehow into a directive that they must do everything—and do it all effortlessly. In middle age, they are likely to find that they haven’t lived up to this fantasy they had for themselves, epitomized by the crimes against humanity that were those Enjoli perfume ads about bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan. If women bought into that idea (as many of us did), they may have a family but not a career or vice versa and then feel like they are not doing enough. Even a lot of women I talked to who were doing a stressful full-time job and a lot of caregiving (the classic definition of “it all”) felt like they had failed in some way—maybe they had both work and family but they weren’t in good physical shape, their kids weren’t getting good grades, they worked all the time but still couldn’t afford a nice vacation, or they were just very, very tired…

    In interviewing these women, I learned that a lot of the stress seemed to be coming out of shame—they felt they should be more successful, maybe, but also more grateful. They would say, “I’m so lucky, I have no right to complain.” And then they would describe what they expected from themselves and what they were dealing with. The responsibilities and pressures would be massive, but the thing that seemed to be pushing them over the edge into despair was this idea that they were whining if they admitted how hard it was. They would dismiss what they were feeling by making a joke about #FirstWorldProblems. And they would tell me that they knew if only they could do enough yoga or find the right herbal tea or learn about CBD oil, the feeling of unease would go away. This book tries to show that no, if you are stressed out it isn’t necessarily that you did something wrong or you haven’t made the right chore chart—maybe the deck is stacked against you.

    Another Week Ends: Advanced Status Games, Insecure Globalists, Wavering Churchability, Cancer Chairs, Redwall Feasts, and Statism

    1. First up this week, other than Ozzy Osbourne in 1987 (featured image), would have to be Agnes Callard’s magnificent piece for The Point, “Who Wants to Play the Status Game?” in which she unpacks the not-so-subtle status games we play with those whom we’ve just met. Meaning, when you’re introduced to someone at a […]

    How MLK Got His Name

    Perhaps you know the story: In 1934 the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta sent its pastor Michael King, Sr. to attend a Baptist World Alliance Meeting in Berlin. The trip included a whirlwind visit to a number of other sites, but apparently the time in Germany (just as the National Socialists were starting their rise) had such an impact on Michael that he decided to rename himself and his 5-year-old son after the Great Reformer. Thus, father and son became Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr.

    Somehow I don’t think we’ve ever posted this beautiful portion of MLK’s 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” in which he sounds more than a little like his namesake, especially toward the end, ht SC & JF:

    I’m concerned about a better World. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

    And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.

    And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels; you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing. Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules; you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge; and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. You may even give your goods to feed the poor; you may bestow great gifts to charity; and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain. What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

    January Playlist

    Click here to listen on Spotify.

    “All My Friends Are Finding New Beliefs” – Christian Wiman

    Taken, presumably, from the esteemed poet (and Mbird fave)’s forthcoming collection Survival Is a Style, this one appears in the January Issue of Poetry Magazine. Couldn’t ask for a more fitting capstone to my year of #seculosity, ht MS:

    Consuming 2019: Favorite Music, TV, Humor, Podcasts, Books, and Journalism

    Time for our annual round up of favorites!. As always, these are predominantly personal picks, albeit with an eye toward Mocking-resonance. Click here to read last year’s list. Deep breath: Music Favorite Discoveries Roxy Music. 2019 was the year I fell for Roxy, and I fell hard. The well (of sound) with these guys is […]

    Auburn Sandstrom and the Pinhole of Light

    This, as the kids say, is everything. Everything we fumble toward in our writing and everything we hope in, especially at Advent Christmastime. No idea how it escaped our attention before but good god almighty… Take 10 minutes today – you won’t regret it, ht CWZ.

    A Mockingbird Gift Guide: 2019 Edition

    That time again! Click here to check out last year’s guide.

    For the Mockingcast superfan looking to spread the word in style: a Mockingcast throw pillow, matching mug set, iPhone case or one of the gazillion other products Redbubble can print a logo on

    For your brother-in-law who loves a PBJ just as much as his kids do and is thrilled his youngest finally ‘graduated’ from that insufferably overbearing no-nuts preschool: a subscription to the Sqirl Bimonthly Jam Club

    For the couple in your neighborhood who love to entertain but have been at loose ends since A Chef’s Life went off the air and could use some fresh inspiration: Edible spray paint – metallic 3-pack

    For whomever you most enjoy binge-watching TV with, especially the good stuff: A Fleabag Season 2 mug, either illustrated or “I Got Chatty at Hilary’s Cafe” versions – and to pour into it, a bag of the 1517 Reformation Roast from Coffee by Gillespie

    For your sister’s kids whom she’s privately confessed to you more than once that she feels genuinely enslaved to: The 10 Plagues Plush Toy Set and Sack from Zion Judaica

    For your pastor who keeps dropping ominous references in his sermons to denominational turmoil that everyone pretends to understand: Jesus Is My Rock stress ball

    For the parents at your bus stop, especially the one who is always on his phone while his kid pokes all the other children with sticks that are a little too pointy: A “Get in the Pool!” T-Shirt

    For the Generation Xer who needs something to take their mind (and heart) off the escalating Boomer-Millennial tensions at their family Christmas party: A Set of All 3 ‘Breakin’ ReAction Figures

    For your nephew working toward his undergraduate sociology degree who blames absolutely every social ill on Christianity but seemed genuinely intrigued at Thanksgiving when your sister told him that there’s “nothing more Western than being anti-Western”: Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland

    For your literature-loving church friend with whom you’ve wondered aloud if your pastor and his wife have the same levels of family dysfunction you both do: The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

    For your friend from college who used to be big on social media but then went off the grid without warning and you hear might now be in recovery and going back to church: a gift subscription to the Mockingbird magazine, the Future issue of which comes out in January!

    For the most saintly-acting yet not necessarily saintly-looking lady in your life: “Dolly Parton Is My Co-Pilot” bumper stickers

    For your exvangelical cousin who used to want to be Roman Catholic but doesn’t want to be Roman Catholic anymore and to whom your heart goes out, which isn’t to say you’re not also fascinated to see where this all ends up: The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast by John L’Heureux

    For your uncle who loves wearing, er, red baseball hats and you think could stand to mix it up a bit, especially when he visits his college-aged daughter at school: a Pizza Planet delivery cap

    For the guy at church who does all the AV and without whom you’d really be up the creek, whose wardrobe suggests he’s super into classic rock n soul but who you’ve called by the wrong name one too many times: A copy of Neal Francis’s amazing new (conversion!) record Changes on vinyl or Silicone Boone’s uber-glorious debut The Reaches

    For your aunt who went vegan after her divorce and you can’t help but notice has started to develop a bit of an aroma which you fear is impacting her romantic prospects more than anyone wants to admit: Serota’s Underarm Balm

    For the young person who’s been out of seminary just long enough to realize that the people in the pew are more tired/sad than ill-informed – or for the faithful Same Old Song listener: Faith Once Delivered by Paul Walker (now available on Kindle!)

    For the PZ’s Podcast Listener who’s non-averse to subtitles: The Criterion Collection edition of Bondarchuk’s adaptation of War and Peace

    For your dear but technologically-challenged church administrator who’d finally gotten the hang of ClipArt only for her desktop to crap out the same week Christmas Eve bulletins were due: a subscription to the Font of the Month Club

    For your workaholic colleague who’s always recommending podcasts that you can’t figure out when they have the time to actually listen to: Seculosity audiobook (coming 12/15!)

    For your 9-year-old neighbor whose parents spend the winter months dreading that snow day phone call with every fiber of their being: Wearable Sled Legs

    For the Well of Sound listener, AKA what I want for Christmas and will probably end up buying for myself: Radiant Radish t-shirt or Morrissey funko pop figure

    For anyone whose favorite sound while watching The Mandalorian is that of Someone Else cleaning your home, AKA “The Willard Gift”: Robotic Vacuum, Stormtrooper edition

    For your recently retired Mbird-reading/-tolerating parents looking for the trip of a lifetime: St Matthews Bedford’s “In the Footsteps of Paul” with Paul & Mary Zahl (and DJ JAZ too!) – March 15-28, 2020

    For anyone you truly love: Earlybird tickets to the 2020 Mockingbird NYC Conference, April 23-25th. Prices go up on Feb 1! And maybe a Low Anthropology sticker for the envelope.