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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 (christchurchcville.org).

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Author Archive
    

    When the World Turned Upside Down in Galatia

    One of many fantastic portions of the “Galatia” section in Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, which finally arrived on US shores two weeks ago. Holland has essentially crafted a 600-page sequel to Francis Spufford’s “Yeshua” chapter in Unapologetic: This conviction, that a crucified criminal might somehow be a part of […]

    Creedal Faith in the Age of Seculosity – David Zahl

    Here’s the video of my recent talk from the HWSS Conference in San Diego, which marked the debut of (the rough version of) The Seculosity Creed. I highly doubt I’ll ever make people laugh this hard again–and that’s probably a good thing. Many thanks to the good folks at 1517 for allowing me the opportunity to poke fun.

    Creedal Faith in the Age of Seculosity: Dave Zahl from 1517 on Vimeo.

    The Hardest Thing for Anyone

    According to author Zadie Smith, that is. She spills the beans in the closing mic-drop of her remarkable recent interview with The Toronto Star, ht SMZ:

    “I think the hardest thing for anyone is accepting that other people are real as you are. That’s it. Not using them as tools, not using them as examples or things to make yourself feel better or things to get over or under. Just accepting that they are absolutely as real as you are and have all the same expectations and demands. And it’s so difficult that basically the only person that ever did it was Christ. The rest of us are very, very far behind.”

    From The New Yorker

    November Playlist

    Got a little funky this time around, thank God. Music-heads should be able to discern the subject of the next episode of The Well of Sound… To listen to (most of) it on Spotify, click here.

    When Halloween and Reformation Day Combine!

    From The New Yorker

    File this one under the #seculosity of romance:

    The Seculosity Creed

    Thank you to 1517 for the opportunity to put this bit of sub-Nicene ridiculousness together and then have 400 people recite it in unison…! I’ve made a couple tiny tweaks since then. Probably goes without saying but this was written in a spirit of play and confession, not superiority. A big shoutout to Ben Maddison for his help:

     

    When Tara Isabella Burton Ran Out of Magic

    A remarkable essay by Tara Isabella Burton appeared last week on Catapult entitled “I Spent Years Searching for Magic—I Found God Instead” in which the esteemed religion journalist (and novelist) charts how her lifelong fascination with magic led her to Christianity. She covers a lot of ground, and the sum is a conversion narrative par […]

    The Utter Strangeness of Christ’s Divinity

    Making my way through Tom Holland’s new book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (or as it will be known in the US when it comes out later this month, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World), and it is chock-full of tasty anecdotes and asides, all written in prose far more sparkling than one expects to find in work of history, popular or no. We’ll no doubt be posting from it quite a bit in the coming months. Here’s a portion of the preface:

    The utter strangeness of [Jesus’ resurrection and ascension], for the vast majority of people in the Roman world, did not lie in the notion that a mortal might become divine. The border between the heavenly and the earthly was widely held to be permeable. In Egypt, the oldest of monarchies, kings had been objects of worship for unfathomable aeons. In Greece, stories were told of a ‘hero god’ by the name of Heracles, a muscle-bound monster-slayer who, after a lifetime of spectacular feats, had been swept up from the flames of his own pyre to join the immortals. Among the Romans, a similar tale was told of Romulus, the founder of their city.

    In the decades before the crucifixion of Jesus, the pace of such promotions into the ranks of the gods had begun to quicken. So vast had the scope of Roman power become that any man who succeeded in making himself its master was liable to seem less human than divine. The ascent into heaven of one of those, a warlord by the name of Julius Caesar, had been heralded by the blaze across the skies of a fiery-tailed star; that of a second, Caesar’s adopted son, who had won for himself the name of Augustus, by a spirit seen rising—just as Heracles had done—from a funeral pyre. Even sceptics who scorned the possibility that a fellow mortal might truly become a god were happy to concede its civic value. ‘For the human spirit that believes itself to be of divine origin will thereby be emboldened in the undertaking of mighty deeds, more energetic in accomplishing them, and by its freedom from care rendered more successful in carrying them out.’

    Divinity, then, was for the very greatest of the great: for victors, and heroes, and kings. Its measure was the power to torture one’s enemies, not to suffer it oneself: to nail them to the rocks of a mountain, or to turn them into spiders, or to blind and crucify them after conquering the world. That a man who had himself been crucified might be hailed as a god could not help but be seen by people everywhere across the Roman world as scandalous, obscene, grotesque. The ultimate offensiveness, though, was to one particular people: Jesus’ own. The Jews, unlike their rulers, did not believe that a man might become a god; they believed that there was only the one almighty, eternal deity. Creator of the heavens and the earth, he was worshiped by them as the Most High God, the Lord of Hosts, the Master of all the Earth. Empires were his to order; mountains to melt like wax. That such a god, of all gods, might have had a son, and that this son, suffering the fate of a slave, might have been tortured to death on a cross, were claims as stupefying as they were, to most Jews, repellent. No more shocking a reversal of their most devoutly held assumptions could possibly have been imagined. Not merely blasphemy, it was madness.

    Those looking for a bit more to whet their appetite should check out the interview Holland gave to The Church Times in the UK.

    Another Week Ends: Capital-F Forgiveness, Gracious Depravity, Performative Wellness, #GettingReal, Useless Value, and IDKHBTFM

    1. It’s not every week we get to witness such a stunning display of capital-F Forgiveness, so let’s savor this one. I’m referring to Brandt Jean’s overture to his brother’s killer, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger at her sentencing: As far as I can tell, the clip makes everyone cry when they first watch it, […]

    Not a Product of Narrative or Moral Cause-and-Effect

    This is too fabulous to bury in a weekender, the conversation between poet Kaveh Akbar and essayist (and 2019 Mbird Conference speaker!) Leslie Jamison, published last week on The Paris Review. The occasion for the interchange is the release of Jamison’s new collection Make It Scream, Make It Burn, which also contains a version of the essay she read at our conference. No, er, surprise but fresh language for our favorite subject abounds:

    AKBAR

    Can we begin by talking about grace? One of the things I’m most drawn to in the book, and in your work more broadly, is the steady orbit you make around the idea of grace. There’s a moment in one of the early essays in this collection where you crystallize it, writing: “The definition of grace is that it’s not deserved.” I have been grappling with this idea in my own life, the notion that if I’m capable of doling out grace only to those obviously deserving of it, it isn’t grace exactly. It’s kindness or it’s pity or it’s maybe even just propriety. What is grace to you? And what can it do?

    JAMISON

    Starting with grace is like diving into the deep end of the swimming pool—so much better than slowly lowering each inch of thigh down the steps in the shallow end. Or maybe it’s really like diving into the deep end of an infinity pool, where you come up to the edge and see that below is a more infinite body of water than the one you’re swimming in. Which is part of what grace means to me, you feel the world get larger around you, feel yourself get smaller within it. And the world can get large around you in so many ways. As a bespoke digital wonderland, as the infinite hall of mirrors of your prior lives, as a big blue whale large enough to swallow us all. All of these things—mythic whales, past lives, digital waterslides—can be sources of grace. The vending machine of grace is vast and it never gives you exactly what you asked for. And that means we have to pay attention, because we’re not always aware that grace has arrived. As you wrote, “I live in the gulf / between what I’ve been given / and what I’ve received.”

    It makes me think of a beautiful sentiment I once heard from a stranger, Sometimes the solution has nothing to do with the problem. I think surprise is an important part of grace. You thought you wanted cookies, but you really needed seltzer. Grace isn’t the thing you planned, it’s what you get instead. Which is maybe connected to the ways you and I want to uncouple it from a sense of contingency or deserving it. It’s not a product of narrative or moral cause-and-effect. It catches you off guard…

    Surprise is sometimes my working definition of God. Or grace.

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