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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

    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.

    Another Week Ends: Advent Aches, Mom Merch, Morning Routines, Cormac Chilis, Dietary Cults, Perfectionist Paradoxes, and Vertical Lightness

    1. First up, a stirring reflection on the meaning of Advent in The NY Times of all places, courtesy of Tish Harrison Warren, “Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness”. This one is pretty much gold from start to finish: For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth — that light […]

    From The Onion: Man Thinking About Just Packing Up And Making Exact Same Mistakes Someplace Far Away

    Gosh, been missing ones like this from The Onion! From 2015 but… eternal:

    TEMPLE TERRACE, FL—Feeling the need to get out of his suburban hometown and make a fresh start for himself, local man Gregory Forlano told reporters Tuesday that… he is on the verge of severing all ties to his current life in the Tampa area and lapsing into an equally unfulfilling existence for himself in a brand-new city.

    “I’ve just been spinning my wheels in this town for so long; I feel like I need to get out of here and become mired in the same problems somewhere completely new,” said Forlano, adding that his discontent over residing in a cramped one-bedroom apartment and patronizing the same two dive bars with a group of shiftless, unambitious friends every weekend had motivated him to seek out an identically limited and unsatisfying existence outside of his comfort zone. “I could really use a change of scenery. It’s about time I headed to some new city where I can start over with a totally blank slate and instantly stumble backward into the same self-defeating behaviors that will ultimately leave me in an indistinguishable, pitiful situation within months.”…

    Explaining how he believed he needed to “really shake things up,” Forlano emphasized that the time had come for him to get out of Florida and slip into a virtually identical pattern of ordering takeout from one of three nearby restaurants and spending his ample downtime watching reruns of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in an entirely different state.

    Click here to read the whole thing.


    Couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that “Faith Once Delivered,” a collection of sermons by Paul N. Walker, is now available through our online store and Amazon! Collected over many years, through both tragedy and celebration, these sermons are for every season in life. Preface here:

    It was a few minutes before noon on a Thursday, and I was killing time with Paul as he waited for his lunch date. We were standing at the bottom of the stairs at the office of Christ Church Charlottesville, as we often do. The young man arrived, and Paul introduced us. I had seen him at church but had yet to make his acquaintance.

    After a few pleasantries, I asked how he had found our church. It’s the sort of open-ended question that I had heard Paul ask newcomers before, the kind that allowed them to go as light or heavy as they wished. “Someone at the office invited me,” one person might say, the next that her mother had recently died.

    The young man responded by saying it was the sermons that had drawn him. He had never heard anything like them. He then paused, possibly debating whether or not to proceed with his next thought. After a moment he looked up at Paul and asked, “I’ve been listening for months and I have to ask: do you basically believe that people are always in a state of existential crisis?”

    “Well, now that you mention it…” Paul responded, chuckling a little. “I suppose you could say that, yes.”

    The young man cracked his first smile, “So it’s not just me!”

    Their brief exchange crystallized something crucial for me about the nature of preaching, indeed the nature of life. I had only been working for Paul for a couple years at that point, but had been eagerly listening to his sermons for close to a decade. Some weeks I arrived at the sermon feeling fine, other weeks in a state of barely disguised distress. But no matter what attitude I brought to the pew or the iPod, I never walked away burdened. And I’ve never prepared a sermon myself without first consulting what Paul has said about the passage in question.

    Some preachers conceive of their hearers as people who’re doing basically okay but could use a pep talk. Some as pupils in need of instruction or wisdom. Some address the complacent person they feel needs to be jolted awake. But the audience Paul has in mind when he preaches are people undergoing some kind of crisis, existential or not. His words are aimed at the man or woman in pain. It turns out that describes all of us.

    You might expect therefore that his sermons might be a little morose. Yet the exact opposite is true! Despite the gravity of what he has to say—indeed, because of it—there’s a palpable freedom that comes across. Listen to him preach and you will hear a man who takes the Gospel seriously, but not himself. Or, put another way, a key part of Paul’s task each time he climbs into the pulpit involves puncturing his audience’s self-importance, beginning with his own. In poking fun at himself, he conveys that he is not above his hearers but right there among them, just as much in need of God’s grace as anyone. It’s a rare gift to be able to do so without attracting unnecessary attention, but Paul has it.

    There are many other remarkable qualities I could commend in his sermons—the precision of the language, the literary imagination, the reverence of scripture, the sheer creativity. It’s all there, in spades. But what most distinguishes the entries in this collection, what accounts for their urgency and power, is the message itself: the unflagging grace of God for non-theoretical sinners like you and me. This “goodest” of good news drips from every single sermon this man preaches.

    Paul once told me that, since you never know who’s sitting in the pew—perhaps they lost a loved one that week, or received a diagnosis, or simply got into a massive fight with their spouse on the way to church—you cannot risk preaching anything other than the forgiveness of sins. Any hedging and you’d be of more service selling insurance.

    Of course, what we miss when the words are sequestered on the page is the sound of Paul’s own voice. Because, as we all know, you can speak words of peace in a violent manner or words of absolution in a condemnatory tone. You can speak spiritual words without conviction or heart. As someone who was present for the majority of these sermons, you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that the spirit in which they were delivered was one of utmost compassion, warmth, and sincerity.

    And ultimately, that’s why this man’s ministry means so much to so many. Why his lunch schedule remains booked solid, year after year after year. These aren’t just words. Paul is not merely a spokesman for God’s grace but an active embodiment of it. He shows up on your worst day with arms outstretched and a listening ear (and possibly a well-mixed martini). That he would object to such a characterization, and resist any and all such lionization, only confirms its truth.

    In fact, if you know Paul, then you know how grateful we should be that he agreed to let these sermons be preserved in the first place. Fortunately, this book was not his idea. Nor is the message it contains. It is nothing less than the faith once delivered and the only response to it is the only response to the preacher himself:


    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an existential crisis that needs tending…


    The Real Battle (Between Atheism and Christianity) Is Always Emotional

    Blammo! It’s been a minute since we pointed to one of Giles Fraser’s columns, but that’s only because we lost track of the marvelously outspoken UK priest and pundit when he moved venues a couple years ago, from The Guardian to UnHerd. Well, the joke’s clearly on us, especially if it’s meant we miss out […]

    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.”