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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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    If Jesus Were a Dietitian

    “I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest.” How’s that for an admission? Yet it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Jessica Knoll’s recent op-ed for The NY Times, the provocatively titled “Smash the Wellness Industry.” She describes a somewhat harrowing relationship with food and body that sounds […]

    When Everything Came Alive for Leo Tolstoy

    The new episode of The Mockingcast dropped yesterday (“Pelagian Privilege”), in which Sarah shared the following entry from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. The Arrival Fallacy strikes again:

    [Leo Tolstoy] was 52 years old, and his two greatest novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), were behind him. He had found himself in a crisis—he was famous, had a family and land and money, but it all seemed empty. He was unable to write, had trouble sleeping, contemplated suicide. He read the great philosophers, but found holes in all of their arguments. He was amazed that the majority of ordinary Russians managed to keep themselves going every day, and he finally decided that it must be their faith. From there, it was a short time until Tolstoy took a walk in the woods and found God. He wrote: “At the thought of God, happy waves of life welled up inside me. Everything came alive, took on meaning. The moment I thought I knew God, I lived. But the moment I forgot him, the moment I stopped believing, I also stopped living.”

    His wife Sophia was not so thrilled with his conversion. He renounced meat, sex, alcohol, fiction, tobacco, and the temptations of a family. He dressed like a peasant. He wanted to give all of his money away, but Sophia wanted to live what she considered a normal life, not to mention raise their 10 children.

    Tolstoy made his first visit to [the Optina-Pustyn monastery] in 1877, a visit in which he apparently exhausted the chief starets—or community elder—with his questions. On this day [June 10th] in 1881 he set off on a second visit, and this time he decided that to be more like the common people, he would walk all the way there, dressed in his peasant coat and wearing shoes made out of bark. He was pleased with his spiritual guidance, but he wasn’t used to walking in bark shoes, so by the time he made it to Optina his feet were so covered in blisters that he had to take the train back home.

    For the next chapter in Tolstoy’s eccentric spiritual journey, look no further. You can also check out our Tolstoy archive here. And for more on where he landed on monasticism be sure to track down his masterpiece of a novella, Father Sergius.

    Another Week Ends: Pelagian Privilege, Quaker Parents, Reddit Karma, Church of Dataism, Summer Reading, and Search History Repeats

    1. Well, file this first one under unexpected. Christianity Today published the transcript of the commencement address that Missouri senator Joshua Hawley gave at Kings College earlier this month, the title of which immediately piqued my interest, “The Age of Pelagius.” Pelagianism has long been a favorite punching bag here at Mbird, though admittedly not […]

    The One Kind of Prosperity Gospel Kate Bowler Believes In

    This is one for the ages, from the author of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Watch with tissues nearby. You’ve been warned:

    If I Can Just Understand the Arrival Fallacy, I’ll Be Happy

    The latest ‘gimme’ from the world of social science has, er, arrived. I’m referring to the Arrival Fallacy, “the illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.” Earlier this week The NY Times devoted a whole column to this familiar dynamic, A.C. Shilton’s […]

    Confession of a Dieting Supremacist (*in June)

    A short, timely excerpt from Seculosity, which turned two months old over the weekend! Scroll down for info about the final dates in the book tour. This is taken from chapter 7:

    When I was in middle school, my grandmother sat me down and told me that unlike my two brothers, I would have to watch what I ate as I got older. I don’t know what tipped her off, whether it was my husky build or awful snacking habits, but she wanted me to know that if I didn’t pay attention to what I ate, I could develop a problem, the one known as–[whispering]–fatness.

    She was frank, but she was right. The truth is, I’ve always looked to food for comfort, especially during times of stress. Ben and Jerry’s, not Budweiser, is my preferred method of self-medication.

    And so, every June of adulthood, I’ve undertaken a month-long “reduction” in which I cut out desserts and carbs and late-night nibbles. For men my age, the pounds fall off with relatively little effort and old pants soon begin to fit again. Affirmation starts to flow my way in the form of unsolicited comments (which my inner lawyer immediately flips into condemnation, i.e., “had I really gotten so heavy?”). I start to feel a bit better, both physiologically and emotionally. Your body thanks you, as they say. The social rewards can be pretty noticeable, too, even for a guy. No more pizza-neck!

    Yet the downsides are not negligible. For thirty days it’s tunnel vision all the way, as I place my needs and plans above those of my wife, kids, and coworkers. I can’t seem to do it any other way. All to avoid the accusation of F-A-T, aka the worst F-word in the English language.

    The self-centeredness pales in comparison to the self-righteousness. The moment I step on the scale and it registers less is the moment I reproach both my past self for being lazy and others for their failure to be as disciplined as I am. I become what journalist Joyce Wadler calls a “Dieting Supremacist” or we might call a Food Pharisee, forgetting the many factors that contributed to my weight loss, as well as the inconvenient fact that I gained it all back the last time. Instead I craft a narrative about self-determination and effort and performance. A testimony, if you will.

    The swiftness of this change in attitude, and the size of the feelings involved, reveals just how much I lean on my relationship to food (and by extension, body image) for self-esteem and justification. Still, given the choice between being a self-aggrandizing performancist who can fit into his clothes and a self-loathing performancist who can’t, I choose the former. Neither is what we might call spiritually healthy, but the latter at least reinforces need rather than self-sufficiency.

    Last leg of the Seculosity Tour kicks off later this month! Those dates, plus a couple Fall add-ons, are:

    • June 19, 2019: Jacksonville, FL (Church of our Savior @ 6pm) – This is a ticketed event, with dinner provided. Click here to reserve your spot today!
    • June 20, 2019: Winter Park, FL (Winter Park Country Club, WP 9 @ 6:30pm)
    • June 21, 2019: Orange County, CA (WeWork 200 Spectrum Center Drive, Suite 200, Irvine CA @ 6:30-9pm) – This is a ticketed event. Click here to reserve your spot today!
    • June 22, 2019: Los Angeles, CA (The Zank’s 1101 Hartzell St, Pacific Palisades CA 90272 @ 3:30-5:30pm) – totally free, but please rsvp to info@mbird.com
    • August 28, 2019: Wenowah, NJ (Holy Trinity Episcopal Church @ TBA)
    • October 13, 2019: Charlotte, NC (Christ Church Charlotte @ TBA)

    p.s. If you haven’t posted a review on Amazon yet (even a single line!), gosh it would be appreciated. Thanks!

    June Playlist

    Click here to listen (to most of it) on Spotify. Likely going to be moving these there exclusively in the next couple months, fyi.

    Another Week Ends: Clean Slates, Mock Funerals, Webb’s Inspiration, Orthosomnia, Consumer Fugue States, and Purpose-Driven Paper Towels

    1. How can we not lead off by talking about Robert Smith’s surprise announcement during his commencement address to the graduating class of Morehouse College last Sunday? A third party who wipes a slate clean, shoulders a burden, absolves a debt, gifts a wholeness–by surprise, without coercion, and at a cost to themselves–whatever language you […]

    The Only Places on the Streets That Understand

    Way back on Christmas Eve of 2013, The Guardian ran a piece by photographer Chris Arnade under the provocative title, “The People Who Challenged My Atheism Most Were Drug Addicts and Prostitutes.” It remains one of the best and most heartening things I’ve read on that intersection. Arnade recounts how thoroughly his unbelief was challenged […]

    All Pride Contains a Hint of Malice

    Another heartening excerpt from David Brooks’ new work The Second Mountain. Here the Times columnist turns over the definition of grace with a little help from Martin Luther and Reinhold Niebuhr—but with the heavy-lifting from Anne Snyder, Brooks’ erstwhile research assistant, now wife. I was struggling with the concept of surrender and grace. I didn’t […]

    Adam Sandler Narrates the #Seculosity of Travel

    Hilarious skit from this past weekend’s Saturday Night Live, in which the once and future Bobby Boucher warns us of what a father figure of mine terms “the geographic (non-)solution.” Funny funny funny:

    Oh and the Seculosity Tour isn’t over yet! I’ll be in Atlanta this Friday and then Nashville next Saturday. Here are the specifics – hope you can come out:

    • May 10, 2019: Atlanta, GA (The Heck’s House 1869 Volberg St NW, Atlanta GA 30318 @ 7:30pm) – No need to RSVP, just show up!
    • May 18, 2019: Nashville, TN (Parnassus Books @ 2:00pm)
    • May 18, 2019: Nashville, TN (St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church @ 5:30pm)

    P.S. A certain multi-national conglomerate just knocked another 10% off the price, which means you can now get copies at nearly 40% off! No idea how long this will last, just be sure to leave a review when you get a chance. Pretty please?

    David Brooks Has His Mountaintop Experience

    A short passage from the remarkable 21st chapter of the NY Times columnist’s new book, The Second Mountain, in which he recounts, well, you’ll see. I’d reprint the entire chapter if I could. The setting is the summer of 2013, just after the end of his 27 year marriage: That summer, I took my annual […]

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