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Peace/Love/Elvis: The Death of Ambition, and Also of Denis Johnson

Peace/Love/Elvis: The Death of Ambition, and Also of Denis Johnson

It’s hard to say exactly when the plummet of Elvis Presley began. Some say in the late 60s, some say the early 70s. Some might say as early as 1958, when he was drafted into the Army. In any case, there’s no denying the devilish phase of physical and mental deterioration which carried him to […]

"Chip in My Brain": <i>This American Life</i> Buried the Lede

"Chip in My Brain": This American Life Buried the Lede

Like many here at Mockingbird, I’m a big fan of This American Life and Serial/S-Town and all of those NPRish, WBEC Chicago Public Radio podcasts. I’ve been listening to the TAL podcasts for going on four years now, and “Chip in My Brain” (Jan 13, 2018) is the most compelling to date, for me. That’s a huge compliment […]

What Russell Brand Used to Think of as Happiness

On the Mockingcast this past week, we talked a bit about our favorite books of 2017. For me, Russell Brand’s Recovery was right up there, in part because it’s so funny but mainly because it cuts through so much of the baloney (read: reactivity) surrounding the G-O-D question these days and grounds it in the reality of lived experience and desperation. Here are a few more cases in point:

I have heard 12 Step support groups referred to as a cult and it could be argued that any group with a system of beliefs is a cult. In working a 12 Step program I don’t feel like I’ve joined a cult, but that I’ve been liberated from one. The cult that told me that I’m not enough, that I need to be famous to be of value, that I need to have money to live a worthwhile life, that I should affiliate, associate and identify on 
the basis of color and class, that my role in life is to consume, that 
I was to live in a darkness only occasionally lit up by billboards and screens, always framing the smiling face of someone trying to sell me something. Sell me phones and food and prejudice, low cost and low values, low-frequency thinking. We are in a cult by default. We just can’t see it because its boundaries lie beyond our horizons. (pg 67)

When my last great romance combusted and I came fleeing from the inferno, looking for comfort and peace, it is to this community, assembled around the mutual wound, that I turned. Every time I reinvest in the material world as a potential source of happiness I am able to return to them when it fails. When religions talk of idolatry, I feel I know what they are saying; when I make something else,… my symbol of the divine, I get in trouble. If you take away the bombast, the sense that these edicts are being bellowed down from a purple cloud, ‘Don’t get too wrapped up in relationships or money’ sounds like the sort of thing a grandparent might say. I have an inclination to make these things my salvation. (pg 101)

What I used to think of as happiness was merely distraction from the pain. (pg 218)

How do you stop yourself from milking [a] situation for spiritual credit? Of course there is no such thing as spiritual credit, as soon as credit is sought you are in the domain of the ego. So even by writing about it the purity is compromised if not undone. How do you avoid making it about the result? You just do your best and let go of the outcome. It’s easy to become snared on each of these points. In the end, you just try your best. (pg 235)

The Road Back for Pariahs

The Road Back for Pariahs

It is hard to know how much of his tongue was in his cheek when Politico’s Jack Shafer penned “The Sex Pariah’s 6-Step Guide to Rehabilitation.” Yet the questions he addresses in the wake of Weinstein and Lauer and O’Reilly (and so many others) are both serious and timely: once the pariahs have served their […]

Psychomachia, 8-Balls, and Alien Righteousness

Psychomachia, 8-Balls, and Alien Righteousness

This one comes to us from RJ Coburn. Psychomachia is the name given to the common trope found in movies, television, and comic strips when a character is dealing with temptation. Two versions of his or her self appear, an angel version and a devil version. Commonly, the devil is on the left shoulder (or […]

Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 2)

Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 2)

Too long for one post, we’re looking at the advent of the “sadcom,” a unique TV comedy developed over recent years. Sadcoms are shows that find humor in the debauched and dysfunctional lives of lead characters, punctuating that wildness with sincere moments of sympathy. For a longer breakdown, check out part 1, with a review […]

Some Other Power At Work in Russell Brand's Life (Inadvertently)

Some Other Power At Work in Russell Brand's Life (Inadvertently)

Great little passage from the comedian’s far from (merely) comic new book Recovery: These are secular times. I just went to see a priest with my girlfriend to discuss getting married in his church and God wasn’t mentioned, as if doing so might cause embarrassment and I feel some of the same tension when writing. […]

Confessions of a Foodaholic

Confessions of a Foodaholic

During the summer following my junior year of college, I attended a handful of Overeaters Anonymous meetings. I was plagued with compulsive overeating, binge eating, whatever you want to call it, starting in high school, having been off and on diets since age 14, and it reached its height in college; hence the infamous rock […]

A Clockwork Theology and the Un-Free Will

A Clockwork Theology and the Un-Free Will

A friend recently noted that TV post-Breaking Bad seems to be getting more violent. Typically I’d discard this as your run-of-the-mill “kids these days” complaint, but somewhere between grimace-inducing episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Fargo, I realized, well, maybe he had a point. Game of Thrones fits the bill. So does HBO’s adaptation of Big Little Lies, […]

Cringe-Watching <i>Catastrophe</i>

Cringe-Watching Catastrophe

For the last few weeks at bedtime, my youngest son has requested that I read him a story out of a book called “Farmyard Tales.” These are innocuous little stories of Apple Tree Farm, and the family who lives there. They are sweet and lovely, and also criminally boring. They are perfect bedtime stories for […]

Something Missing (in Recovery Services)

Something Missing (in Recovery Services)

Compulsion is brutal. But the last decade has seen a huge cultural effort to remove spiritual death from the tragedy of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous was, and largely still is, the model for treatment, but a Higher Power does not play well in the wave of commercial exploitation of “recovery services.” Squeaky clean, dead serious ads […]

Freedom Isn't Free

Freedom Isn't Free

Another glimpse into our Food & Drink Issue. This essay is written by Connor Gwin.  It is a funny thing, getting sober in seminary. I spent years discerning my call to ordained ministry and answering questions from committee after committee, only to find myself in front of the mirror in my seminary dorm room. It […]