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For 30 years, I have designed places for people to live when they are at the edge of coping. When creating anything, knowing those who will use the creation makes the creation better. This year, I have been part of an effort to make a safe harbor for the young who are lost. Listening to […]

Good Hair, Grace, and a Better Image

In October of this year, Paragon Charter Academy in Michigan informed the parents of 8-year-old Marian Scott that her red extensions precluded her from participating in picture day. According to the school’s official policy, students should only wear natural hair tones in order to have their photos taken. Marian’s style violated more than school policy, […]

Happy Thanksgiving: Store Discounts, New Podcasts, and Mailing List

Happy Thanksgiving one and all! We’ll be taking a few days off to celebrate with our families, so no new content til this coming Monday. But rest assured, we’re not leaving you hanging:

1. In conjunction with a certain upcoming Friday, we’re running a big sale on our Store! 25% off all Robert Capon titles, Churchy, Unmapped, Mockingbird at the Movies, and Mbird T-shirts & bags.

2. Three brand new podcast episodes for you to listen to:

  • The Mockingcast Episode 171: “Everybody Loves Dolly” in which RJ, Sarah, and Dave talk generational warfare (“OK boomer”), Sunday morning racial reconciliation, refugee puppetry, and America’s favorite Dolly. Also, Sarah gets bleeped for the first time — but probably not the last. Throughout it all, hope abounds.
  • Same Old Song “Advent 1 (A): Here We Go Again” in which Jacob and Aaron discuss the readings for the first Sunday of Advent, which are Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, and Matthew 24:36-44.
  • PZ’s Podcast Episode 288: GPF. Which concerns the arrival of gratitude and peace at the end of life — or, better, way before the end of life — and the birth of faith for one’s safe “arrival” after death.

Best way to listen to all of our podcasts, btw, (if you have an OSX device) is via The Mockingapp! Available for free on the Apple App Store.

3. We’ll be sending out our big end-of-the-year newsletter and appeal next week. To get a copy, simply sign up for our Mailing List. Just be sure to submit your full postal address. We can’t do this without you!

4. Click here to peruse our Thanksgiving archives. Lots of gold in them hills.

NOW AVAILABLE: “FAITH ONCE DELIVERED,” SERMONS BY PAUL N. WALKER

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:

THANK YOU.

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

NOW AVAILABLE: “FAITH ONCE DELIVERED,” SERMONS BY PAUL N. WALKER!

Another Week Ends: Religious Decline, Peloton, Halloween Righteousness, Reformation Day, and Kanye

1a. This week featured a point-counter-point on the religious decline in America. Fewer people are going to church, particularly millennials. Accordingly, Christine Emba sees genuine cause for alarm. Millennials prefer low-cost, substitute religions (read: seculosities!), and the church may not be there as a fallback option in the future: Faith and practice can’t persevere through […]

Another Week Ends: Time-Wasting Projects, Serotonin, Destination Funerals, the Hope of Children, the Languages of Love, and Jesus is King

1. Ear Hustle is a podcast about incarceration. It shares stories about life in San Quentin prison and the reintegration into life that follows a sentence there. The final episode of the recent fourth season is a hard story of reconciliation between a police officer and the man who shot him and went to jail […]

Shaping the Future

The following was originally delivered as a keynote at the 149th Annual Episcopal Diocesan Convention in Harrisburg, PA. SHAPE is a verb and a noun. I shape buildings every day. So I verb-shape to make noun-shapes. I am a Christian, too. Over the last 40 years, I have designed and worked on worship spaces. But […]

In the Midst of Life We Are in October

What images come to mind when you think of Halloween? Ghosts? Skeletons? Gravestones? Some Christians cry foul at such “morbid” imagery, but it seems to me this stems from a safely modern, bourgeois outlook. Our older brothers and sisters in medieval Europe most assuredly wouldn’t know what to make of the bland, sterilized Christianity regnant […]

Preaching Good News When Clinically Sad

I talk about death and grief a lot. It is a running joke in my house that I am always thinking about death and I am always willing to talk to someone about grief. This shouldn’t surprise anyone given my life (and death) experiences. The work of a priest requires that you be in the […]

Memory and the Trauma of History

What does remembering tragedies like September 11th accomplish here and now? What do we channel in remembering, and what dangers are there in it? “Remembering,” I once heard a minister claim, “is the art of the mature.” I wrote it beside the second verse of Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget […]

Salvation by Transaction: On Institutional Decline

Economists, look alive. Transaction Man, the new book from Nicholas Lemann, details the recent history of big ideas, the “master organizing principles for society.” Heady at first blush, the book becomes a keen survey of anthropology and how actual people live and work. Lemann employs “Transaction Man” as a catchall denoting some or all of […]

Never Forget: Celebrating the Memorial of Our Redemption

This week, more than any other week in America, we are reminded to “never forget.” While those words convey a broad message, they somehow recall a set of very specific images: a passenger plane flying into the South Tower; a firefighter climbing a crowded staircase; a man, upside down, in free fall. If you were […]