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The Cross Brings Mercy and Comfort

Yesterday morning, Comfort sailed into New York harbor. A few days ago, Mercy arrived in Los Angeles. I’m not sure I have ever witnessed a more powerful image of the Gospel.

The End of Individualism

I have a friend who once worked at a school for poor children in Central America. One year, he invited one of the high schoolers, who was then attending a boarding school in America, to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family in New York City. After a whirlwind weekend, my friend asked the young man for […]

Now Available: The Elegy Beta: And Other Poems, by Mischa Willett

Never before has Mockingbird published a book of poetry — but with The Elegy Beta, that changes. From critically acclaimed poet Mischa WillettThe Elegy Beta features impressionistic meditations on faith and everyday life. In concert with Rilke’s Duino Elegies, this collection simmers with luminous, transcendent language. It is elegant, sharp, and frequently funny.

The Elegy Beta is available today in hardcover and paperback. You can find it in our online bookstore, on Amazon, and elsewhere.

Meet the author at the book launch in Seattle on March 10, and RSVP to the event here. Willett will also read at MockingbirdNYC in April. You can find out more at mischawillet.com.

Meanwhile, early reviews are in:

“Mischa Willett has an absolutely distinctive voice, angular, refractory, often unsettling in flashes of psychological and spiritual insight that go deep, by-passing  categories. The Elegy Beta begins in sharp, arresting jolts to consciousness and conscience, then moves in the grand title poem to a symphony of symbolic resonance that invites deep pondering and re-reading. A remarkable volume.” – David Lyle Jeffrey, author of In the Beauty of Holiness

“Find a quiet spot where your tongue can delight your ears and read these poems aloud. For some you’ll want to kneel. For others, slap your thigh and guffaw. In some an epiphany will dawn like a sun surprising you at midnight. Dwell in the lilt of Willett’s play. He’s dead serious and death-defying.” – James K. A. Smith, Editor-in-Chief, Image Magazine; author of On the Road with Saint Augustine

“Here is a striking and original collection which responds to both our biblical and poetic heritage with a fresh contemporary voice. The best response to poetry is itself poetry and in Willet’s new sequence The Elegy Beta, Rilke’s great Duino elegies are reimagined in ways that will spur readers on to their own creative response.” – Malcolm Guite, author of After Prayer

“In a world awash in a flood of cheap chatter, and numb from the noise of ALL CAPS weaponizing of words, good poetry is a healing, sensitizing balm. Willett’s The Elegy Beta displays the capacity of poetic language to remind us of the world—its everyday glory and profound peculiarity—that gets lost in the noise. These poems neither weaponize nor worship words; they rather let words do their work, like the sun does its: warming, illuminating, drawing forth life.” – Brett McCracken, senior editor, The Gospel Coalition; author of Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community


A Disease Strengthened by Community

This one was written by Grant Wishard. As coronavirus continues its scary march around the world, it has been fascinating to watch how frequently the tragedy of the disease intersects with matters of faith. South Korea is now reporting hundreds of new cases, many of which originated from a single branch of the allegedly cultish […]

The New Mockingbird Digest!

Dear everyone,

We invite you to subscribe to our new e-newsletter, delivered conveniently to your inbox fortnightly (once every two weeks-ish). It will be a compendium of fresh posts, pertinent archived material, and other grace-filled goodies. Think of it, maybe, as your good-news news.

Note: If you are already subscribed to the Mockingbird mailing list, this is not the same thing. Add your email below to receive new content on a more regular basis.

Caught in the Current of Current Events: The Difference Between The News and the Good News

“The newspaper is the second hand in the clock of history; and it is not only made of baser metal than those which point to the minute and the hour, but it seldom goes right.” – Arthur Schopenhauer There’s a story that when Napoleon’s army was abroad at war, his mail would come only sparingly. […]

A Future Not Earned But Given (THE FUTURE ISSUE IS HERE!)

In celebration of the Future Issue hitting the PO today, here’s Issue 15’s Opener, as well as the Contents page. If you haven’t subscribed, the time has come!

Like every person who sped through HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, I immediately wanted to know what it all looks like today. After six-plus hours of radioactive waste and human suffering, I needed to know the ultimate impact, so I googled it, and one image I found there has been emblazoned on my mind since. In the foreground, you have what once was a very cutting-edge (for the Soviet ’80s) Brutalist apartment building. There’s a giant insignia standing proud on the rooftop, the hammer and sickle superimposed on a globe. The insignia has rusted to green, and the apartments below it are completely blown out. The apartments are apparently inhabited by wild dogs.

In the background of the photo, further on the horizon, two silhouettes are visible. The first is the “sarcophagus,” the enormous steel dome sealing off the reactor that exploded in 1986. The second, harder to make out, but unmistakable if you look close enough: a ferris wheel. An eerie reminder of what this place was once meant to signify: the Nuclear Age, the great tomorrow of the Soviet people. Now it’s a place literally frozen in the past.

Chernobyl is a harrowing fable about the instability of future hopes. In this fable, promising visions are always clouded by hubris, hubris which winds up both thwarting the future you’re working towards, and poisoning the present you’re living in. Chernobyl is a visceral reminder (on a global scale) that every hope for a Promised Land is as shortsighted as those promising it.

Unfortunately, at this present cultural moment, anyone with Wi-Fi has a future to promise and publicize, and so it can often feel that we “live in the future” more than we live in the present. But the human race has always lived in the future more than in the present. It’s easier to live in the future. Much as we may subscribe in theory to the merits of “mindfulness,” the future is preferable because, practically speaking, the tedium of the present is too much to bear.

Especially on an average Wednesday afternoon, at work. The writer Jonathan Malesic recently described what the ancient monks used to call acedia, “the noonday demon.” It is that force of inertia that slows everyone down at 2 pm. Under the weight of acedia we grow idle, we find ourselves refreshing Twitter again, shooting off a few “what up” texts, looking from our workstations out to a future that doesn’t include this expense report or that team presentation, but something more. As Malesic puts it,

Acedia gets you to wish your life away in anticipation of something that will validate your worth as a person. If you feel lonely and anxious in your work now, then maybe you’ll feel better at that meeting tomorrow, or when you get a new project each week, or after you get a new job altogether…

Any 2 pm Promised Land of a new career, or a new vacation, is a bad Promised Land, Malesic says, the fruit of the same restlessness that will be waiting for you tomorrow at the next stop. Why not just accept the gift of the present moment, then?

Man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refuses to have anything as a gift.

So, while we are future-oriented people, the futures that we orient ourselves toward are ones we ourselves must create, produce, and earn. This is why anxiety is a future-oriented emotion. When the world to come, the Promised Land we hope for, is one we must bring ourselves to, our present lives become understandably colored by fear. Am I doing enough? Is this the right direction? How will I know if it isn’t?

In putting this issue together, it was important for us to distinguish what exactly Christianity has to say about the Future. Christianity is ultimately rooted in a future promise. The Gospel is a message of hope. Jesus leaves his disciples with a commission and a vision. But, at the same time, the Bible is full of ambivalence about future investments: Save your manna for tomorrow, and it will rot. Go ahead, take out an insurance policy on your harvest, but what if your personal harvest has come today?

We are functional believers in a future that is ours for the taking, but there is a sense in the Bible that the future is not a human thing to reckon with at all. The Bible pronounces that all the work you’ve put in, all the injustices you’ve fought against, all the vacation time you’ve stored up, finally amount to a future that is not earned, but given—or not given. A future that tenuous would be most offensive to those who have plans. Unfortunately, everyone’s got plans.

So while Jesus himself promises a Kingdom coming, an ultimate future where every tear will be wiped clean, Christianity is also not alien to dystopian thinking, to a deep pessimism about where human beings are capable of steering the proverbial spaceship. On top of this, the Good News proclaimed in the Christian faith, of salvation and a New Heaven and New Earth, often feels about as sealed off as Reactor No. 4. As Tolkien puts it, the Christian is not afraid to see history “as a long defeat, with small glimpses of final victory.”

This is the terrain we’re exploring in this, the Future Issue. A long history of bleak futures, and the one solid Future we’re promised to inherit. We have interviews with science fiction novelists and classical historians; essays on the future of church architecture, Amazon orders, and the human race itself; and amid all the grim prophecies and 2 pm job searches, we can tell you there is a difference between blind optimism and real, lasting hope. The Future won’t be so bad, dear reader; let us tell you why.

Ethan Richardson

Editor

Get the Future…today! 

 

 

Off to Print! The Future Is Coming…

We’re proud to announce…The Future Issue! Now available for pre-order! Shipments will be leaving our office at the end of this month…Table of Contents and Opener coming in the very…near…future

From Houston, With Love (And Regrets)

Six years ago this week, when my family and I were huddled inside our Minnesota home to keep ourselves safe from the polar vortex, my husband was in talks with a church in Houston, Texas, which had asked him to consider working there. These might as well have been phone calls from the moon, because […]

How MLK Got His Name

Perhaps you know the story: In 1934 the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta sent its pastor Michael King, Sr. to attend a Baptist World Alliance Meeting in Berlin. The trip included a whirlwind visit to a number of other sites, but apparently the time in Germany (just as the National Socialists were starting their rise) had such an impact on Michael that he decided to rename himself and his 5-year-old son after the Great Reformer. Thus, father and son became Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr.

Somehow I don’t think we’ve ever posted this beautiful portion of MLK’s 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” in which he sounds more than a little like his namesake, especially toward the end, ht SC & JF:

I’m concerned about a better World. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.

And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels; you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing. Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules; you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge; and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. You may even give your goods to feed the poor; you may bestow great gifts to charity; and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain. What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

Connection

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, […]