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My Besetting Sin: A Reflection on Mass Shootings

This past weekend, I came face-to-face with one of my besetting sins. “Besetting sins,” as in, the sins that serve as particular nuisances to my body and spirit. Everyone has at least one, I think. Of course, we all have all of them. It’s just that we’re usually prone to one or two above the […]

Special Family Issue(s) Episode of The Mockingcast Out Now!

Every time a new issue of The Mockingbird goes to print, we put together a special extended-length episode of The Mockingcast to hit the highlights of the theme under discussion. Happy to announce that the one for The Family Issue is up!

Join editor Ethan Richardson as he chats with Alfie Kohn, Matthew Quick, and Carrie Willard about their various contributions. Click here to listen. And here to order a copy of the issue itself.

The Mockingcast in July

Quick Update: As mentioned on the most recent episode of The Mockingcast, we’ll be taking a break from our regular recording schedule this month. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be fresh content! In fact, we decided to up the ante while we’re off, and in addition to the upcoming Family Issue audio bonanza, RJ, Sarah and I recorded three special “mini-sodes” on particular topics, about 15-20 minutes each. So that’s four weeks, four episodes. Up first is “The Bondage of the Will,” which you can stream now on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher. Next comes “The Holy Spirit” and after that, “Hope.” Enjoy, and as always, thanks for listening!

P.S. Don’t forget to leave us a rating and review on iTunes.

The Open-Concept Family, AKA The Family Issue Opener and Table of Contents

As the Family Issue make its way from the printer to the post office, here’s a look at the opener, and a peek at what comes after! If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, you can do so here

You can’t talk about families without talking about the containers they come in. The home, especially in America, is the sanctum sanctorum of family life. No other non-living entity absorbs so much human ambition and longing, so much futzing and pruning, so much money and worry, and so much love. “Home” for you might be an efficiency apartment or a sprawling suburban ranch, but odds are the majority of your memories can be placed within the confines of those walls. You know the exact spot in the house where you got that phone call, or the spot where he used to read his newspaper, or the exact rung in the banister where everyone’s shirt gets snagged. “If these walls could talk …”

Walls can’t talk, though. And even if they could, walls definitely aren’t talking these days, since there really are no walls to speak of. Open concept houses, where nearly zero rooms are divided by walls, have become the way families imagine doing life together. When the kitchen, living room, dining room, and TV room are all one room, there’s the promise that you’re creating space that “allows the love to flow,” as the Scandinavians say. Fewer boundaries equals more family togetherness.

What realtors are starting to find, though, is that the aspirational notion of more family time has led to … more family time. The Boston Globe reported that this has led homeowners to face some harsh truths about their family lives, namely,

That you’re not a parent who wants the kids RIGHT THERE when you’re in the kitchen, your only alone time, or what used to be your only alone time. That you’re not a host relaxed enough to chat with guests while preparing a three-course meal. That you’re not Marie Kondo enough to keep every inch of what used to be three rooms clutter-free at all times.

Walls, in other words, were nice: For one, they hid the mountain of crap that inevitably flowed over from the other parts of our lives. But most importantly, they buffered us from the strange people who shared our DNA.

Unfortunately, walls or not, these strange people will always remain strange. Every home is its own molecular structure of dysfunction, a physical reminder that you are born under a larger umbrella organization. You have parents and (sometimes) siblings, who have names and stories and contexts that you may not want but are inseparably yours. There are certain codes of conduct, certain ways of communicating (or not communicating), certain predispositions to freckles or spicy foods or hand-eye clumsiness. For better or worse, this place is your first and often most influential institution of “professional development.” Weirdly, you never submitted your résumé to this office—you don’t know if you would’ve if you had the choice—but the job’s yours all the same. You are a born natural for it!

Still, despite the job description and the baggage it brings, the homes we live in tend to foster our fiercest loyalties and most deep-seated convictions. The oldest religion in the world is family. If the etymology of religion is “to tighten” or “to bind,” then it makes sense that the oldest established religion came not with cuneiform or pyramids, but with the family unit, where members have always been bound up together in collective mythologies and rituals. It continues today, as you watch old VHS home videos, as you obnoxiously rehash the same old jokes with the same lame punchline, as you comfortably fall back into familiar roles like a well-worn sofa.

In other words, no matter how far you fly, or with whom you create new families, you always take them with you, because to some degree, you are them. As the country singer Lori McKenna put it,

The tree grows where it’s planted / And that’s the fate of a fallen seed

No matter how many times I’ve denied it / The apple never falls far from the tree

As long as family therapists and professional helpers have been around, their work has centered on the damning determinism of the family unit, how the proverbial “sins of the father” really do, in fact, sprawl out in time. God’s family, as it is presented in the Bible, proves no different: All down the family line is a story of liars begetting murderers begetting drunks begetting liars again.

Which I guess makes Jesus’ ambivalence about the family enterprise less startling. But only slightly less. Living in a cultural (and theological) milieu that, much like today, prioritized family over all else, he denounced it as a powerful evasion, a way to wall off reality and revelation. Whenever a family caveat is thrown before him (“But Jesus, your mom is outside!” or “Wait Jesus, I need to bury my father!”) Jesus doubles down on the centrality of his own message: “I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother.”

Jesus is not anti-family so much as he is anti-walls, and the way he sees it, the four walls of a home are no different from the four walls of the temple—a safe haven from a cruel world, sure, but also a buffer zone from the true heart of God and a breeding ground for self-deception. I wonder whether his devastating prophecy about the temple could just as easily be levied on the family mythologies rehearsed in every family home: “Do you see these great buildings?” he says. “Not one stone (nay, not one “accent wall”) will be standing where it’s standing now.”

Ultimately, Jesus reminds us, even if our families love us and protect us, no rearing could ever have the generative power to make us whole or evade suffering. Every family, Ben Maddison writes in this issue, is cruciform in shape. In the end, our families point us to a need they cannot provide.

Jesus points us to the fragility of our walled-off holiest of holies, and to the only hope that our families have ever had. Look at the home you can’t keep clean, the mother-in-law you can’t tolerate, the daughter who won’t call, the spouse you’re losing to cancer. There is an endless array of reckonings awaiting all families. But as Christ stands within the four walls of your failed temple, and he stretches out his hands, he offers not only the compassion of a loving God, but the hope of a very real resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

There is no shortage of losses in families, both literally and figuratively. This also means that there is no limit to the stories in which God has done some of his own home restoration work. We’ve compiled a few of them here, in the hopes that they provide consolation and hope. We also have interviews with psychologist Harriet Lerner, education and parenting expert Alfie Kohn, and Silver Linings Playbook author Matthew Quick. We’ve got essays about foster parents and surrogate parents, preacher families and estranged families. We talk about divorce, dogs, apologies, parenting advice, and the church’s incessant focus on families. And that’s not all.

So, brew yourself some tea, turn the page, and enjoy the remaining walls in your open concept home. By the time you reach the last page, we’ll have (hopefully) removed them all.

Click here to order your copy!

ORDER YOUR COPY HERE!

Maine: The Way Life Should Have Been

As you cross over the Maine state line, a sign reads “Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” It’s one of the better state mottos (not as good as “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone,” but far better than the sad and desperate “West Virginia: Open for Business!”). Whenever I cross into Maine, a […]

New Mockingcast Is Out: “Glorious Inefficiency”!

EPISODE 157: In which Sarah, RJ, and Dave talk sleep technology, reckless generosity, and back row churches. Also, Sarah would like an epidural, all the time. Click here to listen.

To take RJ up on his offer, visit our Support page.

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 […]

By the Grace of Dog

You know the old truism: Wanna know unconditional love? Put your spouse and your dog in the trunk of your car for an hour. When you open the trunk, only one of them’s still going to be happy to see you…

As we’ve compiled the many essays and interviews soon to make up Mockingbird’s fourteenth magazine issue, The Family Issue, we noticed a glaring and certainly inadvertent omission. How in the world does one put out over a hundred pages of tender, nuanced reportage relating to the family unit—not to mention grace in the family unit—without paying homage to its most gracious member?

Yes, we’re talking about the family dog. While families are full of conflict, perennial victims and perpetrators of so many circumstantial slings and arrows, there is no greater emblem of unconditional love and, um, dogged loyalty. Some may call dogs “inferior” or just plain “stupid.” To those people, we offer our prayers, because they must have never heard the foolish wisdom of God. Dogs are heaven-sent. And so, in lieu of an entire essay, we’re asking you, dear reader, to send us your “By the GRACE of DOG” stories. Where has the furry, four-legged love of God found its way through the doggie door and into your heart? What blessed paw-marks has it left on your interior furniture?

Just one small paragraph will suffice. We’ll keep you confidential. Send your submissions to bythegraceofdogz@gmail.com. They can be funny, heart-wrenching, really weird, or really sweet. And then keep an eye out for your submission in the next issue. If you have a cat story, well, good for you…

“Grace, Peace, and Personal Survival for the Preacher”: An Mbird Conference in Lancaster, PA (6/11-13)

Excited to announce our (fast!) approaching Mockingbird conference in Lancaster, PA, hosted at the historic Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. With its theme—“Grace, Peace, and Personal Survival for the Preacher”—this intimate, impromptu conference aims to minister to those who minister. But of course all are welcome, not only preachers. Topics may include: family life, isolation/conflict, church […]

NOW AVAILABLE: StoryMakers – Adventure One: Creation

Pleased to announce that StoryMakers’ first kidzine has landed and is available through StoryMakersNYC.com!

When we give kids stories that spark the imagination, we aren’t giving them distractions to tide them over until they can handle “the big stuff.” Stories ARE the big stuff. And the story of our rescue by God is the biggest story of all and for all. StoryMakers offers a new approach to drawing kids into this ultimate story—and helping them find their own stories within it.

Many of us remember getting a heaping dose of LAW as the first part of our early spiritual formation as children. In fact, the church has confused generations of children by leading them to believe that Christianity is all about following the golden rules of life in order to earn God’s favor. When young people come out of their church experience associating the Christian faith solely with moralism, two types of adults emerge—pharisees or burnouts.

At StoryMakers, we recognize that kids (and their grown-ups) need GRACE first and foundationally. So how do we help young people connect to this grace? We tell them the stories of the Bible, all of which are ultimately the love story of Jesus, the one who created us, loves us, and is actively redeeming us! We introduce them to a person, not a list of rules.

And by giving our kids the chance to engage the stories of the Bible through imaginative creation and play, we tap into their developmental forte. Kids don’t need to take a giant leap of faith to envision the stories of the Bible, so we use their natural curiosity, creativity, and imagination as the pathway into a lifetime of being known and loved by God.

Our first Adventure is an immersive experience all about Creation. Children will discover that God is the Creator of all, the ultimate StoryMaker, and faithfully shows mercy to us from the very beginning. Through our visuals and activities, StoryMakers will experience the progression of Genesis and will be given a glimpse into God’s promises to Creation.

  • The zine explores a story of the Bible over 12 weeks and includes art, fun facts, interactive play, and thoughts to ponder. Every chapter includes a 6-page spread, so there is plenty of detail to dig deep. ($20, or save 25% on 5 or more)
  • The teacher’s guide helps grown-ups use the kidzine with their children and students. Sometimes it is hard for adults even to know where to begin teaching the old stories with our little ones. Our Creation guide is available to support our StoryMakers along the way. It includes: Fun Facts, Deeper Thoughts, and Activity Instruction. The guide is perfect for any grown-up hoping to connect and discover God’s love and mercy alongside children. ($15)
  • The memory cards use visual prompts to turn memorization into a fun game. Order this set of memory cards and get to know Creation and God’s words of hope in the midst of the Fall. Each card is visually compelling with cues to help your StoryMaker internalize God’s story. ($12)
  • The playbook is tailored to help children enjoy Creation by playing all the characters in the story. You can use your puppets, or jump into costumes and play all the parts, to get to know Genesis in a new way. ($10)
  • You can purchase the entire creation zine set together. Each kit includes a zine, a teacher’s guide, our memory cards, and the playbook. Every piece enhances the StoryMaker experience and will bring Creation to life. ($50)
  • Last but not least, you can also download 12 printable posters, drawn from the beautiful zine illustrations. ($5 each)

ORDER YOUR FIRST ADVENTURE TODAY!

Seculosity Has Landed!!

Beyond excited to announce that my new book Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What To Do About It is officially out today! So excited, in fact, that we made another video to celebrate #markbabikowisagenius: A few ways to support the cause (after you’ve purchased the book): […]

Psychic Disintegration in Jordan Peele’s “Us”

Unfortunately, there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. – Jung Nighttime: inside a secluded beach house, a family […]