“Mockingbird Turns 10” Interviews: Joshua Retterer

This is the third installment in a series of monthly-ish interviews between myself and various […]

Charlotte Donlon / 5.3.17

This is the third installment in a series of monthly-ish interviews between myself and various writers and members of the Mockingbird community. These posts will explore some aspects of each individual’s personal story and some aspects of Mockingbird’s larger story and ministry as we celebrate its 10th Anniversary. Additional interviews in this series can be found here and here.

Charlotte Donlon: Let’s start at a beginning. When were you converted to Christianity?

Joshua Retterer: My dad was radically saved when I was in kindergarten. And like many new Christians he was very evangelistic and worked his way through our family. God was was quite successful with my dad’s evangelism. I took a walk with my dad one day and he shared the gospel with me. I remember that moment and hold onto that moment as the point of my conversion.

CD: How did you find out about Mockingbird?

JR: It’s a bit of a tangled mess, but maybe you can untangle it for me. I started reading a lot by Robert Capon, and when he died I wanted to find out more about him. Mockingbird had quite a bit of material and references to him so I became a little familiar with Mockingbird at that time. Then I read a piece by Stephanie Phillips called “Your Best Story Now” and there was something about it I connected with because it was brutally honest and it wasn’t the typical “happy happy everything is wonderful” type of post. So I started reading more on the website and listening to the different podcasts and recordings from past conferences. I enjoyed writing in the past but got discouraged about it at some point along the way and stopped. I was so happy to read whatever Mockingbird put out—they seemed to appreciate the art of writing, and everything was interesting. I eventually connected over the phone with Scott Jones, and through our conversations he encouraged me to write something for Mockingbird. Of course I was hesitant to do so. I told him he was crazy. But he convinced me to do it and told me David Zahl was expecting a piece from me. So I wrote. I’m still not very confident about my writing, but I love being able to write for the website. I really appreciate the Mockingbird community, too. Everyone is kind and welcoming. I’m happy to be a part of it.

CD: How has Mockingbird impacted you?

JR: I have a sense of relief. Going back to very basic teaching on law and gospel—which is easy to lose—gives me a sense of relief because of what’s already been done. What Mockingbird is proclaiming is nothing new. It’s the gospel message my dad told me. But it gets fuzzy and lost and messy, and so I need to hear the gospel truth.

CD: What are some of your top Mockingbird moments?

JR: The first thing that comes to mind is a Mockingcast episode called The Ecumenical Apocalypse where Scott had Liel Leibovitz from Tablet and the Unorthodox podcast. I loved that episode. It was fun to hear Liel’s story and the back and forth between Scott and Liel about the differences between Judaism and Christianity. It was a great. Another great moment was when I received my first Mockingbird print magazine. It was the Church issue, and it was good to hold something so beautiful in my hands. It’s really special to have something physical. And it’s so well-done with wonderful content.

CD: I’ve read about how you spend some time discipling (is there a better word for that?) other men. Can you tell me a bit about that?

JR: When I was in Maui God put some men in my life who are young pastors. I’m not a pastor, and I don’t have any seminary education, but I’ve developed some friendships with these men. These men have never had many mentors in their lives and I really never thought I would do it, but it happened. I definitely got the better end of the deal—I learn a lot from them. They’re close friends now and I see our relationships as mutual friendships. This kind of relationship is messy and not self-glorifying. If it is, you’re probably doing it wrong.

CD: You lived in Maui for ten years. You’re back in Ohio now. What do you miss about Maui?

JR: I miss the people, primarily. I was in a great church there, too. I do not miss the cost of living, though. It’s ridiculously expensive to live there. But the Lord was good and I learned a lot during that period of time.

CD: Convince me to care about the Enneagram.

JR: Well, I always recommend The Road Back to You, because it is a great introduction. The authors also have a podcast by the same name. They interview a type a week (there are nine types), and it’s fascinating. Once you discover what your type is, it can be a very useful tool. It also helps to know what types friends and family are. The Enneagram helps you understand yourself and others better. Well, some people find it helpful and some people don’t. I do. Also, when I know someone’s number, I tend to be more sympathetic because I know more about why they’re doing what they’re doing.

CD: Describe a typical day.

JR: Well, I’m a 4 on the Enneagram, so a typical day for me is basically wrestling with the idea that there’s a piece missing. I wake up and feel like I lost a piece so I spend the rest of the day trying to find the piece I lost that will make everything okay. My circumstances may vary a little, but generally that describes every day.

CD: Who/What is influencing you or inspiring you right now?

JR: Tim Keller has always been influential to me. I appreciate how he presents the gospel in a way that people can understand. I listen to a lot of podcasts, so they definitely influence me. The New Persuasive Words podcast has helped me broaden my perspective. I have a more generous orthodoxy and definitely read more broadly as a result of listening to it. Paul Zahl’s podcast has also impacted me. His approach is always funny but poignant. It’s hard for me to pick books that influence me because I have and read so many. I’m reading some Pope Benedict right now, and it’s very refreshing to see the commonalities there.

CD: What high culture, low culture, and in-between culture have you consumed in the past month?

JR: My view of high culture might really be low culture. I do love the TV series on the CW Supernatural. It’s low culture. There’s nothing high about it. I also love this classical composer named Alkan. I enjoy a wide variety of music, but my affinity for classical music is probably the closest I get to high culture.

CD: What’s on your to-read list?

JR: Right now Abandon Me by Melissa Febos is on the list. She was interviewed recently on the Mockingcast and an excerpt was on the website. Hearing that podcast and reading the excerpt made me want to read that book. It looks really good.

CD: What do you want more of and less of in the next month?

JR: As a 4, I’m pretty neurotic and anxious. So less anxiety and worry would be nice. I also want more of the sense of relief I talked about earlier—so I’d like to lean more into grace.

CD: How has grace shown up unexpectedly in the past few days?

JR: Well, it shows up everyday. If you look for it, it’s there. I try to pay attention so I can notice it.