“Mockingbird Turns 10” Interviews: Bryan Jarrell

This is the ninth and final installment in a series of interviews with myself and […]

Charlotte Donlon / 12.27.17

This is the ninth and final installment in a series of interviews with 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.

Charlotte Donlon: How did you first find out about Mockingbird?

Bryan Jarrell: I wasn’t there at the beginning, but I think I heard about it within its first year or so. I was an undergrad at the time and had just come out of my “fundy phase” that was very politically tinged and very moralistic. There was some talk of grace but it wasn’t really practiced. When I was in college I realized there must be more to Christianity than following rules and voting a particular way and started to look around to see what might be out there. I got involved with an Anglican church plant and the pastor of the plant went to seminary with a lot of the Mockingbird folks and ended up sending me to the website. When I first read the posts there I thought, “Oh, this is nice.” But then when I got to seminary I was like, “Ohhhh, Mockingbird is a life raft.” I realized this understanding of grace is very rare and it elicits a strange response from people. So the bait came in college and the hook came during seminary.

CD: I wasn’t planning on asking this, but now I want to ask it. Since you manage the social media for Mockingbird, can you tell us if you ever receive any angry messages from people saying Mockingbird’s theology is off-base?

BJ: Ha! Sure, no problem. I volunteered to handle Mockingbird’s Facebook page in 2011 and a few years later I became a part-time employee and began to manage the Twitter account too. People do wonder how often Mockingbird gets harassed on social media. I can tell you this in all honesty: You would think people are pretty vitriolic. But we have the greatest, nicest followers. I can count on one hand the number of real haters we’ve had over the past seven or so years. There’s really only one Twitter user that loathes us openly, and he just pops up every few months. We’ll get occasional insensitive comments and some virtue signaling from people using our posts, but that’s about as bad as it gets.

CD: How have you been impacted by the Mockingbird message and community?

BJ: There’s a scene in Zoolander that gets at the heart of this for me. Fashion designer villain Mugatu, monologuing on his hatred for the titular male model Zoolander, can’t understand what people love about him. “The man only has one look… They’re all the same! Doesn’t anyone notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” For all the talk of transformation that takes place in various circles, I rarely see people transformed. None of the solutions people offer to problems are in line with how people really behave. And when I’m in those spaces, I often think, “Am I taking crazy pills? Is there something I’m not getting? This stuff just doesn’t work.” Mockingbird is a consistent reminder to me that, no, I’m not taking crazy pills. The problem is infinitely deeper than people imagine, and the solution must be (and is!) infinitely bigger.

CD: What are some of your favorite Mockingbird moments?

BJ: My most famous and most embarrassing Mockingbird moment occurred at the 2016 NYC conference. It was the first Episco Disco, and I was on the dance floor. I went to go break dance (which I can do; well, I used to be able to do) and I dislocated my shoulder at 11 o’clock on a Friday night in New York City. Thankfully we were just a couple of blocks from an emergency room. There were actually several doctors at the conference that year but they were too busy enjoying themselves to ethically assist with my dislocated shoulder. My wife and I were in the ER until six the next morning. Then I sat on the ‘Mockingbird at the Movies’ panel a couple of hours later. It was crazy.

Another favorite memory is when the first Mockingbird magazine came out. It blew my socks off. I could not believe the quality and professionalism and beauty. I love the magazine and always look forward to when a new issue comes out. It just keeps getting better and better.

CD: Who is one of your dream speakers for an upcoming Mockingbird conference?

BJ: There’s been an overlap between Mockingbird content and David Brooks’ columns because he’s so spot on about human nature and the need to recognize human frailty. So I would love to see him at conference because he has great insights and views on the human condition. I’d also want Alain De Botton, the most sympathetic atheist I’ve ever come across, to come speak. He’s fantastic.

CD: What is God teaching you right now?

BJ: I like to think he’s just about done letting me be steamrolled by the grief associated with a failed church mission I embarked on some years ago. That is/was a difficult chapter in life to undergo, and despite the numerous silver linings of growth and empathy and wisdom I can glean from that chapter, there’s a life that I really wanted for myself and my future family that’s now off the table. We’re prayerfully waiting for whatever that next chapter is supposed to be, which is its own lesson too.

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

BJ: The holiday is full of so many little-l laws and landmines. Not to wish away the holiday, but between church work and travels, I’m very much looking forward to January. Recreational reading, sleeping in, homebrewing, these are all things I’d like to enjoy in the coming months. I’ve stalled out reading the massive tome that is Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion, and I’d like to finish that off. And shout-out to JZ’s Grace in Addiction too—I’ve started working the 12 steps recently, and it’s been the perfect follow-up to the Big Book.

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

Ironically enough, less social media! We’ve been talking about “Mbird 2.0” coming for a while, and one piece of 2.0 is rethinking the message of grace and social media. While our followers and interactions in social media have generally been easy going, it’s been really trying to keep up on Twitter. If, as McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message,” the medium of Twitter is becoming less of a place to discuss and connect and more of a colosseum for tribe fights and virtue signaling. I’ve already deleted my personal account. Can the gospel thrive or even be conveyed on Twitter, or is it time to dust off our feet and move on to the next town? Can we be on Twitter and do something besides virtue signaling? It’s tough though, because roughly 1/9th of our site’s traffic comes from Twitter. If anyone has any thoughts, hit us up @mockingbirdmin! Or find us on facebook.com/mockingbirdmin. Or at Instagram.com/mockingbirdnyc.