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Moonlighters Anonymous

Moonlighters Anonymous

Moonlighting—also known as working a second job, having a “side hustle”—is a pretty standard theme these days. Thanks to Pinterest and Instagram, everyone’s got a home renovation project, a knack for macramé, and a small business opportunity. But in truth it’s been around forever. Loads of famous people “made it”...
Replaying Failure Over and Over

Replaying Failure Over and Over

This reflection comes to us from Bo White. Growing up in Northern Illinois, I had the chance to attend the training camp of the Chicago Bears as a spectator and as a fan. And yes, attending camp in 1984 and 1985 was really fun. I remain a fan and follower...
Sobriety as More Than Deprivation

Sobriety as More Than Deprivation

Incredibly pleased to announce that the final addition to the speaker line-up at our upcoming NYC Conference (4/25-27)–our ‘mystery guest’–is none other than Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams and The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath. Needless to say, her work has served as a mighty source of inspiration...
The Trauma of Decadent Religion (and the Best Worst S-Word)

The Trauma of Decadent Religion (and the Best Worst S-Word)

The notion of sin dominated my girlhood. Raised in Indiana by fundamentalist parents, sin was the inflexible yardstick by which I was measured. Actions, words, even thoughts weren’t safe from scrutiny. The list of sinful offenses seemed infinite: listening to secular music or watching secular television, saying “gosh” or “darn”...
2019 Mbird NYC Conference (4/25-27): "Beyond Deserving"

2019 Mbird NYC Conference (4/25-27): “Beyond Deserving”

A bunch of details about our upcoming 12th annual conference in NYC are now up on conference.mbird.com. Some things to note: Our theme will be “Beyond Deserving: Hope in a World of Performance”! Speaking of performance, we didn’t get just any Conference YoYoist – we got JWYOYO! On Friday night...
The Peril of Good Things (from <i>Milkman</i>, Pt 2)

The Peril of Good Things (from Milkman, Pt 2)

I tried to…unravel the distortions, have her right mind restored to her. She said it was impossible, that it was perilous to focus on good things when there were bad things, all these bad things, she said, that could not be forgot. She said old dark things as well as...
Grace Knows the Back Story

Grace Knows the Back Story

Big Ellis, a young farmer in Wendell Berry’s short story, “Down in the Valley Where the Green Grass Grows,” literally struggles to keep his pants up, due to his awkwardly proportioned body. His social graces are a little off as well, and this complicates his romantic exploits in the town...
See It, Believe It! The Faith & Doubt Issue!

See It, Believe It! The Faith & Doubt Issue!

As early as January 30, we will be putting the thirteenth issue of The Mockingbird onto mail trucks to readers like you. We’re incredibly excited for you to see it. It’s colorful, it’s insightful, and believe it or not, despite the heady-sounding theme, it’s as winsome and down-to-earth and heartfelt...
Latest entries


A Discussion on Law and Gospel – Jady Koch and Steven Paulson

Another one of our favorite talks from the OKC conference in the fall. “What we want to do more than anything is help equip you to go into the world to be … these people who can actually have their burdens relieved and then, by extension, help relieve other people of these burdens.” Just about as classic as it comes.

A Discussion on Law and Gospel — Jady Koch and Steven Paulson from Mockingbird on Vimeo

The Trauma of Decadent Religion (and the Best Worst S-Word)

The Trauma of Decadent Religion (and the Best Worst S-Word)

The notion of sin dominated my girlhood. Raised in Indiana by fundamentalist parents, sin was the inflexible yardstick by which I was measured. Actions, words, even thoughts weren’t safe from scrutiny. The list of sinful offenses seemed infinite: listening to secular music or watching secular television, saying “gosh” or “darn” or “jeez,” questioning authorities, envying […]

How Do the Sick Participate in Christ?

How Do the Sick Participate in Christ?

Grateful for this reflection from our friend Jason Micheli.  More so than the stab of regret, what cancer injects into your life is perspective, as fresh as it is swift. The philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, perhaps the ablest critic of Christianity, charged that we view God through the eyes of our tribe, our culture and tradition, and […]

Cathedral of the Perpetual Hustle

Cathedral of the Perpetual Hustle

Over the weekend a conversation with friends veered toward work-life balance and the ever-hungry email monster. We wondered whether it was normal to check our emails after work. Almost all of us confessed that we do. We discussed whether our employers should be contacting us after hours (a teacher was expected to answer texts from […]

See It, Believe It! The Faith & Doubt Issue!

As early as January 30, we will be putting the thirteenth issue of The Mockingbird onto mail trucks to readers like you. We’re incredibly excited for you to see it. It’s colorful, it’s insightful, and believe it or not, despite the heady-sounding theme, it’s as winsome and down-to-earth and heartfelt as all the others. But don’t take our word for it! Jump on it! Over half of our inventory will be out the door Thursday… until then, here’s Ethan’s Opener and the Contents page.

The “I Surrender” List

More often than not, pop culture depicts the faith of ordinary people about as badly as it depicts, well, ordinary people. People of faith are always “extra” somehow: ultrasincere, overeager, ubercaffeinated. On the rare occasion, though, you find a source that gets it right.

Last year the podcast StartUp—which normally follows one new business for an entire season—followed a different kind of venture taking the runway: a church plant. Eric Mennel, the journalist covering the story, is himself struggling with faith and decides to join the head pastor AJ on a silent, all-day retreat. AJ recommends Eric try the following journal exercise to jumpstart his prayer time: take three pages and make three separate lists: “I want…” and “I fear…” and “I surrender…”

The first two lists come easy: “I want someone to care for me… I want to fall in love…” And then, “I fear I’m not wanted… I fear there is no God…” But when it is time for his “I surrender” list, Eric stalls, and eventually resigns himself to leaving the page blank. When the day is up, AJ has of course had a splendid time with his best pal Christ. Eric, on the other hand, is despondent. He tells AJ, “The idea of surrendering is a real sticking point for me. I have a lot of trouble trusting God…trusting God will be around…or even if God would be that helpful.”

AJ tells him he can relate. Who can’t? Even if you are the prayerful, retreat-loving type, transcendent experiences of God are probably rarer than you’d like. And meeting people like AJ can often exacerbate the feeling that faith is a wished-for athleticism the flabby multitude will never achieve. Certainty is impressive. Those who “have it,” have it 100 percent, and the doubters who don’t, don’t. This is the popular caricature drawn by old-time religionists and New Atheists alike: that faith and doubt are two rival schools of certainty, and never the twain shall meet.

Faith isn’t certain, though. And neither is doubt. Both are by definition uncertain, always circumscribed by the unknown and unaccountable. This is why I appreciate Eric’s hesitation: I don’t even believe the neighbor when she says it’s recycling day. How could I possibly believe this Jesus nonsense? As the writer Richard Rodriguez says, any honest person going to church is also bringing their “inner atheist” down the communion line.

So, in working up the essays that came to make up this issue, it has become clear that the opposite of faith is not doubt—doubt is the enduring human companion, even in faith. No, the opposite of faith is control, the need to be in the driver’s seat for every turn in the road. Just like Eric facing that silent room and that blank page, the invitation to faith also means a resignation of will, namely your will. Faith means surrendering the notion that you are the Higher Power guiding your life, and realizing instead that it might be better off in Another’s hands.

Surrender is never considered a virtue, though, especially in a culture which champions, uh, champions, those who don’t surrender. Surrendering means failing—raising the flag of defeat or incompetence. And surrender is especially dubious when the terms are chartered by some less-than-appealing Religious Authority. Faith simply isn’t worth the risk with a God Who Vindictively Punishes or God Who Is Church Lady. But with a God Who Forgives?

Our friend Jason Micheli tells the story of a Lutheran pastor named Jim Nestingen, a hulking 6’6” Minnesota beer drinker with the belly to prove it. Jim was boarding a plane to fly coast-to-coast when he saw who he would be sharing a row with: a man just as big as him. They awkwardly wedged up against one another and exchanged niceties, preparing for the long haul, basically sitting in one another’s laps. In response to the obligatory job question, Jim said, “I am a preacher of the Gospel.” The man next to him responded loudly, almost allergically, “I’m not a believer!” Jim assured him that was okay, and they kept talking. Turned out that the man had been an infantryman in Vietnam and ever since had carried with him all the awful things he’d seen and done there. As the plane flew from one end of the country to the other, the man dumped his entire story out into the lap of his seat mate.

When he had finished, Jim asked the man, “Have you confessed all the sins that have been troubling you?”

The man balked. “Confess? I haven’t confessed anything!”

Jim boomed back, “You’ve been confessing your sins to me this whole flight long. And I’ve been commanded by Christ Jesus that when I hear a confession like that to hand over the goods and speak a particular word to you. So, you have any more sins burdening you? If so, throw them in there.”

To which the man balked again, “No, that’s all. But I’m not a believer! I don’t have any faith in me!”

Jim unbuckled his seatbelt mid-landing and stood over the man, which caused quite the stir with the flight crew. “Well, that’s quite all right, brother,” he said. “Jesus says that it’s what’s inside of you is what’s wrong with the world. I’m going to speak faith into you.” And he proceeded with the absolution: “In the name of Jesus Christ and by his authority, I declare the entire forgiveness of all your sins.”

Flabbergasted, the man balked again: “You can’t do that!” To which Pastor Jim responded, “I can! And I just did! And I will do it again!” And he did. The man began weeping uncontrollably until finally he began laughing uncontrollably, all the way down the tarmac to the gate. As the two men were grabbing their overhead luggage, Jim grabbed the man’s hand and gave him his card and said, “You’re likely not going to believe your forgiveness tomorrow or the next day or a week from now. When you stop having faith in it, call me and I’ll bear witness to you all over again and I’ll keep on doing it until you do—you really do—trust and believe it.”

The man did. He called him—no joke—every day until the day he died, just to hear the declaration spoken over him in Christ Jesus. Surrendering to this absolution became something he couldn’t live without.

What if this were the kind of surrender on offer for the rest of us weary, incredulous passengers? What if the good news was actually this good, that no matter how many times you balked, no matter how many misgivings you had about belief, and how much you’d prefer to keep matters in your hands, the forgiveness of sins remained? As the man says to Jim, “It’s just too good to be true. It would take a miracle to believe something so good.”

It takes a miracle for us all. And this is the theme we’re exploring in this issue: in the fluctuations of faith and doubt, the persistence with which God bestows his grace. We have words from Francis Spufford, Sally Lloyd-Jones, and Gordon Marino. We talk existentialism, the Flat Earth Movement, and anger at God. But through it all, this is what we’re getting at: that despite our earnest questions and heavy burdens, and even still our empty “I surrender” pages, Christ is our answer. He has surrendered all, and it is on his account, believe it or not, that we have hope.

To subscribe to The Mockingbird, click here. To order Faith & Doubt alone, click here. 

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Another Week Ends: Bad Believers, Fyre Festivals, Glittering Pastors, Self-Esteem Sadness, StartUp Tongue Twisters, Richard Swift, and #NeverTweet

Another Week Ends: Bad Believers, Fyre Festivals, Glittering Pastors, Self-Esteem Sadness, StartUp Tongue Twisters, Richard Swift, and #NeverTweet

1. The best thing that hit the web this past week, as far as I can tell, came from Harrison Scott Key, whose name you may remember from such publications as the Thurber award-winning memoir The World’s Largest Man or The Humor Issue of The Mockingbird. His recent “Confessions of a Bad Christian” is, well, […]

Preaching to Todd Marinovich

Preaching to Todd Marinovich

Todd has learned a term, performance-based love, to describe the trauma of his youth: “The only time, perceived or real, that I felt loved, is when I was performing, which is super sick.” He believes if he had not turned to drugs, he would have killed himself. “No-brainer,” he says. “I don’t know what else […]

Raised by Narcissists and the Law of Reconciliation

Raised by Narcissists and the Law of Reconciliation

“God is telling me to tell you to forgive your parents.” AS EMBARRASSING as it is to admit, those words came from my mouth at age 20. The girl I was dating at the time was desperate to move out of her house, away from her physically and emotionally abusive parents. We were in a […]

Optimus Prime and the Religion of Toys, Part 1: The Total Work of Art as a <i>Transformer</i> of Culture

Optimus Prime and the Religion of Toys, Part 1: The Total Work of Art as a Transformer of Culture

This one comes to us from Jeremiah Lawson, the first in a three-part series! First and foremost, play is self-presentation. – Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method About forty years ago an animated program began that helped revolutionize the way some Americans enjoyed and thought about popular culture. Thanks to changes in FCC regulations during the Reagan […]

Reading Proverbs Wisely

Reading Proverbs Wisely

Yes, you read the title correctly — I wrote “reading Proverbs.” Stay with me for a bit, it’ll be fine. I know many a Mockingbird reader has read Proverbs before, but if you’re reading the Bible with anything like a (Lutheran) Law/Gospel hermeneutic, then it’s fair to say that Proverbs isn’t exactly at the top […]

All Are One in Thee for All Are Thine

All Are One in Thee for All Are Thine

For reasons that were not clear to me at the time, and are still a little fuzzy, my family of origin hosted a stream of long-term houseguests when I was a child. If someone needed a guest room because of a poor choice in his marriage, or because she didn’t have a job that could […]

Coworkers and Anger, Delfina and Me

Coworkers and Anger, Delfina and Me

Huge thanks to this contributor for their anonymous post. Delfina is driving me crazy. Okay, the person who is driving me crazy isn’t actually named Delfina, but I’m leaving Guatemala as I write this, and the name Delfina is on my mind. So that’s what we’ll call her. Delfina is someone I work with occasionally […]