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Posts tagged "Joshua Retterer"


2019 NYC Conference Breakout Previews, Part 3

With our annual NYC Conference just over one week away, here’s the final round of previews for our breakout sessions, which will be available during the 3:00pm block on Friday, April 26. You don’t want to miss Part 1 or Part 2 either. Register today! Newcomers warmly welcomed.

Why Me Lord: A Brief Look at the Scoundrels, Buffoons, and Ne’er Do Well’s Whom God Pursues in the ParablesErick Sorensen

Human beings are wired for stories. In fact, we’re so wired for stories, that we simply can’t help inserting ourselves into just about every story we hear. Since Jesus is the one who wired us this way, it’s not surprising that when he ministered here in the flesh, He oftentimes chose to teach us about God not with crisp, systematic statements of doctrine, but with stories we call parables. Going against all our natural religious impulses, the parables have the capacity to turn our theological world’s upside down: Tax collectors and prostitutes are declared righteous, prodigal sons are embraced, even dishonest stewards are lauded. There’s a heretical Samaritan made into a hero, a kingdom filled with outcasts and a group of lazy laborers that are given the exact same reward as the hardest working among them. Jesus teaches us in the parables that God’s kingdom happily includes a bunch of Scoundrels, Buffoons, and Ne’erdowells. Why them, Lord? Why me, Lord? Those are the questions we’ll look to explore in my breakout.

Be Your Worst SelfStephanie Phillips

Because I am a contrarian, I’m not going to tell you what to expect from my upcoming breakout session, entitled “Be Your Worst Self.” Instead, I’m going to tell you what not to expect.

Do not expect to be given instructions on how to wash your face. Do not expect to be yelled at that you’re not doing enough. Do not expect to see any inspirational memes written in swirly cursive against a mountain backdrop. Do not expect to be agitated into becoming the misconception of a Proverbs 31 woman (or the partner of one). Do not expect to escape without hearing an awkward joke I wrote when I was ten. Do not expect for my family secrets to remain hidden. Do not expect to leave without questioning whether you should switch deodorants. Do not expect me to promote my “brand,” be an Instagram influencer, invite you to join my multilevel marketing company, or advocate for self-esteem. Do not expect me to attack Liam Neeson. And especially do not expect me to let you leave without telling you about the hill I would die on.

Other than that? Anything could happen. Which hopefully will look a lot like grace as it’s appearing to me right now. See you soon!

Orange Is the New BlessingDebbie Griffith

I’m not gonna lie; orange is a good color for me, and unlike Leigh-Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, it’s in my color wheel. But I never expected I’d be wearing orange in a jail cell after being charged with a DUI. My stay was short but long enough to write on a piece of paper, “Nothing is wasted.” My DUI season ran nine months because I challenged the charge. It all seemed a bit cray that I was questioned while sitting in my running vehicle eating McDonald’s French fries. Yet someone had called the cops after they had followed my two-mile drive home from the drive-thru. Of course I thought later, “if only” I had walked into my home and turned off the truck. But then I would have lost the magic of the magical fires due to the February weather of the Icebox of the Nation. And while the embarrassment, remorse, and guilt hurt my heart, the blessings that came with the DUI charge overwhelmed me with thankfulness. I owned my story so my story didn’t own me. I learned more on the power of transparency and empathy, and saw God’s grace “big-time.” I was in a season of pain and then entered into another. God knew. He was always there waiting to make creative and redemptive use of what happened. I’m beyond deserving and still comprehending how God is always good even when we’re not.

At Ego’s End: Where Grace Intersects UsJosh Retterer

Watching Netflix’s new series, The Umbrella Academy, a scene jumped out at me. One of the characters, Luther, a giant gorilla of a man, nicknamed Spaceboy for his superhero exploits on the moon, is a sobbing heap on the floor of his late father’s study. He wasn’t grieving his father’s death, but his own death. Luther had been sent, alone, on a dangerous—and painfully boring—mission to the moon, instructed to send detailed daily reports back to earth. Assured this was important work, “for the safety of world,” as his dad put it, Luther dutifully carried out the mission. It’s the kind of thing people named Spaceboy do!

Gathered with his equally super-human, adopted siblings in their childhood home for their father’s funeral, Luther discovered a hidden cache of his reports. All of the reports he had sent back to earth were there; all of them unopened. He had given years of his life fulfilling his dad’s wishes, only to find out he had been sent on a fool’s errand. His reaction is one of the best portrayals of “ego death” on screen I’ve seen in a while. The show has a great cast (Mary J. Blige’s character is great) and a killer soundtrack. It’s worth checking out.

My talk won’t have a single thing to do with The Umbrella Academy, well, except for the “ego death” part. We will explore what happens when we “die” before we die, and where God’s grace intersects. I’ll tell you my story, and I hope you’ll tell us yours!

Sleeping in Church: A Short Story About a Sign from GodCJ Green

When I was eighteen, I joined a Pentecostal revival and spent four years looking for signs from God. I wanted a vision, a dream, just a little something to reassure me I was doing it right. Occasionally signs came. At least, I said they did. Jokes aside, I do believe in signs, and I also believe in the unexpected. In this session, we’ll investigate these themes not through personal testimony but through storytime/short fiction, which can be the back door into otherwise isolating concepts. The story is “The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark,” by poet/writer/ex-Jesuit John L’Heureux. Taking place in the 50s, this is the fictionalized tale of a woman who wants a sign from God and gets one, just not in the way she expects. You can read it here or come and be surprised. We’ll look at what the author says about the mechanics of grace. We’ll discuss themes from the story, such as sleeping in church and what this might suggest about our relationship to the divine. As a kid, I spent tons of time sleeping in church, so I feel I have some authority with this topic. We’ll also consider what makes effective faith-based fiction, if such a thing exists, and what this could mean about the nature of grace.

Register for the 2019 NYC Conference today!

Featured image courtesy of Stellate Photography.

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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Red-Eyed Gravy: "A Charleston Feast for Reconciliation"

Red-Eyed Gravy: "A Charleston Feast for Reconciliation"

Christmas is a time of nostalgia and hope, which, for me, at least, can turn a bit maudlin. I listen to podcasts at work, and sometimes, during certain seasons, my podcast tastes can lead me down ill-advised paths. At work, poignant is the most dangerous podcast category. The excuse of allergies is a good cover […]

Drunk Theology with Robert Farrar Capon

Drunk Theology with Robert Farrar Capon

Just in time for the release of Capon’s never-before-published collection of essays, More Theology and Less Heavy Cream, available today! Head over to our store to get your copy! Reading Robert Farrar Capon sometimes feels a bit like watching Drunk History. You do a lot of mental tallying, while realizing the comedians and actors, in an inebriated […]

<i>Silence</i> of the Turkeys?

Silence of the Turkeys?

Thanksgiving was good this year. The food was tasty. There was no drama, at least that I was aware of. We’re a family predominantly of introverts. For this I am thankful. I decided to take full advantage of the long weekend off and keep as quiet and inactive as possible. No Black Friday shopping for me. […]

The Laws of Personality in <i>The Road Back to You</i>

The Laws of Personality in The Road Back to You

I felt a wave of relief when I pulled my copy of Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s new book, The Road Back to You from the box. The dust jacket design was restrained and inoffensive. Why relief? The cover of Richard Rohr’s 1990 book, Discovering the Enneagram, the first  popular book on the subject, looked […]