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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.

2019 NYC Conference Breakout Previews, Part 2

2019 NYC Conference Breakout Previews, Part 2

The countdown is on for our annual NYC Conference, so here’s Part 2 of the previews for our breakout sessions. The following breakouts will be available during the 2:00pm block on Friday, April 26. Check out Part 1, too, for the morning session offerings. Also note: “all inclusive” registration, which includes [delicious, excellent] meals, is […]

2019 NYC Conference Breakout Previews, Part 1

2019 NYC Conference Breakout Previews, Part 1

With less than a month until our annual conference in NYC, we’ll be taking the next few weeks to share previews of our upcoming breakout sessions, covering a variety of topics both personal and spiritual. Here are the first five which will be available during the morning block on Friday, April 26. StoryMakers present: Imagination, Stories, […]

Instagram Scrolling and Twitter Rants: Today’s Solutions to Luther’s Anfechtung - Kelsi Klembara

Apocalyptic bunkers, daily anxiety, total failure, and more: Very pleased to share this talk by Kelsi Klembara, from the recent Mockingbird conference in Oklahoma City!

Instagram Scrolling and Twitter Rants: Today’s Solutions to Luther’s Anfechtung – Kelsi Klembara from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

In Praise of Distraction - Curt Benham

Very happy to share this conference talk from Oklahoma City, featuring the Rev. Curt Benham, who shares about the surprising blessings of distraction. (Note: minor technical difficulties with the video in the first 10 minutes. But the audio is clear throughout!) Enjoy:

In Praise of Distraction – Curt Benham from Mockingbird on Vimeo

Grace in an Age of Distraction 1 - Steven Paulson

Voila: the first video from our recent conference in Oklahoma City! Here, keynote speaker Steven Paulson — author of Luther’s Outlaw God — introduces the conference theme: distraction… Trust us, you’ll want to give your attention to this one. 😉

Click here to watch Part II.

OKC 2018 Recordings: Grace in an Age of Distraction

An incredibly heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped put on our conference in Oklahoma City last weekend, especially the good folks at All Souls Episcopal Church, The Anglican Foundation, Commonplace Books, and all-around miracle-worker Carol Johnson. We’re also supremely grateful to Terry Prather and Doug Klembara for filling in on A/V at the last minute.

As per usual, we’re making the recordings available at no charge; if you weren’t able to attend but would like to make a contribution to the cost of putting on the event, Lord knows we’d appreciate it! You can do so via our Support page.

Download links are followed below by an in-line player for each session. And everything’s available on our Talkingbird podcast if you prefer to listen that way. Videos of the talks will be rolled out gradually over the next few weeks. Photos courtesy of Casey and Travis Squyres at Stellate Photography.

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Talks

“Grace in an Age of Distraction I” — Steven Paulson

“In Praise of Distraction” — Curt Benham

“The Distraction of Our Lives” — Jady Koch

“Grace in an Age of Distraction II” — Steven Paulson

“I’m So Worried: How God Loves Me Through Anxiety” — Carrie Willard

“A Discussion on Law & Gospel” — Steven Paulson and Jady Koch

“Sinners in the Hands of—SQUIRREL!” — David Zahl

 

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Breakouts

“Marriage-Salvation Events” — Ellis and Debbie Brazeal

“Instagram Scrolling and Twitter Rants: Today’s Solutions to Luther’s Anfechtung” — Kelsi Klembara

“Grace in Distracted Parenting” — Nathan Carr

“Walker Percy on Distraction and Selfhood” — Scott Johnson

 

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Transgressors, Transgression, and the Perilous Bridge of Forgiveness - A Conference Breakout Preview

In this past week’s Another Week Ends, I mentioned very briefly the newest season of Invisibilia, one of our go-to podcasts. That particular episode, “The Pattern Problem,” tells the story of a woman with a seriously checkered past, some her fault, some not at all. She’s the child of addicts, an ex-addict and ex-felon herself, and yet she’s made an against-all-odds comeback: after a couple stints in prison, she gets into law school and is now studying for the bar. A panel of judges overseeing the bar in her state is deciding whether or not her past precludes her from such an unlikely future.

I won’t give away what ends up happening, but you can see where the focus on “patterns” comes into play. Does her criminal past foreshadow the future? Can we really be sure she’s changed? Patterns provide ways for people to make sober decisions. They are the conditional protective measures for how we decide to invest our time, our money, and in this case, our forgiveness. Courts as institutions are not known to be particularly forgiving—it’s not their job—but the same patterns are at work for us, in our minds, in the ways we read the news and process the actions of our strangers and friends alike.

Human beings don’t just dole out our forgiveness to anyone. To the contrary, unforgiveness is tended to like a formal garden. Each garden has hard boundaries with designated entrances, and strict guidelines for keeping its delicate order alive. It has to be that way. Otherwise, the garden would be indistinguishable from the chaos surrounding it. I am not trying to be glib. This is really how it has to be.

At the same time, social science has made it clear that unforgiveness will, in the end, kill you. For all the sensible order our fine gardens provide, they are solitary places, kept alive by stress, numbness to intruders, and estrangement. In other words, unforgiveness may simplify the “pattern problem,” but forgiveness, we are told by social science (and by the New Testament), is the way to new life.

In this breakout, we will talk about the psychology of forgiveness, its proven biological and psychosocial benefits, its various meanings in our culture, and the real, totally practical hope it expresses in the Bible.

Register for the 11th Annual Mockingbird Conference here! Miss out, and you’ll never forgive yourself…

Not Weak on Sanctification: Christians Grow in Reverse – A Conference Break-Out Preview

This breakout preview comes from longtime Mockingbird contributor Nick Lannon, who is also the Associate Rector of St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church in Louisville, KY.

If you’re reading a post on (or reposted from) the Mockingbird website, chances are pretty good that, at one point or another, you’ve been accused of being “weak on sanctification.” I’ve even had a staff member of a previous church casually refer to the alleged fact that I “don’t believe in sanctification.”

Is that true? What is certainly true is that most discussion of Christian growth rubs me the wrong way, depresses me, or makes me the kind of angry that I got when I heard they were remaking Point Break. But God is at work in us! He promised he would be!

Clearly, some clarification is in order.

For people who have, like thirsty vagrants crawling out of the desert, come to the fount of the Good News of the Gospel—that “it is finished” on account of Christ—sanctification can become, at best, a difficult subject to deal with, and, at worst, a dirty word. How can we talk about the work that God is doing in our lives without making it just another law? Is there a way to celebrate the activity of the Holy Spirit without becoming self-righteous Pharisees? Does talk of “sanctification” or “Christian maturity” necessarily lead to a ranked order of Christians stretching from Mother Teresa and Billy Graham at the top to death-row converts and your back-slidden college roommate at the bottom?

At this break-out session, I’ll try to find a helpful way to talk about sanctification. There is a paradigm through which Christian growth can be discussed, believed in, and even celebrated. Spiritual maturity is neither unicorn nor bogeyman, but it does seem to work itself out in the exact opposite way of that which we are hard-wired to expect.

So join me…afterwards, you can tell all your friends that you’re a more mature Christian than they are. Or not. Wait and see.

You can still register for the 2018 Mockingbird Conference: The Grace of God in Divided Times. Click here to check out the full schedule. We hope to see you there!

 

I Don't Identify as Human: The Hidden Image of the Hidden God - A Conference Breakout Preview

This NYC 2018 Conference breakout preview comes from Adam Morton, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church and associate pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, both in Lancaster, PA.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

You’ve heard that bit before. If not, purchase or steal a Bible (we can work on the ethics of acquisition later), and crack it open to the very first chapter. It’s a good read. This passage is one of the small set that might come out of the mouths of folks who have little or nothing to do with the church; nevertheless, they have heard that humanity is somehow the “image of God,” and this is surely important. But what does it mean?

Modern life is such that the definition of a human being seems to be daily renegotiated. The pet food commercials tell me that my pair of cats (let us never speak of them again) and my son are more or less equal objects of my care. I doubt this, but clearly not everyone does, else General Mills wouldn’t have offered $8 billion to acquire Blue Buffalo. Various experts and news stories have warned me, repeatedly, that if the robots don’t rise up to kill us, they’ll seduce us instead—and that this sort of thing is one day going to be perfectly normal. Silicon Valley appears awash in the notion that humanity can be—no, that’s too weak—will be transcended by way of the proper application of consumer electronics to the body. Sad as it is to say, neither are we anywhere near rid of the notion that certain colors or other configurations of the anthropoid form are markedly less than human.

Hear enough of this stuff and you might begin to suspect that we don’t yet really know what a human being is. This ancient notion of the image of God might be helpful in such a mess, if only we could pin it down. However, the thorny heart of the matter is that this image isn’t all that apparent in my daily life. I can’t see it, and while I could make several plausible suggestions as to its meaning, settling on which one (if any) is true is another matter—which means, strangely enough, that it has something in common with the God whose image it is supposed to be.

In this conference breakout we’ll try to talk about this image-of-God thing, what it means for it to be hidden from us, and how this confusion impacts us on a daily basis. Along the way we’ll enlist the help of Johann Georg Hamann, the greatest 18th century German writer you’ve never heard of (yes, I know, that’s hardly a selling point—but trust me, this guy is hilarious in a very un-German and un-18th century way).

You can sign up for the 11th annual Mockingbird conference here! No human beings will want to miss this!

Art for God's Sake (and Mine): A Conference Breakout Preview

Here’s another preview for one of our NYC conference breakout sessions. This one is from Mischa Willett, author of the poetry collection Phases. 

When I exceed the reach of the FM signal, driving in some part of the country, and the stations fade out and switch, I scan quickly for a new set. And I can always tell when I’ve passed a Christian music station, not because of the lyrics, or because of a lack of appeals for someone named “baby” to alter a current course of action, but because of the sound, somehow. I don’t think the sound is worse, particularly—I love CCM in fact—but it is distinctive. What am I hearing? A brightness? A cleanliness of production? A forwarding of the vocal track? 

That’s what reading a lot of literature by people of faith has been like for me. Apart from a few examples, I find it, I don’t know, wholesome in a way that’s grating. Maybe the earnestness bothers me. In my poems, I wanted to get away from all that, while still very much attending to first things. 

In this breakout session, I’ll be reading poems from my book Phases, which has recently been called “alive with the strenuous Christianity that makes Donne and Hopkins such a pleasure to read, even in these post-Christian times.” 

What is strenuous Christianity? How do we get our literature to be alive with it? This session is best for people who want to think about what a Christian vision of the arts might look like. 

You can read more about Phases here, and check out some of Mischa’s poems, which we’ve posted here. For more, join us at Calvary St. George’s church in NYC on April 27th, at 3:00pm. 

Click here to register for the 11th annual Mockingbird conference! We hope to see you there!

NYC Preview: I'm New Here. I Don't Know Anyone. And What the &%*! Is Going On?

NYC Preview: I'm New Here. I Don't Know Anyone. And What the &%*! Is Going On?

Recently, one of my current coworkers, whom we shall call Will, made a confession to me about his first Mockingbird Conference. A friend of mine, with whom Will worked at the time, had convinced him to come along, and so, after flying into LaGuardia, Will found himself in the backseat of my car on our […]