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Posts tagged "Sally Lloyd Jones"


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.

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The Captain of the Storm - by Sally Lloyd Jones

The Captain of the Storm – by Sally Lloyd Jones

A wonderful little passage on Mark 4/Matthew 8 from Sally Lloyd Jones‘ Jesus Storybook Bible, with illustrations by Jago. The sun was going down. The air was warm and still. “Let’s go across the lake,” Jesus said to his friends. Jesus had been helping people all day and now he was tired. So they left […]

Maundy Thursday Miscellany: Mr Rogers, Stinky Feet, Memes, Cartoons, and Jams, plus <i>Love & Friendship</i>!

Maundy Thursday Miscellany: Mr Rogers, Stinky Feet, Memes, Cartoons, and Jams, plus Love & Friendship!

First, if you didn’t get around to the Mr. Rogers’ story a few weeks ago, TODAY is the day! Second, no one tells a better foot-washing story than Sally Lloyd-Jones in The Jesus Storybook Bible, for which an animated version exists. God loves stinky feet, people: Third, the Last Supper Meme of the Year is […]

Heading Back to Church: The Prodigal Son and His New Year's Resolution

Heading Back to Church: The Prodigal Son and His New Year’s Resolution

Like you, I adore and admire the New Years’ resolutions that fill my social media newsfeed every January. Please, tell me more about the Whole30 diet you are doing. Yes, I want to see your feet photos from the treadmill. Smart friends, what books you will be reading while I watch the latest incarnation of […]

How the Pout-Pout fish Becomes the Kiss-Kiss Fish

How the Pout-Pout fish Becomes the Kiss-Kiss Fish

In my perennial search for great children’s books written by people other than the beloved Sally Lloyd-Jones (there are few), I recently came across the clearest illustration of the law (demand) and grace (love) paradigm in storybook form: The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen. The story is about sad Mr. Fish, and all the other fish of the […]

Another Week Ends: Helicopter Parents, Love (Not Actually), <i>Llewyn Davis</i>, Joe Jonas, the Inner-Hamlet, and Why?

Another Week Ends: Helicopter Parents, Love (Not Actually), Llewyn Davis, Joe Jonas, the Inner-Hamlet, and Why?

1) A week past Black Friday, we’re well into the holiday shopping and the family travel bargaining, and so it’s no surprise that this is also when we find a slew of family sociology on the internet. Exhibit A: Slate’s piece on the Millennial Anxiety and the Helicopter Parent. In it, therapist Brooke Donatone explains […]

New Persuasive Words: Sally Lloyd-Jones and <i>The Jesus Storybook Bible</i>

New Persuasive Words: Sally Lloyd-Jones and The Jesus Storybook Bible

One of our favorite quotes comes from Thornton Wilder, the great novelist and playwright, who voiced a vision for the rehabilitation of Christianity in the midst of the Great Depression: The revival in religion will be a rhetorical problem — new persuasive words for defaced or degraded ones. This principle, in my view, still holds […]

Another Week Ends: Underconfidence, Kate Middleton's Picnics, Unreported Medical Advice, D.H. Lawrence's Christian Wonder, the Double-Bind of Summer Movies, More Christian Wiman, and (Way) Too Much Sociology

Another Week Ends: Underconfidence, Kate Middleton’s Picnics, Unreported Medical Advice, D.H. Lawrence’s Christian Wonder, the Double-Bind of Summer Movies, More Christian Wiman, and (Way) Too Much Sociology

1. How confident are you? Over at The New York Times, David Brooks surveyed his readers to get a sense for self-confidence, lack thereof, and the ways males and females experience confidence differently. While the word itself is a bit vague and murky, and Brooks found few trends in the survey data, the individual responses […]

Emotional Protestants, Gracious Storytelling, Stressed-Out Athletes, Young Kierkegaardians, Antinomian Unicorns, and Church Basement Addictions

Emotional Protestants, Gracious Storytelling, Stressed-Out Athletes, Young Kierkegaardians, Antinomian Unicorns, and Church Basement Addictions

We asked those who are giving “mini-talks” this Friday (4/19) at our 6th Annual Mockingbird NYC Conference to provide short teasers of what they’ll be speaking about, and they did not disappoint! If you’re looking six and a half more reasons to cancel what you have going on this weekend (or six and a half […]

Another Week, Another Amazing NYC Conference Update

Four very exciting bits of news to report about our upcoming conference in New York City, 4/18-20:

1. We can confirm that Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of the much beloved Jesus Storybook Bible (and the brand new Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing), will be speaking to us on Friday 4/19 about “Communicating Grace to Children.” Not to be missed!!

2. The full slate of breakout sessions, mini-talks and special programming is now set. We’ve added six new ones since last we wrote:

  • jesus-story-book-bible-1What Does Salvation Feel Like? Protestantism and the Problem of Emotion – Simeon Zahl
  • Kierkegaard, Existentialism and Young Adult Anxiety – William McDavid
  • Big Foot Called My Unicorn an Antinomian: The Double Bind of the Law – Jady Koch
  • Death and Life in the Artist’s Studio – Dan Siedell
  • Thou Art My Beloved Child: Parenthood for Prodigals – Matthew Schneider
  • T.S. Eliot’s Parables of Self-Righteousness and Resurrection – Todd Brewer
  • It Came From the (Church) Basement: Addiction, Grace and Alcoholics Anonymous – John Zahl
  • Walter White vs. Raylan Givens: The Two Hats of American Law – Ethan Richardson
  • Baby, You Can Drive My Karr: Conversion & the Poetry of Mary Karr – Brad Davis
  • Crunch Time: What We Can Learn From Athletes About Dealing with Stress – Nick Lannon
  • The Prisoner, the Blind, and The Bound: Pastoring People Like You (and Me) – Jacob Smith
  • Hear Me: A Photography Exhibit – Kate Norris
  • The Romance of Grace – Jim McNeeley
  • I’ve Just Gotta Get A Message To Me – David Zahl

We’re working hard to finalize the timing on everything. The full schedule should be ready by the end of next week.

3. After years of delays and false starts, we will indeed be releasing The Mockingbird Devotional at this year’s conference. Brace yourselves – it’s a behemoth!

4. The beautiful conference postcards go out this weekend. To be sure you get one, sign up for our mailing list. And if you’d like extras for your friends/family/neighbors/nemeses, email us at info@mbird.com and we’ll get those out to you.

Pre-Register Today!

Watch Your Language, The Children Are Listening: The Sun Stops Shining in <i>The Jesus Storybook Bible</i>

Watch Your Language, The Children Are Listening: The Sun Stops Shining in The Jesus Storybook Bible

This post isn’t about what you think it might be … 😉 The other day my husband shared with me the following excerpt from a post from a blog we like to read, “Free-Range Kids” authored by Lenore Skenazy, Dear Free-Range Kids: My kids have a children’s bible which says “and Jesus went away.” Kind […]

Offended by Jesus (and The Man Who Didn't Have Any Friends)

Offended by Jesus (and The Man Who Didn’t Have Any Friends)

I was offended by grace last night. My wife was reading the story of Jesus interacting with Zacchaeus to our 6 month-old daughter, the version from Sally Lloyd Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible that falls under the heading “The Man Who Didn’t Have Any Friends”. Usually, children’s bibles are filled with simple moralistic truisms, but this […]