Mockingbird NYC

Empire State Building from the street level, looking straight up

New York New York

Here I am in NYC, and I have no wifi in my very cheap hotel room, so I’m sitting in a coffee shop by Union Square that has wifi.

I have been to many places in the world, but I have never been to NYC before, and I am compelled to give my impressions. The city is immense. Any single particular building here would be spectacular anywhere else, and these buildings line the sides of the streets everywhere you look and everywhere you walk. I don’t know how there was enough time in the world to build all of these buildings. Every street has such a wild dispersion of shops and trees and color and such a rush of street vendors and people of every form of dress and culture and language and age that it feels as though it could be the “main drag” that any other city would aspire to but could never seem to make happen. Here, every street seems that way.

When you simply step out onto the street, there is a rush and an electricity here that I have never experienced anywhere else. There is such a rush of people! And such wonderful and glorious people, so diverse! God it makes cry, honestly it does. What a place! I have never liked the sentimentality behind broadway musicals but somehow I understand it. The city as a whole seems to breathe this electric patriotic “we’re all in this together” sort of energy. How deeply and richly God must love this place. It is unbelievable. The coffee shop here is even crowded and in this beautiful rush of wonderful people. I have found that people here are friendly and warm and talkative and quite genuine. If you are lost, there is immediately someone willing to jump in and help you.

I totally get why people love New York. I love New York. God bless this place.

Vicki Weinstein

I was eating a lamb gyro I bought from a street vendor at a table in the park, where I struck up a conversation with a woman from Boston who is a Unitarian Universalist minister and a prolific blogger. We started talking and kind of hit it off in a friendly way, and she showed me how to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was great, I especially loved the Monet paintings. She ended up being stuck in NY because of the terrorist lockdown, but she ended up being able for that reason to come to my Romance of Grace presentation at Mockingbird. How wonderful! Here is a shoutout to Vicki Weinstein of Thanks for being such a wonderful and serendipitous friend! You have a big heart and a free spirit, and I learned so much from following you around NYC. Blessings to you. I hope you loved my talk; I know I’m not unitarian or universalist but I consider you a real and a true friend.

Mockingbird Conference Rundown

The Mockingbird Conference was fantastic. So many brilliant and creative and just great people gathered together in the name of the grace of Christ! There is nothing like these meals and the wine and beer and conversation that surrounds these events! In fact, the in between times win as the favorite part of the conference. Otherwise, here is the McNeely / Therefore Now rundown of the conference sessions:

1. Tullian Tchividjian: He talked about how, in every phase of life, we drive ourselves to complete exhaustion, because of our self-salvation drive. Young, old, middle-aged, we all need to know that in Christ we live from our salvation, not for our salvation. I love this guy.

2. Simeon Zahl: Good Lord! Those Zahls! Are you kidding me? This guy is brilliant. He was right on about the importance and place of emotion in our faith. I realized listening to him that a huge part of my writing is confronting the beautiful paradoxes of orthodoxy and finding an emotionally acceptable understanding of them. He is doing important and meaningful work, and his books will be well worth following.

3. Sally Lloyd-Jones: She writes children’s books, and she talks with a wonderful accent – is that a british accent? She understands children, and I know, because for 10 years I was a full-time children’s entertainer. She is exactly right, children can smell allegorical legalism if there is one molecule per billion present. Whimsy and fun and beauty must unfold the story, and the lesson will naturally present itself when it isn’t the point. This is yet another way that grace works because it doesn’t try to work. I wish I would have had far more time to talk to her, I have so many thoughts about all of this. I would really like to work on some children’s books and songs from a grace perspective, how could you ever have enough of this? I’m glad I listened to this talk BEFORE I embark on such a project.

4. Nick Lannon: His insights about athletes and the lessons there for living in the tension between law and grace are invaluable. When your beloved sport becomes your high pressure job instead of your playtime, you can’t perform. Great lesson. Congratulations to him on becoming the chief editor of Who would have thought there was so much to say in this arena?

5. I went to Jacob Smith’s breakout, which was mostly on being a theologian of the cross vs. being a theologian of glory. I went because I have been reading Gerhard Forde’s book, and I don’t get it. In fact I don’t like it. I don’t mean I resist it, I just can’t bring myself to agree yet. I am trying to like it but it isn’t happening. People tell me that the things I’m saying are in line with this stuff, but I can tell you that is purely an accident. Is it a cardinal sin to not get the theologian of the cross stuff? There would seem to be an extreme morbidity with this thinking. While I think it is important to say that we have died with Christ and have been raised, and to contend that we put no confidence in the flesh, I think it is also important to emphasize that I am alive together with Christ. So I did not grok this session, it just increased my confusion. Jacob is a wonderful guy though, and I don’t fault him, I fault myself, he was lucid and thoughtful and very personable, and he took a lot of questions and handled them all beautifully.

6. Will McDavid – is a young guy who works for Mockingbird, what a nice job! He is really smart and articulate and I loved his talk. We had some great conversation outside as well. He clearly has a very bright future.

7. Jady Koch – Big Foot Called My Unicorn an Antinomian: The Double Bind of the Law: I must have been waning because I can’t remember anything he was talking about. I confess it. We talked about Plato and the Gen 3 Fall and the Euthyphro dilemma. He is one smart cookie, and a very fascinating guy with a facile and quick mind.

8. John Zahl – It Came From the (Church) Basement: Addiction, Grace and Alcoholics Anonymous: It turns out that this church where the conference was hosted, St. George Episcopal, happens to have THE BASEMENT where AA actually started. At least that is what I was told. It seems hard to believe! Big AA meetings were going on during the conference in fact. I think one of the things I really liked from his talk that really stuck with me, was that AA maintains a separation between the person and the sin, and treats it as a disease. He mentioned that Jesus views Himself as a physician who has come for the sick. Soem other organizations like celebrate recovery tend to treat it as a behavior which we can conquer, whereas AA maintains what John Z says is a more biblical view. Much to contemplate there.

9. Mary Karr – The Unlikely Believer: How a Smart-Assed Intellectual Crossed the Secular / Religious Divide: Good Lord, what a character! I like her priest. She is crazy! And, she really still is kind of a smartass. I loved her.

10. Tullian 2 – Grace for Today: The End of To-Do List Christianity: You know what I grokked from this? His experiences with other conferences. Most of them are all about inspiring you to greater degrees of accomplishment and sacrifice and holiness. Mockingbird (and Liberate) are about giving up on all that. You come away from a Mockingbird conference refreshed and assured that despite your ineffectual life, you are accepted and loved. You come away from others troubled and burdened with many things you need to do and work harder at. I prefer the hyper-grace conferences!

11. David Zahl – I’ve Just Gotta Get A Message To Me: I grokked a number things from this. One was that he spends time looking at the common threads of Mockingbird posts and from the general cultural landscape, to distill what kinds of things are being said in the society at large in relation to the message of Christ. He is constantly looking, not for points of disconnect, but for points of connection. This is incredibly powerful and incredibly refreshing, and a lot more of us could benefit from this mindset. If anything “convicted” me from this conference, it was this. He is a very humble guy and very unassuming, but he is really a powerful thought leader in the whole “hyper-grace” movement. I have enormous respect for him and for everyone at Mockingbird.

Blessings to everyone who attended, and to everyone who wanted to attend but couldn’t!

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  1. Thanks for this coverage! I wish we could have gone….I really like your take on Tullian’s second talk. Interesting hearing a pastor’s perspective on conferences and pressure. I’ve been concerned for a while (and frankly, more than a bit repelled) by our tendency, as Christans to emulate the world and create Christian celebrities. I thnk our nature likes the praise and the perks and I could see where one could get frustrated and lost in trying to “do something great for God” and wake up and realize that somewhere along the way, God stopped being the motivation. I guess even the notion that we will do anything GREAT for God is ridden with a bit of ego and possibly self promotion. It’s a lot of pressure pastors must experience now! Great update!!! Serene

  2. It was so good to meet you Jim. Thanks for your synopsis here as well. I realized (as I was hovering somewhere over Lake Erie) that because I was so enamored with the relationships I had developed over the weekend I could only remember small bits and pieces of the talks. So, this is a great synopsis that helped jog my memory. Anyway, thanks for sharing a couple meals with me and I’m glad you made it home safely. Hope to see you again. Romance of Grace is up next on the reading pile.

    • Brian,

      It was likewise great to meet you and eat lunch with you and just hang out. Next time it would be awesome if you brought your bagpipes! We could do amazing grace, that’s one in the bagpipe repertoire, right?

  3. I met you a couple of years ago in Birmingham. I wish I could have made it to NYC but my ten month kind of hinders that:). At any rate, when I leave a mockif it’d conference I don’t feel defeated, I feel loved. One question: why do you call it hyper grace?

    • Hi Robin! It’s true, I leave these conferences feeling loved, which is way better than feeling “challenged”. I call it “hyper-grace” because a couple of blog posts back I posted something refuting a guy who called the message of real grace that. He meant it as an accusation, so I’m adopting it because I like it now. Yes, I’m swimming in an ocean of “hyper-grace” and favor and freedom, while being accused of being wet! It makes me want to splash them, right?


    In the course of his excellent critique of Forde’s view of law (and atonement) on p170, Kilcrease makes a point I like to make against all those sentimental hymns (Paul Gerhardt is not the only one) which ACCUSE Christians of having “killed Jesus”.

    Forde of course denies that God the Trinity killed Jesus and says “we did it”. But God did, and some humans did. Unlike Lutherans, I would say that we didn’t all kill Jesus because Jesus didn’t die for everybody’s sins. But I do like what Kilcrease writes: “of the whole human race, only a very small number was actually present at the crucifixion. To say to a sinner that, hypothetically, he would have killed Jesus may very well be true, but it does not solve the problem of how this sinful attitude is manifest in the sinner’s own life….Such a hypothetical makes one’s sin into an abstraction….

    Kilcrease continues:
    “by exercising a kind of purely civil righteousness, the sinner might very well have not wished Jesus dead….’

    mark: Exactly so, Not all sin is unbelief of the gospel. Not all sin is works-righteousness.

    But sin against God’s law is still sin, even for those who never hear the gospel.

    And sin against God’s law is still sin, even for those who are justified and who will never be condemned because of that sin.

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