On the island of Hawaii, you can hike across an active volcano. It doesn’t look a bit like the models I made in grade school, where a triangular papier-mâché mountain spouted dry ice smoke and red yarn lava from a small hole at the top. No, this volcano is an enormous crater whose hot lava spills underground and pours into the sea.
As I was growing up, the church was my one constant in a changing world. I was six months old when my father, a foreign correspondent with United Press International, was called to cover the story that would dominate the next decade, the Vietnam War.
I have a recurring nightmare about the final exam on which my college graduation depends. Thinking I am prepared, I open a blue booklet only to discover that I am being tested in a language I do not know. I try to explain that there has been a terrible mistake, but the proctor is unforgiving. I am sent back to my chair to take a test that I have no hope of understanding, let alone passing.
Where are the men on Sunday morning? The men are out seeking adventure, risk and challenge, while the women rule the pews within a dull but safe feminized church. So argues David Murrow, director of Church for Men, an organization aimed at “restoring a healthy masculine spirit in Christian congregations.” What of 2,000 years of male dominance in church leadership, from the first disciples to today’s clergy?
In the minutes before the wedding ceremony, I wait downstairs in Pilgrim Hall with the groom and the groomsmen. Upstairs the sanctuary is lovely, with freshly vacuumed carpeting and wedding flowers that are a cut above the usual Sunday morning carnation extravaganza.
The vase had once been a fine antique with a cream glaze and blue Japanese design, but now it was damaged. It stood amid the finer pieces, a mass of cracks, crudely glued together with what was obviously the wrong type of adhesive—everywhere the 20 or so pieces met one another, glue had bubbled out yellow as it dried, creating the effect of scabrous scars.“Why don’t you get rid of that one?” I asked my mother. “Never,” she replied. “It’s the most valuable piece of pottery we have in this house.” Then she told me the story of the cracked vase.
Far from the grandstanding around stone tablets in front of an Alabama courthouse comes Losing Moses on the Freeway, a refreshing reflection on the ten great Mosaic laws that is muted yet monumental in its own right.
In her first book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor delighted readers with a seamless sewing together of divinity school memories, scripture, and ruminations on the beauty of the liturgical calendar and life in a congregation. That book inspired others to follow the call to ministry, as did the ten books that followed.
When you get to the car lot, you have a decision to make—which way should you go? If you turn right, you enter beautiful show rooms with sparkling new cars that deserve their luxurious placement on plush carpets and under glass roofs. It seems a shame to think about actually driving these cars. Here the sales people are enthusiastic and chipper, the rooms are bright, the bathrooms tidy.
One day we woke up and saw that they were everywhere. Looking back, we realized that they had been there all along, growing in the soil under our feet, watered by the same water we drank, preparing to pop up their heads and bask in the sun.
In 2001 Barbara Ehrenreich opened people’s eyes to the life of America’s working poor with her provocative bestseller Nickel and Dimed. The author, journalist and speaker had gone under cover as a low-wage worker taking positions as different as Wal-Mart cashier and cleaning woman.
At the opening gathering during my first year at Yale Divinity School, the new students met in the beautiful chapel, with its tall ceilings and clear congregational-style windows. Someone smartly bearded told us how lucky we were to be there.