Do people join a church because they share its members' beliefs? This has become the putative
ideal, the only pure motivation for church affiliation. But I have seldom heard it voiced at our new members' class.
As a pastor in New York City, I've found myself challenged to think more deeply about “stuff." I've come to believe that the truth about what we too casually name “materialism” is not so simple. It ought to be clear, after all, that God doesn’t hate stuff. Witness the creation story. God invents stuff. At the end of each of six days, God engages in self-congratulation, pronouncing serial evening benedictions on the stuff created that day: “Good!”
The events of the last two years have been humbling—even for New Yorkers, a breed not easily humbled. When I first moved to Manhattan, I was often startled when someone offered a complimentary comment about another person, saying that he or she was “really smart.” The pride that went before the particular New York fall was, more than any other human frailty, our peculiar brash pride in putative cleverness, savvy and smarts. Now there is no escaping the embarrassing fact that a lot of very smart people in New York never saw the present economic crisis coming, and that many of those smart people had been participating in the foolish decisions that contributed to it.
The word jargon suggests needlessly obscure words that insiders use to dazzle and confuse outsiders. But if we call the same words “technical vocabulary,” we’re suggesting a precise and established way of speaking that emphasizes accuracy. Christians have lots of words like hermeneutical, ecclesiology and sanctification.
Evangelical Christianity is generally loquacious; Minnesota Swedes seldom are. My Swedish evangelical paternal grandparents talked little about their deeply held faith, and then only in sober tones. They would have benefited from reading Thomas Long’s groundbreaking book, the fifth volume in the Practices of Faith series.
Each of the four Gospels tells about the woman who anoints Jesus while he is at table, and in each Gospel someone sharply rebukes her for her action. But Luke is unique: unlike event as told the other three Gospels, the act of anointing as told in Luke does not portend Jesus’ death. Instead, hospitality and table fellowship are the recurrent themes, and they are a clue to the meaning of this parable.
Paul’s daunting promise to the Romans haunts me: “Suffering produces endurance,” he assures the Romans and us, “and endurance produces character and character produces hope.” Recently I stood in the pulpit of my church and looked over the top of a white, 32-inch-long casket at a young couple from my congregation. Their six-month-old son, who had been happy and healthy just days before, had died in his sleep. The unfathomable suffering of the family was shadowed by a church filled with mourners for whom the scene enacted their most dreaded fears.
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