Sometimes life in a big city can feel impersonal, almost inhuman. On the streets the taxis vie for pole position at the stoplights and cut one another off to get to a fare. On the sidewalks people beg for money, holding signs that say things like “Homeless. Hungry. Help.”
Every now and then I read a book for the simple reason that everyone else is reading it. After all, a faithful preacher needs to exegete the culture and the congregation as well as the lectionary texts.
Some ideas are bigger than our intellectual capacity to deal with them. Some news is richer than the words we have to describe it. When that happens, we turn gratefully to art and music and works of the imagination. That’s why on Easter we put the emphasis on beautiful hymns and great organ and trumpet music. Words alone cannot convey the message.
Palm Sunday is a big deal in the church I serve. As the congregation sings “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” the children—from infants in parents’ arms to wiggly six-year-olds to uncomfortable adolescents—parade down the center aisle and fill the chancel, waving palms. It’s a reminder that there are more children and families living in the center city than you might expect.
I am never quite sure what postmodernity is, but I was struck by Pamela Fickenscher’s delightful essay on postmodern ministry (Off-road ministry) and especially by her observations about preaching: “While many traditions have taught preachers to leave the ‘I’ out of their sermons, postmodern audiences are hungry for the messenger
As this issue of the magazine was being prepared, the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform was holding a hearing on the way the Bush administration has treated the issue of climate change. The administration has not been very interested in the topic, and until recently didn’t allow the phrase to be uttered.
Jason Byassee’s article on Christians in Jordan reminded me of some conversations I had early in my ministry with a fellow pastor in Indiana who had served many years as a missionary in Iran. This was before the revolution that transformed Iran into an Islamic state.
During the height of the Vietnam War, Bill Moyers was President Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary. It was his responsibility to explain to the press and the world what was happening and why the U.S. was doing what it was doing. He was also present as the Johnson administration declared war on poverty, launched its Great Society programs and signed civil rights legislation.
The excerpt from Wendell Berry’s latest book was for me a Christmas gift to savor. It stirred memories and reflections about grandfathers. As Berry suggests, the grandparents of people my age lived in a different world from ours. They never boarded an airplane or booted up a computer. Before the days of joint replacement surgery, many were partially crippled and lived with pain.
I am probably not the only preacher who cringes every Good Friday as I read John’s passion narrative, with its relentless negative references to “the Jews.” As I read those passages I think of my friends Joe and Tony, Jews who are married to Presbyterians and are sitting in the pews. I want to interrupt the reading and say, “This doesn’t really refer to all Jews.
My neighborhood offers Christmas shoppers lots of help: the counters are full, and the windows have been elegantly displaying gift suggestions since mid-October. I am led to ponder the original gift that generated this phenomenon of Christmas—a small, quiet, intimate gift of love in the birth of a child.
It’s my favorite time of year—though I never heard the word Advent until my mother brought home an Advent calendar one year. Presbyterians didn’t observe Advent in western Pennsylvania in those days. I learned about it from the brightly decorated calendar with its tiny paper doors, one for each December day until Christmas.
I was fascinated to learn that New Testament scholar Barbara Rossing was first drawn to studying the book of Revelation because of her interest in environmental issues. Many of us are not much interested in apocalyptic literature, especially not as represented by the Left Behind novels.
For those of us who measure time not only by the liturgical calendar but by the baseball season, fall is a time to reflect on what happened or did not happen. It is a painful time once again for those of us who invest ourselves in the fortunes of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have not been in the World Series since 1945 and haven’t won a World Championship since 1908.
One of the messages my church sent me when I was an adolescent was: Don’t date Catholic girls; you never know where it might lead. When a cousin of mine not only dated but married a Roman Catholic, the aunts had apoplexy. Church practice in those days made “mixed marriage” extremely difficult. A wedding involving a Protestant minister and a Roman Catholic priest was unheard of.
Summer vacation for me and my family means the beach. Every year, with one or two exceptions, we find a way to travel to the ocean. The place we have settled on is a quiet barrier island in North Carolina. It has no boardwalk, nightclubs or amusement parks, just a grocery store and a fish market.
During the first Iraq war, after the United States started dropping bombs as a prelude to Desert Storm, homiletics professor David Buttrick surveyed mainline churches around the country to see if the war had been mentioned on the previous Sunday, whether in the sermon or in the voicing of prayers and concerns. In the vast majority of cases the answer was no.
Jason Byassee’s account of six Protestant theologians who made the journey to the Roman Catholic Church made me reflect on my own experience of Catholicism. My Presbyterian and Methodist ancestors viewed Rome with suspicion and thinly veiled hostility, though they maintained cordial friendships with individual Catholics.