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.
On the heels of denominational meetings this summer, “Everything you wanted to know about Christianity" is just what I needed. I take my denominational responsibilities seriously. I value the theological traditions. I attend the meetings, serve on the committees and engage in the debates.
It’s summer, a time when most preachers are lucky enough to enjoy an extended Sabbath. For me, summer affords the opportunity to do the kind of reading I know I need to do but am not able to get to in the midst of the normal schedule. I save major works to take with me on summer vacation.
In times of crisis, churches rise to the occasion. Rich Preheim’s article about ministry on the Gulf Coast makes me proud of the often-maligned institutional church, which has poured dollars and volunteers into the disaster-struck areas.
Everything that Jürgen Moltmann writes is worth reading and thinking about, beginning with his Theology of Hope (1964) and its compelling message that Christianity is deeply and essentially about hope—not optimism, but hope based on trust in God’s redeeming activity even in the midst of dreadful circumstances.
My interest in books leads to odd behavior sometimes: checking out the content of the bookshelves when I am visiting someone’s home or a colleague’s study, sneaking a look at whatever my airplane seatmate is reading, poring over the list of ingredients on a cereal box when there is nothing else at hand to read.
In terms of commercial activity, Mother’s Day is the third-biggest holiday in the U.S., with 140 million greeting cards sold and $7 billion spent on presents and meals—and 60 million roses. Robert Fulghum assembled this information for his book It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It two decades ago, and I rediscovered it in my “Mother” file.
I am unapologetically patriotic by temperament and upbringing. I sing the national anthem at Wrigley Field, get chills when the navy’s Blue Angels roar overhead at the Chicago Air Show, and fly the flag on the Fourth of July. I spent some time in the air force ROTC, and some of my classmates flew missions in Vietnam. I supported the U.S.