For the second time in ten months our attention has been commanded by a natural catastrophe—there was the tsunami this past December in Southeast Asia and now Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As I write, Hurricane Ophelia is bearing down on the North Carolina coast, where my family has vacationed for decades.
Some theologians seem to disdain the church as they shine their scholarly light on the church’s triviality, unfaithfulness and banality. Other theologians have the same capacity for critical thinking, but they sit in the pew on Sunday morning, participate in the liturgy, and live out their scholarly vocation in and for the community of faith.
I read over the articles in this issue on teenage spirituality while traveling to my high school reunion in western Pennsylvania. It was a happy coincidence, since a reunion offers a brief reentry to the world of teenage relationships. It is remarkable how the dynamics of personal relations reactivate after half a century.
The day always began at the Fairview Elementary School with the teacher reading ten verses from the Bible, alternating one from the Old with one from the New Testament. We bowed our heads and said the Lord’s Prayer. Then we stood, placed our hands over our hearts, faced the American flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
George Lindbeck’s thoughtful reflections in this issue on the state of ecumenism set me to ruminating on my own ecumenical experience. It also reminded me that this journal has been ecumenically minded from its inception. For a time it even described itself as an “ecumenical weekly” (and before that as an “undenominational weekly”).
Over the years I have attended many commencement ceremonies as a parent, occasionally as the speaker and this year, for the first time, as a grandparent. One ceremony that stands out in my mind is when my daughter received her M.D. from Ohio State. It was held in the stadium where in the fall the Buckeyes play before more than 100,000 zealous football fans.
It is not clear whether Thomas Reese was forced, pressured or strongly encouraged to resign as editor of the Jesuit weekly America. It’s widely assumed that his departure was connected to the election of the new pope, Benedict XVI.
At ordination Presbyterian ministers promise to give their “energy, intelligence, imagination and love” to ministry. Sometimes just managing the institution of the church exhausts such capacities. Sometimes attending to the committees, task forces, program evaluations, staff supervision and budgets is all-consuming.
One of my laments over the years has been over the dreadful image of clergy in popular media. With some notable exceptions, ministers are portrayed as inept, shallow, out of touch with the world and basically irrelevant—like Chaplain Mulcahy in the old M*A*S*H television series.
Those of us who work in the church know how trivial, vain and self-serving the “institutional” church (as we used to call it in seminary—as if there were any other kind) can be. But we also wonder what we would do without the church. How could you celebrate Christmas without the church? How could you wake up in the dark of Easter morning without the church?
"Easter is a terrific story,” says Tony Hendra, an actor, satirist and author of the wonderful book Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Life. So it is, and so we rediscover each year as we turn to the familiar narratives. The Gospels’ accounts are themselves modest, however. Curiously missing is any note of celebration.
Those of us who spend a major portion of life in church keep track of time by the sequence of the liturgical or church year as well as by the calendar year. The calendar year begins on January 1, the church year begins with Advent at the end of November or the beginning of December. One is stable, the other moves.
I loved reading in this issue about great teachers, teachers who have a way of changing lives. I found it impossible not to think about the teachers who changed me. My best college teacher was Sid Wise, professor of government at Franklin and Marshall College. He was short, funny, brilliant and engaging.
I like to think of the Christian Century as offering a lively conversation about faith and the issues of our time. This issue contains a four-part exchange, and each of the writers—Vernon Broyles, Barbara Wheeler and Ira Youdovin—is a respected friend of mine.
Perhaps it was John Wesley who observed that a preacher has only a few things to say, only a few sermons to preach, and that the task of preaching is a matter of addressing in newly creative and energetic ways the few essential themes. After four decades of preaching, I’m ready to agree.
Men my age are “bridge fathers.” We began being fathers in one era, and before the last child left the nest we realized that fatherly responsibilities and expectations had changed significantly. Now we find ourselves watching own sons practicing a new style of fatherhood based on assumptions which were simply not part of the culture when we started out.
The prophet Isaiah, whose words we read in Advent, gives us wonderful images of peace and of the restoration of Zion—images of the wolf living with the lamb, of waters breaking forth out of the wilderness, of a land where there shall be “no lion, nor any ravenous beast.”