Being the pastor of a small church is hard work. I know; I was one once. And the rewards are relatively modest by anybody’s standards. One of the most sobering experiences I ever had was a visit with college friends the summer after my installation as pastor of a 100-member congregation.
A painful accompaniment to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is the estrangement it has caused between mainline Protestants and Jews. For decades mainline Protestants have fostered theological dialogue with the Jewish community. Christian and Jewish scholars have worked together on common texts and common history.
We’ve received a small but steady stream of letters objecting to the advertisements in our pages for military chaplaincy. Some have argued that military chaplaincy is objectionable on moral grounds and probably unconstitutional. Others have been distressed by the way the chaplain in the ads seems to be blessing military activity.
I am mostly a utilitarian reader. For 40 years I have been writing and preaching sermons weekly, and I have come to rely on the almost exact relationship between the quality and quantity of my reading and my ability to create a sermon that has some life and energy to it.
As bombs were dropping in Baghdad, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the question of whether it is legitimate to consider racial identity in setting university admission policies. Meanwhile, Congress debated the budget, including an unprecedented tax cut.
I didn’t know Lewis Smedes very well, but I miss him. The Fuller Seminary professor and author who died late last year was the kind of generous and open evangelical who gives me hope for the unity of the church at a time when that hope is hard to come by. We met just once, under peculiar circumstances.
When Michael Harrington wrote The Other America 40 years ago, he pointed out that the advent of freeways linking suburban homes to downtown offices had rendered the poverty of the inner city invisible to many Americans. The city had become the home of the poor, the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised.
Resurrection has always been a novel, revolutionary doctrine,” N. T. Wright reminds us. His article on the resurrection (p. 32) is must reading, particularly for those who must stand up in a pulpit and make some kind of sense of it all.
Somehow I managed to get a theological education and practice several decades of parish ministry without encountering the idea of spirituality. In fact, I don’t recall even hearing the word until about ten years ago.
What kind of country are we, and what kind of country do we wish to be? Robert Bellah has asked that question many times and in many ways over the years. In Habits of the Heart he explored the American culture of individualism, and he sought to revive a tradition of citizenship and concern for the public good.
Those of us who have had some experience of theological education in a sense live out of that experience for the rest of our lives. Each experience is unique, of course. I showed up at the University of Chicago Divinity School and Chicago Theological Seminary at a time when those two schools, along with two others, constituted the Federated Theological Faculty.
No one knows more clearly or more uncomfortably the tensions of life lived between the gospel and economic necessity than a parish clergyperson whose text for the day is “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink . . . look at the birds of the air . . .
I began my ministry as a “new church development” pastor in a small town in northwest Indiana. The new congregation grew out of an older nondenominational church. When the time came to claim a name for our new adventure, we put together, in fine Presbyterian style, a small committee to study the matter and bring recommendations to the congregation.
At the Christian Century lecture in September, about 200 people gathered for a festive evening to meet author Kathleen Norris. Her topic that evening was not exactly festive, however. She spoke personally, thoughtfully and deliberately about sloth and its spiritual expression, acedia (see her article in this issue).
The church I serve is located in the midst of one of the busiest retail merchandizing areas in the country. Our closest neighbors are Bloomingdale’s, Marshall Field and Lord & Taylor. So I have the opportunity to observe firsthand how the stores and the city prepare for Christmas.
When I was a youngster my parents always took me to community Thanksgiving services. I was an unwilling and unhappy participant. I didn’t much like them: there weren’t many people there, I didn’t know most of those who were, and I surely didn’t care for the preaching. “Why do we have to attend these things every year?” My mother answered, “Because of the hymns. They’re the best in the book.”
I am not immune to the seduction of being invited to a White House briefing, nor of being called a “religious leader,” so I flew to Washington in mid-October (at my own expense) and showed up as instructed at the Executive Office Building. There were more than a hundred of us. I recognized three Presbyterian peers, pastors of large churches.
The best part of my job is that Martin Marty occasionally sticks his head into my office, calls me “Boss” with a twinkle in his eye, and sits down to talk—as if he has nothing better to do. Along with Dean Peerman, Marty is a contributing editor and custodian of the magazine’s history and a steward of its favorite stories.
I grew up with books. My parents valued books and taught me to treat books with respect and affection. One of the unexpected pleasures of college was going to the bookstore to purchase the texts I needed and could afford, and carrying them back to my room—my own books. I still have some of them. And I still love the feel of a newly purchased book in my hands.
I must confess I had never heard of Oprah Winfrey before she appeared in the role of Sofia in the 1985 film version of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. It was a difficult and demanding part, and I remember being impressed with the power of her portrayal.