When I think of the people who have had a special impact on my life, who were catalysts in my formation, I think especially of Joseph Sittler. Sittler was professor of theology on the Federated Theological Faculty and at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. Before I got there, I had never heard of him.
Recently I made my third trip to Rome. My purpose this time was to participate in the Presbyterians’ ongoing conversation with the Vatican on the subject of the papacy—a conversation that grew out of Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, which invited Protestants to discuss how the bishop of Rome might exercise his position to serveChristian unity.
A week or so after President Bush assured the nation that education would continue to be one of his top priorities and that no child would be left behind, I had an extended conversation with the principal of an elementary school in the middle of Cabrini-Green. Cabrini is the housing project on the near north side of Chicago. Constructed in the ’60s, Cabrini once housed 20,000 people.
Many years ago, when I was struggling to balance the demands of divinity school and the need to produce a weekly sermon for a congregation that sat patiently and graciously through the efforts of its student pastor, I turned regularly to a little book with a catchy title, Your God Is Too Small, by J. B. Phillips.
I once told a story from the pulpit about road rage that evoked as much response as anything I have ever said. I told about being in the left lane on Michigan Avenue and needing to move to the center lane and then the right lane in order to make a right turn at Chestnut. Simultaenously, a young woman in a BMW was moving from the far right lane to the center.
Jesse Jackson is a complicated man. He has been right on most issues most of the time, though certainly not all the time. No one is more eloquent on the topic of human rights, and no one more personally committed to the cause of justice for minority and marginalized people.
Calendar purists insist that only now are we entering the 21st century, since 2000 was really the final year of the 20th century. Whichever it is, I entered this new year thinking a lot about the fractious divisiveness that seems so evident everywhere in the world, and about its reverse, the precious but fragile unity of the human family.
I love Thanksgiving. It’s the one holiday the retail economy has not been able to capture. There is something authentic about a holiday that doesn’t require us to buy anything, but just invites us to gather our loved ones around a dinner table and be grateful. I am thankful for the annual opportunity to take stock and give expression to my gratitude.
One of the theological puzzles with which I have struggled over the years is what the Puritans called “special providence”—that is, God’s miraculous intercession in human affairs in response to prayer. Every pastor knows the dilemma.
The reflection on vocation in this issue by Gilbert Meilaender takes us from Vergil’s epic, the Aeneid, to the Reformation era to the 20th century, with many stops in between. He prodded me, as I’m sure he will others, to think more deeply about their own sense of vocation.
Though neither of my parents had a college education, I learned from them the joy of reading. Our home was one in which the Sunday New York Times was divided and carefully passed back and forth, and the crossword puzzle was a shared project. Winston Churchill’s book on the Second World War was on the bookshelf, and so were Carl Sandburg’s volumes on Abraham Lincoln.
Forty years ago this month, I took a job as a student pastor in a small nondenominational church in a blue-collar community south of Chicago. I was a middler at the University of Chicago Divinity School–Chicago Theological Seminary, married with an infant daughter, and broke. The church offered $50 a week and a house with three bedrooms, bath and a real back yard.
Now that we know his flaws, not many of us can romanticize John F. Kennedy or his presidency. And the glamour of the Kennedy clan has been tarnished considerably in recent years as scholars and reporters have pointed out its members' various shortcomings.
This Magazine has been a friend and a resource for me for 35 years. It has stimulated my thinking, encouraged me professionally and personally, challenged my assumptions, introduced me to new movies, books and authors, pricked my conscience, made me smile and, on occasion, made me angry. Come to think of it, my Christian Century subscription has been one of the best bargains around.