In time for Holy Week, this issue features David Cunningham’s essay on the destiny of the “other thief” who was on the cross beside Jesus. It also contains William H. Willimon’s witness to the radical news of Easter.
I have read most of what Harvey Cox has written over the decades. One sign of Cox’s longevity is the relative price of his books: my dog-eared paperback copy of Secular City bears a printed price of $1.45. The Future of Faith, published last fall, which I just finished reading, cost $24.99.
A recurring challenge for preachers, teachers and readers of the Gospel of John is making sense of its references to “the Jews.” At Jesus’ sentencing Pilate goes “out to the Jews” to tell them that he finds no reason to crucify Jesus (18:38).
I regretted to see in the January 2 New York Times that Peter Steinfels was writing his final “Beliefs” column. I’ve rarely missed a Steinfels column over the years. They were consistently respectful and totally devoid of either simplistic advocacy or simplistic criticism. Steinfels attempted to understand and analyze the complexity of religion in contemporary America.
Part of the continuing education for religious leaders of all types ought to involve occasional Sunday mornings spent not in church but observing the way that an increasing percentage of Americans spend their Sunday mornings. I came upon this idea some years ago when I found myself at home on a Sunday with reasons not to show up at church, since everyone was expecting me to be away.
By the time this issue of the magazine is in your hands, the fate of health-care reform may have been decided by Congress. The legislative process, like the proverbial production of sausage, is not neat or pretty. If a bill passes, it will not be all the Obama administration hoped for and it will be a lot more than the Republican opposition wants.
I’m not the only preacher who wonders occasionally about the logic of the Sunday lectionary readings. Why is this text included but not that one? I usually conclude that someone wiser than I is choosing these texts and that the logic of it will be revealed to me if I stay with the texts long enough.
There is a veritable feast of recommended books and DVDs in this issue, and I have already circled and clipped several and left them lying in conspicuous places just in case anyone is wondering what to give me for Christmas.
Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian whose work Andrew Finstuen invokes in this issue, had an interesting relationship with the Christian Century. He started writing for the magazine in 1922 while he was a pastor in Detroit.
My trip to St. Petersburg, built in 1706 to be Russia’s window to the West, showed me that the city has recovered from the horrific Nazi siege of World War II and from years of communist neglect to reclaim its heritage as a center of education and the arts. St.
John Updike’s death in January left a giant hole in my reading life. He chronicled American culture during my lifetime in a way that I always found lucid and smart. He seemed to know about everything, from Søren Kierkegaard to Ted Williams. And I simply loved the way he wrote.
I have a friend who was a college professor before she made the brave decision to leave the security of academia and strike out on her own as a writer. Once or twice a year she sends me two books and a nice note expressing her reluctance to add to the number of books I need to read—and her conviction that I will love these two. She is always right.
The articles in this issue on funerals set me to thinking about my own experience and the changes I have witnessed in funerals. In my first two congregations I never conducted a funeral in the church itself. Every funeral was held in a funeral home, and every funeral was followed by a graveside interment and committal.
You may find members of Presbyterian and Reformed churches more theologically engaged than usual these days. This year marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. I decided to observe the occasion by focusing my reading this summer on Calvin. I skimmed T. H. L. Parker’s classic biography, which I had read years before.
Happily, the offices of the Christian Century are located across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s great art museums. I walk across the street occasionally and have a look. It is perhaps a reflection of the lifestyle that many of us live that I tend to view a lot of paintings and not linger for long before any one of them.
A few years ago I was given a book of Anne Fadiman’s essays, Ex Libris, and was smitten. Last year, while I was recuperating from hip surgery, a friend gave me another of her collections, At Large and At Small. Her essays are so interesting, amusing and wise that I find reading one of them a perfect way to begin the day.
The only downside to spending time on a barrier island in North Carolina in the summer is that it’s hard to find a good newspaper. You can locate the New York Times if you look for it, but it’s not easy. My son-in-law peruses the Times on the Internet, and, bless him, he will print out as much of it for me as I want.
Harsh things happen in the world with numbing frequency. So when somebody does something kind and thoughtful, we really ought to celebrate it. Here is my cause for celebration: Last January I was in Florida to visit family and to preach and lecture at two churches. Along the way I lost a book: William Placher’s Jesus the Savior, which I had taken along to prepare for preaching in Lent.
The murder of abortion provider George Tiller prompts me to do something I do not like to do—venture into the issue of abortion. My hesitation is not because I do not have a position. I do. I believe that matters of reproductive rights and responsibilities are most appropriately left to the woman who is pregnant, her religious and moral conscience and her physician.