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.
What I knew about Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, was pretty much confined to the popular image of him: he was the hero of the battle of New Orleans and a “man of the people.” After reading Jon Meacham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, I have new appreciation for Jackson and a new understanding of how critical his presidency was.
In March, when Pope Benedict XVI, on a flight to Cameroon, declared that the use of condoms is not the answer to the AIDS epidemic in Africa—that, on the contrary, it “increases the problem”—I thought immediately of Francis Ntowe. I met Ntowe years ago when he came to the U.S. from Cameroon. He became an elder in the Presbyterian Church.
Why aren’t we talking about guns? A week before Easter, three Pittsburgh police officers were shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance. Apparently they were met by a 22-year-old man wearing a bullet-proof vest and armed with several guns, including an AK-47 assault rifle.
There is not much applauding in the church I serve, and that’s all right with me. When applauding in church becomes routine, it loses any meaning. But sometimes applause happens simply because it needs to happen. The gratitude and praise have to be released in that way.
Every year we preachers eagerly look for help with the daunting challenge of preparing an Easter sermon. Never are we as acutely aware of our own limitations, intellectual and spiritual, as when we try to find words to express the reality that a dead man didn’t remain dead.
Theologian N. T. Wright says that even when you are in the Promised Land you are never far from the wilderness. I’m not the only preacher who has pondered how our nation has gone so quickly from the promised land of abundance to a wilderness of economic uncertainty. This recession is a new place for most of us.
When Rick Warren was invited to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration, the choice annoyed some people because of Warren’s conservative position on several important and controversial issues, and it pleased others who either like Warren or like Obama’s ecumenical approach.