Abraham haunts me. When I wrote my first Faith Matters column in 1997, I began with those three words. At that time I was in transition—moving from Maryland to North Carolina, and from a faculty position teaching undergraduates at Loyola College in Maryland to a position as dean of Duke Divinity School.
Could loneliness be as contagious as the H1N1 virus? Is loneliness dangerous to the public’s health? Usually we think of “infection” or “contagion” only in relation to medical viruses and define lonely people as those who keep their feelings to themselves.
There is no state regulation for the profession of pastoral ministry. Although you need a license to practice medicine or law, or to open up shop as a massage therapist, you don’t need one to be a minister. There are expectations about what qualifies people for ordination, of course, but these expectations are changing.
"What causes you to become discouraged?” I asked a visitor from eastern Congo who started a university in that country a few years ago. He told me that the school had grown from 200 to 500 to 800 students, and that it was adding new areas of study. I was impressed as he described the intersections of pastoral training, agriculture and health.
“Nonprofit organizations tend to be overled and undermanaged.” Thomas Tierney, chair and cofounder of the Bridgespan Group, has published several important studies on “the leadership deficit.” But what does he mean by this apparent contradiction?
"I have to tell you about Maggy," my colleague said excitedly. He had just returned from meetings with church leaders in east-central Africa. "Love made me an inventor," Marguerite "Maggy" Barankitse had told the group. The more she talked, the more my colleagues wanted to see Maggy's Maison Shalom (House of Peace), near Ruyigi, Burundi. There, after the horrors of civil war 15 years ago, she has rebuilt her village. It's an extraordinary resurrection story.
“What would you say to someone who is hesitant to invest in Sudan’s schools or health clinics given the likelihood that violence will return to Sudan?” My colleague was addressing Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan during a Lambeth roundtable on the church’s needs in his country.
“How do you develop such rich metaphors for your speaking and writing?” I asked my colleague, a stylist whose images stick with listeners and readers. “I read as widely and talk to as many diverse people as I can,” my friend replied. I was disappointed in the reply, for I was hoping I would discover a clever technique that would help me write and speak with greater eloquence.
“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” The first words of English novelist Julian Barnes’s hauntingly beautiful memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, suggest that this is not going to be your typical atheist’s manifesto. There will be no shots across the bow à la Richard Dawkins, no overblown criticisms of religion’s deleterious influence à la Christopher Hitchens.
What is Jack Boughton really like? How will he respond to Reverend Ames’s blessing as he gets on the bus to leave Gilead again? Will he embrace the grace and forgiveness of the blessing? Or will he return to his old ways?
In Transforming Church, Kevin Ford tells the story of a scientific experiment involving four monkeys and some bananas at the top of a pole in their cage. At first the monkeys competed against each other for the bananas, and the strongest ones got the most. The weaker ones had to find strategic times to get their bananas. But all of the monkeys were able to eat regularly.
With one child in college and two teenagers at home, I learned vicariously about “being friended” and “facebooking.” My kids didn’t want me to join Facebook, but relented when I told them that our seminary students were forming groups on Facebook and inviting me to participate. I entered a new universe.
“Speak truth to power.” The phrase resonates with the biblical prophets and the courage it takes to challenge those preoccupied with maintaining their power at the expense of truth. The phrase rings true in Robert Mugabe’s rule over Zimbabwe, or in the stonewalling silence of a church in the wake of a sexual abuse crisis.Yet in American culture, and especially in mainline Protestantism, the phrase has become hackneyed. Pastors invoke the phrase in sermons; seminary professors use it in classroom lectures; groups organize around it. One person even suggested that the phrase is the very heart of the pastoral vocation. Is it really?
“I have resigned myself to the fact that there are some people in this life with whom I will never be reconciled.” I was 22 and a second-year seminarian when an older friend said this to me, and I was shocked. How could a faithful man, one who had taught me a great deal about Christian faith and life, be willing to give up hope?
“Social entrepreneurship" involves innovators who address problems in society and advance a particular social mission to serve a larger good. We Christians have long had people who fulfilled this role, people who founded the Salvation Army, Goodwill and many hospitals and universities.But in the last few decades churches and denominations seem to have lost their steam. Have we Christians lost our sense of social entrepreneurship?
Josh Waitzkin, the chess prodigy who was the inspiration for the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, describes his approach to learning in a new book, The Art of Learning. Waitzkin refers to his experiences, first as a child learning chess, and then as a young adult learning to become a martial arts master.“It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top,” he says, “but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set. Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.” Waitzkin calls the process “a journey in the pursuit of excellence.”
Should there be a statute of limitations on youthful indiscretions? The question had me hooked, even though it was going to be discussed in one of my least favorite formats: a call-in talk radio show. I knew the conversation would give me a glimpse of popular culture’s sensibilities about forgiveness, accountability and the past.
Laughter was a hallmark of my family’s life as I grew up. Our family dinner table was so often marked by jokes and storytelling that we were the embodiment of those old canards about communities that know the jokes so well that all you have to do is call out the numbers and everyone laughs.