What gives a human being the capacity to attend to the truth, and to grow in that capacity?” My friend’s question hung in the air, dangling over the center of the table as those of us in the room found ourselves strangely silent.
As I sat in a South African retreat center, I was struck by the differences between the two church leaders who were speaking. One is a well-known retreat leader, a contemplative person who stresses the importance of the deep, inward journey of the soul with God.
The letter was addressed to the pastor and congregation of Providence United Methodist Church. My friend George Thompson, pastor at the time, noted that each word had been carefully chosen. And he noted the question that began the letter: “Who is a Christian?”
Toward the end of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a powerful novel about slavery and its aftermath, one of the characters reflects on the impact one woman had on his life: “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”
In Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, Jayber is a barber in Port William, Kentucky, who interacts with a variety of people as they come to his barbershop. He struggles to get along with Troy Chatham, an acquisitive agribusinessman whom Jayber thinks is destroying the land in their county.
Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.” So Jim Collins begins his book, Good to Great, a study of how 11 companies made the transition from being merely good to great.
"We will not live in fear.” President Bush’s statement to the American people attempts to convince us that the way to ensure that we will not live in fear is to attack Iraq. Surely, the president seems to be suggesting, we can live without fear if we exert our power and eliminate the threat of our enemies.
"You know, Mom, the trouble with our new pastor is that he needs us to love him so much that we can’t see God anymore.” This was the assessment of a 13-year-old boy talking with his mother about the struggles they were having at their church.
"Ministry a satisfying vocation.” Headlines like this one appeared in newspapers, church periodicals and elsewhere this past spring, as Duke’s (Lilly-funded) Pulpit and Pew Project reported the initial findings in a national clergy survey. It was not the only, or the most important, finding of the survey. But it was the one that reporters and editors found most fascinating and newsworthy.
It seems to me a wonderful irony that Christians in America are preoccupied with debates about biblical authority just when all parties to the debates are less knowledgeable about the content of scripture than many of our predecessors were.
How do we handle clergy sexual misconduct faithfully and compassionately? The issues and challenges extend far beyond any one crisis, and indict all churches that have failed to recognize the complexity of those issues and faithfully engage them.
"She must be wrong about saying you can get angry at God. That goes against everything I’ve been taught about God. That would suggest that God has done something wrong.” A layperson was responding to Ellen Davis’s provocative new book Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament.
In his wonderful memoir Open Secrets, Richard Lischer describes a personal conflict that developed between Lischer and Leonard, a lay leader in the congregation. Their conflict had the potential to erupt into a major split in the congregation. But each man remained committed to the ministry of the church.
On September 11, I was scheduled to lecture on Simone Weil’s classic essay, “The Love of God and Affliction.” I never made it to class—it was canceled due to the devastating, horrifying news of the World Trade Center attacks. We immediately organized a prayer service for the divinity school community—but what could be said, even in the context of prayer?
Faithful, effective Christian congregations make a difference. They touch people’s lives, address profound questions with insight and wisdom, and offer places where the ingredients of a flourishing life can be discovered and nurtured in relationship to the God of Jesus Christ.
What are your ambitions?” an administrative colleague asked me recently. I am not often speechless, but this time I didn’t know what to say. I briefly considered explaining my understanding of vocation, especially in relation to my primary identity as an ordained minister of the gospel. That would make clear why I have presumed that the church has a legitimate claim on my life.
When David Horowitz offered 50 college newspapers a paid advertisement, he was setting a perfect trap. College editors across the country had to decide whether or not to publish the ad, which opposes any form of reparations to African-Americans for slavery and racism.
How do you learn to think about the long-range implications of issues in a culture that is fixated on the short term? This question kept recurring to me in the midst of very different conversations recently.