The Martys move their residence and parish membership every 43 years, so every 43 years I should devote a column to my parish, Ascension Lutheran in Riverside, Illinois. I have written so many articles and several books about life in the local church that readers have often expressed curiosity about my own ties.
This winter I had occasion to caress every one of my thousands of books, kiss thousands of them good-bye as I downsized my library, and decide which to save and which to give away. Reflection at such times can turn sentimental, as finding a long-buried book can let loose a flood of memories.
Christopher Niebuhr of the well-known Niebuhr tribe wrote to me recently. He is celebrating the Yale University Press publication of Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (edited by Wilson H. Kimnach), 800 pages of transcribed scripts and notes that make up the 25th and final volume of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.
One night years ago, when there were such things as open tickets on airlines and one did not have to establish identity to get through security, my wife and I left $900 worth of tickets on the back seat of a cab from O’Hare Airport to our home. It was two a.m., we were tired from crossing time zones, and we were careless.
When I was young I spent two summers “icing” refrigerated cars on Burlington trains. We shuttled, shirtless, atop railroad cars under the Sioux City sun to the 16-degree ice-making room, from which we dragged out 300-pound cakes of ice. Our Heil truck took the ice and us to the edge of bunkers, where we piked or smashed the cakes.
New hymnals, a.k.a. “Worship Books,” are forthcoming from numerous church bodies, including two Lutheran groups (among them my own ELCA). Having studied none of these books, I write with vincible ignorance about the details. Having studied church history, however, I write with invincible knowledge of how all of them will be greeted in some sectors of each church group. Those old enough to have savaged the books being replaced will now mourn their loss, just as they will—if they live long enough—grieve over the shelving of the ones they are now trashing.
The verb regift was not in my vocabulary until this season, but now I see it leaping out from a sheaf of magazine covers. Webster’s newest edition includes regift: “to give as a gift something one previously received as a gift.
We have relegated to the “remember when” columns all resistance to the updating of Thanksgiving Day to lengthen time for Christmas shopping. This year it was a September Saturday when the first school boy (“Earn $50 this easy way!”) came to our door to sell us greeting cards. Now, finally, almost anachronistically, Advent announces itself as the beginning of preparation for the Nativity.
Reading the obituaries of Sister Mary Luke Tobin, who recently died at 98, inspired reminiscences of her and other women religious. Their numbers are down from 180,000 forty years ago to 68,000 now. Soon few will remember the era of habit-garbed nuns.
According to a recent Bloomberg News survey, researchers for the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine asked people to answer two easy questions: How tall are you? How much do you weigh? After considering the responses, researchers concluded that people lie. Gender differences play a role: Women want to be lighter, and they lie about their weight.
While doing research for a talk on religion and violence, I kept running into accounts of people who selectively quote the Qur’an to show how it commits Muslims to killing “us” infidels. That research inspired dour thoughts of the sort that I do not often let intrude on this page.
Have your ever played a game in which participants identify themselves with an animal, biblical figure, athlete or Greek hero, and others try to guess the connection? I learned how hazardous this can be not because of the hero I chose but because someone identified me with one.
Dear Pastor Gregory Boyd: My editors do not favor the “open letter” genre, so let’s consider this a “closed letter,” something I’d more or less sneak to you. I have the impulse to write because I have been reading so much about you and your ministry at Woodland Hills Church near St. Paul.
Genealogists tell us that many U.S. presidents are related to each other through descent from King Edward III, a father of nine and ancestor of Washington, Jefferson, both Adamses, and both Roosevelts, plus Robert E. Lee, Charles Darwin and—here’s the come-down—80 percent of the present population of England. What fun is that?
Luxury, the dictionary tells us, is “the use and enjoyment of the best and most costly things that offer the most physical comfort and satisfaction.” In a special advertising section on luxury autos, the New York Times (June 21) updates us on the concept:
It’s been said that a fundamentalist is an evangelical who got mad. Fundamentalists in 1920, angry that their fellow conservative believers did not fight back, fought against moderates and liberals in their own denominations as well as in other churches and in the nation. Their politically minded descendants do the same these days, using their kind of biblical literalism as a weapon.
There are 3,700 known species of cockroaches alone, and they will outlive us all. This statistic ought to disturb literalists who recall that Noah’s family caught and brought on the ark “of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female” (Gen. 6:8). Noah also had to avoid the hazardous secretions of these creatures, some of which produce repugnatorial secretions containing compounds that generate hydrogen cyanide.
Church historian Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, who died May 13, felt like a relative, thanks to consanguinity among our Slovak friends. I could not have taught Christian history without using his books, though he could teach at least 39/40ths of what he taught without ever consulting one of mine.