Over the years I have accumulated dozens of crosses. I purchased quite a few of them myself, such as the crudely poured brass cross I bought from a young girl in Ethiopia, or the small golden one I found in a shop in East Jerusalem. Others have been gifts.
Graduation season has arrived, and commencement speakers everywhere are praising the virtues of education. I have often been a commencement speaker, but lately I have begun to wonder if knowledge should come with a warning label on it: “Caution: contents are volatile and may cause burns.”
One reason I teach undergraduate religion instead of preaching is that I am not sure preaching can be taught. During the spring semester I tested this premise by offering an elective at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, titled “Preaching Difficult Texts.” The students and I spent the first day deciding what kinds of texts those were.
Two friends were driving to a conference at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Bangor, Pennsylvania. Since this is not the easiest place in the world to find, they had rented a car with a global positioning system. From the Philadelphia airport to the Kirkridge driveway, they were under the watchful eye of a satellite that tracked their every move.
When I travel to New York City, I like to stay in one of the guest rooms at General Seminary down in Chelsea. The twin bed sheets are polyester and the bathroom is down the hall, but at $75 a night it may be the best deal in Manhattan. After spending at least that much on sushi and a theater ticket, I am mollified by walking up three flights of stairs to my humble lodgings.
Like Many people with nothing better to do, I often read obituaries. It is the print equivalent of walking through a cemetery, where whole lives are summed up on headstones and buried along with their times. I love reading about flying daredevils who rode the wings of biplanes in the 1930s, or Kentucky farmers who plowed their fields with teams of matched mules.
I am an unwilling explorer of cyberspace. For years I managed not to go there. My handwriting was adequate for everyday purposes, my avocado green IBM Selectric sufficed for more formal projects, and I happily received my mail through the post office.
I am a longtime fan of public radio. It began years ago with Garrison Keillor, whose weekly monologues on Lake Wobegon became a regular feature of my Saturday evenings. With my transistor radio perched on my kitchen windowsill, I would put supper together during the first hour of the show.
When I bought the land where I now live, there was nothing on it but trees, cows and fescue. The first question the builder asked me was, “Where’s your well?” I tried to hide my surprise. I had temporarily forgotten that water comes from the earth, not the sink. Of course there would have to be a well.
Although I live nine miles away from town, there is nothing much to slow me down on my way in. After the first two miles of tooth-rattling dirt road, it is a straight shot down state highway 17, with only one stop sign between me and the city limits.
While I was visiting Fort Worth, Texas, recently, I walked into a used bookstore on North 8th Street—the kind of place where you can fall into a time warp, forgetting where you are until you hear the owner locking up for the day.
This week I am headed to the Hindu Temple in Atlanta so that the students in my World Religions class may see a living faith in action. When they fill out their final evaluation forms, many of them will say that the field trips were the best part of the class, and I will agree with them.
I have just spent the last hour turning on and off light switches, standing in front of heater vents, and opening faucets. After four days without power in freezing weather, I do not take any of these things for granted. There should be a service in the prayer book for occasions such as these: “O God of the burning bush, we praise you for the return of heat and light.
Christmas is coming. I know this not because of the weather, which is still balmy, nor the date. I know it because yesterday I saw the county prisoners putting up Christmas decorations in the town square.
Recently I met someone who had been to South Africa to witness the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He had all the usual admiring things to say about it, with one new piece of information. All of the members of that commission are ill in one way or another, he said. No one has survived the process with his or her health intact.