Dear Timothy, As I was preparing a brief meditation on the “last words” of Jesus, I thought of you. The rector of my church asked me to speak about the “second word”: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” If you know your Bible you will remember that Jesus said this to one of the criminals who was crucified with him.
The statistics are clearly in my favor. An overwhelming majority of children adopt the religion of their parents. So I shouldn’t worry. It is highly probable that my son Nathanael will grow up in some sense a Christian.
It may seem odd that at the beginning of the 21st century our lives are so pervasively dominated by rules, big rules and small rules, rules that frame our interactions and rules that enter into the fine fabric of our personal lives.
As I was browsing through a used bookstore, I chanced upon a small treasure, an early English translation of a book whose author we don’t know (identified only by place of residence as “the Frankfurter”). I could only guess at the date of composition (probably toward the end of the 14th century).
When it became clear that we did not yet have a president-elect, I determined not to waste time glued to the television set trying to follow the meandering route that will eventually give us our new president. Better to use the time, I thought, to reflect on the nature of democracy and the character of holders of public office.
A Presbyterian minister told me a story about his first year at a certain congregation. His predecessor had abolished the general confession of sins from the Sunday liturgy, and one of the first things this new pastor did was try to reinstate it. But resistance to the proposed change was fierce.
In a recent lecture on the exercise of political power, David R. Young claimed that although much attention is paid “to the physical and intellectual dimensions” of the exercise of political power, little or none is paid today to “the emotional, nonrational or spiritual dimension.” And yet, argued Young, “it is the spiritual character of the individual human being as a whole . . .
Our hopes are a measure of our greatness. When they shrink, we ourselves are diminished. The story of American hope over the past two centuries is one of increasing narrowing—or so argues Andrew Delbanco in The Real American Dream.
It was not what was predicted by mainstream sociologists who followed in the footsteps of Karl Marx, Max Weber and Émile Durkheim, but it has happened. Instead of slowly withering away or lodging itself quietly into the privacy of worshipers’ hearts, religion has emerged as an important player on the national and international scenes.
"Incredible wealth” and “breathless pace”—these are two of the most prominent features of Western societies as the old millennium ends and the new begins. True, it is breathless pace for all and incredible wealth only for some. Yet the eyes of all are set on material wealth and so we keep running, faster and faster.
It was with a dose of suspicion that I started reading the feature article in the New York Times Magazine (Feb. 27) about the Scheibners, a large family intent on creating a well-defined Christian subculture in the midst of what, from its perspective, is a world gone hopelessly awry.
Recently Yale Divinity School organized a conference to mark a major ecumenical event of the last decade (some would even argue, the major ecumenical event of the last century). It was the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church.
For some time now I have been both attracted to and troubled by the story of Abraham’s journey to present his son Isaac as a burnt offering in the land of Moriah. I was moved by Abraham’s extraordinary devotion to God but repelled by the thought that it made him willing to sacrifice his only child.
"We would like to have you speak in your own voice about what you believe as a Jew or Christian," wrote the editors inviting me to contribute to a volume in which Jews and Christians were to engage each other's traditions. I accepted the invitation, but the more I thought about "in your own voice," the more ambivalent I felt about it. I knew, of course, what the editors meant.
As the end of the millennium approaches, many Christians are preoccupied with questions that concern the end of the world. Here is one important eschatological theme on which you are unlikely to have heard a single word.
Recently in these pages I made the following claim: "A God of most radical grace must be a God of wrath—not the kind of wrath that burns against evildoers until they prove worthy of being loved, but the kind that resists evildoers because they are unconditionally loved" ("Washing away, washing up," Aug. 25-Sept. 1). A reader was puzzled.
I saw my wife, Judy, cringe the first time she read the children's book Noah's Ark to our son, Nathanael. "A long time ago there lived a man called Noah. Noah was a good man, who trusted in God. There were also many wicked people in the world.
Why shouldn't parents be treated as badly as smokers?" asked the writer rhetorically. After all, "children, just like cigarettes or mobile phones, clearly impose a negative externality on people who are near them." Recent events at Columbine High reminded me again of these comments, which appeared in an editorial in the Economist.
A metal door opened, and we were invited in. Draped sloppily in white linen was a body on a table, frozen and immovable. I immediately recognized the feet, and then, after taking a step, I saw the beloved face. I bent over and gave the cold forehead one final kiss. A wind of deep sadness shook my whole body and my eyes welled up with tears.