One night over burgers and some libation, a seminary classmate declared, “Theology and exegesis won’t matter once you’re in the parish. All that will matter is whether you work hard, and whether they like you or not.” The rest of us scoffed, but now that I’ve been doing parish work for 25 years, I sometimes suspect that he’s right.
As our train ambled through the outskirts of London, I thought I would kill some time by quizzing my children on a few items I’d tried to instill in their brains as a little bonus above and beyond their school curricula. I elicited mild groans and chuckles when I asked, “How did the Gettysburg address begin?” and “Can you count to ten in Spanish?” But when I asked, “Can you name the books of the Bible?” a train rider across the aisle turned, and his eyes flew wide open.
My wife is afraid of heights. She didn’t like flying out west, and she didn’t want to peer down into the Grand Canyon. I wonder how she would feel at the end of time, “caught up together with the saints in the air to meet the Lord.” I know she’d prefer that this reunion happen down here on solid, flat ground.
I laughed out loud when I first heard Martin Luther’s explanation of how the Reformation happened: “While I have been sleeping, or drinking Wittenberg beer with my friend Philip and with Amsdorf, it is the Word that has done great things. . . . I have done nothing, I have let the Word act. It is all powerful, it takes hearts prisoner.” When I was sitting there in Intro to Church History sessions, preaching and reforming sounded heady, or easy.
A few months ago, the evening news was playing in the background as our family was getting organized for supper. I overheard the anchor ask, “Who is the most powerful preacher in Charlotte? Is it . . . ?” and he named four relatively prominent clergy. “Call in and vote! Or e-mail us! And we’ll tell you tomorrow night who really is the most powerful preacher!”
Two bible scholars have weighed in with books that emphasize love as the heart of our life with God—a stirring reminder for those of us who function in brain mode and speak of the practices of spiritual formation so adamantly that it begins to feel like boot camp.
Ministry is befuddling, either in the way the people we serve are just so very strange, or in the way the grace of God catches us off guard—or both. Granted, some out there “get” the liturgy and sound theology we’re offering them, and in admittedly wobbly ways try to embody what the scriptures are about.
I am surprising my wife, Lisa, with a rug for Christmas, and since she isn’t a reader of this magazine, I trust my secret is safe with you. We weren’t looking for a rug; it just showed up. Terry, from whom I had purchased a rug in Ephesus a couple of years ago, decided to bring his rugs to America and materialized in my driveway.
Although it would be easier at age 48 to take up the violin or pole-vaulting, I am tiptoeing into a long-postponed project of learning how to love my enemies. Not that I haven’t talked a good game or done admirable work up to now. I appeared on TV arm in arm with a Muslim imam to calm public ire the evening of 9-11. I met often to reconcile with a man who sued my church.