We Christians believe that we have a moral obligation to point to the pain that the rest of the world can’t see. Others may stroll past the suffering, but we stop and stare, take up an offering, make an appeal and collect blankets, sighing as we do our bit to alleviate some of the misery. That life may not actually be rotten in our part of the world today only increases our guilt for our occasional lapses into joy. How dare we sing when others are sufffering?
Few things are more humbling for a professor than to hear your classroom assertions parroted back to you. In the student’s puerile response you hear an echo of your own pronouncement—but on undergraduate lips the thought sounds unbearably stupid.
She was the best confessedly Christian writer of the 20th century, maybe one of the very best of any time or place. With dark wit, always tinged with a threat of horror, she packed into her stories the guilt, blood, violence, blinding light and costly redemption that is our encounter with the living Christ, though she seldom made explicit reference to Christ. Her stories are parables of a world with everything out of balance, not just because most of them occur in the unbalanced American South, but because she deeply believed that we have been whopped upside the head by a God who is determined to have us—even if God has to venture into inhospitable rural Georgia to do it.
This past Christmas, I wished for and received a chainsaw. On New Year’s Eve, while I was engaged in a woodworking project, the chainsaw slipped, grabbed my left sleeve, threw me to the ground, and in a matter of seconds dug into my arm, cutting my hand and wrist to the bone for about six inches. I began bleeding profusely.
Barbara Blodgett, director of supervised ministries at Yale Divinity School, has written what may be the best book yet on the crucial issue of pastoral trust. She defines trust as an act, a practice, something that we choose to do in relationship. But she doesn’t rely only on abstract definitions.
Shortly after the attacks of September 11, President Bush declared that the perpetrators had “violated the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith” and that “Islam is peace.” On what basis did Bush make this declaration? The terrorists certainly thought they were being obedient to the tenets of the Islamic faith.
This is a book I should not have liked. It’s a story of a lonely Catholic priest trapped in a bleak little parish in a nowhere Scottish town. Of course the priest is sexually repressed and socially inept, and of course his downfall is a chaste kiss plastered on a teenager under his care. It’s a hackneyed plot that’s no longer news.
Contemporary Christian homiletics has taken a wrong turn. Reaching out to speak to the world, we fell in—face down. Too troubled by what our audience could and could not hear, we reduced the gospel to a set of sappy platitudes that anybody could accept and no one could resist.
In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus begins with the comforting word: “Do not
be afraid!” Elsewhere, he has told us not to be afraid in the middle of
a raging storm, or in the dark of night, or when he confronts us like a
ghost after resurrection.
God promises the people of Israel that he will not “pass them by.” At
the same time, God sets a plumb line against Israel, using a divine
standard to measure the fidelity of God’s people. A visit from God,
then, is presented as judgment that shall lead to desolation and
As I read through one of the epistles, with Paul hammering an early
congregation for its members’ infidelities and numerous discipleship
shortcomings, I wish I had the guts to give my people the sermonic
tongue-lashing they so richly deserve. Then suddenly, in mid-diatribe,
Paul asserts, “Now you are the body of Christ.”
Bryan Stone’s Evangelism after Christendom is a remarkable book that was about 30 years in the making—three decades of thinking, research, experimentation and reflection on the church in post-Christendom.