It’s almost Easter, which can mean only one thing: it’s time for the blockbuster Bible bestsellers. Last week, Bart Ehrman promoted his new book, How Jesus Became God, on NPR’s Fresh Air. Ehrman advances a common argument: Christian conceptions of Jesus’ identity grew more elaborate with time. His followers first perceived Jesus as a remarkable preacher or prophet, but eventually believers came to regard him as God incarnate.
Although I was aware of Ehrman’s book, I missed the publicity blitz.
Smithsonian magazine has announced the finalists in its annual photo contest. You can see them at the Smithsonian’s site, where voting for the Readers’ Choice Winner is open till May 6. All the photos are worth a look.
In a recent issue of the Century, I interview Kent Haruf, whose novel Benediction has garnered a nomination for the newly minted Folio Prize in the United Kingdom and recent reviews in The Guardian (by Ursula Le Guin) and the Telegraph. Haruf has made a life out of fine and careful reading, as well as writing. I asked him for recommendations on five books that have helped him become more fully human.
My article in the March 19 issue tells the story of Larry Engel and Mike Breininger, two pastors in Richland County, Wisconsin, who were able to bridge a longstanding impasse between conservative and liberal pastors by beginning a conversation about their own theological and political differences. The result? A friendship between two pastors, cooperation among area pastors, and a jumpstart to initiating and sustaining needed community services.
When our family lived in western Pennsylvania we had a rather large yard. It was like a magnet for kids in the neighborhood, which was okay with us. That way we knew where our own children were. It was also neat to see how the older kids would let the younger ones participate as they played whatever sport was in season—football in the fall, soccer in the spring, baseball in summer.
A few years ago I was interviewing a couple of church planters, and the conversation turned to finances. The husband-and-wife team, Juan and Cirila Lugo, had paid out-of-pocket for many expenses when the congregation began meeting. They were pleased that it had become self-sufficient enough to hire Juan full time. Cirila told me, without a hint of complaint, about writing sermons on her lunch break while she drove a delivery truck six days a week.
But she didn't call herself bivocational, and rightly so.
“When you give alms,” says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." The poet W. H. Auden seems to have taken Jesus’ instructions to heart.
A few years ago, my family started sponsoring a child through World Vision. I knew that the organization was generally evangelical, and that we are generally not. But this massive parachurch organization does good work, and I trusted them enough for a minuscule portion of that good work to be on our behalf. For 35 dollars a month, we’ve been contributing to the health, education, and general welfare of a little girl in Haiti, who was born the same day as our older daughter. Whatever theological differences I have with World Vision seem immaterial to this.
Theological differences may be slightly more material for some of the organization’s conservative supporters.
Our church is in the midst of a major transition: it’s becoming bicultural. The combined joy and pain of our growth is intense and surprising at every turn. Sometimes I wonder if this is how a tree feels when it begins to grow new branches. I often feel fatigued in advance by the complexity of the conversations we want and need to have, as well as scared of where we are going and what it will require of me.
It’s at these times that I find myself contemplating the comforts of what we used to be, a monocultural church