When it comes to church, I’m a wanderer: I don’t have a church home so much as a village of church tents. All this wandering has made me a connoisseur of church welcomes or the lack thereof. I can tell you where I did or didn’t feel welcome—though I can’t always say why.
The story of Jesus, at least the way John tells it, begins unspectacularly. “There was a man sent by God, and his name was John.” What does John do for a living? He is a preacher. We can’t get to Jesus without going through a witness, no epiphany without preaching.
Sunday night, a homeless man died on the steps just outside the entrance to the men’s drop-in shelter at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, WIsconsin, the church I serve. I don’t know much more than that. Apparently he had left Grace to go to one of the overflow shelters to spend the night. I don’t know what the cause of death was.
Referring to age or style just isn’t helpful, any more than referring to a woman as “the one with the great legs” would be in a professional setting. It diminishes people. We have different identifiers for Christian authors—reformed, social-gospel, neo-orthodox, liberal, evangelical, progressive, social justice, etc. But none of them reflect Rauschenbush’s clothing or Barth’s haircut.
Little did tennis star Andre Agassi know that he was speaking prophetically when he declared in 1990s Canon camera commercials that “image is everything.” The truth of his marketing statement seems everywhere today. Pope Francis was not only Time’s “person of the year.” He was also Esquire’s “best dressed man of 2013.” The new pope is what he says, does and wears.
My father once sat me down on the couch and placed a map of Central Europe in my lap. He pointed to two major cities and said, ”We have five months to get from London to Copenhagen. You plan our route.”
Our intellectual architecture is being dismantled. But it is also being reassembled. I use the architecture metaphor because I believe that what we are creating will be in place for many decades to come.