My wife and I once toured the legendary Waterford crystal factory in Ireland, where furnaces roar 24 hours a day, powered by gas piped in from miles away. Sixteen hundred employees take turns at three shifts daily. Their training takes years, especially for the glass etchers, the smallest group among the staff.
When I was in grad school, my family moved into an apartment in South Chicago. When we saw that the door of the apartment had four locks, we wondered why we needed so many. I soon discovered that the benefit was mostly emotional. When we got inside at night, after being worried about whatever, we could shut the door on the world and turn lots of little levers. “Click, click, click.” I think of that door when I’m listening to people describe how they cope with their fears.
I have always been fascinated by the phrase “the Lord make his face shine upon you.” God’s blessing, God’s protection, God’s peace, God’s grace—all part of that same benediction—are great goods, and if I had to choose between them and God’s shining face, I might well opt for them. But God’s shining face outdoes them all.
The letter was addressed to the pastor and congregation of Providence United Methodist Church. My friend George Thompson, pastor at the time, noted that each word had been carefully chosen. And he noted the question that began the letter: “Who is a Christian?”
Children’s sermons can be times for cuteness or for expressions of theological realism. Here is a story of such realism. Our parish’s intern was reinforcing the theme of the day’s lectionary lesson. He held up one sign that read WELCOME and another that said KEEP OUT, and let the children spell out the significance of both.
How do we handle clergy sexual misconduct faithfully and compassionately? The issues and challenges extend far beyond any one crisis, and indict all churches that have failed to recognize the complexity of those issues and faithfully engage them.