When a Los Angeles Dodger hit a grand-slam home run off of the Cubs’ most reliable pitcher in the first game of the National League division series, a great silence descended on Wrigley Field. I was there, one of 42,000 faithful who thought this might be the year our team would go all the way.
An elderly family member with Alzheimer’s was incapacitated after a fall in her apartment, and my family and I became responsible for her care. Unfinished work mounted up, we had taxes to do, and we felt all the swarming nibbling host of worries that fray the nerves without sinking the soul. I would be an ungrateful sod if I thought such trials anything exceptional.Yet Christian hope pertains to the lesser as well as the greater trials of our life. The short petition that follows the Lord’s Prayer in the Roman eucharistic rite expresses the idea beautifully: “In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
“In hope we were saved” (Spe salvi facti sumus). Pope Benedict’s encyclical Spe salvi, released in late 2007, begins with this quote from Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:24). Benedict goes on immediately to speak of redemption: “According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given.
Those who watched the The War, a documentary about World War II by Ken Burns which aired on PBS this fall, could feel the horror of battle with a foot soldier from Mobile, Alabama; understand the pressure on a newspaper editor in Luverne, Minnesota, who worked as if victory depended on him; and feel the anxiety of a mother coping with the government’s rationing program.
Two stories run through this book. The first is about the devastation of Crow culture in the 19th century as whites settled the region that is now southeastern Montana and northern Wyoming; the second concerns not the devastation of Crow culture but the vulnerability of our own culture after the events of 9/11.
The Chicago Cubs have done it again. After winning the National League’s central division, they were swept aside by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 and have not even appeared in one since 1945. Cubs fans are the brunt of bad jokes. We learn to respond by quoting St.
The Bible is full of strange things—oil cruets and flour containers that never become empty and young bodies that are restored to life at a word from Jesus. Are we supposed to believe that these things happened? Maybe the ancient peoples did, but we moderns suffer under the curse of Bultmann’s lightbulb: we know why the light switches on. We are cursed by rationalities that prevent us from seeing the Bible as one overarching story in which our own lives play a key role.
When I tell other pastors that I hate weddings and love funerals, they smile knowingly. Of course, the dark humor rings true with them—every pastor I know can tell a “wedding from hell” story, and all pastors can think of a few funerals at which they’d love to preside.
Not far from where I live is a geological oddity. Stone Mountain is a bald and rounded mass of granite a mile and a half long and nearly a thousand feet high. Eons ago, molten rock pushed up from the earth’s core to the surface, then bubbled out and hardened into a monolith. Given the flat landscape around it, what one notices first about Stone Mountain is how unexpected it is. This isolated mass of stone stands all alone, sticking out like a blister on a thumb. It is as if an unneeded chunk of the Rockies was carelessly tossed over the shoulder of the Creator and landed improbably in a Georgia pasture.
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.