The world will
always be fascinated with Vincent van Gogh. It doesn't matter that his
sunflowers are on mugs, t-shirts, calendars and billboards, or that
psychologists have spent years studying every facet of van Gogh's emotional and
As pastors, we spend a great deal of time sharing in the
ongoing lives and adventures of our congregants and community members. We are
also called, literally, to come to love and suffer with them when
disappointments, disasters or deaths occur.
It's been said there are two kinds of suffering: one kind leads to more suffering, the other kind puts an end to it. The attacks of 9/11 were an instance of the first kind of suffering, for they quickly led to more suffering. They led, specifically, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, including over 5,500 U.S.
Medicine, Daniel Callahan argues, has become the sustainer of false hope in the face of death and dissolution. Callahan calls for a medicine more modest in its aspirations and more careful in its promises. Giving up the illusion that it can extend life indefinitely for a few, this new medicine would devote itself to making life better for the many.
Not long ago, a retired pastor and theologian who had lived and taught in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s came back to visit. He had some pressing questions: What does liberation theology mean to you people today? What authors do you read in your seminary classes? What aspects of liberation theology still seem relevant to you?
St. Augustine told Christian pastors that their most eloquent instruction would lie not in their words but in their lives. The Dalai Lama's new book is an example of that principle still at work. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, offers his wisdom for handling the problems of life, ranging from personal discontent to global conflicts.
A pastor from South Africa was finishing his first year as a full-time pastor in the U.S. He had served churches in the two countries, so I asked him to compare the role of the church in the U.S. with its role in South Africa.
Not long ago I went to visit my mother at a busy New York hospital where she was recovering from heart-valve surgery. The elevators were so crowded that I had to go down to the basement to claim a place for the trip up to the sixth-floor coronary care unit. At each floor the doors opened in front of identical signs: “No cell phones.