A banner in the Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University features these two statements set off from each other: Do not DESPAIR one of the thieves was SAVED; Do not PRESUME one of the thieves was DAMNED. The couplet refers to the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. The second half of the couplet, which is attributed to St. Augustine, is ambiguous. We could treat it as a command to presume that the second thief was damned. But I prefer taking the word presume as a synonym of assume: we should not necessarily assume that the second thief wasn’t saved. After all, Luke’s Gospel says nothing about his fate.
When Studs Terkel, described by Donna Seaman as “oral historian, writer of conscience and raconteur-on-a-mission,” died on Halloween in 2008, he left a tall stack of books behind him. None affected me more than one called Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.
We Christians believe that we have a moral obligation to point to the pain that the rest of the world can’t see. Others may stroll past the suffering, but we stop and stare, take up an offering, make an appeal and collect blankets, sighing as we do our bit to alleviate some of the misery. That life may not actually be rotten in our part of the world today only increases our guilt for our occasional lapses into joy. How dare we sing when others are sufffering?
In response to the religious leaders' concern that Jesus was welcoming
and associating with clearly unreligious people, Jesus told stories
about God's attitude toward such wayward folk, as we find in Luke 15, from which this week's Gospel reading comes.
I have read most of what Harvey Cox has written over the decades. One sign of Cox’s longevity is the relative price of his books: my dog-eared paperback copy of Secular City bears a printed price of $1.45. The Future of Faith, published last fall, which I just finished reading, cost $24.99.
Krista Tippett, host of On Being on public radio, gave birth to a daughter while in seminary. The birth made her more aware of Jesus’ teaching that adults should become like children. She came to realize that the kind of childlikeness Jesus recommends doesn’t entail debasing oneself—it means living with a sense of curiosity, wonder, and delight. Tippett learned to see this kind of delight in other parts of scripture. The word Eden, for example, means delight (Prism, Winter).