In one of the most famous sermons ever delivered, John Donne described the challenge of retaining concentration during prayer. The year was 1626. The occasion was the funeral sermon for Sir William Cockayne.
As a pastor in New York City, I've found myself challenged to think more deeply about “stuff." I've come to believe that the truth about what we too casually name “materialism” is not so simple. It ought to be clear, after all, that God doesn’t hate stuff. Witness the creation story. God invents stuff. At the end of each of six days, God engages in self-congratulation, pronouncing serial evening benedictions on the stuff created that day: “Good!”
Several years ago, my daughter, who is a Methodist pastor, received an appointment to a small charge in North Carolina’s tobacco country. One day a parishioner informed her that Francis Asbury had preached at a camp meeting at a nearby lake.
When a lawyer asks Jesus about eternal life, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer, and the lawyer answers, citing scripture (Deuteronomy and Leviticus). The lawyer circles around one more time, this time asking a question with a history of interpretation: who is one’s neighbor? Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.
The challenge of telling other people’s stories is an occupational hazard for journalists, historians, memoirists, conflict mediators and even preachers. Getting the facts accurate is only part of the challenge. Storytellers have to grapple with the most effective way to tell the story and what perspective to take or interpretive remarks to include.
The highest incarceration rates in the United States are in red states, especially in the South, but some conservatives are having second thoughts about the war on crime launched by President Nixon. Among them is Chase Madar, former Virginia state senator and attorney general who was president of Prison Fellowship for ten years. Madar was persuaded that a new approach to crime is needed by visiting prisoners, seeing the conditions they live in, and discovering that virtually no rehabilitation of criminals is taking place. He now advocates the use of restorative justice, a plan that returns criminals to the communities where they committed their crimes to confess at public meetings and ask forgiveness (American Conservative, February 3).