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!”
When A History of God hit the New York Times bestseller list, Karen Armstrong suddenly became the go-to commentator on religion. Bill Moyers calls her “one of the foremost, and most original, thinkers on religion in our modern world.” Why is she so widely read? The answer is not immediately clear. Her prose is often maddeningly dense and her points elusive. Her drive to comprehend religion leads her to be constantly comparing elements of different religious traditions, but the connections she draws are not always illuminating.
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.
Feidin Santana feared for his life when he made a video recording of a policeman shooting Walter Scott in the back in North Charleston, South Carolina. After Santana took the video with his phone, he considered deleting the evidence and fleeing town. But because he turned the video over to the police, the officer, Michael Slager, was held accountable for the shooting. Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot after being stopped for a broken taillight. Santana encourages others to record bad things happening, even though he says he had doubts about what he was doing at the time (Washington Post, April 9).