It is by living and dying that one becomes a theologian, Martin Luther said. With that comment in mind, we have resumed a Century series published at intervals since 1939 and asked theologians to reflect on their own struggles, disappointments, questions and hopes as people of faith and to consider how their work and life have been intertwined.
When Moses is on Mount Sinai he offers the gutsiest prayer of all time. I’m in awe of it because it doesn’t sound at all pious; it sounds like an argument. The Lord says, “Your people, who you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely. . . . Now let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them.”
I’m delighted to be back among the 400-year-old whitebark pine trees of the Wind River Range in northwest Wyoming. At tree line, near 10,000 feet, the bent and grizzled pines almost seem to thrive on wind-driven snow and sleet, lightning strikes, drought and disease. They stand as grand masters of sustained indifference.
I started to write when I was teaching at Augustana College, but after moving to the University of Notre Dame in 1970 I really began to put words on paper. I did not write because I thought you needed to publish to get tenure. I was not that savvy about how these things worked. I probably did need to write to get tenure, but I wrote because I thought I had something to say.
It’s tempting to blame partisan politics for last summer’s debacle over “death panels” and the very idea of doctors and patients holding conversations about the end of life. But the truth is: these conversations are difficult. Although some people welcome them, others approach the subject of death cautiously. Many of us would rather not explore what awaits us in the final years or weeks of life. Perhaps this reluctance explains why only one in five Americans has completed an advance directive for medical care.
In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those in the top 20 percent of earnings—gave only 1.3 percent of their earnings to charity. Those in the bottom 20 percent donated 3.2 percent of their income. Several theories exist as to why the wealthy are inclined to give less: by their very nature they are driven to look out for their own interests, and they are less likely to be exposed to real human need. Wealthy people tend to give to institutions from which they benefit, such as universities, museums, and arts organizations, while the poor tend to give to social service charities and religious organizations (Atlantic, March 20).