I recently flew with my family from Tel Aviv to Boston via Rome. The day was full of long lines, bomb-sniffing dogs, the opening and searching of overfull suitcases and the struggles to close them up again. In Rome, every single person on our flight was patted down and searched. We must have shown our passports 20 times.Impromptu debates arose as people from all over the world waited in line together. Was it better to search for the explosive device, as the Americans do, or for the bomber, as the Israelis do? Do the airlines need better technology or better training in behavioral screening? Has the war on terror made us more safe or less?
The day after Christmas holds many possibilities for pastors, most of them involving the word rest. I do not typically book office hours on this day. Four years ago proved to be an exception. Bob and Linda called on Christmas Day, requesting an appointment.
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.
Tom walked into my office looking glum. He tossed his backpack on the floor, fell into a chair by my desk, sighed, and then rummaged through his bag for the registrar’s form. Tom is a first-year seminary student, and I’m his counselor. We walked through the courses he would be taking, most of them part of our core curriculum. Tom’s lack of enthusiasm was screaming at me. Finally I took the bait: “So, Tom, what’s the matter?” His hands went up in the air as he shot back, “What’s the deal with all of these required courses? When do we get to study things that are relevant?” Ah, I thought, the old “Let’s make thousands of years of inherited tradition relevant to me” argument. I’d just had a similar conversation with a woman in the congregation where I serve, who wondered why we repeat the “same old creed” each Sunday.
Oliver Sacks, neurologist and writer about the quirks of the brain, grew up in a strictly observant Orthodox Jewish family. When he was 18 his mother found out he was gay and told him she wished he had never been born. As an adult he chose not to follow the religion and rituals of his parents. But eventually Sacks came to see the value of sabbath observance. As he lay dying, he found his “thoughts drifting to the sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.” Sacks died in August (New York Times, August 14).