When I asked my friend about his work as an associate pastor, he ripped into his senior minister: “He won’t communicate! He doesn’t even seem interested in what I do at his church!” When I spoke with a senior pastor, he sighed. “Sometimes with my staff I feel like my dad did during a long car trip. When we kids would get rambunctious, he’d take just so much before turning around to give us a good whack.”
It's easy enough to say that torture is bad (though it took President Bush a while to do so). But how does one address this classic ethical dilemma: a nuclear bomb is ticking somewhere in an urban area. The bomb-setter has been captured but refuses to divulge the bomb's location. Does one honor the rule against torture, or use whatever methods it takes, including torture, to get information that will save millions of lives?Even in this case, there's no guarantee that torture will produce accurate information. But the argument remains—an undeniable good might be done for innumerable innocents at the expense of evil performed on a single evil one.
Several decades ago, when I was filling out my application for seminary admission, I came to a question that asked me to provide biblical justification for my calling. I knew I wanted to attend seminary, but found it difficult to state why. Then I remembered my Wesley Foundation pastor preaching on 1 Corinthians 9:16b, and I wrote, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” The text expressed the urgency I felt and even a tinge of divine necessity—although I think I knew even then that I was going a bit too far.
In the days before every district superintendent carried a cell phone, driving the charge conference circuit was a great opportunity to listen to the radio. My favorite station was NPR. More than once I found myself totally enthralled by a broadcast story. Sometimes I would pull into my own driveway but be unable to get out of the car because I was a prisoner of a story. I sat on the edge of my seat, my hand ready to turn the car key, unable to move. Maybe it was the story about the little boy caught in a moral dilemma: he needed to tell his mother the truth about a neighborhood crime, but could not betray a confidence. What would he do?
Few writers can stand on the edge of personal destruction and then report on the process with both mordant wit and complete honesty. For Anne Lamott, the combination made Traveling Mercies a runaway best seller. Six years later, Lamott continues her account of her new faith and its application to her life as a writer, church member and parent in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. In the five years since Traveling, Lamott seems to have gained strength, propelling herself forward through rough moments by leaning on her congregation, her friendships and therapy, and shaping a Christian life for herself and her son, Sam, now a teenager.