When I recently reviewed my book purchases from Amazon for the past few years, I was surprised to note how many of the titles I had ordered after I watched Charlie Rose’s interview with the author on his PBS talk show. I also observed that, while an interview with the author could prompt me to purchase a book, as a motivation to actually read the book, it was decidedly less effective. That was a major reason, then, for undertaking this series of fourteen special posts during Lent, each one referencing a different title from my “new books” shelf.
When I selected the fourteen titles for this series, I had not yet read more than half of them, but I had purchased them because I felt fairly certain they would help me move, to quote E.M. Forster once again, “a little farther down the path” in the direction my life has taken over the past few years. After I published the list on Facebook and here on my blog, I had second thoughts about one or two of the titles. Not about whether they would be worth the expenditure of time to read, but about whether they would illustrate forcefully enough the principle of moving me a little farther down the path. Continue reading →
I first learned of Ta-Nehisi Coates through his writing in The Atlantic magazine. His article titled “The Case for Reparations” in the June 2014 issue is one of the finest examples of long-form journalism I have ever read. The article’s subhead effectively summarizes his point: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York City, 2012
By the time I read that article, a similar thesis had been percolating in my brain forseveral years. My thinking did not address the question of reparations, and I don’t think Coates really believes that will ever really materialize. His larger point, I believe, was that, while some kind of monetary reparation would be fair and helpful, if a strong majority of white Americans would simply come to believe in the justice of the idea, that would go a long way toward healing the gaping wounds left by the historical realities summarized in his article’s subhead. Continue reading →
For most of my life I gladly identified with the subset of Christianity known as evangelicalism. That was the community in which I had come to faith in Christ, the context where I sensed a call to vocational ministry and began the years-long program of study by which I hoped to prepare myself to fulfill that call.
I liked the word evangelical. Basically it was the English transliteration of a Greek word, euangelion, which essentially meant “good news.” That Greek word is generally translated “gospel” in most English versions of the New Testament, and the word evangelical seemed to say that the people who claimed that designation must surely have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the Gospel. Continue reading →
Perhaps nothing illustrates the way my thinking has changed over the past decade better than the evolution in my appreciation for Marcus Borg.
Like many students of conservative, evangelical theology—the tradition in which I grew up—I first learned of Marcus Borg in his role as one of the most prominent figures involved in something called The Jesus Seminar back in the 1980s and ’90s. That endeavor comprised 150 academics and laypersons who met occasionally to debate the authenticity of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The group’s methodology for registering their individual opinions—i.e. depositing colored marbles in a box, each different color representing greater or lesser likelihood of authenticity—provided ample material for jokes and put-downs in the conservative circles where I moved at the time. Continue reading →
I am not a medical professional, but I assume that, if an individual shows up at the emergency room in excruciating pain from some sort of injury, the first order of business is to ease the pain so that the injured party can assist the attending physician in determining the cause and extent of the injury, thereby abetting treatment and eventual healing. The same procedure applies to pain inflicted through psychological and spiritual injury as well. Continue reading →
I am not the same person I was twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago. Neither are you, although for some of us, the differences are more stark, more startling, especially when they involve, as they do in my case, changes in fundamental beliefs arising from a change in many of the presuppositions that underlie my worldview. As I’ve written so often that it almost sounds cliché (at least to me), if you change your underlying presuppositions about life and reality, your belief structure is bound to change, and you will draw significantly different conclusions about priorities, meaning, and how you should live your life. Continue reading →
In a way, Hillbilly Elegy could not be a more appropriate place to begin this literary journey through Lent by way of fourteen titles that have recently moved me “a little farther down the path” on my personal pilgrimage as a follower of Christ. (For the significance of that imagery, see yesterday’s post on this blog.)
At every Ash Wednesday service, marking the beginning of the season of Lent, when ashes are “imposed” on the forehead of each worshiper, the officiant intones the words, “Remember that you are dust (or dirt), and to dust (or dirt) you will return.” There were times while I was reading the book that I really felt like dirt. Continue reading →
As someone wisely said, regarding the potential benefits from observing the season of Lent, “It’s not the deprivation, it’s the discipline.” (Oh wait, I think it was me, so it can’t be all that wise. Still, it is true.) The benefits of Lent don’t come from what we give up but, rather, from what we learn—about ourselves, about the world around us, about God and ultimate reality—through some sort of focused, intentional experience.
On the church-year calendar, Lent (from the Old English word for springtime) is the 40-day period, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter. It represents the forty days Jesus spent alone in the wilderness, following his baptism, during which he was “tempted by the devil” as part of his preparation for the ministry that lay ahead of him. Since Jesus fasted from food for the duration, his followers have traditionally deprived themselves of some commodity or activity as a way of identifying with Jesus and preparing for the observance of Passion Week and the celebration of Easter. Continue reading →
It would be hard to find someone more predisposed to the Christian religion than I am. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens, I was certain God had “called” me to devote my life to the service of the church and the gospel. That is what I have done. I have been ordained in three different denominations, and I have friends in virtually every major tradition of the church from the fundamentalist right to the progressive left.
I have looked at the church from almost every imaginable perspective. I’ve seen the best and the worst, things that make me proud and things that make me ashamed, things that make me smile broadly and things that make me weep uncontrollably. I’ve seen the church be a place where people experience joy and delight, and I’ve seen it cause intense pain and do grievous harm. Continue reading →
In his first address to the nation as president, following the resignation of Richard Nixon, who had been forced out of office by the Watergate scandal just ahead of likely impeachment, Gerald Ford opened with these words: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
I was a twenty-four-year-old fundamentalist pastor at the time, and like everybody I knew, I had voted for Nixon when he was elected to a second term in 1972. I had followed the Watergate hearings on TV, sort of, and I knew that all the “chattering class”—politicians and news analysts especially—regarded the matter as a constitutional crisis with the potential to destabilize our government, weaken our economy, and jeopardize our international influence. It would be years, however—after I managed to disentangle myself from that intellectually restrictive thought system—before I would understand just how serious the crisis really was and how much of a national nightmare it had really been. Continue reading →