Walking Thoughts

sanctuary of a church, grey, brown wood pews

A Talk Given November 7, 2020, University Lutheran Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts – All Saints      It’s always a delight for me to stand in this pulpit. I stand here today, as a former pastor of this congregation, to thank you all – all you saints – for your longstanding commitment to the mission of this congregation and for your ministry, in particular, to me, over the course of many years.        I also stand here with this pitch: to encourage you saints to keep supporting this congregation financially as generously as you possibly can.        This is my theme: Thank you, UniLu.      Vignette number one. When I lived in Harvard’s Lowell House in the late fifties, I was in the occasional habit of dragging myself a block and a half down Winthrop Street to the Sunday liturgy here; and then getting out ofRead More →

Of course my wife, Laurel, and I had to see the much-heralded exhibit at Boston’s Gardner Museum in the fall of 2021, “Titian – Women, Myth, and Power.”  For the first time in 500 years (!!), this preeminent Renaissance artist’s series of six monumental paintings of mythological themes from classical antiquity had all been gathered in the same room.  This was the exhibit’s only showing in the U.S., along with stops in London and Madrid.  I came home thinking about how to construct the following footnote.        Titian created these grand paintings between 1551 and 1562 for King Philip II of Spain.  All of them featured fulsome naked women, with titles like “The Rape of Europa” and “Venus and Adonis.”  Especially in Boston, where two confident women were at that very time competing for the office of mayor, this exhibit had to be about – women and power. Read More →

I have lately donated most of my ecotheology books to a theological library in England. I am pleased that these books have now found a new and more permanent home. Call this the pedagogy of fourteen boxes. Let me explain. When I published my first book in 1970, Brother Earth: Nature, God, and Ecology in a Time of Crisis, ecological theology was not yet recognized as a bona fide scholarly field. Indeed, I and a few others who worked with such themes in that era had to expend much effort even to be heard. Most professional theologians in those days had other interests: most of them focused on the theology of God and humanity, in one form or another. The thought that theology needed to be concerned with God and humanity and nature had not crossed many theologians’ minds back then. That era of the birth pangs of ecological theologyRead More →

As the Covid pandemic was upon us all, on the first Sunday in Advent, 2020, University Lutheran Church in Cambridge, MA began to offer a Zoom Eucharist. A what?  Martin Luther must have groaned in his grave.  But, mirabile dictu, it worked (to use one of my more sophisticated theological expressions).  An emergency solution somehow became the real thing. Picture this:  my wife, Laurel, and me sitting alone in our living room on a Sunday morning, with a computer in front of us on our living room table and, next to the computer, a lovely blue clay chalice and paten (plate), from my collection of twenty-two. I had filled the blue chalice with table wine from the gallon jug in our kitchen and Laurel had placed a small loaf of homemade bread on the paten. We had printed out the bulletin for the Liturgy. We were ready. Now for the familiar, pre-CovidRead More →

For me, April 22, 2020 was not just the celebration of the first Earth Day fifty years ago, it also was a more parochial time to begin some ruminating. I published my first book in ecological theology the same year as the first Earth Day – Brother Earth: Nature, God, and Ecology in a Time of Crisis (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1970). Fifty years ago! In those days, mine was one of a very few voices addressing ecological issues theologically. I had to struggle even to come up with a title for the book. My first impulse had been to think in terms of “Mother Earth.” But in those days many Christians – who were then as now my target audience – were highly suspicious of anything that sounded like “paganism” or “nature religion.” Those were the days, too, when numerous American Christian thinkers were, following the great Karl Barth,Read More →

The construct ecological spirituality and terms like that have by now become familiar to many, Christians and others, who are seeking to respond to our global ecojustice crisis from religious perspectives.1 Perhaps the most widely celebrated theological voice in this respect is Pope Francis’, who in his encyclical Laudato Si’ has championed the importance of an ecological spirituality for all, for Christians especially, in this era of global emergency, as the beautiful prayer with which he concludes that encyclical powerfully shows.2 But how is such an ecological spirituality to be claimed more generally by members of our churches today? In recent years I have become more and more convinced that narratives of personal experience, fragmentary as they typically are, have a role to play in helping church members today to develop ecological spiritualities of their own, alongside of more discursive theological studies and confessional statements such as Laudato Si’. ItRead More →

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly….” (Luke 1:46, 32) One of my favorite sayings comes from an improbable source, the Freudian philosophical critic of the 1960’s, Norman O. Brown: “Doing nothing is the supreme action.” This is the perfect thought for Christmas 2018 in the United States of America, I believe. Let me explain. The irony of American history today is this. The swamp in Washington, D.C. must be drained: but it must be drained of the very people who gave that expression its currency. In a time of global climate crisis, we are now stalled in a national political quagmire that seems to be worsening every day, due to a know-nothing corruption of the American political mind. Item: to champion the use of more coal, as the powersRead More →

An audio recording of a sermon on the Cosmic Christ, “Who Then Is This?,” preached at University Lutheran Church, Cambridge, MA, June 24, 2018, predicated on the story of Jesus “stilling the waters” in the Gospel of Mark 4:35-41. Addressed to an academic audience, the sermon draws on Martin Luther’s teaching that all things in nature are miraculous.Read More →

Pianist Jeremy Denk came to Boston recently to play Charles Ives. My wife and I have been following Jeremy for years. Never mind his international stature, his MacArthur Genius Award and the Avery Fisher Prize and many other professional achievements, he happens to be the uncle of two of our grandchildren. But apart from a few family gatherings, we know him best as an eminent musician and spectacular performer. In Boston, this time around, Jeremy was at the top of his game. His performances are rarely, if ever, just performances. They are events. Jeremy engages his audiences with his wit, his charm, and his own passionate love for the music he is presenting. That’s it – presenting. Not just performing. He is present, powerfully. And he carries his music, like a server at some elegant restaurant arriving at your table with your entrée on a tray. He carries the musicRead More →

“A shoot shall come forth from the stump of Jesse…” (Is. 11:1) In front of our old farmhouse in southwestern Maine, I witnessed a sign from heaven this past summer. Several years ago, we called in a tree-man to cut down – sadly – a grand old maple, which we’d treasured for decades. One of its three huge trunks appeared then to be threatening our kitchen. It could have come crashing down on us during some ferocious mountain windstorm. So we had the whole tree removed. That was then. Sometime this past spring, a single gold and brown gallardia took root in the middle of that large maple’s stump. That gorgeous flower, maybe two feet tall, flourished all by itself from July through the first fall frosts. This wasn’t exactly a shoot from the stump of Jesse. But, for me, it was something like that. I contemplated that astounding flowerRead More →

I’m writing to friends and family and other contacts to share one side of the story about one of our presidential candidates, which may not be familiar to many, at least in the terms that I know them.  A hundred years ago, I worked closely with a bright young Methodist student at Wellesley College, where I was serving as a teacher and Chaplain, one Hillary Rodham.  She was then, and, I believe, still is a person of deep moral passion, notwithstanding press caricatures of her that have appeared in recent years with predictable regularity. Hillary came to Wellesley as an enthusiastic “Goldwater Girl.”  Hers was a dedicated voice of the Midwestern Right.  Then she took the (at that time) required sophomore Bible course, and it changed her life.  She was especially fond of Amos, texts such as 5:24, “Let justice roll down like waters.”  And she did not just talkRead More →

Late in the fall, my wife and I typically shut down our old Maine farmhouse in the eastern foothills of the White Mountains.  We’re not skiers, but even if we were it would be folly for us to keep water in the pipes of our porous 19th century house during the bitter winter months.  We once rented out the place for the winter, and the pipes froze all the time, even with the furnace on and the wood stove blazing.  Still, two or three times during the winter months we do travel up to that frigid house for a couple of days.  Sometimes I wonder why. It’s all the more puzzling when I reflect about what we have to do in order to travel there and what we have to do while we’re there, simply to maintain ourselves.  Our Prius barely handles the up and down rural roads, covered asRead More →

Unveiled at Crossroads on the Charles,Ninth Floor, Watertown, MA, January 9, 2016 In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was without form and void. And God said, Let there be light. And God saw the light, that it was good. And God divided the waters into those below and those above. And God made two great lights; the greater to preside over the day, the lesser to preside over the night. God made the stars also. And God said, Let there be life to bring forth grass, the herb-yielding seed, and the fruit trees that yield fruit after its kind. And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life and the fowl that may fly above the earth in the open heaven. And there arose great whales and every living creature that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly, afterRead More →

Prepared for Lutherans Restoring Creation Commentary (lutheransrestoringcreation.org) Lectionary Series B 2014-2015 September 27, October 4, October 11 A series honoring St. Francis of Assisi Note: Sunday, October 4, 2015 is the Festival of St. Francis. This series affords the preacher an opportunity to address the texts of the three successive Sundays with St. Francis in mind. Themes: Sept. 27, “St. Francis: Prophet of God,” Oct. 4, “St. Francis: Child of God,” Oct. 11, “St. Francis: Man of Wealth.” Resources: — Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html. The text of the 2015 papal encyclical. — Eloi LeClerc, The Canticle of Creatures – Symbols of Union: An Analysis of St. Francis of Assisi, tr. Matthew J. O’Connell (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1970). A study of Francis, focusing on his famous Canticle. — H. Paul Santmire, “The Life and Significance of Francis of Assisi,” in The Travail of Nature: the Ambiguous Ecological Promise ofRead More →

They asked me what I thought.  An academic and church consortium brought me to lovely Adelaide in southern Australia in March of 2015 to present a paper on ecotheology and spirituality.  That I did (the paper will be published in due course).  Along the way they also asked each of the conferees to take some quiet time to reflect about his or her own spirituality of nature.  Have I thought about anything else the last sixty years?  But I did what I was told. I found the time for my own reflection when all the other conferees were off visiting wineries in that, one of Australia’s richest wine-producing regions.  I absented myself from that trip, spoilsport that I was, since, following my simple, if not simple-minded, practice of many years, I had “given up” imbibing any kind of alcohol during Lent.  It would have been boring for me, and allRead More →