Walking Thoughts (Page 2)

My own book, Before Nature:  A Christian Spirituality, is about – nature.  But not just nature.  It’s also a narrative of my own struggle to believe.  In Before Nature, I regularly refer to “the fragile faith” that I’m recommending.  For me, nothing’s certain in the world of faith.  I point to Martin Luther’s image of the believer as one who, while blindfolded, takes the hand of a guide, in order to cross a high and narrow bridge. In this respect, I have lately found a soul-mate in Christian Wiman, as he gives an account of his own fragile faith in his scintillating and sometimes painfully narrated testament, My Bright Abyss:  Meditations of a Modern Believer (New York:  Farar, Straus and Giroux, 2013). The struggle to believe that I narrate in Before Nature, however, is the struggle of a “once born soul” (William James).  Hard pressed by what I understand toRead More →

During my brief visit to Australia in 2015, I had occasion to walk through the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney, a gift in 1988 to that city from the citizens of Guangzhou in southern China. I know very little about Chinese or Japanese gardens, but they have always fascinated me. Is it true that for the former Lush is More, while for the latter Less is More? Am I right in thinking that this distinction, if it is apt, further reveals the influence of Taoism and Zen Buddhism respectively? Be that as it may, the Chinese garden in Sydney left me with the impression of overflowing fecundity. But it was not the kind of wild profusion that Americans might anticipate. Nature did not take over here, as, for example, it tends to do in Frank Lloyd Wright’s captivating rural Pennsylvania home, Fallingwater, nestled deeply in a forest, precariously builtRead More →

The text that follows comes from a sermon preached at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Roxbury, MA, January 11, 2015, The Baptism of Our Lord This is my Bible text today, from the Gospel, Mark 1:9-11: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And this is my theme: Floods, Ferguson, and Fellowship. I. First: floods. When I was a teenager, growing up in Buffalo, New York, during the hottest days of summer, my friends and I would sometimes jump in someone’s car and drive over to the Niagara River to go for a swim. We’d go swimming farRead More →

It must have been Garrison Keillor who observed that at the gates of heaven the Jews will carry a shofar, the Catholics a crucifix, and the Lutherans a bowl of Jello. I saw signs of that Lutheran sensibility on the streets of Manhattan on Sunday, September 21, 2014, during the Peoples Climate March. But I celebrate that sensibility. Just about every group that I saw carried its own sign or banner or flag, announcing its identity and its presence and promoting its own commitment to this good cause: the Hare Krishnas, the Unitarians, the Service Employees International Union, 350.org, the Sierra Club, the Hindus, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, St. John’s Sunday School, Harlem, and many more. We Lutherans carried three by two foot green signs, with “Climate Justice: For All of God’s Creation” in large letters. In tiny print, I mean really tiny print, down inRead More →

Why is this the most frequently recorded of all Bach’s cantatas? Its beauty, no doubt. My wife, Laurel, and I surely were overwhelmed by this gentle but powerful song of faith – this is one of the few Bach cantatas that does not have a chorus — played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, on a dark and rainy October afternoon. We joked about the words of the cantata afterwards, on our way to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. Ich habe genug! That doesn’t mean, “I’ve had enough,” I reminded her. No, Bach speaks in the present tense. “I have enough.” Contrast my own response to many of the trends of our society these days. More than once, in recent years, I have had the impulse to say “I’ve had enough.” I read the papers each day not because I want to, but as a habit or a discipline. There’s Ebola inRead More →

Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16 In the liberal state of Massachusetts, a woman phoned into a radio talk show to ask that state’s governor a question:  “Why do we have to spend our money to take care of somebody else’s children?”  She was referring to the governor’s announced intention to provide a temporary, but safe place for some of the thousands of children who had been crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, in order to escape the constant violence of countries like Honduras. Hers was a representative voice. Many Americans, some card-carrying Christians among them, are likewise distressed by the flood of immigrants crossing into the U.S. from the south.  Thankfully, church leaders of all stripes are standing up to speak in behalf of those children.  Whose voices will carry the day? This is a kairos moment for Americans in general and for American Christians in particular. Read More →

Every late fall, I rake the forest path. It usually takes me a couple of days. I began to carve out that path at the edges of the rugged, wooded hill behind our old farm house in rural, southwestern Maine some forty years ago. I love to saunter up and down and around that path whenever I can, to let my mind wander, to contemplate the larger things of life, and to encounter surprises along the way, a huge, fallen branch from a hundred-year old white pine, a pristine rhododendron blossom, the telltale knocking of an unseen woodpecker, the mysterious footprints of a moose. For me, this walk is a way of loving nature. But I couldn’t do the walking without the raking. In the fall that path totally disappears underneath a thick layer of oak and beech leaves. When that happens, even I sometimes have trouble following the path.Read More →

I saw a photo in a Maine newspaper of a cyclist riding along, wearing a yellow T-Shirt. Inscribed on the back: “Give me three feet please.” I empathize. Boston has painted cycle lanes on many streets. I have noticed that the space of those cyclists isn’t always respected. Give them three feet, please. On the other hand, I frequently find myself on the other side of things, not as a driver, but as a pedestrian. I would like to wear a T-shirt on my walks along the Charles River that states: “Ring your bell please.” This has been my experience. I am walking along the joint-cyclist/pedestrian pathway by the river. I am walking on the right. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a cyclist silently whizzes by, a couple of feet to my left. I had no idea that such a cycling whirlwind had been approaching me, until it passed meRead More →

I walked over to Harvard the last day of April from my nearby residence, to lend my tired voice to the students and faculty and alums who had gathered there in the Yard to protest the University’s failure to divest itself of its holdings in oil. Been there, done that, it felt, hundreds of times. But it was worth the walk. It was a cold spring morning. As I stood there – perhaps the oldest alum in that gathering of about two-hundred souls – feeling that chill to my bones, I carried a sign that a student had given me, “The Temp is Going Up!” The first speaker, a writer for The Nation and an alumnus, reveled in his anger against Harvard and its President, Drew Faust, as well he should have. Make no mistake about it, he yelled into his hand mike, those who are already suffering the mostRead More →

I haven’t heard “Boston strong” mentioned once in my – mostly African-American – church in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.  While the whole Boston area, and by news accounts apparently the whole nation, was fixated on the running of the Boston Marathon this year, and proud, to all appearances, of the resiliency of the people of Boston, coming back so “strong” after last year’s bombings at the end of the marathon, it was as if the thing had never happened, as far as my church was concerned.  On any given Sunday, we typically pray about everything, but nary a prayer about “Boston strong” the Sunday before the Marathon. I did read one article in the Boston Globe at the time of the Marathon that referred to the scores of African-Americans killed each month in street violence in Boston.  Why no uproar about that?, the article asked.  But for the most part, byRead More →

The plumber called today, early. Thankfully, I thought, as I turned over in bed to grab the phone and rubbed my eyes in the morning twilight. I’d been eagerly awaiting that call, since our toilet – our only toilet – had been nearly stopped up for a couple of days. Longer than that actually, since I – whose grandfather and two of his sons had been plumbers by trade – fancied myself to be a kind of down-home expert on toilets; and I had been using my own five-foot long plumber’s snake off and on, for months, to clear blockages. But to no avail. It was time. Even I have limits, when it comes to plumbing. Hence the plumber’s call, rousing me from my peaceful slumber. I knew the guy. I’d called on him before, in the aftermath of other – failed – efforts of mine with the house’s plumbing.Read More →

How can a synod, diocess, district or other church judicatory launch a “green church” initiative? One Lutheran bishop, John Schleicher, is leading the way in his own synod, with help from Dr. Santmire. This video was produced by Bishop Schleicher to tell the story of a synod leadership retreat that he hopes will inspire his entire synod to be green. If you would like to schedule a workshop or seminar to help your church “go green,” please contact Dr. Santmire. Santmire Luncheon m4v mpeg4 online sd from MassBible on Vimeo.Read More →

Scything up here in the Maine foothills of the White Mountains of New Hampshire is indeed a wonderful exercise. The exercise itself, to begin with, is good, of course. But there are other benefits. Scything keeps our large field from turning into a forest. Scything also can and typically does produce many piles of “green manure,” as we call it, which a year or two later I dig into our veggie garden. Then there’s all the time I invest standing there, catching my breath, and contemplating the mountains to the West, which were especially beautiful on this crisp, fall-like day toward dusk. There are liabilities, to be sure, like the time when I sliced through the hive of some paper wasps, hidden in the tall grass, dozens of which landed on my legs, which is particularly bothersome to me, since I am allergic to insect stings (I lived). The liabilityRead More →

This was a blockbuster exhibit that was one of the art world’s best kept secrets. Boston College hosted what may well have been a once-in-a-lifetime retrospective of works by Georges Rouault, August 30 to December 7, 2008. Did anyone notice? Did anyone care? Fifty years ago Rouault was celebrated as one of the great artists of his age. When an exhibit of his works appeared at the Museum of Modern Art, the philosopher Jacques Maritain wrote from Princeton, words highlighted by the art critic Leo J. O’Donovan in a superb essay in Commonweal (October 10, 2008), that Rouault’s Apresent glory is the purest glory a great painter has ever known in his lifetime. Rouault was an important figure in my own spiritual development. As an undergraduate at Harvard College in the nineteen-fifties I was introduced to his images of clowns and of the Christ figure at University Lutheran Church, Cambridge.Read More →