Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Tota pulchra est"

I’ve been listening a lot to Maurine Duruflé’s Quatre Motets sur des Thèmes Grégoriens. This site discusses the short pieces: This site, in turn, discusses some of Duruflé’s life and career.

My daughter Emily performed with the Summit Choral Society for several years. The choir performed Duruflé’s Requiem on one occasion and Emily’s choir frequently performed the motet “Tota pulchra est” during their European tour in 2007. I remember a group of us assembling at the St. Nicholas Church in Prague at 2 PM to hear the choir, after we’d escaped our relentless Czech tour guide so we could dash away and find an ATM (since our Euros weren’t good in Prague) and a soda before the concert. And then what a blessed hour of sacred music by the choir as Americans and Czechs sat in the church together and listened!

Duruflé’s comparatively tiny body of works makes me wonder which is better: if you’re creative, should you produce a lot and, among your output, you have a few particularly wonderful works, or should you polish and polish what you’d done until it’s nearly perfect? The risk of purusing perfection is that you end up with nothing because you were never satisfied. But Duruflé’s compositions are well-respected in the repertoire.

Memories, based on experiences which you had no time to polish, don’t have to be "perfect" to be perfect, like the memory of us running around Old Town Prague and enjoying a lovely concert on a warm afternoon as our family and the others toured Europe.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not Funny but Interesting
The model Cameron Russell, who looks authoritatively at passersby from the huge photos at our mall's Ann Taylor store, has a blog called “Funny and Interesting.” In a couple magazines this week I found some reflections which, though not particularly funny, are very interesting! What do you think about some of these issues?

The Economist, an excellent source of reporting and commentary, has an article this week (January 23-29, 2010 issue, pp. 11-12) just called “Stop!” The piece is a reflection on the election of a Republican to Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat and considers the “growl of hostility to the rising power of the state.” In fact, the article notes that even in “historically statist” places like southern Europe and Scandinavia people are concerned about “the size and effectiveness of government.”

I sometimes moan at congressmen on the news who talk about frugal government, since both parties have driven up the national deficit in years past and we ought to be honest about it. As this article points out, “George Bush pushed up spending more than any president since Lyndon Johnson.” In Britain, the Labour government has also driven up spending.

Regulation is another challenge in the problem of increasing state power. In Europe, for instance, “Conservatives tend to blame the growing thicket of rules on unwanted supranational bodies, such as the European Union,” but voters also want regulation in the form of anti-terrorist security and other safeguards. I can think of analogies in recent American history.

“A further danger consists in equating ‘smaller’ with 'better’,” says the article's author. “As the horrors in Haiti demonstrate, countries need a state of a certain size to work at all; and more government can be good. The Economist, for instance, is relieved that politicians stepped in to bail out the banks, since the risks of tumbling into a depression were large.”

But “reinventing government” is not easy. “In 1978 another American state shocked the world by rejecting big government: California’s tax-cutting Proposition 13 paved the way for Reaganism, but direct democracy has ended up making the Golden State’s government worse.” Often the solution is in more efficiency rather than in cost-cutting: “Scandinavia’s schools are expensive, but they are by and large more efficient than their Anglo-Saxon peers. Much of France’s health care is paid for by the state but supplied by private hospitals.” Another solution may simply be government cost-cutting rather than “smaller government.” The conversation about the size and effectiveness of government is ongoing!

Another article that I found interesting was in Foreign Policy (Jan/Feb. 2010) which, in a sidebar (p. 63) compared different approaches to American foreign policy. Our role in the world is, after all, an additional component of the discussion of small vs. large government; Reagan, for instance, preached smaller government but also increased the military and challenged Gorbachev to initiate changes. The Foreign Policy piece describes several philosophies to mull, which I simply copy here---because it’s interesting!

Jeffersonians (J. Q. Adams, Dwight Eisenhower, George Kennan, William Fulbright) like “limiting overseas entanglements, prioritizing domestic reform, warning of ‘imperial overstretch’” and dislike “bloated military budgets, imposing American values abroad, close alliances with foreign regimes.”

Hamiltonians (Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Theodore Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush) like “economic frameworks for prosperity, G-20 summits, American power used to advance the national interest, opening foreign markets for American business, realism regarding U.S. goals and capabilities,” and dislike “expending resources on humanitarian missions, undue focus on the domestic politics of foreign allies, international human rights watchdogs.”

Wilsonians (Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Paul Wolfowitz, Christopher Hitchens) like “spreading democratic values as a prerequisite for international stability, the United Nations, human rights” and dislike “isolationism, alliances with unsavory regimes, making policy based on narrow economic interests, balance of power politics.”

Jacksonians (W.T. Sherman, George S. Patton, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin), like “muscular expansion of American power, unapologetic defense of U.S.” and dislike “international treaties, the United Nations, timidity, undue concern with human rights and other countries’ sovereignty.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

"The Best Church I Ever Attended!"

My family and I often watch the Food Network. There are plenty of specialty networks on TV; my daughter Emily loves the Home and Garden channel and its home repair shows. But the Food Network's programs are enjoyable because themes of food, kitchen, and eating are already so comfortable and comforting.

Sunday afternoon I watched “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” which features several Food Network stars--Giada DeLaurentiis, Guy Fieri, Marc Summers, Duff Goldman, and others--discussing their favorite foods. Today’s show concerned pizza, and each star took turns praising the benefits of memorable pizza places. Along with their comments, the stars visited the different locations and made fun of the pizza choices of the other stars.

I thought: what a funny variation would be “The Best Church I Ever Attended.” A group of churchgoers might take turns on camera and extol favorite services.

“My favorite church is St. Swithens’s in Westview Township. Fr. Ojciec preaches short homilies that ALWAYS have you something to think about for the week.”

“The best liturgical dance in Connecticut has to be at Nathaniel Taylor Presbyterian west of Derby. Those dancers got their groove on!!”

"Fr. Ojciec may preach good homilies but you HAVE to hear Pastor Ray Billy's messages down at Second Nondenominational. You can download them onto your iPod."

“I love Pastor Emmet at Fayette First Free Methodist because he always has a big smile on his face when he serves communion. That’s the way it ought to be, isn’t it: joy in the Lord!”

“I’ve never tasted a better breakfast than the men’s group serves once a month at Bethel. You ask for crispy bacon and you get it. Plus they serve coffee in real cups so you don't have to worry about your Styrofoam sitting in a landfill for 10,000 years.”

I'm being lighthearted, but I do have nice memories of visiting churches throughout my childhood and youth years. I was working toward perfect Sunday school attendance (I got my ten-year bar), and so on family vacations and weekend trips, my mother and I found congregations to visit on Sunday mornings. We didn't even stay with our own denomination but explored varieties of churches; we were ecumenical without knowing the word!

At the time, I did have some comparative memories, not necessarily theologically astute. THE PRETTIEST JUNIOR HIGH GIRLS were at the Gibson City, IL Christian Church. THE COOLEST YOUTH CLASS was at Nauvoo, IL United Methodist, where most of the kids came to church barefoot, and the youth pastor worked topics like sex into the discussion. (Wow! We never talked about sex at my church!) THE FUNNIEST CHILDREN’S PROGRAM was the time a group of little kids sang a song in praise of the Church of the Nazarene at a congregation of that denomination in Missouri. THE FRIENDLIEST CHURCH was a Baptist congregation in St. Louis (I don’t remember where) that we visited while in the city for a wedding.

I seldom visit other congregations until I’m church-shopping in a new community. That’s more of a process of critical judgment, though: what about this church seems like a good fit for me, what qualities of this church are “deal breakers,“ and so on. Visiting churches during vacations, with no such personal agenda, would be a fun habit to start, especially now that most congregations have more casual dress than during my childhood days. (It’s amazing to think that my mother packed “Sunday best” clothes for her and me for vacations.) After a few years of such visiting, what interesting and objectionable things would you experience at different congregations? What was the most annoying and the most meaningful aspects of the experience? What ideas from other churches might you take back to your home church?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Humility and a Common Purpose

As I drove to church this morning, something reminded me of a student I had in a seminary class, years ago. Apparently he had great success building his church’s membership roles and was quite busy with his congregation. What a wonderful thing! Consequently, though, he resented taking seminary courses to get his M.Div., since he felt he was more successful than most ordained pastors he knew, and his studies took time away from his flock. “Accountability, that’s what it’s all about,” he’d say. At the course’s end he (presumptuously) told me to be sure to turn in his grade right away.

“Accountability” is a good and crucial thing but, like many things, is potentially spoiled by human nature. Some folks, of course, are just strong-willed--whether they’re right or wrong, they’re just doing to get their way--and they may tack the word “accountability” upon their demands.

Accountability can give rise to double standards. My student, for instance: he basically thought, I’m successful and I think everyone else should work as diligently as I do, and therefore their standards of accountability shouldn’t apply to me (but other people should live up to my standards!). On the other hand, my wife and I sometimes chuckle about a professor we knew, who was disorganized and misplaced things but was strict and blameful about other people’s work--a different kind of double standard! All of us have known people who are temperamental to work for but who, through lack of effective communication and other ways, make it very difficult to please them.

I'd stopped my modest ruminations by the time I crossed the railroad tracks and drove up the road to church. At the early service, our pastor preached a good sermon called “The Dachshund Dilemma.” He started with a story/poem about a dachshund who was so long, his emotions took a while to travel to his tail, so his head was distressed about something but his tail still wagged with the joy of an earlier experience. Congregations can be like that, our pastor noted. We’re still pleased about earlier congregational successes but, in the meantime, social and economic realities have moved on and our parish faces new challenges.

He went on to talk about the need for congregations to be clear about their mission and purpose, but most of all to be united by a sense of common purpose and fellowship. I appreciated that point; congregations may be tempted to develop mission statements and program ministries before they have the love, mutual support, and fellowship that are essential for a common purpose. But to pick up the canine analogy again: the tail can't wag the dog.

Our pastor then told the story of an officer who parachuted into France following D-Day but, like many of those troops (as dramatized in "Saving Private Ryan"), landed far from the target and became separated and lost in the unfamiliar countryside. The officer wasn’t sure what to do except make his way alone through the darkness. But he eventually encountered another American soldier, a private--and in their relief in that dangerous situation, the two men hugged each other!

At that point I thought back to my earlier, daydreaming-en-route-to-church about accountability. The officer and the private served within a clear chain of command--and would likely never hug again--but in this situation their common purpose was poignantly demonstrated. Our common purpose as Christians is something we can celebrate (with or without hugs) each day: our salvation and sanctification in Christ and our mutual service as members of his body. Ideally, lines of accountability in our church structures should always be guided a good, humbling sense of interconnectedness and mutuality: as inadequate disciples, we rely upon God's unmerited favor (2 Cor. 12:10) and each other (Gal. 6:1-5).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"May I Never Boast of Anything Except ..."

I serve on the team of the curriculum "FaithLink" (, and recently a Facebook friend in Kansas asked if I'd contribute something to her church's Lenten devotional. As Curly used to say, "Coitainly!"

May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! (Gal. 6:14-15).

Hard words to live by! Our faith can become behavior-centered and focused upon requirements. At the Galatian church, the issue was circumcision; Jews had practiced it, but these Gentile Christians thought that they, too, should adopt that rite as a requirement for salvation. When I was young, I associated Christianity with “don’ts”: don’t play cards, don’t mow your lawn on Sundays, don’t swear, don’t drink, and so on. Christian faith can also seem like a list of accomplishments: I’ve been on this-many Emmaus walks, I tithe, do mission trips, serve on church committees, keep the Ten Commandments, and so on. Pastors, concerned about increased volunteerism and financial giving, can unintentionally encourage this behavior-centered kind of faith. The Lenten season also can become self-focused: I gave up chocolate (or whatever) for Lent, and now I feel very faithful.

Not that it’s a bad thing to be faithful, giving, and conscientious! In fact, faithful living is a big part of the “new creation” of which Paul speaks. But faithful living is no excuse for boasting about our supposed righteousness, because our achievements and personal righteousness don’t earn us a relationship with God, nor eternal life! Remember Jesus’ wonderful story in Luke 18:9-14: the blatant, hopeless-feeling sinner was embraced by God instead of the respectable, blameless person. The whole point of the Gospel is that God does for us that which we cannot do for ourselves, which is to love us undeservedly and to save and transform us.

How liberating to realize that God knows our imperfections and pretenses (Ps. 103:14) and loves of fervently. How wonderful to know that God meets each of us, not at some imagined place of greater saintliness years in the future, but at the place we are right now! That’s why Paul held to the unchanging cross of Christ and not to any human effort.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Antenna Topper Memories

Emily and I drove to the dentist office the other day. We happened to follow a car that had a pink pig antenna topper.

That made me think of the few years that my folks put a bright orange Styrofoam ball on our antenna because we had such trouble finding our car at a favorite shopping place. The place was the Sav-Mart on old U.S. 40 (Collinsville Road, a bit west of its intersection with Illinois 157). It was your basic “big store” in the early 1970s days before K-Marts and Wal-Marts become more common. Sav-Mart’s parking lot was packed on Saturday afternoons!

I think of this place with fondness because it was my primary source for LPs. Records listed for $5.98 back then but Sav-Mart’s price was $4.53. (Why do I remember this?) While Mom and Dad shopped elsewhere in the store, teenaged me checked out the selection: Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Cat Stevens, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, and so on. The store had an excellent variety of records. I always hoped that hyper-thrifty Dad wouldn’t become involved in my shopping, because he’d see bargain-bin records for $2 and sternly wonder why I didn’t buy those. After we’d shopped, the three of us went outside and tried to spot the tiny orange ball on the low horizon which would identify our car in the many rows of other cars.

During that time, Sav-Mart was the grand finale of our Saturday shopping trips. We’d go to downtown St. Louis’ Stix, Baer and Fuller and Famous Barr stores to shop in the morning and early afternoon. Then, as we headed east on I-70 toward our hometown, we’d get off at Exit 6 (Illinois 111), turn east on Collinsville Road. Along that road, we’d shop the Grandpa’s discount store and the Sav-Mart store, and sometimes even the Venture store. Grandpa’s was a good store, too. There I found Ray Manzarek’s 1973 LP “The Golden Scarab” and debated whether to purchase it.

One of my last memories of these shopping trips is sitting in our car at the fast food place across from Sav-Mart. (I can’t remember if it was Burger King or Burger Chef, the forerunner of Hardee’s). As I ate my cheeseburger, I looked at the Mahavishnu Orchestra LP that I’d just purchased, and wondered if it would be good. Usually I wasn’t very experimental with my LP acquisitions (I didn‘t buy Manzarek‘s excellent album, for instance, during that earlier trip), but in this case I’d read an article about John McLaughlin’s amazing guitar playing.

At about that same time, 1974 or so, an enclosed shopping mall, St. Clair Square, opened a few miles south on IL 159, and our shopping trips shifted there. I've love to know how long Sav-Mart lasted, although I vaguely remember that I passed by, years later, and it had become a liquor outlet. Who'd bother recording the history of a big box store?

Sometimes I get off at Exit 6 (or, if going the other direction, at Exit 11) and drive along the Collinsville Road. The Cahokia Mounds site is also along this route. Venture, Grandpa’s, and Sav-Mart are no longer open, though the buildings are still there and used for other purposes. It occurs to me that at least two economic processes were at work in my experiences: the business districts of small towns like mine (and downtown departments stores in large cities) could not compete over the long haul with discount stores, and eventually those stores could not compete with large enclosed malls. A third process would be the “flight” of the white and black middle-classes from communities such as those near the Sav-Mart.

A lot of everyday, 1970s memories from a pig antenna topper! Actually I thought of some of these memories a few weeks ago as I sorted my old LPs in order to donate several to an area book fair. Since I don’t play them anymore, I selected a few for their special memory value and relinquished the rest. (I’ve been through this process two or three times already during the past few years in the ongoing effort of managing our belongings.) I definitely saved a few that I remember, with reasonable certainty, that I purchased on one of these grand Stroble family shopping trips of "yesteryear."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

Referring to the recent earthquake in Haiti, Secretary of State Clinton described the disaster as “biblical.“ (See, for instance,, which also provides a terrible history of disasters in that country.) I admire Clinton and am not criticizing her use of the term, but the metaphor always intrigues me when used to refer large-scale disasters.

We all think of the Bible as “the good book” which guides us spiritually and morally. But whenever we use that metaphor "disasters of biblical proportions" we tacitly acknowledge the book’s strangeness as a record of mass death. In fact, a certain blogger tried to calculate how many people “God killed” in the Bible and came up with nearly 35 million people, estimating how many people died in Noah’s flood, various famines and “smitings,” and the first-born of Egypt
The blogger compares this to the comparatively modest death tolls in the Book of Mormon (fewer than 20,000) and the Qur’an (only four).

As I think about in a book project that I’m working on, the Bible has numerous troubling stories of mass deaths from plagues and floods and divine vengeance. While it’s true that some of these stories verify the stereotype of the biblical God as an inconsistent and hard-to-please “smiter,” to me, the Bible “keeps it real” by acknowledging that the strangeness and tragedy of life. The nature of God's presence in terrible events is hard to fathom; no one but a few misguided people would want to attribute events like the Haiti earthquake to God‘s punishment. But Bible does not sugarcoat the fact that life contains violence, horror, uncertainty, unease, and the disappointments that are part of real living, just as the Bible expresses honestly the questions, unease, and troubles of many of the psalmists.

I also think that the Bible’s stranger stories also point us in the direction of greater involvement in the world. I don’t mean that the stories of mass death and disaster connect us prophetically or typologically to Christ. I mean that, when we look at the biblical witness as a whole, God is not removed from suffering but is always present in the lives of his people, through good and terrible circumstances. The “problem of suffering” will always be theological painful because we cannot see the whole of life or the whole of God’s activity. But the Bible gives us assurance that God experiences human suffering and calls us to be no more aloof from suffering than is God himself.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Taking Down the Trees

My wife Beth did most of the holiday decorating in early December. We usually take everything down by the 6th, but since we were on a Florida vacation till the 8th, I‘m “un-decorating“ this week. The chore has been slowed considerably by my runny nose and sinus headache.

Beth’s first husband died of cancer when he was not quite 30. He liked to collect Christmas ornaments. The oldest we have is a Hallmark dated 1976, the year Beth and Jim were married. Later, Beth and I collected them, too. We’ve a 1984 ornament, for instance, that is Santa running with an Olympic torch. I remember we found it in a card store in Salem, Illinois during a weekend drive, the winter before our own wedding. Because our daughter Emily loves cats, our ornaments from the 90s and 00s have a consistent feline theme. We need two trees to hold all these ornaments. Plus, we’ve Christmas knickknacks all around the house.

I’ve been thinking how Christmas decorations enrich everyday life during December and early January. But eventually they have to be packed up. The happiness they had brought now seems ephemeral and--pun intended--ornamental, while their storage seems a huge, sad chore in preparation for a return to the “ol’ grind.” Maybe decorations are an empty source of happiness.

But then I think... I’m putting way too much meaning into this chore! You wouldn’t avoid taking a vacation just because you’re sad when the special time ends (as we were a few days ago as we flew back to subzero Missouri). Even if the decorations demand a lot of work at both ends of the season, Advent-Christmas is still a lovely renewing time with which to start the year.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Today was the first Sunday after Epiphany, commemorating the Baptism of the Lord. Our church had a wonderful service, at the end of which a little boy (five or six years old) was baptized. The pastor stood the boy on a pew so that the congregation could sing to him “Child of Blessing, Child of Promise.” The baptismal service tied in well with the sermon, wherein our pastor connected the love of God for Jesus (announced at Jesus’ baptism: "this is my beloved son") with God’s love for us through Christ, and our love for one another.

Years ago, on a trip to gain ideas for church ministries, I attended a service at a megachurch. The service featured a baptism, but the ceremony felt rushed. I sensed that the senior pastor hadn’t met the family and relied upon information from his assistants in order to know the child’s name. Perhaps baptism isn’t always handled that this in large churches, and perhaps I’m being unfair, but I felt like the baptism was inserted into a service that was otherwise aimed at keeping people celebrating and upbeat, the way you’d take a few minutes during a concert to discuss the acoustics.

What a impoverished approach to baptism, though! Baptism is literally a once in a lifetime event. It’s not even something people “do” for you, but a great thing God does. Baptism is a sign of God’s grace--his love for you that precedes your awareness of God.

Unfortunately, many people misunderstand baptism: they think that baptism is a christening service, or if you’re baptized as a baby but later have an experience of new or renewed faith, then maybe it’s good to be baptized again. But baptism isn’t something that you have to “recharge” later! You may have to “recharge” your faith in the sense of regaining a sense of God’s presence, but God’s love does not have to be reinvigorated.

Needless to say, there are all kinds of arguments about the way baptism should be done. I’ve a host of memories of now-deceased kinfolk with whom I associate this verse in Colossians:

…when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (2:12).

My relatives, who belonged to a denomination that practiced only adult baptism-by-immersion, insisted that this text proves the necessity for immersion. After all, when we’re buried, we’re not buried with a little dirt on our heads. We’re buried all the way under!

I disliked that argument but didn’t know why. I was relieved when a Methodist pastor pointed out that the thief on the cross was not baptized by any means and yet was promised salvation. I read a little further in Colossians and read this:

Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence (2:20b-23).

I wouldn’t call baptism a “human command.” But the author worries (in this and the whole section 2:8-23) that we need to hold to Christ alone and not upon any rituals and practices, important as some of them may be. Fulfilling religious requirements is never as important as opening our hearts to God's love and power(Gal. 5:16-26, 6:14-15). The megachurch service that I attended aimed at opening people’s hearts to God, but in a way that (I thought) missed the chance to teach people what the sacrament means in terms of God’s prevenient and justifying grace. My dear relatives, on the other hand, thought God would withhold his love until we used the appropriate amount of water. But that idea missed the free and undeserved quality of God's love that makes us, too, God's beloved.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round

Two and a half days in Disney World makes me think about the company’s marketing genius. The parks are all very service-oriented in order that people have an enjoyable experience and favorable impression. Disney products are all tied together: movies, toys, CDs, and so on. Clearly, Disney people do a lot of research, planning, and market research.

Years ago, between being called to church service and actually starting such work, I picked up a book about church growth, written by Robert Schuller. One of his major suggestions for congregational growth was … oversized parking lots, which not only accommodate people but communicates a sense of confidence. This church knows it’s going to grow!

I was annoyed by that, and still am. It’s true that land-locked churches with insufficient parking have a significant problem. On the other hand, I question any church-growth method that would work just as a method, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can certainly work through methods as the Spirit wills, and I don’t want to denigrate business-related techniques for reaching customers. But I do think some congregations emphasize positive-thinking strategies and marketing research for their success and consequently relegate prayer, the Holy Spirit, and God’s will to the status of important after-thoughts.

If I had to think of church in terms of marketing and products, I think a theologically appropriate image---more encompassing than a marketing strategy or of a business expanding its customer base---is that of a professional tour. When you’re on a tour bus (as my family and I were a couple summers ago in Europe), you’re on a common journey with people--and you all know what that journey is and are eager for the experience. You trust your driver and guide (an analogy would be your pastor) and you don’t get rid of your guide just because something s/he does annoys you! (It would be self-evidently absurd for a tour group to dismiss their guide, wait on the roadside for the company to send another, and later on another, and later on still another!)

Tour groups keep (and sustain) their guide. They also don’t get rid of other people on the tours. If you’re a group member, you definitely start to see each other’s worst characteristics as the trip progresses! And you’re all very different people, some quiet and observant, some loud, some haughty, some … smelly. Some people lead the group’s impromptu singing, others just read a book. But the sense of common purpose and the feeling of “we’re in this together” typifies the experience and encourages a spirit of mutuality. A group wouldn’t cast out a member so that s/he could shop around among other tour groups for a more congenial one!

All of this is very informal thinking. But I like to think of metaphors that encompass several aspects of church experience. What would be the common experience sought by church “tourists”? That would be expressed by Philippians 3:12-14: Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Reading on Vacation

We’re on vacation in Florida. Why do I always take a lot of books and writing projects when I don’t spend a lot of vacation time reading and writing? Partly the prospect of leisure time, which then becomes filled with other kinds of activities. (I like this Aldous Huxley quote: "All tourists cherish an illusion. They imagine that they will find time, in the course of their travels to do a lot of reading...They start for a fortnight's tour in France, taking with them The Critique of Pure Reason, Appearance and Reality, the complete works of Dante and the Golden Bough. They come home to make the discovery that they have read something less than half a chapter of the Golden Bough and the first fifty-two lines of the Inferno.") Also: Beth and I were stranded with car trouble for two days near Pittsburgh, way back in 1987, and ever since then, having books on a trip seems essential.

On this vacation I’m enjoying a short book by the poet Mark Doty, Still Life with Oysters and Lemons (Beacon Books, 2001). The title is a Dutch Renaissance painting. While meditating on this and other paintings, he reflects on places and objects in his own life as he recalls his former wife and her family, his partner Wally who died, and his partner Paul.

That made me think: What would be an artistic theme that could organize your life? A style of painting or music? A particular work of art? Even mysteries you love?