Classic and contemporary excerpts

Enthusiastic Substitutions

Historians of American higher education note that in the last third of the nineteenth century two things happened when colleges introduced intercollegiate sports. One was a marked decline in religious revivals on campuses; the other was a similar reduction in random student rioting. Enthusiasm for sports seems to have replaced both an enthusiasm for God and an enthusiasm for bashing other people around. Not an ideal trade-off, but it has its points.

—Mark A. Noll, The Reformed Journal (Jan. 1986)

But The Greatest Of These …

An Eastern mystic was quoted as saying: “Love one another; be kind to one another. And if you can’t do either, at least do no harm.” Simple. Of course. If it were complex, we could hide behind its complexity and claim inability to live that way because we “just don’t understand.” But because it’s so simple and clear, we ignore it.

—Richard A. Wing, Meditations for the Middle of the Night

Doing Theology

I propose that theologians write theology from the standpoint of the mother in Bombay (or Pittsburgh) whose child has just starved to death. She would not be theology’s primary reader, and her situation would not provide theology’s subject matter. Her rage and grief would provide its angle of vision. From there let the theologian write about God, Jesus Christ, revelation, holy history, new pluralism, living word, love, loving plan, righteousness, church, justice, liberation, the sacraments, self-transcending authenticity, religious experience, possibilities for existence, the Christian triumph over evil, and the resurrection. A theology written from that standpoint would have ceased being a problem to itself.

—John B. Fry, The Great Apostolic Blunder Machine

Real Learning

Education is a bringing out of what is there and giving it the power of expression, not packing in what does not belong; and spiritual education means learning how to give expression to the Divine life that is in us when we are born from above.

—Oswald Chambers, The Place of Help

Jeweled Portals Of Another World

Parables are tiny lumps of coal squeezed into diamonds, condensed metaphors that catch the rays of something ultimate and glint it at our lives. Parables are not illustrations; they do not support, elaborate or simplify a more basic idea. They are not ideas at all, nor can they ever be reduced to theological statements.

They are the jeweled portals of another world; we cannot see through them like windows, but through their surfaces are refracted lights that would otherwise blind us—or pass unseen.

—Walter Wink, The Christian Century (Nov. 5, 1980)

Our “Learned” Culture

I am a television news anchor—role model for Miss America contestants and tens of thousands of university students in search of a degree without an education.

—Ted Koppel, on receiving the “Broadcaster of the Year” award, Harper’s (Jan. 1986)

The Magical Liquid Of Forgiveness

Opaquing fluid is the magical liquid that covers over your errors, your typos, your unfrotunae slpi-ups. You brush on the liquid and start all over again—hopefully this time with no unfortunate slip-ups. Opaquing fluid is forgiveness, an obliteration of a goof with no telltale traces that the goof happened at all. Now, where else will you come across forgiveness like that?

—John V. Chervokas, How to Keep God Alive from 9 to 5

Pray And Post Guard

After their long and weary exile in Babylon the people of Israel were set free to return to their own land. Spurred on by Nehemiah, they began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This aroused the hostility of the pagans around them, who threatened to undo their work. The people of Israel took two essential steps: they prayed to God, and they posted a guard day and night.

Even as they prayed for God’s protection and help, they did what they could. They knew that prayer is not a way to avoid responsibility, it is not a shortcut to success without effort.

—Ron Klug, Bible Readings on Prayer

Bread Of Life

Some days test our sense of humor.

A bread loaf … used to stand on the Communion table.… It had been kneaded from real flour and baked with a mom’s loving touch in a red-hot oven, only to be laquered into permanent staleness to preside for more than a decade over many a celebration of the Eucharist.

One day, without warning, it vanished, … to be replaced by wheat spikes in a vase—hardly what we usually think of as the bread of life.

The bread loaf, it seems, was a casualty of an over-conscientious visiting preacher. In the middle of a Communion service, according to reliable sources, the preacher mistakenly took the mummified bread with both hands, blessed it in the ancient tradition.… Yielding to two hundred pounds of preacher, the crisp shell vaporized with a thunderous explosion before the startled solemn assembly.

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, I think of God’s words to Ezekiel: “Son of man, you are to tremble as you eat your bread.”

—James Allen Sparks, If This Pew Could Talk!

Atheism And Piracy

If I am an atheist in my heart, making myself sovereign in place of God, and therefore arranging things in accordance with my appetites and needs and fantasies, I become a pirate in society. I relentlessly look for ways in which I can get what is there for my own uses with no regard for what anyone else gets. If I am an atheist in my heart, it is not long before I have become a cancer in the gut of the country.

—Eugene Peterson, Earth and Altar

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