A little church on Sunday morning is a negligible thing. It may be the meekest, and least conspicuous, thing in America. Someone zipping between Baltimore's airport and beltway might pass this one, a little stone church drowsing like a hen at the corner of Maple and Camp Meade Road. At dawn all is silent, except for the click every thirty seconds as the oblivious traffic light rotates through its cycle. The building's bell tower out of proportion, too large and squat and short to match. Other than that, there's nothing much to catch the eye.
In a few hours heaven will strike earth like lightning on this spot. The worshipers in this little building will be swept into a divine worship that proceeds eternally, grand with seraphim and incense and God enthroned, "high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple" (Isaiah 6:1). The foundations of that temple shake with the voice of angels calling "Holy" to each other, and we will be there, lifting fallible voices in the refrain, an outpost of eternity.
If this is true, it is the most astonishing thing that will happen in our city today.
Entries in Christian Life (160)
[Christianity Today, May 24, 1999]
Next time you're in church, count the number of adult heads and divide by the number of pairs of pantyhose. If the pantyhose contingent makes up more than half the total, there's a word for your church: typical.
"Every sociologist, and indeed every observer, who has looked at the question has found that women are more religious than men," writes Leon Podles in his book, "The Church Impotent." (Ouch; the stentorian title makes me wince. Once inside, however, it's reasonable and well-written.) Podles cites a deluge of statistics: in 1986 church growth expert Lyle Schaller observed 60% female to 40% male churchgoers, a split which has widened since. Jesuit theologian Patrick Arnold says he's found a female-to-male ratio ranging from 2:1 to 7:1, and "some liberal Presbyterian or Methodist congregations are practically bereft of men." Even in churches that have an all-male ordained leadership, the inner circle of laity that actually runs things is likely to be mostly female.
[Christianity Today, March 1, 1999]
A few decades ago a small paperback appeared titled "Tortured for Christ," by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. In it Wurmbrand described his experiences of persecution behind the Iron Curtain. He pled with Americans to remember Russian believers suffering for their faith, invisible behind the fog of disinformation.
[Christianity Today, January 11, 1999]
When I was first approached about becoming a member of the Spice Girls, I was a little taken aback. My impression was that this troupe of British singers was salacious and provocative, one more example of the debasing of our culture.
"I'm embarassed to admit it, Mom," my 21-year-old daughter confessed, "but I actually liked the movie. It's harmless--a teenybopper thing, like for preteen girls. It's singing Barbies, and there's nothing dirty about it. It has that nutty English humor, kind of like the Beatles' Help!, so I actually ended up really enjoying it--I even watched it twice."
[Christianity Today, September 7, 1998]
I flipped back the corners of the rugs, one after another. It was a clammy, rainy day, and these hand-knotted wool specimens from Iran, Pakistan, India, and China were giving off a fresh-from-the-sheep smell. I didn't know what I was doing; I'd never shopped for a rug before. But the one thing that struck me as I gazed at one gorgeous carpet after another was that they looked too perfect.
Then I peeled back one more layer and saw a rug that won my heart.
[Utne Reader, August 1998]
One of the best pieces of spiritual advice I ever received was one I fortunately gained early, while still in college. It was that I should give up the project of assembling my own private faith out of the greatest hits of the ages. I encountered this idea while reading Ramakrishna, the nineteenth century Hindu mystic. He taught that it was important to respect the integrity of each great path, and said that, for example, when he wanted to explore Christianity he would take down his images of the Great Mother and substitute images of Jesus and Mary.
[Orthodox Christian Mission Center, Summer 1998]
How can we transfigure the world?
The world presents itself to us damaged, restless, wronged and wronging, bent of heart and broken of spirit. We present ourselves, come to be its healers, and we are bent and broken as well. How can we transfigure the world? An old Western prayer of confession says, "There is no health in us."
[First Things, May 1998]
Last spring saw a free-for-all break out in the evangelical Protestant camp over a proposed new "inclusive language" translation of the New International Version Bible. While World magazine, which sounded the alarm, was scolded for joining battle in hysterical and sarcastic tones, the translators were compelled to explain in what sense it was "accurate" to render masculine terms neuter, singulars plural, or produce grammatical whimsies like "everyone...they."
[Unpublished; Spring 1998]
“The more I think about it, the more it bothers me,” my husband said. He had spent the morning with our teenaged son playing paintball, a first-time experience for both of them. This sophisticated version of “capture the flag” pits two teams against each other, each armed with modified guns that shoot a non-staining liquid. Anyone “killed” must retire from the game. My husband’s concern was that the game was too realistic. It’s the closest thing imaginable to actually killing people, he said.
“I support the military, and I understand their need to prepare,” he went on. “There’s a reason for soldiers to play war games. But I’m not sure its right for civilians to do it, just as a form of entertainment. You shoot someone, see liquid explode on his body—it’s not the sort of thing a Christian should enjoy.”
[Christianity Today, April 6, 1998]
On the old "Bob Newhart Show," the one that cast Bob as a psychiatrist, one recurrent character carried meekness to a fault. He was a failure as a door-to-door salesman because he feared knocking on people's doors might disturb them. So he'd wait on the doorstep, hoping they'd happen to open the door.