Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Preachers, take heart!

On NPR today, I heard an interview with the young writer and former reporter Tom Rachman. His (partly) comical novel about journalists, The Imperfectionists, received rave reviews and is now out in paperback. He came across in the interview as charming, rueful, insightful, and humane. I'd like to read his book. For now, though, I'm highlighting something he said. Much of the discussion was about print versus the impact of the Internet. He expressed confidence in the future of print, but his most important emphasis was on storytelling and its communal function (the usual image of the storyteller and the campfire).

He said (I think this is an exact quote), "Everybody loves a good story, and everybody loves great characters."

What is the Bible if not The Greatest Story Ever Told, with some of the greatest characters ever?

The challenge, of course, is for sermons to be The Story, not just anecdotes from the preacher's personal collection. It's relatively easy if the text is one of the stories from the Gospels, only a little more difficult in the case of the stories from the Old Testament, and much harder if it's Paul or the other non-narrative portions of Scripture. I still swear by what I was taught 35 years ago: no matter what the Biblical text, the sermon is still The Story.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Muslims protect Anglican cathedral

According to this article in Church Times, the protesters in Egypt have behaved in an exemplary way toward the Christians in Egypt:

I was extremely disappointed to attend church today and hear no prayers for the future of Egypt, no mention of the revolution, no thanksgiving for the courageous young people.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Discerning God's work in the Egyptian revolution

After many, many hours of reading, listening to various panels and interviews on CNN, NPR and especially to Fareed Zakaria--who strikes me as an exceptional analyst--I have gleaned a few things.

Lest I be thought naive I recommend the anything-but-naive Thomas L. Friedman's column today, "Speakers' Corner on the Nile." He says that in 40 years of writing about the Middle East he has never seen anything like Tahrir Square.

Friedman quotes an Egyptian professor who said that there was an old proverb:
"The Nile can bend and turn, but what is impossible is that it would ever dry up."
The professor, Mamoun Fandy, continued: "The same is true of the river of freedom that is loose here now. Maybe you can bend it for a while, or turn it, but it is not going to dry up."

Other postings of note:

The Facebook page called "We are all Khaled Said" has more than 473,000 members and has been a galvanizing influence for the movement. Khaled Said was beaten to death by the police because he had evidence of police corruption. The man who set up the Facebook page, Wael Ghonim, a Google employee, was abducted and kept blindfolded for 12 days straight but now, released, has achieved world fame via a television interview in which he, described by one observer as "both humble and fearless," describes his ordeal. "Please do not make me a hero...The heroes were the ones on the street... God willing, we will change our country."

Perhaps most electrifying is the widely disseminated testimony in the Sunday New York Times Week in Review which tells how two NYT reporters, a man and a woman (Souad Mekhennet and Nicholas Kunish), were held in a bleak, cold, flourescent-lit cell with no ability to communicate with anyone and no knowledge of what would would happen to them. "Captivity was terrible...But the worst part was...seeing--and in particular hearing through the walls of this dreadful facility--the abuse of Egyptians at the hands of their own government."

Reflect that the CIA has made use of Egyptian torturers many times through the "extraordinary rendition" program. Reflect that we continue to call ourselves the world's greatest force for democracy. Our government is so deeply enmeshed in the world's networks of corruption and brutality that we should perhaps emulate Wael Ghonim's humility. As for his fearlessness, fearless should the US be in its responses? It is very difficult to assess President Obama's course. The redoubtable conservative Ross Douthat, in his column on Feb. 6 entitled "Obama the Realist," gives the best argument for realpolitik that this liberal internationalist has read in a while.

How splendid it would be if the prayers in our churches were focused on this series of events and the US response to it. We are lazy in our liturgical prayers nowadays. They are, in my experience, mostly just lists. I long for the days when the late Walter Parker, a layman (black), used to write the intercessory prayers at Grace Church in New York in the 1990s. He had a high calling for the task. He was able to combine prayers for the church, the world, and our individual parishioners with a God's eye perspective and an apocalyptic urgency.

Remember how, in Isaiah, the Lord calls the pagan king Cyrus to perform his divine work--even though Cyrus does not know it ? Can we doubt that the living Christ walks among the protesters in Tahrir Square? and among the prisoners in the Egyptian dungeons?

Note: I am sorry that I am not giving links. I am using a Netbook at a WiFi place and my usual routine does not seem to work.