Generous Orthodoxy  

The word ortho-doxy (Greek for "right doctrine") has both positive and negative connotations. In a culture that prizes what is iconoclastic and transgressive, orthodoxy has come to sound constricted and unimaginative at best, oppressive and tyrannical at worst.

The position taken on this website is that we cannot do without orthodoxy, for everything else must be tested against it, but that orthodox (traditional, classical) Christian faith should by definition always be generous as our God is generous; lavish in his creation, binding himself in an unconditional covenant, revealing himself in the calling of a people, self-sacrificing in the death of his Son, prodigal in the gifts of the Spirit, justifying the ungodly and indeed, offending the "righteous" by the indiscriminate nature of his favor. True Christian orthodoxy therefore cannot be narrow, pinched, or defensive but always spacious, adventurous and unafraid.
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Latest News

The Crucifixion is appearing on a leading Roman Catholic blog

Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2016

Roman Catholic bishop Robert Baron, master of media and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries (Proclaiming Christ in the Culture), is devoting several installments to discussing it. He begins:

Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion is one of the most stimulating and thought-provoking books of theology that I have read in the past ten years. Both an academic [thanks for the compliment, but not really] and a well-regarded preacher in the Episcopal tradition, Rutledge has an extraordinary knack of cutting to the heart of the matter. Her book on the central reality of the Christian faith is supremely illuminating, a delight for the inquiring mind—and man, will it ever preach. There is so much of value in this text that I have decided to dedicate a number of articles to analyzing it.

Here is Bishop Barron:

and here is the link to his opening installment on Word on Fire:

Bishop Barron on Fleming Rutledge's " The Crucifixion"

The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge crosses the pond

Posted: Friday, May 27, 2016

The Church Times is a widely read publication of the Church of England. The May 27 issue contains a review of Fleming's book along with two others. Here is an excerpt from the review by Dr. Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester:

"The most substantial of these books is The Crucifixion, by the veteran US Episcopalian [sic] priest; Fleming Rutledge. A gifted preacher and spiritual writer, this is her theological magnum opus of 600 pages. Don’t let the length put you off: this is pure gold, reminiscent in style of Ken Leech at his best. The book is at once profound and preachable. A preacher will find material, and illustrations, for many sermons. Any Christian would find it uplifting, and academic theologians will see just how theology can best be put at the service of the wider Church. Her main dialogue partner is American Christianity, which evades the cross, as it comes packaged “as inspirational uplift — sunlit, backlit, or candlelit”. Not that the cross can ever be interpreted without reference to the resurrection, but this must be as a conjoined paradox rather than as a balance or neat sequence. If there is a central motif in this restless and multi-faceted book, it is that Jesus Christ represents, and enacts, God’s apocalyptic entry into creation in order to confront and destroy the powers and principalities of evil, supremely in the confrontation that the cross portrays. Hence the importance of its public dimension. The cross is not just an ugly death but a public ugly death."



The Crucifixion wins Best Reference Book award

Posted: Friday, May 13, 2016

Dick and Fleming Rutledge are shown with Professor Deborah Hunsinger and Professor George Hunsinger of Princeton Theological Seminary at the Episcopal Conference Center in Oviedo, Florida, where both women won Best Book awards from the Academy of Parish Clergy. Prof. Hunsinger's book, the Best Book of 2015, is Bearing the Unbearable, which puts trauma theory to work in the service of the gospel. Fleming Rutledge's book, The Crucifixion, won as Best Reference Book of 2015, so designated on account of its heft and comprehensiveness. George Hunsinger, who has won many awards himself, wrote an endorsement (aka "blurb") for Fleming's book. It was a wonderful reunion of colleagues.

Christianity Today features Fleming’s new book, The Crucifixion

Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Episcopal New Yorker interviews Fleming Rutledge about The Crucifixion

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2016

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The Crucifixion was reviewed on the Reformed-ish blog by Derek Rishmawy, who calls it a “beautiful piece of theology”, ideal for pastor-theologians.

Posted: Monday, February 29, 2016

Commonweal, the highly respected Roman Catholic magazine, has given Fleming's The Crucifixion a prominent, positive review:

Posted: Sunday, February 28, 2016

The reviewer, Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, associate professor of theology at Boston College, calls the book a "remarkable" and "monumental" work, and closes by echoing "the chant Augustine heard in the Garden: tolle, lege: take up and read! Rutledge’s volume wonderfully celebrates the triumph of redeeming grace: the crucified Messiah, Jesus who is 'the wisdom and power of God.'"

The Christian Century featured a very positive review of The Crucifixion:

Posted: Saturday, February 27, 2016


Fleming presents her new book at the Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore:

Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The photo shows Michael Gorman, of the EI, responding to her presentation. The copy is by David Neff, retired editor-in-chief of Christianity Today.

Fleming's new book is published and available

Posted: Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, is now officially in print. It can be ordered at a discount from Eerdmans directly, or from Amazon if you must. If you are a supporter of an independent bookstore, do ask them to order directly from Eerdmans. Eerdmans is superlative in speedy response and delivery, and they give substantial discounts to clergy.

This book about the cross of Christ is not like any other book presently on the market. It delves deeply into all the major images and motifs used in the Old and New Testaments to explain what is happening on the cross. That phrase, “what is happening,” is important. The crucifixion of Christ is not simply a spectacle to wonder at. God is doing something, something unique and cosmically effective, in historical time, at a specific geographical location intimately associated with his promises to the Jews. What is this thing that God is doing? This book attempts to answer that by reflecting in depth on what the Scriptures show us.

The book also attempts a close look at the problem of evil. There is no “answer” in this life to the problem of evil and suffering, but the suffering and excruciating public death of Jesus by torture is related to it in a way that is unique in religion and actually undercuts human religious ideas. The chapter called “The Descent into Hell” examines this matter in depth. Individual human frailty and sinfulness is addressed in the chapter called “The Substitution.” Social evil—war, violence, crime, oppression, racism, exploitation—is addressed particularly in “The Apocalyptic War: Christus Victor.” The entire volume is organized around the central proclamation of the gospel: the justification of the ungodly.

Several lay people have already testified that they are finding the book readable and engaging. To be sure, it is directed to pastors, preachers, and students, but it is also accessible to inquiring non-specialists. It can profitably be used by study groups, particularly by using the eight chapters in Part Two: The Biblical Motifs.

Recent Ruminations

Why read? Reflections on empathy and great literature
Saturday, September 24, 2016

For a long time I have been meaning to write a Rumination on literary fiction and its capacity to arouse empathy. I didn't manage to do that, but last weekend I was privileged to deliver the address at the Centennial celebration of Mount Berry Chapel at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, and I took this as my topic. I am posting the address here.

Berry College, by the way, is an extraordinary institution founded by a great woman, Martha Berry (look her up!). Her spirit is still alive at this beautiful small liberal arts college. Students, faculty, adminstration, and trustees still ask, "What would Martha think? What would Martha say? " I'd like to think that she would be pleased with this address I was honored to deliver.

The Mount Berry Chapel
Berry College, Rome, Georgia

The Symphony of Humanity

Centennial Address by Fleming Rutledge                                        September 19, 2016

I wonder if you can imagine what a privilege it is for me, a person raised in Virginia, living in New York for nearly 50 years, having never heard of Berry College before, to be introduced to this remarkable institution. I’ve particularly enjoyed discovering that whenever I’ve needed anything, the person who would come to my assistance would be a student. That’s part of the vision that guided Martha Berry. I would not have wanted to miss learning about Martha Berry. The women who founded my own college, Sweet Briar in Virginia, were outstanding people whom I have revered all my life, but Martha Berry was equal to all of them put together and then some. On the Internet there are photos of her with all kinds of famous people, including Amelia Earhart standing in front of this very chapel, but my favorite shows her sitting in a rocking chair in Warm Springs, Georgia, deep in conversation with a man who is also in a rocking chair. He is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and it is very obvious in the picture that they are absolutely delighted with each other.[1]She never married, but she certainly charmed a lot of men! We will not pursue the subject of Henry Ford, but I did greatly enjoy the story of Henry Ford’s tractors. If you haven’t heard about that, do ask someone![2]

The celebrated preacher of the Duke University Chapel, Will Willimon, spoke here not too long ago. I emailed him and asked him of his impressions of Martha Berry and her college. Here’s what he wrote me back: “Martha thought that there was no way to think deeply without the aid of God, and that the best way to serve God was with your mind, with advance training in thinking as a way of worship.”

Let’s hang on to that phrase, “advance training in thinking.” That’s what a liberal arts education is supposed to be. I’d like to reflect on this idea of serving God with your mind, and on the training of the mind—the training of the intellect.

It’s no secret that there’s tremendous controversy in academic circles about exactly what higher education is supposed to be in our present time, and what sort of person colleges and universities are supposed to produce. I graduated almost sixty years ago, if you can imagine that, and in those days very few women needed to think about getting a job. We were therefore free to choose majors in subjects that we loved. We didn’t give a thought to their utilitarian purpose. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that today. I don’t need to tell you that it is exactly the opposite now. Students today are under pressure from every direction to study subjects that are supposed to be useful in the marketplace.

Now the last time I gave an address at a college, it was the baccalaureate at Dartmouth, and I succeeded in offending half of the people who heard what I had to say. I was on email for six weeks trying to calm everyone down (I am not making this up). I’m a little worried about repeating that experience today. To all of you who majored in, or teach, the subjects now considered most desirable—science, math, engineering, business, computer technology—well, I know I’m running the risk of offending you. But listen to this, from last week’s Wall Street Journal. The new president of Stanford University is a neuroscientist, known for his discoveries in brain circuitry. Yet today he is an eager advocate of the humanities. He received a degree in philosophy, and he says that this helped him to think critically. That was his “advance training” for his subsequent career as a scientist. He’s enthusiastic about Stamford’s new initiatives to offer a minor in humanities for students majoring in the STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). The liberal arts, he says, are essential to “enrich the human experience.”[3] I compliment you for having a lot of minors here at Berry.

Last week I had surgery on my foot. When I was in the recovery room there were two exceptionally nice nurses, about forty years younger than I, who chatted with me while they kept an eye on my blood pressure. They asked me about myself, and one thing led to another, and I said I was going to give an address at a liberal arts college in the South. What about, they asked. I said I was thinking about the importance of reading. To my astonishment, both of these nurses lit up. “Yes!” said one. “Reading! Not social media all the time!” The other one nodded vigorously. “Reading!” she said. “Feeding the soul!” I could have hugged her. I told her I was going to quote her in my address. Later in the conversation I learned that they were both Catholic Christians.

Feeding the soul! What exactly does that mean? And how does reading feed the soul? How does it “enrich the human experience”?

One of my favorite books is Moby-Dick. That seems very strange on the face of it. There is not a single woman anywhere in Moby-Dick. I don’t particularly love going out in boats, let alone whale-hunting. And yet, I feel that the book is about me. How is that possible? Here’s how. Herman Melville was no orthodox Christian believer, and the whole book is a struggle against the biblical God—the God of my faith—but the ship Pequod is a floating microcosm of universal humanity. Early in the novel, the narrator Ishmael sets the tone this way: “In the scales of the New Testament...who ain’t a slave?” Father Mapple, when he climbs into his ship-shaped pulpit, addresses his congregation as “beloved shipmates,” and describes himself, the preacher, as a fellow sinner. The character named Queequeg, a tattooed dark-skinned sailor, is from a South Seacannibal tribe. He practices pagan idolatry, but he declares his solidarity with the crew in these words: “It’s a mutual, jointstock world. We cannibals must help these Christians.” Later on, Ishmael cries out, “Heaven have mercy on us all, Presbyterians and Pagans alike, for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly in need of mending.” That’s me, and that’s you, and that’s all of us.

There’s a direct line from Moby-Dick to Ralph Ellison’s famous book Invisible Man, whose black narrator resembles Melville’s white narrator Ishmael. The socially “invisible man” signifies the African-American experience, but his testimony has universal reverberations, with its profoundly biblical allusions and its famous last sentence, “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” It is in reading the great writers on the lower frequencies that we can find ourselves, but it requires mental effort and risk. Our souls are fed through struggle, not through instant uplift. Flannery O’Connor, the illustrious writer from down the road in Milledgeville, was scornful of what she called “instant uplift.” The mass-market book you buy in the airport or the drugstore may offer entertainment or uplift to you, but it does not exact any price.[4]Reading literary fiction, in contrast, will cost you something.

I am not sure how much importance we should attach to “studies”;  studies about what we should eat seem to change every five years or so. But there have been some studies recently that seem to show that reading literary fiction develops empathy. There’s a popular feature in The New York Times every Sunday where various writers tell about what they’re reading and what books changed their lives. Three weeks ago, the author was Jacqueline Woodson, a well-known African-American writer of books for adolescents. She was asked what her favorite books were as a child and she spoke of the Hans Christian Anderson story, “The Little Match Girl.” She said that “it was the first book that unlocked empathy in me.” Note this: Hans Christian Andersen was a white Danish writer in the 19thcentury. And yet his story about an impoverished little girl on the streets of Copenhagen, trying to sell matches for pennies, who ends up freezing to death in the snow, touched the heart of a young black girl in Greenville, South Carolina.[5]That is the universality of literature. I have a friend who is a very prominent African-American lawyer in New York City. His apartment is full of books in their original jackets, each one meticulously protected with covers of Mylar sheeting that he cuts to size himself. This black man’s most beloved author is Henry James. Henry James! who wrote famously difficult novels about the 19thcentury [white] upper classes. But James’ subject, as a noted Jamesian critic wrote, was “conflicts of moral character…which are universal and inevitable…[he was like other writers] who “do not even blame God for allowing [conflicts]… they accept them as the conditions of life.” [6]

I have been thinking about Ralph Ellison’s “lower frequencies.” I’m not sure what he means by lower frequencies, but here is what it suggests to me. Something happened to my mother in old age when she lost much of her hearing, and now it is happening to me and my sister also. We are a family of classical music lovers. My mother played the piano, my father had a good ear and played a little, and my sister has a good ear and sings beautifully. I have no talent, but listening to classical music and especially opera has been about 40% of my joy in life. I have a vast CD collection of the music that I love. About five years ago I began to realize that I couldn’t listen to it any more. It sounded absolutely dreadful, like chalk on a blackboard. Going to the opera and concerts is no longer possible for me. The cello and the clarinet are not so bad, but as for the other instruments and the human voice, which I love above all things, forget it.

This phenomenon was recently explained to me by a couple who are trained singers. They explained that no musical note is just one single sound, but a combination of sounds. Every note has an overtone and a fundamental. You can look this up; it’s very technical and I couldn’t understand it all, but the general idea is that when a person suffers from hearing loss, they hear only the overtone and not the fundamental. They are not hearing the lower frequencies. The overtone without the fundamental sounds so bad that you can’t stand to listen to it. 
            You can see where this is going, can’t you? Ralph Ellison’s novel about being black, Invisible Man, has become a major classic because like all great literary novels, it has both overtones and undertones, all shades of harmonics. There is no human symphony without the lower frequencies. The lower frequencies are what make the music of humanity. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer refers to “all sorts and conditions of men.” There is no complete understanding of the human condition without the lower registers. 
Speaking of empathy, the novelist William Kennedy said in an interview that writing his novel Ironweed “gave me a chance to think about a world most people find worthless... The small details of that life weren’t instantly available to my imagination until I began to think seriously about what it means to sleep in the weeds on a winter night, then wake up frozen to the sidewalk. Such an education becomes part of your ongoing frame of reference in the universe.”[7] The great and revered New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, who grew up on a farm in North Carolina, became famous for writing about people he met on the streets of New York City. He was infuriated when someone said that his stories were about “little people.” “There are no little people in my work,” he said. “They are as big as you are, whoever you are."
            The symphony of humanity: Chaplain Erin has a quotation from Martha Berry on her office wall: “Our colleges should be miniature versions of the world we would like to see.” This is the creed of a true visionary. But how was I, growing up in a tiny town in Southside Virginia, supposed to envision a world of people totally unlike me? How are you, students in rural Georgia, right up against Appalachia, supposed to understand what life is like for people very different, foreign, strange, incomprehensible, threatening? Understanding other people from the inside out is only possible through literary fiction of the best kind. Not even the best biographies can tell us what another person is really thinking, what motivates him, what causes her to act against her own best self, what causes people to make the same mistake over and over—in other words, what makes life so different from our most fervent wishes? The great novelists tell us this, through their capacity to imagine the inner lives of others. Supreme Court Justice William Breyer has written that reading Proust, that supreme writer of insight into the inner lives of others, was life-changing for him as a young man, and later as a lawyer and judge.[8]  

But our normal condition is not to want to know much about the inner lives of others. It is so much easier to regard them as The Other and build a wall against them. Feeling empathy for another person can shake you up and leave you feeling as if the ground is unsteady under your feet. It can therefore be very strengthening to read in common with others. I bet there are people here who belong to book clubs. Some towns and cities—even New York City—have committees that pick a book and recommend that everyone in town read the same book at the same time.[9]The only trouble with that is that the books are sometimes picked because they are topical, or because Oprah likes them. That’s a lot better than reading mass-market fiction, but we need to stretch ourselves more. I love The Lord of the Rings, and I’ve even written a book about it, but when someone tells me he’s read it 35 times (I’m not making this up), I’d like to send him home with War and Peace. Some of the greatest masterpieces ask a great deal of us—like for instance Faulkner’s Light in August, or Shakespeare’s King Lear. It’s in the liberal arts environment that such works are best valued and taught, not for what they teach us about some political perspective or other, but about what it means to be human, to see and try to understand those who are utterly unlike us—to have empathy for others. That is advance training for life. That’s life on the lower frequencies. Such knowledge truly feeds the soul, because it is in attending carefully to something and someone outside ourselves that we truly find ourselves.

When I grew into my middle age, I spent a lot of time trying to understand my mother, whom I adored. One day she said, quietly and reflectively, “Nobody understands anybody else.” I have been thinking about that for many years. I think it’s true. I know that there is no single person that truly understands the murky depths of me, not even my sister of nearly eight decades, not even my husband of 56 years. Nobody truly understands anybody else, and yet all of us have a deep and fundamental longing to be truly understood. There is a promise in the Bible about that. St. Paul wrote, “Now I understand in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I am fully understood.” That’s from the famous chapter on love. But the chapter isn’t about love in the abstract. It’s about Jesus Christ. It is he who fully understands us and fully loves us and in his coming Kingdom, will accomplish something humanly impossible, and that is to reclaim and restore the full symphony of redeemed humanity—the new creation.

That is the promise of God. In the coming reign of Jesus Christ, the blind will see, the crippled will dance, and the deaf will be able to hear music again in company with the family of God. In the Kingdom of God we will be fully understood, and we will fully understand one another, in the light of the love of Christ the Savior. For as Flannery O’Connor wrote in one of her essays,

 The Catholic [Christian] writer will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that [human life] has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.”[10]


[1] There is apparently more than one photo of Martha and FDR taken on this occasion. One of them is posted prominently in one of the Berry College buildings, but she looks quite serious in that picture. In the one I saw, they are twinkling at one another!
[2] Here’s the story as I heard it at Berry College. There was a certain amount of gossip about the unmarried Miss Berry and her devotee and patron Henry Ford, who contributed the magnificent collegiate-Gothic  “Ford buildings” that adorn the campus today. He also donated a number of Ford-manufactured tractors to help maintain the beautiful acreage. They turned out to be greatly inferior to John Deere tractors, but when Mr. Ford came to visit, Martha arranged for the John Deeres to be discreetly hidden and temporarily replaced by Ford tractors decoratively placed about the campus.
According to my informant, Martha cut her ties to Mr. Ford when he turned out to be an unrepentant racist and anti-Semite.
[3] The Wall Street Journal, Review section, September 10-11, 2016.
[4] From my notes, Flannery O’Connor at a “Symposium on Religion and the Arts” at Sweet Briar College, March 1963.
[5] The New York Times, Book Review section, August 28, 2016.
[6] Edmund Wilson, quoted in Lewis Dabney (a distant cousin of mine), ed., The Portable Edmund Wilson.
[7] Quoted in John Heilpern, New York Observer, 11/15/04.
[8] And perhaps not incidentally, Justice Breyer, a Jew, has a daughter, Chloe, who is an Episcopal priest.
[9] I later learned that the freshman class at Berry, as at other colleges, are asked to read a selected book before they arrive.
[10] Mystery and Manners, 146.


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Latest Tips From the Times

Preaching in this political crisis
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I'm starting a feature here in Tips for the Times specifically about preaching in our present crisis without mentioning names or political parties. I'm collecting examples from the news and will list them, adding to them as the weeks go by. These illustrations for sermons offer examples of what I believe should be the empowering message of every sermon: Because the crucified Jesus is victor, even the smallest actions of the "least of these" count for a great deal. It is a great mistake for Christian people to think that their small contributions are too meager to make a difference. As a preacher said in a memorable Christmas Eve sermon that I heard long ago, referring to the innkeeper with no rooms who offered the stable as a substitute, "No one can do everything. But everybody can do something." I believe that offering examples of a manageable nature is much more encouraging and empowering than sermons along the lines of "we are called to...[some impossibly great task of do-goodism]...." which have the effect of making most people feel impotent and vaguely guilty.

("Jesus is Victor" was the clarion call of the father and son who are often today called simply "the Blumhardts." On the family tree of apocalyptic theology, the Blumhardts of Bad Boll in Germany are great-grandfathers.)

The newer posts will be identified with letters instead of numbers.

A. Here is an article from The New York Times 9/29/2016. I can't imagine anyone who would not be inspired to use this in a sermon. If the white churches in and around Phenix City, Alabama, embraced this man and his project, what a difference it would make!

Here are some earlier-yet-still-very-current illustrations from the news in August and September:

1) A striking article in The NYTimes, which ordinarily pays little positive attention to evangelical churches, describes how a young (23) man in Marietta, Georgia, gives up his time after work to help a Syrian refugee family learn English. His church, Johnson Ferry Baptist, under the leadership of its pastor, has adopted Syrian families. The Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution in June to "encourage Southern Baptist Churches to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes" as a Christian witness. The 23-year-old man, William Stocks, said, simply and beautifully, "My job is to serve these people, because they need to be served." Read the article here:

2) A recent NYTimes article describes the economic crisis suffered by the residents of the island of Lesbos, Greece. The news stories about the overwhelming number of desperate refugees arriving on the island in their pathetically inadequate boats have driven virtually all the tourists away, depriving the islanders of their livelihood. The locals have taken in the frantic refugees by the thousands, truly trying to help them--especially the children, whose plight has touched their hearts--but tourists in search of tranquil beaches and unimpeded views do not want to see encampments of suffering migrants.
And yet--here is the point--islanders say they would do it again. They are driven, in part, by the memory of the Greek genocide (yes; check it out online) and being exiled from Turkey by the hundreds of thousands; Greek Orthodox Christians were especially targeted. So they are answering the Biblical call: "You shall do good to the stranger and sojourner among you; for you were slaves in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord."

A specific story mentioning Lesbos follows:

As a good example of "everybody can do something," here is a story (New York Times, 8/2/16) about a young Olympic swimmer, Yusra Mardini, who fled Syria with her sister last August under conditions that we privileged ones in America can scarcely get our minds around. When they finally made it to Germany, the two of them were named by the Olympic Committee to a "Refugee Team" of stateless people who would otherwise be unable to compete at the Games in Rio.

The journey to Germany from Syria was harrowing beyond the capacity of most of us to imagine. After a month-long overland journey of hardship and danger, the two sisters and a larger group met with smugglers in some woods near Izmir in Turkey to get their boat. Their dinghy was meant for 6 but was packed with 20 people. When it began to founder, the two girls, powerful swimmers, guided the flimsy boat for three and a half hours in the gathering darkness to Lesbos. That was just the beginning. They walked for days at a time, sleeping in fields, or churches (perhaps to the churches' credit?). But here is the point of the story for preaching. Even though they had money, they were poorly treated in Europe. Taxis would not stop for them, and restaurants refused to serve them. Yusra remembered, though, that "there were good people, too." She told how, when she first arrived, she had no shoes. There was a Greek girl about her age who saw her and gave her the shoes off her own feet.

"Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something..." in the name of the Lord, and the small loaves and fishes will be multiplied by the Spirit.

3) At the top of the front page of the NYTimes for July 24, there is a stunning nighttime photograph: it shows two automobiles and two men with heads bowed, one gripping the shoulders of the other in a sort of embrace, both of them silhouetted against the glare of their headlights. One man is a large, tall, youngish-looking cop. The other is a smaller, much older man with grey hair. The caption explains that Pastor Dwayne Hewett of Hiram, GA, has pulled over to lay on hands and pray for the safety of Deputy Matt Stachowicz.
(This is the sort of thing I was saying in my Rumination about the black church. The NYTimes has little respect for prayer, as a rule, but the African-American church still commands respect. )
This photo is accompanied by a long article ("One Shift: Officers Patrol an Anxious America").  Ten reporters in ten different parts of the country rode along with cops on their shifts. It's a rich portrait. I especially liked the vignette about a Houston cop, just a few days after the massacre in Dallas, who responds to an urgent dispatch about a man waving a gun in front of a laundromat. The cop goes--alone--to investigate. He finds three Hispanic men and one black man in the street. He requires them to lie face down, handcuffed, on the pavement. Finding them unarmed, he lets them go. One of the men puts up his hands and, smiling, says, "Thanks for not shooting me." The cop says as he drives away, "Y'all have a good one."

4) There are two police stories of special note in a long account of the hours during the standoff as the Dallas massacre unfolded: one is about the care that the cops took of a young black mother, Shetamia Taylor, who was seriously wounded (they drove her to a hospital in a squad car with no rims, the tires having been shot out). The other story is about two cops who were very close to one another, Jaime Castro and Lorne Ahrens. Officer Castro (Hispanic) rushed to the hospital when he heard reports of officers being shot. When he arrived, he learned that officer Ahrens (Caucasian) was fighting for his life. Castro recalled a night when the two were in danger. Ahrens told him he'd stay right with him: "I'll take a bullet for you." Now it was Castro, watching through the glass window at the hospital, who silently pledged himself to his critically injured comrade. As he recounted later, "I wanted to grab the surgeon and say, "Get back in there. Does he need an organ? Does he need one of my organs? I'm here, get it."
Officer Ahrens died soon after. But it does not take much stretch of the imagination to see how these offers of life-in-death across ethnic boundaries remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for everyone, without regard to race or political views.

The two stories are in a long article: (headline in the NYTimes: "The Fog of War, Unfolding In Dallas Streets"):

5) Here's an inspiring quote about what's possible in America, from Michelle Obama yesterday (OK, yes, that's mentioning a name...but it is so clearly nonpartisan, appealing to the better angels of all our natures, to borrow from Abraham Lincoln):

That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves."
6) There are many stories about how Jesus "sees" people in a way that no one else does, not even themselves. He "sees" the Samaritan woman at the well. He sees Zacchaeus in the tree. He sees into the heart of the Roman centurion, and the man with the epileptic son, and the woman who touched his garment in the crowd. He sees a blind beggar who cannot see him and whom everyone else is so used to seeing as a beggar by the road that they don't see a full human being.  The word "see" in the Bible, as most of us know, usually implies profound, revelatory insight, not just visual apprehension: "was blind, but now I see."
The Commissioner of the NYPD, Wm. J. Bratton, has frequently turned in recent months to the words of an African-American activist known as Sweet Alice Harris, whom he knew in LA, years ago. Especially after the massacre of the Dallas police officers, he has called upon her words. She said to him, "We need to find ways to see each other." 
Commissioner Bratton says that the department was "struggling, struggling"  with how to teach its officers about their "implicit bias," the often subconscious racial bias they may carry. "It's very difficult," he said. The ultimate goal is to open officers' eyes to others' perspectives, Mr. Bratton said. "That includes opening my own mind."
"Bratton, Face of 'Broken Windows,' Aims to Mend Racial Fences"--NYTimes, July 26, 2016.

7) James Alan McPherson, the African-American writer, died this week. In 1981, he was in the very first group of 21 people to win the "genius grant" (the MacArthur), and was professor emeritus at the celebrated Writers' Workshop of the University of Iowa. Born in strictly segregated Savannah in 1943, the son of an electrician and a maid, he watched his father's painful struggle to overcome prejudice and gain a license as the first black master electrician in the state. He attended segregated schools and worked as a railroad car waiter, eventually finding his way to Harvard Law School. After graduation he decided against law, went to the Writers' Workshop, and became a well-respected writer of fiction and essays, winning the  Pulitzer in 1978.
The important thing for the purposes of preaching is his description of what it means to be an American. In The Atlantic in 1978, he wrote that "each United States citizen would attempt to approximate the ideals of the nation, be on conversant terms with all its diversity, carry the mainstream of the culture inside himself....As an American, by trying to wear these clothes, he would be a synthesis of high and low, black and white, provincial and universal. If he could live with these contradictions, he would be...a representative American.
He continued, "I believe that if one can experience diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies, and attempt to synthesize all this inside oneself without going crazy, one will have earned the right to call oneself 'citizen of the United States.' "
There, it seems to me, a black man is calling for something akin to what Christians do when the Church is working the way it's supposed to. Definitely not easy, and requiring both courage and patience, but together, we can be the salt and light that Jesus refers to in the Sermon on the Mount.

8) Get your pocket Constitution! If I were preaching this Sunday, I would refer to Barbara Jordan, who grew up in the black church (her father was a Baptist preacher). Most people today are too young to remember her electrifying appearance, oceanic voice, and "Churchillian" eloquence during the Nixon impeachment hearings in Congress. I heard her live on television and it was a defining moment in my life. I can hear still her "voice of God" saying,
My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total, and I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution."
Here's an obituary:


To be continued....


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