Keynote Addresses

Evangelicals(?!) Concerned

Evangelicals(?!) Concerned

by Dr. Ralph Blair

EVANGELICALS(?!) CONCERNED is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address delivered at both eastern and western connECtion82 summer conferences, July 1982, in Pennsylvania and California.

(PDF version available here)

Have you ever noticed that Grape-Nuts is neither? To evangelicals, Christian Science is neither. To most gay people, the Moral Majority is neither. But gay evangelicals are not like Grape-Nuts. Gays for Jesus are as unwelcome in evangelical churches as Jews for Jesus are unwelcome in synagogues, but in the gays’ case they’re excluded because their profession of faith in Jesus is doubted, and in the Jews’ case they’re excluded because their profession of faith in Jesus is believed. In both cases, half of who they are is believed and that makes the other half of who they are unbelievable.

For most evangelicals, it’s easy to believe that we’re gay; much harder to believe that we’re their siblings in faith. We who are both gay and evangelical can well understand this. After all, didn’t we ourselves find it easier to believe that we were gay than to continue to believe we were evangelical Christians as well? Some of you delayed corning to Christ, assuming you were not welcome just as you were. Some of you have stayed away until now—and some are still not here today—because you and they have been believing that vicious homophobes speak for Jesus. Some of us drifted away for a while, finding it possible to abandon, however reluctantly, a faith we had chosen, and impossible to leave behind sexual desires we did not choose.

But God chose us, as the Bible says, while we all were sinners Christ died for us all. Though we turned away from God, and we continually turn away, God never turns away from us. Paul wrote that nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Neither homosexuality nor homophobia, neither life nor death, neither good times nor bad times, neither the everyday grind nor a rare form of cancer; neither ecclesiastical executives nor TV preachers nor band-wagon politicians; nor whatever may come our way. Nothing can separate us from the overwhelming and undergirding love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord—because God is God. Though so many establishment evangelicals fail to recognize gay Christians, Jesus Christ, whose we are, recognizes his own, just as he alone befriended the despised Samaritans, prostitutes, and tax collectors when the organized religious leaders of another day had no time for them. He lets us be his—today and in all eternity.

The major periodical of the American evangelical establishment, Christianity Today, has called us “self-styled Christian homosexuals.” (Feb 6, 1981) George Sweeting, president of Moody Bible Institute, complains that “some who say they are Christians” are among those who “accept homosexuality as a legitimate alternative life-style.” (Special Sermons on Special Issues, p. 66) In introducing a report on a meeting of 80 evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders, the editor of the charismatic Pastoral Renewal magazine decries the fact that “Some evangelicals have begun to defend homosexual behavior.” Missing the point, he thinks that this is evidence that, as he puts it, “the secular gay liberation movement has developed a wing within evangelicalism.” (Peter Williamson, “Introduction,” Christianity Confronts Modernity, p. 12) Sojourners publisher Joe Roos says that Christians who differ with his harsh anti-homosexuality are “simply accepting the verdict of a liberal culture.” (Jul/Aug 1982, p. 6) Read more →

Doubtful Christians Make Queer Saints!

Doubtful Christians Make Queer Saints!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

A shorter version of this text was presented by Dr. Blair at connECtion83 during July, 1983, at San Juan Bautista in California and at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania.

(PDF version available here)


Doubtful Christians make queer saints. Do “queer” Christians make doubtful saints? To too many of us, Christians who are full of doubt certainly do seem to be queer candidates for sainthood. And, no doubt, so do “queer” Christians about whom so many conventional Christians are full of doubt.

At the beginning of the Darwinian controversy,—a time that was as disruptive to the 19th century evangelical world as the gay controversy is to the evangelical world of our own day—Christian geologist and evolutionist Henry Drummond took note that “all religious truths are doubtable.” [1] As a scientist, he also knew that all scientific truths are doubtable. Less than a century later, a writer for Science 200 confesses that the “sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance [is what] represents the most significant contribution of 20th century science. … We are at last,” he says, “facing up to it. In earlier times, we either pretended to understand how things worked or ignored the problem, or simply made up stories to fill the gaps.” [2] Science was late to copy religion in this respect.

There is not very much evidence that people in either religion or science these days have become as frank about their ignorance as the writers just quoted. Cocksure fundamentalist absolutists still abound in both religion and science, as well as on the general secular scene, and this has been nowhere better illustrated than in the matter of homosexuality and Christian faith. As Lutheran historian Martin E. Marty appraises the current picture, “the fundamentalist worlds are still overconfident about their absolute hold on absolutes, too pouncing and predatory in eagerness to press their advantage in the name of a very belligerent cocksureness-producing God. They grow by attracting the nostalgic, the frightened, the misled, the besieged.” [3] Religious liberals or “mainliners” offer no better reality since, as Marty says, many of them “still waver in conviction, are apathetic about belief, or are ‘merely’ tolerant as they settle for passionless decline.” [4] No better reality is offered in this regard by those whose commitment to scientism judges evangelical Christian faith to be a most unsophisticated heresy.

Drummond recognized that some doubts are simply intellectual problems and, as such, he said that “It would be a pity if all these problems could be solved. The joy of the intellectual life would be largely gone.” [5] Some doubts are honest difficulties, what Drummond called “can’t believe.” But other doubts are really unbelief or what Drummond called “won’t believe.” He saw the former “doubt [as] honesty” but, he said, “unbelief is obstinacy.” [6] He recognized that in both religion and in science, “Heresy is truth in the making, and [honest] doubt is the prelude of knowledge.” [7] Honest doubt is natural, inevitable and can be productive. As Drummond observed, “We are born questioners. … The child’s great word when it begins to speak is, ‘Why?'” He said that “That is the incipient doubt” in our very nature. “Respect doubt for its origin. It is an inevitable thing. It is not a thing to be crushed.” [8]

Evangelist D. L. Moody spoke of Drummond as “the most Christ-like man I ever knew” but Moody had to fight off the criticism of less gracious Christians who constantly objected to Moody’s repeatedly offering the Northfield platform to this queer Christian evolutionist and proponent of higher criticism of the Bible. Apparently Christ-like people can be seen as mighty queer Christians.

According to George MacDonald, another queer 19th century Scottish Christian—booted out of the established church because his doubts were unacceptable: “Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood. … Doubt must precede every deeper assurance.” [9] C. S. Lewis considered MacDonald to be his “master.” Lewis attributed the conversion or baptism of his own imagination, as he put it, to the “holiness” of MacDonald’s “greatest genius” for troubling “oldest certainties till all questions [were] reopened” for his pilgrimage to Christ. [10]

Well why do so many of us seem so afraid to exercise doubt of this healthy, even “holy,” variety? Fundamentalists of all stripes try to dispel all doubt. They try to do this by changing the spelling from D-O-U-B-T to D-O-G-M-A. It spells doubt just the same. Intellectuals can especially weary of doubt. Out of his Sturm und Drang, Goethe somewhere insisted: “Tell me of your certainties, I have doubts enough of my own.” Out of his Roman Catholicism, G. K. Chesterton complained that “Moderns permit any writer to emphasize doubts but let no man emphasize dogmas.” [11] Agnostic restriction in the name of doubt can spell dogma just the same. Read more →

Christian Tolerance & Totalitarianism

Christian Tolerance & Totalitarianism

by Dr. Ralph Blair

Christian Tolerance & Totalitarianism was Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion84, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned.

(PDF version available here)

The Christian’s way is always a pilgrim’s way. It’s a life on the road. It’s the adventure of a pioneer. The Christian’s vision is always the vision of a pilgrim and pioneer. It is a moving through the world by neither sight nor hindsight. It is always a faithing through darkness. Whenever Christians have lost sight of this and have pretended to see what cannot be seen, we have lost our way. By faithing our way along from “faith to faith” we move closer to the day we’ll see “face to face.” There’s no other way to get there.


Two hundred years ago, an English Methodist pilgrim named Francis Asbury pioneered the American vision of John Wesley’s practical approach in Christian faith. His pioneering pilgrimage was not unlike ours here and now. We, too, are pilgrims pioneering the vision of a practical approach in Christian faith.

Asbury, according to one of his biographers: “follow[ ed] truth whether manifested in subjective convictions or in arguments read from the force and facts of life about him.” We, too, are doing that, and we’re ridiculed for it just as he was. This often enfeebled pioneer nonetheless traveled hundreds of thousands of miles on horseback “over the long road,” preaching the gospel for more than forty years over the Appalachian range, by way of the Delaware Water Gap, and westward through the Cumberland Basin to Kentucky, Ohio and the Indiana territory.

He never married. But in his journeys, he had the close company of “faithful traveling companion[ s ]”—first, as one biographer describes him, the “strong-bodied, consecrated itinerant” Henry Boehm, and later, the “congenial companionship” and “faithful and tender ministry” of John Wesley Bond. Asbury died in the spring of 1816. “Of kindred in blood, there was none to mourne; but Henry Boehm and John Wesley Bond, his ‘sons’ in long and dutiful ministries, stood by the coffinas chief mourners, while thousands of hearts besides in silence reverenced with mingled sorrow and gladness the memory of the illustrious dead.”

Purposes of eulogy don’t list what might be thought to be the less “illustrious” aspects of a life, but if we go to Asbury’s own journals we find one of the most sober self-assessments ever written. Asbury confessed: “I have said more than was for the glory of God.” This is a profound repentance. Each of us would do well to apply it to ourselves: “I have said more than was for the glory of God.”

What did Asbury have in mind when he wrote this? He probably wasn’t recalling merely idle chatter; Asbury was not, by nature, given to idle chatter. He was no doubt recalling the “strong words” he had used to denounce those with whom he had disagreed theologically and those who had “reviled Mr. Wesley … and poor me. O that I could trust the Lord more than I do and leave his cause wholly in his own hands!” Ironically, it was in his effort to declare and protect the glory of God that he had “said more than was for the glory of God.” This is a common sin among Christian crusaders of all stripes—including our own. You’ll remember from last summer’s talk on Luther that he had prayed a prayer he based on the Old Covenant stipulation against witnessing falsely about neighbors: I “confess hav[ing] spent my life so sinfully and ungratefully with lies and evil talk against my neighbors.” And there, too, the “neighbors” were theological foes.

Asbury was well aware of the source of this sin. It was in a lack of faithing, a lack of trusting God: “O that I could trust the Lord more than I do and leave his cause wholly in his own hands!” Crusaders get it into our heads that God needs us more than God does—so we begin to justify any means in terms of ends. Or, in our doubts about being right ourselves, we defensively try to convince ourselves by forcing everyone else to agree with us instead of just throwing ourselves and our ignorance onto the mercy of God. We babble where God has not spoken, using God’s name profanely, fruitlessly trying to advantage ourselves. But we call it all “for the glory of God.” And while babbling where God has been silent, we’re silent when we should speak up with God’s clear word.

In attempting to understand this common tendency toward intolerance and totalitarianism and in order to know how to respond to our own intolerance toward others and their intolerance toward us, let’s look at something of the history of totalitarian “heresy” hunting and its biblical solution in the patient practice of Christian tolerance. And, in this summer of 1984, let’s use as a springboard to get further into our subject, the device of the fantasy novel, Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell (Eric Blair’s pen name). The year of the book’s title has been embedded in our culture as a prime symbol of intolerance and totalitarianism. Read more →

A Time and Place For Us

A Time and Place for Us

by Dr. Ralph Blair

A Time and Place for Us is an expanded version of the Keynote address given by Dr. Blair at the Eastern and Western connECtions2001.

(PDF version available here)

Frasier has dragged Niles and their father to a basketball game for “a good night of male-bonding” as only Frasier could fantasize. He’s trying his best to whip up their interest but dad is preoccupied with an old unsolved murder case and Niles is preoccupied with the music in his headset. A burly fan arrives late, plops down next to Niles and grunts: “What’s the score?” Niles lifts his headset and pronounces: “West Side Story.”

What’s the score? That depends. What’s the question?

One of the numbers from West Side Story promises “a time and place for us.” “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there; hold my hand and we’re half-way there.” That may work for infatuation—at least on Broadway, but let’s frame the question more broadly than Broadway. Not the narrow and harried world of lovers or the iso1ation of Frasier, Niles and their dad—all at the same game but each in his own world and each in his own time zone. Instead, let’s think of a time and place for us all in the deepest and widest of worlds.

We’re all enmeshed in time. It “weighs us down, every moment,” as Baudelaire complained about tick-tock time. When we’re younger or bored, time drags; when we’re older or having fun, time flies. There’s the life-giving time of pulse and brain waves and the life-stealing time of aging. In “Queer as Folk,” the narcissistic Brian rejects time with his sperm-donated son, complaining that a baby is just a “wrinkled little time clock ticking away reminding you you’re getting older by the minute, by the second.” Time is a mystery, always on the move in all directions at once. It’s what one scientist calls “the deepest of all enigmas in physics” [Malcolm W. Browne], what a classicist calls “the most nostalgic of elements.” [Robert Eisner] To ask: “What’s the time?” is like asking “What’s the score?” It all depends on what we mean. For some purposes we think of eons and light-years. For other purposes it’s enough to know what year it is or what day or what hour. At other times we must know the time down to billionths of a second. It’s the same if we ask “Where are we?” “Are we there yet?” That depends on what we mean. What are our expectations? What’s the question? Where was Niles? Was he at the basketball game or on a fire escape of a tenement in Hell’s Kitchen? Or was he sailing on a sphere called Earth, somewhere in the Milky Way?

God’s Time and Space

Many of you think you’re too old. But you’re even older than that. You did not begin on the day you were born. Biologically speaking, each of us began life at conception. All the raw material that we would ever be was there then. But we’re not simply nine months older than we thought we were. We’re much older than that. All the stuff that the universe would ever be was there in that split-second called the Big Bang. Each of us was there then—in all that everything—some 14 billion years ago. But we’re much older than that. We go back, not just to the beginning of time and space but, as Scripture reveals, we spring from the eternal purposes of God from “before the creation of the world.” No wonder we’re feeling our age!

“In the beginning of time, the Word already was.” “And all things came into being by that Word.” The Word came to expression in all worlds. The Concept created the cosmos. “In the beginning of time, the Word already was, … and the Word became flesh” in Jesus Christ, and “apart from Him, nothing has come into being that has come into being.” [John 1: 1-3 and 14.; cf Gen 1:1 and I John 1:1]

As Christians, we believe that God, in Christ, made time and space. And we believe that God made a visit as a man in time and space—2,000 years ago. Says a Bible translator: Christianity’s “starting point is the most important event in the whole of human history. The Christian religion asserts that … two thousand years ago, God, whose vast and complex wisdom science is daily uncovering, visited this small planet of ours in Person. … This is the heart and center of the Christian faith.” He goes on to say that “Nothing must be allowed to distract us from considering with adult minds and hearts whether this is true history or a beautiful myth. The decision is so important that it must not, indeed cannot, be avoided. Yet,” he observes, “this is the point at which so many people take evasive action.” [J. B. Phillips] Read more →

Your Story in His Story

Your Story in His Story

The 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove

October 9 – 11, 2015   Thornley Chapel
Commemorating the Centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby,

William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington

Including Three Teachings by Dr. Ralph Blair
“The Bible Tells Me So”, “This is My Story” and “To God be the Glory”

(PDF version here)

It’s 1915

It’s 1915. “The Great War” rages in Europe while the U.S. resists involvement, though 123 Americans are among over a thousand dead in Germany’s sinking of the Lusitania. All warnings were ignored, believing that a passenger liner carrying civilians was safe in an active war zone. There’d not even been a lifeboat drill.

The Ottoman Caliphate slaughters millions of Armenian Christians. Ignored, this genocide will spur Hitler’s pursuit of his “Final Solution” against the Jews, sneering: “Who remembers the Armenians?”

A hundred years hence, Islamic claimants to the allegedly final Caliphate, will kill thousands more Christians in one year than the Romans killed in 300 years, and they’ll leave millions homeless. The Ayatollah of Iran’s theocracy will call for annihilation of Israel, death to America and to all who will not bow to worldwide Shariah.

Meanwhile, amid the dead in Belgium, surgeon and poet John McCrae pens memorable lines while he mourns the death of his beloved young friend, Alexis. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, / Between the crosses, row on row, / That mark our place; and in the sky / The larks, still bravely singing, fly / Scarce heard amid the guns below. / We are the Dead. / Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, / Loved and were loved, and now we lie / In Flanders fields. / Take up our quarrel with the foe: / To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high. / If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.”

It won’t end until the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In its wake, 9 million are dead, 21 million wounded and millions more die of disease and starvation. Even then, it won’t end. From 1939 to 1945, unresolved self-righteous resentment will break out in still more deaths and destruction called World War II. That will give the present conflict its lasting designation, “World War I”. After that, there’ll be yet more “wars and rumors of wars” – in Korea, Southeast Asia, the New Middle East and elsewhere. (Matt 24:6)   Read more →

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Dr. Ralph Blair

Evangelicals Concerned 73rd Connection, May 30, 2015

In 1946, a 20-year-old Flannery O’Connor came north to take part in the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. But, privately, she was writing prayers: “Dear Lord, please make my mind vigilant about [loving others]. I say many, many, too many uncharitable things about people every day. I say them because they make me look clever. Please help me to realize practically how cheap this is. I have nothing to be proud of yet, myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule. Please help me to stop this selfishness. … I do not know you God, because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

She wasn’t yet the popular storyteller she’d become before she’d die just 19 years later. Her fellow believer and author, Marilynne Rob­inson, in a 2013 New York Times review of the posthumously published prayers, writes: “The brilliance that would make her fictions literary classics is fully apparent in [these early prayers].”

What else is fully apparent is the young O’Connor’s honest sensi­tivity to her own self-righteousness. But secular reviewers of these prayers tend to miss this. Sadly, that’s largely due to their self-righteous distaste for her serious Catholic faith and her having grown up and remained in the rural and segregated south.

Now, nobody holds the patent on self-righteousness. Human history is the history of self-righteousness. It’s a predisposition of all men, all women, every race, ethnicity, nationality, class, political stripe, ideology, gender identity and sexual orientation. Self-righteousness is rife in secular and religious realms. Even a public mea culpa can be infected and indeed, induced, by self-righteousness. The passive, “mistakes were made,” and similar self-righteously unapologetic “apologies” are the real mistakes.

Well, as Schiller knew: “The history of the world is the judgment of the world.” Aware of this history, Pope Francis says his central concern is “massive amnesia in our contemporary world.” In such stupor, the Right longs for what it romanticizes as the past while the Left lauds what’s replaced what it scorns as the past. Both are but self-serving figments of illiterate imagination – one in the nonsense of nostalgia, the other in the nonsense of narcissism.

As self-righteous know-it-alls, we refuse to accept what we refuse to know. Averting attention from what stares back at us from all the accusing mirrors of our minds, we try manipulating into mantras of “self-esteem.” We try to swallow shibboleths we can’t swallow. We try to think we’re good or, at least, better than “them,” so as to sanitize “us” and disparage “them.” But who needs to sanitize or disparage if we really think we are as good as we pretend to be? There’s something afoot. Read more →

Fall Festival 2014 – CHRIST & the Cosmos

CHRIST & the Cosmos

CHRIST & the Cosmos is the text of the teachings Dr. Ralph Blair presented at the 2014 Evangelicals Concerned Fall Festival in Ocean Grove, NJ, October 3-5, 2014. On the first evening, he presented biographical background on five Christians honored:

The 300th Anniversaries of
Matthew Henry, James Hervey, William Romaine and George Whitefield
200th Anniversary of
Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner”

Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Ralph Blair

It’s 1714. Isaac Watts is writing words on praise, here and hereafter: “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath, / And when my voice is lost in death, / Praise shall employ my nobler powers; / My days of praise shall ne’er be past, / While life, and thought, and being last, / Or immortality endures.”
Matthew Henry passes away to “employ [his] nobler powers” of praise, while here, his work continues to bless us. And three boys are born who’ll be evangelical leaders of their generation and beyond: James Hervey, William Romaine and George Whitefield.
England’s Queen Anne dies and the Stuart royal line ends. George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, arrives to be King George, first of four Hanoverian kings – all named George. The last Hanoverian reign will begin in 1837 with Queen Victoria and last until her death in 1901.
Other notable deaths in 1714 include theologian Gottfried Arnold and Sir Edmund Andros, appointed as first proprietary governor of New York, an area including what will later be New Jersey and the state of Maine.
Parliament is offering a reward for an accurate way to determine longitude. It’s worth 10,000 pounds to anyone who can determine a ship’s longitude within one degree and worth double that to anyone who can cut that by half. Read more →

Self-Centered to Serve:

Self-Centered to Serve:

From Selfish Self-Centeredness to Self-Centeredly Informed Service for Others

Ralph Blair’s Keynote for connECtion2014

At the time, it was called the “greatest single event in human history”.  That was in 1964.  Guess what it was!  If you were born in 1964 – that wasn’t it.  Since it was only 50 years ago, you can be sure that it was not the “greatest single event in human history”.

With 1964 came The Civil Rights Act and The Great Society. In Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement was launched – long since gagged by ever-restrictive speech codes. In 1964, 76 percent of us trusted government to do the right thing “just about always or most of the time.”  Today, 19 percent do. Both Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama were born in 1964. The Beatles arrived for their first tour in America as Broadway welcomed Funny Girl and Hello Dolly.  Then, instead of fixating on genitalia as antigay clergy do today, a great evangelical theologian, Helmut Thielicke, affirmed: “Very certainly [homosexuality is] a search for the totality of the other human being.  He who says otherwise has not yet observed the possible human depth of a homoerotic-colored friendship.”  Thielicke urged, a la Jesus’ parable that we think of it “as a talent to be invested so that the homosexual in his actual situation can achieve the optimal ethical potential of sexual self-realization.”

But none of these was what was called, at the time, the “greatest single event in human history.”  So, what do you think it was?

Here’s my self-centered focus. In 1964, I got my MA from USC, got my first full-time job on IVCF staff at Penn, and was soon told I’d not be reappointed since I was advocating evangelical support for same-sex couples.  Those were surely milestones in my life and pointed to my life’s calling, but, to label any of them, the “greatest single event in human history”, would make no sense at all. Read more →

Fall Festival 2013 – Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign

Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign

Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign is the text of the teachings Dr. Blair presented at the 2013 Evangelicals Concerned Fall Festival in Ocean Grove, NJ, October 11-13, 2013. On the first evening, he presented biographical background on four Christians we honor in this, their bicentennial year:

David Livingstone – Soren Kierkegaard – Robert Murray M’Cheyne – Jemima Thompson Luke

Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Ralph Blair

In the Year of our Lord 1813

It’s 1813 and the War of 1812 drags on – the “wars and rumors of wars” of which Jesus forewarned a fallen race.  The British and Americans battle each other on Lake Erie and Long Island Sound, at Buffalo, Plattsburg and Toronto.  Explorer Zebulon Pike is one of the casualties.  John Lawrence’s command, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, will become our Navy’s motto.  On September 7th, The Troy (NY) Post creates  “Uncle Sam”.  Other “peace” papers follow. (In 2013, Time magazine will rate “Uncle Sam” as one of the 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.)  James Madison begins his second term as president, the first Federal vaccination law is enacted, Congress authorizes steamship use for transporting mail and patents are granted for rubber and for the making of coal gas.

Three signers of The Declaration of Independence die: Benjamin Rush, Robert Livingston and George Clymer. Among our births of 1813: Henry Ward Beecher, who’ll lead the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights.  On Sunday mornings, ferryboat dockings at Brooklyn’s pier will announce simply, “Beecher!”  Susan Fenimore Cooper is born – the daughter of our first world-renowned novelist. A Christian naturalist, she’ll write against the vote for women!  Others are John C. Fremont, abolitionist and first Republican Presidential candidate, Nathaniel Currier of Currier & Ives, Stephen Douglas, who, famously, will debate Abraham Lincoln.  And, Montgomery Blair is born – Lincoln’s postmaster general who’ll introduce regular city delivery and money orders. Read more →

To Reject or Receive God’s Reign

To Reject or Receive God’s Reign

Matthew 13:1-30, 36-43


In July, Time magazine published The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.  Editors drew up this list of fictional characters with some help from “contributors” such as F. Murray Abraham, Jodie Foster and Chris Colfer.  The public then voted for its top choices from the list.  Not surprisingly, Santa Claus ranked No. 1.  But James Bond was No. 2?  Sherlock Holmes followed him.  No. 4 was The Dude. The Dude?  Jeff Bridges as The Big Lebowski.  The Good Samaritan was fifth.  The Prodigal Son ranked farther down the list, getting about a third as many votes as did The Good Samaritan.  The Prodigal Son was ranked just ahead of Dorothy Gale but far ahead of Jay Gatsby, Tarzan and Pollyanna.

In his Prodigal Son essay, a sports writer for Time misses the point of the parable. He hails the Prodigal as a “designer of daydreams” and says the older brother “needs to take a few more risks to earn his rewards, just like Baby Bro.” (Sean Gregory)  But, the anonymous comments on The Good Samaritan are on point.  The character’s function as archetype of folks who come to the aid of needy strangers is recognized and the writer says that Jesus asks us “to practice the most demanding act of the Christian faith: to love and help even our enemies in an age in which so many voices urge us to demonize.”  Some get a parable’s point and others don’t.

Well, this weekend we’ll be looking at some of Jesus’ other parables.  But before that, and since Jesus is so poorly stereotyped in the public mind, I’d like to quote from a letter I have in which C. S. Lewis responds to an enquirer, addressing the misconception that was popular in Lewis’ day as it still is in our day.

Lewis wrote: “Of course, ‘Gentle Jesus’ my elbow!  The most striking thing about our Lord is the union of great ferocity with extreme tenderness. … Add to this that He is also a supreme ironist, dialectician, and (occasionally) humourist.  So go on: You are on the right track now: getting to the real Man behind all the plaster dolls that have been substituted for Him.  This is the appearance in Human form of the God who made the tiger and the lamb, the avalanche and the rose.  He’ll frighten and puzzle you; but the real Christ can be loved and admired as the doll can’t.”

Let’s hear God’s word. Read more →

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