Remembering Rubem Alves (1933-2014)

Rubem AlvesRubem Alves, the Brazilian writer and theologian, died last week at the age of 80. I had the privilege to get to know him during one of his visits to the United States in the early 1980’s. He came to Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor, Maine, where I was the chaplain at the time. One of my unofficial duties was showing hospitality to visiting scholars, and so over the course of a week or so, I shared several meals with him and  drove him around town to see the sights. I remember I took him shopping for his family at T. J. Maxx. He had a shopping list from his wife, and was very methodical about what to bring home to Brazil.

He was one of the most intellectually curious people I have ever met. A professor of philosophy, he was interested in literature, music (he wrote eloquently about Vivaldi), education and psychoanalysis (in which he was trained.) He was such great company, full of ideas and ready to discuss a world of topics. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a great laugh

He loved poetry and his 2002 book, The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet (SCM Classics) is an important work in the field of theopoetics.  He went on to publish over 40 books on a wide variety of subjects.  A popular lecturer and speaker he was also a columnist for his local newspaper.

He is often credited as one of the founders of liberation theology and his dissertation at Princeton Theological Seminary was later published under the title A Theology of Human Hope (Corpus Books, 1969) with a foreword by Harvey Cox. It was an important early work in English on the subject.

I just learned of his death from a tweet from the World Council of Churches, memorializing his many contributions to the ecumenical movement. The remembrance of him from the WCC can be found here.

I recall him with great affection and give thanks to God for him.

Here is a quote of his:

“Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. . . . Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries, and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.” (From There is A Season by Joan Chittister)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We are storied creatures!” A reflection on Psalm 139:16

StoryAs I approach the forty year mark of my ministry I more and more appreciate that one’s life is part of a story. Over that span of years I spent many of my days in the give and take of pastoral ministry while at the same time I was marinating in Scripture preparing to give a good word on Sunday. Here’s a reflection on what it means to have such a storied life:

“We are storied creatures. There is no essential “I” apart from the story I am living, which is populated with a multi-generational cast of thousands. It is quite a story. It begins “in the beginning,” and ends only in God’s own good Time. And, praise be! God has written me into it, giving me a part to play, and, oh look, you have one too!” (From my Daily Devotional for today. See the whole post here.

“Are you choking?” A reflection on worry.

Thorns“As for the seed that was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” – Matthew 13:22

“I’ve never been particularly susceptible to the lure of wealth, but I am an expert on “the cares of the world.” It may be in my genes. My grandmother, Irma Grace, was what the family called a “worrywart,” a word you don’t hear much anymore, but one that means “a person who worries too much or who worries about things that are not important.”

My grandmother was the Babe Ruth of worrying. She had long lists of things to worry about, and if one worry got resolved the next one would quickly move to the top of the list. (From my Daily Devotional for today. See more here)

 

Remembering Willis Elliott: theologian and gadfly

Willis ElliottMy dear friend and colleague Willis Elliott has died. Scott Paeth’s FB post today captures some of the essence of Willis:

“For those who did not know him, he was the often-insightful/often-infuriating gadfly of the United Church of Christ, and a long-time participant in the Confessing Christ group. He died old and full of years”

I met Willis at the very first Craigville Colloquy back in 1984. He spoke at dinner about the “Christian Connection,” the often overlooked piece of the four-church merger that became the United Church of Christ. I thought, “Who is this guy?” Smart, articulate, funny, and insightful. He had a full white beard like Santa Claus, and I thought he was really old, but that was thirty years ago so what did I know?

Later we had him at my congregation as a speaker and with his wife Loree a guest in our home. He was a brilliant, multi-lingual polymath, a former fundamentalist, and at times as difficult and uncompromising as Jeremiah. If there had been a shop that sold iron yokes, Willis might have purchased one. But he could also be an encouraging mentor. Years ago I did a presentation at the MA Conference annual meeting and afterward he made a point to come up and thank me. He also said, “I didn’t know you had it in you!” That was Willis.

In the 1990’s he was one of the founders of Confessing Christ in the United Church of Christ, along with Gabe Fackre, Fred Trost, Jim Gorman, Leslie Zeigler, Barbara Clemons, Bennie Whiten, Herb Davis, Andy Lang, Ted Trost, myself and many others. “Confessing Christ” was an invitation to “joyous theological reflection and serious theological work” on behalf of the ministry and mission of the United Church of Christ.

For years we had our Confessing Christ annual meeting at the church I was serving in Pittsfield, MA, and I got to know Willis well. He was one of the least compromising people I have ever known, and the least career oriented. He had been the librarian and Old Testament Professor at New York Theological Seminary, and before that had served on the national staff of the UCC.

He was a deeply committed Christian, reading the Bible every day in the original languages. His “Think-Sheets,” free of an editorial hand, were challenging, quirky, often brilliant, and, just as often, maddening. They always made you think.

In his latter years his eyesight waned, but he kept up a lively correspondence and participation on the Confessing Christ list-serve conversation.

The “thickness” of the conversation in the United Church of Christ, and the great church, will now be poorer for the loss of his voice, but he had no doubt, and neither do I, that he is now numbered among the great cloud of witnesses. I thank God for him.

“Our eyes are on you”

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“We do not know what to do; but our eyes are on you.” – 2 Chronicles 20:12

“It took many years in the ministry for me to be able to say, “I don’t know what to do,” but it was something of a turning point for me. . .  There is often a certain kind of functional atheism that creeps into the way we do business in the church. We might open our meeting with a prayer, but we fully expect to take care of business ourselves.” (From today’s Daily Devotional) Read whole post

(Photo: Appalachian Trail in S. Egremont, Massachusetts. By R.L. Floyd)

 

If life gives you basil, make pesto!

PestoWe had about as perfect a day as we ever get here in the Berkshires. Not too hot, not too cold, not humid, not windy, lots of sunshine and birdsong, and to top it all off, my little herb garden was yielding the first crop of basil. Welcome summer!

I have made more than my share of pesto in a variety of ways, and they all taste pretty great. The key is fresh basil and good olive oil and cheese.

Here’s my basic recipe, which works with a pound of pasta. I have used many different pasta shapes. My favorite is fettuccine, which I have learned is traditional in Genoa, where pesto originates (they call it trenette there).

Recipe:

2 cups basil leaves, the bigger ones torn in pieces

1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

2 TBS pine nuts

1-2 cloves of peeled and lightly crushed garlic (according to taste)

Salt to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

3 TBS freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 LB pasta of your choice

 

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt and cook your pasta al dente

Meanwhile, put the first 5 ingredients in the food processor and  puree them.

Pour them into a large bowl and add the two grated cheeses, blending them with a wooden spoon.

As you cook the pasta save a few TBS of the cooking water and use it to thin out the pesto. Toss it all together and grind some black pepper on it. If you want to get fancy throw  1 or 2 TBS of softened butter into it just before you serve it.

Any crisp dry white wine will taste great with it. We had an Argentinian Sauvignon Blanc with it tonight, because that was what was in the fridge. Enjoy!

(Photo: R. L. Floyd )

“What do you know about being God?” Reflections on Job

Blake“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” – Job 38:4

My friend Andy and I had just finished a prayer for the needs of the world when we started lamenting how endless those needs always are.

“If I were God . . .” Andy said, and stopped himself. “Always be suspicious,” he said, “of any sentence that begins, ‘If I were God!'”

We were not the first people to question the troubling gap between what we believe about our God and the immense suffering in our world. The Bible is full of just such questions.

Some of the very best of these questions are found in the Book of Job, which is the story of a good man enduring unbearable suffering. Job desperately wants to know why? His three “friends” offer him their pious answers, which are variants of “You had it coming!”

Their view that suffering is always deserved lingers: “What goes around comes around.”

But what if it isn’t true? What if the divine mystery is more complex than that? What if bad things do happen to good people? What if the punishment doesn’t always fit the crime? Read more. (From my Daily Devotional for today)