Princeton University Religious Life

When Bad Things Happen to Other People

When Bad Things Happen to Other People

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” is the title of a best-selling book by Rabbi Harold Kushner.  It addresses theodicy – the perennial challenge to people in every religious, spiritual, and secular community, of the great WHY.  Why do horrible things happen to anyone, especially those who are really fine people?  For those of us who believe in God, and who do not believe that God to be capricious, mean, uncaring, uninvolved or vindictive, but actually fair, all-loving, merciful, just, all-knowing, and all-powerful, bad things happening to good

Always With Us

Always With Us

On a visit to friends in London 22 years ago, I found myself a guest for lunch at the home of one of their friends.  When that gentleman heard that I lived in New York City, he lit up; he asked me if I were familiar with New York Hospital.  I was.  He proclaimed with deep fervor, “They saved my baby!”  It turns out he’d been working in Manhattan ten years earlier, and his only child was born during that time.  He was very premature, had many health challenges, and it was reasonable to think that he might not survive.  But through many interventions,

The Place of Mystery in the Life of the Mind

The Place of Mystery in the Life of the Mind

It was in May of 1961 that Norman O. Brown, then a professor of classics at Wesleyan University, delivered an epoch making Phi Beta Kappa address, later published in the Atlantic. Its title: “Apocalypse: The Place of Mystery in the Life of the Mind.”  

This address may be as pertinent today as it was more than half a century ago.   Hence my willingness to plagiarize his title.

As he said in 1961:

What Money Can’t Buy

What Money Can’t Buy

This Sunday each year is known in the churches as Baptism of Christ Sunday.   The texts appointed for the day, as you’ll notice, refer to Jesus’ baptism, and to baptism in other early Christian communities.    Samaria was one of them.   The Samaritans weren’t just any neighbors to the Jews of Judea.   They were Israelites too, historically.   But at some point they had parted ways enormously, and were worshipping God not on what Judeans considered the holy mountain of Jerusalem, or Zion, but some miles away on Mount Gerazim.

Fully Known

Fully Known

Jeremiah is called to be the prophet of the nations; no other prophet has been called to such an international expectation. Many prophets have been called to the north and south and to even a nearby village or two, even Amos enters another kingdom far from his home, but no prophet has ever been called to such an international dominion. Furthermore, God is has called Jeremiah from his birth, from the womb even, and God knows and trusts all of the gifts that Jeremiah can bring to the world. In short, this calling is a huge deal. And how does Jeremiah respond?

Shining with Glory

Shining with Glory

On the church calendar, the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent is Transfiguration Sunday, when we reflect on Christ’s divine transformation in the presence of several of his disciples. I’ll confess that the Transfiguration Sunday sermon is among my least favorite to prepare of the church year. The disciples didn’t understand or know what to say in reponse to Christ’s transfiguration, and neither do I! It’s a holy mystery. This year, as you’ll hear, I have striven to understand in the simplest way possible what happened to Christ, what happened many centuries earlier to Moses, all with a hope for what might happen, in the simplest way, to you and me.

At its simplest, Moses and Jesus shine with the glory of God. They are alight. The face of Moses is recognizable as his own, the figure of Christ is recognizable as his own, but that same old face, so familiar to brother Aaron and the rest, and the person of Jesus so constantly known to his disciples, they glow with an intensity that all onlookers know instantly is supernatural.

For All the People

For All the People

A teenage boy and pregnant girl.   A donkey ride, long and lumbering.   A buzzing small city, packed with travelers.   No bed, but some family kind enough to let them bunk with their animals.   A beautiful newborn boy, ten fingers and ten toes, adorable button nose.   Besotted new parents, delirious, exhausted, inebriated with love.   Angels proclaim, shepherds recoil, shepherds recover, shepherds go to see their savior, maybe deserting their sheep, maybe in a moment of pastoral responsibility bringing them along - a smelly, chaotic, bleating procession.

Out on a Limb

Out on a Limb

When I was a seminarian, a growing number of years ago, my homiletics professor would sometimes begin her comments after a student’s classroom sermon with the words, “So, where is the Good News?”  That was her greatest single criterion for any sermon - forget drama, gestures, stories, jokes, poems, songs, tears, learned quotes, mountain tops - she wanted every young Christian preacher to deliver the Good News.   If it came through any of the aforementioned methods, great, but where is the Good News?  This she would ask with loving guidance of young women a

I Will Bring You Home

I Will Bring You Home

This morning we begin our third week of Advent, our season of expectation and longing and anticipation about the birth of Jesus, the birth of hope, peace, and ultimate salvation.   Many people, myself included, have this as a favorite time of year.   But we begin this next stage of Advent reeling with the fact of the massacre of first graders, their teachers, and administrators in Connecticut.   It is the very opposite of all that we cherish about these weeks – we want hope, warmth, joy, expectation, fun.

Life-Giving Acts

Life-Giving Acts

It has been quite a week.  Particularly unnerving, in a way so unique to terrorism, are the marathon bombings in Boston.  And then there is the massive explosion in West, Texas.  Those are added to the “regular” acts of nature or humanity that are the background to every week – deadly earthquakes in Iran and China, tornadoes and severe weather in the center of the U.S., bombings of innocent civilians in public places in far-off countries – bombings that are always lamentable, but that, for a matter of days, become more noticeable to us, because they