March 17, 2019

If you think you understand it, it is not God.  Soren Kierkegaard In Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead, Reverand John Ames (one of my top five favorite characters in all of fiction) frequently expresses doubt concerning his faith, something unexpected in a Congregational minister, at least in some circles. In the middle of the novel, Ames spends a few pages considering doubt and uncertainty in one’s faith within the context of challenges from non-believers to “prove” that God… Read more

March 13, 2019

Twenty-five years ago last month, I interviewed at Providence College for a tenure-track position in the philosophy department. The sky was crystal clear, but it was bitterly cold; the snowbanks were piled high. When I returned home to Memphis from the interview, I told Jeanne that I hoped I would get the job. “It seems like it would be a good fit,” I said. I was right. I’ve been remembering parts of that intense day of interviewing over the past… Read more

March 11, 2019

I love the cycle of the liturgical year, the anticipation of Advent, the joy of Christmas and Easter, the surprise of Epiphany, the daily grind of Pentecost and Ordinary Time. And then there’s Lent. It’s always been my least favorite of the liturgical seasons for a number of reasons, but this year I’m dedicated to thinking about and living it differently. My thoughts on these matters were published yesterday in Bearings Online, a publication of the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, Minnesota…. Read more

March 10, 2019

What we call doubt is often simply dullness of mind and spirit, not the absence of faith at all, but faith latent in the lives we are not quite living, God dormant in the world to which we are not quite giving our best selves.  Christopher Wiman One of my birthday presents earlier this week from Jeanne was a new super-duper Keurig coffee machine that, among other amazing abilities, can make cappuccinos and lattes. Before last summer, I don’t believe… Read more

March 8, 2019

Last year, for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fell on the same day. I think they belong together. My lovely wife Jeanne and I have had occasional conversations over the years about Lent that have, gradually, caused me to think differently about my least favorite liturgical season. It all started early one Saturday morning. It’s 5:30 in the morning (on Saturday, mind you), my eyelids are resisting the inevitable and Jeanne asks me, “What is… Read more

March 6, 2019

Today is my birthday, so I ask for your indulgence. Our culture tends to assume that with increased years comes increased wisdom, but as a Chinese philosopher once pointed out, some people just get older with the passage of time, and the wisdom thing never happens. With that in mind, here are a few things that, on my sixty-third birthday, I think I know to be true. 1. Some things never change: A Facebook friend reported the results of her online… Read more

March 5, 2019

A Jewish friend of mine told me a number of years ago that Judaism is the only monotheistic religion in which one can be both a faithful member and an atheist. It struck me as an obvious overstatement, but over the years I have returned to her observation, because it says something very interesting both about Judaism and faith in general. As I’ve learned more and more about Judaism over the years, my friend’s comment has made more sense. Judaism… Read more

March 3, 2019

Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12 In his collection of essays Breakfast at the Victory, James Carse writes about the spiritual lessons he learned when the water at his family’s rural New England cabin started tasting funny one summer. It turned out that the wooden cover over the cabin’s well had collapsed under the weight of a deer or a bear, and was polluting the water that fed the well. Carse’s essay explores, with some side… Read more

February 28, 2019

On the recommendation of one of my colleagues, I recently read Alexander Waugh’s The House of Wittgenstein. It’s hard to resist for a philosophy professor, since Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the most important, yet enigmatic and difficult, philosophers of the 20th century. The Wittgensteins were fabulously wealthy, one of the most successful families in fin-de-siècle Vienna. Ludwig was the youngest of nine children; one died in her youth, and the three oldest sons committed suicide. The other remaining son, older brother Paul, was a concert… Read more

February 26, 2019

As we drove home from a lovely two-day celebration of our twenty-fifth anniversary several years ago, Jeanne and I were listening to NPR, as is our frequent custom when in the car. It was Nelson Mandela’s ninety-fifth birthday, and we listened to young children singing “Happy Birthday To You” outside the hospital where Mandela had been in serious condition for the past several weeks. “This guy is like George Washington,” I said to Jeanne as various people talked about Mandela’s heroic… Read more

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