Welcome to the website of a retired United Methodist pastor! This corner of the Internet continues nearly fifty years of a weekly column in a church newsletter, on topics ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The opinions expressed are the author's and represent no institution, although it is hoped that within these pages you will find a reflection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who, in his own borrowed words, insists that we love God with, along with all the rest of what we are, our minds. "Critical" as used in the title does not mean being nasty or grumpy; it means using intellectual faculties in the service of God. Your reactions, rebuttals, comments, and questions can be addressed to: BobHow9846@comcast.net.
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May 31, 2014 - Essays: That's Entertainment
July 1, 2014 - Essays: Christian the Adjective
July 8, 2014 - Essaya: Belgian Beer Bottle and God's Mysterious Ways with Us
Belgian Beer Bottle and God
Belgian Beer Bottle and God’s Mysterious Ways with Us
I pulled in close to the curb, heard a
crunching sound, as glass breaking, followed by a rush of air. The front
passenger side tire, just six months old, had been slashed by an empty Stella
Artois beer bottle.
Battell Chapel on one side, the Green on the
other, New Haven folk passing by, some of them surely Yalies. One such looked
at us looking at the flat tire and commiserated. I phoned AAA and after a
little pleading arranged to have the wrecker summoned when we would likely
emerge from worship and coffee hour at the UCC Church on the Green, a couple of
We were on a nostalgia mission not uncommon
among old men. The interim pastor of said Church on the Green was the daughter
of a history professor who was also the faculty advisor to the fraternity at
which I was president. Dr. Robert Scott, no friend of organized religion, or
for that matter any religion, expressed his regrets that I would be going to
seminary and be ordained. I took his opinion as a backhanded compliment, that
his estimate of me was as someone capable of significant leadership in the
world, and it would be wasted on the church.
Fast forward thirty years to Ireland, to
Ennis, a town with an ancient lineage. Barbara and I were on an Alumni Travel
trip to the land of my ancestors. Leading the trip was another history
professor, lately retired from the presidency of the college where Dr. Scott
continued to teach. I expressed my displeasure with the faculty attitude (Dr.
Scott was not alone) toward the church. I thought I would find a sympathetic
ear with Dr. Oakley, reputed to be a practicing Catholic. One comment led to
another and I repeated to Frank Oakley Robert Scott’s attitude toward my
decision to seek ordination. Dr. Oakley smiled a wry smile and told me I would
be pleased to hear that Bob Scott’s daughter was now a Congregational pastor.
That news stuck sharply in my mind (like a
beer bottle in a car tire?), so I wasn’t totally surprised when one morning less
than a year ago I opened email from Bonnie Scott Jelenek. Dr. Scott’s ordained
daughter had found my website, and we began a modest exchange of information
electronically, including her dad’s rueful estimate of my future in the church…
a verdict which, not surprisingly, he visited on his daughter too.
Don’t get us wrong. She loved her dad. I
liked and admired him. And memories of him became the occasion for us to meet.
All of which gives me pause to reconsider…
well, any number of things.
Just one for now: like how hard it must be
for atheists in this insatiably and inevitably religious world. Beneath the
cocksure attitude of public atheists like Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins,
Madelyn O’Hare, and Christopher Hitchins there must surely be a nagging doubt or
two, even if well suppressed, like “What if I’m wrong?” Cocksuredness from the
other side, the steadfastly religious, has been amply (and justifiably)
ridiculed although it doesn’t seem to have persuaded most believers to
reconsider their intransigence. The same holds for the atheist. But the louder
either shouts, the less I for one believe he disbelieves or believes.
Like my locker room buddy smiles whenever he
sees me, with reference to a comment I once made and he affirms, “Life is a
mystery,” and the ways we wind defy prediction.
In a different context Jesus opined that
“God can from these stones raise up children to Abraham.” The history of the
church, beginning as far back as Paul the Apostle, is replete with stories of
those who might seem to be the least fertile soil for growing faith, human
plantings, often at the beginning of their mature lives, who find the young
rabbi from Galilee, the one who died outside the gates of Jerusalem, a
compelling figure on whose behalf they are willing to spend their energy,
intellect, and time, no matter that parent or professor advise otherwise.
Bonnie and Bob say “Amen.” And that
benediction cheered me all the way home up I 91 with emergency lights flashing
and a “temporary” tire limiting my speed to 50 mph.