Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Frederick Buechner!

Today is the birthday of Frederick Buechner.  Buechner is a Presbyterian minister and theologian--but that's a simplification, really.  He's written more than thirty books, and who knows how many sermons.  The scope of his writing is breathtaking:  novels, devotional items, sermons, autobiography, theology.

But here's what's most intriguing to me:  he's the kind of writer whom readers of all types adore.  I've met atheists who like his writing.  Christians of all stripes love him.  He achieves a kind of universality achieved by few; Henri Nouwen comes to mind as someone with similar writing achievements.  Buechner writes the kind of theology that's insightful and full of surprises, but so solid that he doesn't inspire controversy.  It's not an easy feat to pull off.

Earlier this year, in this post on my creativity blog, I wrote:

"I want to get back to thinking about the future in these terms: what would I do, if I believed that anything was possible? What do I enjoy doing? To put it in theological terms I want to structure my future in the way that Frederick Buechner would advise in his book Wishful Thinking: 'The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.'"

Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor says: "From [Buechner] I've learned that the only limit to the revelation going on all around me is my willingness to turn aside and look."

Here are some more Buechner quotes for your Monday:

"You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you've never seen before. A pair of somebody's old shoes can do it. ... You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next." Beyond Words

"Martin Luther said once, 'If I were God, I'd kick the world to pieces.' But Martin Luther wasn't God. God is God, and God has never kicked the world to pieces. He keeps re-entering the world. He keeps offering himself to the world by grace, keeps somehow blessing the world, making possible a kind of life which we all, in our deepest being, hunger for." From discussion with reporter Kim Lawton on Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly

"The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt." The Hungering Dark [59]

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." Now and Then

Even in these snippets, Buechner does what I try to do as a theologian and a poet:  he's pointing towards some insights and observations that seem fairly universal, regardless of religious and spiritual beliefs.  He inspires Christians and atheists alike.

Later today, you can go to the Living Lutheran website, where I've written a post that will be one of the featured ones for today.  Am I Buechneresque?  You decide.

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