WE LIE IN OUR BEDS IN THE DARK. There is a picture of the children on the bureau. A patch of moonlight catches our clothes thrown over the back of a chair. We can hear the faint rumble of the furnace in the cellar. We are surrounded by the reassurance of the familiar. When the weather is bad, we have shelter. When things are bad in our lives, we have a place where we can retreat to lick our wounds while tens of thousands of people, many of them children, wander the dark streets in search of some corner to lie down in out of the wind.

Yet we are homeless even so in the sense of having homes but not being really at home in them. To be really at home is to be really at peace, and there can be no real peace for any of us until there is some measure of real peace for all of us. When we close our eyes to the deep needs of other people, whether they live on the streets or under our own roof—and when we close our eyes to our own deep need to reach out to them—we can never be fully at home anywhere.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

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IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to think about the Holocaust. It is impossible not to think about it. Nothing in history equals the horror of it. There is no way to imagine it. There is no way to speak of it without diminishing it. Thousands upon thousands were taken away in Nazi Germany during World War II. They were gassed. Their corpses were burned. Many were old men. Many were small children. Many were women. They were charged with nothing except being Jews. In the end there were apparently something like six million of them who died, six thousand thousands.

Anyone who claims to believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God without taking into account this devastating evidence either that God is indifferent or powerless, or that there is no God at all, is playing games.

Anyone who claims to believe in the inevitable perfectibility of the human race without taking this into account is either a fool or a lunatic.

That many of the people who took part in the killings were professing Christians, not to mention many more who knew about the killings but did nothing to interfere, is a scandal the church of Christ perhaps does not deserve to survive.

For people who don't believe in God, suffering can be understood simply as part of the way the world works. The Holocaust is no more than an extreme example of the barbarities that human beings have been perpetrating on each other since the start. For people who do believe in God, it must remain always a dark and awful mystery.

If Love itself is really at the heart of all, how can such things happen? What do such things mean? The Old Testament speaks of the elusive figure of the Suffering Servant, who though "despised and rejected of men" and brutally misused, has nonetheless willingly "borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" and thereby won an extraordinary victory in which we all somehow share (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The New Testament speaks of the cross, part of whose meaning is that even out of the worst the world can do, God is still able to bring about the best.

But all such explanations sound pale and inadequate before the gas chambers of Buchenwald and Ravensbrück, the ovens of Treblinka.

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

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ONLY GOD IS HOLY, just as only people are human. God's holiness is God's Godness. To speak of anything else as holy is to say that it has something of God's mark upon it. Times, places, things, and people can all be holy, and when they are, they are usually not hard to recognize.

One holy place I know is a workshop attached to a barn. There is a wood-burning stove in it made out of an oil drum. There is a workbench, dark and dented, with shallow, crammed drawers behind one of which a cat lives. There is a calendar on the wall, plus various lengths of chain and rope, shovels and rakes of different sizes and shapes, some worn-out jackets and caps on pegs, an electric clock that doesn't keep time. On the workbench are two small plug-in radios, both of which have serious things wrong with them. There are several metal boxes full of wrenches and a bench saw. There are a couple of chairs with rungs missing. There is an old yellow bulldozer with its tracks caked with mud parked against one wall. The place smells mainly of engine oil and smoke—both wood smoke and pipe smoke. The windows are small, and even on bright days what light there is comes through mainly in window-sized patches on the floor.

I have no idea why this place is holy, but you can tell it is the moment you set foot in it if you have an eye for that kind of thing. For reasons known only to God, it is one of the places God uses for sending God's love to the world through.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

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UNLIKE BUDDHISM OR HINDUISM, biblical faith takes history very seriously because God takes it very seriously. God took it seriously enough to begin it and to enter it and to promise that one day it will be brought to a serious close. The biblical view is that history is not an absurdity to be endured or an illusion to be dispelled or an endlessly repeating cycle to be escaped. Instead, it is for each of us a series of crucial, precious, and unrepeatable moments that are seeking to lead us somewhere.

The true history of humankind and the true history of each individual has less to do than we tend to think with the kind of information that gets into most histories, biographies, and autobiographies. True history has to do with the saving and losing of souls, and both of these are apt to take place when most people—including the one whose soul is at stake—are looking the other way. The real turning point in our lives is less likely to be the day we win the election or get married than the morning we decide not to mail the letter or the afternoon we watch the woods fill up with snow. The real turning point in human history is less apt to be the day the wheel is invented or Rome falls than the day a child is born in a stable.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

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HIRAM, KING OF TYRE, was in the lumber business, and when Solomon, king of Israel, decided he wanted to build the Temple in Jerusalem, Hiram let him have all the cedar and cypress he needed. He also charged such a cutthroat price for it that in order to pay up, Solomon had to tax his people blind and increase tolls on all the major highways.

Twenty years later, however, when the job was done and Hiram submitted his final bill, Solomon got a little of his own back by paying it in the form not of cash but of twelve Galilean cities whose turn-in value is suggested by the fact that when Hiram saw them, he called them Cabul, which means "No Place." According to the historian Josephus, Solomon followed this up by proposing a riddle contest, which Hiram lost hands down. As a result he had to give Solomon an enormous prize.

Josephus reports that Hiram bided his time for a while but then got hold of a friend named Abdemon, who made hash of Solomon's riddles in about twenty-five minutes, and at the end of that round it was Solomon who had to cough up an enormous prize for Hiram.

Unfortunately neither Josephus nor the book of Kings reports what new heights the friendship rose to after that.

1 Kings 5; 9

-Originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words

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