Everybody faces tough times and difficult circumstances in life. For some, the pain seems deeper and more severe than for others, the episodes more frequent. But discouragement, disappointment, and pain—whether physical, financial, or emotional—visit us all at one time or another. Bad things happen to good people as well as to bad, the rain falls on both the just and the unjust, and the only constant in all of this is that nobody is immune.
After a lifetime relatively free of trauma, apart from periodic bouts of near-debilitating depression, things changed for me in 2007-08. The bottom fell out, and it was my turn to walk through some dark valleys. They were horrible, awful, painful years filled with one bit of bad news after another. Continue reading →
Last fall, I traveled from central Ohio (where I live) to Harrisonburg, Virginia (where I lived for nineteen years—1981-2000), to speak in chapel at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite Seminary. For reasons almost incidental to the actual address, it was one of the best short trips I’ve ever taken. Coming, as it did, two days after the presidential election, it was a salutary endeavor, a balm to my bruised and battered spirit. (The bruises were not solely the product of the election result, but that certainly didn’t help.)
At the conclusion of my talk, a long-time member of the seminary faculty invited Shirley and me to join her and a group of student/pilgrims this summer on a month-long visit to Israel and Palestine, the region traditionally known as The Holy Land. My wife had some knee surgery about a year ago, and she knew immediately that she would not be up to a trip requiring so much walking. After a week or so of deliberation, I too declined to join the study tour for that most practical of reasons—I simply could not afford it. Continue reading →
Perhaps nothing illustrates the way my thinking has changed over the past decade better than the evolution in my appreciation for Marcus Borg.
Like many students of conservative, evangelical theology—the tradition in which I grew up—I first learned of Marcus Borg in his role as one of the most prominent figures involved in something called The Jesus Seminar back in the 1980s and ’90s. That endeavor comprised 150 academics and laypersons who met occasionally to debate the authenticity of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The group’s methodology for registering their individual opinions—i.e. depositing colored marbles in a box, each different color representing greater or lesser likelihood of authenticity—provided ample material for jokes and put-downs in the conservative circles where I moved at the time. Continue reading →
I am not a medical professional, but I assume that, if an individual shows up at the emergency room in excruciating pain from some sort of injury, the first order of business is to ease the pain so that the injured party can assist the attending physician in determining the cause and extent of the injury, thereby abetting treatment and eventual healing. The same procedure applies to pain inflicted through psychological and spiritual injury as well. Continue reading →
I am not the same person I was twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago. Neither are you, although for some of us, the differences are more stark, more startling, especially when they involve, as they do in my case, changes in fundamental beliefs arising from a change in many of the presuppositions that underlie my worldview. As I’ve written so often that it almost sounds cliché (at least to me), if you change your underlying presuppositions about life and reality, your belief structure is bound to change, and you will draw significantly different conclusions about priorities, meaning, and how you should live your life. Continue reading →
In a way, Hillbilly Elegy could not be a more appropriate place to begin this literary journey through Lent by way of fourteen titles that have recently moved me “a little farther down the path” on my personal pilgrimage as a follower of Christ. (For the significance of that imagery, see yesterday’s post on this blog.)
At every Ash Wednesday service, marking the beginning of the season of Lent, when ashes are “imposed” on the forehead of each worshiper, the officiant intones the words, “Remember that you are dust (or dirt), and to dust (or dirt) you will return.” There were times while I was reading the book that I really felt like dirt. Continue reading →
As someone wisely said, regarding the potential benefits from observing the season of Lent, “It’s not the deprivation, it’s the discipline.” (Oh wait, I think it was me, so it can’t be all that wise. Still, it is true.) The benefits of Lent don’t come from what we give up but, rather, from what we learn—about ourselves, about the world around us, about God and ultimate reality—through some sort of focused, intentional experience.
On the church-year calendar, Lent (from the Old English word for springtime) is the 40-day period, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter. It represents the forty days Jesus spent alone in the wilderness, following his baptism, during which he was “tempted by the devil” as part of his preparation for the ministry that lay ahead of him. Since Jesus fasted from food for the duration, his followers have traditionally deprived themselves of some commodity or activity as a way of identifying with Jesus and preparing for the observance of Passion Week and the celebration of Easter. Continue reading →
It would be hard to find someone more predisposed to the Christian religion than I am. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens, I was certain God had “called” me to devote my life to the service of the church and the gospel. That is what I have done. I have been ordained in three different denominations, and I have friends in virtually every major tradition of the church from the fundamentalist right to the progressive left.
I have looked at the church from almost every imaginable perspective. I’ve seen the best and the worst, things that make me proud and things that make me ashamed, things that make me smile broadly and things that make me weep uncontrollably. I’ve seen the church be a place where people experience joy and delight, and I’ve seen it cause intense pain and do grievous harm. Continue reading →
Over the past decade, I have made a lot of changes in what I believe about life and faith and how I evaluate truth claims and worldviews. Like so many others in similar situations, I changed my mind about essential matters when I found that, at the most crucial times in my life, my previously-cherished beliefs simply did not work for me; they promised far more than they delivered.
When I looked more deeply, I found that the superstructure of my belief system crumbled because the foundation on which it rested was riddled with cracks. In philosophical terms, my presuppositions were flawed, so the conclusions based on them turned out to be flawed as well. You don’t have to agree with my assessment here; I’m just putting it out there. Continue reading →
The Road to Someplace Beautiful Chapel Address by Eric Kouns
Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia
November 10, 2015
[Note: If you’d like to hear this address as it was delivered at EMS, click here.]
Whenever a man of mediocre intellect is invited to address an audience in an academic setting—a pseudo-scholar who wants to foster the pretense of erudition—he will often begin his talk by referencing an obscure quote by a nineteenth-century existentialist philosopher.
I think it was Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish existentialist, who once observed that…
We live our lives looking forward, but we understand our lives only by looking back.
I would call that either profoundly self-evident or self-evidently profound. But it’s true, in any event. Continue reading →