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 →
I tend to procrastinate; it’s in my nature. I’ve convinced myself that I do my best work under the pressure of a deadline. Since I’ve hardly ever completed an assignment apart from that kind of pressure, and since I have, on occasion, produced some pretty good work, I have perpetuated that perception in my own mind.
In my defense, I don’t think I am lazy. Mainly, especially when it comes to jobs I either enjoy or at least don’t mind doing, the problem is that I simply underestimate the time required to do the work, so I start later than I should and find myself rushing to finish on time. That problem increases exponentially, however, when the task facing me is one I really didn’t want to do in the first place. In that case, my procrastination tendency reaches crisis proportions. 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 →
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 →
Father Harold Stanhope removed the stole from around his neck—green, since September is Ordinary Time in the liturgical year—and laid it back on the shelf. Then he unfastened the rope cinch around his waist, took off his alb, and hung it on the rack next to the stole. After pouring himself a glass of cranberry juice over ice, he kicked off his shoes and settled into his favorite chair. It had been a good morning.
He had spent most of the past two hours standing—while preaching, celebrating Holy Communion, and greeting the people as they left the chapel following the service—and at age eighty-one, that was not as easy to do as it once was. Father Harry, as everybody called him, was tired, but he was also very happy. His ministry filled him with satisfaction and a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving God in this place. Continue reading →