A Tribute to Buechner

There are a handful of authors who have influenced my thoughts, my theology, my faith, and my writing more than any others.
C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, N. T. Wright …
and Frederick Buechner. Buechner young
Buechner wrote deep, aching truth alongside beautiful, longing hope. He saw this life of faith clearer than most, and now he sees face to face. He died a few days ago at age 96.
96 is a long life by any standards. His was a long life well lived. This kind of death brings sadness to those who will miss him and to the many more of us who will miss his words, but it is not a tragedy.
Frederick Buechner is finally face to face with the Jesus he adores. He ran this race well and now he can rest in peace with the One he loves.
In honor of the impact his writings have had on me, I pulled together some of my favorites among his words. These are in a completely random order, but I hope that they lure you into finding one of his books and letting his words sink as deeply into you as they have into me.
The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us.

We draw near to him by following him even on clumsy and reluctant feet.

Adeste fidelis. That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true. Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light. Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves.
I believe that…the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.

We go because it is where His way leads us; and again and again we are blessed by our going in ways we can never anticipate, and our going becomes a blessing to the ones we go to because when we follow His way, we never go entirely along, and it is always something more than just ourselves and our own emptiness that we bring.

Paul says that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”, and he points to “the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can here in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.”

Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf. (re: Job being given God himself in the middle of suffering)

Words people speak have dynamite in them and a word may be all it takes to set somebody’s heart on fire or break it in two.
So many of us are so bad at hearing each other and seeing each other that it is little wonder that one life seems enough to them or more than enough: seeing so little in this world, they think that there is little to see and that they have seen most of it already so that the rest probably is not worth seeing anyway and there is nothing new under the sun.

You often hear the advice that if you keep busy, it will be over before you know it, and the tragedy of it is that it is true.

God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight — God, the beloved enemy … Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.

It is these very everyday moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears, reveal only … the gardener, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with all of our being and our imagination — if we live our lives not from vacation to vacation, from escape to escape, but from the miracle of one instant of our precious lives to the miracle of the next — what we may see is Jesus himself.

Frederick Buechner also spoke of ordinary life as a fathomless mystery. He admonishes us to listen to the ordinary, everyday life and see it for what it truly 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.

The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”

The Future of the Church

I overheard someone the other day. 

I wasn’t trying to “drop any eaves”, but he was speaking quite loudly. 

“Our churches are turning into places of moral relativism, places where young people come to hear abstract ideas that have no bearing on their daily lives. What’s the matter with young people today? Why can’t they understand Truth?”

It’s a fair question. It does seem as though many who claim to follow Christ show up at church every now and then but ignore Him at all other times.

This older man’s complaint made me think of a book I read a few months ago: The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. He speaks of this idea quite a bit and says things such as this: 

Consumer Christianity is now normative. The consumer Christian is one who utilizes the grace of God for forgiveness and the services of the church for special occasions, but does not give his or her life and innermost thoughts, feelings and intentions over to the kingdom of the heavens.

Many things in this book caused wonderings to whirl about inside of me (Dallas Willard does this to you). Is this really true, that Consumer Christianity is normative in our time and place? If so, how can I protect my children against this? How can we, as a Church, change this?

It is not often that I find a book that directly and perfectly answers a set of ideas and questions that I have been mulling over, but I found it in this case in a book called Souls in Transition by Christian Smith. 

This is a book full of numbers, statistics and research, a book that I struggled in places to understand, but it is also a book about what young adults believe about God and religion and, more importantly to me, what in their youth caused them to believe those things. 

I won’t bore you with the details of their research; for this essay suffice it to say that there were significant numbers of youth that were followed and interviewed over many years as they grew up.  I surmise that even my statistician brother would be content with their procedures and numbers.

I was, I admit, overwhelmed and saddened to read about the common beliefs in the majority of these young adults:  

  • that the purpose of religion is to help people live good lives 
  • that the church is not a place of belonging for them so they turn to other, non-religious groups for a sense of belonging from others
  • that the religious beliefs that they do hold are abstract – they do not affect the way they live
  • that religion is blind faith and without evidence or proof no one can know the truth

How has this happened? How is it that our churches are not giving our teens and young adults a sense of belonging? How is it that even those who attend church have such a disconnect between what they believe and how they live?

As frightening as all of the statistics were, however, the statistics about those young adults who did have a strong internal and external faith were encouraging. It has almost everything to do with the parents.

Did you hear that?

Even in this day when peers are so very influential to teenagers, the parents still have the most influence of all!

That is a beautiful thought.

The importance of faith, prayer and Bible reading in the parents’ lives makes “enormous substantive difference in religious outcomes during emerging adulthood”.

Be encouraged, you parents.

Those of you who pray with your children, read the Bible with your children, show your children how to live a life of faith – it is affecting your children’s hearts and it will be the most important factor (earthly factor, of course!) in the shaping of their adult lives.

I was so relieved when I read those words. I get nervous about the teen years, as do most parents, and was grateful to discover that I and my husband will still be the most important influencers in their lives, even as teenagers.

Yet I still wondered about all of the children who do not have godly parents. Are those children simply out of luck? 

And then I read this: almost as effective as having faithful parents was having another supportive, religious adult who played a major role in the teenager’s life. 

What grace from God! What a beautiful way to design things: even if the parents of a child do not obey God, as long as someone else is willing to step into that role, the teen will still remain faithful as a young adult.

Do you see what that means? 

It is up to us, the church, to influence our world, our teens for God. Grandparents, parents, singles, young adults, it is up to you. 

Be encouraged, you church.

God has given you the power to change lives. You who pray, read the Bible and serve – bring a teenager into your circle. You can be a huge influence in shaping their adult life, even if you are not their parent.

Talk with your youth minister, your children’s minister; look around your neighborhood. Find out if there are any nearby who need your support, who need you to listen and to speak truth into their lives.

If we each only took one? I imagine that we could change that “normative consumer Christianity” into normative discipleship Christianity. 

That is a beautiful thought.