William Placher, 1948–2008

William C. Placher was my undergraduate mentor at Wabash College and became my colleague when I returned to teach there. He died on November 30, 2008 at age sixty while on sabbatical at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical Research at St. John’s University in Minnesota. His beloved mother . . . . Continue Reading »

Support First Things

Dear First Things Reader,“God loves a cheerful giver,” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Over almost twenty years, the readers of First Things have demonstrated that they are generous givers, and I would like to think that you are cheerful givers as well.To be sure, this year is not like . . . . Continue Reading »

The Religion Business

In recent weeks, we’ve been reflecting on the “Christ and culture” question as classically framed by H. Richard Niebuhr.Recall the five ways of thinking about this: Christ against culture, the Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox , and Christ . . . . Continue Reading »

Happy New Liturgical Year!

Happy New Year. Yes, I’m pushing it, but not as much as you think. I’m not talking about those woozie performances of “Auld Lang Syne” and the Rose Bowl, but instead the first Sunday of Advent that started off this week.Once a year I have the pleasure of introducing our students . . . . Continue Reading »

Desert Like a Rose

Time was when Christian missions occurred “over there.” Every now and then, the missionary would show up at church dressed like a time traveler, to show slides of exotic places and to enchant the stay-at-homes with tales about the strange diet and customs of the natives. Foreign missions . . . . Continue Reading »

The Challenge Facing Conservatism

In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s election, I had to talk a friend or two off the ledge. They were apocalyptic, foaming at the mouth and muttering about socialism and the Pelosi-ization of America. At one point I had to resort to insult in order to restore sanity: “You sound like a . . . . Continue Reading »

So, I spent Columbus Day…

So, I spent Columbus Day weekend writing ballads. Or, at least, browsing around in books of ballads, singing and strumming away at them badly, and trying to think my way through their strange plot inversions and narrative compressions. In the best ballads, I feel some deep root of English being . . . . Continue Reading »

The End of Advent

Christmas has devoured Advent, gobbled it up with the turkey giblets and the goblets of seasonal ale. Every secularized holiday, of course, tends to lose the context it had in the liturgical year. Across the nation, even in many churches, Easter has hopped across Lent, Halloween has frightened away . . . . Continue Reading »

Dakota Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was always tense while I was growing up, and I don’t know why. Christmas, now¯Christmas was mostly fun and presents and carols and laughter, as I remember. But Thanksgiving was arguments and huffs and recriminations and doors slamming and one indistinguishable great-uncle or . . . . Continue Reading »