I was saddened when the news appeared on Twitter that Frederick Buechner, writer and minister, had passed away today.
I discovered Buechner at the beginning of the 90s and for over 10 years his writings helped to shape and hone my faith. Indeed they still do, if I perhaps haven’t read as much of his work in the last twenty years.
I am not sure that I have quoted anybody more than I have Buechner. I could wax lyrical about Buechner's work across his broad catalogue; memoirs, novels, Bible reflection or my favourite book of all, a collection of sermons and articles, The Clown in The Belfry. All of them opened my faith, gave me a wider and deeper faith as well a bigger God and a more pragmatic way to live out my discipleship.
However, Buechner’s Twitter page asked us to Tweet our favourite quotations and for those I need to go to one of his three A-Z books. The first book I read was Wishful Thinking; A Seeker’s ABC and I want to highlight the three quotes that most sank in and that I use the most in my life and work. I think they give us a flavour of his humour, his pastoral insight and theological pragmatism.
The first is a mantra I have used thousands of times:
“Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need.”
When I came to this quotation I was working with young people and then students. It was perfect. In sermons and over coffee I would throw it out. I have discovered over decades that it is not just for those setting out. It is a quotation to ponder and pray every morning as we decide how we want to spend the day ahead.
Another quote, to throw in some humour though I am not really laughing. Christian Northern Irish views on alcohol and faith has thankfully found some balance and sense over the thirty years since I first read this BUT a communion service does not end without me being acutely aware that neither are many of us using what Jesus asked us to use as a symbol of his blood or how bleak is the symbol we use in its place:
Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses.
Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk making. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one.
Finally, one that is deep and goes deep. I have always been concerned that sin has become a little bit too much like a tick box of how we have broken laws on a template of stone. Sin has implications in the hurt in the heart of God and in the friction and fracture in all of our relationships:
Sin as centrifugal… “It tends to push everything out towards the periphery.…Other people and God or the World, Society, Nature – whatever you call the greater which you’re part - sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within yourself.”
Thank you Frederick Buechner. You gave us so much. I would not be the same follower of Jesus without your honesty and work. You met my deepest need. I hope it was your deepest gladness!