Surviving the New Jersey turnpike, Billy Joel, and religion in the airport

I am currently at a Center for Youth Ministry Training consultation at Princeton Theological Seminary funded by the Lilly Foundation. The next 48 hours will be something akin to a reality show premise where they put 8 academics and 8 youth pastors into a closed room and see who makes it out alive (btw – if you are placing bets, don’t ‘double down’ on the academics…) Getting to Princeton, New Jersey is (to be quite frank) a royal pain. It has been almost 20 years since I was last in this neck of the woods and now I can understand why. After flying into DC, my connecting flight was delayed for 2 hours into Newark. At midnight, no trains were available, so I had to take a taxi. Another 2 hours later (the cab driver was lost – not fun at 2am – but very entertaining given that he was singing along to the greatest hits of Billy Joel and fist pumping the ceiling as he drove the NJ Turnpike…)

While I frankly hate getting in and out of airports these days (have you noticed that the TSA has conditioned frequent air travelers into practically wearing pajamas and bedroom slippers in order to get through security?!) I am always intrigued by what pops up in airport bookshops. For example, two artifacts I have from my travels thus far and commend to your reading: the latest Harper’s (June 2008) has the cover story “Turning Away From Jesus” by Garret Keizer. Keizer is a lay Episcopal priest and the author of “The Dresser of Sycamore Trees: The Finding of a Ministry“, a book I have used in classes both at Fuller and SPU. It is a wonderful book and a warm, earthy reflection of day-to-day life in the small Vermont town of Island Pond. In the Harper’s article, Keizer wrestles with storm brewing in many mainline churches surrounding the question of what is happening to the presupposing of our denominations as seen through the test case of gay rights. As he notes on page 39 of the article “in other words, what might strike you as an irrelevant story about a religious dispute is in some ways your story, whether you are religious or not, and whether you like it or not. The story invites us to ask if what is happening to the institutions we love is not at least partly the result of our having loved them less attentively than we supposed.” Wonderfully put.

Another artifact from the airport is an article from this morning’s USA Today (yes – I am cheap and reading the free newspaper blithely tossed upon my hotel room stoop…) In an article by Tom Krattenmaker entitled “The evangelicals you don’t know“, the author heads to Xenia, Ohio to interview the ministry Athletes in Action. He notes his presupposition that this is probably yet another “intolerant, pushy, close-minded” enclave of “cultural warriors”, but is proved wrong. As he notes in the article, the easily dismissive definition of what constitutes evangelicalism in America is shifting and those who self identify with evangelicalism are seeking more robust conversations and conversation partners than ever before.

More to come…

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