With the Mourners, We Mourn

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 11.28.42 AMAs we pulled together this celebratory issue of Good News, we were confronted with the horrific news of the brutal murders of brothers and sisters in the faith.

Twenty-five people died and 49 more were injured when a bomb went off on the chapel on the grounds of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the seat of the Egyptian Orthodox Church. In your prayers, we invite you to join us in remembering the precious women and children – the targets of this bombing – who were victims of this terrorism.

The description from Reuters is heartbreaking: “The chapel’s floor was covered in debris from shattered windows, its wooden pews blasted apart, its pillars blackened. Here and there lay abandoned shoes and sticky patches of blood.”

“As soon as the priest called us to prepare for prayer, the explosion happened,” said Emad Shoukry, who was inside when the blast took place. “The explosion shook the place … the dust covered the hall and I was looking for the door, although I couldn’t see anything … I managed to leave in the middle of screams and there were a lot of people thrown on the ground.”

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” St. Paul instructs. Our prayers are with the families of the victims. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

25 Years as Editor in Chief

Honoring-Steve-MemphisWhile gathering in Memphis, Tennessee, the Good News Board of Directors celebrated the 25th anniversary of Mr. Steve Beard as columnist and editor in chief of Good News – at the helm for more than 150 issues of the independent United Methodist magazine.

In commenting on the anniversary, the Rev. Walter Fenton, a colleague at Good News, noted that Beard’s wide-ranging journalistic interests swung from John Wesley to Bono, Johnny Cash, and Mahalia Jackson – and passionately focused on the plight of martyrs and persecuted believers around the globe and the marginalized in our own society.

“You’re always wondering about how we as a church can find ways to be more compassionate, gracious, and just simply kind and decent to the lost and lonely in this world that too many of us hardly even notice,” concluded Fenton.

The board of directors presented Beard with a framed picture of the “Million Dollar Quartet” – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lewis in the studio of Sun Records in Memphis, as well as original art from contemporary folk artist Chris Taylor.

Prior to his retirement, the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II, president emeritus of Good News, worked with Beard for 18 years. “I remember a great picture on one of Steve’s office walls of him in a tuxedo, talking with the late William F. Buckley Jr. at a Washington D.C. reception,” recalled Heidinger. “It always reminded me of the cultural adjustment Steve had to make in coming to our former offices in Wilmore, Kentucky.”

“But how fortunate for all of us that Steve did come! And that he stayed,” continued Heidinger. “He worked himself ragged giving Good News a first-rate publication, issue after issue. It has been your calling for quarter of a century, and you have done it splendidly!”

“You are gifted professional, a skilled craftsman, and a person of great integrity,” Heidinger concluded. “You have amazingly good instincts about how we can and should relate to a church struggling for its soul…. Congratulations on this very significant milestone.”Honoring-Steve-Memphis

Remembering Thomas C. Oden

Oden bioProfessor Thomas C. Oden was the prime agitator to the agony and ecstasy of my seminary experience. It was wading through 1,400 pages of his three volume systematic text books that introduced me to his dear friends Athanasius, Basil, John Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, as well as Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine – that’s just to name a few.

To be honest, sometimes it felt like fraternity hazing and at other times it read devotionally, healing the wounds of my worn-out and stretched mind. Looking back on it, I would not have had it any other way.

It was with deep sorrow and great gratitude, mixed with a redemptive joy, that I heard about the death of Dr. Oden (1931-2016), my dear friend who taught me so much about the faith once delivered to the saints. Along with his many other responsibilities, he also served – and we were honored to have him – as contributing editor to GOOD NEWS.

There will be many glowing testimonials to Tom – and none of them will be exaggerations. He was a one of a kind theological mind with a deep spiritual yearning to be faithful to the deep roots of Christianity. Over our 25 years of friendship, there are a few reasons I have always trusted Oden.

First, he was steadfastly committed to the historic teachings of Jesus. He made a professional vow to be theologically “unoriginal,” a counterintuitive move for a brilliant intellect within a culture where newer is always considered better and theologians huff and puff to “keep pace with each new ripple of the ideological river.” Oden was sold out to the witness of the martyrs, saints, and prophets – the faith that has been “everywhere and always and by everyone believed” to be the truth of Christianity.

Second, he had a checkered past. For some reason, I trust those whose skeletons have already been laid bare. He wasn’t always a bleeding heart for orthodoxy. As a “movement theologian,” he dabbled in theoretical Marxism, existentialism, demythologization, Transactional Analysis, Gestalt therapy, humanistic psychology, and parapsychology. Oden liked the bandwagons and everyone winked and nodded. Everyone, that is, except the late Jewish scholar Will Herberg, a brilliant colleague at Drew University who hounded Oden to rediscover his Christian roots.

“The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I still felt depressed even in acquiescence,” G.K. Chesterton wrote many years ago in Orthodoxy. “But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy like a bird in spring.”

Taking Herberg’s admonition seriously, Oden incrementally turned his back on trendy movements and “the fantasies of Bultmannianism” he had embraced and ended up being United Methodism’s preeminent theologian.

Third, Oden smiled. Sounds insignificant, but it was not. He was pastoral and deeply concerned about the care of the soul. He was a lover of ideas, an engaged student and teacher. Oden was not bitter – mildly amused, but not bitter. He was actually grateful for his colleagues – feminist, form critical, deconstructionist, and even heretical – who challenged him to be more clear in his espousal of orthodoxy. He only asked for a fair hearing.

One would need a billboard to list all his books. Oden spent 17 years editing the 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. My last interview with Oden dealt with his four-volume collection of John Wesley’s Teachings. He described Wesley’s sermons as addressing the “whole compass of divinity” through his deep grounding in ancient ecumenical teaching.

The same could be said of my beloved friend, Professor Thomas C. Oden. He will be sorely missed.