Anyone who has been a member of a church for more than a few months knows that in the church newsletter -- whether it's done in print or comes via e-mail -- there's a column by the pastor.
But now and then you'll find pastors who understand that the newsletter column is a marvelous opportunity to have some fun, instruct the faithful, challenge church members and start a spark that will lead to a hundred bonfires of interest burning.
My friend Russell E. Saltzman, who writes a regular column for First Things, is such a pastor.
And you can see what this Lutheran clergyman does in column form in his delightful little book, The Pastor's Page: And Other Small Essays.
Among the early sins Russ must confess to in his life is that he committed journalism for a time. But later he, unlike me, repented and became a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. More recently he has left the ELCA and now is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church.
Through it all, Russ has retained an ability to tell wonderful stories -- stories that illustrate theological points, stories that engage the heart, that engage the funny bone.
In this little book, Russ opens up his heart and his mind for others to see not just what makes him tick but why he has chosen a life of faith. We see him as a parent, a pastor and a wry observer of the life around him. And throughout it all he retains his sense of humor in such pieces as "Thou Shalt Fear No Weevil" and in "Memo to the Congregation," in which he accuses members of "grossly abusing their privileges regarding normal levels of cantankerousness" and then rations out for the rest of the year how many sighs of relief, groans, flutters, gasps, retorts and snorts various members may have.
Russ and I don't agree on all things theological. But in the end that's helpful because we can learn to appreciate how we each came to our conclusions, different as they may be here and there.
When he gifted me with a copy of his little book, I meant to read one entry per day to make it last. But I failed. I completed it quickly and now get to invite you to enjoy it.
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Pope Francis has told the college of cardinals not to behave like "a royal court." Maybe their traditional title of "princes" of the church should be changed to, well, something like "not-so-much-illustrissimo."