I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the late influential religion writer Phyllis Tickle, one of whose many books I consider brilliant, The Great Emergence. In it she describes the every-500-year explosions that have happened in Christianity since the beginning, including the one that seems to be happening now.
When I wanted someone to write a back-cover endorsement of the 2015 book I wrote with Dr. Paul T. Rock, I asked Phyllis. Though she was near death, she was gracious enough to read the manuscript and she supplied a lovely endorsement that you can find on Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church.
I e-mailed her on Sept. 1, 2015, this note of thanks:
Thank you, Bill, for this gracious note and for the opportunity to see/ be some small part of Into A Bar. Blessings on all your work always, p
So even though I'm in debt to Phyllis and even though I've read some of her many books, until now I didn't know very much about the details of her life's story. Now I do because of a newly released biography of her by Jon M. Sweeney, Phyllis Tickle: A Life.
Anyone who has been moved by her work and wondered about how she became such an important writer about matters of faith will want to read this book by a man who has known and studied Tickle's prose and poetry work for years.
Sweeney, after telling of her birth, her childhood, her education, her marriage, her call to write about and analyze spiritual matters, concludes this:
"Taken together, when one considers her life and work in every respect -- from the early scholarship to mentoring students, to encouraging the arts, teaching a generation of children to find their own poetry, curating and publishing important writers, writers of her own on liturgy and prayer and the spiritual life and the changes roiling the organizations of religions that she loved, and the indefatigable way that she taught hundreds of thousands of people from podiums for decades -- Phyllis Tickle was surely one of the late twentieth century's most important advocates for the written word and the life of faith."
I'm not going to give you a timeline of her life here. Rather, I just mean to encourage you to read this excellent biography. But I will quote something included in the book that she wrote early in her career because I find it to be in deep harmony with the book I wrote after the one Phyllis read and endorsed, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith.
She wrote this: "I. . .wish for each of us a bit of doubting and a bit of wondering about the issues of life. There is no faith worthy of our support if it is not a faith which allows thinking and questioning. Beware the faith that brands doubt and ponderance as sin."
Exactly, Phyllis. My regret is that I didn't know her better and longer and that I never had a chance to send her my Doubt book, which confirmed what she had expressed so well decades earlier.
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MY BILLY GRAHAM ANALYSIS
Journalists sometimes have the oddly macabre job of writing obituaries of famous people well before their deaths. That was my job in 2007 at The Kansas City Star when the Rev. Billy Graham got seriously ill. That piece -- updated in various ways over the years -- has been sitting in wait since then. With Graham's death this week, the piece now is on The Star's website here. I have said there all I think I want to say about Graham and his extraordinarily influential life, so I commend it to you. If I decide later that I have more to say about him, you'll be the second to know.