From “Seven Bites of Buechner” by Em Griffin

(Jessica:) On January 1, 2013, I posted “Pronunciation of ‘Buechner.’ I ended it abruptly just into ‘Making Scripture Come Alive’ when the website I was quoting said I could not read further without subscribing to CTLibrary. I just re-read my post, went to the website and found I can join for free.  So here is my post with considerably more of the article I was quoting. (Eventually if you want to read it all you will still have to go to the website and subscribe.)

Two websites say Buechner is pronounced “Bushner.” Two others say it “BYOOK-nur.”

The website for Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, NC  ( claims to know the pronunciation of Frederick Buechner’s name from the horse’s mouth:

“The author Frederick Buechner, whose last name is something of a pronunciation challenge since it is spelled B-U-E-C-H-N-E-R, says of his own name:

“‘It is my name. It is pronounced Beekner. If somebody mispronounces it in some foolish way, I have the feeling that what’s foolish is me. If somebody forgets it, I feel that it is I who am forgotten. There’s something about it that embarrasses me in just the same way that there’s something about me that embarrasses me. I can’t imagine myself with any other name: Held, say, or Merrill, or Hlavacek. If my name were different, I would be different. When I tell somebody my name, I have given him a hold over me that he didn’t have before. If he calls it out, I stop, look, and listen whether I want to or not.’”

Someone named Em Griffin, in an article published in Leadership Journal exactly 29 years ago today, apparently knew this fact about him. She (or he) writes:


January 1, 1984

I walked into the large religious bookstore that had pyramid displays of hooks by Tim LaHaye, Ann Kiemel, and Keith Miller.

“What do you have by Fred Buechner?” I asked the clerk.

“Who?” she asked. Perhaps the pronunciation of the name had thrown her off. (The first syllable rhymes with “seek.”) But no, neither the clerk nor the manager were familiar with Frederick Buechner, and not a copy of his twenty-plus books was on the shelves. That’s too bad. I regard him as the most exciting Christian writer since C. S. Lewis.

Like Lewis, Buechner writes fiction for those who stand outside the church and yet are hungry for the mystery of what the Christian faith is all about. Like Lewis, his nonfiction is becoming must reading at seminaries. His ability to state old theological truths in new, vivid language is a model for all pastors.

Like Lewis, Buechner believes we are to take God seriously, but not ourselves. He’s the only author who can make me both laugh and cry-often on the same page. It’s appropriate that Wheaton College has just accepted all of Buechner’s personal papers and manuscripts to reside in the Wade collection next to those of the author of the Narnia Chronicles, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity.

On the chance that you’ve yet to discover the delicious tang of Buechner’s words, I’ve pulled together a sampler of quotes under various headings. A few are taken from a recent interview at his home in Vermont, but most are from books available in your bookstore-if you ask real hard. . .

Making Scripture come alive

Buechner claims that words-especially religious words-get tired and stale the way people do. “If a person is going to be any kind of a preacher, he/she is going to have to avoid canned, religious, seminary, algebraic language.” This takes the type of imagination that is only possible when a person reads. I think reading his Peculiar Treasures is one way to acquire that knack. The book contains 125 sketches of biblical characters. I’d love to begin a sermon with one of these opening zingers:

Amos. “When the prophet Amos walked down the main drag, it was like a shootout in the Old West. Everybody ran for cover. His special target was the Beautiful People.”

Eve. “Like Adam, she spent the rest of her days convincing herself that it had all worked out for the best.”

Jacob. “The Book of Genesis makes no attempt to conceal the fact that Jacob was, among other things, a crook.”

Moses. “Whenever Hollywood cranks out a movie about him, they always give the part to somebody like Charlton Heston with some fake whiskers glued on. The truth of it is he probably looked a lot more like Tevye the milkman after ten rounds with Mohammed Ali.”

Rahab. “Rahab ran an unpretentious little establishment in the red-light district of Jericho and was known for, among other things, her warm and generous heart.”

He’s not just playing it for laughs. Consider the impact of the following description:

“The high priest Caiaphas was essentially a mathematician. When the Jews started worrying that they might all get into hot water with the Romans because of the way Jesus was carrying on, Caiaphas said that in that case they should dump him like a hot potato. His argument ran that it is better for one man to get it in the neck for the sake of many than for many to get it in the neck for the sake of one man. His grim arithmetic proved unassailable.

“The arithmetic of Jesus, on the other hand, was atrocious. He said that Heaven gets a bigger kick out of one sinner who repents than out of ninety-nine saints who don’t need to. He said that God pays as much for one hour’s work as for one day’s. He said that the more you give away, the more you have.

“It is curious that in the matter of deciding his own fate, he reached the same conclusion as Caiaphas and took it in the neck for the sake of many, Caiaphas included. It was not, however, the laws of mathematics that he was following…” To read the rest of this article you have to go to this site and join CTLibrary.  I was unable to find how to get permission to reprint this part of the article but hope Em will forgive me after the fact.


About Jessica Renshaw
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