More from and about
Frederick Buechner
(biographical info at bottom of page)


You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own;
you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.


The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.
You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.

Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.  In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness:  touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
Grace is something you can never get but only be given. The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you. I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

True patriots are no longer champions of Democracy, Communism, or anything like that but champions of the Human Race. It is not the Homeland that they feel called on to defend at any cost but the planet Earth as Home. If in the interests of making sure we don't blow ourselves off the map once and for all, we end up relinquishing a measure of national sovereignty to some international body, so much the worse for national sovereignty. There is only one Sovereignty that matters ultimately, and it is of another sort altogether.


The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.


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There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more
than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream
or earn good looks or bring about your own birth. [Speaking of grace.]


Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into
wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you,
there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see
reality—not as we expect it to be but as it is—is to see that
unless we live for each other and in and through each other,
we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really
be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.


The love for equals is a human thing—of friend for friend, brother for brother.
It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less
fortunate is a beautiful thing—the love for those who suffer, for those
who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it
touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare
thing—to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy
with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man
for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then
there is the love for the enemy—the love for the one who does not love
you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the
torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.

Frederick Buechner was born on July 11, 1926, the oldest of two children of Katherine Kuhn and Carl Frederick Buechner, Sr.  He was named after his father, who committed suicide when Frederick was 10.  As the senior Buechner took new jobs, the family moved from residences in New York City to Bermuda to North Carolina.  As a child, the younger Buechner was particularly fond of the Oz fantasies by L. Frank Baum; much later he would retell the journey to the Emerald City in his novel, Entrance to Porlock (1970).

In 1941, during their stay in North Carolina, Frederick attended boarding school in Lawrenceville, there deciding that he wanted to write professionally.  Here, also, he met the poet James Merrill, with whom he established a lifelong friendship. “Together,” writes Buechner, “we were a match for the world.” After Lawrenceville, Buechner pursued studies at Princeton University until WW II interrupted.  He served two years in the military (1944-46), then returned to Princeton where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947.

A year later in 1948, he returned to Lawrenceville as a teacher in the English Department.  Two years later he published his first novel, A Long Day’s Dying, to great critical acclaim, and resigned from his teaching position in 1953.  Secure in his new success, he moved in 1953 to New York City “…to be a full-time writer, only to discover that I could not write a word.”  He attended Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, pastored by George Buttrick, “…whose extraordinary sermons,” recalls Buechner, “had played such a crucial part in my turning to Christianity…”

Following Buttrick’s suggestion, Buechner attended Union Theological Seminary where he studied under theologians Reinhold Neibuhr, Paul Tillich and James Muilenburg.  Again his education was interrupted, this time willingly.  He took a year sabbatical to travel, write The Return of Ansel Gibbs – and soon fell in love with Judith Fredericke Merck, whom he married.

He returned to Union Theological Seminary for the final two years to complete his Bachelor of Divinity Degree, which he received in 1958.  After that, he was ordained as an evangelist in George Buttrick’s church.  Although “evangelist” was his official designation, Buechner preferred the word apologist to describe his vocation, “My job…was to present the faith as appealingly, honestly, relevantly and skillfully as I could.”  And he would accomplish this through his writing.

Following ordination, Buechner accepted an offer to inaugurate a full-time religious program at Philips Exeter Academy of New Hampshire, the position expanding to duties as school minister.  Buechner taught nine years at Exeter (1958-1967). His family, now including three daughters, often took their vacations in Vermont.  Departing Exeter, he moved to a farm in Vermont where he commenced his career as a full-time writer and speaker.

In 1985, Buechner accepted an invitation to teach a semester of literature at Wheaton College, his first full-on exposure to Evangelicalism.  There he attended nearby St. Barnabas, “an extraordinary church,” he writes in his memoirs, “…full of shadows, full of secrets.”
Thus far, Frederick Buechner has composed three memoirs: The Sacred Journey (1982); Now and Then (1983); and Telling Secrets (1991). Still writing and occasionally lecturing, he and his wife divide their time between Vermont and Florida.


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