15 September 2014

Damson Plums

The other day I arrived a little early for a visit with a parishioner.  I was in the Seward neighborhood so I moseyed over to Seward Co-op to have a look-see.  To my surprise, I discovered an entire bin of Damson Plums.

Several years ago, when I lived in RI, I used to buy Damson Plum jam jars by the case.  I love damson plum jam.  But I have not seen it anywhere in Minnesota.  When I saw the bin of damson plums, I granted myself a 100 mile leniency (more on this later) and envisioned homemade damson plum jam; I bought several pounds worth.  I was so caught up in making my own damson plum jam that I forgot that I would have to not only carry my bag of plums with me on my pastoral visit, but I would also have to lull them around on the bus ride back to church and haul them on my bike from the church to the house.

Oh well.

Yesterday I carved out a couple hours to make jam.  I thought it was going to be super easy, especially with our cherry pitter.

Not so, cherry pits are smaller than plum pits.  Alas, hand pitted plums.   

I looked online for several recipes but they were either too complicated or had too much sugar.  So I improvised.  A pot of cut up plums (with skins), a little less than two cup of sugar, about a half cup of water, and began cooking.  When I thought it looked like jam I stopped cooking, jarred the jam, then placed the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.


reaction from my youngest.  This isn't good, it's delicious!!!

A Day Well Spent: What Does a Pastor Do on His Day Off

This Friday I had my first full day off in a good while; I took a bike ride and went on a hike.  I do not know what my other colleagues do on their days off but I try and get out of the city and to the countryside whenever possible.  I know that i need to fill up my "silence reservoirs" as much as possible.  But with only a bike/bus (or car share) as my transportation and deeper explorations into agrarianism, and having to be home by mid afternoon to pick up the kiddos my options are limited. But that doesn't mean there are not meaningful options.  

This Friday I made a pot of coffee, hopped on my bike, and started riding.  

First stop, Melo-Glaze donuts.  As an old-man-in-training I ordered one plain cake donut, but they were out of cake donuts.  So I got a plain long john.  

Second stop, public library.  I turned in some books and checked out a few magazines, movies, cds, and books.  

Third stop, Fort Snelling State Park for a hike around Pike Island.  

Fauna spotted: one whitetail deer, plenty of squirrels, one eagle, two crows, lots of birds (I really do need to start learning the names of birds), and lots of beaver signs. 

Flora: cottonwood, oak, wildflowers, and lots of once tamed grape vines.

The hike began with an interesting historical flood marker.  I wonder where the flooding of this Spring and Summer was on this marker?

The main destination of the hike was to see the point where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers converged.  It was a little melodramatic, maybe I had more in mind, maybe it was the steamboat pushed by a tug boat, maybe it was the crowd of high school students on the steamboat waving to me, maybe it was that the convergence was like any other meeting of two rivers.  

I also know that the meeting of the two rivers (MDOTE, or Mendota) had significant meaning for the Lakota people.  
It was their Eden.  

Finally, a picture of Fort Snelling.  I know my boys were not the first to ever term this moniker but it is still funny: Fort Smelling.  

10 September 2014

The Writing Pastor: a year's worth or words.

As an experiment last year I put all of my pastoral writings in a three ring binder. I included sermons (and sermon outlines when I didn't preach from a script), morning prayers (when I wrote them and did not offer them extemporaneously), welcomes (when I remembered to write them), benedictions (I've almost crafted "my" benediction), letters to the editor (3 last year), articles submitted for publication (2, 1 was accepted), wedding homilies, funeral homilies, & opening remarks before a concert. 

Here is a year's worth of pastoral writing:

Yes, that is a 7 year old macbook.  Yes, that is a portion of a sermon on the left mentioning Gustavo Gutierrez.  And yes, I write out most of my sermons in long hand first.

For the 2014-15 preaching year (which I view as late August to late June) I am keeping track of sermons, prayers, welcomes, benedictions, weekly emails, monthly newsletter articles, article submissions for publication, newspaper submissions, lectures (i am hopefully teaching a course in the Spring), letters to preschool parents, & etc.

Why am I doing this?

One, pastors are writers.

Two, so I can review my thoughts, sentences, and ideas.  Mary Nilsen shared with me the wisdom of this review process.  Also, it is easy for me to repeat myself.  But then again it is easy for folk not to know I am repeating myself.  Rule #304 for pastors: Do not fool yourself into thinking parishioners are always listening.  They do listen, but not all the time. 

Three, I have realized that many seeds for articles emerge from my sermons.  I like the Ralph Waldo Emerson example.  First, there are the ideas in my journal.  Second, these ideas, sometimes, come to life in a sermon.  Third, I take the initial ideas and research to expand (or contract) them into a fuller article, chapter, or essay.

Lastly, I can see what God is up to with me.

09 September 2014

The Cycling Clergyman: Installment #7: Summer Update

With MPR's Paul Huttner predicting a wind chill of 36 degrees this week I reckon I better hurry up and post a summer update.

1.  General Update.  I have continued to ride my bike and take the bus for my work as a pastor. I know a situation will emerge when I will need immediate (and fast) transportation, so I signed up for a Car2Go membership, C2G's area now includes both Minneapolis & St. Paul (but I have yet to use it).

2.  Changes.
A.  Time.  I am amazed at how riding my bike and taking the bus has changed my outlook on time.  I know that getting from Point A to Point B will take more time on my bike or on the bus.  I used to get frustrated by this slowness, but no more.  Now I appreciate the scenery and the people I see and the relative quiet.  In June I took the bus over to Augsburg College to visit someone, it took me almost an hour.  Rather than get frustrated at the length of time, I used the time on the bus to read (I read almost 55 pages of a theology book!  When was the last time you had an hour of silence to read 55 pages of theology - that bus pass just got a little more tantalizing).

B.  Bike Racks.  Since I last wrote a post Judson Memorial Baptist Church and Judson Preschool and Dero and the City of Minneapolis got together and installed not one, not two, not three, but four bike racks on Harriet Ave.  Woohoo.

C.  Influence.  I have no idea if my riding around town has much, if any, impact on congregants or others.  But I have noticed an uptick in the number of bikes parked at Judson on Sunday mornings and throughout the week.  (For the record it was a Judson member who rode their bike during the winter that provided initial inspiration).  And I had one member share about the insights he/she has since he/she also started riding their bike to work.

this my jersey from the race.
it was fun to have people cheer for Rev.
Especially, the chant, "go rev go"
Someone also yelled, "give em hell Rev.  
D.  Physical.  Unknown to most, I have always had a secret desire to do a triathlon.  In January, around the time I started riding my bike full-time, I registered for a tri in Aug.  This August I finished two triathlons.  I reckoned if I could ride my bike in the snow and wind I could finish a tri.  I was right.

It was great fun training and competing in the races.  I cannot wait until to a few more next year.  (I need to report that for the last race I was mis-registered as a newbie - basically for a glorified kids triathlon.  I corrected the mistake on race day, but my times were reported with the newbies.  For the 100 yard swim everyone else had times of around 4 minutes while mine read 18 minutes.)  For the record, I competed a Sprint distance tri with a swim length of 1/2 mile.

Another, deeply lodged, impetus for riding my bike full-time was to also get in shape.  As a pastor there are times when entire groups of muscles do not get used.  I sit down quite a bit and eat lots of unhealthy, but tasty, foods.  Last year while at the Minnesota State Fair I got on the official scales at the Minnesota Commerce booth; I weighed a whopping 196 lbs.  I had not weighed that much since my senior year of high school, when I was the starting left offensive tackle (I was really a guard but the coach flipped the tackles and guards to combat the 4-4 defensive scheme).  I vowed then and there that I would weigh less than 196 lbs the next time I was at the fair and climbed those scales.  Thanks to riding my bike, cutting back on sweets (and beer, but since nearly all Minnesota beers taste like some version of grapefruit, this was not nearly as difficult as you may think it was), and training for the triathlons I am proud to say I lost nearly 15lbs.

E.  Style.  For most of the winter and spring I wore my clerical collar.  But I really dont like my clerical collar.  I know I can wear them but everyone either thinks I am a Lutheran, Catholic, or Episcopal pastors - all are welcomed associations but I am quite fond of my baptistness.  I tried the blue + baptist + water = blue clerical collar shirt but no one "got" my association.  I tried a blue and white striped and a plain white clergy shirt but I spilled coffee on them both the first day I wore them.  Plus, once when my collar "popped out" on my white shirt a clerk at a store was convinced something was terribly wrong with my shirt, she was deeply troubled by it.  Resolution: I went Tom Rice or Lawrence Hargrave or Bill Austin- i.e. back to the bow tie, exculsively.  I love bow ties.

Here is my first sermon back after summer vacation, with a bow tie.  I think this may be my favorite sermon of all time.  Why?  It describes my self re-discovery.  Thank you Judson.

Judson Sermon 20140817 "An Expanded Heart" from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

that's a wrap, for now.  Join with me, get on your bike and get moving.


a bucket of Sweet Martha's from the State Fair

a sign at my favorite (sometimes) donut shop.  Favorite that is when they have plain cake donuts in stock.  Yes, my favorite donut is a plain cake donut.  Yes, I like my coffee black.  Yes, I am an old-man-in-training.  

15 July 2014

Continuing Ed Day One: Review of the past year

I loaded up the mystery van with the contents of the ACME Q46 Sermon Generator and trundled up to the library of the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (me and four other people occupied the building for the day).  I'm not sure what was going on but there were some painters working in the main hall (which is not unusual, it is low time a perfect time for sprucing up the place) but, they were playing the Pointer Sisters really loud (which is not odd either, but the volume level was - for the record it is impossible to be in a bad mood with the Pointer Sisters welcoming you to a theological library).  And for the record I will be an adjunct faculty member at UTS this Fall (Baptist History and Polity) don't believe me?  Check this out.

I started the day off by reviewing a year's worth of sermons and writing.  It was painful and kind of sad to be done with my review in 90 minutes, especially knowing that it took me countless hours to produce them.  Verdict: some of the sermons were so good I couldn't believe I wrote them and some of them were so bad I was ashamed to have my name associated with them.  I also realized that I start off strong but tail off by the end of the month.  I also try to do too much with my sermons.  I also have some good ideas but not enough time for them to flourish (thus the dedicated week of sermon prep).  Finally, I repeated the theme of a sermon in consecutive weeks.  Which again punctures my nascent theory that everyone pays attention to every word I say.  Which again proves my theory that preachers can never repeat themselves enough!

After a period of review I went to work mapping out the year.  I identified 12 themes for the 2014-15 year.  Armed with my themes I went digging in the stacks for books.  It was a good day.

Today I'll be at the Central Mpls Library continuing the quest and reading.

08 July 2014

My Sermon Writing System: The ACME Q46 Sermon Generator

Warning the following blogpost is about the only time you will find me operating on a highly organized level.

While on the mission trip/pilgrimage in WV a couple of weeks ago one of the youth asked me what do I do all day.  I answered with a question, "What do you think I do all day?" The youth replied, "Well, I figure you write your sermons on Saturday evening then have a part-time job during the week at Dairy Queen or someplace like that."  I used it as a teachable moment to explain the ins and out, the pluses and minuses, the heights and depths of pastoral ministry.  I hope it sounded like more fun and more rewarding that a part-time gig at Dairy Queen.

I am not a Saturday evening sermon writer, although there have been a few moments when I have had to rewrite a sermon on Saturday evening.  Using our time together I would like to reveal the Travis Norvell method of preparing to write a sermon, or the ACME Q46 Sermon Generator

Next week I will start a five Sunday vacation (including a week of continuing education).

I start off by writing all of the Christian, secular, solar/lunar, church specific, agricultural, Baptist dates I can think of on my giant pad of paper.  I also list all of the themes I'll be preaching on for the year.

Then I set off for the first few days letting my mind & soul get lost in libraries, bookshops, museums, galleries,  hikes, movies, and the like all the while picking up artifacts that I place in my "special box."  (For the record I really do have a "special box,"  Like Rock Baptist gave me this special box as a going away present.)  In addition to the artifacts collected during my continuing education week the special analog box includes artifacts from the year: newspaper articles, New Yorker cartoons, New Yorker articles, New York Review of Books articles, poems, song lyrics, NPR stories/interviews, quotes from books, quotes from parishioners and life, movie scenes, works of art, any and everything that I find interesting, funny, thought provoking, stimulating, or down right amazing.  (For the record my practice of collecting artifacts drives my spouse absolutely bonkers because I refuse to recycle any scrap of paper until I have looked it over carefully and evaluated its potential.)

Near the end of my continuing education week I dump all of the contents from my special box out onto a large table.  Then I start sifting and sorting the contents into theme piles.  Then I match up them up to the themes for the coming year: longing, brokenness, grace, hospitality, belief (that is all I at the moment).  Each theme has a folder, all the folders go into a 1970s era binder which I will then carry with me to work and the library throughout the year providing me with further clarity and direction.

This method enables me to research material throughout the year.  How many times have you been writing a sermon on Wednesday and thought to yourself, "this would be a damn good sermon if I had read X or had more time to think about Y."  Now you do.  I am sure this method could be adapted for use on an email machine but I like my analog box.

This method will not produce stellar sermons but it will hopefully lift the determining third.  Determining third?  Tommy Lasorda once said that all baseball teams win a 1/3 of their games and lose and 1/3 of their games, it's that third 1/3 that separates great teams from average teams.  I apply the same theory to my sermons: a 1/3 will be great, a 1/3 will be not so great, and the other 1/3 will hopefully be pretty damn good.

At the end of the preaching year you could have something like this (if you write out your sermons).

This year I included all of my sermons (even the outlines of a few that I preached without a script), the prayers, letters to the editors, submissions to magazines, wedding homilies, blessings, and opening words at special events.  I did not include newsletter articles or my weekly paragraph in the church email (maybe this year I will).  Why do I keep all of these?

Two reasons.  One, to give myself a visual reminder of how crucial writing is to my profession.  Good writing is essential.  Two, I have a way to checking/reviewing my writing.  Am I repeating myself?  Do my paragraphs balance (short sentences followed by long sentences)?  Where are my weak spots?  What do I need to work on?  Bonus reason: it proves (to myself) that I do not JUST write sermons on Saturday evening and work at Dairy Queen during the day. :)

What is your method?  Please share.

14 May 2014

Why Mess with Perfection?

My late father used to bemoan every time he heard about new and improved chocolate chip cookie recipe, or when my mother tried a new and improved chocolate chip cookie recipe.  In his mind the chocolate chip cookie was perfected in the 1950s.  Why would people mess with perfection?  I've pretty much adopted this mindset concerning chocolate chip cookies, and black clergy shirts.

Several months ago I decided to sell my car and use only my bike and public transportation for my job as a clergyperson (I have, however, been known to drive the new van to a meeting or two).  Riding my bike changed my life in many ways; one of those ways: my choice of clothing.  I couldn't very well ride my bike and wear a suit with dress shoes.  So I simplified.  I switched back to khaki pants, hiking boots, and clergy shirts.

Can a Baptist wear a clergy shirt?  Sure we can.  Yet I've always been a little uncomfortable wearing a black clergy shirt with a tab collar because of the immediate association of imitating Roman Catholic priest (but with Pope Francis, that aint such a bad thing).  So I tried to forge new ground with a blue and white striped and a plain white clergy shirt.  I really like these shirts but no one has any clue what they are.  No one recognizes them as clergy shirts, I should ask someone what they think they are.  Therefore, I have been wearing my old threadbare blue clergy shirts until I order some new black shirts.

The other day after dinner I had a revelation about the wisdom of black clergy shirts.  Here is my revelation: Not only are black clergy shirts the uniform for clergy, not only do they hide wrinkles, not only are they Protestant (yes they are), not only are they visually thinning (at least folk say black hides a few lbs.) but, are you ready...they hide stains!  I've only had my new clergy shirts a few weeks and they already have stains on them.  I love chocolate and red wine, two things that my non-black clergy shirts love to reveal.

Why mess with perfection indeed?

12 May 2014

2014 State of the Church Address: Why I'm Not Worried: Numbers and Soul

Judson Sermon 20140510 "State of the Church Address: Why I'm Not Worried" from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

2014 State of the Church Address: Numbers & Soul: Why I’m Not Worried
Third Sunday of Eastertide - 11.May.2014
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

            First Lesson: Jeremiah 10:17-25

            Why I/We Should Be Worried

            Of the 250,000 Protestant congregations in America, 200,000 are either stagnant or in decline.  200,000 out of 250,000, that is 80% are either stagnant or in decline, 80%. 
Every year 4,000 churches close, that is roughly 76 each week.
Every day 3,500 people leave the churches they call home.
Since 1965 each of the seven denominations that makes up Mainline Protestantism –  United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church, USA, Episcopal Church of America, American Baptist Churches, USA, United Church of Christ, & Disciples of Christ – has reported a decline.  Some have called for the end of the term Mainline, instead using Oldline or Deadline. 
There are 25 million less Mainline Protestants since the 1950s.
This year Alban Institute closed.  The church consultant agency, that has focused on forming healthy mainline congregations closed. 
This year the American Bible Society is selling its 12 story building in downtown Manhattan.
There are no more brick and mortar Cokesbury stores! 
And most seminaries are either hanging by a thread or operating at a membrane thin margin.  In last few years every Mainline seminary has either had to cut faculty and staff, sell buildings, or like Seabury Western and Bangor Seminary closed. 

            Many biblical scholars have turned to the theme of exile as the metaphor to describe the current state of decline amongst Mainline Protestantism; tradition that has been torn from the land, left blowing in the wind, and composting in the dustbin of history.  And that is what keeps me up at night: to think that a life-giving tradition with names such as Roger Williams, Harriet Bishop, Martin Luther King, Jr, Henry Ward Beecher, William Sloane Coffin, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Howard Thurman, Vida Scudder, Georgia Harkness, or Sallie McFague would up and die. 

Sometimes I feel like a member of the rear guard who is still fighting a battle when the war was long ago lost. 

A few years ago I decided maybe my future as a clergy person is to hold onto liberal Protestantism by serving communities that were willing to persevere…and had a large endowment. 

Why I’m/We’re Not Worried

            Then for reasons I am still trying to figure out, we stumbled upon each other and ever since I have given up on the idea of Exile as the working metaphor of our tradition; and I’ve given up on the idea that a healthy, robust, and vibrant liberal Protestant church is a relic and a thing of the past.  Furthermore, each time my mind starts to think that we are not going to make it, something beautiful and amazing happens here and I think what I fool I was for thinking otherwise. 

            This is not a period of Exile, this is a time of flourishing, of hope, of imagination, of promise, of homecoming, of restoration, of new beginning. 

            Second Lesson Jeremiah 31:7-14

            I want to offer you some numbers.  Now I know that y’all do not look to me as a numbers person, but believe it or not, on certain days of the year I can be a detailed oriented person. 

            Simply put, look at the numbers.  The benchmark for what a church can look like is to take the average attendance for Christmas Eve and Easter over the course of a few years.  In normal years Judson has averaged 200 for both Christmas Eve and Easter services.  Last year our average Sunday attendance was 108.  So the goal is within five years to have our Sunday attendance be the same as our Christmas and Easter average.  That would take an average of at least 18.4 new members each year. But we know some people will move, others will disassociate, and some will die, so the number is more like 25 each year. 

            Keep in mind, about 200 maybe up to 250, that would be the maximum we could go for Judson to still be Judson.  Any bigger than that and we’d have to talk about spinning off and starting another church, which would be exciting too.  But that is a good piece off. 

Now that number of 200 for weekly worship may sound insurmountable, but look at it this way:

Each Sunday we average at least one visitor.  Over the course of the year that’s 52 visitors.  We can attain our magic number just by retaining ½ of our visitors.  I know, I know, some are visitors from out of town, some are family members on vacation, and for others Judson just aint what they’re looking for.  Okay but don’t get down yet. 

Each week the parents and caregivers of 119 preschoolers walk through our doors (not to mention special events when grandparents attend). 
Each week roughly 100 volunteers for Meals on Wheels enter our building. 
Each week visitors and friends attend yoga, painting groups, community events, book groups, bible study, to rehearse, to play musical instruments, to sit in the quiet of the sanctuary, to deliver supplies, drop off correspondence, check on things, nose around, and seek help. 
And what about the folk who attended concerts (over 200 were visitors). 
And what about those who stop by at Street Fest? 
And those who attend, or listen in on at the Bandshell? 
And those who visit us in a virtual way on our webpage or via facebook?  And those who find out about us via Pride events,
while we are at public events at the state capitol,
or various venues in and throughout the metro area? 

            Numbers are on our side.  Each day, week, month, season, and year we come in contact with more than 25 prospective members of this community.  They find us with little or no effort on our part – and that is an amazing fact!  Maybe the most amazing fact of all. 

It means we do not have to devote thousands of dollars in marketing, branding, and outreach. 

It does mean, however, we have to do an intentional job of making sure we hold onto those 25 future members: connecting with them in meaningful ways, inviting them, integrating them, and letting them help shape the future and mission of this church.  No matter what the event, how big or small, if everyone there is a friend or not, we have to keep the steady drumbeat of invitation going again and again and again and again. 

            Sure, it would be great if our financial numbers were a little bit stronger.  But again, I’m not worried.  It would be different if we had to shake the bushes, call and beg people to find their way to Judson.  It would be different if we out of hand budget deficits, it would be different if we weren’t growing.  The budget may not be balanced, we are looking at somewhere in the range of $8,000 in the red.  But that numbers would happen if every committee and entity spent all of their budget and it assumes that there will be no growth numerically: new pledges and givers, or grants.  So balance the budget with a simply line of faith: expected growth!  We expect as a congregation to grow this year, we expect new members, we expect new streams of revenue and funding for ministry.  I, for one, expect growth. 


Now a focus on the soul of Judson.  I simply want to highlight some of what happened here last year.

            Bandshell service in the freezing cold, with Wayne and Cheryl throwing snowballs for the time with children. 
            The different summer musicians we heard, the exchange of the Episcopals and the Gospel 5.
            Judson presence at the American Baptist Biennial in Kansas City
            Youth Mission trip where they learned about youth homelessness
            Brent Walker from the Baptist Joint Committee visit and Twins game with UBC.
            Sundaes on Sundays
            Installation of the Little Library
            Seniors Luncheon
            Table at Pride
            Hiring of Brett as Children & Youth Coordinator
            The new life created by Marriage Equality
            Char and Barbara singing This Land Is Your Land with a new verse celebrating marriage equality!
            And that was just last Summer.

            Rally Day
            The use of Ranked Choice Voting for best hotdish offering.
Mac Chatfield winning the Silver Lamb award
We needed space for a new Sunday School Class
Blessing of the Animals
Wedding Celebrations at second hour
Shower of Stoles
            AWAB 20TH anniversary
            Michaelmas service with Struan bread and Celtic music
            Great Gatherings – and the amazing amount that involved alcohol and that they were all overflowing with attendees.
            The amount of people who ended up getting flu shots on the Sunday we offered them!
            The Rutter Requiem!  And let us give thanks to the choir, Jim and John!
            The arrival of David Bloom
            The dedication of Chip’s stained glass window and blessing of Chip’s endeavor in Thailand.
            End of Liturgical year service with candles
            Advent  The kid’s bulletin covers
            The Christmas pageant
            Sara Thompsen Solstice concert
            Christmas sing-a-long
            The lutefisk sermon
            The White Elephant party and the amazing surprise of Silver Lamb that Mac Chatfield won in the Fall. 
            As the calendar year closed: the amazing amount of stuff on the Lost and Found table. 

            First Jazz Sunday – king cake, chicory coffee, king cake babies
            Pancake Brinner – folk eating like it was the last supper
            Trust MLK, Jr service
            Renewal of Baptismal vows/promise
            Second Jazz service, (who can enough jazz?) the premiere at Judson of Josh Johnson’s original composition Cora.
            The GSA Drag Queen/King ball/party
                        Lenten reflections on the Psalms
            Ash Wednesday service (interesting that more people attended the showing of the Life of Brian than attended the Ash Wednesday service, not sure what that says about Judson…)
            Locking up of the Alleluias
            Taize services
            Maundy Thursday service
            Good Friday with UBC
            Easter Morning and the release of the Alleluias
            Dinner and a Show
            Low Sunday & Hendrix’s second hour with his doctor!

            Blessing of the graduates
            You heard 74 different musicians
            You heard over 30 different liturgies.
            You heard 13 different people offer Time with Children
            You heard 8 different preachers
            You heard at least 72 voices reading psalms, reading scripture, & leading prayers.

            For Second Hour
9/22, 9/29, 10/6, 10/13: Kate Brady & Katherine Barton on meditation/Reinventing your future
10/20 Norvell reflections on weddings
10/27, 11/3, 11/10 Rev Julie Neraas on Stages of Life
12/1 Trust Parish Nurse
12/8 Chuck Dayton  Interfaith Power & Light
12/15 Dr Carolyn Pressler UTS on Advent
12/22 Prof Mark Sealy Climate Changes, we had Mark Sealy here!  Just imagine if would have had Carl Kasell here on the same day!
12/29 D Moore on ABC Biennial on social justice
1/5  Norvell on epiphany
1/26 Sr Stories  ? re: Gracie Jones 100+ yrs
2/2, 2/9, 2/16/ Rev Bloom & TN Social Justice
2/23 Doug Wallace Academy Awards films
3/2 Kate Brady Loving Kindness
3/9 Kate Brady Loving Kindness
3/18 Rev Dr. Eric Baretto
3/23 Missions on Youth Link
4/29 Hendrix Johnson & his MD
5/4, 5/11 Judson Youth DVD
We celebrated the weddings or recommitments of
R and R, K & L, M & G, J & M, N and S, the surprise wedding of S and M, and the not surprising, but lovely, wedding of D and A!

We dedicated C and G
We baptized J and L
We welcomed new members: Garrio and Joanna, Sand, Rich, and Jeff.

A dozen of you were at the state capital for the MN Interfaith Power and Light rally for the environment

What about the food we donate for Joyce’s Food Shelf? 
The funds for Starfish
Funds for mission, we’ve already given over $24,000.

The countless visits, cards, phone calls, and meals delivered to those in need.
The hours given to Meals on Wheels, making Judson look great, The Gathering, decorating for the season, correcting my grammar, moving things, hours given to meetings, personnel reviews, the sincere and heartfelt greetings.  The hours and hearts given in service on the Worship, Mission, Christian Education, Adult Education, Property, Personnel, Finance, Building Use, Planning and Policy, Membership/Leadership/Stewardship, Congregational Care, & Street Fest Committees, in addition to the Soup Group, TRUST representatives, Loaves and Fishes, Spiritual Voyageurs, Ushers, Second Hour coffee and treats, Church Officers, and historian.  The way you uphold, inspire, and push each other to be better human beings.  The way we embrace our mixture of Northern Exposure and Vicar of Dibleyness.  The freedom to cry & laugh on Sunday morning.  And maybe the most telling sign of your health as a congregation: the willingness to talk through difficult places. 

 From my own perspective: on several occasions I have said things in such a manner that if taken the wrong way could have been hurtful, rather than let that sit and fester, you approached me and asked for clarification.  On all accounts we laughed off the unintended message but that does not undercut the amount of courage and trust that took, for that I am extremely thankful.  Let us not stop this partnership, it is a work in progress. But well worth the time and effort.  I describe it as slow church.  I have intentions of being here a long time, I want to continue to take my time, when I can, on developing and nurturing relationships for the long term.  This is frustrating, probably, for both of us but it will be worth it. 
This is an amazing and beautiful place.  On the one hand it is a sanctuary, the last stop for many on the journey of religious life, helping them get through life. On the other hand it is a dynamo of religious power and grace propelling others to change the world. 

It is true I’m not silver with wisdom but I’ve been around and a part of enough different religious communities in this nation to know this is a special and unique place – do not take it for granted, let us build and expand making sure this is a vibrant, robust, and thriving community.  Amen. 

05 May 2014

Embracing a Vocation: Graduation Time at Judson

A few weeks ago I realized that again no institution of higher (or lower) learning was calling to offer me an invitation to be a commencement speaker.  I thought by now, surely, my high school would have asked me.  Nope.  Commencement address, honoraray doctorate, having summers off, and personal assistant are all personal professional goals I have for my life.  Rather than wait for the commencement address invitation I decided to use the sermon time on the Sunday when the church recognized the graduating seniors to deliver my version of a commencement address. 

I think it went well.  I had the seniors come up to the platform and sit so they could face the congregation. 

Here is the video:
Judson Sermon 20140504 "Embracing a Vocation, Not Pursuing a Job" from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

And here is the text:

Embracing a Vocation, Not Pursuing a Job
Deuteronomy 8:1-10 & 2 Corinthians
text: “this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7)
Recognition of Seniors – Second Sunday of Eastertide – May 4, 2014
Judson Memorial Baptist Church – Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

            When I was in seminary, in the Fall of ’96, driving in Richmond, VA I heard a Johnny Cash song on the radio.  After the song I headed home, put all of my cds into a large cardboard box, went to Plan9 down in the Fan neighborhood, and traded them all in for the Johnny Cash box set and any other Johnny Cash cds they had.  I now pass onto you my essential Johnny Cash cd.  I know your parents meant well, but if you do not know these songs, well, ur, I just couldn’t bare the thought of someone knowing you were from Judson, that I was your pastor, and you didn’t know these songs. 

            Now for a few questions.
            How many of you switched your majors in college?
            How many of you switched professions more than once?
            More than twice, three times?
            The book of Deuteronomy subscribes to the conditional theory of life, if you do X then Y happens.  Deuteronomy, as you all know, is the second (duetero) telling of the law (nomos), from the Greek, the name coming from the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew, Tanak, into Greek.  The Biblical authors knew human beings have spotty memories, thus the second telling of the law – Exodus was not enough, I suppose.  Remember, remember the forty long years you wandered in the wilderness, remember, remember, remember.  There is also a tinge of fear in the voice of Moses.  Perhaps he was scared that since he would not be with them in the promised land the Israelites would forget their experiences with God.  Likewise, there is a bit of fear in this day.  We are scared, somewhat, that you too will forget all that happened in your years here at Judson.  Not really, but kind of . 

            Years ago your parents either here, or at another faith community, or in the privacy of their hearts made a promise with God to raise you in a way so that you too would develop a vibrant, life-giving, and liberating faith.  And I must say they, and Judson, have done a helluva job.  And now it is time for you to take what we’ve given you and expand, recreate, thicken, customize, and place your own creative/imaginative mark on it.  And yes, you can reject it as well.

            But what is it that we have given you?  A list.  Here is what we hope you take with you.   First, why a list:

When Roseanne Cash was 18 years old in 1973 she spent the summer on a tour bus with her, finally, clean and sober father, Johnny Cash.  As they were trundling through the South they started talking about songs.  She remembers the conversation this way, “he mentioned one, and I said I didn’t know that one.  And he mentioned another.  I said I don’t that one either, Dad, and he became very alarmed.”  In response that afternoon Johnny Cash compiled a list of 100 essential American songs for his daughter’s education.  I hope this short list sums up your formation of your time growing up at Judson.

1.      We hope we have given you a model of authenticity. 

I am sure you take this eccentric, idiosyncratic, bizarre grouping of individuals that make up Judson you take for granted.   Let me say they are living proof that there is a balm in Gilead.  We are living examples of folk trying their best to follow and make real the way of Jesus in this world, sometimes we do an amazing job and other times not so much.  We’re not seeking perfection, we are seeking wholeness. 
2.  We hope we have given you permission to fail. 

We hope you know it is okay (and you’re even expected) to fail.  The sooner you caress this idea the easier your life will be; better to fail now and realize it is not the end of the world then to let the fear of failure run (and ruin) your life.  Fail and know that God will be present; fall flat on your face and know it is not the end of the world, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “God can use even the wrong road to get you to the right place.”  Start reading Lewis, but first read your Parker Palmer book, then Unto Me by Walter Rauschenbusch

            One more thing about failure, specifically grades.  Here is a little secret the other tour guides wont tell you, “other schools are the only ones who care about grades.”  According to my calculations I graduated at the top of my class in divinity school.  The school even put a nice little gold foil stamp on my diploma that reads with distinction.  But guess what?  Not one search committee has ever asked me for my GPA.  When I go to see a doctor, or a dentist, or a lawyer I never ask them for their GPA or a copy of their transcripts.  When I read a novel it never crosses my mind to think, “I wonder if they were at the top of their class?” 

How many here have had a meaningful conversation about your grades in the last five years?

Once you graduate you, for the most part, will stop talking or even care about your grades.  Author Malcolm Gladwell has even suggested we put a moratorium on talking about our grades or where we went to school.   You’ll be surprised how far you can get in life with a little knowledge, some interpersonal skills, and passion for your vocation.  I’m not saying don’t do your best, but always remember you are more than your GPA.  We know it.  We hope you know it and we hope you make sure others know it. 

            If that wasn’t enough then always remember the wisdom shared by our 43rd President at the 2001 commencement of Yale University.

            To those who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say well done.  And to the C students I say, you, too, can be President of the United States.  A Yale degree is worth a lot, as I often remind Dick Cheney who studied here but left a little early.  So now we know: If you graduate from Yale, you become President; if you drop out, you get to be Vice President. 

3.  We hope we have give you a model of Christianity that focuses on human flourishing, that takes the bible seriously, not literally, that can stand caricatures, and that is overflowing with visions of peace & reconciliation & hope.  We hope you take your studies and integrate them with a social gospel fire.  If we could have be assured and gotten copies in time we would have also got you copies of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  Your life has been shaped by a financial collapse and the awareness of the 1%, income inequality will touch every inch of your life.  You will have to do your part to make sure the world is a just and equitable world. 

            We hope this way of Judson has been as thoughtless as your next breath.  This is the Horace Bushnell model, the erudite antebellum & abolitionists Congregational pastor.  We are hoping osmosis works.  Speaking of osmosis, my Greek and Latin professor encouraged us to sleep with our readers under our pillows; he advocated academic osmosis.  When asked if it will work, he replied, “it cant hurt.” 
4.  Finally, we hope you embrace a vocation and not use your time over the next few years just pursuing a job.  Listen to your life, your choices, your loves, your passions they all are parts of the voice of God.  And I hope you too will consider the ministry.  Like I’ve told my kids, you can be anything you want to be as long as you are radical Baptist pastors.  When they roll their eyes, I reply, how else are we going to create a theological dynasty?  In all seriousness I hope you embrace a life in the service of others.  For 18 years of Sundays you have been surrounded by a community that has given of itself in the service for others. 

            How many of you are ordained?
            How many of you are married to someone who is ordained?
            How many of you went to seminary?
            How many of you have worked on a church staff?
            How many of you are counselors or social workers?
            How many of you are PKs or MKs?
            How many of you have passed on higher paying jobs to remain in a
meaningful vocation?

We have given you a fragile treasure in an earthen vessel, we trust it with you now. 

            In closing.  Because churches like Judson are few and far between you have our blessing to seek a non-American Baptist church, if you cannot find another Judson.  However, if we hear that you have either started attending an evangelical campus group and are going around declaring that you have found the truth and now see the Judson way as wicked & heretical or you are attending a Presbyterian church and loving it, I will form a posse and will arrange an intervention. 

The Lord Bless You and Keep You.  Amen & Amen.