15 April 2014

Blessing, Baptism & the Brief Joys of Ushering

For reasons beyond my understanding I picked up Gilead again the other day and read it again.  I love that book.  I tried to read it when it first came out, but that was during my "death period" family deaths and a string of deaths at church - I couldn't take anymore about death.

During my fictive sabbatical I picked up Gilead again and read it.  My memory from the first read was way off: I had John Ames's son as a daughter & the story wasn't even in Iowa.  Robinson's sentences were so sweet, thick, and soothing that I wanted to take it in as quickly as possible (for the record almost every work I read that year I read quick-like).  This time I took my time.  This time: I was right back, emotionally, at the place when I first tried to read it - my chest was heavy, I cried and cried, and found each sentence to be a balm.  The one sentence that stuck out dealt with baptism as blessing, how ministers (especially in free church traditions) overlook the power of blessing.

Last Sunday I baptized two youths, with the sentences of Marilynne Robinson lapping over almost every sentence of the day.  The baptism was a blessing.

As I baptized them I thought about baptizing my daughter last year, all the baptisms I have done thus far, and my own baptism.

Funny thing about baptisms within the Baptist tradition: the one thing that defines us we dont pay that much attention, liturgically speaking, to the act.  So I pour all of the attention I can into the day.  Oh how I wish someone would have talked to me more about baptism, given me a charge, given me a blessing.  So I did just that this year.  Here is a video of the charge, the blessing is part 2 if you want to see it also.

Judson Charge to the Baptized "Service With a Smile" 20140413 (1 of 2) from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

As I laid in bed the other evening, thinking of my own baptism, I remembered the forgotten joy of being an usher.  Shortly after I was baptized my grandmother and great aunt bought me a suit.  The suit was my ticket to becoming an usher.  One Sunday, after my baptism, a well dressed elderly man approached me and inquired if I wanted to be an usher.  Sure.

Being an usher meant that I got out of Sunday School early.  It also meant that I did not have to participate in the first 1/2 of the worship service.  Ushers sat people, opened and closed the doors, watched coats, passed out bulletins, took calls from the pastor (more about this in a moment), took up the offering, and (wait another moment for the last part).

The Phone: My home church was quite large, anywhere between 250-400 every Sunday.  Beside the chair where the pastor sat was a secret phone that connected to the the narthex where the ushers hung out.  Oh the fun the ushers had ignoring the calls from the pastor.  During an anthem or a hymn he would pick up the phone and call the ushers and they wouldn't answer (on purpose), and the pastor's face would get red and they would laugh and giggle, and the pastor would get even angrier, then finally they would pick up and make up some tale about not hearing the pastor's call.  And now here is the greatest part of ushering: the after offering gathering.

After we took up the offering we descended steps that took us under the sanctuary & into a special Sunday School room.  A Sunday School room that was filled with coffee, orange juice, and donuts.  It was amazing.  And now here is the best part: we ate donuts until the sermon was finished.  Each week someone would stay behind in the narthex then run down and tell us when the last hymn started. By the third verse began the entire army of ushers were standing ready to open doors, take bulletins, help with coats, and say goodbye to the exiting attendees.  This bliss lasted for about three months until the spouse of one of staff members caught wind of this bliss.  Apparently, she thought I had not suffered enough listening to below average sermons about hell and perdition.  She suggested that I not usher any longer.  

Who knows maybe what she did was a blessing?  Perhaps if she had not made me relinquish my donut bliss I would still be an unknowing conservative Baptist.  In fact, I would think that church was greatest church in the world, who wouldn't?  Donuts > Sermon.  She blessed me, only probably not in ways she imagined - but that is the nature of grace, untameable and unknowable.

21 March 2014

The Cycling Clergyman Installment #6 or 7: You Can Do This Too!

First things first.  Now that the snow has melted, for the most part, from the roads you have no excuse not to ride to work, for errands, or pleasure.  I have been peddling for my pastoral duties now for nearly three months, with the aid of the bus and a few parishioners I've been able to fulfill all of my pastoral duties, picked up some much needed exercise, and gained some intimate knowledge about my community, especially the potholes.

So what are you waiting for.  April is 30 days of biking month here in Minnesota, why not take the challenge?  Here is a sharp little video to help you along.


I have had to take a break from my 40 days of Lenten prayers for the earth.  Why?  I couldn't separate my anger from the prayers.  I am aware of anger and the psalms, but it's not that, in fact I am praying those psalms instead.  This will take some theological wrestling on my part (post-Easter).

Perhaps you recall when the new cathedral was built in Los Angeles.  They purposefully built it next to a highway, highways being the rivers of the 21st century.

I often think about that statement, roads as the rivers of transportation today.  I think it every day I ride over the I35Wbridge (35W, a transportation misnomer, for only North South routes are to be labeled in odd numbers, but in Minnesota I-35 splits one corridor to MPLS (35W) and one corridor to St Paul (35E).  I still bristle at this.  Nevertheless, every time I cross 35W (I live in Mpls) I envision the terrible river of traffic.  Terrible because it is a river that at times overflows, but most of the time barely trickles. 

Imagine in half the cars on the road were replaced by mass transit and bikes?  What if the hauling was primarily done via rail?  What if Americans were more intentional about the way we planned our days and managed our trips?  What would the river look like then?  

We'll never be a car free society.  We need autos get from A to B, because not every place is accessible via public transit (have you ever tried to get a week's worth of groceries on the bus, or a couch, or a few 2 x 4s?), and there are emergencies (like when a kid calls sick from school, a parishioner is about to die and wants/needs you there to pray with/for them, & etc), and what about state parks (can you imagine hauling a week's worth of camping supplies on the bus to a state park?  can you even get to a state park via public transit?)  Yet, if we could change our habits slightly we could make huge differences concerning the burning and usage of fossil fuels.  

Maybe Mpls could reclaim a few lanes of 35W, maybe "the river" could be covered with green, thereby linking the communities.  

10 March 2014

Lenten Prayers for the Earth: BP, Royal Dutch Sheel, & ConocoPhillips

What can I say God, I needed to write a sermon Friday and be with my family on Saturday, Sundays dont count during Lent.  So accept my conglomerate makeup prayer for BP, Royal Dutch Shell, & ConocoPhillips. 

I confess it is hard to pray for this group, there is a lot of  personal pain surrounding them.   I can still smell the acrid air when the gulf was on fire, from the refining process, and the continued hypocrisy in the NYTimes ads.  So there is a temptation to only pray Psalms 39 & 88, but I will not.  I still believe in the possibility that you can turn my mourning into dancing. 

So God, come on now.  What is it going to take turn the corporate apparatus in such a way that promotes a sustainable and near zero carbon (I'm still a bit of a realist here) sources of energy and power?  What if every church had a solar panel?  I stand on the bridges over I35W, they are rivers of commerce and transportation - but what if we said, nope!  We will walk, ride bikes, take the bus, take the train.  Would that promote the change we need?  So should my prayers be redirected? 

No, no, no, they have a responsibility to the human family.  What if these companies led the way, what if they were a greater part of the solution providing proactive leadership rather than reactive?  Come on God, what's its going to take?  T

I'm waiting to be surprised...

06 March 2014

Lenten Prayers for the Earth: ExxonMobil

Well God, I didnt see a rise or drop in gas prices or stocks last night.  Nor did I hear about a new solar initiative by ChevronTexaco but I am going to keep praying, keep pestering, and keep nagging you until I do.  On the one hand I do not see a way forward.  I do not see a way to change or bend the direction of the fossil fuel industry.  I have joined efforts and will continue.  I also do not see my demanding action by you as a passive or last ditch effort.  On the other hand I know you are a surprising God, I really do believe you can provide a crack of light that will be a new venture. 

So I ask how can I help love and usher this new reality into being? 

Today I am praying for ExxonMobil.  My first gas card was through Exxon, I liked the color combination.  They are a corporation of transformation, they have helped transform the Alaskan coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the world.  I know they have the power to transform.  I am not buying if and when they cannot say, "We cannot change the way we do business, we are a gas and oil company; not a solar and wind company.  We drill and extract not harness and redirect."  But I know better. They are not lazy, they can change. 

God, give them the push they need.  Amen!

05 March 2014

Lenten Prayers for Climate Change: ChevronTexaco

Living God,

It seems strange to offer my thoughts & love energies to a corporation who is listed as the top extractor of carbon based fuels.  Odd especially, that today I will smudge carbon on the foreheads of the willing for Ash Wednesday.  So on this day when I remember the new life contained in the realization of my own death, I pray for new life for ChevronTexaco too.  For their well-being and my well-being and the well-being of all are intricately tied together.

You know God, no doubt those who run, control, and direct ChevronTexaco are talented, smart, and strategic thinkers.  And I'm sure there are thousands of kind hearted, compassionate, and concerned employees who want a good and flourishing life.  But as a corporation their goal of profit by means of fossil fuels set in motion the change of life on this planet as we know it.

So God...I need you to be the Creator of Heaven and Earth.  I, need you to soften the heart of this corporation in such a manner that allows them to see the promise and flourishing of Creation and the well being of their corporation by switching from fossil fuels to renewable resources of solar and wind.  Create in them a desire to devise new ways to harness the never-ending powers of the sun and gravity that do not emit CO2 into the atmosphere or harmful agents into the soil and water.

Surprise us God.  Show us that you care about human and creation flourishing because I feel defeated when it comes to changing the ways and doings of multinational corporations who pollute and harm the home of all.  God if you are asleep, wake up!  We need you.

Amen & Amen.

04 March 2014

40 Days of Prayers for the Earth

I am an environmentalists.  I am a Christian pastor (a Baptists at that).  I have participated in marches, conducted covert research on coal mining practices, written prayers for the Earth, delivered sermons on the Christian imperative to take care of the earth, and given to environmental causes.  But I need to do more, I invite you to join with me to do more too!  And it will take you less than 10 minutes, and you wont have to go anywhere or hardly do anything!!!

I invite Christians and anyone else involved in the struggle for eco-justice to direct your prayers towards the top 40 carbon polluters of this world, which are also publicly traded corporations.  Each day during Lent I will write a prayer directed at one of the corporations, a prayer for repentance/change/turn; a prayer for a small crack develop in their hardened hearts to create the room for a radical departure from their path of environmental degradation towards human and Creation flourishing.

I will post a different prayer each day here on this blog.  Look for #prayliketheprophets on twitter.

Keep marching, keep giving, keep preaching, keep protesting, keep divesting, and pray like you've never prayed before!

03 March 2014

Ash Wednesday How-to Tutorial

Nothing is worse than an untrained free churcher waiting till the last minute to do an Ash Wednesday service.  Here is your less than 10 minutes tutorial.

24 February 2014

Clycling Clergyman The Sixth Installment: Faster than a Bus

This week I did my first expanded visitation on my bicycle.  I took some time as I planned my route via the bus system.  My initial plan was to put the bike on the bus part of the way, then ride the rest.  As I studied the bus route I noticed how easy it would be "cut the corner" on my bike and bypass the bus altogether. 

What happened?  An hour and twenty minute bus ride took only 30 minutes (I bet even less if the roads had been clear). 

I arrived at the assisted facility center and noticed one glaring missing item: a bike rack.  I suppose either the planners of the facility did not anticipate the residents to ride bikes or visitors.  I searched and found a light post and locked up the bike. 

I am curious now how many assisted living facilities for well-seasoned human beings contain bike racks?

17 February 2014

Clycling Clergyman Fifth Installment: Just How Nutty I've Become

On Tuesday the weather dipped again below zero.  For a moment I thought about taking the bus rather than riding my bike to work, only for a moment.  That bus-consideration-moment, that was the old Trav thinking, the new Trav realized Tuesday could very well be the last sub zero day for a good piece (according to the extended forecast) and if I didn't ride then I would lose my chance.  That is how far I've come in five simple weeks of riding my bicycle to work. 

Special Monday morning update
This morning the greater Minneapolis area was graced with about five inches of fresh wet snow.  The accumulation allowed me, for the first time, to deflate my bike tires from 60 to 40psi and try the setting out.  Verdict: I couldn't peddle my way down the alley.  I walked it to the main road and peddled away.  Because the side streets were not plowed yet I stuck to the main roads, which meant all kinds of stuff: my back tire kept sliding, cars either came extremely close to me or passed as if I had the plague, and plow trucks - I was more than happy to get as far away off the road as possible for them.

If you've never ridden in heavy snow all I can say is that it is a total body workout!  You constantly have to balance your body and bike (great core burn) and you peddle like you wouldn't believe (great leg burn).  And, as long as cars are at a minimum, it is fun! 

14 February 2014

why not cut up that old bible?

I believe it was in high school, yeah it was in high school, when someone, someone named Charlie Dodrill, if I remember correctly,  once told the story of a religious person cutting out every instance in the Bible where it talked about money.  And when he was done the Bible was nothing but shreds.  Later on I discovered that "the person" was Jim Wallis from Sojourners.  I never did investigate if Jim Wallis really cut up the Bible?  I dunno, but if you google Jim Wallis + Cutting Up Bible, lots of links appear.  If he did or didn't doesn't matter.  The story has bounced around my head for years, I've even used it as a sermon illustration.  But last Saturday I decided to see for myself.

Last Saturday evening while supper was finishing I took off the shelf an old battered copy of the RSV study bible (it is coffee stained and held together with duct tape), got a razor, and started cutting.

For the record I have studied the bible from an economic stand point for years.  I know the bible talks about money all over the place.  Something powerful, however, happened when I started cutting out the money portions and whole pages disappeared.  The more I read the harder it was not to see Jesus' (and Luke's) money metaphors, idioms, and usage.

At the end the gospel of Luke was not in shreds but it wasn't well.

I used the cut up example of Luke's gospel to talk about the Social Gospel and Wealth last Sunday.  For children's time I showed the kids at church what was left over from Luke, then I showered the floor with all of the cut portions.  The kids got it, and so did the adults...and so did yours truly!  After carrying the process with me all week, I think the exercise was more for me than anyone.  I needed to physically cut out the portions and see for myself just how much Jesus talked about economics.  I think I needed it as a justification for my ongoing commitment to the Social Gospel.  And I'm not stopping with Luke; I am going to keep cutting up the bible and then carry it with me as an example.

I think this would be a great way to start seminary, give every student an old bible and a small razor and tell them to get cutting.  I knew intellectually that Jesus talked about money, but to feel it in a tangible way was quite another matter.