15 February 2007

Narrative Preaching

The other day I was sent a piece of electronic mail on the topic of ladyburg's use of narrative preaching. I also saw where ladyburg proposed this question on her blog. Since it is Thursday, the day I finish writing my sermon, I have decided to respond here.

First of all lemme say that I think most preaching books suck. They all dibble on theories of preaching but hardly ever give concrete suggestions on how what they propose looks like in finished form; second they hardly ever delve into how their own creative process takes place. Therefore, I have pretty much given up reading "preaching books." Instead I have found it much more helpful to read books of sermons, the actual things. (This just may be my own personality - rather than taking a class on woodworking I simply go out and buy tools and think I'll figure it out eventually) I find that by reading books of sermons I can get an insight into how they are writing, sentence speed, word usage, image formation and employing metaphorical danglings. Now due to the advent of this thing called the internet I can listen to some pretty good (and some pretty terrible) sermons.

So how much of theobilly are in the sermons? When I read Harry Emerson Fosdick, Gardner Taylor, and Peter Gomes I dont find too many personal stories. The warning is always dont let your own personal story trump the gospel message - only use it illuminate it. But I'm sure most of you out there in the preaching world experience the perking of ears whenever you tell a personal story and then a sudden dullity fall when you go back to the gospel story. No one ever tells you how well you explained the complicated language of the Apostle Paul but they will tell you how they loved your Uncle Billy story (just for the record I don't have an uncle Billy). So what is the lesson here? I have no idea. On the one hand folk are nosy and interested in your life and want to hear how it intersects with the good news. On the other hand, I'm sure most of us are a bit lazy when it comes to our story telling abilities and cant find the time to create a hum dinger each week.

A few weeks ago I couldnt stop listening to David Sedaris tapes. I found his stories so entertaining that I decided to write some sermons with him in mind. I began each sermon with a personal story that related to an article on the Apostles Creed. Folk seemed to love it. I reflected that folk appreciate good writing. Sentence structure matters, wordplay matters, delivery matters but a well constructed sentence can almost supercede (that is a legit variant of supersede) delivery. Sedaris has an annoying nasal voice, but he is so funny you dont even pay attention to it.

How much of myself do I reveal? I pretty much lay it all on the line. I figure they share all of their aches and pains, scars at the hospital, hopes and dreams, moments of great sadness, cakes, coffee, tea and joy. The congregation is pretty much transparent with me so I'll be the same way. (This blog however, is not known within the congregation - but if you do a search for me it is easily attainable. I do like to think of the ironic anonymity of blogging from the congregation while at the same time it is available to anyone with internet access).

Does that help ladyburg? What about you out there, yeah you - throw me a bone and lemme know your two cents.

12 February 2007


Prep work is truly 90% of most work, the 10% finish work is what most folk see, but without the prep work - forget about it.

Yesterday in celebration of #1's birthday we headed over to Tito's for dinner (#1's choice). It was again below freezing and windy, so we prepared - here is #3 prepared for the outdoors:

side picture: ever wonder what #3 looks like while cruising in mountain mama's homemade slings?

and here is #2 with his new identity

and dont even think of messing with this kid

there you go lady postmaster, hope those please ya.

11 February 2007


So the day of the "flower party" was yesterday. Here is the lo down.

On Friday we spent the day in preparations:
Blowing up ballons

Making flowers out of them and putting them up:

Then the birthday banner (we made this for #1's first birthday and bring it out for each one)

That was Friday then.

Then came Saturday. Lots of cleaning by me while the wife made the cupcakes:

Then the kids came.

First they made flowers:

Then the world premiere of "Johnny Cash" musical chairs

Then back for origami flowers:

The cupcakes:

Opened presents:

And then they left...

They're on to Me

A few years ago I read a Peter Gomes book of sermons. The book included 40 sermons from the academic year of Memorial Church. Strangely enough when I counted how many sermons I do a year it came out to around 40. Take 52 Sundays, then minus 5 for vacation, then 4 from quarterly hymn sings and about three for special days (anniversaries, children's sunday, etc.) and you come up with 40.

This morning was a Lenten Preparation time, we learned 2 new hymns and four new responses: a Gloria, a Kyrie, Prayer Response and Doxology. Then we I took 10 requests from the congregation of hymns. I can pretty much predict which ones will be picked, Amazing Grace, I Come to the Garden Alone, I'll Fly Awy, etc.

The hymn sing gives me and the congregation a break from each other. I used the previous week to prepare for the sermon series and attend to some much needed office arranging. But and this is crucial, as folk greeted me after the service many noted what a sly way it was for me to get out of a sermon with a hymn sing. One dude had the audacity to say that I didn't have a sermon so I said "hymn sing." This crowd is smarter than you think!!

Why I Married My Wife: Reasons # 458

Over the past few mornings #3, whom I refer to as "the kid," has been waking up about an hour before we are ready for him (and us) to get up. "The kid" wakes up and is ready to play, growl, coo, laugh and all the other things 7 month olds do. Due to "the kid's" habit we have started to call him the alarm clock.

This morning he started about 6:30, the wife rolled over and wanted to know where the snooze button was on our new alarm clock.

10 February 2007

Why I Married My Wife: Reasons # 457

The other morning I looked in the frig and saw a pound of bacon about to go bad. So I did what any self-respecting lover of pork would do: I cooked it all. The wife woke up saw the bacon on a paper towel and said she could eat it all as a snack. I love this woman.

09 February 2007

Free Walter

No this aint one of those tween jokes where you call up the newsstand and ask if they have Prince Albert in the can, if they say yes - then let him out, this is the real deal. While searching Google's new book project I entered my theological hero: Walter Rauschenbusch and found every book scanned and get this fully searchable!!! I couldn't believe it. I cant tell you how many hours were spent talking to used bookstore owners all over the US and Canada and how many miles traversed birddoggin' his books and now they live free and full on google -thank you Al Gore for inventing the internet. Amazing.

07 February 2007

Milk Taste Test

It is true that I have tasted the wife's breast milk, very sweet and great in coffee, but let's save that for another post. Yesterday we received our two free bottles of milk from Munroe Dairy. They claim the milk arrives to you within 36 hours of extraction from the cow; they claim their cows are not given growth hormones, etc. I take their word.

My instant reaction was to have a taste test. I poured one cup of skim from Whole Foods 365 brand and one cup of Munroe Dairy. The Munroe Dairy was thicker looking and whiter. The taste difference was amazing, Munroe dairy milk actually had flavor.

Although their is a price difference for the new milk, it is worth it.

06 February 2007


There has been a lot of talk recently on the topic of Christian practices. I like the idea but exactly what does it mean to perform a Christian practice?

While researching the Seven Deadly Sins, Michael Eric Dyson in his book on Pride mentioned the book After Virtue by Alasdair McIntyre. The book has been on my shelf for some time, but I never have picked it up. I know that Stanley Hauerwas quotes the book often and others have cited it. But Dyson mentioned cited it in a way the whetted my appetite. Luckily my buddy Chad told me to start at chapter 14 then go forwards, so I did. While reading chapter 14 I found a thick definition of practice.

Practice: any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended...Bricklaying is not a practice, architecture is. (p.187)

As applied to Christian practices how does that help/aide the a working understanding?

For me it requires a dive into my own particular Baptist tradition, what is it that we have held up as excellent? Further dive, how do those understanding of excellence converge with the greater history of Western Christianity? Then you accomplished an initial and secondary naivete. But where to go from here? Are the practices that I find worth preserving? Or if a practice is worth preserving does it need lifted up or chipped away? I find myself in the position of trying to figure these questions out.

05 February 2007

yesterday's sermon and t-shirt looksee

Here is yesterday's sermon: The Good Life .

04 February 2007

Birthday Preparations

As the big day looms preparations are under way.

This year we, yeah I know I'm a very small part, are doing a Flower Party.

First they had to make invitations:

Next it was goody bags:

then some silly faces by the kids:

So what was I doing? I was doing penance for past sins, that is the only redeemable logic for folding laundry.

Just for the historical record, I took this picture first - then the wife said 'you're taking pictures of the laundry you folded, how about taking some pictures of your kids, oh yeah...

Pretty Good, hey?

I've never claimed to be a food inventor. But there are two items I like to take credit for.

One: Garlic turnovers.
Take some slice of fresh mozerella, slap on some roasted garlic then spread some kosher salt on your hand and dip the mozeralla in it. Roll the cheese and garlic up and eat away. I always eat three or four of these while making pizzas on Fridays.

Two: Crunchy Sandwich.
Take your regular peanut butter sandwich and pile on chips, preferable crunchy cheese curls.

Race Matters

The other day I went to the West lecture and I was once again reminded of the importance of Race Matters in my own life. I don't hide, it does no good, from my racist past. You could say it was simply part of the culture in Appalachia, you could say that but that's no excuse. I fully accept the actions of my past (I never physically hurt anyone due to their race, but I had terrible thoughts as a kid - thoughts of supremacy and better than). I can't change the past - there is nothing I can do about it. But I can try to like mad to make the present and future better.

Some people say racism is ignorance - it is much more than ignorance. Racism is about power and indeed the ideological foundation for white supremacy.

Some people seem to want to move past race in our society. But we cant do that. You could if you think racism is a sociological phenomena but it isnt it is a sin and sin is not something that goes away too easy. Recall Yahweh God's warning to Cain as Cain pondered killing his brother Abel, "sin is lurking at the door to overtake you." If we try to think of racism as only a past historic event that was settled long ago and not the legacy of racism and our ongoing practice of it we will not come to terms with the true transformative power of confession, repentance and reconciliation.

When did the change happen for me? When and how did I go from a racist to a Christian? I would say it took place in the latter part of college and the first part of seminary. The metanoia took place when I picked up the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr and heard them, really heard them. The metanoia took place when I read the social writings of Thomas Merton, especially Faith and Violence. The metonoia took place at CRDS and I found in class African-Americans who could kick my theological butt all over the place. It took place and is still taking place. At least it took.

What can I do? I can pray about racial relations, I can preach about it, I can teach about it and I can seek to cultivate new and transformative relationships.

03 February 2007

Why I have semi-permanently adbadoned the Lectionary

Growing up I never heard of the lectionary, at BTSR I think I smelled it once at the Presbyterian seminary, but when I transferred to CRCDS the lectionary was in full bloom. I bought into it hook, line and sinker. I even joined lectionary study groups, bought all kinds of lectionary resources and frequently viewed lectionary web pages. But for some odd reason using the lectionary never took a proper root with me.

Perhaps it is my West Virginia Baptist raising or some kind of Appalachian dissent. I have been re-baptized with the water of the sermon series. I find that a series allows me greater theological depth and fuller cultivation of ideas. The recent series I am preparing, a Lenten series on the Seven Deadly Sins, has led to amassing of all kinds of ideas and resources. Everything from Medieval Art, to current movies and works of fiction, to great theological treatises.

I still follow the Christian year, but I impose on it sermon series(s, can you pluralize series?) that relate to the main themes of the season.

Thoughts about the West Lecture

I was able to make it to the West Lecture yesterday afternoon, despite my trouble walking (the wife wants to hear none of my hardships from the surgery). The Solomon Center was packed so I went downstairs for the silmucast, which quickly filled up.

It was a bit odd watching a large screen tv of the lecture, but well worth it. West is a frequent name dropper, but I like that. While talking about King's biography he mentioned his time at Crozer and his reading of Rauschenbusch. West reminded us all that last year was the 100th anniversary of the publication of Christianity and the Social Crisis.

I know this is a terrible analogy but i like it still. When a milk cow goes dry she is "refreshed" by a bull to restart her milk supply. I feel that lectures, art museums, going out for a drink with friends, listening to live music are all ways that preachers get "refreshed." Your mind goes a little numb by sitting in an office, reading, writing sermons and visiting with parishioners. Your mind needs refreshed, your creativity needs a boost.

01 February 2007

West comes East

Tomorrow Cornel West is coming to speak at Brown University. I plan to get there about a half hour early, I figure he will be a big draw for the community.

I first saw him at Rochester, amazing speaker, at Aenon Baptist Church. I saw him again at Rochester, at the airport, on his way home.

How can you not like a dude who wears a three piece suit, cufflinks, has a PhD and is a Baptist minister?