31 October 2007

Niebuhr, part ii

The recent Atlantic Monthly article on Reinhold Niebuhr got me thinking: how many people actually have read Niebuhr at all. I did a search on R.N. on the NYTimes webpage and couldn't believe all the hits. Most of the references are rather light, which makes me wonder if folk have actually read Niebuhr or have they just read someone commenting on Niebuhr. This indeed would be ironic, because Niebuhr really laid the hammer down on Rauschenbusch and Shailer Matthews but the question begs to be answered: did he, R.N. actually carefully read the work of W.R. and S.M.? I think the record shows that he didn't. I have even wrote a paper on this. (for the record I wanted to name one of our kids Shailer, I thought it was a proper name - the VOR did not think so).

But some more on Mr. Niebuhr.

A quote from Leaves from the Notebooks of a Tamed Cynic.

The minister is therefore easily fooled by extravagant conceptions of his own moral stature, held by admiring parishioners. If he could realize how much of this appreciation represents transferred religious emotion he could be more realistic in analyzing himself. And if he could persuade himself to speak of moral ideals in terms of specific issues and contemporary situations, he would probably prompt currents of critical thought which would destroy the aura which invests his person with premature sanctity.

If a minister want to be a man among men he need only to stop creating devotion to abstract ideals which every one accepts in theory and denies in practice, and to agonize about their validity and practicability in the social issues which he and others face in our present civilization. That immediately give his ministry a touch of reality and potency and robs it of an artificial prestige which it can afford to dispense with, and is bound to be stripped of, the kind of prestige which is the prerogative of priests and professional holy men. (p.16)

I appreciated Mr. Niebuhr's words, quite wise for a 24 year old at the time. I think they are true, but it is harder than hell to get past the transferred religious emotion folk project on you. There are cute ways to cut the corner on this, but they are rather trite. The only way I have found that works is to be as honest and transparent: doubt, frustration, anger, love, laughter, playfulness, full recognition of finitude & etc.

28 October 2007


This afternoon, four hours exactly, the VOR made me my birthday dinner: French pot roast, mashed potatoes, green beans and hotrolls. Amazing. In order for this dish to be made I needed to buy a bottle of Cotes du Rhone and bottle of Chardonay.

While driving home from the liquor store I turned on NPR and heard a wonderful story on Reinhold Niebuhr. If you have a chance either listen to it or download it for later.

I used to stay away from Reinhold - he unduly influenced a narrow reading of Rauschenbusch - I always cared more for his brother H. Richard. But after listening to the show, perhaps I need to go back and reread some of Reinhold.

Sermons and Improvisation

This morning for the second time in as many weeks my computer shut down as I went to print (I also forgot to save the document). When I reopen Word I the document is recovered but without an ending - thus the need for some improvisation.

This week I read where Wynton Marsalis was in the middle of a solo when someone's cell phone in the front row started to ring. Marsalis stopped then began to copy the ring on his sax, then began improvising the ringtone and then segwayed into his previous solo. This morning a man, three pews from the front, began to ask the woman in front of him what was in the floor in front of the man in front of her. There are some things you cannot incorporate into an improvisational piece.

So here is the rough cut of the sermon for this morning. I was trying to go in one direction but found myself going in another while I preached. I was also experimenting with my voice and projection. To my surprise many more people could hear this morning without the aide of their hearing devices.

A little over 430 years ago a young man walked home and got caught in a terrible lightening storm. He fell to the ground in fear of his life and made a deal with God: let me get home safely and I will devote my life to You. Most people make this type of deal all the time, no one actually keeps their promise – this man did. Against the wishes of his parents he ceased his study of law and became a monk of the Augustinian order.

He fretted over just about everything. He fretted over the salvation of his soul, whether he could work his way to salvation, if grace was really enough, and so on. He spent countless hours on the toilet trying to figure out issues. Why the toilet? Well I am sure that it was quiet but when one eats a sparse diet consisting primarily of dairy and dairy created products you are going to spend quite a bit of time there. Many have even surmounted that his bathroom experiences inspired his great theological treatise of salvation: there is nothing you can do about salvation you cannot force it to happen, it just does, and it is a gift.

At the same time this young monk was working in Germany the Pope in Rome was constructing the Basilica of St. Peter. The Pope was also creatively coming up with ways to pay for its construction, you try pleasing Michelangelo! So the Pope sent his greatest salesman out to sell indulgences, a way to pay folk out of hell. He even had a bumper sticker slogan: every time the coffer rings a soul in purgatory sings, the dude was good!

When the salesman came to Germany the young monk was furious; so he sat down and listed all of the grievances he had with the selling of indulgences and with the church. He came up with 95 complaints. He did not set out to create a splinter group but a reform movement to get the Catholic Church back on track.

The young monk was Martin Luther and the movement he is credited with starting is the Protestant branch of Christianity. So it would seem that to read the history of our particular branch of Christianity would necessarily be anti-Catholic. For many years it was. But much has changed between now and then. But we have to recognize the anti-Catholic roots of our faith heritage. Roger Williams referred to the Pope as the anti-Christ and the Catholic Church as the great Satan. So the challenge is always to tell our story for what it stands for rather than what it stands against.

In a remarkable fashion the same is true of our parable this morning. I cannot think of any other biblical story where the literary device employed by the author leads us to such a one-sided reading than the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

In this short parable we are led to really chunk it on the Pharisee, it would seem that it is fair to throw any label, derogatory term or smug epithet you want. But should we? Is this religion defined by what we are against or religion defined by what we are for?

I scratched my head a lot over this parable; it threw me for a loop. Not because I think it is difficult – it is pretty straightforward. My problem was its one sidedness and obvious slamming of the Pharisee. It is true that in order for Jesus to make a name for himself he did have to engage in the honor-shame culture of the time. Jesus had to build up a reputation by taking the religious establishment head on and scoring major rhetorical victories by showing them up on numerous occasions. But our parable this morning does not involve a social interaction between Jesus and the religious establishment, it is a parable from afar commenting on an event taking place in the Temple, this is Jesus as Monday morning priest.

What we have going here is religion at its worst, defining itself by putting another down. Could there be something else going on here?

I believe there is.

Stay with here for a moment and let us see where this road may go.

If we take a step back and look at chapter 18 as a whole we find a hodgepodge chapter, it does not read as a well threaded narrative but as a shoddy attempt to make a seam. The chapter is a bunch of independent Jesus stories thrown together, this is Luke’s stone soup or his version of a mad scientists witches brew with a little oil of newt and three squirrel legs. Although the literary quality and flow of chapter 18 may not be Luke’s best work the theological parings do present for us a most intriguing picture.

All of the stories deal with the prospect of religious truth, God’s self-disclosure and religious practices emerging from the least expected: the nagging widow not from the judge; the tax collector not the Pharisee; the children not the disciples and from the Galilean peasant Jesus not the rich young ruler. All four of these stories contain a great element of surprise: do not expect truth about and from God from the usual suspects: religious professionals, agents of the state, those who seem to have been blessed by God with material goods. Expect God also to be creeping in from surprising sources: kids, widows, tax collectors and peasants.

It may very well be that the Protestant Reformation was a mistake, a tragic break in Christian unity. Continuing history will tell whether the great earthquake of the 16th century will be looked on as just a tremor that will be corrected later. Martin Luther wanted to cause a revolution not a new branch of Christianity.

If you are so blessed to have a tachometer on the dashboard of your automobile then you get to see how many thousand revolutions per minute your engine turns. One revolution is measured from the four cycles of your pistons: the intake, compression, fire and exhaust cycle each piston in its cylinder. In a technical sense a revolution is just a spin, to turn around and return to your original position.

A religious revolution is meant to live life fully open to God and return to your original position not the same but greatly changed, to have experienced a metanoia, and then live life forward from that new position. The goal of worship is not to exit through the doors without some small or great change taking place. It would be a great shame if nothing happened or began to happen to your soul; so that you return to your starting place re-newed, re-created, even re-born.

Jesus was after this type of revolution. He could not challenge the powers of the Roman empire mano el mano. But he could challenge and change the hearts of people. He could present a way of life full of dignity, creative personality and love centered on the work and grace of God. This he did with utmost perfection.

27 October 2007

Change in the Weather

Today it is time to say goodbye to a good friend, our pair of kitchen scissors and hello to our new friend, kitchen compost container.
For our wedding Dr. Burg, God bless him, bought us a set of knives with these scissors. These scissors lasted 10+ years! They cut any and everything: chicken bones, sliced bacon, opened up packages, rib bones, pork bones, they were great to removing ligaments from chicken tenders and much more. So long ol' pal you were useful and will be missed.

We, the VOR and myself, have been complaining for some time about the compost container smelling up the kitchen. We used to put our scraps in the freezer but then our ice took on their taste, we used to keep them on the counter top but every time you would open the container it would about knock you out. So the VOR bought this counter top container, what an invention. It holds in the smell with a charcoal filter and is very handy and sturdy.

This morning we went to our favorite farm to pick our pumpkins for decorating and apples for making caramel apples. Here are the highlights, #2 and myself are not too crazy about them.

Now that Fall has officially arrived I decided to switch from Gin and Tonic to Single Malt. For my birthday I purchased a bottle of McClelland's Islay. I couldn't get over what a perfect Fall selection it was: smoky, peaty and went down great.

25 October 2007

Is There a Better Compliment?

This morning a parishioner called wanting to know the recipe for the sauce I developed for the Pulled Pork BBQ this summer. Normally this would be great compliment but it is even greater because this guy is a butcher, he is the guy who told me when we first moved here what cut of meat to use for pulled pork, etc. Now this guy is asking me for a recipe. Ahhhh.

By the way, a different parishioner gave me this action shot of yours truly cooking the very pork above mentioned ate that night:

Just the Right One

Over the weekend we joined our neighbors, the sausage eating vegetarians, and headed to Chase Farm (right down the road in town) to tag our Christmas Tree. We chose this tree:
I wanted to take a picture of it so when we go to cut it down in a few weeks I know where it is and what it looks like.

Hard to believe that Chase Farm is only 8 miles from downtown Providence:When I went to NH I saw two signs that popped out: first the Liquor store signs,and all the Mitt Romney signs (I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of those).

Here is a picture of the mountain right after you enter the park:
And now some general interest stuff. While reading PD James novels I noticed one time how she mentioned one of her characters ate fried toast for breakfast. The idea of deep frying a piece of bread in bacon fat made me silly with anticipation. The other morning I finally made my own and made a piece of standard toast:The fried is on your right. I am sad to say that I liked the traditional toast better, the fried toast was a little too sweet. But that doesnt mean I am giving up on it. Although I could feel my veins tightening with every bite.

Political news. I can not get over the positive coverage Mike Huckabee is getting from the NYTimes columnists. First there was David Brooks' article and this morning Gail Collins'
If I were a Republican I would vote for this dude. What if Huckabee wins the nomination and it is a showdown between he and Clinton. That would be interesting. If I was assured of a larger Democratic Senate and House I would vote for Huckabee. I cannot believe I just wrote that, spur of the moment, stream of consciousness, imblogivsation.

Furthermore, what is wrong with men who want to slow down the growth of their beard? I have been trying to grow a beard for years. All I can consistently grow is an ingrown hair in the area where my mustache and chin meet. For years I have strained, visualized and tried to talk my body into producing a full beard - no go. This Fall? Perhaps, perhaps some kind of physiological change may take place since the surgery - wouldn't that be a hoot.

On a last note. If you haven't thrown your two cents in please do. The Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation opening for public comments on the Bush administrations proposal to change the Clean Water Act to more freely allow mountain top removal closes on Nov. 3.

23 October 2007


Today I begin the 33rd year of my existence. It was supposed to be a year of some significant changes and new starts. But I believe I blew it. Why? I got scared and didn't know that I was scared. By the time I figured out what was going on it was probably too late. So what did I learn, be better in tune with myself and more open and honest, not only with myself but with the V.O.R. As partners we recognize what is going on with each other and even bring things out of each other that one cannot see without the eyes of the other.

A problem is a chance for you to do your best. Duke Ellington

Fright. As a kid I lived on a dirt road. It was great, every Spring the road grater would come and churn up all kinds of treasures: broken bottles, small boulders, old rusted toys and occasionally something I would swear was a dinosaur bone. On a busy day our road would see 10 cars. So during the summer I would ride my bike up and down the road with on fear (I asked for a skateboard but they had yet to invent a dirt road model). One particular day I was riding down the road at a pretty good speed, so fast that I couldn't steer so well. About this time a car was coming the other direction at a pretty good speed too. We looked each other in the eyes and I'm sure what he thought was chicken, at the last minute we both jerked the steering apparatuses of our vessels. He went off road and then back on, me I went in the big mud hole. I feel in some ways that is what happened. I was a bit fearful and instead of applying the brakes and getting on safe ground I landed in the mud hole. Live and learn, sure but you still get muddy learning.

So how did I come to this epiphany of fear?

Yesterday I loaded my backpack for a day hike, got the map, water bottle, binoculars and headed north to Mount Monadnock outside of Jaffery, NH. The trip took about two hours. I got out of the truck and headed up the White Dot Trail to the top. For some odd reason I was hiking at ridiculous pace, I was dripping with sweat and leaving a trail of body odor that kept all matters of flies and bears miles away. I had hoped to sort things out during the hike up, but my pace and amount of huge rocks kept that from taking place. I did make it to the top in one hour and four minutes. I had to climb on my hands and feet part of the way but eventually I could see the Presidential Range and the beautiful valley below. I purposively didnt take any pictures, I saved them in my memory.

I sat down for lunch and realized that the ancients were onto something when they thought mountains would get you closer to God. The adventure of climbing and then the reward of the sights is quite a spiritual accomplishment. After lunch I started down, by the time I got down to the Spruce Link trail it hit me: fear. Fear was keeping me from moving forward in life. I named it, realized it and it evaporated.

When I got home I tried to mask my fear from The V.O.R. but she saw right through it and named it too. I tried to sidestep her, but she was onto me. In her words, she jerked a knot in my tail, yeah you could say that. I went to bed around 8:30, woke up sick this morning, slept till 11. Now I feel great and at peace. I admitted my fear and am trying to make the most of my muddy situation.

Not exactly the birthday present I was hoping for, but one that I needed to take place.

16 October 2007

Parenting Survey

Yesterday's On Point with Tom Ashbrook had a wonderful conversation on kids and sleep. I am a big advocate of sleep, anytime and anywhere. I love sleep and wish others loved it as much as I do, that way they wouldn't call past 9:30.

Go here to take the Survey of Parenting Styles and Assumptions. The survey is a good entry point for counterintuitive parenting assumptions that researchers are finding.

On Sunday the family and I, along with the sister-in-law and her unidentified "friend" went down to the Barnsiders for dinner. I love this place a little too much. More than anything I love their salad bar (which I think is like Shoney's on steroids). I particularly love their fresh baked bread and the big blocks of cheese. Any way, I started with a Bass then with dinner (tenderloin medallions and garlic smashed potatoes {which I believe is way overused as a description of mashed potatoes with roasted garlic}) a glass of C-S. The proportions were way too much. Then after dinner we went to Ben and Jerry's where I had a scoop of Chocolate Therapy and Triple Carmel something or other. We made it home around 7:30 and I was in bed by 8:30. But you know you can't sleep with a belly full of all that. I thrashed and swooned all night. Lori, the s-i-l and friend said they could hear me over the child monitor - said I sounded like a wounded cow. All this is to say: I find sleep so precious that I try to eat a minimal dinner.


Odd that American Recordings, JohnnyCash.com or Lost Highway records haven't fully disclosed the release date of American Recordings VI. The wait is just too much.

In a few moments a few members of the congregation will come over to the office for the weekly bible study session. I provide coffee, knowledge and gossip - they provide complaints of aches and pains, questions about the text and in general come to laugh. I have been threatening for some time to switch the coffee and actually make regular instead of decaf. I really wonder if they would notice?

This weekend my sister-in-law and friend came up for a visit. Due to federal regulations I cannot release the name, gender, orientation, height, weight, or hair color until a to be determined future date. I can only say that the friend is a good person and I was glad to meet the person. I can also add that this person won second place prize at the Inaugural Family Pumpkin Painting Contest. (pictures forthcoming) This unidentified person would have one an easy first place prize if this person was, well let us just say "legal," we'll leave it at that for now.

The sermon Sunday went well. The scripture was the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Many people have said that if Jesus were to come back today that he would mainly hang around the poor, displaced, hungry, and the untouchables. I firmly believe that, but I think this parable also shows that Jesus would be hanging around rich folk too. If the kingdom of God is good news for everyone then it has to touch everyone!

I found it interesting that Bill Richardson, as he is inching his way up to almost pass Edwards in some polls, has taken on Edwards' view of the "two Americas." I find Edwards' two Americas right on the money, but is it enough to simply explain a reality? On the same note Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, in the song Bushleaguer sings the haves have not a clue. I agree that most do not, but then my cynical side laughs at Vedder writing this when no doubt he is living high off the hog. These are just some swirling thoughts, I find it best to jam a bunch of conflicting thoughts together, let them fight it out and see what synthesis emerges.

I have been predicting, from the pulpit, for weeks that the Patriots are going to lose - but they keep winning. I really don't care. I have never been able to get into Pro Football, it is too boring. The offenses are predictable and the defensive players are too fast. The only Pro Football I ever enjoyed was the Buffalo Bills of the 90s. Why? I distinctly remember Jim Kelly running the option one time with Thurman Thomas. I about fell out of my chair. The only other pro football worth mentioning is the neckbrace days of Steve Grogan. To see a quaterback wear a neck pad was really something. For Christmas a few years ago i bought dad an autographed picture of Grogan. What I really wanted was an autographed neckbrace but no one had one!

11 October 2007

This is Too Good to be True

I learned today that the West Virginia Council of Churches has come out not only against mountain top removal but also has criticized the Bush administration's relaxation of the Clean Water Act.

Go here to read the press release.

Home Life

For Christmas last year I bought an Ipod. I was enamored with it at first. I think I expected it to open my garage door, change channels on the tv and maybe even scratch my back. Nope, it is just a hard drive with flash memory. Oh well.

This morning I went to the coffee shop with the Ipod in my briefcase. I sometimes put my headphones in to keep people from bugging me when I am working at the establishment. But this morning I was using the Ipod and praising Steve Jobs for his invention. Why? The folk behind the counter had Def Leppard blasting from the sound system. I've never felt more thankful for my ipod as I put on the earbuds and listened to Ben Harper and some Johnny Cash.

The Only Lady went to the beauty shop and asked if I would watch #2 and #3 while she was away. No problem, and could I also take #2 to swim class. No problem. #2 did great at swim class, swimming by himself, jumping off the side and diving blocks - he was beaming with self-confidence. As I sat watching, feeding and observing #3 the two mothers there commented how quiet #3 was under my care than under the only lady's. They asked that I don't dare tell the Only Lady, but come on those kind of comments don't come very often.

The sister-in-law arrives this evening. It will be good to see her and spend some time with her. She is a great sister-in-law more like a sister than an in-law. No Mrs. P no one could replace you, you are the best sister ever.

08 October 2007

Ah Man...

I read in the WV Gazette on Saturday that my beloved Souther Kitchen will be closing on the 15th. I loved that place. Dad and I used to go there for chili, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy or perhaps just bacon and eggs.

I think it was one of the few authentic foodie places in the valley. Goodbye ole friend, you will be missed.

Later that day, St. Albans, ranked #2 in the state going into the game, lost the Battle of the Bridge to Nitro: 58-14.

No sermon yesterday, Liliana Da Valle, the new executive minister of ABCORI was the guest minister. She preached an interesting sermon, I'm glad the search committee hired her - wise choice.

03 October 2007

Candidate Templates

The 2008 presidential election this year seems awful silly, so many folks running, so much money being raised and not much that really excites me. As a Baptist minister I don't put too much of my trust and faith in politicians. I am more of an issue oriented person. I was brought up with my father's side split one being Republican farmers and the other strong Democrats. On my mother's side it seems they were all Republicans, my cousin once told me my grandpa said vote Republican because they have all the money and you want to make money too. I started out Republican but have moved more to the Democratic side, but I'm not an Armani Democrat which most of the party seems to be nowadays. I'm more of a Democratic Christian Socialists, more of the Netherlandic model expressed by Bob Goudzwaard (I heard him at CRCDS during convocation ceremonies.)

Nevertheless I was intrigued by the templates offered by the Des Moines Register: templates for pumpkin carving. I'm going to carve a John Edwards pumpkin this year.

Who will be the Democratic nominee? I cannot see Hillary Clinton hanging on through the duration as the front runner. Will Obama rise to the challenge? I do not know, he has a lot so ground support and lots of donors and I think he taps into a deep hunger for change and authenticity. I dont buy the not enough experience argument. I think is bogus. Edwards, even though I like him I cant see him breaking through, that leaves Bill Richardson. Richardson is my dark horse candidate to win the nomination.

Who will win the Republican nominee? I can't see Giuliani winning, too squirelly for the voters I believe. Cant see Romney winning, his flip flops make Kerry look conservative. Thompson is too lanky. I see McCain making a run and being the nominee. I heard him speak in Rochester in 1999, couldn't believe the people at Highland park in the cold that came out that evening. If he can tap into that once more, who knows what may happen...

Post for Later usage

I keep wanting to write something on this dude and his job as it relates to ministry, but dont have the time. In the near future, there will be some reflection on this. Till then, if you have a few moment read this article on Andrea Mosconi. I dont want to lose the link so I am posting it here for later usage.

Chuck Norris Fan Club

One night last week I couldn't go to sleep. I didn't want a nightcap of JW, although you will go to sleep rather quickly - you never settle into a deep sleep. So I went downstairs and watched some of the David Letterman Show. Even thought DL is a total cornball I couldn't help but laugh at his statement that butter is the new cheese. I'm not for sure what that means but I got a kick out of it. A few months ago talking with Dr. Burg about having three kids, he said you know 3 is the new 2.

Later on during the show DL had a segment of George Bush vs Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

This was my favorite:

AHMADINEJAD: member of the Islamic Society of Engineers
BUSH: member of the Chuck Norris Fan Club

Then I tried to find the official Chuck Norris Fan Club, there aint one.

More tv news, last week I wasnt able to catch the season premiere of Th
e Office, so I watched it online this week. Come to find out Pam and Darrell are Presbyterians, would have never guessed that. I had them pegged for Methodists.

CD news:

The new Steve Earle recording. Well I'm not overwhelmed or overtly impressed, too low key. However, the pictures inside are quite comical, especially Earle's new beard and long hair. No where as near as political as his previous recordings. He said it was due to Allison's influence; they make an interesting couple.

If you haven't taken the time to listen to Wynton Marsalis' s From the Plantation to the Penitentiary, especially the tracks featuring Jennifer Sanon you should. Her voice is absolutely amazing, soft and rich like a bechamel sauce.

01 October 2007

The Other Side of the Mountain...

Saturday, after step dancing lessons of course, we packed the kids into the van and drove north past Worcester to Mount Wachusett for a hike. We have been on short strolls, but never a full fledged hike up a mountain.

We arrived, got situated and headed up the mountain. We decided to take the "medium/kind of easy" trail up the side to the summit. It was a hard path, rocks and roots everywhere, dropoffs, and no graded trail. The kids loved it. #1 & #2 did not need help or carried, #3 rode on my back in a pack. When we got to the top we could see for 50 miles, past Boston. It was amazing at the top. I felt like those, minus folk with disabilities or limited health, who drove up the mountain really cheated themselves of a marvelous sense of accomplishment.

A view from halfway up the mountain:#3 Riding comfortably:The kids on the way down, notice the steep grade:We are saving pictures from the summit for later.

Read about Ron's bear problem.