27 December 2008

When Your birthday is the day after Christmas

The VOR was born on December 26 an undisclosed # of years ago. Throughout the years she has suffered folk forgetting her big day due to the hubbub of the season; and she has had birthday gifts wrapped in Christmas paper. This year she reflected on some of the benefits: who else has never had to work on their birthday, who else still has presents to open the day after Christmas, and who else still has presents under the tree the day after Christmas (yes her presents always go under the tree). As I search for the perfect gift I start thinking months in advance but by the time Advent rolls around and I see how busy the shopping centers are I usually put purchasing her gift in the back of my head. Usually jewelry is a home run, but this year the VOR said how about a something from her favorite store.

Yesterday I ventured out to purchase a gift. Before going we both looked online at outfits and perused the offerings. I felt confident and sure, but once I crossed the threshold into the store I knew instantly I was out of my league. None of the clothes online were in the brick and mortar store and none of the colors (particularly the lovely shade given as Pomegranate) I admired were in the store. So I did the sensible thing I asked a saleswoman. Wrong move. The woman took me under her good Samaritan wing as if I just walked off the ship. She talked slow and loud. As if I would understand her better. We walked around the store, she asked questions, I described to her in exact details the top I had picked out online, but she did not understand me. Apparently I did not talk slow and loud enough. Eventually she led me to a section of tops and eventually I picked out a top and purchased it.

When I got home I gave the gift along with a poem and a magazine. The VOR looked at the top: it was just like the one she had on last night and in a color she has never liked. Today the top will be exchanged.

25 December 2008

Christmas Eve Sermon

Despite my best efforts the Dr. Seuss sermon did not come to fruition. I tried like the dickens but it was a hard sermon to fashion. So I went in a direction that took me by surprise. A question crept in my subconscious: What have you to do with me Jesus son of the Most High God? It is the question from the Geresane demoniac, odd I know for Christmas Eve but it worked last night, better than I could have imagined.

The Hopes and the Fears
text: “I beseech thee, torment me not.” (Luke 8:28, KJV)
Christmas Eve

This Advent I have attempted to present Advent from the poetical angles of the four Evangelists: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John. The human/angel asks us to sit a spell and comfortably listen to the story of God laborious work in a family from Abraham to Jesus. The lion of Judah wrests from our comfortableness shouting: Change, Change, Change. The ox of focuses on two families: Zechariah and Elizabeth and Joseph and Mary to show in fascinating if not mysterious detail what happens when the overshadowing presence of God enfolds human life. Finally, the eagle, with a stand up bass violin, a snare drum, and a trumpet shows us the way with the rhythm of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

Depending on where we are in life one approach is able to penetrate our thick armor of numbness and blindness to transform our heart and guts: the very essence of our existence.

For four weeks we have been preparing, not for a birth (that is tonight), but about the time to come. Advent is four preparatory, even penitential, weeks set aside to right the alignments of our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls so we can love the Lord our God with everything we have.

This evening all of time is at hand: past, present, and future. Tonight when all of the hopes and fears are met in Thee. This eve in all its innocence we fully, openly, and honestly ask: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

Yes that is our question and this is our plea: I beseech thee, torment me not. We are not all modern day representatives of the Gerasene demoniacs, but if we were to peel away all the layers of our false selves would we not find fear at the core? would we not find an unnatural fear of God? Two conversations this week engraved this for me: one, a mother (of no relation to me) told her child to straighten up for Santa and Jesus were watching. What an ultimatum! {editorial note, this was meant to illicit a spot of humor, it did not - oh well} The other conversation was with someone who harbored a deep hope that despite unbelief God would not hold it against him. These two vignettes segue into a historical and universal deep-seated fear of God.

Travel back in human history to the mythical time when the Israelite storytellers described the creation of humanity. We are in the garden, right after we ate the apple, right after it was revealed to us that we were naked, right after we quickly jimmied together some garments to cover ourselves, right after we heard the Lord God walking in the garden, right after we hid ourselves among the trees, right after we said: I was afraid. We are wrought with a fear of God. We are afraid that God is out to get us, that God is just waiting for us to screw up, that God is against us.

This eve says otherwise. For tonight a little child is born, an innocent, dependent, and vulnerable child. The child is born to parents who should be scared, but they are not. For in their arms is not just a child, but a New Adam, a new human, a new humanity whose name is not just Jesus (meaning God saves) but is also Emmanuel (meaning God is with us). This child who is fully God and fully human, who is righteousness and peace, who is all of our hopes and fears is living proof that God is not against us but is for and with us.

God pitched his tent on earth in a vulnerable enfleshed vessel: a child. A child who did not come to torment us but came to heal and set us free. A child who came to show us the way to true love. A child who came to offer an everlasting hope for life. That is the poetry of Advent and now Christmas Eve.

Brothers and Sisters sing with all you have the carols we have preserved for they are about a time when all of creation rejoices as God says once again: fear not you are now my children, my friends, my co-creators.

Sisters and Brothers, Merry Christmas.

18 December 2008

Great Minds Think Alike

Part of my 100 books in '08 experiment included reading several books from the Lyman Beecher Preaching Lectures (held annually at Yale Divinity School). The latest book I am reading from: The Church Confident by Leander Keck centers on the possibility of renewal in mainline Protestantism - a project dear to my heart.

In the first chapter he mentions the importance of hymnody. Using an Andrew Sullivan implementation, here is the "money quote:"
I cannot avoid the suspicion that one reason that neoorthodoxy did not really renew the mainline churches is that, however much it sobered their theology, it gave them no song to sing and produced no hymnody of note. Be that as it may, the experience of the Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan movement, the revivals on the American frontier, and the Catholic Church today, shows that when the greatness of God becomes real, the church is renewed, and there is joy in the heart and a song on the lips of the people of God." (p.40-41)

I suppose the troubling aspect of my thought from the past few years (expressed here) is that I am having this thought a good 16 years after the publication of Keck's book!

The Dr. Seuss Sermon

A few years ago I read where Rev. David HC Read, the late pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, used to compose his annual Christmas Eve sermon in verse. I thought/think that was/is a pretty neat idea. So this year I have been working on a sermon in verse. When I mentioned my idea to the VOR, she responded: "You mean like Dr. Seuss?"

Oh brother

17 December 2008

Faster than My Shutter Speed

Last night the VOR directed a yogurt pretzel making project (I was assigned to record this event for posterity with the camera, but as you shall soon see the kids are faster than my camera's shutter speed).

16 December 2008

Facelapped: An Introvert's Adventure on Facebook

Sometime this evening the red flag notification on the VOR's facebook account will probably have a double digit number on it; when this happens she will easily surpass, or facelap me (that is have a greater # of friends than me).  It took me six weeks to climb, in my own view, to an impressive 47 friends; it took her all of 48 hours to generate that number.  

I suppose being lapped by your significant other is the result one would normally expect when one member of the couple is an introvert and the other is an extrovert.  I suppose this is what happens when one member of the couple goes to a large public university and the other goes to a small private college.  I suppose this is what happens when one member of the couple is a clergyman and the other is not.  I suppose, no I know, this is what happens when you marry well!

Do not get me wrong I am proud of my 47 friends, I am still quite amazed at the number.  I am somewhat skeptical when I see some friends who have 300, 400, even 500 friends - do they really have that many friends or are they facebook harlots confirming and requesting anyone they can on God's green earth? 


The most surprising revelation of my facebook experiment is its (as one friend has called it) strangely addictive qualities.  I can not seem to drag myself off of the damn thing -- and it is not only me.  Tonight I watched the VOR confirm something like 20 friends in the kitchen while #3 was jumping in the sink and juggling the steak knives!  


I have yet to figure out all of the applications -- I doubt I will, they seem all ad driven.  But it is a great interface for communication and sharing of ideas and general nonsense.  Perhaps the greatest function though is the gossip.  For someone who likes gossip, yes I am talking about myself, facebook is a godsend or more appropriately a devilsend.  

14 December 2008

Parsonage Open House: 4th Edition

Last night was the Fourth Parsonage Open House we hosted; it was on hiatus for the past two. In addition to the people from church we invited friends and members from the fiddle class.  All in all about 50 people passed through.  

Here is the menu:

Sausage Balls (the first time our guest ate them all -- I was upset this morning with none for breakfast). 
Buffalo Wings (last time none were left, this time there were plenty left over)
Bread Bowl with Spinach Artichoke Dip
Party Mix (made with a full cup of bacon grease)
Vegetable Platter with a dip the VOR made
Ham and Cheese Calzones
Pepperoni and Cheese Calzones
Bean Dip with Tortilla Chips
Cheese Ball (Christopher Kimball thanksgiving recipe on NPR)

Corn Flake Clusters
Peppermint Bark
Rogues Chocolate Stout Brownies (originally with Guiness)

Pot of Smoking Bishop  (probably the highlight of the evening.)  
Odd to bake citrus, eve odder once I cut them open and the fruit separated from the skin. 
Punch: Seltzer Water, Raspberry Sherbet, Pineapple Juice
And some Narragansett 

11 December 2008

Adventing (it helps to have a little Latin)

This afternoon while trolling down to the city-state to pick up an Xmas gift I stopped by the grocery store I patronize, Whole Foods -- the Main Street edition (it is literally on Main Street, trust me there is nothing 'main street usa about it though').  On my way there I was listening to Fresh Air, the guest was talking about the credit crisis.  The interviewer asked the interviewee if there was any good coming out of the financial downturn: the re-emergence of layaway.  

As I walked through Whole Foods (officially the VOR has prohibited me from doing the grocery shopping Why? I take way too long and purchase items we, supposedly, do not need) I began to think of how much I liked the last roast we bought from there.  It was succulent, no it was savory, no it was oh yes that is the word er yummy.  But the blooming thing cost something like $30.  So I wondered if the butcher would let me buy the roast on layaway?  The butcher (is he really a butcher, I mean the meat comes in pieces already - it aint like there are carcasses hanging in the back or anything with Rocky working on his body blows) didn't seem too interested.  

08 December 2008

Letter to the Editor: On Being an Antiquarian

Last January I started a quest to read 100 books. I am not going to reach my goal; currently my grand total stands at 51. I hope to finish the year strong with another 6 to 7 titles. The process of picking out the books to read was a lot of fun, some were well planned, others were spur of the moment, and others were serendipitous selections from footnotes, reviews I stumbled upon or books laid out on the table as you walk in the Brown Bookstore.

But this post is not meant to be the final reflection on this journey (wait till 31.Dec). Today I want to share my letter to the editor I have yet to send in to the NY Times. (Full disclosure: I harbor a desire to make it into the NY Times, I have calculated my chances are best from one of following routes: marry someone famous or who is loaded and wants their announcement printed; or by writing a letter to the editor). I have yet to marry "that" couple and have yet to have the editorial board accept my observational deposits.

Last week James Gleick wrote an Op-Ed piece titled: How to Publish Without Perishing. It was a great piece and got me thinking about the primacy of books. (Thus my lead in paragraph). The article also forced to admit the sinking feeling that I am becoming an antiquarian. I love books, the feel of them in my hands, the sound of pages rubbing together, their durability (you can drop them, throw them, mark them, and it is really cold: burn them), and their communal aspect. Think about the times you have read a passage from a book to someone or a group, think about passing a book around for others to read a passage for themselves, think about sharing a book with another, think about finding a used book in a old book shop.

I love the availability of digital media but I have yet to see how it can fully supersede print media. After all, what happens when the power goes out?

25 November 2008

Paperboy Gently Tosses Paper onto Driveway Hoping to Avoid Surgery

Paperboy Gently Tosses Paper onto Driveway Hoping to Avoid Surgery

By: Theobilly

Sometime between 4:00 and 4:30 every morning for the past ten years Chase Osburne delivers the Times to the Jefferson, RI the country suburban town roughly eight miles north of Providence, RI. All of those 3000+ deliveries have been delivered with a hard flung flick of his wrist out of his window that lands with a thud on or near the front steps of the deliverees home. Over the past few days, however, expectant newspaper readers have been quite surprised to find their papers not on or near their steps but all the way down where the driveway meets the road. Mr. John Wilkesborogh, the town resident who first reported this anamoly to the proper authorities at Customer Service, remarked that it looks like Chase just lets the paper drizzle from his hand onto the driveway.

When this reported tracked down Mr. Osburne at his home on 1028 Patterson Aveune I found him sitting on a recyliner icing both of his arms from the elbow down. I asked Mr. Osburne why he had stopped throwing the paper so hard? "The other day I read that champion disc golfer Mark Sheffenfield had to have surgery from over flinging I knew my elbows were on thin ice. Since then I just drop the papers, if the Times want to fire me go ahead, these two elbows are the good Lord gave me" state Mr. Osburne. Nevertheless Mr. Wilkesborogh is none too pleased at the prospect of bundling up and walking down his 20 foot asphault driveway in a pre-coffe daze every morning this winter.

21 November 2008

Why the Nation Is In A Financial Mess

While reading the NY Times the other day I was struck by a certain advertisement of a major US based bank. The ad was promoting this particular bank's retirement rollover program. I stared at the ad for some time and realized why our nation is in the financial mess it is in. The mess has nothing to do with government regulations, greedy financiers, or even risky homeowners. The mess we are in stems from financial institutions, newspaper advertising agents, marketers, and readers who fail to see what is in front of them. Case in point, the ad in our nation's major news publication:

Take a good look, what does the posed woman look like she is about to do? Come on, you see it. The woman looks like she is about to let one rip!

You may say ah come on, you say that because you have three kids. Indeed, the lingua franca at my house is potty talk - any conversation (I mean any) can all to easily segue into a giggle spout about flatulence, but I asked the elderly women at bible study on Tuesday and the gang at fiddle class and all agreed (without any prompting) on my conclusion.

20 November 2008

Time For a Haircut

I once read where men need to get their hair cut every six weeks (women every four weeks). It has been at least ten since #2 got a haircut. Now I know it is time. How do I know? My little #2 looks more like James Traficant, that is how I know.

A Pilgrim's Progress

Yesterday I was an official chaperon for #1's class trip to Plimouth Plantation. In preparation for the event I told #1 that I would cause great trouble on the bus singing songs, have kids pull my finger, and tell great stories to those around me. This news mortified #1, #1 begged and begged me not too (of course I was not going to do this). But I did think it would be interesting if I could stump the role players with some trickery Elizabethan questions. I employed the internet for this service but all I could find was the Elizabethan Insult Generator. I did not think it would proper to call someone a Lumpish Fly-Bitten Giglet.

A report of the trip:
We arrived at the school ready and willing. The kids ran around the room for a good 15 minutes then headed for the bus. I was graced with a seat all to myself. (It has been years since I rode a school bus. I was amazed at the lack of leg room, none at all). I did not cause a ruckus on the bus, but I was able to talk to #1's teacher and get the low down on #1's performance, just as I suspected: wonderful.

Once we arrived we watched a short film then headed off to the plantation sites. We had approximately one hour to explore the English Village. We ran from house to house amazed at the sights and sounds and...smells. We were able to stop one actor to ask him about toilet paper (the kids wanted to know.) The actor, however, was "back" in 1627, way before the Scott brothers invented toilet paper. So I framed the question: the young lady would like to know how one might cleanse themselves after the usage of the chamber pot? The actor smiled and then commenced to tell us that they used rags or leaves. I suggested corn husks, he said mmm rather coarse. I agreed.

Next we wondered around the gardens of each dwelling. I showed the kids the different herbs and invited them to try a sage leaf. Most would not do it, then I said come on it tastes like sausage -- that did it, they all tried the sage leaf. The story, however, quickly progress/evolved to one child telling his mother that he just tried a sausage plant. Oh brother.

After the village it was time to get back on the bus and head back to school.

18 November 2008

Grilled Turkey (Third Installment)

One of my first entries on this blog from October 2005 pertained to my experiment of grilling a turkey. SInce then I have grilled a turkey for the past four Harvest Suppers at church. This year the H.S. had a low turnout, this happens occasionally. Nevertheless I went to the grocery store to purchase a turkey  -- I thought I was at a bargain store but paid $1.19/lb, later I went to the mega lo mart around the corner, there turkeys were/are .69/lb.  Oh well.  I brined the bird the night before, (an interesting piece in last week's NY Times on brining.  I agree with the article for the most part, especially since you cannot make gravy with the drippings of a brined bird.)  Before cooking I always slather a concoction of whatever herbs are growing in the herb garden mixed with butter, salt and pepper under the skin of the breast and legs, then slather a mixture of bacon grease with a pinch of cayenne pepper (new addition this year) on top of the skin, then fresh cracked pepper and onto the grill she goes.  

I love watching the stages of coloring accomplished by the smoke.  First the bird is a light brown, then a deep brown, then a dark drown, then an almost like its going to burn color before switching over to a light auburn then finally a deep dark auburn:

16 November 2008

Worship Matters

This morning our last hymn was an Round or I suppose you could call it a canon.  Our choir director came forward and quickly instructed the congregation on how to sing it -- it took us a couple of times but we did it quite well. 

The occurrence of the hymn brought to the fore of my mind several issues regarding the worship life of the congregation I serve.  

Issue 1.  Localized music.  At least once a month a group from the various fiddle classes get together on a Sunday evening to have a jam session at my church.  Usually about 8 or 12 folk gather and we bang out traditional music and usually splice in a few hymns that we have learned. I have yet to formally approach those who gather if they would be willing to play on a Sunday morning but I can only imagine how some live music accompanying both the piano and congregation would help out worship and add some spice.  Some hymns were meant to be belted out on a organ with all the stops, foot pedals and pipes a'blasting  -- A Mighty Fortress Is Our God for example, but some other hymns were meant to be played by a group of fiddlers with a mandolin or banjo strumming along  -- think Be Thou My Vision.  Addendum: the same issue could be made for local art in worship too.)

Issue 2.  Congregational Singing.  The 49th book I read this year, The Singing Thing Too,  by John Bell got my mind buzzing, pertaining to congregational singing.  A congregation desperately needs a person from the congregation dedicated to teaching new songs and helping the congregation to sing more and better.  Folk seem to desire, genuinely, and want to sing but are very resistant to singing in worship.  A quick introduction to some new music, world music, Iona, Taize, & etc. would aide a worship service tremendously, but if no one is properly teaching it then...  I think a lot of the "worship wars" could be averted if folk were willing to take some time and research available music, use musicians who are locally available, and trust their own resources to sing and praise God.  It seems folk only see a "traditional" service and a "contemporary" service as options when there are a plethora of healthier choices which could make the First Day services flourish.

Issue 3.  Song and Movement.  Sure I would like for folk to dance in worship, but I'm not sure how or when.  My point, however, is the linkage between songs and movements.  I would like to participate in the renewal of mainstream Protestantism.  A close look at moments of renewal and revival periods will reveal marriage of revival and song.  

To fund the spiritual imagination of the Social Gospel, Walter Rauschenbusch collected every hymn he could find that dealt with social issues -- in conjunction with this many new social gospel thematic hymns were written.  Can you imagine the Civil Rights movement without We Shall Overcome?  
Or more recently -- I wonder if the Obama campaign would have touched a generation so if it were not for the will.i.am videos? 

These are some issues I am working on right now...

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Sermon 16.Nov.2008

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
text: “all is vanity and a vexation of spirit” (Ecc. 1:17, KJV)
The Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – 16.Nov.2008
Lime Rock Baptist Church – Lincoln, RI
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

This Fall marks my eighth year as a Christian minister, I’m not longer a neophyte but I’m not a seasoned journeymen either. I have been spending a fair amount of time reflecting on my first seven years – I have entitled this year my working sabbatical. At one time in my life I was sure my model for ministry would be the priestly model: helping to correct and make relevant a “right order” to life. As divinity school commenced I was sure the prophetic model would be the model for my career: helping to make a more just and more righteous world. After seven years I see a different model, the wisdom model: the results of an examined and reflected religious life.

In the 12th century an Englishman, a one John of Salisbury, a man who studied with the Christian theologian Abelard (whom you may know from his well-known love affair with Heloise), was a secretary for Thomas Beckett (the archbishop of Canterbury who was executed by four knights due to comments made by King Henry the Young, you may also know this story by the play written by T.S. Eliot A Murder in the Cathedral), and later made bishop of Chartres in France. You have a little of the time and life this man lived, I mention it to give note of the circles of great people whom this man walked with; which is significant because the one lasting bit passed onto us from John of Salisbury comes from a letter where he quotes an associate of his which reads:

Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.

When we read the Bible, especially the books from the wisdom tradition we are climbing the backs of the giants who went, experienced, and lived life before us and standing on their shoulders and seeing life at a greater distance and with a bit more clarity.

The wisdom tradition is a minority voice in the Old Testament, primarily confined to the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. These books represent a tradition that is bespeckled throughout the biblical narrative of “counter-testimony.” They are the voices of skeptics, cynics, pessimists, and naysayers. When other voices say how great life is, how great there religion is, how sure they are of their belief these books say lets hold on a minute and examine the situation, let us climb on the shoulders of giants and see what life looks like from that perspective.

Let us pause for a moment and tease further the meaning of wisdom. Since we are all getting over the buzz of politics let us start there. When President William Jefferson Clinton told the rationalized to the grand jury why he was not lying "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the--if he--if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement... This statement may very well be an act of quick and wily genius but I would not say it was wise. To keep this bi-partisan, my next example. Our current Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney rarely writes anything down, records, or emails his thoughts or conversations. The majority of his directives are voiced from person to person, therefore leaving no paper trail or physical evidence. I think this too is a brilliant and smart action to practice but I do not think it is wise for posterity or history.

On the day we entered this world, the day we passed the threshold from our mother’s womb to the outside world we were already encoded with the Deoxyribonucleic acid of our mother and father and the 1000s of generations before them. We are the products of an evolutionary process that separates us from the rest of creation. We are able to walk upright, communicate, make tools, write, develop relationships, love, forgive, laugh, cry, dream, hold several ideas simultaneously, and cook. All of these are passed on with no work or effort on our part, they are simply bestowed on us due to the advances of our forefathers and foremothers. Wisdom, however, is not passed from one generation to another. Wisdom must be learned, accepted, adapted and received.

Will we accept the wisdom of the Bible? The Bible offers us the ability, the chance, to climb onto the shoulders of giants and see the world from a clearer point of view. When we climb onto the shoulders of the writer of Ecclesiastes what do we see? The wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the words of the Teacher Qoheleth? All is vanity.

We may buck and disregard the wisdom of Qoheleth but truly consider it for a moment. Right now we are being asked to put our full trust in political and financial institutions. Institutions which have been in cahoots with each other for a good number of years now. So much so that Kevin Philips says there is no longer parties in America there is simply one party of big business with a Republican and Democratic wing. I am very hopeful and will be praying for real growth and positive developments during the Obama presidency but I am also sure it will fail to fully correct, heal, and satisfy the hungers of our souls. If we look for the financial and political realms to bring us salvation we will not find it, indeed a vain attempt to self-medicate. Perhaps more than ever we need to hear the words of the pessimist, the cynic, and skeptic that awaits us in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Now before you run out the doors of this sanctuary and decide to become a nihilist saying to everyone and everything all is vain, forget about even trying… Take the book of Ecclesiastes as a whole. There is one caveat to the teaching of Qoheleth of all is vanity, all is vanity if our lives are not predicated on a life relation with the Living God.

The book of Ecclesiastes ends with what some scholars term an orthodox ending. I say hogwash to such a premise. Hear the ending: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.”

Qoheleth leads us to believe that his book was written during the reign of King Solomon. Solomon was a man blessed with a great heritage, knowledge, ability but squandered it all. During his reign the United Kingdom of Israel crumbled before his eyes. The book of Ecclesiastes came to prominence after Exile, after the time of deep reflection and examination. After a time Israel in some way said if our lives are not centered on the Living God then all is vain, all is a chasing after the wind and cause of vexed spirits. The community stood on the shoulders of giants and reconsidered their lives in relation with the Living God.

We are here together trying to carry out decent, honorable lives in the name of Christ in the world. We are engaging in worthy and noble work as ambassadors of Christ in the world. In the times we live in I believe we have a unique opportunity to offer a reflected and examined perspective of this life we are living, a perspective deeply rooted in the wisdom tradition of the biblical narrative. We have a chance to share the good news of God in Jesus Christ from the wisdom tradition: what the good life looks and feels like, what a life that matters looks and feels like, how to live the good life, and how to make a difference in this world that affects the very essence of being a human being.

Let us not simply live lives grasping after shadows and vapors, let us live the good life standing on the shoulders of giants, fearing God and keeping his commandments.

Amen and Amen.

11 November 2008

The Best Part of Waking Up... (post ii)

The other day while working at my Providence based office, I noticed a product asking, no pleading, for home brewers to let their coffee bloom.  Yesterday morning after I let my coffee bloom, by stirring it halfway through after pouring the water onto the grounds (to let the gasses escape).  Verdict: better cup of coffee.  This morning, however, I took the advice offered here.  Verdict: best cup ever, easily a more supreme cup of coffee.  

Small batch produced goods are always better!  No way someone could make money by selling small batch coffee.  But that is the joy of making stuff at home.

10 November 2008

The Unnecessary Christian: Sermon, 9th.November.2008

The Unnecessary Christian
text: “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia…” (II Chronicles 36:23)
The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – 9.November.2008
Lime Rock Baptist Church, Lincoln, RI – The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

I have often heard the saying that the only hands God has in this world are mine and yours, that if we do not take up the work of reconciliation, righteousness, and love then the work of God does not get done. There is a biblical precedent for this when God calls Israel and the Church partner and cooperate to build his kingdom here on earth. We can come to view ourselves as quite necessary and vital. We can even think of leveraging our unique position with God. What if God said I do not need you? What if God basically said fine, if you are not going to do my work I’ll find someone who will? What if God was tired of being taken for granted?

Take the time period of the late 7th century BCE; the time of the prophet Jeremiah; specifically during the reign of king Josiah. The story goes…during the reign of king Josiah the book of Deuteronomy was found or re-discovered (Israel had drifted considerably from the Lord). Josiah read the book and was moved to initiate a grand program of religious reform. The nation swayed back in the direction of rightness and life looked pretty good, then Josiah died and his successors came into power: first Jehoiakim and his son Zedekiah. They had nothing to do with their father’s program of reform, so in a few years the nation was not only back where it used to be but was on the verge of annihilating its relationship with the Lord. The time was so bad God’s only choice was to send up the Chaldeans to serve a wrathful retribution.

In no time at all the pendulum swung from reform to debauchery. The sins of the time were so severe that all were affected: the priests were unfaithful, the temple was polluted, when God did try to intervene by sending forth prophets the people mocked them. The land too was affected, the sins were so severe that the promised land needed a break from Israel’s presence, the land needed a Sabbath of Sabbaths: a seventy year break to recover, to heal, and replenish itself!

God’s love includes elements of jealously, hurt, and wrath. We do not like to view or think of God this way but it is a part of the relationship. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that our love for others also includes jealousy, hurt, and wrath. Who can cause God or us more hurt than those whom He and we love(s) and care(s) for? Through the stories in Genesis we have looked at over the past few weeks the potential of God’s wrath, jealously, and retribution. Take the flood for example: God’s full wrath released onto creation. I see in that story a God who afterwards is afraid of the degree of his anger, surprised by his own ability to be so wrathful. Could this answer why Noah’s act of worship moved Him so?

After Noah’s act of worship God vowed never again to destroy creation. I do not know if God properly thought this vow out, what were the limits to God’s vow? What was permissible on earth after this vow was made?

These questions were answered when armies from the north invaded Israel, burned the city and temple, and led the people out of the promise land to a foreign land in chains in an experience known as The Exile. The Exile caused Israel to grope and to ask why God? how could you let this happen? In the travail that followed prophets and theologians gave a brief and succinct answer: we caused this to happen.

God did promise never again to destroy creation and God did promise to make a nation out of Abram but God did not promise never to destroy Israel.

Israel as we knew it was destroyed the armies invaded and the people were brought to Babylon. True, remnants of Israel remained in the promised land, but not many. After 70 years of punishment, after 70 years of tenderization and absence God decided it was time for Israel to go back to the promised land when the grand proclamation was made:

Any of those among you who are of his people – may their God be with them! – are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel.

Perhaps the promise made to Abram was still intact. Did you notice, however, who heralded the proclamation? It was not a prophet, priest, or king of Israel; it was King Cyrus of Persia: a pagan, foreign, and king of the people who destroyed the promised land and forced Israel into exile. This man was now the instrument to deliver the Word of the Lord.

God’s action to choose King Cyrus as the messenger of God delegates not only Israel but also the Church as unnecessary! God’s action of picking the enemy began a new chapter in the ever evolving relationship between God and humanity. A relationship which breaks all previous understanding of what should and should not happen.

As children of God, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as members of the new humanity we are constantly presented with choices and decisions: will the way of God prevail or not prevail in our lives. Will we again this day choose to seek to align our wills with God’s will.

Our lesson this morning reveals that God has an end point of history, an Omega point pulling all of history towards consummation whether we choose to jump on it or not. If we choose to we are more the better, if not God will tarry on. God will continue on with or without us. Regardless of how important we think we are, in reality we are unnecessary. Quite humbling.

Now then what to do? I want my life to matter in this world. I want the world to be a better place to inhabit for my children. I want to be on the right side of history. I want the arc of my life to bend towards justice, peace, and righteousness. I dare say all of us here this morning are here for those same purposes. We are here hoping to be infused with a glimpse of the kingdom of God, we are here for our souls to be healed and mended, for our minds to be transformed, and for our to beat in synchronization with God’s.

We do not want to be left aside as God continues to work here on this earth. May we take this time to commit and recommit ourselves to the way of God.

06 November 2008

Recipe of the Day

The VOR and I purchased a winter share of a local CSA.  Our decision caused great consternation in our hearts.  We love going to the farm market on Saturday mornings but the schedule with the kids on Saturday mornings make getting to the farm market nearly impossible.  So we joined the CSA.  The farm offers 5 pick ups of well...fall vegetables.  We now have a pantry full of winter squash.  The other night I roasted one of the small bowling ball sized bright orange squashes and then mashed it as a side offering.  

While driving to Richmond a chef on NPR discussed a dish of roasted winter squash with blue cheese crumbled on top, sounded delicious.  Last night the VOR took the mashed squash, added an egg, some salt and pepper and made a mashed squash pancake.  After frying them she added blue cheese on top and viola an instant delicious offering!

04 November 2008


During lunch the family and I headed over to the polling place to vote.  We had planned to go after breakfast but we did not have time.  There are around 1100 people in the precinct and almost half had already voted.  Usually most folk vote after work.  I expect there a high voter turnout for today.  Since the polling place is next to the church I have been amazed at how many young people are voting.  They walk around with a glow and that dumb look in their eyes from never voting before - quite an amazing spectacle.  I do not know how the votes will turnout but with a tight state Senate and town administrator race I suspect folks are coming out in droves all over town.  I will be anxiously looking this evening for #s.  

I have used the opportunity to have several pastoral visits today.  As folk walk by or stop by the church several meaningful conversations have taken place.  Plus it is 60 degrees and beautiful.

Good time to read now.

03 November 2008

Prediction: Obama 56 McCain 42 Barr 2

I came up with my prediction # a few days ago while sitting listening to a concert a last week.  I think this will be the final result.  My hunch comes from polling, not from television, but from conversations with folk.  I have tried to talk to people from a wide spectrum of ideas and views on life.  Overall most share a hope for Obama, the remainders share a hope for McCain.  

The family and I are excited about election day, no school for one thing.  We will vote first thing and then off to breakfast (if the lines are long we will reverse the schedule).  We have a lot of fun talking with the poll workers (we know most of them, there is the usual banter about town life and such), talking with the folk in line (they are neighbors after all) and I love running the campaign vehicles out of the church parking lot (the church is next to the school which is next to the polling place).  The kids enjoy looking and reading the ballot and then sticking it in the machine that seems to suck it in.

I do wonder what my days will be like now without the usual scan of blogs, news feeds, polls, and youtube postings.  

Wedding Recap

The First Family packed up the van and headed south on Thursday morning.  

Day One.  We tried the Merritt Parkway, a non-commercial truck route that parallels I-95 through a good part of CT.  I thought it was great, almost like luxury lanes, the art deco over passes were neat to look at too.

When we crossed into Delaware I asked the toll booth operator how come there was not a huge picture of Joe Biden welcoming us.  She quickly responded, I guess cause this aint his living room.  I still cannot get over the speed of her response.

As we approached DC the traffic went from pancake batter to mashed potatoes, we slowly trudged through till Fredericksburg then coasted on into Richmond.  We planned to dine at Mexico but settled for Chick-Fil-A.  Gas price in Richmond: $2.03.

Day Two.  Woke up early and went to Hardees for some sausage biscuits.  After getting the kids, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law ready it was time for lunch.  Being Halloween I had hoped to eat lunch then head over to the Poe Museum and read The Raven, but lunch was about all we could handle.  The choice: Bottom's Up Pizza.  Great meal.  

By the time we got back to the hotel and took a nap it was time for the rehearsal.  The wedding took place at a country club, directly across the street was a matching Presbyterian Church. How many Baptist churches are next to swanky country clubs?  There are times...

Day Three.  The wedding.  Beautiful day, #2 was all snazzed up in a tuxedo.  He wanted to keep it, after all #1 got to keep her dress!  #1 was absolutely beautiful the VOR and I could not get over how grown up she looked.  
The bride's mother's family were Jewish so as my part of the service wrapped up, a family member from Russia came forward to sing a blessing (in Hebrew) for the mazel tov.  I have to admit, the mazel tov is a great tradition, more meaningful than the lighting of the unity candle. After the couple smashed the glass I looked at the cantor who then looked at me and said you think I should pick it up?  I just smiled, he smiled back and said I can't -- no work on the Sabbath.  We both had a good laugh.  (the following morning the VOR and I learned that #2 was very upset that moms and dads did not come and pick him and the other kids in the wedding up over the broken glass)

After the wedding the festivities really picked up (literally, the bride and groom were picked up): Russian and Jewish party!  There was so much vodka being consumed by some people I wondered how they were even standing.  Here is a difference between cultures.  My father always said that once an alcoholic starts drinking vodka then the end is near.  (This has been proven true in at least 2 cases that I have witnessed) But in Russian culture I suppose that is not the case.  There were no inhibitions with the dancing and celebration, our kids loved the dances and so did we.  

Day Four: the drive home.  Gas prices in Richmond: $1.96.  Long drive home, no traffic, very tired and glad to be heading back home.  

I chose not to take my laptop with me, thinking I would be too busy to use it much.  I could not get over how addicted I had become to political news.  I am glad for tomorrow, I am wondering if productivity across the country spikes after the election.  

29 October 2008


Getting ready for our big trip to Richmond, VA this weekend -- Argamenmom (inside joke) is getting married.  I will be officiating at the service, #1 is a flower girl and #2 is a ring bearer.  We are expecting a long trip but will be fine.  Hard to believe Family Member (another inside joke) will be getting married.  I first met him at a basketball game between Alderson Broaddus College and West Virginia State University (then College) on the campus of WVSU.  Bryan was there with his mom, I was there to watch the game with the future VOR (her and Bryan's mom, aka Postmistress on this blog, were there too).  The VOR convinced the 7th grader that I played unrecallable, at the moment, collegiate sport; he believed it.  Should I tell this during the wedding  sermon (oh yeah, for reasons unbeknownst to me I am not sure they realize I will be giving a wedding sermon).  

In preparation The VOR has readied a slew of prizes, work books, crayon caddies, books and such for the kids.  My assignment is more utilitarian: oil changed, luggage moved, gas, atm, and last minute supplies (while writing it just hit me: does the VOR deliberately want me out of the house while she packs?) 

The VOR and I are excited to be back in Richmond, food wise we get to eat at two of our favorite restaurants: Mexico and Gelati Celisti.  

While on the topic of preparation last night I was listening to the Magnificat by J.S. Bach with Advent and Christmas in mind.  As the first cd was about to close a beautiful organ solo was piping.  I asked #2, what do you think of this music: it is spooky dad, I don't like it.  The Magnificat as spooky?

Now to some four letter words voiced by #3.  Pums = pumpkins.  Wawa = water.  Mups = The Muppets.

And finally, last night #s 1 & 2 asked how long our bodies stay in the ground when we die.  I said for a good while, till Jesus comes to get us.  #2 asked how fast Jesus could move.  I said pretty fast.  He thought long and hard and then said hmph even faster than me, and went on his way.  

23 October 2008

Birthday Thoughts

Today I am 34, I suppose I am now fully engaged in the afternoon of life. I do not feel any older but I have noticed a gradual thickening of facial hair, then again I had nowhere to go but up in this category. I have also noticed a gradual popping of bones, an interest in the obituary, contacting friends from back home, an appreciation of seasons changing, a dislike of watching football, a surprising love of vegetables (even brussel sprouts!), waking up at 5:30am because I went to bed at 9:30pm, looking forward to retirement, and finally realizing that I will probably not ever make it onto ESPN Sportscenter. With that last thought I now want to offer a word to any aspiring athlete: how to make it onto Sportscenter, a guaranteed way at that.

If you are a sophomore or junior at any college in America: call a press conference and declare yourself eligible for the NFL draft. Do not worry if you play on a team or not, it would help if you do not (also, gender is no prohibition for this plan). This kind of boldness and tenacity will for sure get the attention of Mel Kiper and cause him to comment on you during pre-draft analysis. Seeing that ESPN is now more of a 24 hour program than it was when I was in college the odds are greater you will make it on.

Moving on...
Yesterday I finished my 46th book in my attempt to read 100 books for 2008. I do not think I am going to read 55 books in 10 weeks, only 5.5 books a week. If you look at my list you will see 8 children's books (recall I granted myself 1 kid book a month). Nevertheless, 39 books thus far is still far more than I read last year. I am holding out hope to have read 50 non-children's books by the end of the year, that I believe is well within shot.

The 46th book was John Claypool's, The Preaching Event, which was the 1979 Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School.  I mention this book because only a few years ago I was enthralled by Claypool and his approach to preaching.  But after reading TPE I am having second thoughts about his approach.  I cannot quite put my finger on it exactly.  I appreciate his honesty, his boldness in sharing his wounds, his journey away from the "fast track" of Baptist life (he eventually became Anglicized and re-ordained as an Episcopalian priest), and his use of pastoral care in his sermons.  I suppose my time in ministry is different than his, perhaps that is the biggest difference.  

Further down the road...
I sent Mr. Randy Moss an official letter welcoming him to the community and to stop by to worship with us any time he is free and available.  I figure it is worth a shot.  I bet he did not expect to move to RI and discover a dude just down the street who grew up down the road from him, played football with his older brother, knew his football coach, and can attest to his basketball abilities too.  

The Almighty Speaking through Creation...
I am not for sure what God is trying to communicate to me but two weekends ago I spied (as #2 would say) 3 Eastern Bluebirds in the parsonage lot.  No one believes me.  My neighbor inquired: you sure it was not a Bluejay?  I know what a Bluejay looks like, never have cared too much for those loud beaked pushy birds.  For 6 years+ I have been looking for a E.B. and was overjoyed to see one.  Yesterday morning the same, I assume it is the same one, landed on the parsonage  backporch rail and stayed for a spell.

Resume building, installment #2...
My first bread recipe for testing arrived this week.  I am making a few loaves for the concert this Saturday and see what folk think.  I would also like to add a new component to my resume: this Fall I have developed an uncannily ability to tree squirrels.  

21 October 2008

Language Lessons, installment #4

The way kids ask questions, sound out first time phrases and questions of metaphors is the subject of this post.

1. Today I was asked by the VOR to go and pick up #1. I marked my spot in the book I was reading and walked over. #1 located me with a tinge of disappointment then looked down the walk and saw the VOR with #3 and took off running. I received neither a hug nor a look of thanks. When I caught up with the three of them I asked the standard question: what am I chopped liver? #1 looked at me and asked, 'what's chopped liver?' Good question. If she was talking about chicken or even turkey liver then I would be all over that. In fact, I love to cook the organs of the turkey and crush the liver in the pot, then spoon it up on some bread.

To the next situation.

2. On Friday #2's school had a Ho-Down complete with bails of hay and the like; #2 was very pleased with the events. As we walked to the vehicle, #2 looked up at me and said the next time the school has a low-down #2 would very much like to go. #2 then looked up and asked when is the next low-down dad. Another good question.

And finally.

3. Today #3 woke up with a mild cold. After awakening from #3's nap a slight hoarseness could be detected in #3 voice. The VOR asked #3 do you have a frog in your throat. #3 said no, Frog on arm.

07 October 2008

Resume Building

First off let me tell those who are not in New England, it is cold today. How cold? I had to reheat my coffee three times before finishing!

Second, a first today. Someone called wanting a copy of Sunday's sermon. I have printed versions available as folk leave the service; folk have taken them. When they are not printed a couple of times folk have asked for copies. But I have never had someone call and ask for a copy on a Tuesday.

What I want to share next is somewhat related to tonight's sermon. If you can travel back to the 1988 Republican primary. This was the year I officially started following politics (13 years old). For me it was the apex of SNL political satire. During one of the sketches Jack Kemp was asked how he would balance the budget, he responded by saying that in football he gave 110%, so he would do the same with the budget since he would have an extra 10% to work with. Then they asked Pat Roberston (played by Al Franken) for his qualifications he had to be president. He said he had mowed peoples grass while they were on vacations, walked neighbors dogs and even gave driving directions to people.

Now to me. This week I received word that I will be a recipe taster for Peter Reinhart's new bread baking book. All you had to do was sign-up. But what a resume builder: Recipe Taster. I plan to bake the bread on Saturday night then let the congregation taste and give feedback. I am looking forward to this.

06 October 2008

#42, and I am not talking about Pres. Clinton

The other day while reading the contents of Theolog I noticed a review of Shift. The review caught my eye for two reasons: a mention of WV and bicycling.

Starting in 10th grade I dreamt of riding my bike across country. I imagined hopping on my orange, heavy, 10sp Schwinn Continental and riding from WV to California or Oregon. But my parents freaked out if I barely mentioned it and tossed it off as one of my hair brained ideas. I never made the trip but I kept dreaming about it. Every time I hop on my bike I think of what it would be like to have the family and ride to the left coast. One of these days...

Until then there are stories from the journeys of others, enter Shaft by Jennifer Bradbury. The story of two high school graduates who ride across country from WV to WA, along the way they find themselves and mature quite a bit. Bradbury wrote the book for young adults but it is a good read for adults too, especially those who dream of riding across country, those who "moved" away from home, and those who sought their own way in the world.

My review from Library Thing,

After 25 pages I knew for a fact that either I knew the author or knew someone she knew. Why? There were too many details of WV life. Who else would know about John's Cyclery next to Taco Bell? That clue made me stop reading and google some information. After some research and a couple of emails it was confirmed, I knew the author's husband, but enough of that -- back to the book.

The book is a great read. It tells the story of Chris' and Win's cross country bicycling trip from WV to WA. The author tells the story in alternating chapters, one from Chris' current point of view then one from Chris's running diary of the trip.

I do not want to give any more details of the book. I do want to highlight the author's creative usage of the biblical story of Jacob wrestling the angel. I also want to say the way the author narrated the tricky and troubling aspect of young adulthood of growing up. Well done Mrs. Bradbury, look forward to future works!

01 October 2008

Testamental Confusion

Yesterday I spent a good 20 minutes trying to locate a copy of Everett Fox's The Five Books of Moses. I called all the local book stores before calling the megalomarts. I eventually had to go to one of the megalomarts. Lucky for me the book had been on the shelf for some time, thus the price was the old price of $25.00 and it had a crease on the cover (so I asked for a discount) they happily knocked off 10%.

While searching I took one quick look over at overstock.com Notice the heading:
Online Shopping>Entertainment>Books>Religion>Christianity

Christianity? I know both Jews and Christians share the Torah as scripture. But labeling Fox's translation of the Torah as Christian is a little much for me.

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The Five Books of Moses
The Five Books of Moses
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The Five Books of Moses

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy 
Schocken Bible, V. 1 Volume 1 
by Fox, Everett
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While other English translations of the Bible attempt to render its language as if it had been written in English, this translat 

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28 September 2008

Behaving Like a Calvinist

I have long made the argument that people need a nemesis or a foil for all of their arguments.  I have chosen the Presbyterians.  Why?  While a student at BTSR I felt like most of the students from across the street looked down upon us Baptists (need I say they had every right to do so, for the most part).  But there is irony here.   Personally, after a great deal of family history I discovered the Norvells were Scot Presbyterians when they came over in 1617.  Professionally, everyone always thinks Baptists when they hear fundamentalists, but fundamentalism was a product of: the Princeton Presbyterians.  Oh yeah, when Fozzy and Kermit go into the church in the scene from the Muppet Movie  Kermit asks Fozzy what kind of church it is, Fozzy replies, I don't know they all look Presbyterian to me.  

Now on with the story.  Today I preached on Jacob's Ladder, during one part I talked about how we live in an era infused with positive thinking.  But Calvinism would say positive thinking won't get you jack squat.  My second Calvinistic activity: I went bowling this afternoon.  I once read that John Calvin loved bowling for his Sabbath day play.