31 January 2008

Wake Up Call

The other day in fiddle class, a member brought a piece of music they had just heard for the first time. The teacher played it, all thought it was lovely but had no idea what it was. It was Be Thou My Vision. I stood there stunned, how in the world could the people there not know this hymn?

I was never a regular church-goer until high school, since then the majority of Sundays have been spent in a church somewhere. I even think of myself as having an ear and knowing spirit for those unfamiliar with church. I make sure worship is open and welcoming and even though the service is a bit high for a Baptist church I believe newbies can slip into it quite easily after a Sunday or two. But sometimes you develop blinders and forget that most folk are not in church on a Sunday morning.

Now the interesting part is not that folk do not go to church, but that when the person from fiddle class went, she loved the music and thought it was one of the most beautiful she ever heard. That is the promising part. I am not ready to give up on hymns, or congregational singing. In fact I want to spend more time developing some quality new hymns that speak to your soul and cause your heart to sing too. This can be done. I am thinking more along the lines of taking modern music and hymnifying them. What that exactly means is still a work in progress, give me some time on this one.

By the way, it appears I will be making my first public fiddle playing appearance this Spring during the concert series. My teacher and her band will be playing and part of the deal is that i have to play too! Oh brother...

Sermon is done. A preparatory sermon for Lent, not giving into the temptation to God's abiding and constant presence. I will post it after Sunday, between now and Sunday morning there will be some editing and minor sentence changes. I also hope to have it up as a podcast on Monday, now, now, just sit on those hands to keep from waving to everybody - I cannot make any promises.

30 January 2008

The Wreck

Like many of you I too have been in my share fair of fender benders, but nothing tops the experience from yesterday. After a visit in Providence I headed home via I-95. I-95 for RI is both the main thoroughfare from West Warwick to the Mass border after Pawtucket and the major artery for the east coast. As I neared the portion where the Providence Place Mall is, I began to slow down as traffic congested and thickened. I was traveling perhaps 20mph. All of the sudden a minivan in front of me slammed on its brakes. I slammed mine on, but could not stop. I skidded and saw the back of the van coming at an alarming rate. Then Boom. I hit the van. The traffic is thicker than fudge, all kind of zipping and zooming by of automobiles, we cannot pull over. The driver of the van gets out! I look for my emergency flashers, cannot find them. He looks at the back of his van, then comes to my window. "Hey man, I checked first to see if my kids are okay, they are. There is nothing wrong with my car and nothing wrong with your truck. Lets get out of here." Indeed there was nothing wrong with either automobile. So I shifted into 1st gear, he put his van in drive and off we went. Amazing. I still can not believe it, I barely have a neck ache today. Thanks be to God is all I can say, and yet that sounds pretty lame.

Giuliana as Attorney General, a new possibility

Big exits today. Edwards withdrawal from the race has me scratching my head. I must believe his wife's cancer and treatments need his attention. Why else would he withdrawal, not being able to keep poverty front and center as an issue - at least through super tuesday. I look for him to endorse Obama. The Giuliana withdrawal is no big surprise, but his endorsement of McCain and McCain's warm words for him most certainly alludes to some kind of spot in a McCain administration - if he is the nominee and the 44th.

The New Baptist Covenant begins today. On the one hand I long to be there, on the other hand that many Baptist gathered together in one place makes me a little leery. I am interested to see what news is generated from the event. I had planned to go but events in the late fall shifted my availability. My prayers are with the gathering.

My goal of 8.3333 books for the month of January came up a bit short (100/12). I read 7.something (even though one week of sleepless nights and sickness prevented me from reading at all.) I am quite happy with that number and look to make up the number in February. Initial lessons learned: sticking with a book and reading it from front to back is well worth it, even if the book is sub-par; the more I read the thicker my sermons and ideas become; I enjoy picking up on an author's use of language and their favorite words; finally, reading begets more reading...

We are weaning #3 from night time nursing. The VOR and I take turns, shifts, nights getting up and rocking him to sleep. Last night #3 got up at 9:00pm and not again till 4:42am. I mention this because a couple of weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea to wean myself from coffee. After one morning of a headache, fuzzy brain and sluggish feet I had a Steve McCroskey epiphany: Looks like I picked the wrong time to quit caffeine. Give me a couple of weeks so I can slowly switch over to tea and I'll get there.

26 January 2008

Apparently Bob Novak reads Theobilly

Although I was not quoted either directly or indirectly, something tells me this conservative contrarian is using my work as a source...

Go here.

Then here.

Grisham & Preaching

This note is more for an idea for later... Something here when thinking about the accessibility of preaching.

Last night Bill Moyers interviewed John Grisham

BILL MOYERS: Were you born again?

JOHN GRISHAM: Sure. When I was eight years old first Baptist church in Parkin, Arkansas. I felt the call to become a Christian. I felt the need to. I talked to my parents. I talked to my pastor. And I accepted Christ when I was eight as old, just a little small boy And-- like most of the kids, you know, in my church, and my brothers and sisters --that was very much a part of growing up.

BILL MOYERS: And when you look back half a century later, how do you think that moment has played out in your life and in your work?

JOHN GRISHAM: Well-- you know, once you make that conversion, you are and always will be something different, a different person. I can't say it impacts what I choose to write. But it certainly impacts how I write. The great secret to THE FIRM, and this is what, you know, people don't realize--

BILL MOYERS: The second book.

JOHN GRISHAM: --second book, that book was-- first printing was 50,000 copies, which is nothing to sneeze at. People read that book And when they finished it, they realized they could give it to their 15-year-old or their 80-year-old mother and not be embarrassed. It sold a zillion copies because of that. My books are exceptionally clean by today's standards. There are things I don't want to write, can't write. I wrote a sex scene one time and showed it to my wife. And she burst out laughing. She said, "What do you know about sex?" But--

BILL MOYERS: Spoken like a true Baptist--

JOHN GRISHAM: --the language-- the content, the language, even the violence, is something that is easy to stomach. And I would not, because of my faith write any other way.

25 January 2008

First Sale & Pinto Beans & A New Definition of a Watch Tower

The VOR made her first sale from her etsy shop, a customer from Norway.

Last night the VOR made Pinto Beans and Cornbread.  Growing up I refused to eat Pinto Beans. But life changes your taste-buds.  The wife soaks them overnight, then cooks them with garlic, onions, salt and pepper (if you want some spice, occasionally she will add a jalapeno).  The secret to the beans was a three chunks of the country ham, oh man it was pure heaven.

The corn bread came from a recipe in the best one volume vegetarian cookbook I know of.  I would have added bacon grease, corn cornels and perhaps some jalapeno. 

I only mention this recipe because it is part of a reoccurring theme in my life: re-evaluation of my past, both religiously, culturally and gastronomically.  Religiously: wanting to have a centered pulpit, sermon at the last of the service, longer sermons, an invitation to the faith/discipleship; culturally: learning to play the fiddle, loving mountain music; gastronomically: pinto beans, chopped or minute steak.  

The interesting part is re-evaluating with a new outcome.  Surprises keep emerging.

Today me and #3 played with Lincoln Logs.  #2 built a watch tower, he said it was a place that sells jewelry. 

24 January 2008


I never in a million years believed I would have kids who were born outside of Appalachia, #1 was born in Beckley while #2 and #3 were both born in Providence.  If you listen close to their speech patterns you can easily detect which is from where.  #1 will occasionally slip a little twang into her speech while #2 is all the time dropping vowels and adding "hah" to the middle of words.  But the other day beat all I ever heard.  

While looking at a picture in a book, he called hey dad look I found Walder.  That's right not Waldo, but Walder.  Oh brother.  

23 January 2008

Worship Order, Lenten Series, Sermon Movement, Response to Frontline

As noted before the Organist/Choirmaster of the church I serve recently accepted a new position in another part of the state.  His departure constrained the planning and order of worship.  We had developed an order of worship highly dependent on sung responses, seasonal music, singable hymns and service parts that fit the mood and tone of the worship act.  Currently the church is hiring people on a four week basis till we find a permanent replacement.  Since we are and will have a series of different musicians I streamlined the order of worship, here is the latest installment:

Ringing of the Bell
Sentences from Scripture
Prayer of Confession
The Congregation Seated
(by the way, like most churches we place asterisks in front of the service parts indicating when folk are supposed to stand - and most follow.  Most, however, never know quite when to sit down.  When I placed the congregation seated part it worked like magic.  Nothing like simplicity to ease confusion.)
A Time with the Children
Lesson from Scripture
The Morning Prayer with response
We shall trust in your steadfast love
and our hearts will rejoice in your salvation.
The Lord's Prayer
The Peace
At the Offertory
Prayer of Dedication

Lenten Sermon Series

I toyed around with a Great Questions series but it would not come together.  My plan b on The Temptations of Jesus, however, came together very easy.  As I looked for second lessons for each Sunday they almost jumped off the pages of Paul's epistles.

The series will start the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (a preparatory sermon) and will run through to Easter morning.  The following are embryonic titles, they usually change as the Sundays get closer.

3.Feb.2008  A Non-foundational Foundational  Jeremiah 23:23-32 and Psalm 139
10.Feb.2008  Almost Persuaded  Matthew 3:1-17 & 2 Corinthians 4:1-12

17.Feb.2008  Side Show Bob or Something Else  Matthew 4:1-4 & 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

24.Feb.2008  Testing 1, 2, 3, Testing  Matthew 4:1-2, 5-7 & Romans 8:28-30

2.Mar.2008  My Kingdom for a Horse  Matthew 4:1-2, 8-11 & Philippians 2:1-11

9.Mar.2008  Yeah...Right  Matthew 5:1-13 & I Corinthians 1:18-31

16.Mar.2008  Forget About It...I'm Done  Matthew 27:45-50 & I Corinthians 15:50-58

23.Mar.2008  Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream  Matthew 28:1-10 & I Corinthians 15:1-11

You can see that I have disavowed the use of the lectionary.  Although I see the value of the lectionary I cannot for the life of me fully buy into using it.  I feel too constrained and locked in. I am more comfortable chewing on ideas that bubble up through contact with folk in pastoral situations, cultural events, and metaphors/symbols/mutterings that emerge from prayer, then forming the raw material into a sermon series.

Moving the Sermon

In seminary I first became exposed to the placement of the sermon in the middle of the service.  At first I was all eggs and bacon over this idea.  But as I have used and worshipped in this order for some time now I find myself missing the placement of the sermon nearer the end of the service.  I know worship can and does flow nicely with the sermon in the middle followed by the offering.  But does the centrality and importance of the spoken word become diminished somewhat.

Response to Frontline

Last night PBS ran a special on kids and the internet.  I came away thinking pastors and churches can and will have a unique place in the coming future.  I houses of worship maybe the one places that are offline and unplugged.  They will seem like relics from distant times and places, responsive readings, communal singing, close physical proximity, the spoken word, silence, attentive listening, etc.  

I am not a technophobe, but I am betting the uniqueness and special quality of worship is/will be a rediscovered phenomena in future years.  Why?  There will come a time when computer advancements, virtual social networking, technological infatuation will come to an end.  I do not mean in a few years we will stop using all of these components, to the contrary they will be even further integrated into our lives, but their ultimate promises will come up empty, lacking and wanting. 

Rather than run head on into the stream of technology, I believe, pastors (especially pastors) should be folk running and swimming in the opposite direction.  If no one else is reading hardbacks (students instead employing sparknotes), if no one else is thinking systematically pastoral about how all of the events of life are affecting the soul, if no one else is trying thinking parts to whole or whole to parts we should.  We are in the information age and business but from a different angle and perspective.  

I am not afraid of being a dinosaur, a dinosaur that is technologically proficient, but a dinosaur nonetheless.  

In an odd way I think the rise of Barack Obama may give some fodder to this.  Have you listened to folk who exit his speeches?  They talk in "revivalistic" tones: "they saw the light"  they feel "saved"  and etc.  Why?  Because of his great experience?  No.  Because he has the ancient power or oratory, of putting together nouns and verbs in a fashion that can raise consciousness.  He can form sentences.  He can speak in a clear manner.  He does this and folk think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  I know there is more to him than simply sentences, but a good part of his appeal is his words and his usage of them.  

22 January 2008


Go here to read the story from the Providence Journal concerning the MLK, Jr. Breakfast.

They captured the essence of Jim's sermon.  They failed to mention his call for further reaching gun control legislation, especially on college campuses in light of the VT tragedy.

21 January 2008

Sunday Bread

On Sundays I like to make a loaf of bread.  The recipe is the simple one that was in the NYTimes a short while ago.  Obviously the bread is not as good as one that rises for several hours, uses a starter, blah, blah, blah.  However, one doesn't always have that kind of time and attention.  I have had success with All-Purpose and Bread flour, but throw some Whole Wheat and my bread turns into a thick, heavy brown rock. 

To the recipe I used 5 cups of A-P flour and 1 and 1/2 cups of whole wheat, and I upped the water by 1/3 to 1/2 a cup.  It came out, was edible and quite good.

Add a nice cheese tray and chardonnay (I know that a red wine is more ideal, but the chard. was on sale @ $7.00 a bottle).

A Few Things, then reflections on the MLK, Jr. Scholarship Breakfast

Before I forget these tidbits.

1.  For my birthday, my mother purchased me a card that has Johnny Cash singing Ring of Fire when you open it.  #s 1, 2, & 3 have taken it over and love it.  They take the card into #1's room, turn off the overhead light, turn on a lamp, open the card and dance like mad.

2.  I have never doubted the skills of the VOR, she has fantastic organizational, rhetorical, logical and sewing skills.  But after last night's event I must add athletic skills.  (This week, the VOR and I have been taking turns rocking #3 to bed - in an attempt to wean him from nighttime nursing). Last night, #3, presented his firewall - no more.  He coughed to keep himself awake, he scratched my arm to keep awake, he tickled the VOR's throat, he wiggled, cried, screamed, he did whatever he could to keep awake telling us he was not participating in our scheme.  In the midst of this stonewalling spectacle, the VOR was able to get him asleep, but...I was laying on my back snoring very loud (at least that is what I am told).  At the moment the VOR was able to get #3 asleep and about to place him back in the crib I started to really have at it snoring.  The VOR could not yell at me (that would wake #3 up) nor could she force me to roll on my side (she was out of arms reach).  So she performed one of the greatest athletic moves ever witnessed in New England (if not the world).  With #3 in her arms and gently placing him in the crib she lifted her left leg, stretched to its fullest length and kicked me hard in the side, waking me up and thus ending my snoring fit, and then gently placed the boy in his bed.  Absolutely amazing.

Okay, now reflections from the breakfast.

I went to bed around 11pm, #3's protest started around 2:30 and lasted for the remainder of the night.  I got out of bed around 6, got ready and then looked up directions on the web.  Unbeknownst to me I took directions down from the South, not the North.  My right turns were really lefts and my left hand turns were really rights.  Eventually I figured it out and arrived at the venue.  I was a bit puzzled by the lack of cars in the lot, I surmised the cold kept people away (it was 14 degrees after all).  Once inside I realized the breakfast began at 8, not 7.  

Eventually people arrived and I found my seat.  Every year the Minister's Alliance, a primarily African-American pastor's group, sponsors the breakfast in order to reward scholarships to outstanding students; 26 received scholarships this year.  This breakfast brings all the usual suspects out of the woodwork:  the Governor (who talked more about the Patriots than Dr. King), Senator Reed (low-key approach), Senator Whitehouse (grandstanding as usual by praising the day Bush leaves 1600 Pennsylvania), Rep. Kennedy (who brought nice words, but appeared to be shaking), the mayor of Providence (who is Jewish and didn't seem to care too much for Mine Eyes Have Seen the Coming), the mayor of Cranston (a white Italian male who compared himself to Dr. King when school students at a High School booed him) and the mayor of Warwick (whose irenic tone I'm sure was aimed at Whitehouse).  The main speaker was the Rev. James Miller.

Jim and I had lunch last week; he informally discussed what he wanted to talk about.  I thought good luck, he had a whole bunch of stuff.  But man oh man did he deliver.  It was one of, if not, the best sermon(s) I have ever heard - hands down, no foolin'.  If ever I doubted the power of the spoken word, especially a sermon - those doubts were quickly erased.  Hopefully I can get a copy of his sermon to upload to the blog.  The event closed with a singing of Lift Every Voice and Sing; we were not able to sing this at worship yesterday (the organist is good, but it is a tough song to play right).

17 January 2008

A few MLK, Jr. Resources

This Sunday we will celebrate the Commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr.  This year, since the organist/choirmaster is not with us, the music will be low key.  The most specific part I do in the service dealing with Dr. King is the Children's Moment.  This year I will be reading Martin's Big Words.  If you haven't read this book to your kids, you really need it to.  I have yet to meet a kid it doesn't move.

You can also download the I Have a Dream Speech by going here.  

My alma mater, for whatever reasons, has never fully funded the MLK, Jr. Chair.  The full funding of this endowed chair will fully concretize the Black Church Studies Program.  I thought about what can I do to help out.  On my own and with a pastor's salary, not much.  But I can cook and I can cook a meal that New Englanders do not eat on a regular basis.  So come this Spring I am having a breakfast with all proceeds going to the MLK, Jr. chair.  More info forthcoming as it develops.  All are invited and all are invited to give.

State of the Church Address

This Sunday is time for the Annual Meeting; back in Athens I began delivering the State of Church Address on the Sunday of the Annual Meeting.  The first one I did a gentlemen took notes, I couldn't believe it.  

My address this year will focus on Evangelism, I feel that is the major area the congregation needs to focus on.  The challenge will be to develop an indigenous model of evangelism that works for this specifically for this congregation in this community and area.   I cannot see simply adopting what FBC of where ever is doing will work here or to quote RWE, "to imitate is suicide."  I do not think there is a model, method or way of doing evangelism that works across the board.  Instead folk have to listen to what stories bubble up of God's presence in their lives and then figure out how to articulate and share that with others.  

We'll see how it goes.

On a side note: while visiting people at homes or in the church office I become aware of irritants that cause an allergic reaction: cats and most forms of perfume that a majority of retired women in this area use.  I can usually only be present for about 15 minutes before my eyes start itching crazy.   

15 January 2008

Open for Business

For several months now the VOR has been, whenever she has a few minutes, developing a new business.  She began a few years ago making baby slings for herself and for her friends and relatives.  Folk often wanted to buy them but she did not have the time to dedicate to selling them.  As time passed she began to fiddle more with her sewing machine and started to come up with some pretty cool ideas.  Last Fall she asked the Health teacher at #1's school if she would save all of the Juice Pouches for her.  Once a week the health teacher would deliver around 100 juice pouches.  The VOR started turning them into all kinds of stuff: totes, lunch bags, change purses, belts, etc.  But lots of people make these and they are a pain to clean, dry and put together, so she started tinkering with fabric remnants and came up with totes and bags as her new thing.  She sold stuff to friends, entered a couple of art shows and now has a shop, Sassy Stitches, up and running at etsy.

Last night she uploaded a couple of juice pouch bags and will soon be announcing her Spring Line.

Go over and peruse.

10 January 2008

What to do Now

Some people like the Super Bowl, Masterpiece Theatre or the latest reality show, me, I like Presidential Primaries.  I crave them to an almost unhealthy degree.  I really need to think about moving to the Central Time Zone just so I can go to bed at a normal time and still watch the news and such.  

The events of Tuesday were surprising.  What will Edwards do now?  I hope he does stay till the Convention.  Who knows how his number of delegates could play out?  As David Brooks said: what else has he to do?  But should he do at his wife's and family's expense?  Given that Richardson has now dropped out the field debate is quite limited.  I hope Edwards does continue on to hopefully shape the conversation in some way.  If for nothing else then to remind the other candidates what true passion is.   

I cannot believe I am saying this but I actually agree with Karl Rove, his opinion in the Wall Street Journal actually makes good sense.  So what must Obama do now?  If female voters are/will side with Clinton where is Oprah then?  I would look for Oprah to be more of a presence between now and Super Tuesday.  I also think if he goes back to hone in his Jefferson Jackson Day speech he did Iowa a stronger message may emerge.  

Thanks to my esteemed brother of the cloth, the most high rev'd down in Birmingham, I have been instructed to look at Real Clear Politics.  It is a great summation of news, polls and such.

07 January 2008

Edwards as Attorney General

This is just a hunch.  I am sure John Edwards, my candidate of choice, can see that the momentum of Obama is simply too much to hold back.  So what is he doing still in the race? Here is my presumption: staying in the race Edwards siphons off votes from Clinton, not Obama. Therefore Obama has pledged the Attorney General position to Edwards if he stays in the race past South Carolina. 

Edwards, being a former senator, would have easy confirmation; he could more effectively carry out his campaign against corporate America.  I think this would be a great fit for him and even create a legacy.  

What a Weekend

Since the NH debates were on ABC I was able to watch them back-to-back. After putting #3 down for bed, the VOR nestled up beside me and sarcastically commented how romantic it was to be watching debates on a Saturday night.

I thought Edwards' passion was a welcomed highlight. I also like Obama's rebuttal that words do matter. It made me think of the time Leonard Sweet (who is from Greenbrier County WV by the way, he also simultaneously completed his MDiv from CRDS and his PhD from the Univ. of Rochester) came to BTSR for a lecture series. Somewhere he talked about the beginning of creation as described in Genesis and went off on a poetical tangent how the first act of creation was a wavelength that produced a new creation. I think Obama is onto something when he insists that words are important, they do have power and life and the possibility of creating something new just by uttering them.

Yesterday we, LRBC, said goodbye to our organist/choirmaster. He took a new position as a soloists at another church in the state. We are going to miss him terribly. He was a great talent, great to work with and a great presence. He taught me just how important music is to worship and how quality music, with forethought and intentionality can enhance worship to levels I couldn't/can't think of. I cannot blame him for taking the new position, great pay, more exposure and opportunities to record. We sent him off in good fashion. I hold dear to some valuable CPE learning: the two hardest things to do in life are hellos and goodbyes, all the stuff in between is a piece of cake. A good goodbye allows the departing parties to say a good hello. I believe that and hold fast to it.

This morning I placed my order for the new preaching gown, double breasted cassock, and preaching tabs. The order will be here in about six to eight weeks; the measurements go to England for and then will be shipped here, I hope the order arrives for Easter! Here is a sample of what I hope to look like:

04 January 2008

A Possible Scenario whereby Huckabee comes in 2nd in NH

Last night was something else. I didn't go to sleep till after midnight, watched PBS, read some news stories online and then finally went to bed.

I want to present a hypothetical scenario for a surprising Huckabee 2nd place finish in NH.

What if the majority of Independents vote for Obama, taking a large percentage away from McCain. This would creates a smaller number of voters for those on the Republican side. Then, if in five short days Huckabee can convince the folk of NH that he is not a religious nut ball, because most folk see any Baptists are religious nut balls. But there is the existence of old Yankee Protestantism in NH, would they vote for a Southern Baptist, that is a tough one. If I extrapolate from my experience here in RI I find some of the old school Yankees somewhat enthralled with Huck. but they love McCain. There is a chance for Huck to place 2nd. Then roll into SC.

03 January 2008

Hey Iowa, at least consider it...

As Iowans head out to caucus I wish the radio stations would play this Woody Guthrie song:

Let's have Christ our President
Let us have him for our king
Cast your vote for the Carpenter
That they call the Nazarene

The only way
We could ever beat
These crooked politician men

Is to cast the moneychangers
Out of the temple
Put the Carpenter in

Oh it's Jesus Christ our President
God above our king
With a job and pension for young and old
We will make hallelujah ring

Every year we waste enough
To feed the ones who starve
We build our civilization up
And we shoot it down with wars

But with the Carpenter
On the seat
Way up in the capitol town

Be on the way
Prosperity bound

01 January 2008

2007 Lessons Learned

This being the first day of year of our Lord 2008 I thought I would offer some prudent observations I learnt from the previous year.
1.  In order to prevent the constant losing of my wallet and keys designate one spot for keys and wallet.  Every evening when I come home I place my keys and wallet in their designated spots.   This actually works folks.

2.  Regardless of how much is in the tank, always fill the vehicles full of gasoline on Fridays.  

3.  The congregation knows when I am attempting to "wing" it.

4.  It is best to park the vehicles facing the road (and thus the morning sun) in the winter so that the frost on the windshield melts.

5.  Eating a large meal will disrupt my sleep for the evening regardless of how I pace the meal.  It is better to go to bed hungry than full.

6.  My original fright of preaching longer than 10 minutes is unjustified.  Some of my best sermons this year were easily longer than 22 minutes.  

7.  The Sound of Music is not as bad as previously thought.

8.  The French idea of meal: first a mixed greens salad followed by the main course of meat and potatoes is better than having a green vegetable with the meal.