31 March 2008

Black Liberation Theology

If you were not able to listen to Fresh Air today, then please go here for a listen. The show was on Black Liberation Theology; Gross interviewed Dr. James Cone and Dr. Dwight Hopkins.

After you listen to the interview contrast it with the silliness of these questions.

Seven Years...

Today I went to the ANTS library, returned some books and then headed over to the bookstore to finally purchase, Primary Speech, (sorry Chad it has taken so long) and a non-red letter, small NRSV.  It is not like I do not have enough bibles, I probably have too many.  But all the bibles in my studio has yet to find a proper place in my life (I suppose this is a great metaphor for my religious life).  I believe I found just the right bible today at the ANTS bookstore, when I opened its pages it sounded like a bible - crisp, thin pages - you know the sound.

(one note, I also went to the world's greatest bookstore this afternoon, while there I overheard a worker talking about going through WV.  I asked where and thus began a long conversation on WV. The worker asked where I lived, I said RI.  He said good choice, many people in New England refer to RI as the WV of New England - he is definitely onto something there.  I had never heard that before, only the armpit of New England.)

My father said it took him seven years to master working with a trowel.  He said you could get around pretty well after two, but it took you a full seven years to master it.  Since this is my seventh year as a preacher I am tempted to jump the sage advice to preaching - but it aint true for me; I have just now found my voice as a preacher.  But the passing of seven years did bring about one significant change: my ability to read the bible.  Four years of college and four years of divinity school were great in my development and maturity as a human being, but I they were also difficult religiously.  I know that part of education is deconstruction, but there wasn't time or space for reconstruction.  I have spent seven years reconstructing my religious life in the midst of even greater deconstruction of other parts.  

For Good Friday this year I opened the church up for an hour of silence.  On the communion table I put an assortment of books, pamphlets and scripture translations for folk to read if they needed some guidance during the silence.  I planned to read the Passion story of Matthew, but I never got past the Last Supper.  While reading it came to me that even though Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus never asked him to leave the room.  Jesus continued to have communion, what we now view as some form of what would later develop into communion, with the man who betrayed him.  This insight was not highly critical, I was not seeking to see if this was a truly Matthew story, a synoptic story or a full gospel story.  I was simply happy to receive the word.  In some small way I felt I could read the Bible again.  So I went out and bought a small, fit in your back pocket bible, not a full sword - more like a dagger.

30 March 2008

Low Sunday & Pastoral Stories just waiting to be on Prairie Home Companion

For five years I have referred to the Sunday after Easter as Low Sunday, it is not a theobilly original, in fact I believe it is an actual liturgical name. Yet every year folk snicker like they have never heard the phrase. But it is low b/c of attendance and low b/c there is no way you can match the aura of Easter. The VOR and the kids took the Sunday off too.

After church we had eggs, bacon, fried toast and waffles!!! Then the VOR took some books to a family up the road (the same family that had us over for Easter the dinner, the same family we infected with N.E.V. - take our last name and then add Easter Virus, the family gave it that name, not us). When the VOR came home I went up to the cd shop for a couple of new purchases: the new Billy Joe Shaver and Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins for me and Detours by Sheryl Crow for the VOR. I haven't been to the music shop for some time, especially on a weekend day, I was caught off guard by the amount of people actually shopping for music, the dude with a blue mohawk and all the dudes in black jeans - not dungarees but some type of thinner black pants. I suppose that look will always be with us.

The other day it occurred to me, the longer I stay at the church the longer I notice that a majority of stuff that happens should be on the News from Lake Woebegon section of Prairie Home Companion. Has anyone else ever had a parishioner have an upheaval of flatulence during a contemplative prayer service?

28 March 2008

Friday Fun

Today #2 and I had a boys day out.  We started by going to Seven Stars Bakery for lunch; they make a croissant with ham baked inside of it to die for.  I keep calling around lunch asking for them but they are always out.  Today I asked again, they finally told me that they bring them out first thing in the morning but can only have them out till noon, ah-ha!

After lunch we headed down to the Providence Public Library for their book sale, it was low key by my standards.  I did pick up La Cuisine Chantraine, recipes from a restaurant in Brussels.  Nothing like a book with recipes for Chicken livers, stock that calls for the feet of animals, etc.  I like cookbooks pre-Eisenhower because they had ingredients and ways of cooking that seem worlds away.  If you go to your local meat shop now, you cannot acquire knuckle bones, ox tails, chicken feet, sometimes you can get some organs but not likely.  Why is this the case?  Next time you have some spare time ask the meat shop when the big truck arrives.  Go that day/morning and you will see meat pre-packaged.  Big sides of beef do not come off the truck.  I read old cookbooks b/c it makes me think about a time that has passed but one that I hope will return.

No posts tomorrow - the wife is going to the regional La Leche League meeting, the first in her new role as district advisor.  I will be at home with #s 1-3.  It will only be for 12 hours, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

27 March 2008

The Truth About Trinity

I have been amazed at the recent hullabaloo over Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.  I cannot get over how the media has turned and burned the legacy and life of Dr. Wright.

I found this very helpful blog:

I also received an email exchange from one of my theology professors, Ken Cauthen, with Larry Greenfield, concerning Rev. Wright:

This from a former president of who knows Jeremiah Wright well in response to my question: What can you tell me about Jeremiah Wright ?

Brilliant. Creative. Tough. Right in the prophetic line. We go back a long ways. He was at Chicago and studied under Chuck Long in History of Religions. You may not remember but I brought him to Rochester for lectures and preaching. I have great admiration for him.


I hope this provides some clarity.

24 March 2008

Easter Monday, come on Federal Govt

I am once again mounting a campaign for Easter Monday to be an official federal holiday.

Perhaps the best way to proceed is if Christians would all, in solidarity, take the day off thereby forcing the rest of the society to also take the day off.  For those without a religious bent, no big deal - who would not want a four day weekend?  

By this time in 2012 the USA will be added to this list of nations who recognize Easter Monday as an official holiday.

I am nominating Ron as the Appalachian Chairman.

23 March 2008

The Day of Resurrection Post

This morning was a grand day, the church in bloom (although I am allergic to Easter lillies), kids were all dressed up (#2 had to be forced to wear his new pants, shirt, shoes and sweater), the VOR looked very amative in her new outfit, and the pews were packed.  

A few reports from the worship service to report.

1.  (Most of the children sit on the front left hand, my left hand, in the front - you need to know this for the story).   After I went through Paul's words of institution and broke the bread I heard a soft and quiet question emerge from the front left hand pew: "did you wash your hands?"  I tried to keep it together but could not. 

2.  After communion and the prayer of blessing for the meal we partook, the boy sitting next to the boy who asked if I washed my hands raised his hand and asked if the service was over yet.  Almost I responded, almost...

3.  A deacon left out a bowl of those small irresistable Cadbury candy coated chocolate eggs for me.  What love, what love.

Other news.

Today is Family Member's birthday.  If you go here you can read about his latest legal adventures.  We called to sing him happy birthday, #1 sang and said happy birthday, #2 played the castanet then said happy birthday in mouse (mouse "squeaks" are now #2's backup method of communication).  

Easter Bunny report:
Sometime last night the easter bunny arrived at our house.  He left a jelly bean trail throughout the house, his eggs all over the living room and a nice basket of candy.  Interestingly no Peeps this year -- apparently the VOR has a weakness for hardened Peeps, oh well.  

If I didn't know who the Easter bunny really was I would be inclined to think the Easter bunny was a bit besotted, why?  Sometime around 2:00am last night something knocked over the recycleables canister, bumped into the house and moaned (more than likely it was our neighbors dog or cat).  

Picture of the day:


On assumptions: #1 and #2 both received chocolate bunnies in their baskets.  While I was talking to my mother this afternoon I listed all of contents of their baskets and mentioned chocolate bunnies.  #2 said what, where is my chocolate bunnies?  I said it was the bunny in the gold foil.  Oh he said.  Before I told him he was scooting the bunny around playing with it - the VOR and I just assumed they would know the bunnies were chocolate bunnies and not toys.

On taking revenge: the virus the boys had the other night was passed onto #2 and myself.  The VOR believes she has pinpointed the exact family we contracted the virus from, around 5pm I am gathering an unruly mob to go and egg their house, you are welcome to join us...

20 March 2008

Spring came in like sick little boys what a preface to the Easter Triduum

This will be my last post till after the day of the Resurrection.

Last night around 2:00am Spring officially arrived, before my story begins you must read Robert Frost's poem A Prayer in Spring:

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

Around the same time that Spring officially arrived #s 2 & 3 were vomiting.  So I kept slept with #2 to keep and eye on him and the VOR slept with #3 keeping an eye on him.  It was a long night, grown men are not supposed to sleep in a kids twin bed with the kid still in it!  My feet were hanging over, I have slept on 2 x 6s more comfortable and morning time came awful early.

This evening after sundown the Easter Triduum begins.  We will hold the usual Maundy Thursday service, Tenebrae with readings and special music.  On Good Friday we are holding an hour long service of quiet and contemplation. On Easter, an Easter celebration.  The sermon will wrap up the series on the temptations Jesus by focusing on the temptation not take the resurrection serious, or the temptation to view the resurrection just as an event and not as an event that should have major implications of your life in every way.

The one angle we have added is the purposively slow reading of the Psalms in worship.  We are reading the psalms responsively but pausing after each thought and verse change.  The congregation is a congregation that is not afraid to complain - they are loving this slow intentional reading.  The slow reading and my lengthy sermons have caused worship to exceed the golden rule of: one Lord, one faith, one hour - and yet no one is complaining!  How will this work on Easter with a fresh crowd?  I don't know, I hope they find it refreshing and a hopeful experience.

Hope your Easter is full of Resurrection.

18 March 2008

Couple of Minor Issues

1.  It has been a full 63 hours since the Church's St. Patrick's Day Supper, i.e. corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes, carrots, soda bread, desserts, and the table of Irish Coffee.  I mention this because 63 hours is not an adequate passage of time to disseminate the stench of cooked cabbage! Some Episcopalians and some Catholics have incense; we Baptists of Celtic roots have cooked cabbage!  The Sunday following the dinner is really horrendous, you walk into the sanctuary (which is directly above the dining hall - by the way my office is directly above the kitchen) and a wave of sulfurish odor almost knocks you down.  Luckily yoga was canceled last night b/c the instructor was ill, can you imagine practicing deep breathing with that smell!  

Nevertheless it the corned beef was the best we have ever had, it was tender, lean and tasted like pot roast!  The main chef cooked 73lbs. of corned beef and a bushel of cabbage, a bushel of cabbage.

2.  Dr. Burg, Ladyburg's spouse, has opened up a new resource blog: newbooksmell.  If you have a moment check it out.  

17 March 2008

The 2008 Visit of the Leprechaun

The children awoke this morning to find green pee in the toilet (#1 would not use the bathroom until we flushed the green urination down the toilet), green milk in the frig, green water on the counter, books opened, glitter everywhere, teddy bear with spiderman pajamas, hannah montana doll sitting a candle holder, a train track built around the bar stools, hats hanging from the ceiling fan, golden nuggets and various other mistubus (#2's first rendering of mischievous a couple of years ago).  The VOR and I cannot get over how much they enjoy the yearly visit by the leprechaun.

16 March 2008


This afternoon the VOR took #1 to a birthday party, leaving me with #2 and #3 - no big deal, #3 slept till 4 and #2 and I built trains for a good amount of time.  Once #3 woke up the men went out for some ice cream.  When we returned home the boys began to start work on a train track. Once they worked for a spell they were ready for a snack, I fixed some apple juice and nuts.  After #2 was finished with his juice I heard the empty cup land firmly on the table, he let out a small belch and then said to #3 come on we got work to do (referring to the unfinished train track).

I took the boys to a local ice cream shop, I love their dutch chocolate, #2 loves their Oreo.  We also love their door handle.  Here is #2 showing off his favorite store feature:

Palm/Passion Sunday Sermon

Below is the sermon from this morning.  I had to sit with this sermon for several days, it just did not want to blossom until late yesterday and early this morning.  The VOR noted that near the end I was channeling my southern preacher voice...

Perhaps it speaks to you.

Half Truths…
The Sunday of the Passion or Palm Sunday 16.March.2008
Psalm 22 & Matthew 27:45-56
text: “Then Jesus cried again…” (Mt. 27:50)
by The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

This morning we continue our journey examining the temptations of Jesus. This morning we face Jesus’ most severe temptations: not to see the presence of God in the midst of such destruction, with confidence I can say this is our greatest temptation too.

Let us pray: Living God, we believe but help our unbelief. O God, we hear but help us to listen. O God, we know but help our understanding. O God we can remember but help our comprehension. In the precious name of your Son Jesus we ask these things. Amen.

From noon until three o’clock in the afternoon Jesus hung on a wooden cross between two social bandits. After three hours of excruciating pain, after three hours of public humiliation, after three hours of public shame Jesus finally said something, as Eugene Peterson translates he groaned out of the depths crying loudly: Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? He cried out in his native tongue of Aramaic the first line of Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Surprisingly no one got his reference, all who were there heard Eli and thought Elijah not God. So they wanted to stick around in the darkness to see if Elijah would swoop down from heaven and return.

The Bible is a book rich with irony. Take for instance the scene before us. The entire earth is dark at noon, daily orientation of normalcy is gone, and yet some people are willing to stick around to watch a crucifixion because they think Jesus said Elijah. They think Elijah is about to return. Recall in 2 Kings Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, only one of two figures in the Bible who do not die, the other being Enoch. A tradition concerning Elijah developed stating he would appear to usher in the Messiah. The great irony is that the dudes who are waiting for Elijah to appear and introduce them to the Messiah when all the while the Messiah is hanging above them about to die. They did not need Elijah all they had to do was lift their heads.

But they do not get it.

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

We could stop here and have a perfectly nice ending to the story and to the sermon. We could live with mistaking Elijah for Eli. We could live with Jesus’ deep questioning of God: why hast thou forsaken me. We could live with a half truth. But you and I cannot live with a half truth when a full, rich and robust gospel is there for the taking. We know too well ourselves along with those who never cross the threshold of a church that half truth answers simply will not cut it anymore. We cannot claim Christ, we cannot preach Christ and Christ crucified based on a half truth. We are forced, therefore, to take up the hat of a prosecuting attorney who is going to fight, claw, push, shove and dig till we get to the bottom of this story, till we get a full truth.

My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? These are the last words of Jesus’ earthly life. For three hours he hung in darkness what in the world was he thinking? What questions did he have? How strong was the temptation to jump down off the cross? Why the silence for so long? After three hours he reaches down and with all his might groans: My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me? He did not have the energy to finish the Psalm, but he did not need to.

My God, my God,
why have You abandoned me;
why so far from delivering me
and from my anguished roaring?
My God,
I cry by day—You answer not;
by night, and have no respite. (Tanak translation)

You and I, more or less, Jesus do not express such a question unless we are fully committed to receiving a question. Sure people do gibly ask where is God when a tragedy occurs, that is a normal question that does not require any commitment from the one asking the question, but to ask God why have you abandoned me, well that is an altogether other territory. To ask that type of question is to presuppose there was a relationship, a close relationship, a secure relationship which for no rhyme or reason evaporated.  

For 19 verses the psalm Jesus briefly quoted puts all he/she has on the line. You drew me from the womb, made me secure at my mother’s breast. I became Your charge at birth; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Now trouble is all around and where are you? The author recounts the experience of being in the grips of death when the psalm pauses and takes a dramatic turn. The radical turn from despair to hope seems so implausible that many biblical scholars think Psalm is two psalms combined rather than one literary unit.

Notice the psalmist never states that he or she has been rescued from their plight or stance. There has been a great turn in his her internal perception of the events. Stripped of life and the prospect of life, stripped of all false pretenses about God’s special favor or protection the Psalmists is left to rethink faith and in an instance the Presence is realized.

But you, O Lord, be not far off;
my strength, hasten to my aid.

I do not think the realization, the resolve and change in the psalm would have taken place if the psalmist did not take God to task, if the psalmist did not plunge into the depths of his/her soul. The psalmist’s faith may have very easily been based on a half truth and would have not been fully grasped unless they had taken the leap to point where questions cease and all that remains is the presence of the Lord.

When Jesus was crucified by the Romans he was the recipient of a well greased and well rehearsed method. Rome created a system to kill people based to create the maximum amount of shame as possible. First the one(s) chosen to receive the death penalty were beaten and flogged, then stripped, nailed to a cross, taunted, remained on public display after death, and then tossed over a hill left for the dogs. Our gospels have sought to sanitize the event somewhat. They all experienced shame and shame is definitely evident in Jesus’ death but some facts are simply too painful to recount.

As Jesus hung on the cross for three hours what was going through his mind. Folk to the left and to the right of him taunted, mocked and shamed him. If he looked about the crowd he would have not seen his core group of disciples, perhaps in the distance he saw Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, perhaps. He was left alone because he voiced the beginning of Psalm 22 we can only conjecture that he was repeating its words in his head, over and over and over.

Psalm 22 expresses a full gospel faith, a faith that I hope and trust that all of us are grasping and groping for. A faith that is strong enough to doubt, to question, and to look earnestly for the presence of God. I believe Jesus in his great moment of temptation and trial somehow found God’s presence before his death. The gospel of Matthew does not record what Jesus said when he cried again on the cross, but the gospel of Luke does, “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Those are not the words of simple passivity, those are the words of an active faith that had plunged the depths of the moment and found God’s presence, with peace at hand Jesus died on the cross.

The temptation exists for us this week to rush through Holy Week so we can get to Easter. But to rush through this week is only seeking a half truth, there is a fuller more lively, more difficult and more rewarding experience if we stay with the week rather than rush and push to get it over with. I recently had a friend of mine email some attendance statistics of a large mid-western church, on Easter morning some 1,500 people attended on Good Friday, 250 and on Ash Wednesday, 25. That may be an extreme offering of discomfort but do not take it as a guilt mechanism to attend Holy Week services, but if you feel so moved that is perfectly fine.

We all love Easter, it is beautiful, flowers, pastels, kids in button up shirts and dresses, chocolate imbedded in fingerprints, wonderful hymns of alleluia and the rest. But to get to Easter we have to travel through Jesus’ death, loneliness and despair – it aint easy and it aint for the faint of heart but it can be a very worthwhile and faith deepening experience.

As we prepare for Holy Week I am not asking you to get down to the foot of the cross and see first-hand what happened. I am only asking you to imitate the women who stuck around at a distance. If we can muster the courage to stick around at a distance, if we can stay with our own feelings of discomfort, pain, and alienation we are preparing ourselves for something that we cannot fully explain. We will discover on Easter morning that is was not Peter, James, John or Thomas who report Jesus’ resurrection – it is the women who stayed around to watch Jesus die: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. This week I invite you stay with Jesus in Jerusalem, , stay with him in your own discomfort, stay with him and Psalm 22, stay with him in your temptations for he was tempted just as we are, he did not trade a truth of God for a lie.

(I am not for sure how I ended, but I added another paragraph in the vein above).

14 March 2008

Telling it like it is

Just a moment ago I asked #1 and #2 if they wanted to walk over to church with me to pick up the mail.  #2 replied, "No because we will have to walk through squishy mud."
I said no you wouldn't.
She replied, "You always have these grand ideas, for you, but they are not."

From a 7 year old!  Good grief.

for another story concerning #1 check out a story by the VOR.


Early Tuesday morning I entered the truck and headed north on Rt. 146 then west on I-90.  (Since I left sometime around 4 in the morning I did not see my leather messenger bag, or murse, and took off without it.  All in all I was not missing much but my Ipod - without it I was forced to listen to Eliot Spitzer's press conferences over and over and over again, on the way home I had to listen to the post game whine from Syracuse fans.)  The ride was a smooth one; I arrived in Rochester around 10:30am.  I went to Brueggers then checked in.  

My reason for going was to attend the Bartlett Lectures.  The lectures are named for former CRDS president Gene Bartlett.  (I think I may ask an acquaintance who did a short biography on Rev. Bartlett if I can publish it on wikipedia) This year the Rev. Cynthia Jarvis was the lecturer.  Through her lectures she sought to emphasize the importance and centrality of theology and the pastor's role as pastoral-theologian.  In her first lecture on Tuesday I listened with amazement at how similarity of Peter Gomes' lecture at ANTS I went to last Fall.  Both advocated well written, clear, theologically astute and longer sermons.  Both advocated a preaching ministry (I first heard that phrase proclaimed by Gail O'Day in a continuing ed. event at Wake Forest University Divinity School a few years back) centered on catechesis and not entertainment. Finally both advocated for preachers to read and read and read and read and read.

I used to take notes on any and everything during lectures, recently I have developed a way of active listening and jotting down later the main points that stay with me.  I find this a more helpful way of keeping track of what points "stick to my ribs."  

One insight on my alma mater - the school sold the tables and chairs in the refectory, they were replaced with round tables and stackable chairs.  I understand the need for round tables and stackable chairs for events in the refectory but now the room looks like any other.  With the tables (which were either red oak or chestnut - I am leaning more toward chestnut from memory of the feel) and chairs, made by expert craftsmen during the depression (the best workers in the country came to build the school), the refectory was set apart as a grand room.   

Today I am boiling a pork shoulder given to me by a parishioner.  I hope to smoke it for at least two hours, starting at four.  The apple trees of my neighbor were damaged by the recent wind storm, leaving me with organic wood for smoking!  I am excited about this meal!

What about Joe Alexander and the run WVU is doing right now in the Big East tournament?  

13 March 2008


I arrived back from the Flour/Flower City last night, caught up on sleep and work details this morning and was prepared to venture to the study for an afternoon of sermon writing but when I looked out the manse window over at church I noticed a full parking lot, the senior citizens group, and the white van, the cleaners from a group home.  If it were just one of the two I could write a sermon but combine them --- well forget about it.  So I am off to the coffee shop, my Providence based office, to write.

Later this evening I will provide details of the Bartlett Lectures.

09 March 2008

The Blue Monster

Sometime around Wednesday the VOR came down with an odd illness (it is now passing).  She took some medication but it knocked her out; so I was on advanced dad duty, which is no big deal but #3 was on a sleeping protest/strike/boycott, resulting in a high degree of sleep deprivation which resulted in #1 almost missing the bus on Friday morning (time lapse on my part), #1 almost missing Irish Step Dancing on Saturday (I did not know #1 did not like leggings), and needless to say the house was a wreck.  I did manage to take #1 and #2 to the concert on Friday night, true to form #2 fell asleep after the second song - live music makes him sleepy; sometime around the 7th selection I closed my eyes to feel the music, only to be awakened by the clapping at the end of the song.  

After holding #3 so much a nerve was pinched in my right arm causing sharp jolts of pain and numbness for much of the weekend.  You may ask, how did I make it through the weekend?  Surely I overdosed on coffee, no.  Then I must have been in some kind of nirvana-esque state of mind, no.  What got me through the weekend?  I'll tell ya:  little milk chocolate eggs covered in a candy shell, made by Hershey but with rights retained by Cadbury, you know the delicious little eggs the supermarkets place on the shelves for Easter morning.  Yelp, a whole bag of em got me through the weekend.  

Now as a matter of insight: The VOR was extremely ill and had an allergic reaction to the medicine causing extreme lethargy, yet she had it together enough to point out the whereabouts and existence of my first gray hair, interesting.  

No typed manuscript this morning, more of a chord progression than a written notes - eye contact at a premium, visualizing the text and slowly praying the scriptures allowed for a more mellow sermon, to my surprise (split infinitives dispensation granted by local grammatical bishop) it went over well.

Font of the week: Goudy Old Style

Picture of the day, #3 after he had some blueberry smoothie:

07 March 2008

Spring is Coming

The weatherpeople are calling for 2-5 inches of rain this evening, so I spent a good chunk of the early morning strategically placing dirt on the northeast side of the parsonage to keep the water from sinking in.  (Before we arrived a contractor put in a dry well to collect the water from the downspouts, good idea, however, the contractor did a shoddy job filling the dirt back in.  After few years the dirt has sunk and sunk and sunk so that the water drains into the bottom floor.)  While I was wheelbarrowing back and forth I noticed both the Wilbur Lilac and the Tucker Rhubarb (named after the families who gave them to us) were budding - Spring is coming to New England!

Tonight the church kicks off its Concert Series with the Andy DiPalo Jazz Trio.  They did a great job last year, I expect it will be even better this year.  I am hoping for a turnout of 100.

I tried to go back to bed this morning after #1 got on the bus, but the coffee was in full effect so I laid down with many thoughts aswirling.  Yesterday while listening to the BBC Evensong, the recording was from Southwell Minster, I checked out the cathedral location.  While viewing the webpage I began to wonder about Baptist cathedrals.  I know we do not have chair for bishops, but we do have major churches that are historical and were mothers to many churches.  Why couldn't these churches serve as major points of education, arts and historical events?  Most of these congregations have very low attendance, the buildings cost a fortune and suffer from lack of funds.  Therefore have the churches within the region support the upkeep of the building while the "cathedral" church could provide a staff for regional events.  Just an idea.  I have serious reservations about this idea, Baptists do not tend to be "collective."  I surmise most pastors would view this as a "turf" war and would not be willing to sacrifice for the good of a regional gathering of fellow Baptists.  

One idea that may work I am working on here in town is a collective of Christian Education.  What if the local mainline churches got together to plan adult Christian Educational offerings?  

Another idea that swam around in my head: a Baptist prayer book or a Baptist almanac - a way to connect with the saints, writings, prayers, events, and life narratives.  We would not have feast days but commemorative days.  

Perhaps the new robe is causing these ideas to emerge.  

05 March 2008

They're Alive

The thermometer rose to 55 this afternoon, after my lunchtime run I went out to check the hive - lo and behold they are alive.  I thought for sure the hive had starved and died off, but they did not!  I will need to get into the hive as soon as possible to flip it and feed them some sugar water.

Well Now

The results from last night were surprising.  All of my predictions were for nil, which is not that surprising.  What will happen next, who knows.  I still want to concentrate on the environment.  I do not think Senator Obama  will challenge the Big Coal, his environmental and energy policies call for the expansion of "clean" coal fired electric plants.  I cannot support that.  I cannot see Senator Clinton challenging the coal companies, you may recall Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's trip to WV when he stood on top of Mountain Top Removal site and proclaimed what a wonderful site it was!  The stances of the Democrats brings up the position of Senator McCain, who may well be more "green" than his Senate colleagues who are running on the Democratic ticket.  What an odd predicament.  


However, the contemplative prayer group last night went well.  We dove again into prayer and were surprised at what emerged.  Two great resources, check out the World Community for Christian Meditation.  The other, one of the greatest ins and outs of prayer, Primary Speech by Ann Ulanov - thanks to Dr. Burg for that reference.

04 March 2008


All five members of the family piled into the mini-van and headed over to St. Basil's to vote (3 out of the 4 polling places in my town were at Catholic Churches - I found that odd; what about the people who are uncomfortable with church?  At our polling place we walked in and were greeted with pictures of Syrian Archbishops, Pope Benedict along with icons, stained glass and the like).  

#1 & #2 were excited to vote for delegates according to their gender.  

There was a line to vote, but only for those whose last names began with letters of the first 1/3 of the alphabet.  There was definitely an increase of voters, at the same time four year ago during the primary  I was the 79th person to vote, today I was the 760th person to vote!    

VT closes at 7:30, Ohio at 8:00, early voting results from TX at 9 along with RI polls.  

Luckily I will be leading the contemplative prayer group at church from 7-8, my mind will be elsewhere.

03 March 2008

Huck Letter for Tomorrow

A letter arrived in the church mail this afternoon addressed to my attention.  A pastor in CT has taken it upon himself to urge me to vote for Mike Huckabee based on these two premises: that he is unabashedly pro-life and he is against gay marriage.  

Morning Observations

I have often wondered if the monthly investment of $25  for M-F delivery of the NYTimes is to my advantage or disadvantage.  Disadvantage b/c I am always quoting some article; b/c sections of the paper end up in every room of the house; b/c by Wednesday I am infuriated with Will Shortz for his progressively difficult daily crossword strategy.  Advantage b/c I am informed of world and national events; b/c of the references to books, movies, music; b/c a completion of the crossword brings me 4 down and 3 across loads of enjoyment.  

Then I read an article like this, which forces me to bundle up (like this morning when it was 19 outside) strap the ipod in the arm band and take off.  As the morning jog wound down, I paused The Clash (something about their rhythm and my step works for me) and first off noticed a dove landing (is that the correct word?) in a tree.  I realized why the Holy Spirit is always referred to as a dove and say...well not a blue jay, or a crow or a hawk.  The dove quite frankly is one of the most graceful flying birds around.  How would our picture of the Holy Spirit change if the biblical writers preferred a crow?  Second observation, a fox.  It has been a good piece since we last saw each other (going on two years now).  He crossed the road, stopped looked at me, then darted into the woods, which brings me to my last observation.  Third, it is quite a sound to hear trees awaken.  I have noticed on my Sunday morning walks the peculiar sounds of locust trees expanding as they pound and eek.  

02 March 2008

Girl Scout Cookies Update & Obama in RI, part iii & Learning to Pray

On Thursday the VOR went to the cookie mom's house of our town to pick up the 60 boxes of cookies #1 sold (most were to church people and our family in WV).   We purchased 8 boxes of pure sugary delights: thin mints, lemonades, peanut butter patties, peanut butter sandwiches and carmel delights.  By Saturday two boxes were down, by 6:30 this afternoon: four boxes down - yeah they don't last long around here.  

Myself and a neighbor talked this early this morning, around 6:15, I was going out for a walk, he was going out for coffee.  This neighbor was at the Obama event too, he was unable to get inside. The one troubling absence was the lack of members form the Hispanic community.  RI has a very large and politically active Hispanic community.  I suppose the members of Senator Clinton's campaign reads my blog.  Why?  Today I noticed several Senator Clinton signs about the town. Can't wait till Tuesday.  Senator McCain will win big, of course - although Governor Huckabee has been here two times and folk seem to genuinely like him.  And as before I believe Senator Obama will win 5,500 votes (difference college students and the amorphous South County).

Now onto the big news of today.  I am leading a Lenten study on evangelism using Unbinding the Gospel.  One of the big themes of the book is to encourage folk to deepen their spiritual lives.  Somewhere in the middle of the study it became apparent the folk who were in attendance needed some guidance on prayer.  So I introduced contemplative prayer, didn't call it that.  The people ate it up, I was dumbfounded.  This morning one person who was unable to attend the last session came up and asked me saying: "I realized reading chapter 3 that I do not know how to pray."  I just about fell over.  

I entered seminary with the hope of adding a contemplative component to baptist life.  In high school, after joining the church, I had a hunger to learn the basic of Christianity.  I read the bible all the time but prayer did not make much sense to me.  I asked around but everyone looked at me like I had horns growing out of my head.  I asked my pastor and he ordered Richard Foster's book on Prayer, thus began my journey.  

I have introduced silence into the worship, delivered sermons on lectio divinia, spiritual disciplines and other studies on prayer - but no one would bite.  Then all of a sudden folk are biting like crazy.  

Keeping Idolatry at Bay: Sermon for 2.Feb.2008

I do not have an official title for this sermon.  It is my longest to-date, 29 minutes I believe. Interesting that folk have not complained, if anything they have welcomed an exegetical, historical, spiritual and contemplative approach - go figure.  I also made a major faux pas, you will see it in the sermon italicized.  The congregation got a real kick out of it, in some ways it brought back those who had drifted off.  


Keeping Idolatry at Bay
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Psalm 1 and Matthew 4:1-2 & 8-11
by The Rev'd G. Travis Norvell

     The devil approached Jesus, for the third and last time, in the gospel of Matthew, enticing him with the grandest of all sins: idolatry. Take the entire Bible, it is not a book of greatest hits or great success stories. The Bible is a huge and ancient book giving us examples of how not to do things, how to avoid idolatry. Idolatry is simply stated, by the Apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, when we change the truth of God into a lie, and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator. You have had moments when you have felt a deep connection with your true self. You have had moment when you have felt a deep connection with God. They were both the same moment only seen from different perspectives. They were moments of truth, they were moment of the truth of God. But the connection left us, it slipped faraway beyond our grasp. Perhaps fear kept us from living from the truth we discovered. Perhaps we overanalyzed the situation and passed it off as unreal. Or perhaps we simply could not muster the courage to fully live from that center we found. You want to live life from that center; you can imagine a life totally different if you would live from that center. But we seem not to be able to live from this center and we all to easily exchange the truth of God for a lie when have created about life and ourselves. 

I dare say we are all here this morning trying to soothe the pain we live with knowing we have exchanged the truth about God for a lie. We are trying to self-medicate in the most healthy way possible, we are trying to fill the God shaped hole in our hearts with God.

Let us pray:
Living God, who sent your Son Jesus to be with us for a little while, long enough to show us the way, the truth, and the life. We beseech you at this time to make your Spirit known for a little while, long enough to soften our hearts, to set off sparks of love, and to fill us with hope. In the mean time we offer our attention and our whole selves in this time of proclamation. Amen.

The devil approached Jesus for the third time and tempted him once again. Beneath the devil’s plain spoken words are three varieties of idolatry: he tempts Jesus to deny who he is, to deny his calling, and to deny the truth he had discovered about himself and about God. In essence the devil wants Jesus to change the truth about God into a lie and worship the created rather than the Creator.

I want us to look at these three angles of idolatry as if we are cooking onions, you gotta keep stirring them at a low temperature for a bit before they turn brown.

The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendors and said to him, ‘All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me’.

Denying Who He Is

This temptation is based on a downright lie. The devil offers Jesus kingdoms that are not his to offer. The devil has no right to this world, this world as the old hymn says Is My Father’s World. This world is the place where Jesus, God incarnate, pitched his tent instantly sanitizing any thoughts of this world being anything other than the arena of God’s love.

The devil’s temptation is asking Jesus to deny who he is, God incarnate. Instead of God being in control of this world, the devil is asserting that he is. If Jesus will believe this than he is trading the truth about God for a lie.

Denying Who He is Called to Be

This temptation contains another layer or perspective and that is the devil tries to tempt Jesus to deny who is called to be. The devil wants Jesus to sell his soul at the crossroads by falling down and worshipping him.  

This aspect of this temptation stuck out like a flashing neon sign. Why would the devil ask Jesus to fall down and worship? There are places in the Bible where folk will lay prostrate on the floor and worship God, there are times when folk feel inferior to God and turn their heads, and there are spots when folk do fall down and worship. But these are few and far between. No where does the Bible require folk to fall down to worship God. As soon as the curtain opens in the Bible humanity is not viewed as subservient beings who do not participate in the affairs of God, instead we are defined as co-creators in this world. We are given the privilege of watching over creation, we are able to argue/bargain with God, and we are able to partner with God to help usher in the kingdom. Suffice to say that we do not fall down to worship. But who does, or better who did in Jesus’ time? What is the devil doing asking Jesus to bow down and worship him?  

The question gets to the heart of Jesus’ calling as the Messiah, God’s Annointed. Folk did bow down in Jesus’ time, it was the ceremonial act of those who were subservient to the Romans in the occupied territories of Palestine and beyond. The occupation and Roman hegemony caused great anger and resentment among the populous; so much so that a great fervor for God to deliver swelled up. People hoped and believed the messiah, another King David, would come to lead them in a violent overthrow of the Romans and re-establish the kingdom. The devil is tempting Jesus to be this kind of Messiah and not the kind of Messiah God has called him to be. The devil is asking Jesus to fall down and worship him so that he can give him all the kingdoms of this world. Jesus will not trade the truth of God, that he is the Messiah in the image God has created him, for a lie about God, that he is the messiah created in the devil’s image.

Denying the Truth He Discovered
Lastly the devil tempted Jesus to deny the truth he had discovered about himself and about God: bow down and worship me, forget about that Yahweh figure. I believe Jesus discovered his true self while in the wilderness during the forty days and forty nights. He truly came to terms with his call to be the Messiah, to reflect fully his true self as the Christ, to live out of the center that centered in God.

In response to the devil Jesus quoted a passage from Dueteronomy: Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Jesus quoted from Moses’ last speech to the Israelites before they entered the land flowing with milk and honey. Moses warned for he knew how tempting the foreign gods would be to the Israelites and how easily they would forget all that the Lord had done for them. But the warning only to worship God also came with a practical element, which we know as the Shema.  

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your head and let them serve as a symbol on you forehead; inscribe them on the doorpost of your house and on your gates.  (Dueteronomy 6:4-9, Tanak translation

Moses knew and the devil knew that the life of faith ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, goes through moments of drought and floods. Sometime God feels very close, but for most of the time folk experience God far away. So Moses gave his plea for Israel to remember; as a sign of remembrance they are to place reminders all over their homes, on their bodies and to pass on the story to future generations. The devil hoped to find Jesus at a low point in his faith when he tempted him to make a deal: sell me your soul and I will give you the world.

The temptation is to commit idolatry to exchange the truth of God for a lie; to live out of an untrue center.

The So What

The temptations of Jesus in the desert were Jesus’ temptations alone. We will not relive the temptations in the wilderness after fasting for forty days and forty nights. But you and I will be tempted throughout the remainder of our days. You and I will commit adultery (I meant to say idolatry, the congregation got a kick out of this slip), we will worship other gods and we will live as reflections of our false self rather than our true self. One step is to continually confess our sins as we do each week, but is that enough? Is it enough to take one step forward on Sunday and two steps back on Monday thru Saturday?

Perhaps we have made Christianity too easy. Perhaps we have set the bar of expectation too low rather than too high.

We are all present here this morning for reasons we cannot fully express. But there is a desire to know more about God and God’s Word. There is a desire to live a more fruitful life, a more abundant life. We want to move away from our fickleness and live a more centered and true life. We want to have faith that is sure and sound, deep and true. We want to live as one planted beside the streams of water. We want to be one of the monster sycamore trees down along the bike path or on River Road. So what is our next step? How do we move from desire to practice?

For me the only route that makes any sense is the contemplative route. I set aside time when my mind and body are most alert and devote it to God. I prefer to read classic Christian devotional literature, the psalms or a portion of the gospels. I prefer to sit with what I am reading till a word, image or metaphor appears, then I like to stay with that emergence till I can understand why it has popped off the page the way it did. Sometimes the answer comes immediately, other times it take a good part of the day for it to bubble up. At the end of the day I can usually tell that it was came as a word from the Lord, an image that reflects the image of God in me, the true self.

For some of you silence would drive you crazy, there are some who need a visual image to guide them, others need a spoken word or music, some people have to be doing something like walking, knitting, drawing, etc. Whatever avenue you seek to explore there are time honored disciplines within Christianity to accompany you. The task is to just do it; to be intentional about it and to give your best time to God. I am talking here about ten to 15 minutes a day.

Our relationship with God, mimics any relationship with humans: it is only good as much time we put into it and nurture it. We will never ever stop committing idolatry, but we can greatly lower the odds, we can focus more intently on God, we can let our true self rise up rather than our false self for a good amount of time. But we can only do this if we increase our attention, devotion, knowledge and experience of the living God.

All you need to grow deeper in your faith is to show up, that is it. To devote ten minutes to God. You may say only ten minutes, but believe me all you have to do is provide a small crack and God will illuminate. All you have to do is provide a little spark and God will spread like wildfire.

01 March 2008

Obama in RI, part ii

Neighbor reports that 1000s of people filled Mt. Pleasant Avenue in route to Rhode Island College.  Old, young, handicap, black, white and hispanics filled the area.  Neighbor said it was the closest thing she had witnessed in this country to remind her of the revolutionary marches in El Salvador!  

Obama in RI

The doors to Senator Obama's event opened about 29 minutes ago.  I suspect the candidate will arrive in about a half an hour to deliver a speech.  I am surprised his campaign picked RIC, rather than the Dunkin Donuts Center or the RI Convention Center or a venue at Brown.  I suppose they were looking at accessibility, parking and ease of direction.  I also think they are hoping to "rub it in" on Senator Clinton, she spoke in the same arena last week to about 2000 people.  I am sure the Obama campaign is hoping to double that number!

The Washington Post had a nice article on Lil' Rhody's place in the election.

In other news 12 down and 88 to go. I am four books off my pace.  I need to read 10 books this month and next month.  Although Easter falls later on this month, that translates into a busy and hectic Holy Week, I do believe I can read 10 this month.  I am very interested how the path of this journey has taken.  Some books friends have given me, some were books I started but never finished, some are ones I see referred to in footnotes, while others, like the one I am reading now, The Lighthouse at the End of the World, are happenstance (while reading Mr. Marlowe's obituary in the NYTimes I noticed a historical work he wrote on Edgar Allan Poe, so I checked it out yesterday to give myself a detective break), then there are works I find just by perusing the stacks at the library (I like to find a section I like then just sit down and start looking).  On a side note, I am convinced of a conspiracy by most theological libraries against me; it seems every book I want to locate is on the bottom shelf - the libraries know I am an ex-catcher and that my knees pop every time I squat).   88 to go, a big number but smaller than 100 though.