30 January 2009

A Reflection on Revenge

With the kids in bed and a few minutes before Washington Week on PBS I have a few thoughts to post (I too am trying to reign in the excitement).


Several weeks ago #1 volunteered me to come into her music class and play my fiddle.  I thought I would simply go in talk about my fiddle, play a scale and be done with it.  Oh no, the music teacher gave me a list of songs to play - actually songs I could and still cannot play. I emailed her back to say I could not play the songs she chose and gave her a list of songs I could.   I arrived at school on the appropriate day a few minutes early. {for background reader you must also know that at one time the #1's music teacher told me she only played the flute}.  

While I waited the school secretary informed me that she thought it was great I was coming in to play.  She then informed that she too wanted to learn to play and that #1's music teacher agreed to give her lessons!  With this in mind I sang the hymn "sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."  I thought I was going to know a little more than the teacher and maybe even fudge my way through the songs I chose, not now.  I nervously played for the kids but not all that well.  Not only did they dance to my music they also sang along.  Have you ever had 18 kids sing along to a song?   As I played I would occasionally misbow a note or two which would cause the music teacher to wince (I have above average peripheral vision).  The teacher was gracious but I know she resented ever asking me to come in.  How do I know this?  Lemme tell you how.

Last week #1 came home announcing that their school would be performing a musical: The Sound of Music.  Reader, I cannot stand that musical.  I have tried, honest to god I have tried but I cannot.  #1's music teacher intrinsically knew I did not like the musical and purposively chose it.  She also knew that my first born loves to not only just sing songs around the house but that she sings songs at the world's highest recorded rate of repetition.  I have the soundtrack, in a high pitched 2nd graders voice, constantly on shuffle playing in my head.  

Before I go to bed I will check the feedjit application - please let no one view this blog this evening, it is Friday night for crying out loud.  At the very least watch Washington Week and then tell yourself that you are going to watch Bill Moyers only to find yourself snoring by 8:45.  

So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, good night,
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight.
So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, adieu,
Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu

The ACME 40GH Sermonator

The sermon for this week took longer than usual before it arrived but once the ideas started taking shape and were placed together it flowed quicker than usual, go figure.  

Currently I am in between the Advent-Xmas-Epiphany series on the poetry of Advent, which then spilled over into a good chunk of January and the Lenten-Easter series on Life Together (based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book of the same title).  The time in-between the series left the Sundays of February to plan.  The month is a bit unusual for I will be in WV for one Sunday during the winter break the kids have here in Lil Rhody.  

Usually in the midst of reading, listening to music, or talking with folk ideas will come for sermons that are not necessarily part of a series but nice one-time events.  With a pile of ideas on 3x5 cards I picked out three for this month that fit an overall theme of pre-Lenten ideas.  I have labeled the stack of cards, newspaper articles, scribbles, pictures and what not The ACME 40GH Sermonator.

This week's sermon on being comfortable with God is titled Crisscross Applesauce.  I had never heard the titled phrase until one day when I took #1 to story time at the library and the children's librarian asked if all would sit crisscross applesauce.  I watched all of the kids fall in line and sit with smiles on their faces.  They were all so comfortable, relaxed, and expectant.  How come most of us do not feel that way when we are attentive to God's presence?
Sermon two: Three Little Words.  This one is still in the works but I imagine it will build off the previous sermon.
Sermon three: A Sunday Kind of Love.  I have had this sermon percolating for a good bit but never the time or opportunity to work on it properly.  
Then onto Ash Wednesday and Lent...

On a lighter note.  This week I talked with several colleagues concerning their Annual Meetings, some were fun some were not (mine by the way was quite enjoyable).  After my discussions I think I may rewrite the gospel of Mark using the Robert's Rules of Order.   

29 January 2009


A couple of weeks ago I went down to the RISD art museum for the afternoon (the main reason was to see the David Macaulay exhibit). I like to go to art museums hoping to catch a glimpse at how artists form their work. I love the finished projects that hang on walls or displayed in cases but I really like to see how ideas are concretized. Macaulay's display did not disappoint my hopes. The curators, thankfully, displayed his journals, his sketch books, and prototypes he built before constructing his books.

I like to observe the methodology of other artists because it always refreshes my own artistic methodology (pastoral ministry). I do not see why other pastors do not view themselves as artists, for a living we write, preach, listen, create, bring out passion and the full range of emotions from others, and hope to foster creativity and beauty in others.

Here is what I gleaned from Macaulay:

a. Questions, questions, questions.  His notebooks were riddled with questions all over the pages.  When working on Cathedral he was not interested in just drawing the building he also wanted to know why people built it in the first place.
b. Point of View. He draws his subjects from the oddest angles. This is probably the best insight I gained. Macaulay does not draw from a normal perspective. He draws from odd/peculiar vantage points.
c. Truth vs. Exactness. I was looking at the lines of stone he drew that formed a wall. From a distance they looked like a wall should look like but when you examined them up close you could see they were not exact, but rather freely sketched.
d. The formation of pictures. I know it is seems a bit redundant to say this but at the end of his book there is a picture a completed work. He is concerned about process.

While I am on the topic of art I need to include Michael DiMucci on my links list. Mike was the former choirmaster and organist at LRBC. The man is oozing with talent.  I loved working him and miss his contribution to church life like crazy - luckily we are still close friends and get together on a regular basis.  Once a week we would get together go over music - everything from tempo of a hymn to trying out different instruments for accompany. One project we were never able to fully finalize had to do with 2x8 feet sheets of original liturgical art for the sanctuary. I still have the prototypes and hope one day they come to fruition; another church  member designed and created them, they are amazing.  We were, however, able to get a mosaic of Noah's ark above the sanctuary doors.
(Here is an action shot of me screwing in the mosaic. For the record I did not have anything to do with the formation of the mosaic, but my kids did.)

Couple of follow-up notes.  1.  This week may very well be the week I get to 100 Facebook friends.  2.  Yesterday I suggested to the VOR that we make a loaf of bread to go with dinner.  Usually I make the bread, but this time she did.  She called for directions and I dutifully communicated them.  After I arrived home, shoveled rain soaked snow off the walk (ugg, no ugh cubed - cannot do fancy math notations on blogger), I was hanging out in the kitchen and noticed that the bread was not covered (the recipe will explain).  She then informed me that I never said anything about a lid.  I then began to wonder...Could it be that deep down in my psyche I withheld that critical piece of information because she grossly outnumbers me for facebook friends and that her group has three times more members than mine (although my group has gone officially international - two folk from Ireland).  I think there may be a nugget of truth in this assessment.  

Sermon writing time...

28 January 2009

In My Heart There Rings a Melody

-I want to say a hearty thank you for all of the recent folk who joined my facebook group. But I think it is time to bow out with dignity. No matter how hard I try the VOR continues to out pace me, taunt me, and mock at my attempts.
-Woody, lemme know what reaction you receive when you order your coffee.
-If you haven't treated yourself to a listening spell of Crooked Still, today is the day then.
-Snow, snow, snow (another 5-8 inches - on top of a foot of hardpack, see photo below of outside my office/studio window). Sometime in June grass will appear. Oh well, day to work inside on the newsletter, sermon series, and hymns for the next quarter.

for what it is worth: one packet of instant yeast (1/4 ounce) is equivalent to 2 and 1/4 teaspoons.

This Could Change EVERYTHING!


27 January 2009


I was not going to post anymore this evening but this reminded me of something I have been wanting to post.  

A year ago tomorrow I walked into the local swanky coffee shop (which I call my Providence based office) and waited till the fellow behind the counter asked what kind of coffee I wanted this day.  I pretended to be considering all the options: french roast, american roast, full city roast...when I finally asked, with a straight face, "do you have any that taste like Folgers?"  My question floored him, he wanted to laugh but my earnest eyes told him he couldn't.  Finally I couldn't take it anymore and began to laugh too.  

Tomorrow, try it for yourself.  Go to your local hip coffee shop and ask for a cup of Sanka or ask for something like Folgers, you know mountain grown and see what reaction you get.  

Grocery Store Adventures

After I left work and before I came home I was asked to stop by the local mammoth grocery store chain to pick up some cheese and possibly a couple pints of Ben and Jerry's, which I resisted - if they have had Yes Pe-can then I would have not been able to resist.  The assignment sounded easy enough but I am not to be trusted to go the grocery store.  Why?  As stated before - I have tendency to wonder around the aisles, I will pick up labels and thoroughly read them, I will strike up conversations with complete strangers about what they are having for dinner. On a rare occasion I can perform this duty quite well, but not this evening.

The trip started off well as soon as I entered the door I was hit by a wave of heat that quickly warmed me up.  Next, while in the frozen food section I overheard an elderly gentleman tell the stock boy "The Salisbury Steak, the one in the back there."  Instantly, I was able to taste the many frozen food dinners I had as a kid.  The steak, the gravy, the mouth burning mashed potatoes, the portion of corn, and for dessert: the chocolate cake.  

I found my way to the refrigerated section containing the packaged blocked mozzarella. I compared the different brands, looked at labels, squeezed, weighed with my hand, and decided on a local brand.  I thought this is great I can't believe coming here was so easy.  I then made a 90 degree turn and headed up the aisle towards the checkout counter.  By chance I was in the soap aisle and by chance a crossword clue that stumped me that asked for a popular five letter brand of cake soap.  Hmm, so I observed all of the labels before I decided I must have had a letter wrong in the crossword this morning.   

Nevertheless, I was making record time - then I got to the self-checkout counter.  The lines were long and rather confused (I saw folk with buggies full of food already bagged!)  I spied a short line which just so happened contained a woman who was the mother of one of #1's classmates.  She saw me and told me to go in front of her.  I refused, she insisted.  Normally I am the self-checkout master.  In no time at all I had somehow scanned two packages of cheese (when I only had one), entered that I had coupons (which I had none), was paying with a credit card (which I did not), and called for a clerk! (which I did not need, well I suppose I did need)  I apologized to the woman behind me, got the order straightened and hightailed it outta there.  

I am glad to be home.

Kingdom Work

First of all  lemme say thanks to the swell of people (5 of you) who heeded my plea for  membership to my facebook group: I'll Be Disappointed If God's Voice Does Not Sound Like Johnny Cash.  We are now up 19, unfortunately the VOR's group is gaining at a record clip, her group  now is up to 57 members.  {A few years ago a family member (kind of) proclaimed he was saved.  When  I heard of this I asked for papers and eye witnesses!}  I suppose I may have to ask for some kind of documentation for some of VOR's group members - what court would I file this in? who would conduct the recount? would I have to pay for the legal fees?

In a short while a small but dedicated of old ladies will join me for a morning Bible Study.  When I first started the study was held at a local nursing home.  I used to conduct Bible Study as if it were a lecture on Biblical interpretation, they would patiently listen, then nod off, then wake up near the end (I then ordered the staff to only serve regular coffee, no decaf.  This worked until someone complained about a "reaction" with her medications - not really.  But I did threaten to switch the labels if they did not stay awake).  

Eventually the study moved back to the church and I retooled the format.  Now it is a half hour free for all: politics, town  news, gossip (the rule is that all gossip is permitted as long as it does not pertain to church members or is slanderous), aches and pains (they have to be new and not pre-existing, and usual complaints about the weather forecast.  We then follow-up with about a half hour of Bible Study - we are now studying the book of James.

How is this Kingdom work?  When you read the gospels or any part of the New Testament I am sure you notice lots of things.  But have you ever  noticed what is not there?  The NT as a whole is pretty short and does not cover the usual goings-on of daily life.  Therefore, I take this innocent and somewhat boring bible study as kingdom work.  Two or three are gathered (even if one is usually asleep or forgets their hearing aids), coffee is poured, heartaches and dreams are shared, we laugh, we sometimes cry and we are all drawn closer to God and to each other by the study of The Good Book.  To me that is Kingdom work.

26 January 2009

A Few Random Tidbits

1.  The VOR's facebook group is now up to 47 members (even folk from Canada have joined!).  My group is static.  Therefore, I am using the bully pulpit of my blog to plea with readers of this blog who also happen to have a facebook account to join my group: I'll Be Disappointed if God's Voice Does Not Sound Like Johnny Cash.  I do not think it will work, but it is worth a shot.
2.  I noticed today, for the first time, as I exited the gym that there is a huge, almost five gallon, tub of Tootsie Rolls - free for the taking- right before the door.  Doesn't is kind of defeat the purpose of working out and burning calories if you shovel in a handful of Tootsie Rolls right before you leave?  And the thing is I love tootsie rolls (not as much as my former postmaster sister-in-law loves them but I do love them nonetheless).  I am just lucky there is not a tub of Monty's Corners, then I would be in real trouble.  (For those who never went to Monty's Pizza in Huntington, WV they would cut their pieces in such a fashion so that there were several 45 degree angled pieces.  I would hoard them.)
3.  Good to learn that Joe is back at blogging (I am calling him up so he can report with the pitchers and catchers).
4.  I do not know what Will Shortz was thinking this morning by picking such Wednesday puzzle for Monday - uggh.

Off to make some Chicken Stock - a nice thing to do on a day off...

25 January 2009

On Being Flabbergasted

Last year I requested to review books for several academic journals.  Why?  One, the books are free.  Two, reviewing required me to read some "thick," "heavy," and academic substantive books.  Three, reviewing required a different style of writing.  I reviewed two books last year.  I received the books, wrote the reviews, and sent them off.  I did not expect any note of receipt or even a note of thanks.  So imagine my surprise when I received this email from the managing editor of Review and Expositor:

A quick note to thank you for your recent review of the book The Making of American Liberal Theology. It will appear in the Fall 2008 issue of R & E that should "hit the streets" in the next few weeks. I have noticed how many book reviews you contribute to the journal, and often writers of book reviews don't get the credit they deserve.

Needless to say I was flabbergasted, I have never received such a note before for reviewing books before.  

State of the Church Address: 2009

Before I begin allow me a small facebook group update. My group is hanging in there at a steady 14 (in other words, no change). The VOR's group an insulting 34! (for the record, she did invite me but who likes pity?)

Now onto the State of the Church Address, 2009 edition. Earlier this week I had someone tell me they were coming for the first time (I thought about telling them to wait till next week, but the person is going to divinity school soon and I thought it would be good for them to hear). Background - one time I held some ambition to be a politician but decided against it. While in div. school our President would hold an annual state of the school address. Therefore, I combined these two experiences for an Annual State of the Church Address on the same Sunday as the Annual Meeting. As an aside, the first one of these I delivered a gentleman in the congregation had a pen and paper and wrote down my sermon almost word for word! This year there was no one taking down notes but there were several laughs, some tears, and some questions afterwards.

State of the Church: Growth again (we took in more than lost). Financial: surplus. Sunday School: progress, better programming and more enthusiasm. Property: finished and dedicated outdoor chapel. Spiritually: prayer groups started. Musically: new pianist and new director starting to come together. Community: continuing to be in formation but doing better.

There are still many areas for growth. Evangelism, need to develop better practice of effective sharing of faith. Financially, rely too much of fund raisers (we did, however, reduce them for the coming year to a comfortable number). Pastoring a church aint easy but it is a worthwhile and rewarding vocation. I hope the fellow who came this morning saw the challenge ahead of him, they are real and difficult, but I also hope he saw the promises, rewards and genuine joy available to him, they vastly outweigh the difficulties.

24 January 2009

Who Needs Television When You Have Popcorn Popper?

This week I went to one of those megaloelectronicmarts to purchase our digital convertor.  I am throughly impressed with the reception and the # of channels - it is almost like we have cable: eight PBS selections and a retro television channel (last night I was able to watch five minutes of The A-Team, I could not take much more than five minutes).  The kids love the all kids PBS channel, but really who needs a tv when you have a popcorn popper?

Facebook Adventures: Second Edition

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my experience on Facebook, since then not much has changed the VOR continues to overfriend me and today she has even overgrouped me.  

A few weeks ago I started a just for fun group: I'll Be Disappointed if God's Voice Does Not Sound like Johnny Cash, to date (after four weeks) 14 people have joined.  The VOR even sent out invitations to some of her friends (I believe two joined because of her efforts).  Last night as the VOR was reminiscing about her college days she created a group: I've Been to the Wheel...One too Many Times.  (For those who never spent time at the Baptist college Alderson-Broaddus lemme explain.  A-B is a dry campus  (I believe the college even owns one or two of the liquor licenses in the town).  If one felt so inclined for a golden beverage there are two choices: Lil Moe's - a downtown pub (not a bad choice), or a real sawdust joint: The Wheel (as my late father would say about a place like The Wheel, I've been thrown in better places.")  

As a side note: the thought of the VOR (the proper baptist gal from Scott Depot) "partying" at The Wheel is quite an imaginative process.  

Anyway - The VOR's group now (not even after 24 hours since its inception) has 26 members.  And get this, she did not even invite half of the people who joined!  Some of her friends invited their friends!  Oh well, I suppose this is another example of how small facebook makes introverts feel :(  To make matters even worse, she didn't even invite me.  She responded: you didn't even go The Wheel (I did spend my freshman year at A-B).  True, I did not go to The Wheel but it would have been nice to have been invited.

23 January 2009

They Know What They Are Doing

Observing the actions of the herd of rabbits that inhabit my backyard for the past six years I am ready to fundamentally say that they have a level of consciousness much higher than many have acknowledged before hand.  I am ready to conclusively state that rabbits have a high, even advanced, sense of sarcasm!

Evidence:  In the summer rabbits will frequently eat the tender leaves of the lettuce I plant only to leave me and my family the bitter inner leaves.  They will also wait till my beets are at the critical juncture, between a shoot and the formation of a beet root, to eat them.  They also intentionally wait till I come home from an evening out and play in the backyard so that when I pull into the driveway the headlights of the van expose their superior numbers.  

This morning however I was finally convinced of their smart aleck ways.  Context: for the past three weeks there has been a nice pack of snow on the ground.  And for the past three weeks my family has created a path from our backyard to #1's school.  Description: As I walked #1 to school this morning I noticed something: rabbit scat!  Now here is the kicker, the sarcasm: The scat was only on the path, not to the left or right of the path but directly in our steps!  This is obviously premeditated Sylvilagus floridanus sarcasm!

22 January 2009

a few small things

1.  I received a letter from my Retirement Board yesterday.  Here is the line:
In a few weeks you will receive your 4th Quarter Statement and, a few weeks later, your Annual Benefits Statement.  We know that the results will be sobering...
2.  Yesterday while waiting outside of #1's school I was able to confirm that last week I did indeed see an automobile on fire.  (That was the second one that week).
3.  Potty training for #3 is going better than expected - although the VOR is completely exhausted by the time I get home from work.
4.  I am 2/3rds of the way through an NT Wright book and I am getting tired of his constant referrals of his own work.  
5.  Fascinating discussion on New Orleans on the Open Source with Christopher Lydon podcast
6.  Facebook friends update, Me: 87.  VOR: 125.
7.  Today for a lunch meeting I had an Award Winning sandwich: Grilled Cheese with bacon, avocado, tomato, dijon mustard.  Odd how I always forget about how wonderful a grilled cheese sandwiches can be for lunch.
8.  Anyone ever heard of an Appalachian tradition called Breaking Up Christmas?  A fellow from Cape Cod told me about it yesterday.
9.  Joe: baseball, cooking, and books -  those are holy subjects too in my house.
10.  Everyone - Ron is back to blogging. 
11.  It was a recording, just like a gentleman from fiddle class suggested!

21 January 2009

tis the gift to be free...

Tonight in fiddle class I inquired if anyone else thought the musicians were improvising any during this score. Some were not so sure, some were definitely sure they were not. After watching the performance again and thinking about John Williams as composer I doubt they were. Can you imagine if at roughly 3:30 point in the piece they would have started improvising off of each other with "Simple Gifts" as their guide what a performance that would have been!

In preparation for Easter I have been doubling down on books concerning the Resurrection. My reading has led me to think about life in these terms: we live life in moments sometimes we are cognizant of the moment but most of the time we are not - only by reflecting on past moments does life begin to truly reveal itself.

I have been watching some replay of the footage of the Inauguration and I still have yet to properly appreciate it (forgive my split infinitive). The peaceful magnitude of the crowd, the gatherings all over the nation and the world to watch it. Only days, weeks, or months from now will "what" happened truly nestle in.

The VOR talked with a church member today who went to DC to simply "be there." The church member reported how peaceful, international and packed the city was. It was no small coincidence that this church member went to DC.  When this church member was driving home to RI with her father in 1968 the report came over the radio that Dr. King had been assassinated. The family bypassed their house and drove straight to an African-American church in Providence. (The church I serve and this particular African-American church had close relationship)  The church was already packed when they arrived.   When the congregation noticed the members of my church there, the father of the family spoke these words: "There's been a death in the family, we had to come."

Words are worth a 1000 Pictures

A couple of weeks ago I went down to the RISD art museum for the afternoon (the main reason was to see the David Macaulay exhibit).  I like to go to art museums hoping to catch a glimpse at how artists form their work.  I love the finished projects that hang on walls or displayed in cases but I really like to see how ideas are concretized.  Macaulay's display did not disappoint my hopes.  The curators, thankfully, displayed his journals, his sketch books, and prototypes he built before constructing his books.  

I like to observe the methodology of other artists because it always refreshes my own artistic methodology (pastoral ministry).  I do not see why other pastors do not view themselves as artists, for a living we write, preach, listen, create, bring out passion and the full range of emotions from others, and hope to foster creativity and beauty in others. 

Here is what I gleaned from Macaulay:

a.  Questions, questions were written all over the page.  For cathedral he was not interested in just drawing the building he wanted to know why people built them in the first place.  
b.  Point of View.  He draws his subjects from the oddest angles.  This is probably the best insight I gained.  Macaulay does not draw from a normal perspective.  He draws from vantage points both down and up from odd angles. 
c.  Truth vs. Exactness.  I was looking at the lines of stone that formed a wall.  From a distance they looked true but when you examined them they were not exact. 
d.  The formation of pictures.  I know it is seems a bit redundant to say this but at the end of his book there is a picture a completed work.  He is concerned about process.  

While I am on the topic of art I need to include Michael DiMucci on my links list.  Mike was the former choirmaster and organist at LRBC.  I loved working him and miss his contribution to church life like crazy - luckily we are still close friends and get together on a regular basis.  The man is oozing with talent.  Once a week we would get together go over music - everything from tempo of a hymn to trying out different instruments for accompany.  One project we were never able to fully finalize had to do with 2x8 sheets of original liturgical art for the sanctuary.  I still have the prototypes and hope they come to fruition.  We were able to get a mosaic of Noah's ark above the sanctuary doors.  
(Here is an action shot of me screwing in the mosaic.  For the record I did not have anything to do with the formation of the mosaic, but my kids did.)

20 January 2009

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

(last post for the day - there is an Annual Report that my secretary said had to be completed by the end of the day).  

Over the past few weeks there was much scorn and disappointment for the Obama administration choosing the Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the Invocation for the Presidential Inauguration.  I was not thrilled by the choice but I thought it was a politically sly move.  Why?  On the one hand the choice reached out to those who identify themselves as Evangelicals (folk like me, mainliners, are barely 10% of the population).  Obama is going to need a working majority coalition to move his policies through Congress; evangelicals will have to be a part of that.  On the other hand, it forced Rev. Warren to hedge his words (notice no public interviews before the inauguration!).  Rev. Warren, in the future, more than likely will not make the kind of statements he made before concerning homosexuality - being the one chosen to deliver the invocation.  He may even nuance how he words future sentences in the future.  Thus, a politically sly move.

Onto a more practical appraisal.  Employment of Rhetorical Devices.  Think back to middle school or high school English class.  When constructing clauses in a sentence save the best for last.  Western rhetoric always weighs the latter rather than the former part of a sentence.    So onto the choice for the Prayers.  Who is going to remember an invocation?   No one.  But everyone is going to remember the Benediction.  Save your best for last.  Rev. Lowery's prayer was quite remarkable!

Think about your average church service. When was the last time someone commented on the invocation?  I cannot remember any. (I am not slighting their importance for they do serve the liturgical purpose of awakening us to God's presence).  But I am willing to conjecture that you have remembered or been touched by a benediction.  

We, the people, must redeem

A poem for the day.

Let America be American again by Langston Hughes.

To Do the Right Thing

On Election Day 2008 the VOR and I walked with all three kids in tow to vote for Barack Obama. The kids voted, we simply showed them how to do it.  

The next day #1 came home on the verge of tears;  she said kids at school were saying mean things about the President Elect.  Through teary eyes she asked: Mom and Dad did we do the right thing voting for Barack Obama?  We responded yes.

Today in a little under two hours when the President Elect becomes the 44th President I will be saying to #1 "Yes sweetheart, we did the right thing."


I had planned to watch the events at the house but the VOR is having a La Leche League meeting there.  I usually try to stay as far away as possible during those events (the cnn and facebook venue is working out quite well).  

What American today does want this nation to be great and to continue on the path to a more perfect union?

19 January 2009

Strength to Love

The title for this post comes from Dr. King's 1964 publication of sermons with the same title.

I did not attend the annual MLK, Jr. Breakfast this morning: six more inches of snow and a knee ache kept me from it. I wanted to go and hear Rev. Carl Balark (a colleague down in Providence).  So I read an essay from Strength to Love, my favorite, Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. Here are some excerpts:

The gospel at its best deal with the whole man, not only his soul but also his body, not only his spiritual well-being but also his material well-being.  A religion that professes a concern from the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a spiritually moribund religion.
I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love , operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, is one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.
If we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war and destruction.  In our day of space vehicles and ballistic missiles, the choice is either nonviolence or nonexistence.  

That this man won the Nobel Peace Prize is no surprise at all - for me, what is a surprise is that he has a Federal Holiday in our nation named after him and a soon to be National Memorial in the nation's capital.  

May we continue to develop the strength to love...

I did find a link to an artist who has created "Icons of the Movement."  Her creations are well worth a skip over to see.

16 January 2009


Potty Training Update. #3 has adjusted to wearing big boy underpants and has had a few successful moments.

(Yes that is George Jones playing on my ipod)

The NY Times crossword puzzle holds a special place in our household. The VOR and I scheme each morning (M-W, Th-Sun we just look at and marvel) to get the Arts section first. Our love of the puzzle has passed down to the kids in different ways: #1 likes to read the puzzle; #2 took the puzzle into school the other day for his black and white object (I thought that was pretty clever of him); but #3 takes the cake - yesterday evening while he was "training" I found him doing this:

In other news. It seems the rush of New Years gym joiners has subsided. While preparing to leave the gym the other day I overheard the woman at the front desk say 251 people joined after Jan. 1 - get this 100 them joined online. I am all for the comfort and ease of online shopping and what not - but can you really join a gym online? Odds are if you cannot or will not find the time to go to the physical plant to sign up you are not going to actively go there on a regular basis. The first week of the year the gym was packed. Now the gym is pretty sparse. I may not like the large crowds but I do wish more people would stick with their desire to get in shape and change their lifestyle. The real kicker is January weather, this morning at 5:12 it was 6 in the driveway, 4 at the end of the road and 0 when I parked in the lot at the gym. Hard to get motivated when it is 0 outside and the covers are so warm!

Finally. Earlier this week the VOR suggested we have fried chicken for dinner (a meal we have not had for some time). I love fried chicken, so there was no argument from me. I know that I Gourmet will never count me as one of their food photographers but I do like to think of myself as part-time amateur food photographer understudy. here is the best I could do, I hope it does some justice to the wonderful meal that night:
On a food side note the best wine surprise in a good while: a petite shiraz

14 January 2009

No Holds Barred

Today is a big day in my household: first day of potting training. #3 was apprehensive to put on cloth training pants or as we referred to them as big boy underpants but seems to have taken to them (so I am told). Of course I am at the office writing this while the VOR is in the theatre of operations.

The day causes me to recall a Fresh Air interview a while ago with Jon Katz. Katz talked on and on about his time with dogs and his training of them. He claimed to have came up with a method to house train a dog in a matter of days. I thought the method was pure genius. His method got me thinking, would it work with small humans? I then got out a pen and paper and configured an equation for dog years to human years then dog days to human days. I concluded that I should be able to successfully potty train my kids in approximately 23 days. One day I was sharing this information with a veterinarian, the vet looked at me and said it would never work - not because of the method but due to my formula. The vet said dog years are not uniform throughout their lives, some years are more than 7 and some are less and that it would be impossible to accurately determine a days length in dog years while the dog was still a puppy. Oh well, you cannot blame me for trying.

If you are ever in need of the greatest books on dogs, this is it.

13 January 2009

The Search for Authenticity

I suppose the title of this post may very well be the second part of this week's sermon title, first part: Water is Thicker than Blood. (Last Sunday's service was canceled due to snow, just about every January we end up canceling a service due to the white stuff. Back in the day when I was glued to the lectionary I would have to swallow the sermon and move onto the next set of lessons, but I am going on with the sermon - I would say it is like a rain delay of a baseball game; the game goes on but the lineup changes a bit). Moving on to this post.

The Boston Sunday Globe had a great piece this week about Rhetoric, specifically President Elect Barack Obama's (blogger has yet to enter Barack Obama in their correct spelling program!) use of rhetoric or the classical employment of public speaking. The article continued to give me hope for those of us who write sermons for a good part of our living.

Why did this article give me sermonic hope? Words matter. Well crafted sentences can move people. Well thought metaphors can provide pictures for the mind/soul during a sermon. Words, communication, interaction in the form of a sermon do matter.

04 January 2009

The Sunday of the Epiphany Sermon

Below is the posting of this morning's sermon.

Two notes. 1. The poem quoted is The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot. The sermon the poem was based off is the Christmas Day sermon preached by Lancelot Andrews. Please click for proper hyperlinked information.

The Power and the Glory
text: “members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19)
Sunday of the Epiphany

Mom and Dad knew; from the look of the strangers, they too knew. The strangers did not speak with their mouths – what good would it have done them, no one would have understood them – they spoke instead with their actions when they knelt down and opened their chests full of treasure: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The firmament told them about the child. Peculiar they were the only ones to notice when creation rejoiced and birthed a new star.

Let us pray:
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-
begotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know 
thee now by faith, to thy presence, where we may behold thy 
glory face to face; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(The following paragraph is a rough estimation of what I said this morning for an introduction to the sermon.)
We live our lives as humans east of Eden, expelled from the garden and searching for the way back home, back to perfection. We are like St. Augstine said creatures whose hearts are restless until we find rest in Thee, O Lord. This morning may we take up the journey, the pilgrimage back to the heart of God.

We say and even sing three wise men, but just like the parable that never calls the Samartian contain good, the bible never quantifies how many magi there were. The magi, the wise men, the priests from the Orient took a chance and sojourned East from Persia (modern day Iran). They were not the first to make the journey and the would not be the last the trade route and way were known – nevertheless they (the strangers, the foreigners) went at all is the significance of this day: The Epiphany, the day of Revealings.

The 20th century poet T.S. Eliot, writing shortly after his conversion to Christianity and during one his self described happiest times of his life composed The Journey of the Magi in 1927. He began by reworking a 1622 Christmas Day sermon preached by Lancelot Andrews before King James on the story of the magi:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year.
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter

Eliot took the story of the ancient journey of the magi and wove it into the tapestry of his own life’s journey. You and I may not write a masterpiece like Thomas Sterns Eliot but we are asked to imitate him as he imitated the magi – that is we too are asked to take a journey, a journey also to Jerusalem, a pilgrimage to the heart of God.

In medieval Europe the idea of pilgrimage became central to the life of the Christian. The stories of the faith were told in painted window glass, the year was observed by a series of fasts and feasts, and pilgrims took journeys to the city of God, not literal journeys to Jerusalem over land and sea but metaphorical journeys over patterned floors by circular, meditative, and intentional walking on a labyrinth.

Walking the labyrinth provided an imaginative portal for a pilgrimage to the Holy City, to the heart of God. (We could easily construct a labyrinth to be incorporated to the outdoor chapel) But for this morning let us hold steady on the idea of pilgrimage, more specifically the one taking the pilgrimage: the pilgrim. For this year I invite you to take up a new/old inscription: I want us to be known as 21st century pilgrims. I do not want to retreat back to medieval Europe, Reformation England, or 1st century Persia. I want us to be real pilgrims right here, right now – people on a journey, people honestly seeking God, people not stopping and never satisfied till we find what we are looking for.

I do not know about you, but I am uncomfortable around know it alls, especially religious know it alls – you know folk so confident of their convictions that they exhale smitteness. However, I am at ease around pilgrims – folk who do not have all the answers but folk who are looking and seeking. You see you can talk to a pilgrim, you are heard by a pilgrim, you are lifted up by a pilgrim because you are twined by the journey. And surely we all can agree that what we and the world needs right now are not more know it alls but more pilgrims.

The magi saw the star and assumed the King of the Jews would be found in Jerusalem, the logical abode of a king. The folk, however, in Jerusalem knew nothing. King Herod quickly called a cabinet meeting of the best minds and inquired: where was the king of the Jews to be born. While the cabinet researched the magi/the surprised pilgrims diligently searched for the child. You and I are like the magi, we believe in God – we have all in someway been touched by the wonders of his love. You and I are like the magi, we assume where to find God. But remember we are pilgrims, not know it alls. Pilgrims leave open the possibility to be surprised. For us, as for the magi, is not is God? that we know. The open question is where is God? The answer is to be found on our journey, on our pilgrimage. For when we are pilgrims we can be and are surprised by God, even perplexed and confused.

When we are pilgrims we may just be a lawyer in Bristol, England one day and the next a Reformed preacher crossing the Seekonk River with a bounty on our head for properly developing the principle of religious liberty. We may just be America’s “spiritual” founding father.

When we are pilgrims we may just be a preacher seeking to escape from our daddy’s shadow by working on our PhD dissertation in a sleepy Alabama town one day and the next leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, leading the Civil Rights Movement, being America’s prophet of the 21st century.

When we are pilgrims we may just pack up our treasure and follow a star. We may just endure the snickers, stares, and sarcasm as we journey. We journey hoping to be one among millions but when we arrive at our destination we only find a young scared mother, a scared father, animals and a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. We took the journey because we had to. We didn’t know we would be the symbol, the opening up of the gifts of God to the Gentile world. We didn’t know our journey would be the known and celebrated as The Epiphany.

On this first Sunday of the year you may have big plans for 2009 – but I challenge you to have only one resolution: to be a pilgrim – to be a pilgrim on the inward journey – to be a pilgrim surprised by God.

Let us pray:

Revealing God,
who calls us on a journey,
over mountains, across rivers,
of the world and of the soul
Call us once again for just a closer walk with Thee
that we may know you dearer
that we may experience your healing hand and loving arms
not only for our mending but for the healing of your creation
In the precious name of Jesus
we pilgrims pray
to thine be the glory, and the power forever and ever

01 January 2009

100 Books for 2008: an epilogue

Last year, full of ambition, I ventured to read 100 books during the 12 month calendar. I finished yesterday reading approximately 54 books. I was 46 shy, well short of my goal but 100 was always...er...just a number. With 54 books I easily surpassed any total number of books read before in a calendar year. (According to The Architect, I even read more than 43, he read only 45 - and apparently he read only books he agrees with, which I did also).

I suppose one of most entertaining aspects was coming up with my list of 100 books to read. In college the ultimate t-shirt read: So many beers, so little time; then in divinity school the ultimate t-shirt read so many books, so little time. Think of it this way. If I live till I am 85 (I exercise, don't smoke, very little red meat, and I have good genes) and read 50 books a year I will have read only 2,550 books! Having this target in mind makes the formation of the each year's list even more demanding.

What did I learn from the list? I love English detective novels, I do not like imaginary biographical historical fiction, electricity is not nearly as exciting as I once thought, I need more science, I appreciate sentence structure, it is well worth my time to read classic sermons, Eric Carle is quite inspiring, NPR gives great book suggestions, and it is amazing how many books one can read simply chugging through a book a few pages a night.

This year's list is heavy on fiction and classical literature. I will try to read a classic a month. This year's list is only 50 books broken down into five categories: Classical Literature, Theology, Biography, My interests and Wild Cards (books I discover along the way, books given to me, books recommended, books I stumble upon). I also hope to read a few books of poetry. The race is on. Today I finished the first one. The Heart Leans a Little to the Left by William Sloane Coffin. I have never read any of his works but I will now. He writes with a distinct voice, he presents two options then hammers home the one he wants to get across; along the way he quotes Latin phrases, Shakespeare, images from Greek culture, everyday stories - good stuff.