24 April 2009

Spring Language

Gradually over the last couple of weeks the flora has turned from a deep brown to a bright green. Asparagus has poked through the earth's crust, lilacs are budding, violets have opened, and #3 is trying his best to describe what he sees. Case in point, two yellow blooming flowers: dan-der-lions and daf-fer-dills.

Now the contest is on: how long can I wait until I have to mow the grass? This is an unofficial contest my neighbors and I have waged. Last year I was second to last, this year will I be last? Who knows. When we first moved here a gentleman from the church mowed the grass for me. But there were two problems, no three, with this situation. 1. He would always start mowing when #1 was napping. #2 he would get too close to my garden beds (I think he knew this made me a nervous wreck). #3 he would always mow over our tulips. Eventually I wound up mowing the grass myself. I do, however, miss the service if for nothing else the gentleman mowed the grass at the highest speed possible and would drink diet beer while doing so. I had seen men drink while playing golf, while bowling, selling cars, playing cards but never while mowing grass - a New England memory if there ever was one.

Furthermore, it is time for my annual Dan Champion memorial sentence. Dan Champion was a dear classmate and friend from seminary. One day while eating lunch Dan mentioned how frivolous the late night programming was on ESPN2, yet people still watch it. He said he bet if ESPN2 put two guys passing baseball people would watch it. As #2 and I passed ball yesterday I thought you know I bet I would watch two guys passing baseball...

Miss you Dan.

21 April 2009

A New Men's Clothing Site

My anglophile tendencies have a way of infecting almost every part of my life from choice of clergy fashions, to worship books, to poets, detectives authors, and especially clothing. I love the british look of a spread collar, cufflinks, and a windsor knot. Therefore, I was quite pleased to discover the S Buckingham web page the other day. I ordered the matching silk tie, handkerchief and cufflink set (waiting till a later date to disclose my choice of color and design). Yesterday my heart raced when the Nick the mailman delivered the package with the clearly labeled "Royal Mail" sticker. I opened to find a well constructed and sharp feeling gift set. I am making S Buckingham my first choice for ties.

A Tribute to Peter Carman

This weekend the Lake Avenue Memorial Baptist Church of Rochester, NY celebrated the last Sunday of their beloved pastor Rev. Peter JB Carman. I was unable to be present for the service so I thought I would publish my thoughts of thanksgiving for the person I consider to be my pastor.

A number of years ago when the VOR and I drove from Richmond, VA to Rochester, NY so that I could explore the possibility of transferring from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, VA to Colgate Rochester Divinity School one of the first people I spoke with was Peter Carman. I met Peter because someone pointed to him and his church as a modern example of church living out the social gospel. From the get-go Peter was warm, thoughtful, and gracious. His example and presence clearly steered my vocational choice.

I transferred schools thinking that I would have a better chance of getting into a top PhD program with a degree from CRDS. I wanted to devote my life to the study of the social gospel, especially the life and writings of Walter Rauschenbusch. The school, at that time, housed the American Baptist Historical Society's library (which is the steward of the Rauschenbusch papers). I did immerse myself in the life and writings of Rauschenbusch. Looking back on the school almost 10 years removed I can genuinely say they did approach ministry from a social gospel perspective. I took the maximum number of classes, audited two every semester, and spent any spare time in the archives; I even worked in the archives so I could spend more time with the material. During all of this time, however, I was worshipping at Lake Avenue and watching and conversing with Peter. His presence and words graced me so when it came time to submit application papers to PhD programs I found myself saying "No" and saying "Yes" to pastoral ministry.

Peter Carman witnessed for me that one could be a scholar, a pastor, a friend, a husband, and a father. Peter showed me how one could be a liberal and love Jesus with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. Peter showed me that being a liberal is not about being against conservatives but is about the true root of the word liber: to be free. I have taken this admonishment to heart - I am not a pastor who seeks to make others in my own image. I simply want to help folk to be free people, free people living out the image of God within them. I am still amazed at the various theological positions of folk at the church I serve. When I describe myself as an evangelical liberal I think of this model as my working definition.

After I chose (or it chose me) the pastoral vocation I went to work in WV. I loved the church and my time there. After a couple of years it was apparent (due to finances) I would have to explore another call. I looked for a little piece then Peter called "Hey Travis I used to serve a church in Lincoln, RI - would you care if I submitted your name." I said sure but there was no way I was moving to RI, I thought it would be good experience. A few phone calls, an interview and yada yada yada I was called to be the pastor of the Lime Rock Baptist Church. During my tenure here I have leaned on Peter and am thankful for his advice, his causing me to laugh, and his integrity.

Peter will soon begin a new venture as the pastor of the Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church. I know he will do a great job and the church will be a even greater presence in Chapel Hill and the research triangle area. Godspeed Peter and family.

One last note, while I was going through the ordination process Peter insisted on talking to my dad one day while we were in Rochester. My dad enjoyed Peter very much; my dad was not easily impressed but Peter impressed him.

07 April 2009

A Teachable Moment

Last week as I prepared my Palm Sunday sermon I went through at least four drafts. As I told the congregation usually multiple drafts means the expulsion of several hundred if not a couple thousand words. Last week, however, the words kept coming - eight full pages plus an additional couple in extended notes and questions I wanted to tackle. Finally on Friday afternoon I asked myself what was going on.

My main quandary centered on all of the questions of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Even though I do not like the combination of Palm Sunday with Passion Sunday - I understand the liturgical importance of celebrating both on the day. I tried to ask questions from the point of view of the religious and political authorities: why was Jesus perceived as such a threat? I have a shelf full of books answering this question, all from a social-scientific perspective. I can describe countless peasant bandits in first century Palestine, Roman taxation policies, and importance of Mark's specific usage of "Gentiles" in chapter 10. But this stuff is hard to formulate in a narrative more or less a sermon. Nevertheless if folk do not spend some time on why Jesus was killed then the surprise of Easter Sunday aint what it could be.

So I scrapped my lengthy sermon and went with a hybrid bible study/sermon. I wanted to wrestle with some questions: What was Jesus doing in Jerusalem the day we call Palm Sunday? Why were the folk waving palms and singing portions of Psalm 118? What did the cleansing of the Temple and the foretelling of its destruction look like from a Roman perspective?

The reaction: I could not believe how receptive folk were to it. I even surprised myself with some of the stuff I said! As we walked through Jesus' time in the City I was struck by how if the story ended on Good Friday it would still have been a transformational story. Why? Take the Last Supper story - God in Jesus Christ giving everything God has, Godself. Of course we read the story on the other side of the Resurrection but it is quite a story on pre-Resurrection side (but is there really any pre-Resurrection portion of the New Testament? Or any word that is not shaped by the Resurrection?). I asked folk this week just to stay with the story up till then so we can be surprised by God's mighty work on Easter.