29 May 2009

The Perfect Job for the Voyeuristic

In a few minutes the third moving company will be coming to the parsonage for a "walk-through" in order to give us an estimate for moving costs.

The walk through is a real bore. You answer the constant question: Is that going? or its variation: What about that? Then you point out to what is not going.

We are attempting to downsize selling just about everything we can, thank heavens for Craigslist. The most painful item to sell thus far: my Gravely tractor. One sold, one more to sell, and a roto-tiller. Painful but necessary.

28 May 2009

Announcement Ripples: New ID

As mentioned in a previous post my wallet was stolen while preaching in New Orleans (again I was not mugged or assaulted from the pulpit). Anyway, I needed to obtain a new driver's license upon arrival back in RI. Needless to say I put it off for a few days before trundling up to Woonsocket to obtain a new license. When I arrived at the DMV parking lot was nearly and several folk were milling around in the waiting area. I walked to the kiosk, pushed the ID button, and waited as the machine printed my ticket. I was #63 and my estimated wait time was 5 minutes. In less than two minutes my number was called, I walked up to the window, gave the woman some proper id, wrote a check, and she gave me my temporary id. It took all of 45 seconds! I told the woman I was calling the newspaper, she chortled and I departed.

I mention this story for what I am about to retell is my experience when I first obtained my license when I arrived in RI.

When I moved to RI I was in no hurry to get a new driver's license; I suppose I wasn't quite ready to have a Yankee id, so I did not obtain one. Needless to say my WV license expired and it slipped my mind. Fast forward a good bit of time to the moment when #1 was ready to graduate from the crib to a big kid's bed. One day the VOR, #1 and I went shopping and bought a solid maple bed at a local consignment shop. Later that day I was assigned the task of picking it up (along the way I was also going to get a haircut and go to the grocery store).

After getting a haircut, going to the grocery store (with a serendipitously placed cooler in the bed of the truck), and loading the bed I headed home. As I traveled due west up the crest of Cumberland Hill I stopped at the traffic light and proceeded to turn left. Reader, as the beaming rays of the sun glared my vision I mistakenly did not notice the subsequent left turn arrow, i.e. I ran a red light. Upon descending down Manville Hill (apparently direction determines the name of hills here in RI) I noticed the flashing lights and a waving hand of a public officer; I pulled over.

The officer asked for my license and registration. I gave him both. He went back into his vehicle, ran some checks, then came back and asked me to step out of the vehicle. While sitting in his vehicle the officer had called WV and discovered that my expired license plate had already been assigned to someone else. While sitting in his vehicle the officer had also called a tow truck to impound my truck. I asked the officer if I could just coast to the bottom of the hill then I would be in the town I reside in and we could act like nothing ever happened, un-nuh.

Being a kind and proper gentleman the officer allowed me to use his personal cellular phone to call the VOR(we had yet to enter the digital age) but she was not at the house so he phoned in a cab and arranged for a drop off point. A few minutes later a tow truck towed my truck and #1's new bed off to the impounding area while I with my new haircut and serendipitously placed cooler with groceries waited at the ubiquitous donut facility.

I hoped in the meantime the VOR would hear my message on the home phone's answering machine, come to Cumberland with all the necessary information, pick me up, and then we would head off to the DMV and all would be rosy.

Background information -- before the current governor of RI reformed the DMV, residents would go the DMV, located the kiosk, push the button, and receive a coupon stating their number and estimated wait time which averaged, no foolin' here, 2 hours and 45 minutes. At 8:00 a line of 4o people was formed a good half hour before the doors opened. We, the VOR and I knew, because we did just that a few days before only to discover we did not have the proper paper work to obtain a license. Oh yeah, you need to know this - doors for the DMV close at 3:30 and once you were in you did not go out to use the bathroom or anything.

The VOR never got my message. And a 25 minutes later at 3:00pm a cab arrived to pick me up. I told the woman cab driver where I lived and my story. She listened attentively and responded with a heavy Greek accent, no problem I will take you to your house, wait for you, then get you to the DMV in time. I said no way, she said no really. I then informed her that I only had $25 on me (the cab to the house was already $32), she said no problem again.

In no time at all I was at the parsonage. I ran inside retrieved all my paperwork, scribbled a note to the VOR, and ran back into the cab. Between the parsonage and DMV lays a series of roads with posted speed limits of 35mph. The Grecian cab driver did not heed their advising, she went at least 55 and at times 65 mph down residential and business lined streets, taking corners with the ease of Richard Petty all the while steering with her left arm, her right arm across the front seat, and head and torso turned towards me telling me her life story. I was scared silly. Somehow she parked me at the front of the DMV at 3:23.

I ran in, punched my number, and exhaled. While almost at the moment of relaxation I went over my documentation and realized I did not have a check on me. I ran back to the door, called the VOR got in touch with her and gave her directions to Woonsocket and asked - no pleaded - with her to bring the check book. She arrive shortly thereafter with the checkbook, the guard at the door even let her in. We went over the events of the day and waited for my number to be called. At 4:37 we both exited with RI driver's licenses! But what about the truck with #1's bed in the back of it - especially when the forecast called for showers that night.

We immediately proceeded to the nearest branch of our bank, withdrew the prescribed amount of money to "free" my truck, and made a beeline to impoundment. The facility where my truck was being held for ransom was a run down scrap yard of a place. I asked for the manager, told him my story, gave him my new license, showed him my money, and asked for my truck. He laughed at me, saying he could not give me my truck back till I had my ticket authorized from the police department (which was about 15 minutes roundtrip, plus another parameter of time till a detective decided to authorize my ticket). On top of that he said he was going home and to come back first thing tomorrow. I said come on man, I got my kids bed in my truck and it is about to start raining. He said alright, but you better be here first thing tomorrow, besides I know where you live...

26 May 2009

A Little More on the Announcement: The Importance of a Church Bulletin

Now it is time to share about my time in New Orleans.

The VOR and #s 1-3 piled into a Southwest plane and headed south a little over a week ago. We flew into Nashville (but the pilot referred to the Music City as Nashburgh) for a stop then onto New Orleans.

After there for a day or two we had eaten some great meals, rode the street car (throughly), got lost once, and saw some homeless men gathered around a light pole giving each other buzz cuts. Then it was time for Sunday morning worship. A few things caught me off guard while I was in the pulpit: one, the presence of kids; and two, a healthy crop of young adults.

Here is the sermon (barring a few grammatical changes)

For Just One Moment

text: “…we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

Ascension Sunday – 17.May.2009

The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

Let us pray,

May God take our minds and think through them

May God take our lips and speak through them

May God take our hands and work through them

And May God take our hearts and set them on fire.



urrently, roughly 1500 miles to the north and east of here, timid New England gardeners, with the passing of the last average frost date, are setting out tomato, cucumber, and pepper plants. They will plant, water, and allow nature take its course like gardeners everywhere. The sun will nearly scorch the tender leaves, the shock from temperate greenhouses to the wild outdoors of backyard plots will almost stunt their growth, and the wind will come close to snapping the brittle stems.

During our time of proclamation this morning I ask that we retain the image of a swaying seedling in our minds. On the surface a swaying seedling appears to be hanging onto life by the thinnest margins. A view from below, however, reveals a radically different reality. When the wind sways a seedling to and fro the stem communicates to the roots directing them to spread and protrude deeper into the ground.

I offer the image of the swaying plant as one particular metaphorical window to view this day in the Christian year, the day of the Ascension, the text in Acts, when Peter and John say for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard, and what I perceive God is up to by bringing us together this morning, on this day of extension of a call.


epending on how acute you observe the Christian year today may or may not be the day you celebrate the Ascension of Christ. Seeing and hearing no objections let us celebrate Ascension Sunday this morning. I dare say that no one here will be hosting an Ascension Day party (however, this being New Orleans I better watch my assumptions). I dare say for the vast majority of Christians Ascension Day will come and go without fanfare or hoopla. Yet I want to place on the table, without Ascension Sunday our faith as Christians would scarcely exist at all, if it did exist it would be of an immature vintage.

-On the day of the Ascension God in Jesus Christ said to the disciples: See you later.

-On the day of the Ascension, God in Jesus Christ said to the early church: You are on your own.

-On the day of the Ascension, God in Jesus Christ says to us: Grow up.

This is a day of tough love. God desires for us to be co-creators with him, no co-dependents. On this day God performs significant service by extending to us the space and time to mature properly. On this day God reminds how God is willing to take a chance on us. On this day God reminds that God’s faith in us is much greater than our faith in God.

Of course God is always present. Of course Jesus is Emmanuel – God with and for us. Of course, the Holy Spirit is with us as the Comforter and active generative presence in creation. But Jesus as the disciples knew him is no longer on earth – the very indwelling and incarnation – Jesus of Nazareth and Christ of Faith.

The absence, the ascension of Jesus, empowered the faith of the church to grow, to deepen, to mature.

-No longer could the disciples inquire about the meaning of a parable.

-No longer could the disciples hear Jesus describe the look on the father’s face when Jesus healed his daughter.

-No longer could the disciples say they were sorry over and over and over again for abandoning Jesus.

Without the physical presence of Jesus the disciples had to learn to live without him. I am sure all of us gathered have had to adjust our lives in some form or fashion due to the death or absence of a loved one. It has been nearly three years since my father died and I still have to stop from picking up the phone to call him when I have a question or a story I want to share with him. And so the disciples had to alter their lives without the presence of Jesus.

Indeed, the swaying wind quickened their faith maturation. The swaying disciples, just like us in midst of life’s readjustments, had to live their new lives with great trust in their decisions and an openness for risk; they had to – for just one moment lean on the Spirit and rely on their time and experiences with Jesus. The book of Acts records the chances and moments as the swaying disciples matured.


ur lesson for this morning recounts one of those times, when two former fishermen, Peter and John, spoke authentic words when they were in the custody of the religious and ruling authorities. With their backs against the walls, probably literally and definitely figuratively, Peter and John defied the command to stop teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus with their words, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Just a few weeks ago these same disciples feared for their lives and were behind locked doors. After the resurrection of Jesus the disciples were not on the streets preaching God’s great action. They cowered behind locked doors thinking Roman soldiers were coming for them next. They were behind locked doors with nothing to say. But after their time with the resurrected Christ, after they started putting his life, teachings, actions, death and resurrection together, after they were left on their own they realized they had something to say, we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.

We know very little about the personalities, particularities, or eccentricities of the disciples. Our gathered biographical information on Peter and John could possibly encompass a paragraph or two. We do not have specificities of their whereabouts, thoughts, or inner dialogues but we do know that primarily from Good Friday till the Ascension, they, had been through fire and rain, death and new life, abandonment and reconciliation. They witnessed first hand that God’s faith in them was/is/will be stronger than their faith in God. For just one moment they leaned on the Spirit and spoke from their experiences – they had something to say. we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Peter and John furnish us a model of authentic words, fresh words, clean, concise, and crisp words. When they are offered, lives are changed. We live in a time and age when religious language evaporates as quickly as it is uttered. Words crucial to the good news: forgiveness, grace, and love just do not seem to have the bite they once did. When, however, you discover a way to embody in deed and word forgiveness, grace and love you will witness the melting of a hardened heart, crossed arms loosen and drop, and cold steal eyes well with tears. When you speak from a center of faith that is genuine folk listen. Not every word we speak or hear should cause our ears to burn, but when the time is ripe we hope to either speak or hear living words and not empty phrases. When the time was ripe, for just one moment, Peter and John spoke from a new center of their lives, for we cannot keep from speaking what we have seen and heard.


few months ago while reading The Christian Century from right to left, well really from back to front, starting with the job advertisements before moving to the articles, I noticed the advertisement for this church. I knew of the church from stories Bill Rogers told while I was at BTSR and I knew of this church from legacy of Avery Lee. I shared with Lori I’m going to apply for the Senior Pastor position of a church in New Orleans. She just kind of looked at me – didn’t say no, but didn’t say yes either. (Allow me to drift for a brief parenthetical moment – after I interviewed with the search committee and agreed to preach in view of a call Lori said hold on a minute. I want to go down there myself and see if this is a place I want to call home. A few days passed, she looked me dead in the eyes and said “I do not need to go down there, I am putting all my trust in you on this one.” Brothers and Sisters I have invested nearly 12 years in marriage to Lori plus an additional 2 in dating. I have given her everything I have of my emotional, intellectual and spiritual capabilities. I do not mention this to influence your vote but know that more than a call is on the line here, a marriage is also).

Part of my preparation for the interview involved reading every article and book I could on New Orleans. Every book I read mentioned that this is a city like none other in America. On the one hand you have to be off your rocker to live here: hurricanes, crime, and weather that was described as wrapping a hot steamy towel on your head for six months of the year. While on the other hand if you allow this city to percolate through your blood you will never want to live anywhere else in America. The city definitely has something to say.

When I honed my focus on the church I was amazed to find that both aspects of a swaying seedling came to the fore. Different ones offered the usual assessments of mainline congregations: graying/silvering membership, lack of true direction and mission, small youth group and Sunday School, blah, blah, blah. (That’s the plant swaying in the wind.) Different ones, also, offered another assessment: this church a sleeping giant. (This is the deep root system of a swaying plant.) Here is a congregation brimming with talent, skills, and creativity. Here is a church with a rich legacy that few others can match. Here is a beautiful church on one of the most unique and majestic streets in America.

After I caught my breath. After I peeled away and deconstructed all of the glories of this church…I found a real church, a gathered people, who have been through fire and rain, through death and new life, through abandonment and reconciliation. I found a people who had something to say.


he day, is the day of the Ascension, when Jesus departed from the disciples so they could mature, so they could for just one moment lean on the Spirit and offer authentic and fresh words. I venture to say this congregation has/is experiencing its own ascension moment: a deep experience and sense of loss and loneliness that I can barely, if ever, imagine. I would expect to find a church behind locked doors, silent. But I discovered a church with open doors, with something to say.

The main question I asked the search committee and I ask you as a church is what do you want me to help you to do? As your pastor what do you want me to help you to do? I sense God is asking us for just one moment to dive deep into the stories that have/are/and will shape you as a people of faith. I’m here because I want to help you articulate your story, to become a part of your story. I cannot promise overflowing crowds but do not hear me saying I do not care about numbers, because I do. I can promise you however, that if you promise to work with me and know that I promise to work with you on digging into your story, this place will not be just “a church on the avenue” – it will function more like a Baptist cathedral, a spiritual dynamo. For y’all have something to say. Your stories have some real sinews and muscle to them. If for just one moment let us savor a foretaste of the sweet glory divine in the midst of everyday life. If for just one moment we lean on the Spirit then we can all say together, we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard. Amen and Amen.

Loving God, who first loved us. May we open our hearts for just one moment, to have your Love Supreme re-birth us as your servants, as your disciples, as your friendsto help heal our world, mend our wounds, and to reconcile each to you and one another. In the precious name of Jesus, your Son, our Savior we pray. Amen.

I think the sermon went well. Now to the importance of a church bulletin. While preaching - my wallet was stolen (no, I was not mugged in the pulpit). After the service I changed and hopped into the rental vehicle and started driving back down the avenue when I noticed my wallet was missing. I looked and looked but could not find it. As a precautionary measure the VOR called our credit card companies, indeed illegitimate charges were made. Although it was unpleasant to have my wallet stolen, there was nothing that could not be replaced. But what about a photo id? How was I going to get on the plane? This is where church bulletin comes in. Believe it or not, my form of valid id to get through TSA screening was a church bulletin with my name on it.

25 May 2009

Some More on the Announcement

Yesterday at church I read my letter of resignation. There is no textbook on how to do this. Do I read the letter, does the moderator read it, do I send a letter first, do I meet with committees, do I read at the beginning, during the sermon or after the sermon, & etc? I chose to read it right at the beginning. A good chunk of folk knew, a good chunk did not. The reaction? I gotta tell you the reaction was great. Sure everyone was sad, but everyone at the same time was glad for me and my family. I think the aspect that impressed me the most: everyone wanted me to succeed. Their reaction is a testament to just how wonderful the people are.

Here is my letter:

Brothers and Sisters of Lime Rock Baptist Church,

I write this letter to inform you of my acceptance of a new call. My last Sunday in the pulpit will be the 28th of June.

I leave after six years and eleven months of service as your pastor. During our years together you shared with my family and me your love, your grace, and your lives. I arrived a bit green with a definite “deer in the headlights look.” You provided me the space to grow as your minister, to find my voice as a preacher, and develop my presence as a pastor. I will leave with much growth still ahead; but I will leave with a deeply rooted and highly affirmative experience of pastoral ministry.

As a congregation you opened your homes and hearts to Lori and Seneca and me when we first arrived, made room for Glen and Johnny, and held us up when our fathers died. As a congregation you introduced us to grapenut pudding, seasonal ice cream shops, doughboys, and beans for breakfast. As a congregation we have laughed, cried, and loved together. As a congregation we have grown, been pulled and stretched, and forced to lean on God for direction and hope. I thank you with all my heart, mind, body, and soul for sharing your lives with us.

Over the next few weeks I will continue the difficult process of saying goodbye. No one is good at goodbye, but we will try nevertheless. An intentional goodbye creates the opportunity for us both to say hello to the next phase of life we will both experience.

Know that the Executive Minister of ABCORI, the Rev. Dr. Liliana DaValle will be active and engaged in this period of transition.

With all our heart – Thank you.

The service went as usual until the sermon. It was peculiar being in the pulpit, rather than skirt the issue I dove in head first. I stated that yes I am excited about the new call, but that it is not an easy leave. I love the people and am firmly thankful for their presence in my life. I then dove into the text for Ascension Sunday as an analogy for how God said goodbye to the disciples. After a bit of textual work I looked at everyone and said we have two choices: either we can avoid eye contact with each other or we can work at the hard job of saying and doing an intentional goodbye.

We all agreed to do just that. The next few weeks are going to difficult but I think worth it.

11 May 2009

Mother's Day Highlights

Early morning - the #s and I took the VOR out for breakfast.

Church - we had a good crowd yesterday, mainly because a couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary afterwards (lots of family and friends were present). For the message I went British by stressing Mothering Day - whereby we celebrate the church who gave us birth: First Baptist Church in America and the Baptist story in the colonies and UK and Europe. Folk really appreciated the message.

Afterwards - lunch then a trip down to south county to the coast, Point Judith, Iggy's for dough boys (at first #2 said he would not eat them, he was only going to lick the sugar off of them, the lo and behold he ate them - two of them!), then to Scarborough Beach so the kids could play in the sand. The VOR said it was the best Mother's Day ever, wow!
at Point Judith with the kids

VOR and #3 at Scarborough Beach
Me with my feet in the water. When the 45 degree water lapped around my feet I screamed Holy Moses! Oh brother it was cold.
But, the cold did not bother #1 & #2 they were running in and out, splashing, and I am pretty sure they would have rolled around in it if we would have let them.
Now how about this - a wood paneled station wagon with a surfboard, what are the odds?

09 May 2009

New Culinary Wonder

This morning The VOR made pancakes for breakfast while I prepared #2 for instructional t-ball. The VOR made her usual more than needed amount which allows for creative and fascinating lunch time inventions. Today #3 came up with a peanut butter-strawberry jam-taco. I was not allowed to make this at the counter. Nope. I had to put all the pb and j on the side, get a spreader, and a spoon and walk over to the table to make it.

How good were they (that's right, plural) - good enough to want three of them.

07 May 2009

Tis that Time of Year Again

This morning I piled the boys into "the mini" and drove to the barber for their first of the year buzz cuts. Two big movements this year: one, #3 did not cry and two, Mom did not cry when I brought them home.

Opening Day Festivities

A couple of weeks ago the town where I reside held its annual Little League Parade. Parents and kids were asked to assemble at the local Catholic Church parking lot and then march to the field. Sometime, however, between the initial announcement and the parade a parishioner of the church died; the funeral was scheduled for the same time as the parade. So a few alterations were made and sent out in an email. 1. We were not to park at the Catholic Church. 2. Park at the nearby funeral home. and 3. Please have the kids be quiet and respectful. The first two were no problem, the third, well...
As you can see from the image there were quite a few people milling around behind the Catholic Church (about 500 according to my estimation). No one was quiet, and the person in charge of the parade had a bullhorn - although I am pretty sure he forgot to turn it on, so he kept talking really loud with the bullhorn over his mouth; no one could hear him. Never mind that the local middle school band was there drumming a marching rhythm and playing "Yankee Doodle Dandy." As we marched past the church all the workers from the funeral home came out to cheer us on. It was the oddest and most amusing Little League parade I have ever been a a part of.

Here is an action shot of #2 and #3 (who joined us halfway for about 20 feet of parading.)

Once we arrived at the field the festivities were in full swing:
The Bouncy House

Then the Rock Wall. At first I said no, then the VOR said come on, look who we are talking about, after a few feet they will jump right down. Okay I said. #2 climbed halfway; #1 climbed to the top (30 feet) and rang the bell.

02 May 2009

Force Feeding a Steak at 4:30...

Perhaps you recall the Seinfeld episode when Jerry visited his parents in Florida. While there Mr. and Mrs. Seinfeld wanted to take Jerry out to eat, the only issue was that the parents wanted to take him at 4:30 so they could get "the early bird special."

Last night the VOR and #s 1, 2, & 3 went out for dinner; specifically we went to Tito's, in our opinion the best Mexican restaurant in the area. Here's the deal though: do we wait and eat at a normal time, put our name on a waiting list, and hope order prevails until after the dinner? Or do we leave early, avoid 5 o'clock traffic, and eat in relative peace in a sparsely crowded restaurant? We choose the latter.

As usual we were not the only ones with this "bright idea;" other families had the same idea. Although I must say I have never seen anything like the time Lori and I took the kids to our favorite pub one evening at 5 o'clock on a Saturday. The place was packed with moms and dads and kids. It was like it was family hour.

After our early dinner we went to a little ice cream shop in Providence. As we exited the establishment the VOR mentioned that I had chocolate ice cream all over my nose but I did not pay much attention for we were going to a park. While at the park a fellow dad and I made eye contact and gave each other a manly nod, yet he included a rather peculiar smile. Peculiar smile? Yes, in Yankeeland people are not naturally polite or nice. Then I remembered the VOR's request for me to clean off my nose. I reached for my nose, I could not see the chocolate but I could feel its stickiness! The other dad was not being friendly, he was simply amused at ol' chocolate faced.