27 February 2009

Even Bono?

Yesterday #1 had her first soccer game of the year. The VOR and I were given specific instructions not to cheer, call out her name, or anything else that I suppose would fall under the embarrassing parental excitement category. Needless to say we cheered and #1 never even noticed.

As I took a five minute break from writing the sermon (the first week in Lent is always tough one not because of content but because of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday festivities) this link caught me eye.

Even if your father is Bono your kids are embarrassed by you. Oh well.

One final note, the box of Girl Scout cookies is about to do me in. We have to get rid of these things. Funny how the craving of the cookies convinces makes you say the most irrational things like, "If we eat them all in a hurry then they will be gone and we will stop eating them."

25 February 2009

Mardi Madness and General Materials

I was rather pleased with my children yesterday. I dressed up in a totally ridiculous outfit yesterday. When I walked #1 to school she was not the least bit embarrassed or discouraged, in fact she kind of liked it (although some of the mothers who were dropping off their kids looked at me in abject horror, all because I did not match? come on). And then there was #2, normally the kid is as shy as a bobcat but yesterday at the church's Mardi Gras party he eagerly wore his hat and mask. #3 well, he was all over the place yesterday - rather full of himself - he played the piano, jumped up and down, ate pancakes, and had greatly contributed to the wild rumpus.

While on vacation last week I took my cassock to be dry cleaned. Taking it to the cleaners is always an exciting adventure because the people working there never have a clue how to classify it. They have put it under gown, wedding gown, dress, special garment, but finally it was classified under the correct rubric: uniform.
While on vacation my mother, and the First Family went to the Charleston Town Center to pick up some birthday presents for the kids. #1 wanted a pair of Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. Since we were at a shoe shop #2 and #3 decided they wanted shoes too. #2 tried his on and I asked him to show me how fast they were. How fast were they? So fast I could not capture him!
Being at the mall we decided to also pick up an ice cream cake for #1's party. As we bought it the VOR asked the kid working there if he could write on it, he said no. So the VOR took matters into her own hands and asked if she could write on it, he said sure thing.Afterwards we arrived back at my mother's and had at it.Then it was time to clean up (#3 has an unusual affection for vacuum cleaners and brooms.)When we arrived back in RI I had to go over to the library to pick up a title that was suggested. Our local library did not have the particular volume so I went over to the neighboring town to check it out. I love going to this library, what other public libraries are located in a former Cisterican Monastery? What other public library has a hall like this?
Finally, yesterday I received a letter at work concerning a member. The member happens to work at the large insurance company headquarters here in town. Apparently the company encourages employees to volunteer at local non-profit organizations. So the letter came explaining the program and informing me that the church member would be volunteering soon. So far so good. However, when I examined the letter closely I noticed the odd opening salutation: Dear Ms. Norvell.

24 February 2009

Fun Tuesday

I love this day, Fat Tuesday, primarily because I never knew of it while growing up.  I love getting dressed up in my designated "Mardi Gras" pants, acting like a goofball at church, and eating as much junk as possible.  My Lenten practice this year: to finally pray through the book of Psalms.  

I have learned from past seasons of Lent not to get too energetic about my Lenten practices.  I have also learned to calm down the activities at the Pancake Supper.  One year I had a full line of pancake related activities: eating contest (who could eat the most in two minutes), whistling contest (who could whistle first after eating a pancake, relay race (each team had one big spatula, they had to increase how many pancakes each round), and a pancake toss.  The games are a blast but one year I got the kids a little too worked up and one kid vomited (granted he was sick before he came, but still).

This now brings me to some philosophical ideas #2 has shared with me the past couple of days. 1.  #2 is only sacrificing (his word, not mine) food  he does not like, which would account for 98% of the available foods.  2.  #2 would like one day to be president so he could end all wars, therefore he wants to write President Obama and ask him if he will go ahead and stop all wars so he wont have to do it when he is president - good request.  3.  #2 also is fascinated with Thanks-A-Lot cookies, although due to their size he thinks their name should be changed to Giants.

An observation from the trip to WV.  Several weeks ago the NY Times had an interesting article on certain people who have unplugged their refrigerator due to its energy usage (the article reported that most refrigerators do not suck up that much energy).  I cannot imagine a summer without cold beer or cold gins-and-tonics, that right there would be enough for me to never give up the benefits of a refrigerator.  The article however, did offer a great idea.  The folk who unplugged their refrigerators kept their perishables cool with a cooler.  Each day they would place a frozen two liter in the cooler.  The VOR took this idea and used it for our trip to WV.  How many times has the ice fully melted and ruined cheese, sandwiches, and candy bars?  How many? to many!  But an apple juice container full of frozen water hardly melted and when it did it did not create a puddle in the cooler.  

Finally, yesterday I went to pick up a altered pair of pants at Always-On-Sale.  While there I admired the Harris Tweed jacket I have had my eyes on for the past few months.  The salesman casually asked if I was interested, yes I was.  I then told him it was on sale online for $64.00, he did not believe me.  He looked it up and sure enough, $64.00.  From $495.00 to $64.00, I had to.  The addition of this sports jacket has enabled me to move one of my current jackets to my longed for "smoking-then-drinking-now-reading" jacket.  

A few years ago I entertained taking up smoking a pipe but decided not to.  Why?  First of all "burning" my mouth so that I could enjoy it did not sound like fun.  Second, all of the fiddling with it all the time.  Finally, after dad died due to tobacco related cancer my desire quickly faded.  I then thought perhaps I could have the world's first "designated" drinking jacket.  What about a jacket to wear while I sipped a glass of Scotch in the evenings or even some Baptist Bourbon, that's right check out the link if you do not believe me.  But then what if I developed a Pavlov's dog behavior?  Every time I saw the jacket I would want a drink, that wouldn't be good.  Finally I settled on my own designated reading jacket, a jacket with a working eyehole on the lapel for my pocket watch's t-bar and a nice pocket for my reading glasses.  

23 February 2009

Courage, Confidence, Character

At approximately 6:35pm The VOR and #1 entered the house with 13 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies: Carmel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties, Shortbread, Thin Mints (of course), Peanut Butter Sandwich, and new to us this year (and my favorite) Thanks-A-Lot.  Of course after dinner I sampled all of them - think of it as a Girl Scout pu pu platter.  

Thankfully I ran this morning.  

I thought about ordering a few extra case of thin mints then selling them later on in the year. Who wouldn't want to purchase some thin mints come September?


Even I wouldn't do this.  But I may want to interview this guy for my book on pigs.

22 February 2009

Back in the Habit

We arrived back in "wodeilan" - the new phonetic pronunciation by #3 of our state (yes, it is all one word) Friday evening.   Yesterday we slept in, unpacked and started to get back to normal.  

I am not posting the sermon from this morning, my publisher said I need to stop publishing my sermons online if they are ever going to make it into a book.  (That's not true I just wanted to say that.)  Nevertheless the sermon will not make it online because I am entering it in a contest later on this year.  (that really is true).  

Speaking of sermons.  I spent a good part of this morning going through the pile of the NY Times from last week.  While reading through my pile I discovered a review of Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum.  Go to the review and read the last two paragraphs concerning preaching and let me know what you think.
After I get home from worship every Sunday I always go down to the local news stand and purchase a copy of the Sunday Boston Globe.  And every week the proprietor points to the masthead and inquires in absolute puzzlement, "You want the Globe?"  I say yes and he rings me up.  This routine went on for about five weeks before he realized my habitual desire for The Globe.  Last Sunday I was in WV and unable to purchase the paper, this afternoon I went down to patronize the news stand and guess what he asked me?  You guessed it, "You want The Globe?"  

More to come from the trip to WV as the week progresses...

18 February 2009

Vacation All I Ever Wanted...

The family made it safely to WV. Unfortunately we all made it here feeling ill. Fevers, colds, sinus, achy bodies, sneezing fits, headaches, and ear infections (#2 had to go to the hospital last night).   Enough of that, allow me to share some first part reflections.

We made it halfway (Hershey, PA) the first night. The drive was long and tedious (lots of traffic in CT). But the drive was worth it as we checked into our hotel and the gentleman behind the desk pulled out a picnic basked full of Hershey Kisses and said "help yourself."

The next morning we moseyed over to the Hershey Pantry for a fantastic breakfast. The entire Norvell bunch had breakfast sandwiches: egg, cheese and bacon on a pretzel roll served with fried potatoes. Not to mention the muffins...
The meal was even better because two friends, Chad and Kelly, drove up to join us! After breakfast they showed us their new automobile: a Mini Cooper. After I heard Chad describe his car I thought hmm. I too have a Mini (I just do not have to tell people about the other half of its name: Van). Corny, I know but it did provide me with a hearty chuckle.

After pleasantries, checking out, and buying a birthday gift for my sister-in-law we headed back into the Mini and continued the journey. Along the way we stopped at a rest area and I saw this:Several years ago on route to Washington DC I picked up a good friend in NYC. As we headed south on 95 we too stopped at a rest area to grab some lunch. As my buddy climbed into the vehicle he realized his sandwich was plain and sadly said: "Ah man I didn't stop at the fixins bar." He was serious. I said go back in man, we have time and he did. Ever since then anytime I see a "fixins bar" I laugh, hope you do too.

Forthcoming will be some pictures from my sister-in-law's surprise 50th birthday party, fast new shoes, #1's birthday party, and general tom foolery - probably not till we return to RI.

13 February 2009

Getting Ready

Sometime Sunday afternoon we will arrive in WV for a week with our families.  Along the way we will see some friends, eat at the Hershey Pantry, and have some fun.  

09 February 2009

A Few Notes to Share

1. The Sermon I posted earlier -- I forgot to give proper credit for the title. I need to say I swiped the sermon title while listening to a pile of Dave McKenna cds I found his version of Three Little Words. If you are not familiar with Mr. McKenna please take some time and listen to his portfolio of recordings. Fresh Air did a nice tribute to him right before Thanksgiving. There is also a nice tribute page all about Dave here. Below is a video I found on Youtube. What set Dave apart was the use of his left hand, he plays it as a bass. A good friend is a pianist and he cannot for the life of him imitate Dave's style. Enjoy:

2. Today I went to #2's class to volunteer. I worked with kids on reading, sounding out words, and helped out with snack by refilling their glasses. I walked around and looked at the kids and asked if they wanted regular or decaf. The kids would look at me very confused, point to the juice I was holding in my hand, and say that stuff please. Amazing how a pack of 5 & 6 year olds can intimidate you.

3. Today #1's Girl Scout troop received a handful of badges. I tried to take some pictures but #s 2 & 3 were keeping me quite busy (the VOR is also the troop leader). Here is the best I could do:

4. Finally, today #1 picked up a book I was reading today and asked, dad who is Louis Armstrong. I told her a little about him. Then she asked: Is he related to Neil Armstrong?

Sermon.8.Feb.2009: Three Little Words

Below is the sermon from yesterday.  I finished the sermon on Thursday but when I went to proof it on Friday I realized the sermon had to be re-worked.  So here it is.  

I have placed a few editorial notes in the text to help make sense of a few references.

Three Little Words
text: “Simon, son of Jonas, thou lovest me?” (John 21: KJV)
The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

I am sure that you have either sung or heard And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. The 1966 hymn certainly points to the great hope that if followers of Christ would simply love then we could change the world. That was certainly the understanding a few years ago when biblical scholars gathered in Toronto to participate in a conference discussing violence in our world. As the scholars finished their presentation the panelists invited questions from those in attendance. One attendee stood up and rather cynically asked how could the church make any impact in this world when the world seems so averse to our message. For a few moments the panelists shuffled, politely looked back and forth relinquishing time for someone to answer when suddenly one of the scholars spoke up: We shock the world out of its numbness with our love.

We shock the world with our love, they’ll know we are Christians by our love, three little words, eight little letters: I LOVE YOU. The concept sounds so easy, the word rests so well on our tongue, yet we all know how difficult and hard it is to truly love. And we also know how cynical the world is to our ability and capacity to love. Folk can easily turn to historical examples of horrendous act committed in the name of Christianity from the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of heretics, the Salem witch hunts, the bombing of abortion clinics and shooting of doctors. And we even know our own cynicism to the tired old language of love. Instead of living in a life where the non-violent love of Jesus prevails we choose to fall back on the phrase “here in the real world, might makes right.”

However, we have to be able to look all of the cynicism showered upon us, admit the truth in it, but then be able to move on and say nevertheless. Nevertheless look at how transformative, creative, and life-giving Christian love has been in this world: a source for non-violence, a source for change, the major impetus for the abolition of slavery, equality of genders and sexual orientations, the environmental movement, peace, and education to name & etc. We will not be able to shock anyone with our love if we cannot reach beyond the nevertheless. The three little words we say to the world and the three little words God says to us have some bite to them, let us not tame and tamper it.

Before the gospel of John concluded the author had several major messes to clean up: Jesus’ death, doubting Thomas, and Peter’s denial of Jesus. The first mess John cleaned up the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection, he is not dead but alive. The second mess John cleaned up by including the exchange between Thomas, the twin, and the Resurrected Jesus, go ahead and touch my wounds. Finally, John cleaned up the Peter’s denial of Jesus with an intimate, hurtful, and love-filled conversation between the Resurrected Jesus and Peter, Peter, son of John, do you love me?

We like for our stories to conclude, we like neat and packaged endings. We do not like unfinished or unresolved stories. Therefore, we may be drawn to the pleasant job the gospel writer performed by tidying up the stories in the fashion the author did. Yet we all know that Jesus’ love for us and our love of God is not clean but is very messy. In fact anytime Jesus starts loving us and we start loving Jesus that love makes a mess of everything.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms. {the opening of A Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.}

Love made a real mess of things in our nation: why couldn’t we just leave good enough alone? Love will not let us leave “just good enough” alone!

The Resurrected Jesus appeared in John’s gospel to clean up some of the messes created before and by his death. Although all of the appearances took place only in the span of two chapters did you notice how long Jesus waited to talk to Peter? After Jesus appeared to Mary, after Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds, after Jesus had breakfast with the disciples then and only then did he talk with Peter. Oh we could fill the rest of this hour with our wondering questions: was Jesus avoiding Peter, was Peter avoiding Jesus, was Jesus mad at Peter, was Peter ashamed, & so on & so on… For reasons we will never fully know on this side of the Jordan Jesus and Peter waited to talk.

During Jesus final appearance before his ascension Jesus talked directly to Peter after breakfast. The text records no small talk, no pleasantries, not even embraces, Jesus cuts to the chase and asks Peter: Do you love me more than these (the disciples)?

Jesus asked Peter a thick question. Jesus looked at Peter and asked do you agape me? Peter responded Yes Lord you know that I phileo you. Jesus asked not only a thick question but an unfair one: Peter do you agape me? Do you love me in the same way that I love you? Peter responds, no I love you like a brother, a close friend, an intimate.

Jesus had spent his life perfecting the art of love, so much so that he elevated and broadened the definition of love. Tucked on the shelf, hiding behind a page, nestled deep in the paragraphs of ancient Greek was a term for love that was seldom used: agape. The early Christians snatched this word from the lexicon of the day and poured meaning into it, transforming it into the word we now use to describe God’s love for creation. This love is more than love of friends, more than the erotic love two lovers experience, this is love, a Love Supreme.

We do not have the sudleties in English to connote differing meanings for love; we employ the word love for a broad range of emotions, experiences, and adoration. We love potato chips, football teams, automobiles, towns, and books. You name it and someone loves it: pickles, beans for breakfast, meatloaf there are actual people who love them, no foolin’. {I have a strong dislike of pickles and meatloaf. Believe it or not, folk in New England eat baked beans for breakfast.} While we could easily say we admire, lust, like or adore an object or person we don’t, instead we use the word love as our verb of choice.

Despite our ubiquitous usage of love, it still packs a wallop of emotion and meaning. When the word is used in an intimate context with someone we care for deeply the three little words can scare the shell right off an egg. Can you recall how nervous you were the first time you uttered those words to you or first heard them directed to you? My palms get sweaty just recalling those moments. There was a great fear that your love may not be reciprocated! Jesus asked Peter do you agape me? Peter replied Lord, I phileo you. Jesus’ love was not reciprocated. At this point I think it is fair to say that Jesus made a wrong assumption about love.

Have you ever listened to John Coltrane play the saxophone? Sometimes I will sit in my chair and listen to the progression of notes and say he is just playing scales. Have you ever watched Bob Ross on PBS paint a picture? I watch him and say he is just slapping paint on a canvas. Have you ever read a Nikki Giovanni poem? I read them and say she is just placing common words in a neat order. Or have you ever felt the rush of air after an Anika Sorenstam swing? I said she is just swinging her club really fast. True but then I tried to replicate all of the events and failed miserably. Sure I can play a scale, paint a picture, write a poem, and swing a golf club but I cannot do them like a professional. Jesus capacity and ability to love was of a professional grade. He asked Peter do you agape me? Peter said I phileo you?

Peter has yet to fully realize what agape love is. But he is about to. Jesus asks a third and hurtful time: Peter do you love (phileo) me and Peter responds Lord you know everything you know that I phileo you. Agape love would not let Peter go, Agape love stayed with Peter.

The gospel of John ends by seeking to clean up the mess of the disciples but the end actually created more of a mess. Imagine that your best friends and family whom you love deeply abandoned and denied even knowing you in your greatest hour of need. How would you react? How would feel? Our feelings and reactions spelled out in narrative prose is how the gospel of John should end. Perhaps that is how phileo love would have the gospel end. But the gospel is good news and the good news aint just phileo love it is agape love. An expected ending would have Jesus saying to Peter I forgive you but I wont forget. Praise God the story does not end that way.

My hunch is that Jesus realized Peter did not understand what he was asking him? Do you agape me? Yes Lord you know that I phileo you. Jesus, therefore, changed the direction of the conversation: do you phileo me, yes Lord I phileo you. If you are like me your mind was caught in the couple of editorial sentences that foretold Jesus’ death. But if you would block those out what two words emerge? Jesus’ imperative, Jesus’ challenge, Jesus’ invitation: Follow me.

Sometime in the 1980s Dr. Gardner Taylor, now pastor emeritus of Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, NY, was the visiting professor of preaching at CRDS. One of his students at the time is a friend of mine. MY friend reported that Dr. Taylor gave the class two instructions for learning how to preach: first, read the NY Times, particularly the Arts section, for sentence structure and the possibilities of language; two, watch me and do what I do. I’m sure somewhere in Dr. Taylor’s subconscious the 21st chapter of John was percolating as he gave those instructions. Our sentence structure of foundation of agape love is the Bible. Our Love Supreme to imitate is Jesus the Christ.

You and I cannot naturally agape love one another. This was Jesus’ assumption with Peter. Perhaps in the moment Jesus forgot the countless hours his heart was forged, shaped, and carved with agape love. Perhaps he forgot the moments of doubt, temptation, and ridicule he suffered. Perhaps God’s resurrection of him filled him so with agape love all he could think of nothing else… Jesus’ conversation with Peter reminded him, however, of the agape journey. Once Jesus recalls this he invites Peter, likewise you and I too, on the agape journey to learn how to love like he loves.

After Peter and the gang learned how to agape the world has never been the same; after being touched by agape love we are never the same.

Agape love is not tame, safe, or comprehensible. Agape is sloppy. It makes a mess of everything. Agape is so powerful that once we come in contact with it we are never the same, we cannot even go on living as we did previously, in fact we have to be born-anew because of the path agape love calls us on.

Sisters and Brothers the Kingdom of God does not need any part-time lovers. The kingdom needs some sloppy agape lovers. {I pronounced sloppy to rhyme with agape, credit goes to Dr. Werner Lemke - emertius OT prof at CRDS} The world needs some sloppy agape lovers who say the world is not just good enough. We need to hear Jesus say we are not just good enough that God is calling us, drawing us nearer, nearer to a deeper love, a Love Supreme.

We describe our time together as worship, some have described it as a school of charity – a way to learn how to agape love. A way to learn to hear God say to us those three little words, a way for us to say to God those three little words and a way for us to say to creation those three little words. Three little words, eight little letters: I LOVE YOU.


Loving God,
maker of heaven and of earth
invite us and show us the way to agape love
love not as the world love but as
you agape.

08 February 2009


It was a busy day today, I have still yet to post my sermon or a recap of the big party yesterday.  Posts will be forthcoming.  Until then, here is an account of yesterday - according to the VOR.

07 February 2009

Chameleon Humor

Right now I am downstairs with #s 2 & 3 watching a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD while #1 and 3 of her friends are upstairs at the birthday party.  The party this year is a cooking party so #1 and 3 of her friends are each making a heart shaped chocolate cake.  If #s 2 & 3 were with them, er, forget about it. Pictures later this evening or tomorrow afternoon.

While I have a minute I wanted to share another experiment.  

This morning I took #2 to his first soccer practice.  The league #2 is in is an instructional league. A soccer guru teaches skills and all of the parents work with their kids.  Despite having never played soccer within three minutes I was made a soccer coach.  Although I have never played I have watched several soccer matches in my day and know a thing or two about the sport.  As the kids practiced dribbling I overheard a couple of dads talking about how the Boston Celtics need to pick up one more player.  

Reader, I have not watched a pro-basketball game since the late 1980s.  All of my basketball memories come from this era only.   

I moseyed over to the two dads and said rather forcefully:  I heard on ESPN last night that the Celtics were going to sign Deltef Schrempf.  One dad looked at me and asked "really? no foolin? He must be 45 years old"  I had to admit I was only pulling his leg but get this Mr. Schrempf is 45, how did that dad know that?  Mr. Shrempf has not played professional basketball since 2001.  

I know this is similar to the Folgers gag, but it is well worth adapting to whatever situation or conversation you happen to be in.  Another example to prime the pump: You overhear someone or are talking with someone about a new movie that is being produced about oh let us say George Bush.  At that moment you say I hear they are casting Ed Asner as George Bush.  

Prediction for this afternoon's game:  Marshall 75, Tulane 67.

06 February 2009

Necessity is the Mother of Invention...

As a pastor I spend a good chunk of my time with elderly or seasoned members of the congregation.  (I like being around elderly people because it is like being around my grandmother.)  I am amazed that more inventors do not spend time in nursing home and in-care facilities.  I bet they could vastly improve the quality of life for millions of Americans and make a bundle at the same time.  A few years ago during a bible study I noticed several elderly folk fiddling with their cell phones.  The problem was they could neither see the numbers to dial nor could they read the number of the incoming call.  

I thought someone should invent a simple large button phone.  Although everyone present agreed it would be a great idea I never pursued this idea.  

Over the weekend the VOR and I ordered new cell phones.  (Although we both drooled over iphones we decided not to purchase them at this time.  Instead, we went for the free upgrade phones.  Yesterday our phones came.  Apparently someone had invented the large button simple phone and apparently I ordered it!
writing exercise done, time to type my sermon: Three Little Words (I prefer the Branford Marsalis version from the Trio Jeepy album

05 February 2009

A Year with My Preaching Gown

Roughly a year ago the parcel via Royal Mail arrived at the parsonage on a Sunday afternoon!  

When I first tried on the cassock, gown, and preaching tabs I was not too sure; it took me a good couple of months before I was fully comfortable wearing it.  For the first couple of months I wore a clergy shirt with a tab collar but soon tried to wear a regular dress shirt and four-in-hand or bow tie.  This method worked but it felt a little, no make that alot, goofy.  Finally I purchased a clergy shirt with a dog collar and found my stride.  This is what it looks like in black and white (yeah I know a little too much hair gel).  

The outfit is quite flexible though.  For Ash Wednesday I only wear the cassock with a burlap stole.  Suppose it is summer, I simply forgo the cassock and tabs and only wear the gown.  When I married my nephew and new niece this summer I did this and found it to function quite well.It took me a good spell before I finally settled on this style.  I am writing about it because I have yet to find any other Baptists provide a nice overview of proper preaching clothing (indeed, I avoided the tempting thrice alliteration).  

Downsides of this style.  1.  The combination of a clergy shirt with dog collar (which are impossible to fasten), cassock, and gown does tend to get a little warm - so make sure the sanctuary is not too hot, if folk do complain about the temp just say you are keeping your preaching fresh.  2.  You have to wear a clergy shirt and collar underneath the cassock for the preaching tabs to look good.  Therefore, you have to forgo wearing ties of any sort on Sunday mornings.  3.  Some folk will giggle at you when they first see you if they are accustomed to you in another robe or vestments.  I did, however, find that most folk really dig it.  4.  Price, yes it is expensive!  You could buy a bespoke suit for the price of this outfit, but like the rep. said to me: "it wears like iron, you will wear it your entire ministry and then pass it on to whomever."  

For a fuller description of how I came to this outfit I did write about it here.  

04 February 2009

Recent Developments

1.  Snow fall accumulation from last night: 5 inches.  I thought I could get by with just shoveling the walk, nope I had to fire up the Gravely and have at it.  

2.  Does anyone know of any surefire cure of purging the Sound of Music soundtrack out of one's head?  Those songs are driving me crazy.  It is so bad that the other day at the gym, instead of singing along with The Clash I found myself singing sew a needle pulling thread, jam a burst of shine red or something like that.  

3.  On Saturday the family and I went down to the Winter Farm Market at Hope Artiste Village.  Thankfully the market is inside, warm and roomy.  We like to go there to get apples, eggs, and coffee.  That particular day I had #3 on my shoulders and went up to the coffee provider and tried out my Folgers request once again.  I knew the man humanning the booth was a no nonsense guy, cha-ching.  I walked up perused the selections and asked do you have any of these that taste like Folgers.  The man looked at me, did not blink, and responded: NO.  
While I am on the topic of coffee...I picked up the French Roast but when I got home I wondered if it is safe to call it French Roast or am I to still call in Freedom Roast?  I have yet to get the memo from headquarters telling me which way to go.

4.  I do not know how much I am able to divulge but this semester I will be working with a group of college seniors in their marketing seminar.  More information forthcoming.  I am presenting the problems of marketing a moderate-liberal Baptist congregation in the age today.  The students will be working with me on proper questions and possible avenues of exploration.

5.  While reading some Heschel (The Sabbath) for an upcoming sermon "A Sunday Kind of Love" I was reminded how enjoyable it is to read Heschel just for the enjoyment of reading Heschel.  The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.  

6.  I can officially say I have lost my initial aura concerning facebook.  But I have and do enjoy catching up with folk I have known since pre-school.

7.  Props to Neal Conan, host of Talk of the Nation on NPR.  Yesterday's show focused on the culture wars in America.  A caller from Iowa, I believe, called in to rant about homosexuality and gay marriage.  The caller attempted to equate pedophilia with homosexuality but Mr. Conan would not allow the caller to do so and bluntly told the caller that he was wrong.  I appreciated Mr. Conan handling of the moment yesterday.  

03 February 2009

I Spoke Too Soon

This morning #1 asked if I would put my reading glasses on to see how I looked next to the VOR.  Guess what: they are almost exactly the same.  I suppose that I too now have my own mavericky Sarah Pallin thing going on.  

Also, sometime this morning while I was at work #2 took a marble and dropped in the spout of the fat separator.  Oh brother.

In other news I finished the outline for sermons until Easter, sermons titles and texts can be found here.

02 February 2009

Gettin' All Mavericky

1.  First a catch-up.  Yesterday while walking to work my neighbor stopped me to say how much he admired my travel mug, at church several people admired it also; only one person cared to listen to my story about an encounter I had a few years ago with the potter Richard Bresnahan. (I can recall the encounter in his studio and recall the feeling of euphoria; he is amazing!)

2.  I have yet to figure out #3's fascination with the vacuum cleaner.  

3.  I do not think the bees are going to make it this year.  I know I say that every year but this year really looks bleak.  I wonder what all of the girls are doing in there?   

5.  Chicken and dumplings for dinner this evening - the VOR's speciality.  By the way, the VOR picked up her glasses today.  I told her she had a Sarah Palin thing working with them on, she did not find it funny at all.  

6.  Although I ultimately believe that love will win at the end of time I do believe irony has a large role in the present world.  Today I saw grass for the first time in three weeks!  Tomorrow, four inches of snow!

7.  Normally whenever I suggest a kitchen gadget the VOR suspiciously looks at me.  Imagine therefore the look I received when I brought home a "fat separator."  Reader, know though that the VOR loves it.  

01 February 2009

Start Walking

I grew up on the outskirts of town, on top of a rather steep and lengthy hill that laid right outside of city limits yet not formally designated as out in the sticks.  I had to walk home from school pretty much every day.  I did not mind, honestly I did not.  I even fashioned a shortcut through the cemetery.  My father never said he would be there to pick me up after school, he only would say "start walking and I'll meet you."  By 'meet you' meant by the time I would be just about to the driveway he would be in the truck about to start it.

This evening, in preparation for the forthcoming family trip, I was figuring up some mileage on google maps.  While looking at the different routes from RI to WV I noticed a new application which allows you to search for directions via car, public transportation, or walking.  

Here you go folks, if I were to start walking from Lincoln, RI to St. Albans, WV here is the route I would take:
View Larger Map

Sermon 01.Feb.2009: Crisscross Applesauce

Below is a copy of the sermon from this morning.  It was only the second sermon I have preached this year!  Last week's was somewhere between an address and a sermon.  I was able to record it with our new Flip camera but a 25 minute sermon exceeds youtubes upload capabilities, but I am still tooling around.

Crisscross Applesauce
text: “I have a calmed and quieted soul.” (Ps. 131:2)
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Holy Communion – 1.Feb.2009

Let us begin with this scenario – you are over at the parsonage talking to me in the living room when all of a sudden I excuse myself: perhaps the #s 1, 2, & 3 have the First Lady tied up, perhaps the #s have filled the bathtub full of snow. As I am absent you, being nosy, happen to spy a photo album partially open and say to yourself don’t mind if I do. The photo album in your hands contains the pictures of our wedding 12 years ago. The photo you turn to first is the one of my classmate from seminary dressed in a white jump suit doing his Elvis impression (not the young G.I. Elvis but the older and, er, thicker Elvis). As you admire the picture you hear me returning to the living room and you quickly shut the album and replace it back to its proper place.

From that sole picture you could tell a great deal about our wedding – that is was fun, a little corny, fairly memorable. But you could not fully grasp the wedding if you went solely by that one picture. If you were comfortable in my presence you would ask to see the remaining pictures. Then I would sit next to you and we would peruse the album together. I would show you the last picture of me and my grandmother, one of the few pictures of my father smiling, the unlit, thankfully, blue light behind the cross at Lori’s church, and pictures of friends and family.

This morning we have snuck a peek at Psalm 131, it is one picture out of 150 pictures that make up the Psalter. We cannot fully grasp the breadth and variety of the religious experiences of the prayerbook of the Bible by looking at one psalm. We can, however, get a sense of the religious experience expressed by this one psalm: that it is poetic, difficult, and promising. If we were comfortable with the Bible and with God perhaps we would ask to have the rest of the album shared with us. If so, we would see pictures of terrible hurt, exhilarating joy, genuine surprise, deep longing, serious study, and pure honesty to describe but a portion of the pictures contained in the album.

We would see all of the pictures from the Psalms and the Bible if we were comfortable. But we are not comfortable are we? What is it about God, the Lively Word of the Bible and religious practices that makes us so uncomfortable? Do we not feel worthy? Do we feel too small? Do we think we are bothering God with our small requests? Are we embarrassed? Have you ever been in contact with someone for quite a while and suddenly realized that you do not know their name (not that you forgot someone’s name, but that you never learnt it in the first place). You are too far into the relationship to ask. Could it be with God we feel we have been together too long to ask for a formal introduction to God? We are too embarrassed to ask so we just keep on trucking with the distinct hope that God’s name will come to us.

This morning let us hold this one picture, Psalm 131 and re-introduce ourselves to God. This may be our first introduction, or may be our fiftieth introduction. Just like seeing a photo for the first time all is new and just like seeing a photo for the 50th time you notice new expressions and details you did not before, so too is our relationship with God.

This Psalm, this picture provides us a metaphor an image of a calmed and quieted soul which is like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. When a child is weaned the experience is more than just the end of nursing; there is an emotional component shared also. A weaned child has developed the inner capacity to deal with difficulty, pain, and fear. A weaned child has developed the ability to calm and quiet their self without the need to nurse. A weaned child is emotionally matured to the point that they are comfortable with their surroundings and life. Would the picture of our soul be that of a calmed and quieted soul like a weaned child?

Shortly after arriving here I took #1 to a story time over at the library. All of the kids gathered on a rug and formed a semicircle around the children’s librarian. The librarian asked if all of the kids would sit crisscross applesauce, quickly the kids crossed their legs and listened to the librarian read. I sat on a chair and watched the faces of the children: comfortable, calmed, and quieted. The kids were expectant of an enjoyable experience. It occurred to me this is what our relationship with God should be like, like kids sitting crisscross applesauce totally at ease and comfortable in God’s presence.

We may have broken down Christmas, we may have tucked away We Three Kings until next year but we still in the middle of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season. We are in the thick of a season that directs our hearts, minds, and bodies to the great manifestation of God as a child. God did not march into history as a monster or as a warrior. God snuck into history as a child. This season proclaims that God is not out to “get” us; God is not out to mess up our lives, or to cause us harm. God did not create us in order to make our lives a living hell. God is present to love us, forgive us, heal us, and redeem us. This is a God in whose presence we can be comfortable. This is a God whose presence invites us to let down our guard, to sit like a child who is expectant of God’s grace. We cannot become co-workers building for God’s kingdom if we are uncomfortable with God.

I invite you to put yourself, calmed and quieted in the presence of God. I invite you to put yourself in the picture created from Psalm 131. Regardless of how beautiful or how simple the posture and experience looks we all well know how difficult it is to quiet and calm our souls and to be in the presence of God. By waking up early on a Sunday morning, bypassing Meet the Press, a second cup of coffee, and a nice morning pastry we are all bodily confessing that as easy as it sounds to sit quietly and calmly in the presence of God it is not. There is not just one Psalm but 150 Psalms a vivid reminder of the difficulty of being comfortable in God’s presence.

When we are asked the question if your house was on fire and all of your family and pets were safely outside and you had time to run back and retrieve one item what would it be? Almost every time we choose pictures. Pictures, they hold not only our memories but are able to create new memories and tell new stories to our children and future generations. If you ever are in the Rochester, NY area it would behoove you to drive downtown and find your way to 19 Madison Street the address of the Susan B. Anthony House. I once took the youth group there. As we were finishing the tour we paused at Ms. Anthony’s personal desk. On the desk was a brittle black and white picture of Ms. Anthony at her desk. I examined the picture of the desk and noticed that she surrounded herself with pictures and newspaper clippings all pertaining to women’s rights. For inspiration, challenge, and comfort she surrounded herself with pictures. Pictures, pictures, pictures. We can safely surmise that the pictures time and again deepened her wellspring that enabled her to boldly proclaim: Failure is Impossible. Pictures, pictures, pictures.

This little Psalm, number 131, may seem insignificant but it and its 149 Psalms contained memories of Israel’s experience as a people with the Living God. All 150 were sifted, tested, and formed in the crucible of life. This one little Psalm, number 131, contains a memory and it contains a hope formed by the transforming experience of a calmed and quieted soul. This little Psalm contains a picture which aided Israel in its quest to be a holy nation.

The way you live your life, whether you acknowledge it or not, affects those around you. If you are angry all the time you will make all those around you uncomfortable. If you are happy you will make those around you more comfortable. Right now we are affecting each other; right now all of our heartbeats and our breathing are within a beat or two of each other. A calmed and quieted soul always “wins.” By that I mean when you are in the presence of an anxious or upset person the goal of that person is to get you anxious or upset. But a person who chooses to remain calm always offers a new equilibrium of a non-anxious presence. By remaining calm we will more than likely either drive the anxious or upset person bonkers or we will calm them down.

As the Psalm ends it shifts voice from that of a lone pilgrim to that of a pilgrim among pilgrims: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. It is right to ask if the actions of one person can bring change to others. I am willing to stake all I have that each of you here this morning have been deeply touched by another who had a calmed and quieted soul. I am sure calmed and quieted souls enabled this church to proclaim in 1838, We feel it our duty to bear our solemn testimony against slavery. We believe it to be repugnant to be the principles which our government is based, a disgrace to our country and above all, a most heinous sin against God.” We work at obtaining a calmed and quieted soul not for our own sake but for the sake of Love. Our work for a calmed and quieted soul is not for our own benefit but for the healing of the world, for the redemption of the world. Could our world at this time need anything more than calmed and quieted souls in Gaza, in Jerusalem, in Islamabad, in Kiev, in Kabul, on Wall Street, in D.C. in our neighborhoods in and our own homes?

Psalm 131. A picture to remind and inspire us. I invite you to copy in some form this Psalm and carry it with you for this week, keep it in your wallet or coat pocket, pull it out throughout the day and slowly repeat it, live with this picture. We need a reminder of the life we want to live.

God has given us pictures for our lives that are meant to comfort, challenge, and inspire. The more time we spend with the pictures the more comfortable we become with God, the more we come to know God more. This morning in one hand there is Psalm 131 and on the other hand there is the picture of Holy Communion. Both pictures are vivid offerings of a God who seeks to erase the level of discomfort we feel towards our Creator. When we are comfortable in the presence of God, we are comfortable in our own presence, we are comfortable in this world, we are comfortable working for justice, extending mercy, and practicing grace. I know, I know correlation does not equal causation but when we draw nearer, nearer to the Precious Lord history shows we become tenderized and conscientized and more comfortable with God.

The way is not easy the story of Holy Communion tells us that for sure. But along the way we have pictures, pictures of the good life, pictures of a different way of life, pictures of a weaned child with a calmed and quieted soul. May these pictures be our good news. Take these pictures and have them become pictures of a living faith that is comfortable in God’s presence.

Let us pray.
May we continue to strive for just a closer walk with Thee O Lord. May we approach you with hearts lifted up, relaxed bodies, open minds. May we approach you expecting your grace and love present in this world. May you find us O Lord as children, children sitting crisscross applesauce eager to add our own pictures to the album of a living faith. Amen.