27 April 2010

Authority Figure

Last Sunday afternoon I took #1 to softball practice, although she has had several practices, this was the first I was able to attend. We arrived at the field a few minutes early, so I put on my glove and started to pass with her. In a few minutes another girl from the team arrived and (without asking) started passing with us too, then another, then another, then another. Before I knew it I was passing ball with 6 girls. They wanted pop ups and grounders, and I was happy to oblige. But then they started throwing pop ups and grounders to me. I informed them that I am not working on my game, my baseball/softball game peaked about 10 years ago. After a few minutes of this tom foolery another girl arrived, then approached me and wanted to know what time practice would end. I wasn't even sure I had #1 a the right field more or less what time practiced began. Luckily right at that moment the coach arrived.

Skip ahead a few days to last night, the first baseball practice for #2 - I volunteered to be his coach. At the appropriate time I called all the boys in to start practice. Before practice began there were boys throwing as hard as they could, there were boys wearing their gloves on their heads, there were boys running around, and one boy attempting to knock out the other boys with his bat. It was an interesting evening. As they assembled around me I asked who had played ball before, I expected half to raise their hands, only two had. Uh-oh. These boys are lucky that this is an instructional league and that I am laid back dude. (For a side note, as I left practice I saw another team practicing - there were all kinds of dads drilling the kids with proper arm placement and motion, they had their own bases, measuring rope, a designated hitting area, and boys all wearing caps, correctly!)

I mention these two stories because it is amazing how human beings accept authority figures. How many times have you seen some yahoo in charge of an event and wonder why is everyone listening to this clown? Then you realize you are one of the clowns listening to the clown. I am amazed more folk do not protest or offer a better alternative. In the two instances above the kids simply assumed I knew what I was talking about, that I was some sort of expert, that I even knew what time practice ended. As much as I want my kids and other kids to be free and independent thinkers when it comes to coaching - let's keep that free-thinking stuff to ourselves. Or my football coach used to say when you made a mistake (naturally you would respond I thought... but before you could start) don't think Norvell, do!

26 April 2010


This is my six hundredth and sixty sixth post. A few years back a woman at a Rite-Aid or something like that in WV was "totally freaking out" that my order came to $6.66, she begged me to buy something else. On principal I refused. Perhaps I could have bended a little, perhaps she could have knocked off a penny. The whole number thing has never bothered me. I seriously doubt the evil in this world goes around with 666 written on them - nope they have names such as ICBMs, and Citigroup, and Blackwater, and Massey Energy.

So in full celebration on my 666th post, a picture. A picture of me eating Louisiana grown strawberries with shortcake and Louisiana whipped cream. If I cant make it to JazzFest, at least I have my strawberry shortcake (in April!)

24 April 2010

From Bait to Good Times: Tribute to my first crawfish boil.

Shortly after I moved from Providence, RI, to this great city in July

2009, a parishioner made the cautionary comment concerning the food here, “Watch out, this city will thicken you.” Man, was he spot-on. I thought I had this city whipped; I thought Lent would be my time to reclaim my physicality. I vowed to abstain from alcohol (yes, I’m that kind of Baptist) and to stay away from sweets.

But the dinner party invitations wouldn’t cease. Plus, how could I not celebrate in March the absence of bitter winds, piles of snow and the gloom they bring? So I adopted my wife’s Lenten pledge to stop yelling at the kids (we have three under the age of 9; you try not yelling for 40 days and 40 nights)!

We made it through Lent okay. In fact, it was the first Lent-Easter season that did not exhaust me. High holidays take their toll on religious professionals. I took up running on the streetcar tracks -- the daily near-collisions with the front ends of autos don’t even faze me anymore -- scaled back on my weekly testing of neighborhood po-boy shops and came to peace with the realization that I do not have to sample every variety of bread pudding by end of my first year here. I seemed to find a balance with the gastronomical offerings of this city and the limits of my wardrobe.

But there was one important -- no, necessary -- offering that I had to force myself to participate in: a crawfish boil.

Growing up in West Virginia I would pass idle hours overturning rocks in the creeks to catch “crawdads” (the WV equivalent of crawfish). After I amassed enough to fill my tin bucket, I would walk to the river or to the nearest pond and start fishing. Crawdads were bait. Never in a million years would I have dreamed of eating them. Largemouth bass, pike, and even channel cats ate them; humans didn’t. I’d eat a mountain oyster before I ate a crawdad.

So imagine my surprise when I saw large quantities of “mudbugs” at the grocery store, high-dollar restaurants with them on the menu, and locally made screen-printed T-shirts advising folk to pinch da tail and suck da head.

I knew, however, that if I am to officially call this place home I would have to suspend my better judgment and dig in.

Hearing and receiving no invitations, I formed my own crawfish boil under the disguise of a church picnic. The day came: 70s, light breeze and blue skies at The Fly. When I arrived, the chef was already boiling. I moseyed over, picked one of the critters up, stared at it, put it down, and started nursing an Abita. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Soon the piles of the small red crustaceans were poured on the table and into buckets. Folk grabbed a plastic pitcher and began piling gargantuan helpings onto humongous plastic trays. I watched in amazement; I could not believe folk were being so greedy and gluttonous.

Then came my turn. I smugly placed only four or five on my plate, thinking I would display proper manners. I twisted the tail, tore at the second vertebrae and popped the meat into my mouth: fantastic! In a matter of minutes I had cleared my plate and realized why folk had served themselves such heaping portions.

It wasn’t clam cakes at Point Judith, RI, with the waves of the upper Atlantic crashing against shore. Nope, it was better. Crawfish, corn on the cob, sausage, garlic on saltines, the Mississippi, and new friends. Spicy, messy, and thickening – a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I did not suck the head. I’ll need a few more amber beverages before that. Next time, perhaps.

When you see me running my now-necessary 7 miles on the streetcar tracks and I happen to run in front of your automobile, don’t honk or display your favorite number. Instead have a moment of sympathy for a citizen of this city who is enjoying it a little too much.

13 April 2010

Its Evolution Baby

As a child every Saturday morning I would wake up well before sunrise, run into the living room, and hope against hope that that morning cartoons would be on. Every weekend, however, it was the same story no cartoons just gardening and animal shows. The gardening shows were mainly repeats for months at a time, so were the animal shows. Since 4:30am has never been the time network executives concentrate on first class programming the gardening and animal shows were not of high quality. I recall a man in overalls always reviewing shovels. And I recall a salty raspy voice describing the brutal killings of weaker animals by stronger more aggressive animals. In my mind I can easily bring to the fore a weak or sick elk being stalked by hungry wolves then the narrator describing each and every limb being torn from it. After the wolves gorged the narrator would then describe how the wolves had specifically picked the sick elk and waited till it was at its weakest moment before attacking it.

Now skip to this evening...

After the VOR and I had dinner, a glass of wine, and a heaping plate of strawberry shortcake I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a three foot streak of a munchkin go dashing across the kitchen floor, snatch something off the counter and then went streaking back into his den...er...bedroom. If that was not enough, it was later reported that he was in the hallway crouching down with binoculars zeroing in on his desired target.

All I can say is...this is only the beginning...

08 April 2010

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

While snoozing in the wee hours of the night on Tuesday I had the strangest dream: it was the Sunday after Easter and I was in the pulpit about to preach. I had prepared a humdinger of a sermon and as I started preaching everyone started nodding off to sleep, the more I preached the deeper they fell into sleep. Some people even stretched out on the pews and snored away. The terrible part was that I could not stop preaching, I wanted to but I could not. My normally 8 page sermon would not end, I would preach one page and another would appear. I kept saying in my mind this next part will stir them up, or preach a little louder and they will awake. Finally, I was able to stop, I threw my sermon on the ground and immediately everyone awoke. They were groggy but awake. After a few minutes of mumbling around the moderator stood up and chastised for such boring messages. I was mortified and speechless. At that moment I woke up in a cold sweat, the covers off of me, my pillow in the floor, and body all knotted up.

Usually, without much prodding, someone falls asleep every Sunday. I do not mind, in fact it gives me great pleasure afterwards to rib them a little. The best story I have is of an elderly woman who usually went to sleep right after the call to worship and would be out of it till the final hymn. When I announced I was leaving she performed one of the most self-less acts I have ever witnessed - she purposively moved forward to the third pew from the front so she could hear my last few sermons. Of course she only made it to the gospel reading but I still recall that as one of the most moving moments as a pastor.

07 April 2010

The Rabbi Made Me Do It

Last Thursday I went out to lunch with my colleagues: the Presbyterian pastor (the nice one), Episcopalian rector, and the Rabbi. As we walked down the street to the restaurant the Rabbi casually said: "So are you going to preach on something big on Easter Sunday, making any big stances?" In a hushed and slow tone I responded, "wwwwweeeellll I am completing my sermon series on renewal." He replied, "Oh great then this will be your apotheosis, the culminating sermon." Again in a hushed and slow tone I responded "ssssssuuuurrrrreee."

Being Thursday I had pretty much finished my sermon. It was a nice sermon, a good Easter sermon - nothing great, no great stands, nothing out of the ordinary. But after lunch I quickly scrapped my sermon and started over from square one. Easter - the biggest day of the year, an unusual day for preaching, an expectant crowd. Is it a day to play it safe? No.

I wrestled with ideas, possibilities, and directives. Then the sermon emerged and I wrote like mad Thursday night after the service, all day Friday, a good portion of Saturday while watching the WVU vs Duke game, and early on Sunday morning. The result? Validation.

I have never poured myself into a sermon like that before. I received the most positive response to a sermon in my life. I can safely say every other Easter sermon I preached was a safe sermon. Usually after Easter I am wiped out, no energy or stamina for the week after. Usually I take a week's vacation just to recover. Granted I was tired after this Easter but not wiped out. In fact I felt surprisingly refreshed, I even woke up at 6am on Easter Monday morning (which is a school holiday here in New Orleans!) The unexpected experience of energy was a result of the validation I experienced as a preacher. The folk appreciated the work I did and the content I offered.

Taking chances in ministry are not, on the whole, looked highly upon. But I think the time for playing it safe are over, we need to take broader and deeper chances as preachers. It is risky, sure but I think there are expectant ears awaiting.

Thanks to the Rabbi!