23 June 2010


On Monday the NY Times ran a nice piece on the archives of John Updike. I was eager to read the piece, thinking it would provide an insight into how Updike edited his material. Although the author did reveal a bit, he was not nearly expansive enough - for my tastes at least.

Editing seems to be a lost art. I find at least two grammatical errors in the Times each day - this is saying something from a writer who averages three errors a paragraph. Contextual note: i have yet to find any error in the Times Picayune, they have excellent copy editors. I would love to have a personal editor for my sermons. (I have a personal goal that I know I have made it as a pastor when three things happen: there are enough men in the congregation to field a winning softball team, I have the summers off, and have a personal secretary). On good weeks the sermon process goes likes this: last sentence written first (I once heard Robert Caro on Charlie Rose say he could not write his biographies of LBJ until he had written the last sentence. I tried it and man is that an excellent practice), outline, first draft (freehand), reading of first draft, second draft (typed and preached), final copy, and copies printed for worship (about 12 people read along during the sermon). I have a colleague who goes into the sanctuary early Saturday morning and preaches his sermon to finalize his sentence rhythm; I like the idea but no way I am going to give up my Saturday morning...yet. But that it is a perfect week. Most weeks that does not happen. When it does not happen I feel underwhelmed by my delivery and final product.

I look back on former years and think how many times delivered first draft sermons to congregations. And folk wonder why churches are not growing! I honestly believe there will be a revitalization in classical Protestantism but it will only come by way of well written, and yes edited, sermons.

Updike article.

14 June 2010

The Senging Preacher

Yesterday at the beginning of my sermon I pulled out of my homiletical bag of tricks a few sung verses of a classic Tanya Tucker song (I am convinced that sermons can be greatly aided with a healthy serving of country music songs). The "trick" caused a few chuckles and some mild amusement in the congregation. But for me it set off the possibility of being labeled a "senging preacher." If that indeed does happen I would like to labeled appropriately. Thus my three definitions of preachers who sing.

1. First, there is the singing preacher. These are folk who are gifted singers but who spent too much time listening to sermons and not delivering them, spent too much time having folk look at the preacher more than them; usually are better singers than the preachers are preachers. One day they hear the call to preach and incorporate their singing into their preaching.

2. Next there are the preachers who would love to sing and think that if they incorporate singing into their preaching folk will appreciate them more.

3. Then there are the preachers who sing sappy hymns to, usually at the end of the sermon, to emote religious sentimentality with the hope of "winning one for the Lord." Why the odd spelling? It was the way my in-laws referred to them as. Think ginseng when you pronounce it. For the record, I enjoy listening to these types they are genuinely more entertaining than I will ever be and usually have a devoted following.

4. Furthermore, there are the preachers who can barely carry a tune in a bucket, enjoy music, and simply sing in their sermons for amusement with the hope of relaxing people enough to hear the word of the Lord. That's me.

12 June 2010

Dollars to Donuts

Other than the people (of course) probably the thing I miss the most about New England is the donut shops. They were everywhere. In the town I lived in then there were approximately 10 donut shops. New Orleans is a great food city but it aint a donut city. I have found a couple of okay donut shops but how I long for an old fashioned.

I woke up this morning, got the girls situated (#1 had a friend over), grabbed my sermon, and went off to the coffee shop. I sat down to go over my sermon only discover I had brought Justice Souter's Harvard Commencement Speech rather than my sermon. So I took a sip of french roast and drove over my new favorite donut shop.

This is the oddest donut shop I have ever been to. The donuts are okay, the kids are not crazy about them but the place is so bizarre I keep going back; for the record the VOR will no longer go there, but that is another story. How is it bizarre? The window faces the rising sun! It is a donut shop - a morning food! So every time you go in the woman behind the counter is always squinting and seems grumpy (I have yet to fully ascertain if she is a full-time grumpy or just grumpy due to the headache from squinting for hours). Next the place is barely 15ft sq but there is always two or three people working. (Last time the woman behind the counter shouted my order of two chocolate milks to the man at the cooler, which is right behind her). Next, they placed a table right in the middle of the room so to place an order you have to squeeze by the table and dont even think about bending over to look at the donut selection - there is no room to. Finally, "they" the workers and now the owner(s) are not ambivalent about their lack of sales. The other day I was told how the Lord sent them a table full of women for breakfast who "made their morning." They people are also completely disinterested in your donut order, they do not want you to mix and match, even though they have a selection of 10 different varieties. Oh yeah, and don't even think of just walking in and ordering a dozen or god forbid two dozen donuts; trust me you will hear about it, thus the VOR's reason for not going back.

Today I noticed a two paragraph narrative/statement explaining how the establishment would no longer be selling breakfast due to the rising cost of food and the low breakfast sales. The last sentence was in red, bold and in all caps informing the reader that being a donut shop they would continue to sale HOT GLAZED DONUTS. Whether or not they will they continue to sell cream filled, chocolate topped, powered sugar donuts is anybodies guess. Whereas the days of the hot breakfast bar are waning I stared at the selection of eggs, grits, biscuits, and sausage patties. The gentleman behind the hot breakfast area asked if he could help me. Innocently I asked for a sausage biscuit. Sure thing he said and then asked, 'do you want butter on your biscuit too?' What kind of question is that? of course i want butter on it. The gentleman informed the woman behind the donut counter (roughly a distance of two and one half feet) what I ordered. My order set off a chain of events that I have yet to decipher. It began with hushed tones, then a slight raise of voices about 60lbs of sausage, a trip to the freezer whence a box of patties was produced, followed by laughter, and the announcement to me that they would no longer be selling breakfast.