24 August 2010

Religious Liberty and The Ground Zero Mosque

In response to this issue I wrote this op-ed piece that will be in tomorrow's Times-Picayune.

13 August 2010

You're Here for the Fried Chicken?

Last night I returned from the New Church Leadership conference in Decatur, GA; I was there as part of the Center for Progressive Renewal as a participant of the Bridge 4 Faith program. It was a fantastic program. My goal as a pastor is to help in the revitalization of The St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church. I think I have good ideas, I think the congregation has great ideas but how to implement them? This conference gave me a notebook full of ideas and several pounds of nuts and bolts. I will prepare my notes into something accessible for a wider group over the next couple of weeks.

Odd how going to a different city and listening to new voices can enthuse and ignite you.

Here is the day-to-day

Day One, a nice drive from NOLA to Decatur. If anyone ever says there is not enough land for the citizens of this nation just show them Alabama - there were deserted miles between exits. I began to think what if I get a flat tire or run out of gas. I checked into the hotel and decided to go for a walk. Instantly I realized odd things: even sidewalks, large lawns, quiet neighborhoods, so quiet that my presence caused a few folk to peer out their window wondering what was going on. After the walk I moseyed over to the reception the conference had arranged. Side note -- If anyone ever wonders: what separates Baptists from other groups (this conference was largely a UCC event) it is the presence of alcohol. It was a nice change to see clergy having a casual glass of wine or even a cheap American beer. After the occasion I continued my exploration of the downtown area then returned for a good night sleep.

Day Two, lots of plenary sessions, workshops, lots of notes, and ideas. I began the day hoping to find some sausage biscuits and gravy; the hotel offered them but it was terrible. For dinner the Bridge for Faith group all met at The Watershed. Once we were seated our waitress asked if we were here for the fried chicken? But of course, even though I had never heard of this place if they have a special fried chicken night - I'm good. Sometime along the way I mentioned I came from New Orleans - this changed everything! Even though the mashed potatoes did not come with gravy the chef made gravy especially for me, he even came out and met me afterwards. I have to say Chef's fried chicken was the best I have ever had! hands down. Better than my mother-in-law's, better than my grandmother's, better than my wife's and I hate to say it mom -- but even better than yours. The meal was full of great conversation, food and libations. We all left way too full and happy.

Day Three, more great plenary sessions, workshops, lots of notes, and ideas. A good friend from Birmingham drove over for the supper. We ate at the Brick Store Pub (supposedly the #2 beer bar in America - quite a recognition for a restaurant without any cask ale! -- yeah, yeah I heard it too--they usually have it). They were out of Ommegang, so I settled for an IPA, chicken fingers, and fries (yes, I felt like a kid ordering that).

Day Four, I headed back home for New Orleans. From the notes and twitter feeds it looks like I missed some great stuff.

Lots of good people, good resources, and overall great time. Look forward to implementing some of the ideas now....

02 August 2010

Rest, Relax, Renew why is this a problem?

i realize i was quite chatty last week on the blog. Sometime Friday afternoon it hit me why i was so giddy and relaxed: i was not preaching; the intern preached (by the way she did an amazing job!). Amazing how not having to preach totally changes the way one views and experiences the week.

All over facebook today friends and colleagues posted the NY Times article on clergy burnout. Why those of my tribe experience burnout, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and etc at such higher levels than other professions boggles my mind.

I look at colleagues who never walk away from their job, who trade their families for their jobs or who never cease talking about their job. I have had my moments of bringing my work home (solved by a new family rule - I cannot come on Friday till my sermon is done, I am not allowed to work on it at the house over the weekend). I have been known to have tunnel vision and only read theology books or only talk shop (the sudden lack of friends ruled this one out, I now keep up with athletic teams just to force myself from being one dimensional). I have even thought a meeting was more important than a baseball game (but coaching this year purged that idea from my head).

I am by no means a perfect model when it comes to health and well-being as a clergyman but I do think my approach is healthier than a lot of my colleagues. I do not know why they have such a hard time walking away from church work, turning the church work button off, or saying good bye to the office for a few days. It baffles me. I have fun at work, I love my job. But I have more fun passing ball with my kids and enjoy my time away from work.

I think about the historical nature of this job: did Jonathan Edwards, Elijah Craig, Lyman Beecher, Cotton Mather, or James Manning have a vacation or a sabbatical? Don't get me wrong I love and cherish my vacation time and am counting down the days till my sabbatical in a couple of years. What prevented their burnout? I think I know: they were multi-dimensional people with many interests and hobbies. They seemed to marry well, liked and loved their spouses.

Yet there is another reason for the lack of holiday. Being a clergy person right now is not the easiest profession. Most of us are working like mad to make it in this business. We all have old buildings, aging memberships, budgetary problems, staffing shortages and what not. There is the temptation to buckle down and work harder. maybe working harder gets more people in the door and more funds in the offering but if I lose my soul and my family what good is that?