27 October 2010

Why I Am Not a Kierkegaardian & other thoughts

On Monday the VOR took a job as a long-term substituting teaching job at a local middle school which meant that I had the entire day to myself. I made filled the back of an envelope with projects and things I would love to do. But the house needed cleaning so I thought I would spruce up the place.

As I cleaned I realized how scattered my mind is. As soon as I started picking up magazines I began leafing through them searching for sermon fodder. As soon as I started sorting out cds I began searching for certain songs I had not heard in a while. Then it hit me how intentional one has to be if they want to clean the house. Then it hit me that I could never live up to Kierkegaard's famous maxium book title: The Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing.


Tonight the church I serve and Temple Sinai will gather for supper and then begin a study of the Parables of Jesus. If you are in the New Orleans area plan on stopping by. This may very well be the first ever co-congregational Jewish-Christian study of Jesus' Parables. My job is to provide a Christian perspective. The Rabbi's job is to provide his interpretation and to provide rabbinic parables that either challenge, illumine, or critique the parables of Jesus.


Back to cleaning the house. My time picking up and following tangent after tangent provided me the first moments of quiet in weeks. Out of nowhere deep emotions of grief and sorrow emerged, affections I had not paid much attention to in a good bit. Amazing how my life has not provided the opportunities for silence and contemplation. As soon as I quieted my soul (even unintentionally) the very issues that were needing attention rose to the surface. Could this be why I have been on edge lately and not as compassionate and patience as I need to be? Probably so.


Rangers win the series 4-2.


I will be back in the pulpit this Sunday. After three weeks away I am champing at the bit to get back. The day is Reformation Sunday, the sermon is a back to basics offering.


What I wouldn't give for a gallon of cider from Hill Orchard's in Johnston, RI.


Finally, now that I am 36 I am finally giving up the aspiration to dunk a basketball (at least on a 10ft goal).

14 October 2010


Several weeks ago a fellow Emmylou fan asked if I would post a link to his fanblog: 365 days of Emmylou Harris. I agreed but never did post it. Here you go Paul.

13 October 2010


This past Sunday the church welcomed Rev. Dr. Charles "Chuck" Bugg as the Lee Preaching Series preacher. Dr. Bugg did a fantastic job, usually when I listen to colleagues I am thinking things like "I hope when I cross my legs my socks are long enough to cover the gap in my pants so no skin shows" or "please tell me I zipped up my pants" or "who turned up the a/c" or "why does so and so already napping" or "the church really should get a different colored carpet." But while Dr. Bugg preached I didn't notice my goofy grin, the tears that quietly fell from my eyes, or how loud I cackled. Yeah, he is that good.

Sad to say I never took a preaching class from him while I was a student at BTSR. We both arrived the same year, 1996. He felt some kind of bond with my class, he even attended our flag football games and rooted us on. One afternoon before a game Dr. Bugg was passing ball with one of us when all of a sudden Daniel Willis took off running and yelled, "hit me Bugg." We all fell over laughing and Daniel turned several shades of red when he realized what he said. That was a good day.

I recall my classmates on the days they had to preach in class - all dressed up and cotton mouthed. I scoffed at them for their pompousness. Outside I wanted nothing to do with preaching; inside I wanted nothing more. For me, the label of "preacher" was an insult, someone who couldn't make the grade in class, a second tier dude or dudette. After my second year I transferred to Colgate Rochester Divinity School to pursue studies in Yankeedom. It was the best decision for me and for Lori. I loved the liberation of the north. I soaked every inch of the culture up. But then came my senior year of study. What was I going to do? Apply to PhD programs or (gulp) preach? Slowly my hesitancy towards pastoral ministry melted, primarily thanks to Peter Carman (longer tribute here). If so, then I better sign up for a preaching class. I waited till my last semester and signed up for the only class available, with special permission I was admitted into Advanced Feminist Preaching (yes, I was able to skip right past the intro class). It was a fantastic class but I was in over my head. My classmates were better preachers and knew what they were doing when they got into the pulpit - that phrase "into the pulpit" has always bothered me but folk roll with it.

For two years at Athens Baptist I butchered my way through the lectionary; they were gracious people! At Lime Rock I started to find my voice as a preacher. Thanks to two people: Peter Gomes at Harvard Memorial Church and through the writing of Dr. Bugg - I read all of their books, imitated, and improvised.

When the moment appeared for me to pick my first preacher for the series Dr. Bugg was my first and only choice. He, graciously, agreed.

I am just through the first quarter of preaching (10 years, roughly 400+ sermons) with lots of room for growth and expansion. But I cannot get over how enjoyable it is to write and preach sermons. When people ask what I do I proudly say I am a preacher.

05 October 2010

Sermon.3.Oct.2010: The Cost of Discipleship

I have not published a sermon on this blog for some time. I am breaking this tradition by offering the sermon from Sunday. I spent a few minutes this morning cleaning up the sermon from Sunday but it is not a mirror image of what I delivered on Sunday morning. I suspect I deviate from the text around 23% of the time. I am hoping to spend some time over the next few weeks polishing all of the sermons from the Parable Series and see if I can do something with them, like publish or bind them...

The Cost of Discipleship

Sixth Sunday of Kingdomtide – 3.Oct.2010

World Communion Sunday

Luke 14:1-35

The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

George Carlin burst onto the stage of pop culture by forming a routine on the Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television. The English language is both poetic and beautiful, nevertheless, it is a crude language formed by crude people. But it aint just the English, the French, the German, go back further to the classical languages of Greek and Latin and go back even further into Hebrew they all contain harsh, crude, and uncouth words. But I offer that none of them are as harmful, demeaning or crushing as hate. You can call me every name in the book laced with profanity and it won’t bother me, all that much. But look me straight in the eye and say, ‘Travis, I hate you’. Or imagine the defeating feeling if I looked you straight in the eye and said I hate you and you know that I mean it.

In the 14th chapter of the Third Gospel Jesus told a parable concerning the great banquet. When he finished telling it to the crowds he turned to his disciples and shared these words, “If any man, come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, year, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

The rape of Tamar in Judges and the killing of the innocents in Matthew both rank as the most horrific and terrifying portions of scripture. They reveal the inhumanity of humanity. Their only redeeming value is the hidden brokenness of God’s heart throughout the narratives. But they pale in comparison to the passage from Luke. Jesus not only condones but demands the hatred of mom and dad, of sister and brother, of children, of progeny, and yes our very self. Jesus instantly morphs from loving Saviour to scary cult leader.

Conservative commentators have, by and large, ignored this passage. This is not the family values Jesus. Liberal commentators have gone out of their way to justify this Jesus in this passage, they have sugarcoated Jesus’s words then thrown more lumps of sugar on their interpretation in order to lighten the passage, come see the softer side of Jesus. Jesus did not really mean for people to hate their parents, siblings, children, and ourselves he only wanted to them to realign their understanding of community for in the kingdom of God it is not blood that is thicker than water but water (baptism) is thicker than blood (family). I think that is the end point of the passage but it skips over the difficult portion, no one adequately deals with the hating part. I think the entire meaning of this passage and of discipleship is lost unless we deal with the stone in the path. We can avoid it and still arrive at the same destination when we “deal” with it. Unless we “deal with it” we feast on what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace.

Hate is one of the strongest feelings we possess. Once you hate someone they cease to be human, they can be deconstructed, they can be killed.

Loathe, detest, despise, dislike, abhor, execrate; be repelled by, be unable to bear/stand, find intolerable, recoil from, shrink from; formal abominate. Antonym love.

You must hate father and mother, sister and brother, children, and your own self. In other words we must hate everyone, everybody, and everything! Can you imagine if we put that on the marquee, no matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve come from, or how much money you have we reserve the right to hate you with extreme passion. Yet that is exactly what we have to do. When we hate someone or something we expect nothing in return. If I hate you then I don’t expect you to hate me back, I don’t care if you are hurt, your interaction with me is done and erased forever and ever . And that is exactly the destination of discipleship. At that point we operate from an altruistic and disinterested fashion and we can only get there by hate, not by love. By hating everyone, everything, and everybody we arrive at the point where we are no longer in control or manipulative. Hatred enables us to pierce through and transcend this parable explanation to the new place discipleship. Hatred enables us to experience a new form of love.

In 1994 Saturday Night Live produced a commercial for a new car called The Lenox Paradox. Two automotive design teams produced two completely opposite cars (e.g., one was the most expensive car ever, the other the cheapest; one was the safest, the other designed to throw flaming victims hundreds of feet in a crash). One had 18 doors, the other had one giant door; one had the best brakes in the industry, the other had no brakes. In the end, the two were combined to create The Paradox. I offer this as a comical door to the language of Jesus, for it is paradoxical. Jesus calls us to hate everything, everybody and everyone in Luke but Jesus also calls us to love everyone. Jesus calls us to hate everyone, everybody, and everything but he also calls us to pray and love those who hate us, our enemies, and those who persecute us. Only by hating first will we be delivered from our desire to control, manipulate and dominate others. By hating first we paradoxically are able to for the first time truly love another, our neighbor, creation, and ourselves.

An exercise in hatred: This week we all learned the tragic story of Tyler Clementi the 18 year-old freshman at Rutgers University. Two classmates videoed him making out with another male, broadcasted the video and “outed” him as a homosexual. The boy was so distraught that he committed suicide. The media has responded in usual fashion but I have yet to hear hatred from the reports. Everyone agrees that it was a terrible incident but agreeing it was terrible will not change anything. People have to be moved to a healthy hatred of tragic consequences of a society that seeks to punish, demean and ostracize the other, any who differ from the norm. They have to get to the point where they hate that LGBT folk cannot fully live out their sexual orientation without being ridiculed, teased, bullied and yes humiliated to the point where the only escape is suicide. Only when our emotions reach the point of hatred can we honestly react.

I know this congregation represents a wide range of views and interpretations on homosexuality but I also know this is the only Baptist church in the region where individuals can be openly gay and lesbian and be included and welcomed to the table. We need not hide this practice and testimony. We have the opportunity to openly practice a love that has transcended and passed through the waters of hatred, our hatred has been baptized and made new by God’s love. We want to exhibit a community practice whereby our children, youth, and community see us as a community with differing opinions yet still loving one another. The goal is not monolithic theological opinion but a church with a robust theological diversity whose heart at the end of the day leans a little to the left. We need to be the sanctuary and refuge for the Tulane, Loyola, Xavier, or UNO student who has grown up hiding their sexual orientation thinking they were lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut, condemned by God and church with no place at the table of God. We have to hate that situation. This is where I think the Christian Church has its greatest opportunity. Jesus calls us to hate so we can be re-educated, born anew, re-loved into a new existence.

Love, from a Christian viewpoint, is not normal. It is normal to love those who look like us, share our worldview, love the same people we love, express themselves like we do. But Christian love expressed in Jesus says we have to hate that kind of love and be re-taught how to love. We have to learn to expand our love to new heights and depths; so that our inner circle are those who have waded into the water and our outer circle is all of creation.

A few weeks ago this church dedicated W.H. We all pledged to help raise this child in the faith. We all pledged to love him into a new existence. Over the past few Wednesday nights different folks have turned out for the programs. I know even more will turn out this week to chef Susan Spicer. But none of our presenters holds a candle to the view I treasure each week when Lynn and W. enter the room. As the door opens and W. crosses the threshold from outside to the Fellowship Hall his whole demeanor changes. His face lights up, a smile from ear to ear forms, and the child hops, skips, and jumps into the room. He runs to give K. M. a hug, he runs to pass out high fives, he spins, he laughs, he is the closest example of the Tasmanian Devil, he overflows with joy and love as his freely exists amongst his new family. The freedom granted for Wayne to be W. is priceless. It is a gift of this congregation and it is a gift of an expanded love. When folk realize that we love this free…watch out.

But there is one part still left untended, saltiness. Allow me to end with a plea for the continued development of saltiness. Take a moment and look around, you will not find the usual church going suspects here. I treasure this congregation. I’ve never knew pastoring could be this much fun. A few months ago R. C. forwarded me an All Saints Day sermon by Dr. David Farmer, former pastor of this congregation. Dr. Farmer took the interesting angle by reflecting on some of the “salty saints” of this congregation.

My congregation in New Orleans was filled with salty saints. We left the standard piety to the Roman Catholic archdiocese and seminary as well as the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary--a hotbed for fundamentalism during my five years down there.

There was a core group in the church who had “talent parties.” These were parties at which the invitees had to perform in some way. The musical talent in the church was vast, so we always had many wonderful singing and instrumental selections. There were some comics in the group who performed by telling us funny tales; the writers would read their latest efforts. My ex-wife used to love to demonstrate beauty tips and accessorizing using the most macho man in the crowd as her unwilling model. One woman collected Jesus memorabilia and often showed us her latest find and discussed the importance of Jesus painted on black velvet, Jesus’ face--visible to all the faithful--in a wedge of bread pudding, and the bust of Jesus with eyes that followed you wherever you went. Retired organ professor, Beatrice Collins, would show up and wow us by playing yet another memorized Rachmaninov piece on the piano, her secondary instrument. There was once a skit in which I was a character, and everyone knew the character was me long before I caught on because he never put down his coffee cup.

Once a visitor showed up who happened to be a nun. When her time to perform came, she sang--appropriately--”Climb Every Mountain,” the wonderful Mother Superior solo from the musical, “The Sound of Music.” The only thing was, though, half way through, Sister yanked off her habit and her long black robe to reveal a scantily clad drag queen who modulated into the song, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Brothers and Sisters we are called to hate: to hate the injustice, to hate inequality, to hate the environmental destruction, to hate corruption, politicization, and abuse of the Christian faith. But we are not called to hate with scowls on our faces, we are called to hate this world with a good dose of saltiness. If we are going to participate in the renewal, healing, and reformation of this world by loving it into a new existence we are gonna need to do it with a smile on our face.

We are alive with the Spirit of God, we are being loved into a new existence and we are participating in the new love. Let us continued to be re-made again and again in God’s image. Amen & Amen.

Links: Rev. Dr. David Farmer's Sermons.

The Salty Saints Sermon referenced above.