15 March 2011

Passing Ball

For Christmas in 1984 my mother, in an act of total selflessness, cashed in her points from work to obtain for me a Jim Rice Spalding baseball glove; I believe it cost $80, which was a monstrous amount for my family at the time. I loved that glove; it was my first "real" glove. My previous gloves were cheap models bought at Heck's (you had to grow up in WV to know about Heck's); the gloves were also the favorite of my dog Amos, who would just wait for me to leave them lying on the ground so he could chew on them, but since they were cheap imitation leather, he would take them over the hill, dig a hole, and bury them.) But the Jim Rice model was different in my eyes and Amos' - I never left the Jim Rice model on the ground!

The glove served me well for the majority of my baseball and softball playing days. But not even the Jim Rice could last forever. Last week I went to one of the mega-lo-mart sporting goods stores and purchased a new glove. It is a Rawlings model that set me back about $35. I cannot believe how good a quality this glove is compared to the Jim Rice, no it is not as good but damn near.

I have officially given up my dream of playing professional baseball. I never stood a chance but I still held onto the dream. Although if Jamie Moyer comes back next season I may reawaken my dream. My one passion then and now is to simply pass ball. I love passing ball.

Every evening before dinner my father and I would pass ball till mom said supper was ready. On the field I was Don Mattingly and he was Dan Quisenberry - not exactly a match made in heaven for passing but who cares.

We passed ball up until the last year of life.

On the evening I bought the new glove it was all I could to do after dinner to restrain my excitement to pass ball #2; I couldn't stand it. It was a fun evening; the new glove will take some time to break in but what a wonderful way to do it with my boys. I also decided it was time to introduce some of the passing games my dad and I used to play, they loved them. I dont know how good of a ball player the boys will be - they are head and shoulders above me when I was their age. I do hope that years from now they too have the simple love of passing ball.

Postscript -- While I was in seminary Ken Burns released his documentary on Thomas Jefferson. One day while eating lunch with some classmates and some professors we discussed the program. During the conversation the late Dan Champion chimed in that during the second and third hour of the program Burns ran out of material and spliced several minutes of his previous work Baseball. We all laughed, even the professors - this was Dan Champion after all! Once the table cleared leaving only Dan, Chad (now Dr. Thralls), and myself, we picked up the conversation concerning the Burns documentary...Champion made a bet, "I bet if ESPN2 at 2am put two guys passing ball on television, people would watch it." 12 years later I still know I would...

02 March 2011

The Passing of Peter Gomes: in Memoriam of the Man with the Anglican Oversoul

This week I learned of the death of the Rev. Peter Gomes, pastor of Memorial Church, Harvard University. In many ways, for me, it felt like losing Johnny Cash all over again. Although we only met twice he felt like a member of the family, a close friend, a mentor, an icon, someone who has always been around.

At the 1999 commencement address of the Colgate Rochester Divinity School Rev. Gomes was the chosen preacher. I showed up...late and...unprepared. I took my seat just as he stepped up to the elevated pulpit of the Asbury First United Methodist Church, donned in an otherworldly clerical attire, speaking with a marvelous cadence and rhythm. It was not until I arrived back at my apartment did I even read his biography. After the service he stood at the back door greeting each as we left, everyone of us, just like any Baptist pastor in any Baptist church in Appalachia.

I didn't know what to make of him. In some ways I scoffed at his clerical demeanor, his Elizabethan tongue, and seriousness which he took his profession.

It was not until I moved to Rhode Island that we he bumped into me at the Brown University Bookstore. As I rounded the corner to the religion section he greeted me with his infectious smile and charm, (it was the cover of Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living). I read three sentences and instantly decided to purchase the book.

Confession: In seminary I had a dual self-understanding of myself that severely impeded my ability to preach: one, I thought I was going to pursue PhD studies in Theology and two, I thought I was a born natural when it came to preaching and therefore did not need any help. As the last semester of divinity school approached I decided to take a preaching course for graduation, the only one offered was Advanced Feminist Preaching. It was a great class but I hadn't even took Feminist Preaching or Intro to Preaching. I made my way through the class but my skills as a preacher were lacking at best. After a year or two in the pulpit I realized I needed to undertake a crash course in preaching. I began reading, listening to tapes, and reading the Arts section of the NY Times (a Gardner Taylor recommendation). But the world seemed to be going in the opposite direction: short sermons, light ideas, and easy construction. But Gomes in his sermon preparation and life as a pastor would have none of that!

Over the past 8 years I am not afraid to say that I have read every book Rev. Gomes has written, I have tried to model my worship services after his at HMC, I even wear the cassock, preaching gown and preaching tabs as he did (his secretary confirmed that they were purchased at Wippell). Not to mimic but because I realized that this was a serious man undertaking a serious profession with humor, scholarship, and delight - and I felt the same way! And if I were to take my profession serious why not get up on Sunday morning with full intentions. No one complained about outfit (they actually said it made my preaching better) or my love of all things non-sacramental-Episcopalian but they did complain at my sermon length; to use a PG aphorism describing the expectation of most folk when it comes to the length of worship (and i.e. sermons), One Lord, One Faith, One Hour!

We next met at Andover Newton Theological School during a lecture on preaching. I was one of the first people in the building. I took notes on how he conducted himself, not only what he said but how he said it. After the engagement I waited my turn in line to introduce myself and then ask a couple of questions. He took the time to answer and to encourage.

This week we have lost a great human being, and a great preacher. The response has been tremendous. I think most feel like we have lost the last of the great preachers. But I think if Rev. Gomes was anything he was an encourager and a model for the possibility. If a preacher can preach for 45 minutes to standing room only crowds at "Godless Harvard," then certainly the rest of us can button down and do a damn good job at sermons we prepare and deliver at the congregations we serve!