30 January 2012


If you have a moment or two today I invite you to mosey on over to materialgirlnola's blog.  She has written a very "mature" piece that I think you will find enjoyable.  Full disclosure - yes, materialgirlnola is the woman who chose to marry me.

29 January 2012

On de-baptism

I listened with perked ears as the voice from NPR reported about a case in France where a gentleman has filed suit to have his name removed from the Roman Catholic Church's records, in essence becoming de-baptized.  I listened for the obvious reasons, being a minister and all - but I also couldn't help listening because of the whimsical thoughts swirling in my head concerning the nature of a de-baptismal ritual.

How would one go about becoming de-baptized?  I mean its not like a tattoo that one could have "removed."  It is not like the water one was baptized in could somehow be dried or wiped off.  So what would the ritual look like?  Any ideas?

At the least I suppose the de-baptized would get a certificate stating what happened, dates, witnesses, space for reasons, and where the ritual took place.  Would one wear a special outfit or plainclothes?  Would the de-baptizee lose his/her Christian name?  Would they get an official towel with name and date embroidered on it?  Would/should the de-baptizee give their bible back?  Would there be a chance for an airing of grievances? would anyone listen?

Would the de-baptizee sing this after or before the service?

I am not demeaning this quest, it is a quest of conscience which I honor.  But it seems there should be some thought put into the ritual.  Ought Christianity be a way of life one can easily leave?  Or should it be just as hard or at least 1/2 as hard to leave as it is to enter?

Please share your thoughts and ideas...

28 January 2012

Jazz on my friends

If you are preaching tomorrow & needing a creative boost, here you go - trust your instincts proclaimers, remember, a genius is one who is most like him(her)self.  

This afternoon a bright and knows good stuff when he sees it seminarian posted this note on facebook.  I read it with great delight.  I will reflect more later, but this is too good not to share.  The background on this photo can be found here.

24 January 2012

If it works with Champagne...A trip to the grocery store...and a trip to the hardware store

A post in reverse order.

1.  This evening for dinner I made beef stew (although technically I did make it, my lovely wife saved it -you'll have to ask her about that).  Anyway...I began the day by making beef stock to go bolster the stew.  The one thing I hate about making stock is separating the fat.  You may say well why don't you just go out and buy a fat separator.  I have, 3 of them!  One of the kids put a marble in the OXO one, the model from pampered chef is worthless, absolutely worthless, and the glass one I ordered from Amazon was absolutely amazing but it was made out of such thin and fragile glass that one drop ended its existence.  So I prefer to make stock a day ahead, strain it, then sit in the frig to cool; this way the fat hardens at the top so all you have to do is skim it off.  Note: by doing this you also have a wonderful base for a roux.  But today I didn't have time to stick the stock in the frig to cool and I didn't have a fat separator worth anything.  So I pondered how could I chill the stock quick enough (20 minutes)?  I thought, well sticking a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice water works why shouldn't it work with stock?  So I placed my stock in a bowl of ice water and stuck it into the freezer.  In 20 minutes (drum roll) hardened fat.

(I was so excited by my find that I forgot to take a picture until I had skimmed 2/3rds of the fat off).

2.  Earlier this week I went to the grocery store and spent an unusual amount of time wandering the aisles, perusing to my heart's content.  I love going to the grocery store.  I also love looking at the new products, this one by Kellog's really got me going.

3.  Finally, a trip to the hardware store.  The kids have been bugging me to no end to take them to the hardware store lately - it's my own fault I suggested it a while back.  They wanted to stock up on duct tape, brass fasteners, nails, bolts, flashlights, locks, you name it.  So this Saturday I took them.  We were there for an hour!  They were in heaven.  They wanted to buy a scythe, a double bladed axe, sections of pvc pipe, latches, hinges, miscellany nails, bolts, screws & key blanks, batteries, lanterns, drill bits, some no. 4 rebar, links of chain, etc.  It was all I could do to keep up with them.  Finally they settled on their purchases.  One by one they waited in line then placed their items on the counter, waited for the clerk/knowledgeable person to ring up their totals, and then dumped their piles of coinage onto the counter to count (we were there another 15 minutes).  Oh man what a treat it was for them, it was better than taking them to the sporting goods store and I didn't think anything was better than that!  Imagine if they would have had a bowl of Krave beforehand?

23 January 2012

A Howard Thurman Primer

The response to my guest column in the Sunday Times-Picayune on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was most favorable.  What brought the most joy was the inquiries I received concerning Howard Thurman.  I love Thurman and have often stressed in public worship services and the lectures I gave at Xavier University the importance of Thurman.  Therefore I want to offer a brief primer on the man with the hopes that some will go discover more about him.

First off, this is in no way an exhaustive or thorough primer on Howard Thurman.  Instead, it is a brief post that will hopefully entice you to delve into the work of and provide you some guidance on one of the greatest spiritual masters of the 20th century.

Second allow me to offer a note on Thurman's writing style: it is clear!  Thurman was trained as a writer in a time when clarity was at a premium (see Christianity and the Social Crisis).  Pick up almost any early 20th century religious writer and you will notice clarity (oh how I long for those kinds of books).  I mention this because you will find yourself reading Thurman's works at quite a rapid pace.  You may even be tempted (as I was at one time) to think his books are on the light side; they are not!  Take your time reading and savoring his words.  The man had something to say, trust me - pay attention to them.

And now a possible order to introduce yourself to Thurman:

1.  With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (the only link I have is to one of the giant mega-lo-mart online bookstore, so please ask your local bookseller to order you a copy).  This book will introduce you to his life and provide a beautiful panorama of his thought and movements.

2.  Jesus and the Disinherited.  Thurman's most known and lasting work.  A brief but deep offering - almost a pre-liberation theology from an African-American perspective.  This was, perhaps, the book of the Civil Rights Movement, it is reported that Dr. King took it everywhere he went - it was with him when he was assassinated in Memphis, TN.

3.  From here the writings disperse into the fields of spirituality/mystical studies (practical mystical studies), sermons, meditations that emerged from times of silence before worship and history (spirituals and the account of the church he started).  These titles can be found here.  I would highly recommend Footprints of a Dream: The Story of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.  I propose that this book be the model for liberal/progressive church growth/new church start manuals!  Also, I would love to have a group of churches and pastors experiment with Thurman's model of worship:  before the 11 o'clock hour he would offer a half hour of silence.  I would love to see how the practice/balance of silence and spoken/sung worship would transpire today.

I would also recommend A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life, edited by Walter Earl Fluker and Catherine Tumber.   This will give you a nice overview of his writings.

Why Thurman?  Historically I think he stands as the important bridge transporting the church from the social gospel of the early 20th century to the social gospel for the mid and late 20th century.  He fully incorporated racial reconciliation into the ministry of American Christianity (he was the chaplain of the Civil Rights movement).  He also broadened the vistas of American Christianity to beauty of the contemplative Eastern traditions.  Furthermore, he rooted his life, his preaching, and his scholarly work in the mystical tradition.  Which I propose is the only way to assure transformation of the public and personal life - if one is not rooted in a spiritual and life-giving tradition one will burn out and more than likely lose the focus of ultimate reality.

I hope you will now go out and purchase or check out a portion or all of Thurman's works, you will be challenged, enlightened, and uplifted at the same time.

More about Thurman:
Biography from Boston University.
The Howard Thurman Papers Project at Morehouse University
The Psalm of Howard Thurman a documentary which I do not believe has been released yet.

15 January 2012

MLK, Jr. Essay

Last week at least five shots were fired on the corner of Carrolton Avenue and Claiborne Street, merely blocks from my house.  I thought about the shots and the celebration of Dr. King; and then I penned this essay which I submitted to the Times-Picayune and which they published this morning.  

11 January 2012

A Chair of My Own

Reading is so important, so necessary to the nourishment of the mind and spirit that I feel it should be as seriously ceremonial as a church service.  Ideally we need a comfortable chair with back and arm support, and good, well directed light, a rest for the book if it is too heavy to hold comfortably, a small table with our favourite drink to hand, and silence and solitude.  It is an ideal few of us are able to obtain.  
from the August 15th entry of Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography by P.D. James

I vividly remember when this quote was carried in Christian Century back in 2006.  I remember thinking I needed to purchase a designated "reading chair."  I longed for the little leather chair that used to sit in the old Union Seminary library.  That was the perfect chair, low to the ground, old, broken in leather.  When you sat down in it you knew you were sitting with your head already in heaven.  But that chair is long gone.  

Sometime in the future when I have a designated studio/wood shop I will make an Arts and Craft style Morris Chair - or I may stumble upon one at an estate sale.  I have plans for a chair stashed away in my desk but I am a ways away from the skills to build it (plus all of my woodworking equipment is locked away in an undisclosed location).  

This Christmas I was gifted a chair (with ottoman) of my own, a designated reading chair.  It fits the necessary requirements for reading (James' mediation on a reading chair reminds me of the Episcopal what must happen for a service to be legit).  The trial period last night proved that this chair has what it takes for serious reading.  All that is left to do is taunt the ever growing stack of books.  I can now, however, with confidence say: Bring it on books of 2012!  

Now, if I can only convince #2 and #3 to keep to the couch - lollipops worked yesterday evening.  

10 January 2012

Carnival Time Re-Post

Being in the beginning days of carnival season I thought it a good time to share my op-ed piece on Mardi Gras, For the New Pastor, Epiphany at Lent. This was my first "published" piece. I could not believe the response I received: emails from a former Lt. Gov. of Louisiana, folk who shared the same experience, friends, and a monk from Thailand. I even heard a mom's group at a Catholic church used it as a daily devotion with the words, "the Baptist gets it!"

Happy Carnival.

06 January 2012

Cookies for Breakfast

The other day my wife and #3 made a batch of our favorite cookies: Deborah Madison's A Little Nut Cookie, from her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (page for page the best vegetarian cookbook on the market). While my wife and I ate a cookie with a cup of tea in the late afternoon I remarked that this recipe may in fact make a pretty mean breakfast cookie!

On the one hand I am sure the pursuit of a breakfast cookie is my pursuit of my childhood, oh how I long for a Carnation Breakfast Bar. Does anyone have any reason why Nestle discontinued them? I am not alone on this quest, at least 5,570 have signed an online petition and 570 have joined the Bring Back Original Carnation Breakfast Bars facebook group.

On the other hand my wife and I really want to create a breakfast bar that is tasty and healthy and a better alternative to mass produced granola bars. So we took Ms. Madison's recipe and adapted it ever so slightly by substituting 1 cup of oat flour for 1 cup of all purpose flour. How do you make oat flour? Take regular oats and place them in the food processor till they are ground into a fine flour. One more note: add an extra 1/4 cup of oats when you make the desired amount of flour. We also added about 3/4 cup of mini chocolate chips. The cookies are still less sweet than most breakfast cereals!

The result? A delicious breakfast cookie - it is not a substitute for breakfast but a nice addition.

take that Mark Bittman!

05 January 2012

Falling Asleep in Church

My post from Monday got me thinking a bit more on falling asleep during worship - because I have myself slept in church and because I have watched people to sleep in church.

I distinctly recall my grandmother nudging me with her elbow to wake up a young child; I was born with the gift of being able to fall asleep in just about any place. And I remember a friend of mine who always fell asleep in church too. He would nod off and the pastor would always wake him. The pastor would not yell or trick his voice instead he would simply call on my friend in a subliminal fashion right in mid-sentence. Something like this, "Paul anguished over the church he started in Cornith, Jim wake up, they just would not follow his instructions." And I remember the elderly gentleman, at the church I interned at in divinity school, who would nod off as soon as I announced the gospel lesson .

I have never found it offensive that folk fall asleep in church while I preach. Some folk need the rest, some folk are just too tuckered to pay attention, for some it is the most restful moments of their week, and for others the hour of worship is the same time of their daily nap. I will occasionally tease someone for nodding off; usually, however, when people apologize for falling asleep I act like I did not know it or say I assumed they were simply deep in prayer/thought.

And falling asleep is ecumenical. While serving in RI the local UCC pastor and myself decided to hold joint services during the summer months. I preached at the UCC church for July and the UCC pastor preached at the Baptist church for August. It was a great experience for the summers we did this. I was on pastoral call for him congregation when he was on vacation and he was on call when I was on vacation. So the joint services enabled the two congregations to feel more comfortable with pastors and each other. Our orders of service were almost, if not, identical and we both had UCC hymnals, but they had one thing that we did not: cushioned pews!

The first Sunday I preached there I noticed those who were on their turf nestle in for their morning nap and I noticed those from the Baptist church who usually napped express much enjoyment when their bums were comforted by the presence of cushioned pews. I knew I would only hold them for a few minutes before the rhythms of my sentences lulled them to sweeter thoughts. So I employed a few tricks of the trade: I variegated the pitch and speed of my voice, I paused longer, I used lots of words that started with the letter P, knocked on the pulpit from time to time." My tricks worked but not in the manner I expected. Instead of saying how much they enjoyed the sermon the three or four from both congregations who nodded off were very grumpy for not getting their nap. I put the tricks away for the summer.

And believe it or not one of the reasons I am is a pastor is directly related to folk falling asleep in church! The first church I served was full of wonderful old souls. They were kind, considerate, and compassionate. And there was one grace filled napper; a lovely woman who would go to sleep right after the first hymn until she would wake up about middle way through the last hymn. When I announced that I was leaving for another call she came to the parsonage to talk with me about my choice. She was hurt and a bit mad. The next Sunday I didn't know if she would or would not attend worship. She attended and she came down front (she always had sat in the next to the last pew) and sat on the third pew. She tried, oh she tried, to stay awake but she could not; she fought all the way up to the first paragraph of my sermon before nodding off. After the worship she apologized for sleeping and said, "I tried" (actually she talked in the third person when referring to herself). She said she wanted to listen to my last sermons. She did that for my last four Sundays. Her pew change was a simple move but it was a moment of grace, it was a gift for me and I am thankful, eternally, grateful for her act.

03 January 2012

New Materials for an Article on Preaching

A few weeks ago I began working on an article on the length of sermons, I am advocating for longer sermons (not 45 minute sermons but a little longer, hopefully soon you can read about it). The one problem most associated with lengthy sermon is attentiveness. Is it an imperial expectation to expect tired and inattentive persons to sit still and listen to a 20-25 minute sermon? Or can one really expect to keep people awake that long?

People have long slept in worship. It is nothing new (see Acts 20:7-12) and one so eloquent as Howard Thurman once remarked concerning a woman who fell asleep during his sermons that he was content for folk to do so for nourishment.

Despite the (perceived) lack of attention I think the interchange of a human voice in the presence of a voluntary quieted people is a transformational moment that few experience on a monthly never mind weekly basis.

Two articles in the NY Times this week point to this the need for the kind of reflection we need in this age of technology.

1. Time to Tune Out by Roger Cohen.

2. The Joy of Quiet by Pico Iyer.

I am curious of your reactions to these two articles and your experience of attentiveness on Sunday mornings.

02 January 2012

The Kings English

This afternoon I finished the first book of 2012, Good King Harry by Denise Giardina. Reading a work such as this - one written in modern English but with the flow of 15th century sentence structure my - I was rent to use a phrase or two on the kids (for my wife was sorely exhausted from my questions and phrases over the past couple of nights). Upon finishing the book my middle child snuck upon me and smacked me on the bum. I turned and said, "You dare to spank the king on the arse?" At first he looked at me like I had horns, then I explained to him the meaning of arse and yes, I quickly explained that he could not use this phrase this week when he returns to school. He and his brother spent the next 15 minutes repeating the phrase over and over in whatever bizarre accents they could muster.

The episode brought to mind one of my proudest moments as a father, in a nerdy English minor kind of way. A few years ago my daughter's class took a field trip to Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA. The teacher told the class that all of the people the children at Plimoth workers would use phrases and mannerisms from the 15th century, so they would need a parent to translate and help out. As soon as I learned of this I volunteered to chaperon and quickly went to work and dove into all the texts I had at the house from the time period with one solitary goal: to stump one of the historical actors.

One morning the class and I entered a school bus (not an adult friendly school bus by the way) and trundled up to Plymouth. Upon arrival the kids were divided into teams of two and assigned one adult chaperon. With my daughter and her classmate in tow we explored the plantation. I staked out a spot near the center of things so I could spy my target. After a few minutes I found him.

I gave the kids specific instructions, what question to ask, and how to ask it. Two giggly girls walked up to him and asked their question (they were brilliant, calm, and very assertive). It worked, they stumped him. He looked quizzical at them for a few moments then finally had to ask them (and by this time me too, I couldn't resist) in modern English what they were asking. Being a fine and proper gentleman I explained that the two fair maidens were inquiring how a resident at Plimoth would cleanse oneself after a midnight trip to the chamber pot. He thought for a moment, smiled, and replied, "leaves or a cotton cloth."

The girls giggled and parted. I expected them to brag to their friends on the trip back how they outsmarted the actor but no they simply shared how terrible it would have been to use leaves.

Off subject but useful, nonetheless, and get this, this next part is free folks: If you, like me, wish the school would open back up early from break and are in need of entertainment tomorrow may I recommend the Elizabethean insult generator. It is great to listen to kids try and formulate an interesting smash-up of words.

01 January 2012

First Day of the Year Whimsy

I thought this gargoyle on the outside of St. Stephen's Church on Napoleon Avenue would be a great way to start off the new year.

How many times have you wished you could have pulled your cheeks aside and stuck your tongue out at someone while leaving church, I know I have!

Welcome MMXII