28 February 2012

On Listening

Over these past few months I have not regularly occupied a pulpit.  Over these past few months I have not really, on a regular basis occupied a pew either.  Part of the reason stems from the sense of loss: of habit, community, and identity  Part of it also stems from having to be silent!  Because preachers...well, ur...preach, we make a good part of our living talking.  Have you ever been to a meeting of preachers?  It is one of the most anxious gatherings on the planet - everyone wants to say something.  But what if you talk for a living and don't have a listening audience?  Perhaps you can hear my dilemma.

As the days of Lent are rolling by I want to look, find, and hear the blessings of my current situation.  I begin with my listening education.  My schooling took place with the first realization of how intertwined my spirituality was tied to my job.  It took me a good while to figure out how to pray again.  I realized how I took the act and practice of prayer for granted in my professional duties: prayer before a service, before reading, while writing, & etc.  So at dinner over the past few months, on a semi-regular basis - the theo-billy (for those who wonder about the correct pronunciation) family has been praying at dinner.  A thanksgiving for the meal, for the day, for our families, friends, teachers, world, the workers who harvested the food, the earth which provides our sustenance, etc.  It has been an amazing sound to hear my kids and wife praying.  Thus began my journey on listening.

Listening, that odd trait that we all say we are good at but really ain't.  I've been working on listening.  I'm hearing things that I didn't hear before: not so much new sounds like the squirrel who lives in our walls or the cats that whine outside our windows, gentle kicking of the table at meal times but the tones in voices of confusion, of hurt, of joy, of hope, of despair.  Sure, as a pastor, father, husband, friend, son, brother, neighbor I heard all of those tones before but not in the way I have over the past few months, they have been more crisp.   Now I fully know that a preacher has to earn the right to speak for and with (and even against) his/her congregation by listening to his/her congregation.  And I know fully know the importance of listening as a discipline of pastoral care.  But there is another level of this listening that I did not know existed.  Eyes have a sound of their own I never heard before.  The sound of happiness is more than smiles and giggles.  

I tell you something else.  I've been amazed at how little silence there is in a worship service.  Even though I have not been a regular at any one house of worship I have made my way into a synagogue, a chapel or two and some nice sanctuaries for services.  Perhaps the only "regular spot" has been at my computer listening to the live feed of Harvard's Memorial Church, still hoping to hear Peter Gomes' voice again.  I have always loved silence but never fully appreciated it in a worship service.  I have always been too nervous about the length of silence -  I became anxious about it, afraid people would be too uncomfortable.  But sitting in the pews one realizes how little silence there really is. And when it's present it vanishes too quickly.  The words, rhythms, and sounds need a little more time to sink in and penetrate.  Is it that what folk really want in a sermon/service something to think about and chew on for the week?  By all means yes, but I also think they want something to get into the marrow...and that takes time and stillness and silence.  

O world of sounds speak, teach me for I want to listen.

26 February 2012

Praying to Sing: Happy Birthday Johnny Cash

It's hard to believe it has been almost 9 years since the Man in Black died.  I damn near broke down in the pulpit when I shared it with the congregation during the time of prayers and concerns.  JC was like a member of the family, he will always be a member of the family.  I recall the sadness in the conversation that Sunday afternoon when dad and I talked about JC's death.  Today he would have been 84 years old.

I have wanted to write an essay on ministry based on the style and life of Johnny Cash, maybe one of these days I'll get around to it.

In the meantime I will share my favorite JC song:  Mr. Garfield.  I think it is a good representation of his style.  When I hear his songs I often picture the Baptist preachers from my past praying with the organ playing in the background.  I that is the best way to think about his style of music as a form of public prayer.

Lenten Reading List

I am taking a break from the fictive portion of my fictive sabbatical for Lent by adding several non-fiction works.  I am listing my books only because it will keep me from wandering to other books.  And if you see me ask me how I like one of them...

1.  Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit by Robert E. Kennedy
2.  Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh
3.  Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian by Paul F. Knitter
4.  Finding Our Fathers: How a Man's Life Is Shaped by His Relationship with His Father by Samuel Osherson
5.  Everyday Miracles: Stories from Life by F. Forrester Church
6.  Prisons by Mary Lee Settle
7.  Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd (maybe)

The first three are for spiritual direction in my own personal life and my practice as a pastor.  I am pursuing my own interest and renewal in Christian meditation.  The fourth is part of a reading list for personal understanding and professional understanding.  The fifth is a book of essays in a manner that I envision writing.  The sixth and seventh are fiction works that I enjoy.  Settle is such an excellent writer!

25 February 2012

The Door

A few days ago the sliding door to the "kid's bathroom" finally crashed which began a discussion on what to do next: Do we put up a new door or just put up a sturdy curtain? We decided on the curtain.

Today I went to the hardware store to find an appropriately sized tension rod.  Immediately a nice man saw the dilemma on my face and led me to the right department.  He had some bad news: Unfortunately, all of the heavy duty tension rods begin at 33 inches while our door is a measly 29.5 inches.  I looked at the worker at the hardware store and said well there's only one thing to do - I guess I'll have to widen the door.  The worker did not realize I was being a wise guy, began pleading with me not to do that.  I relented and said well if you say so I'll just buy one of the smaller light duty tension rods.

23 February 2012

Mr. Okra as the new paradigm for parish ministry

Carnival season for 2012 has come and gone.  It was a great time, but man oh man the crowds were huge!  I've never been apart of that kind of mass of humanity in my life.  Believe it or not most people in New Orleans look forward to Lent, we need some time to rest and recuperate after the parades and parties!  We need some time to fast after the feast.  We need some silence and some contemplation after the noise of the crowds and the sounds of the music.  We need the practice and observance of Lent (here is a shameless referral to a past guest column on just this need).

Yesterday some clergy in some cities imposed ashes on people in city streets and even in a drive thru.  Go to this post by a Baptist colleague in upstate NY for a nice description of this phenomena.  On the one hand it does seem to water down the practice by not being present in the service and not participating in the entire service.  Perhaps it does, perhaps it does.  So what?  Yeah, so what?

So what if pastors go up to people, remind them that one day they are going to die, rot, return to the earth, and then rub ashes on their foreheads?  If someone is willing to participate, willing to be reminded of their finiteness, willing to mark themselves of their reminding, so what if they didn't sit through Psalm 51, the passage from Matthew that I wish the RCL would change, and go through the time of repentance?  I say have at it.  For even cheap grace is still grace and even the dogs deserved to be fed (see Matthew 15:21-28)And while I am at it why stop at Ash Wednesday?  Why not offer the ashes everyday of Lent?

Really, why just this day?  What about someone who forgot about Lent or never heard about it - believe it or not some folk don't know the first thing about it.  Why shouldn't they be able to participate even if it is for only ten days or one Sunday?  I think there may even be a parable about this (see Matthew 20:1-16).  *for the record I still prefer the KJV.

What if churches took their mission to heal the world in the same manner of Mr. Okra?  Yeah, what if Mr.  Okra was the new model for evangelism.  What's that you don't know about Mr. Okra, here is an old truck version of Mr. Okra.

we have for-giveness, we have bible studies, we have the way of peace, we have something to say about what is the good life...

15 February 2012

The Perfect-Ultimate-Fantabulous King Cake

Disclaimer: this is a full blown product endorsement, fully free of coercion - they didn't even ask me, they don't even know i am up to this.

My first Epiphany here in NOLA a few years ago someone bought a King Cake from one of the local bakeries.  I was enthralled by the cake - the cake is pretty much just a light cinnamon roll baptized in sugar frosting then topped with about an inch or so of dyed sugar.  I really wanted to like the cake but I could not.  For one they were too sweet and for another I am allergic to the dyed sugar.  I tried different fillings (too numerous to list here), different styles of cakes from different bakeries hoping to find the right one.  But I never found it.  So I gave up on eating king cake, I figured the kids like so that is all that really matters.  Then a few days ago I stopped by the local European bakery a few blocks up the road and noticed a "Chocolate King Cake."  Now I have had chocolate king cakes before - the ones where they shoot it full of chocolate pudding.  But this one at Maple Street Patisserie looked different.  So I asked if they would make me one without the dyed sugar on it, no problem they said.

On Sunday morning as the family prepped for an afternoon of parades I went up to MSP to pick the cake up.  It just came out of the oven!  I arrived at the rental chateau(insert louisiana cajun x at the end of chateau if you so desire) with the cake and two coffees!

It was amazing.  The best king cake I have ever had in my life!  It was so good I feared that it might spoil if left on the counter for a prolonged amount of time...so with a little help from our king cake loving progeny, Material Girl and I demolished it within 24 hours - with.

The cake I would describe as a cross between challah bread and cream cheese pastry.  Inside the ring of the king cake was a light-fluffy-rich brownie batter.  All of this was topped with chocolate frosting, chocolate chips and chocolate sprinkles.

MPS does not have a web page but you can visit them at 7638 Maple Street  New Orleans, LA or call them and place your own order at (504) 304-1526.

these were the last two pieces.  the pictures are not of the highest quality but i was fighting time folks, i didnt have the patience to stage a proper picture, my coffee may have chilled by then.  it's carnival time reader, priorities are transformed this time of year.  they'll be time for proper pictures come Lent...

09 February 2012

You Ought to Go See the Mardi Gras

With parade season only hours away I thought I should pause and offer a primer for those who have never attended.  or allow me to offer those out there sitting in front of their email machines a reason to come to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

First, forget ever comparing any parade you've previously attended to to a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade - it just aint fair.  It is like comparing your little league baseball team to the Yankees, it is like saying there could be life of Mars just because it is closer to Earth than Jupiter.

Second, whatever you do never, ever go to a parade on the west bank; (that would be like going to Denver and eating a steak at Ponderosa).

For most people I think that is enough.  But if you need more...

Three, pace yourself - attending and enjoying parades is a marathon not a sprint.  Although theoretically you could attend almost all of the Uptown parades, there is no need to.  Go to the ones you want, if you miss one or two no big deal.

Four, if you have not planned where to watch the parades you better get on the stick and do so now.  You'll have roughly twelve miles to pick from (two sides of six miles of routes).  And all twelve miles will be packed (regular parades at least three deep, super krewes at least six seven deep - maybe more).  What do I mean by deep?  First line, kids - aged 8-12, second row, adults; third row 6 foot ladders with boxes on top with little kids in them;

fourth row dads drinking beer with the expressed duty of holding the ladder so kids don't go toppling over, or causing a domino effect; fifth row, grandparents/folk who are not really into the parades, people getting another beer, people scavenging for throws, kids passing football, the police, & etc.

With this in mind go ahead now and start preparing your best dish, appetizers, main course, salad, bread, desserts, snacks - whatever, make a healthy portion of it and be ready to share.  Find a party, bring your dish and I'll bet this will work.  If you are not a cook then bring beer, lots of it.  People are always needing a refill come parade season.

Five, expect to receive at least two grocery bags full of throws: stuffed animals, regular beads, special krewe beads, footballs, glow in the dark wrist bands, frisbees, koozies, plastic toys, etc.
loot from last year.  

and of course, how could I have forgotten the treasured feathered boa - expect a few of these as well.

Here are some pics of a friend of mine (a certain uber-LSU fan) who is riding in an undisclosed parade.  He has over 19,000 pieces to disperse over the parade route.

(warning, you will detect a strange chemical/plastic aroma from all of your M.G. booty).  And what you do not pick up, those in custody at OPP will clean it up afterwards.

Six, while I am on the topic of throws: you do not have to show your goods to receive coveted prizes.  That only happens way down the parade route but I wont say that kind of thing doesn't happen uptown, just rarely.  Pick out one krewe member, make eye contact, yell like crazy, wave like crazy, point, and be ready to catch.  Yes, a thrown beaded necklace can do some damage if you are not paying attention.  If you are on the back of a ladder with a kid in the box it is your duty to protect the kid!

Seven, the parade will stop in front of you.  A tractor stalls, a trailer gets a flat, & etc.  When this happens all bets are off.  Get right next to the float, put a kid on your shoulder and beg like crazy.  Here you can score some serious booty!  And don't be afraid to bribe a krewe member - i.e. get a beer and hand it to him and see what you get.  (if you click on the picture you will notice my daughter with a pbr in her hand.  I was bribing a krewe member for the feather boa she is wearing in one of the above picture.  As I was hoisting her up I asked her to hold the beer, as I did this my wife snapped the picture then gave me grief about it for a good three or four months).  Also, if you are on a ladder when the parade stalls try and make eye contact with a krewe member a good float away from you, put your arms out and see if they will throw you a football.

Eight, what if you know someone on a float?  Find out what float # they are on and if they are on the neutral ground side or not.  And, don't be bashful about slipping the float driver (some dude driving a tractor) a Thomas Jefferson to stop the float for a minute so your friend/family member can load you down.

Nine, let me switch gears to the bands.  New Orleans High Schools have a fantastic tradition of marching bands.  They will play lights out for each parade.  They are big, loud, and great.  But the minders dont like you getting too close to the bands; they will move you back.  And...if you are not watching you may get whacked in the head with a baton!  Not on purpose, probably not on purpose.  Although see the dude in the tie dyed shirt, I've seen a tuba player turn and play right in his ear and it didn't even phase him - no foolin'.  And do you know that at the ballpark my kids play ball at they have named the little beers there - yes you can buy beer at the little league fields - after him!  Don't believe me, just go to your next game and ask for a billy king.  

Ten, the marchers.  In addition to the floats and marching bands you will also see some amazing marching clubs.  Expect sarcasm and risque names: The Rolling Elvi, men dressed up as Elvis driving tricked out scooters; female marchers: The Bearded Oysters, Pussyfooters, and The Camel Toe Lady Steppers (see what I mean).  If you watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade you saw the 610 Stompers but they will bring even more for the hometown.

Eleven, what to do between parades?  Most parades follow one after another but you will have a couple of hours between major parades.  So, go to the bathroom, hydrate, get something to eat, pass football, meet your neighbors, make some new best friends, and my favorite take all the broken beads and tie they together and make a huge jump rope and see how long it will stay together.

This ought to get you through this first weekend of parades.  I'll post another post for the second weekend & Mardi Gras day next week.

Remember it is a marathon not a sprint.  Remember, have at it b/c Lent is just around the corner.  This will be a life changing experience: embrace it.  You will be so happy you'll have to sit on your hands to keep from waving at everybody or as Jon Cleary sings, "you'll feel so damn good you'll be glad to get the blues."

05 February 2012

Watching the Game

The other evening I went to one of those national video rental chain stores to rent a couple of movies for the weekend.  And the next evening as I was en route to an appointment I dropped off the movie.  And as I slipped in the video to drop box slot I noticed a young man, by himself, watching the Celtics game.

Now I have, for sure, stopped to catch the score of a game or two while I perusing the titles but it never occurred to me to plop myself down on the couch to actually watch a game.  The scene of that young man gave me an idea: what if a bunch of people went to blockbuster to watch the super bowl?  what would they do if you brought a box of hot wings and a case of beer?

Last night as I was preparing to checkout I said to the man behind at blockbuster, "Hey man, what's this I hear about on facebook of a bunch of guys coming over here to watch the game?"
"What, nah, watch the game here?  I haven't heard anything like that."
"Yeah man, it is all over facebook"
"Well, next door at the wing place sometimes on game days they will sit up outside, but not here at blockbuster."
"I saw where some guys were going to bring some beer over and watch the game."
-editorial insight: this did it for the gentleman.
"Well, that's just crazy you cant have beer in here."

02 February 2012

The Recycled Fashion Show

The woman who chose to marry me and her creations were featured on WWLtv this morning.  Enjoy.