30 December 2012

2012 Review:A Year in Numbers

A Year in Numbers

A.  Preaching
2       # of times I preached at Unitarian Universalists congregations
2       # of times folk got up and walked out while I read from the Bible at a UU congregation
45     # of times I've tried to explain to folk what I mean by when I call myself a evangelical or gospel-centered liberal
45     # of times it sounds better in my head than when it comes out of my mouth
3       # of times I thought revival was going to break out during a sermon
3       # of times I overestimated that revival may break out

B.  New Orleans (the last few weeks)
8        # of bowls of gumbo I had knowing there would be none up north
13      # of times we went out for fried chicken knowing it wouldn't be the same up north
9        # of times we had po-boys knowing there would be none up north
4        # of times we had beignets knowing there would be none up north
18      # of lbs. the missus and I gained those last couple of months eating out

C.  The Move
1        # of Penske moving trucks we thought we needed
2        # of Penske moving trucks we ended up needing
42      # of total feet of our two Penske trucks
4        # of hotels stayed at during the trip
78      # of miles driven before I realized the A/C did not work on the Penske
18      # of bottles of gatorade drank during the drive to keep cool
102    # of hottest sustained temperature while driving through Iowa.
6        # of times I circled a hotel in Iowa City, IA before I could park the truck, properly
1,350 # of miles driven from New Orleans to Minneapolis
482,901 # of consecutive acres of corn and soybeans I saw in Illinois and Iowa

D.  Life in Minneapolis
3        # of addictive Lee Child detective novels I read from the Hennepin County Library
18      # of times I been to that addictive donut shop, The Baker's Wife damn them both!
4        # of times the kind folk at Judson Memorial Baptist Church have laughed at some of my subpar       material.
6        # of times I've been out and looked for  po-boy shop
7        # of out of town visitors we've already had
2        # of times Carol Carpenter has visited
2        # of times I've seen Michael Tisserand since we moved to MPLS
3        # of times I thought for sure I saw Kent Hrbek
23      # of times I've looked at last names and paused before I put my head down and butchered the pronunciation of peculiarly grouped (according to my Scots-Irish eyes) consonants and vowels.
78      # of times I've either said or heard or seen lutefisk since moving here
78      # of times my stomach has churned when I remember my one experience with lutefisk
2        # of times Garrison Keillor has declined my friend request on facebook
36      # of days since I sent him my latest friend request that he hasn't declined
4        # of days after the move until the family got their library cards from the county library
26      # of days after the move until I got my library card from Luther Seminary
103    # of days after the move until I got my drivers license
3        # of years since I last went sledding
3        # of times I've went sledding since Christmas!
4 (and counting) the # of times the kids have inadvertently (still not sure about that) crashed into Mom and me while sledding.
84      degree temperature difference between MPLS and NOLA on Xmas morning!

E.  Sports Addendum
Vikings record before we arrived 3-13
Vikings record after we arrive 10-6 and in the playoffs!

0     # of Super Bowls the Saints won before we arrived in NOLA
First Super Bowl win for the Saints the year we arrived!

86   # of years before the curse of the Bambino was reversed
the breaking of the curse just so happened after we moved there.

Coincidence?  Not likely.

F.  Tudor's Addendum

4     # of days I was in WV during October
5     # of times I went to Tudor's
16   # of days before my veins began to open back up

23 December 2012

Christmas Tales

A few years ago I read a reference from a parishioner at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church about the sermons in verse that the late Rev. David H.C. Read used to preach every Christmas.  This idea set off all kinds of lightbulbs in my head.

I began searching for books by Rev. Read hoping to find a reference to this idea.  I never did find one but I did find some fascinating and wonderful preaching advice.  Then I accepted the call at Judson Memorial Baptist Church and knew that if ever there was a church that could possibly halfway appreciate a sermon in verse it wasthis place.  So for the heck of it I did another search for Christmas sermons in verse by Rev. Read and guess what I found one!  I emailed the Presbyterian archives, nope. I emailed MAPC, nope.  I searched the online archives of several Presbyterian seminary libraries, nope.  Instead good ole www.abebooks.com found me a copy.  I paid more than the usual used book of sermons, but it didnt matter.

The book came and I dove in immediately.  In the beginning Rev. Read answered all of my nuts and bolts questions:  When did he do it?  The Fourth Sunday of Advent (which makes perfect sense).  How long were they?  Shorter than I suspected (which again makes perfect sense).  What were they about?  They were colorful imaginative tales (which makes even more perfect sense).  Thank you Rev. Read.

As Rev. Read said, this was one of if not the most difficult sermon of the year to write.  So I gave myself plenty of time, but as usual it was done the week of.  I even checked out several Dr. Seuss books on tape so I could have some rhyming schemes rollicking around in my head, but I never did get around to playing them.  But I've got a good base for next year.  I also picked up a rhyming dictionary (never knew a wonderful gem of a book existed!).

I chose a story about a goat (because this is the new mascot of JMBC) from the northland (I am in Minnesota after all) who rambled down to Bethlehem and visited the manger (and the source of Jesus' disdain for goats).

The sermon was difficult to write but a blast.  Next year I'll focus more on the meter - this was definitely a free meter, something like a 8, 15, 3, 7, 21... :)

with further ado:

Christmas Tales
Adven IV – 23.Dec.2012
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

On Christmas Eve long ago
a story took place that went like so
Gunter the goat left his homeland up north
And journeyed south in a tale told henceforth
Called Gunter’s great travel.

He wandered down to Bethlehem
And found the town of bread in much mayhem
He had heard the hay there was great
And hoped he would find a suitable mate
But there was movement in the heaven
And angels singing amen.

Gunter didn’t care, he was tired and wanted anap
Then he heard the lovely soft tap, tap
Of a scared and lonely Joseph & Mary
They needed a place and not just as a precautionary
For Mary was with child and great
And needed a bed before it was too late.
They found an inn and said okay
It aint pretty but it’s a place to stay
the man at the desk said I have no room in my inn here
You can stay in the barn if you don’t mind the smell of the animal’s rear.

Gunter wanted to say
I clean my bum three times a day
But he was a goat and goats cant speak
Unless, unless it is Christmas eve in the midwinter bleak.
Because on that night something magical took place
Mary gave birth in that lowly space
The boy she birthed was scrunched and crying
He woke up Gunter and caused the goat’s blood to go electrifying. 
Gunter lifted his head and said would you please be quiet
It is late at night and my ears are on diet.
Mary and Joseph were completely aghast
They never heard an animal speak like that.

They looked up at the goat and asked what did you say
Gunter smiled and said from now on anything but may

I’m Mary and this isJoseph and this babe is Jesus which means God saves
Gunter asked, then what are you doing in this enclave?
We’ve no place to go and no will care for us
So please Gunter dear, tell the animals, now go and discuss

Keep us safe and sound
Make this stable ironbound
You see this babe is like none other
He’ll be know as everybody’s brother

So Gunther did as he was asked
He charged the animals to guard to the last

But there was nothing to guard against or fear
Just angels singing peace and hallelujah in the atmosphere
They heavens sang peace
And the trees gazed at the new star in the east

The next morning every creature was all tuckered out
And the dreams of Mary and Joseph wondered about

When they animals awoke and tread to speak
All the could do was neigh, moo, and screech
Mary patted Gunter and gave him hay to eat
For what he did was truly great
Gunter nodded and walked outside
For he was a goat full of pride

And that is the story of Gunter the goat
The greatest goat since Noah’s boat

But why you ask did Jesus speak
of goats as so unique
why did he dislike goats and not sheep?
You see he spoke tongue in cheek

Before Gunter said his final goodbye
He trotted over to see the babe and verify
But the babe’s swaddling clothes looked to sweet
All linen and white, they were too good not to eat
So he ate those clothes that covered the child
And left Jesus cold and wild
When Jesus cried Gunter butted the bed
And the baby Jesus never forgot that greedy goats head.

So tomorrow night
when the new star is shining bright
find a goat and talk to him right
see if knows of Gunter the goat
he’ll be the main story not a footnote
then after you talk hold onto your coat
for we all know that part of the story
is about a goat full of glory
who will eat your clothes like you eat chicken cacciatore.

And the response from the congregation, "It was so bad it was good!"

Now to finalize my Christmas Eve message.  


21 December 2012

Don't Blink

A few years ago a friend from the congregation invited me up to his house to observe the winter solstice.  The gathering consisted of myself and couple other people.  We were bundled up, booted, gloved, and hatted.  We trudged through the snow till we came to the spot.  The spot was a piece of pipe that had been driven into the ground with a piece of one inch pvc pipe fastened on top.  The pipe was pointed to the opposite ridge at the spot where the sun would rise that morning.  In the dark we all stood around freezing and waiting.  Then, then we got ready and all of a sudden the sun rose...and it rose a lot faster than I anticipated or expected.  Scrambling around as quick as our frozen bones would allow we all took a brief turn watching the rising of the sun.  In a few fleeting moments it was over, the sun had risen and we went back to the barn for coffee and buttered toast as we sat by the fire and talked about life.  

I love it that the church Fathers and Mothers centuries ago created the season of Advent and wove the observance of the winter solstice into it.  

In Advent get one fleeting moment to remind ourselves what the world is supposed to look like.  One fleeting moment when righteousness and peace kiss.  

I'm not a huge fan of the Revised Common Lectionary but I do think they got at least one scripture passage correct for Advent (I know, I know I can hear your grumblings, "You're a Baptist what do you know about the RCL & liturgical preaching"  I know enough to know not to submit my thinking over to a group of people to decide for me texts to and not to preach on!).  Nevertheless, for one fleeting moment we hear a glimpse of a different world when the poet sings/speaks

 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of theLord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

18 December 2012

An Open Letter to Mr. James Dobson and Rev. Mike Huckabee

Dear Sirs,

I write you an open letter concerning your recent thoughts on why the terrible massacre in Newtown, CT took place.  Please know that there are many people that I love and respect who look to the two of you for guidance; many good hearted and tender minded folk who have made, and are making, an impact on my life. So for their sake, and I know this will be difficult for you to do, please shut up, please put your pens down, step away from the microphone, take a walk, and hear this word from a fellow Christian, to use the words that you, Gov. Huckabee, used to say to reporters, "You're constipated"  i.e. full of sh*t.

Humor me for the next few moments and hear me out.  I want you to seriously consider that it is not my theology of openness, free inquiry, and reconciliation that is to blame for the recent tragedy but it is yours.  Yes, yours.  Your theology of exclusion and shame and individualism.  A theology that sees God ready to punish any for waywardness, a theology that pushes out any and all that do not fit into your definition of what a Christian is.  A theology produces and brings that most fundamental, rock bottom, of all human emotions: shame.  You both know full well that when a human being is shamed that they are defenseless, vulnerable, and disposable.  Your theology that has torn asunder communities because of the exclusion and shame you have promoted in the name of the Holy.  It's is time for you to start practicing the precious saying from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, "speak only to improve the silence."

You have had your time in the national spotlight, and I'm sure you've done quite nicely from a financial perspective because of your position, but it's time to step aside.  Your way has done too much harm.  We have seen the results of your theology and rather than continuing to replicate them time and time again (what again is the definition of insanity?) find some space in the shadows.  So for the sake of the nation, turn off the microphone, develop self-imposed lock jaw, and take a nice long sabbatical.  And let a different way have a chance.

Recall that before we Christians ever landed on the shores of this land, before we deemed this a "Christian Nation" the indigenous peoples seemed to be doing quite nicely.  I've yet to hear the narratives of God constantly punishing them with natural disasters, massacres, and falling stock markets because they were not Christian enough.

In place of a Christian Nation let us try for a different kind of national community that includes all, that seeks to eradicate shame (imagine a community where people view mental illness as physical illness, that personality disorders are viewed the same as a torn ligament!), that appreciates and encourages free inquiry, and seeks to rebuild communities on these principles alone.  I cannot promise that gun violence will decrease and I'm sure that natural disasters will continue to visit these shores but at least we will be a healthier nation, a more loving, forgiving, embracing, and happier place to live.  And, and, when tragedies do come we can at least grieve without your constant and harmful babble.

A Gift Buying Guide for Pastors by a Pastor

Prologue:  In Advent of 2011, while on my fictive sabbatical (fictive because I did not have a job to return to upon its completion and fictive because I only read works of fiction), I sat down one day and wrote a gift buying guide for pastors.  I wrote it mainly because I missed being a pastor so bad it pained me.

Seeing that Christmas is just a little over a week away I'm sure you are just now thinking about  purchasing a gift for your religious leader.  (Special note to the Judson Memorial Baptist Church family, I am not posting this as a gift buying guide for me, you all have already given me the best gift by helping me redeem my calling as a pastor and showering my family with love and grace).

Now onto the main event.

Gift Buying Guide for Your Pastor

The holiday season is upon us and many parishioners are curious as to what they should get their pastor or religious leader as a gift. Allow me to assuage your anxiety by providing a list that is both practical and whimsical (I'll leave it up to you to discern which is which).

First let us purge bad holiday gifts.

1. A book of sermons by a famous preacher. Although many pastors do read sermons of famous dead and living preachers it is not the kind of book preachers like parishioners purchasing for them, it can send the wrong message.

2. A gift that can only be hung on a wall or displayed in their house (especially if they live in a parsonage). I realize that you or someone you know may have put a lot of time and effort into the gift, but think of all the gifts you received in your life that you did not want but felt obligated to keep because it would hurt the feelings of another.  So don't do this to your pastor.  You can see where this is going...

Now let us move onto the gift buying guide. Reader, know that this list was composed with  congregations and houses of worship experiencing financial struggles in mind.

10. A Title. That's is right a title: like pound for pound the best preacher they have heard in a while, or dean of the sanctuary, or bishop of the boulevard. Trust me I have yet to meet a pastor who does not want or one who does not secretly covet a formal, especially some obscure English, title.

9. An Alternative Professional Title. Something like writer-in-residence. Why? Well imagine you are a person of the cloth on an airplane and you do not want to talk "shop" with the person next to you. If you are feeling disposed to share your vocation then by all means share it, but if you are not and the passenger next to you asks, "and what do you do?" You can faithfully (and truthfully) answer I am a writer-in-residence.  Or I am an inner janitor, or an institutional problem solver, or (insert clever alternative title).

8. A Stack of I've Had it Cards. I would say at least a stack of five. Most congregations grant generous vacation and continuing education time off for their pastors, but there are times when pastors give and give and give till they are spent. So rather than have your pastor just check out one day, reward him/her with an "I've Had it Day" card. An unquestioned, last minute, taking the day off to sleep in, go shopping, eat an ice cream sundae for breakfast, play golf, card for that kind of day.

7. A Night Out. Although cash is a great gift for pastors there is a great temptation to spend it on necessary and workaday stuff. Therefore, volunteer to be the person to coordinate a church wide gift for the pastor. After sufficient cash is obtained, purchase gift cards to the nicest restaurant in town, then tickets to a show, and arrange for a trusted member(s) to watch the pastor's kids (if they have them) or pets, or the house while they are away.

6. Promise to say thank you over the course of the year. Even over the most minute or mundane acts promise to say thanks to your pastor. Write a note to say how much you enjoyed the sermon. Write a note to say how much his/her prayer meant to you. Do not let the work go unnoticed or unacknowledged.

5. Promise never to criticize a sermon on a Sunday morning while you exit a service. The act of preaching is a dangerous and courageous act; one of the most vulnerable acts a person can do. Pastors reveal their most cherished and deepest thoughts; their hopes, dreams, and relationship with the Holy. After a service they are famished and extremely vulnerable, it is not the time for criticism. If you do not like the sermon then simply say I love you or I hope you have a good afternoon. Criticism can wait till Monday morning.  New addition: when it is a good sermon, say so.

4. An understanding that pastoral work is artistic work. Sure managerial, fundraising, interpersonal, supervisory, strategic planning, and visionary skills are needed for effective and meaningful ministry but transcending all of that is the art form of taking ideas and incarnating them, of healing and mending, of crying with and for, of tearing down and building up. Perhaps you could change the designation pastor's office to pastoral studio.

3. A good stiff drink. No, I am not condoning an unhealthy addiction to alcohol. Nor, am I encouraging that the pastor drink his/her problems away with alcohol. I am advocating for a nice expensive bottle of wine or scotch to be purchased for a celebratory meal or moment in the course of a year. If you suspect a drinking problem then I would suggest a weekly subscription to the NY Times. Make this one a both/and if you do not suspect an unhealthy approach to distilled spirits.
Or how about a nice, designated, reading chair. 

2. A sidekick. Yes, a sidekick. This is not a paid position or a volunteer staff position this is more of a Sunday morning worship sidekick. You will be the (insert day and time of your worshipping community here) version of Andy Richter. You will be the first person to stand to sing, and you will sing the loudest, you will have the most sincere face while the pastor prays, if the pastor pulls at your heart strings during the sermon you will have a handkerchief ready to wipe away your tears, during the sermon you will have the most concentrated face, and if the pastor tells a joke or tells a funny story you will guffaw and hold your sides like it is nobody's business.

Drum Roll...

1. Finally, you will love your pastor with as much love as you can. Through bad times and good times you will love her/him.

All of these gifts are mutually beneficial gifts. You will deepen your relationship with your pastor and he/she will deepen his/her relation with you. You will be enlightened by deeper sermons while your pastor will discover himself/herself in a wider reading program and uncover new artistic expressions.

If you must purchase something not listed here let me offer these then:

-Subscription to The New Yorker - if for nothing more than the cartoons (trust me, pastors need to laugh and cultivate a deep sense of dry humor), or at the very least to have it on the coffee table (by the reading chair) in the office (I mean studio) to impress future/current members.

-Gift card to a local bookstore - no pastor or religious leader can have enough books.

-Tickets to JazzFest (even if your pastor lives nowhere near New Orleans, he/she will never be the same...)

I hope this helps. Happy Holidays.