30 December 2013

A Service of Lessons and Carols - Post-Christmas Version

 Over the years I have experimented with a post Christmas version of Lessons and Carols.  At first it was basically a sly way (in my humble opinion) to have an off day without taking a vacation day.  Then again I have never been a big fan of the Lesson and Carols service taking the place of a Sunday morning or Christmas Eve worship service.  Don't get me wrong I love the service, I listen to it each year, and I have several copies of it on my computer.  What keeps the service in Cambridge fresh is the inclusion of new carols each year, sometimes up to three new commissions each year!.  But what congregation has the wallets to commission three new carols every year and a 32 member full-time highly trained choir and a full-time choirmaster and full-time organist to rehearse and perform them?  Not many.  Thus came the post-Christmas lessons and carols, a service of reflection on Advent and Christmas Eve along with in house musicians, new compositions, familiar carols, and Jesus specific lessons.  This year I was blown away by the level of creativity, love and energy from the service.  I offer it as a model for others to consider.  Enjoy.

First Sunday of Christmas

December 29, 2013 9:30 AM

PRELUDE “A Medley of Carols”
Polly Schrom, Jim ten Bensel, Eileen McLaughlin, Jim Wentink

LIGHTING OF THE CANDLES Scholz/Slominski family

MUSIC “The First Noel” Jimmi Langemo
and family members

*HYMN #597 “Shall We Gather at the River” Hanson Place (vs. 1, 2, 3)

FIRST LESSON Matthew 3:1-12 Anton Hesse
The Forerunner
page 2 red pew Bible, New Testament

MUSIC “The Chosen One” Doug Weatherhead

SECOND LESSON Luke 1:46-55 Travis Norvell
The Song of Mary, read responsively.
page 57 red pew Bible, New Testament
One even verses; Many odd verses.

MUSIC “Once Again My Heart Rejoices” Scott & Jane Ulring

THIRD LESSON Luke 2:21 Anton Hesse
The Naming of Jesus
page 59 red pew Bible, New Testament

ANTHEM “Sweet little Jesus Boy” Jim ten Bensel

*HYMN #148 “What Child Is This” Greensleeves

FOURTH LESSON Matthew 2:16-18 Anton Hesse
The Killing of the Innocents
page 2 red pew Bible, New Testament

MUSIC “Killing of the Innocents” Doug Weatherhead



OFFERTORY “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” Gustav Holst

*DOXOLOGY Brian Wren/Lasst Uns Erfreuen
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise God, all creatures high and low.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one
Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

FIFTH LESSON Luke 2:41-52 Travis Norvell
Jesus at the Temple
page 59 red pew Bible, New Testament

MUSIC "Christmas Spirit" Van Johnson

*HYMN #154 “Go Tell It On the Mountain” Jimmi Langemo

SIXTH LESSON Matthew 27:32-44 Anton Hesse
Crucified Like a Bandit
page 32 red pew Bible, New Testament


POSTLUDE “My Favorite Things” Rodgers & Hammerstein Brett Hirsch

Next year, I would like to start a new carol contest with the winning carol making its debut on Christmas Eve, performed by the amazing Judson Choir. 

28 December 2013

2013: A Year in Numbers

1  the number of times we moved this year.
0  the number of times we plan on moving during the next 25 years.

3  the number of times I went iceskating last year
3  the number of times I thought for sure I was going to break every bone in my body while ice skating
0  the number of bones broken while ice skating

20  the number of years since I last played baseball, fast pitch.
1  the number of times I was up to bat before I got my first hit
.321  batting average
1  the number of triples I had this year
3  the number of innings it took me to catch my breath from the triple.
3  the number of bats broken.
1  the number of attempted stolen bases.
0  the number of bases stolen.
38  approximate number of little league games coached
38  approximate number of times I wished Minneapolis sold beer after little league games

40  approximate number of sermons preached at Judson Memorial Baptist Church
40  the approximate number of times someone playfully mentioned something about my grammar, use of a word, or questioned the phrase I had used because they had never heard it before.
16  the number of the consecutive months the afterglow of my job has been sustained.

56  the number of times I thought for sure I saw Michael Tisserand in Minneapolis.
1083  the number of conversations that someone has said You Know at least 11 times in a conversation.
16  the number of consecutive months Garrison Keillor has refused to accept my friend request on facebook.
2  the number of emails Garrison Keillor and I have exchanged since arriving in Minneapolis.
93 the approximate number of jokes that make more sense on Prairie Home Companion now that I live in Minneapolis.
0  the number of times I've been tempted to attend a Vikings game.
25  the number of times I stopped by the Bakers Wife for donuts.
8  the number of pounds gained while living in Minneapolis.
1  the number of times I went down the Giant Slide at the State Fair.
1  the number of times I had lutefisk.
1  the number of times I was scared to have lutefisk.
13  the number of times I was convinced my body would have severe reactions to eating lutefisk.
27  the number of times I suggested to haute chefs that they should offer lutefisk tacos.
3  the number of quarts of maple syrup made from the maple tree in the backyard.
4  the number of gallons of apple cider made by with my bicycle powered apple crusher.
4  the number of months I went without shaving.
4  the number of months that went by with my wife begrudgingly kissing me.

38  the approximate number of weddings I have done, before arriving in MPLS
6  the number of weddings that I performed that I enjoyed, before arriving in MPLS.
4  the number of same sex weddings I presided over this year.
4  the number of the happiest and joy filled same sex wedding I presided over this year!

13  the number of months it took before Minneapolis coffee tasted better than New Orleans coffee.

daily  the number of times Minneapolis feels like home.

22 December 2013

Christmas Tales 2013 Edition

Last year I tried, for the first time, my hand at a sermon in verse.  I had a blast, so I did it again this year.

Judson Sermon 20131222 "Why Lutefisk from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

Why Lutefisk and Not Squirrel
sermon-in-verse Advent IIII
December 22, 2013
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

Before we begin there are a few things you must know
1.     Angels are very heavy sleepers
2.     Angles are terrible at rhyming words
3.   Not every line will rhyme true.  I know y’all know the song The Wichita Lineman by Jimmy Webb, the most popular line,
And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.   Did you hear that?  Time and line do not rhyme, it is what songwriters call a faux or lazy rhyme.  Well this morning I have declared faux or lazy rhymes to be fine and dandy.
     4.  I will go in out and between rhymes and regular sentences a few times.
     5.  Finally, this story is pretty all true. 

Kids you probably do not know
But not so long ago
There was a squirrel in our house
A squirrel, not a mouse.
It lived in the walls
And scurried down the halls.
It was a pest
and we wanted to send it out west.
So we called a man
And he came with a plan
To rid our house of the vexation
With a cumbersome conglomeration
Of traps, and cages, and snares
Guaranteeing the squirrel would never haunt our stairs
And he caught the squirrels, there were eight
But one escaped.
A red one that talked
Well more like squawked. 

Now one day this summer I laid on my hammock and napped. After some time transpired I awoke to the awful audio of annoyance, a red squirrel squawking.  I looked around and sure enough there on the lowest branch of the sugar maple was a red squirrel squawking at me and wouldn’t stop.  I tried to shoo it away but she would not move.  So I went back to sleep.  As I slumbered the squawking became softer and softer almost to a whisper.  And in the whispering there was a rhythm and in the rhythm there was a word.  And this is what she said:

Lutefisk, lutefisk, that awful dish
Have you ever wondered why they eat that fish
On Christmastime
And not any other time?

I have, I have pray tell my friend
I will, I will, it is a story I do commend.

Long ago before the cities of the earth were in form
Squirrels for dinner at Christmastime was the norm
We were stewed, fried, sautéed and boiled
And squirrel gravy was worth more than oil.
Until the day Mary the woman and Joseph the man
Journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem
They were on the run full of fear
For soon out of the woman a babe would appear.

They were searched for a place to stay
But every innkeeper said go, go, go away.
Until one man offered his grange
Mary said we’ll take it as long as my child wont catch the mange

So they prepared a bed
Right where the animals were fed
And soon the woman a’swoon
The babe wanted out, it was a full moon
In a bit the babe was in her arms
Sadly, no one sounded the alarms
The angels, the angels said they would sing
But there was nary a ring

About that time
Came the squirrel named Clementine
I told you there would be lots of false rhymes
Every night she ate the oats
The were not eaten by the goats
But this night in her path was a block
a mother in babe in afterbirth shock
so she went another way
up and over the fray

Now children there is another thing you must know
Angels were sleeping in the rafters whose snores sounded like a tornado
Up in the rafters of the stable
Were the archangels Michael and Gabriel
They slept through the birth of Jesus
While mary screamed angels cant you hear us?

Clementine while scurrying up and over the winged sleepers
Tickled them so that they opened their peepers
Hearing the mother and seeing the child
They flew to the sky and sang like wild
Glory to God in the highest
And peace on earth
Remember no hard how they try, every time
Angles just cannot…make sentences end with the last syllable of words sounding a like. 
All creation sang that night
And in heavens a new star shone bright
Simply because of a hungry squir-rel
Tickled and woke God’s person-nel

The  next morning the angles found Clementine
Way up high in a sticky tall tree of pine
Squirrel, they said, you’ve done a great deed
So we bring you gifts of  nuts and seed.

God too was filled with gratitude
And wanted to lift up Clementine’s magnitude
Squirrel because of your great feat
At Christmastime no one will eat your meat

But your probably wondering what does this have to do with lutefisk aren’t ya?  Well for that we have to go another place, to the council of the Most High

On the night the angles sang
All of creation rang
Except for one, aint that odd,
It was the stubborn cod!
The cod was the only animal that refused to sing
So God cursed that awful thing
Cod, from now on you shall be the featured fish
On each and every Christmas dish
But that is not enough
You shall also be soaked in that awful stuff
Lye, Lye, Lye
Because you would not comply

And that kiddos is why every Christmastime we eat lutefisk and not squirrel. 

09 December 2013

Mentoring from Afar: The Continuing Influence of the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes

Christian Century asked for submissions on the subject of mentoring.  I submitted this piece as a tribute and thanksgiving to the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes:

I reckon that by the time I was 24 I had heard approximately 1,018 sermons, but none of them prepared me for the one I heard at the 1999 commencement service at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. 

The preacher was the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, then minister of The Memorial Church of Harvard University. After the service, as he greeted each person by the door just like my Baptist pastor did back in West Virginia, I thought to myself, "For an Episcopalian, that dude can preach." It took me a couple years before I discovered that he too was an American Baptist.  The experience of that sermon altered my view of pastoral ministry; I dare say it propelled my vocational choice. 

I graduated sure of my talents and wisdom. I never thought to seek the advice of other preachers, much less Peter Gomes, until two years after graduation. By then I had used all the divinity bells and whistles. Let me say that Dr. Gomes never knew that he was mentoring me, but he did, from afar. 

The mentoring process began with his books; one day I found a copy of "Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living" at the Brown University bookstore, and devoured it that night. The process continued with more books of sermons, and the weekly online worship services made available by Memorial Church. 

I followed the weekly sermon schedule the way others follow the daily box score of their favorite baseball team. His sermons were witty, engaging, intelligent, challenging, and marvelous. His preaching pushed me to take the craft of sermon-writing more seriously. He also taught me to take the theatrical and historical aspects of preaching to a deeper level: Why look like an insurance salesperson when you can look like a preacher?

I could imitate his approach but I had a difficult time figuring out the how and why of his Sunday liturgical wear: a cassock, with preaching tabs, and a preaching gown. How could a Baptist wear such an outfit? My question was quickly answered when I looked at portraits of the pastors of the First Baptist Church in America in Providence, R.I.; they all wore the same liturgical outfit! 

But it was not until I discovered the 1996 New Yorker profile of Gomes written by Robert S. Boynton that I found one of the greatest descriptions of a Baptist pastor with liturgical leanings. Gomes referred to himself as "a Baptist with an Anglican Oversoul." That description was my “aha!” moment that parted the waters, enabling me to embrace my own high-church proclivities. Soon after, I called Dr. Gomes’ personal assistant and inquired where he purchased his ecclesiastical uniform. She directed me to an English clerical company named Whipple. I located J. Whipple & Co. and ordered my own cassock, preaching gown, and a set of preaching tabs. A few weeks later a package was delivered, via Royal Mail, on a Sunday afternoon, to the parsonage. 

The first Sunday I wore the outfit, the congregation giggled and scratched their heads. But after a few weeks they agreed that the outfit improved my preaching by at least 15%. 

Over the years I discovered the treasure-trove of lectures on preaching that Dr. Gomes delivered: online, printed, on CD, and on cassette tapes. I listened to and read the lectures as if he were sitting in my office offering me personal advice on preaching and the pastoral life. The advice is practical: the time constraints of a Protestant service (one Lord, one faith, one hour); listener attentiveness (keep them on the edges of the pews), and the dos and don’ts of the pulpit (don’t preach your doubts, do take the congregation on the roads you travel in preparation, even down a dead end).

Here and there, colleagues shared their favorite Peter stories. One recalled walking past Memorial Church at 2 a.m. and hearing the organ. She opened a door and found Peter at the organ, belting out old Baptist hymns. 

I treasure the only time I talked to him face-to-face. After he finished a lecture on preaching at Andover Newton Theological School, a rather righteous seminary student took him to task for his participation in the inaugural ceremonies of Presidents Reagan and Bush. I knew how he would answer, but it was precious to see it in person. Peter rolled his eyes and asked, “Do you think you are the first person to ever pose this question to me?” Then he gave his classic response. “I can only answer this way: imagine how terrible it would have been if I had not been there!”

When Peter died in 2011, I felt the passing of my mentor deep in my bones. I give thanks for his influence and impact on my life every time a congregant says it is apparent that I love what I am doing. More than anything, he gave me the image of pastoral life as one of meaning, challenge, purpose, and joy. With him as a mentor for pastoral ministry, I am having the time of my life.

03 December 2013

A Raiment of Camel’s Hair: Looking like John the Baptizer, kind of...

Back in my days at divinity school a classmate, who turned out to be one of the best friends a person could have, told me a story about going to a protest march and seeing an old Catholic priest and his stole.  The stole was covered with protest, social justice, peace, and movement buttons.  That image always stuck in my mind and over the years I have collected buttons from anti-war protests, environmental rallies, closing the School of America gatherings, and such, hoping one day I would put them on a stole.

One day this summer while driving down to Iowa I had a series of sermons by Gardner Taylor playing on the tape deck (yes my car has a tape player).  In the midst of ubiquitous cornfields I began to think that the progressive movement needs to adopt John the Baptizer as our "patron saint."  And about that same time Gardner Taylor started preaching on John the Baptizer.  Slowly he described John, and even though I had read the descriptions of John countless times I had never thought specifically about what John wore, a raiment of camel's hair (as the King James reads).  Instantly, my mind started wondering where one could get some camel hair cloth, then it hit me: from a camel hair blazer, of course!  Yeah a camel hair blazer, cover it with buttons and wear it year around with a clerical collar (talk about branding).  I then, however, began to think about actually wearing, year-round, a camel hair blazer in Minneapolis- that one could get mighty hot (even here in the upper midwest) and stinky!

I thought on this some more and after a few dozen more corn fields synergy happened: a stole made from a camel hair blazer covered with buttons (buttons that in some way express the Kingdom of God).  So I asked the artist (whom I am married to) when she is out sourcing for materials at a thrift store and comes upon a camel hair blazer would she please pick it up.  And sure enough, a couple months later, she did. She brought it home and showed me how to rip the blazer apart; not as easy as it sounds, an evening with a seam ripper took its toll on my hands.

She did a remarkable job with the stole, as always.  After she completed the stole I started looking for all my buttons.  But one problem: I could only find a remnant of them!  I suppose over the course of the many moves, time, and such I lost them along the way.  Rather than mourn over my loss I decided from now on to start a new collection and add them to the stole each Advent.  I told the kids during time with children to think of the buttons as my Continuing Education certificates as a progressive pastor.

21 November 2013


In what seems like a galaxy far, far away I once contemplated becoming a monk, a Trappist to be specific.  I never took vows or even donned cowl but a RCC priest did arrange for me to have a monastic summer experience at a monastery in South Carolina in the summer before I graduated.  I had booked a ticket on Amtrak, but you see there was this woman, the same woman I would later marry, and celibacy and  just didn't seem to go together.  So I backed out, went to seminary, married that woman, graduated, got busy making kids and pastoring churches.

Reader you should know that I was neither raised nor ever have been a Roman Catholic.

So why did this urge to live the life of monastic prayer emerge?  Well, it began with Wednesday night bible study.  If you've never been to a Wednesday night bible study in Appalachia let me provide you with a snapshot.  Picture a good sampling of old people, a preacher providing a wandering 25 minute bible study, then a public airing of aches and pains, surgeries and procedures, and other things that make folk anxious (as a teenager I took all of this in and what at first seemed like useless information has actually proven quite useful in my visitation with the elderly.  It is amazing how I can guess so quickly what ails someone.  "I bet that your sciatic is bothering you."  "Why it is, how did you know?"  "Just a guess.")  Then line-by-line praying for the requests.

One evening after the prayer meeting I asked the pastor if there was any other kind of praying other than intercessory prayer?  He didn't quite know how to answer, but to his credit he lent me every book in his library on prayer.  One book was Prayer by Richard Foster, which I read with gusto.  But I didnt quite get it.  Then a little of life: graduating high school and off to college.  In college I became part of a discipleship class and picked up another Richard Foster book, The Celebration of Discipline, which I borrowed from my campus minister and subsequently dropped in the toilet.  I fasted (and wouldnt you know it the week I fasted the cafeteria served steaks and ice cream).  I prayed, I journaled, I did everything the book said I should do.  But i was still hungry.  At the end of the discipleship class the campus minister suggested that I mosey over to the Newman Center and contact the Franciscan priest who was also a spiritual director.  So I did.  Week after week he was my spiritual director.  He then suggested that I take the Religious Autobiography class that semester.  So I did.  And there I met, for the first time, Thomas Merton.  And for the next two years I read, and read, and read, and read Thomas Merton books.  I became so obsessed with his writing and life that I decided the only way to live a life of prayer was to become a monk like him, a Cistercian monk.  But there was this woman...

Funny thing though.  After a while I kind of stopped praying.  Sure I prayed with folk, at services, over meals, prayed them into glory and out of heartache but I, personally, stopped praying.  Dont know why.  The closest I remember to prayer was when a spiritual director prayed for me, blessed me really, and I cried for hours afterwards with thanksgiving.

So fast forward to last week.  I packed an overnight bag and headed to the St. Johns Abbey Guesthouse for my first ever retreat.  There I prayed, and journaled, and worshipped, and prayed.  Just like rolling down a hill, or baking bread, or splashing, or laughing out loud I didn't forget how to pray it came back easier than I thought.

Now Reader I'm sure you're wondering why did this take place last week and not before?  I have not a clue.  But I do have a theory about why what happened last week took place.  Stability.  Something  I always wanted, yet something I knew eluded me as a free church pastor.  I thought maybe I could be one of the pastors that pastored one church for 40 years.  But my first church had 18 in worship, on a good day.  My second church, what I refer to as Camelot, was great - seven wonderful years but I knew it was not forever.  It was where I learned to be a pastor, as did my predecessors.  Then the move down south.  I knew the first day my family and I landed that I made a mistake but I thought I'd make the best of it. Then I resigned and went looking.  Then I found my current place of employment.  And I found a place I can be for a good piece.  And after 14 months the stress of the previous three years started to flow downriver where it came from and life started making sense once again.

Benedictine monks take five vows: poverty (kind of check, I am an American Baptist pastor after all), chastity (no check), obedience (little fuzzy here), fidelity to the life (check, I love the pastoral life) and you guessed it: stability (which check as much as I can).  Minneapolis, with your clean political system, nice people, odd cuisine, bike lanes, and amazing parks you're stuck with me and my family.  Even if your major league baseball team does not have a clergy pass program...yet!

25 October 2013

Husband, Father, Pastor, Cider Maker

For years an old wooden apple press laid dormant in the shed at my house, for years I wanted to use that press so bad I couldn't stand it.  In Rhode Island I had big plans to use the press and make apple cider.  I cut a deal with my favorite apple man, loaded my truck (oh I how I miss my Ranger) with apples and prepared to make cider, after all I had a press!  Only one problem the apples have to be crushed before they can be pressed.  And a crusher I did not have.  So the apples went through the juicer, into pies and made fabulous applesauce.

Now reader you may want to ask: what is the difference between apple cider and apple juice?  That is a fine question.  Apple cider is a raw unfiltered juice whereas apple juice is a pasteurized and filtered juice.

Over the years I dreamt of ways to crush the apples: with a hammer, purchasing one from Lehmans, or building one myself.  Last year I saw on youtube (cannot find the video now) plans for a bicycle powered apple grinder/crusher.  This summer I spent way too much time developing and creating a bicycle powered apple grinder.  And this Fall, the press was awakened from its long slumber, and for the first time the kiddos and I made apple cider.

On the one hand you can say it is a non-efficient method.  One gallon of cider from a local orchard cost about $7.00.  Whereas the 1/3 bushel of apples to make one gallon of cider cost somewhere in the ballpark of $20.00!  Also, to purchase a gallon you just walk up to the fridge at the orchard barn, pick out your gallon, pay for it, go home and chug a lug.  To make the cider you have to obtain the apples (luckily I have found several sources for free local apples), wash them, cut them (they go through the crusher better), press them, and then pour the cider into to suitable containers.  One gallon takes about an hour to produce.

Efficient, nope; that is if you measure efficiency by less input = more output.  But thanks to this guy, I realized that the long/slow road of homemade apple cider may be the most efficient method of all!  How so you ask?  (full disclosure, Mike is also an amazing apple source)

Enjoyment, satisfaction, and appreciation of the trees that produced the apples.  Cider apples are really only good for cidering (not that appealing to the eye, plus apples with apple maggots - not as bad as it sounds - are only salvageable for cidering).  We are not wasting apples, we have a deeper appreciation of all the work it takes to make "market-ready" apple.  The kids are not as grossed/freaked out by an apple that has a bruise, a scuff, or insect damage.  Finally, we savor our apple cider.  When we would buy it from the store we would drink the gallon in a day or two.  Now, we all slowly drink it and enjoy its complexity.

We've wrapped up the cidering for this year.  This winter I will convert the bicycle powered apple grinder into a hand cranked apple grinder and replace the small (grape press) with a hydraulic automobile jack press.  We ought to then be able to crank out several gallons faster, save some for hard cider making, and maybe just maybe some apple jack (why not, I still have a valid tetanus shot, that prevents lock jaw...doesn't it?).


The crusher.  I built the crusher around a wooden cylinder, but i didnt have a wooden cylinder.  However, I knew someone who could possibly fashion me a cylinder, and get this a cylinder made out of a piece of apple wood.

Who is this someone?  This guy, one of the most talented artists I know!!!

After the cylinder was completed I screwed in a couple dozen stainless steel screws, but i did not screw them all the way in - they stuck up maybe a 1/4 inch.  Then I proceed to procure a couple of old bicycles, an extra bicycle gear, and some scraps of wood.  After several conceptual pictures in my mind I created this (note that I was a liberal arts major, I am not an engineer.  This set up works best when one kid stands on the feet of the crusher and another holds onto the handlebars and leans back).  

First I wash the apples (bad apples dont float)

then I quarter or halve them and put them in the grinder.
 the smaller the apple the better the grinder works.  

next someone from the family peddles while the apples are crushed.  the crushed apples or pomace fall into a bucket lined with an infusion bag (as suggested by the dude at this place, nice to have a home brewing place practically in my backyard).  Then the bag of pomace goes into the small press.  

the liquid flows out, drops into another bucket and cider is made!
 Allow me a few moments to reflect on how fascinating it is to press the pomace and hear the juice as it is released.  First silence, then a heavy sound similar to wringing out a sponge, then a loud sigh, followed by a loud swish, then the cider flows.
Making cider is worth it for nothing else then hearing that sound.  

We made about 2 gallons this year.  I'd hoped to give gallons to all who helped in the making of it, maybe pints.  But this is a long-term deal, the folk who helped (really invested by getting rid of unwanted stuff in their garages) will get cider for years to come.  

22 October 2013

World Series Post: Clergy Baseball Passes

I had big intentions this year to follow and keep track of all major league ball players who are my age or older.  But I did not complete this project. Why? Because I played ball myself this year.  Played ball?  Yelp, I played in a 35+ mens wooden bat league.  It was an amazing experience.  It was a perfect year: I got a hit my first time at bat and I got hit my last at bat.  Can you imagine any other way to bookend a year?  I realized why there are few, if any, 35+ year old catchers in the majors.  By the end of the season my knees had had it.  I couldn't fully participate in the playoffs and had to cut my season short.  Next year, who knows.  More than likely I will go back to my role as a watcher and coach of baseball rather than a player.  Which brings me to the impetus of this blog post.

This week I will fully unpack our television, we gave up tv a couple years back, and hook it up so the family and I can watch the World Series.  I think the World Series is really the only sporting event worth watching.  I hope this major development will continue my desire to develop and nurture a love of baseball with my kids (hauling the television up from the boxes in the basement may be even bigger than putting up the Christmas tree).  Why do I want this love to develop?  Because I love to go to baseball games and if my kids love baseball they too will want to go to games.  Reader: so you are just trying to manipulate your kids so they will love things you love thereby enabling you to do the things you love and make them think they love it too.  Yeah, pretty much.

But on a clergy persons salary?

There was a waxing time in American history when clergymen (historically accurate) were given passes by team owners (who were mainly Catholic) to many Major League Baseball parks.  This was the golden age of baseball.  That time has waned, I'm sure more people watch and love American football.  And with the waning has come the demise of the clergy passes.  Currently only two teams offer the clergy (men & women) passes to their games: Boston and St. Louis.  (And aint it bizarre those two teams are playing in the World Series!)

Don't believe me?
The Cardinals Program.
The Red Sox Program.  Their program is not as spelled out but trust me it is true!

Ever since I arrived in Minneapolis I have been clamoring to the Twins organization that they ought to consider a likely program.  After back-to-back-to-back 90 loss season certainly a couple hundred clergypeople with standing room only seats couldn't hurt the Twins.  I don't know if they will actually consider my proposal to launch such a program, but I can always hope and hope, sometimes, is all a baseball fan has.

14 July 2013

11 Years and Counting...

Not a marriage anniversary, we've been hitched now for 16 years, nope this is an ordination anniversary.  11 years ago on July 14th on a hot semi-sultry afternoon in a downtown American Baptist Church in Rochester, NY an assembly gathered for my ordination.  The assembly included family: my folks, my sister, my nephews, my wife and daughter; friends: Dan, Chad, & Rich; colleagues: too many to name; church folk: Lake Avenue Baptist, Baptist Temple, and even two guests from Lime Rock Baptist.

I look back on that day and think what special day it was.  The last time I saw Bob and Dan and Harry alive, the only time that many of my friends and family were all together, the last time I had a WV address, & etc.  The sermon, I can still hear Peter's words.  Jim's prayer, I can still feel his hands on my head.  Bob's charge, seems even more sapient.  I can hear Dan reading from Fosdick's autobiography, Rich reading from Rauschenbusch, and Chad reading from Merton, my sister reading from Paul (or was it Jeremiah?), Lori with Senny on her hip delivering the blessing, and I can see Carol and Lois smiling.  They are all with me today.

To the great cloud of witnesses thanks.

26 June 2013

Biennial Reflection

A few days ago I, and the rest of the First Family, returned from the hot and humid confines of Kansas City, KS.  Why were we in Kansas City?  We were attending the American Baptist Biennial, aka Mission Summit.  The name change made me highly suspicious, when Baptist churches change names to things it is kind of like trying to fool a kid into eating green beans by saying they are green energy sticks.  But it has been awhile since my last Biennial and I wanted to be with my peeps, so we sojourned down I-35.

And my impression?  It was the best Biennial I had ever attended.  So good in fact, that it was the first denominational gathering that I attended and NOT felt the need to start my own denomination!  And that is saying something.  (I am exempting the regional Rochester gathering).   I left proud of my American Baptist heritage and membership.

Why such jubilation?  I do not expect the denomination to reflect the image of Christianity that I practice and that is offered here at Judson Memorial Baptist Church, we are a liberal Baptist church, but I do hope to be heard and felt a part of the denomination.  And at this biennial I was heard, felt apart of, and present.  I do not want a denomination that is "pure" a ghetto of just the left (or the right).  I want to be a part of body that holds hands with the left, middle, and right.  And I felt that we all held hands at this gathering.  I felt that folk came with open hands and not closed fists.  We didn't fight, argue, or pout in the corner.  Instead, we focused on issues of ministry through the conversations, presentations, and worship services.

If the future of the denomination looks and feels like the "Mission Summit" then I think American Baptists are primed for a bright future.

09 June 2013

Spiritual & Religious

This morning about 65 people gathered for my first bandshell service.  Why only 65?  Well, it was 55 and rainy for one reason, the wind was blowing, the seats were wet, and it was just plain ugly out.  But the choir, the house band for the day, the time with children folk, and the pastor, yeah sure the pastor too, brought their A game and had at it.  

I wasn't for sure what to expect, it was an odd experience, but overall I liked it. Here is the sermon from the day.  if you use, for your own service, a version of my commercial, hey sermons are oral culture, go ahead, just give me some credit.  

Spiritual & Religious
Worship at Lake Harriet Bandshell—9.June.2013
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

         If we were to play a little free association game and I said Baptist what would come to mind?  Probably not the greatest picture.  Do folk naturally think of Judson Memorial Baptist Church, not yet but hopefully in the future they will.  So for those who don’t know anything about us, let me introduce us by what kind of people might find this place a home for their souls.

         If you’re from Minnesota and laugh at the jokes on Prarie Home Companion then Judson might be the place for you.
         If you’re not from Minnesota and after living here for a while understand the jokes even more from Praririe Home Companion then Judson might be the place for you.
         If you’re an oft centered person looking for an oft centered church then Judson is definitely the place for you.
         If you always looked for a church that is like that line from a John Prine song, the topless lady with something up her sleeve then your with the right people.
         If you think the Religious Right is neither religious nor right then Judson might be the place for you
         If you are a Democrat who hasn’t given up on Jesus, then may be your place
         If you are someone who wakes up in the middle of night with cold sweats after a nightmare that God cant handle your doubts or questions, rest assured, she can, and Judson may be a place to calm your troubling mind
         We are a Welcoming and Affirming Church and cannot wait till all in Minnesota have the freedom to marry on August 1st so if you are a GLBT person and have one ounce of Baptist in your blood, for sure Judson is your place.
         Or if you a GLBT person and your neighbor is a Baptist that’s close enough, call Judson your home.
         If you want to explore and appreaciate the musical subletities from Bach to Bluegrass this is your place.
         If you pine for more Johnny Cash and John Coletrane in yoru life looks up.
         If you would want to laugh on Sunday mornings (which by the way according to Karl Barth is the closest we can get to God’s grace and which G.K. Chesterton said is the only true test of religion, can it handle a joke, can it laugh at itself) then Judson is your place for if it is one thing we do well is laugh.  Or if you are drawn more to the smile of the Dali Lama rather than the scowl of Pat Robertson, then this is your place.
        If you want to be a part of a group of people who will laugh with you till your sides hurt, cry with you till your eyes are dry, who will sit with you in silence and not be freaked out, then this is the group to sojourn with.
        If you want to read the Bible and scruntize all 66 of its book, this is your place
        If you are tired of being told you are going to hell, this is most definitely your place.
        Finally, if you are tired of labels, if you are tired of the lies religious hucksters have sold you, if you simply want to live as a friend of God nothing more, nothing less, then try us out. 

        Trying us out will take, in an honest fashion will take a few weeks.  If after a few weeks you  like what you feel, see, hear and taste then let’s join hearts and hands and walk together.  If you don’t like it no problem because there are wonderful faith communities with talented and loving people I’d glad to recommend.  But let’s say you already have a place your soul calls home, no problem we only ask that every time at your house of worship you secretly wish you were here instead of there.  Furthermore, if you are simply passing through and stopped because your dog had to pee and you vaguely like what you’ve heard know this sometime in the future weeks, months, maybe even years from now something shakes your soul and on Saturday night you have the overwhelming need for to go tot church know that quirky, gracious, and loving folks of Judson will have our doors open and will welcome you. 

         I neither repeat that nor give you a copy of that list, it is too good and I know as soon as I do someone else will adapt it and call it their own.  So I boil it down to its essence.  When folk ask what kind of church is Judson it is both spiritual and religious. 

         The other day on MPR a discussion on retirement commenced and sure enough someone brought up moving to Florida.  As the discussion went on, especially after all of this gray, damp, cold stuff, the sunshine, white sands, & fresh citrus sounds pretty good.  But then the guest made an interesting comment, that more people are moving back to the northeast & Midwest from Florida then are moving to Florida.  The reason?  Not because of sinkholes, hurricanes, tasteless tomatoes and god bless ‘em the Marlins and Devil Rays but because of the benefits of higher taxes: more benefits and care for seniors. 

         Not exactly your everyday beginning sermon illustration but stay with me for a moment.  The fastest growing religious demographic in America is the Nones, people who choose not to affiliate with any religious qualification.  Most believe in God but not totally.  They are more than likely to dabble in the elements of Buddhist thought (think of all the times you recently heard of mindfulness), Judaism (is Madonna still practicing Kabbala?), and Christianity (especially if Jesus has business practice advice).  I have no problem with people drifting from religion to religion, from nibbling from the best of tappas bar of religious truth and practices.  The nones may be new but for years folk have been calling themselves spiritual but not religious. 

         And here is the great temptation to always be spiritual without putting in all of the necessary religious work.  Or in other words: Florida with all of the social service benefits of Minnesota. 

         I feel that part of my vocation as a pastor is to be as honest as possible with people about the religious life.  Yes, it is boring.  There are times when nothing much happens.  I pray and pray and pray, read the bible and works from the ages, I observe holy days, change my diet, fast, feast, mark time diligently with blessings and meaning, and still nothing.  A dry, thirsty soul.  But then a transcendent moment when a meal with friends is somehow the reenactment of the Last Supper, the maple tree in my back yard becomes the oaks of Mamre from Abraham’s journey eons ago, or after a pastoral prayer someone’s face has changed they are Transfigured like Jesus was.  These moments get us over the hump, onto the next day, they enlarge our hearts and make our capacity for reconciliation and mercy greater.  Then there was the one mystical moment when  I felt at one with the Universe, where the space between heaven and earth was membrane thin, when I knew a Love Supreme was fully present.

         Will I have another of those grand experiences?  Probably not.  I cannot control those moments, you cannot control those moment, they come without invitation or warning. But I’m more than satisfied with the transcendent moments that occur.  We can place ourselves in a routine and pattern of prayer, reading, self giving acts, that quicken our souls for those moments.  We can put ourselves in a readying position so that when they come, we are ready.  When we embrace both sides of the equation, when we are both spiritual and religious, we open our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls to the working of the Living God in our lives. 

         We can see why folk would want and desire these experiences but not have to do the necessary work to get them.  I coach two baseball teams and every time I bring out the betting tee the kids start moaning, then I tell them Joe Mauer hits off a tee for at least two hours each day in the offseason.  A friend of mine while teaching in Dublin used to live with Christy O’Connor, the famous Irish golfer.  My friend said Christy never had a conversation or watched television without a golf club in his hand always working on his grip.  His greatest advice to all golfers, if you cant play 18 holes, play 9 and if you cant play 9 then get at least 60 swings in when you come home from work.  Always readying and preparing your body. 

         The same with the inner matters of the soul, you have to put in the necessary work to prepare yourself for the outward working of grace, justice, and mercy.  You have to feed yourself if you are going to help heal, transform and reconcile others. 

         And to be the spiritual person you have to a religious person too. 

         Reading the bible and praying are not easy acts.  But neither is eradicating racism, or ending war, or working towards a fair, just and living wage, or transforming from abusing the environment to blessing the earth.  All are spiritual and religious works.  All require ripe and blossoming souls. 

         In our gospel lesson we hear about Jesus healing a man with leprosy, a spiritual act if there ever was one.  And then, and then he retreated for a time of prayer, a religious act if there ever was one.  It’s a nice illustration of the circular relation between being religious and being spiritual.  In our second lesson we heard one of the most mystical and grace filled portions of scripture from none other than one of the most religious human beings in history, The Apostle Paul. 

         More than anything you a community to uphold, support, succor, and love you to a balanced human being, as someone who is both religious and spiritual, as someone who can laugh and cry their way to grace, as someone who can seek justice and sing the psalms, as someone who can offer bread and melt a heart, as someone who both heals and prays. 

         The world has enough religious people who never laugh and enough spiritual people who never think.  What the world needs most are not more of the same but some creative combinations of both, go and be the people this world desperately needs people who live at that intersection where God’s deepest desires for you meet the world’s deepest needs as religious and spiritual people.  Amen and Amen.