13 October 2014

It was Fun while It lasted: #883, the last & final post of theobilly

All good (or in this case, average) things must come to an end. Nine years ago I started this blog, today it ends.

Why?  It just seemed right.

What now? a new blog on the transition zone between urbanism and agrarianism.

Will I keep this online?  I'll leave theobilly online for a few weeks while I cull through it for pictures, ideas and such.  Then I will erase it and say adieu.

Thanks to everyone for the interactions over the years.

I started this blog in Rhode Island because I was lonely.  I wondered if there anyone else "out there" who was a baptist with an Anglican Oversoul, I wondered if anyone thought things were as funny as I thought they were, I wondered if anyone had the same kind of pain in their lives too.  It appears "they is".

From there my blog became kind of a backdoor resume, I had many conversations with search committees about my blog.  So although the official post count will be #883, it was more like a 1,000 (I scrubbed it).  My first blog post was about Dick Cheney dropping the f-bomb and the f-word's use in American language.  (it is not online anymore) Then there was a series of posts about my surgery, my vasectomy.  I was fascinated with it, apparently others were not.

From there it became a way to share sermons.  I got (and still do) get a kick out of watching the numbers of hits rise on Saturday evenings, folk will google "sermons on luke 5", or something like that.     For the most part, however, I took most of my sermons offline.  With a blog you cant follow John Wesley's imperative, burn your sermons every ten years.  It is too embarrassing to read them ten years later.

Then bookface came and messed everything up, at least that is what I used to think.  Now, well now my blogging has been comprised of starts and stops.

over 1,000 posts, over 100,000 visits, and countless hours of non-productivity.

here's my top ten list:

10:  A Bowl of Oats.  I just happen to love oats.

9.  The A.P. Carter Theory of Ministry.  Why AP Carter's model of producing music is a good model of pastoral ministry.

8.  Salt Crusted Pizza.  There was great debate between me and my spouse over which was best for the crust: kosher salt or garlic salt.  My idea for kosher salt won, probably the only time my skills as a cook superseded hers.

7.  Supreme Vegetable Oddity.  I pulled these carrots out of the ground and thought oh man this just aint right.

6.  A Few Words About Pop.  The words I read at the funeral for my father.

5.  Target of a Prankster.  Sex themes that kept appearing in the annual church yard sale in RI.

4.  Friedman Cries for More Support  Fake news story I wrote.  I wrote several Onion-esque articles, I've always liked this one.

3.  Publish or Preach   A tribute to my late OT professor, Werner Lemke.  His influence on my life continues almost every day.

2.  Cookies for Breakfast   self-explanatory.

1.  Michaelmas  where I think/hope the route of my future writing will take.

Readers, (not to be too presumptuous, but hey this is the last post) do you have a favorite (on or not on the list)?

02 October 2014

How I Would Solve the Problems of Seminary Education

Disclosure: no one has ever approached me wanting to know my opinion on how to solve the problem of mounting seminary costs, nevertheless that has not prevented me from forming opinions on the subject.  Second disclosure: in all reality I have no idea how much it costs to run a seminary, but again that has never stopped me from offering my ideas.

Here you go.

1.  Abandon trying to meet the Association of Theological Schools accreditation process.    Their process has homogenized the MDiv and DMin degrees.  Really, is their substantive differences between MDiv programs in North America?  Not really.

2.  Start the economics discussion with a reasonable cost for the student.  How much can a student afford to pay for his/her education over the course of three years?   How about $10,000/year.  Is that reasonable?  Perhaps.

3.  Student to Faculty Ratio: how many students would a seminary need to support a student?  Let us say 10.  $100,000/year for a salary + benefits package.  Yeah, yeah I know about utilities and staff costs, I'll get to those later in the list.

4.  Number of Faculty: How many faculty does a seminary need?  Tricky question. Because, every discipline is critical and many turf skirmishes exist.  How about 8 faculty members: OT, NT, THEO, HIST, PAST CARE, SPIRITUALITY, MINISTRY,  & SOCIAL JUSTICE.  For the other classes: two options.  One, use the talent of the local area to supplement.  Two, faculty members can teach outside of their discipline.  Why cant a preaching professor teach church history?  Why cant a theology professor teach preaching? Why cant New Testament professor teach pastoral care?  Addendum: create institutions that honor the craft/art of teaching rather than publishing.

5.  Duration of Education.  Why should seminary take three years?  Why not 2?  And this comes from a person who took an extra year of seminary (that is four for the mathematically challenged).  I think the number boils down to laziness.  Yes, laziness.  Schools know that most pastors will not continue to read and study once they start the pastoral life.  I cannot tell you how many professors I had who shared with me how many "horror" stories of good students who simply checked out once they graduated; pastors who stopped reading, stopped going to the library, stopped asking questions, stopped theological inquiry.  And those horror stories proved mostly true when I talk with other colleagues.  I think seminaries cling to three years because they know this is their only chance to deconstruct bad theology and practices.  Is there a way to change this?

6.  Church-Seminary Symbiosis.  The days of denominations being able to fund seminaries I would think is mainly over.  But that does not mean local churches and religious bodies couldn't give more financial support.  Also, churches, ideally, should be the places where folk are receiving their call, and those churches should be helping funding those educations.  Why couldn't clusters of churches adopt/support students or professors?  More to the point what if churches and seminaries lived in closer relationships with the re-formation of theological circles, study groups, etc.?  Why not state an expectation of ongoing study & inquiry as vital for pastoral ministry.

7.  Trustees.  Trustees will only be placed on boards of seminaries not because they can give bundles of dollars but because they love the institution with all their heart/mind/body/soul!

8.  Staff, Utilities, Upkeep of buildings.  I love old gothic buildings but I realize the upkeep of them are beyond the capacity of most theological institutions.  So two options: sell the campus and move to another location. or sell and move to a local college campus.  Many college campuses have space, gothic buildings, maybe even a chapel, and maybe even some creative dorm space.

9.  Alumni/ae Support.  let us face it, pastors are not deep pocketed people.  Most of us are dreamers and barely get by in life.  But we love our calling/profession and wouldn't trade it for the world.  We may not have gobs of money to donate to our seminaries, but there are people in the congregations we serve with funds to give.  What if seminaries coaches us on legacy giving (helping both our skills in development, and stewardship in the churches we serve, and stewardship for our seminaries).  Would that be enough to cover the extra costs?  I have no idea, maybe.

10.  Number of seminaries.  Have a PhD candidate conduct this project.  When was the last time Mainline Protestant numbers mirror the numbers we have now?  And when you find that number how many theological seminaries were there?  Once that number has been established that is the number we collectively strive to arrive at.  Is there market saturation?  Most definitely.  And I'll gladly pat the back and say atta-boy or atta-girl to the fool who undertakes this task.

there you go, in ten easy steps all the problems of seminary are solved.  :)

30 September 2014

The Cycling Clergyman: Things Not Seen or Heard, Installment #8

When I was 16 or so I wished more than anything that my dad had a "cool" truck.  Instead, we had an old beat up truck and a not so old and not so beat up truck.  Every time I voiced my desire for a better looking truck my father would repeat a saying his father used to employ, "Once you get where you're going, and are inside, no one knows or cares how you got there; they only care that you are there." But at 16 I would roll my eyes, now I see the wisdom in that saying.

Last week I took the bus over to St. Paul to officiate a wedding.  It was a beautiful Friday, so I also took my bike with me; so I could bike home after the wedding.  It felt a little odd carrying my bible, service book, and a change of clothes with me - all while wearing a suit - onto the bus.  But once the bus stopped and after I unloaded my bike, and after I arrived at the location of the wedding - no one noticed (except for the groom) that I walked my bike from the bus stop to the venue.  My grandfather was right again, no one cared how I got there; they only cared that I got there.  Nevertheless, I did have to do some clever manuvering, once I slipped back into civilian clothes, away from the wedding pictures being taken and over to my locked bike.

Now for some updates.
1.  On the ride back to Mpls I took the MRT (a bike trail that runs along the Mississippi River).  As I coasted down a hill something joing me in my coast: a bald eagle.  It was so beautiful and magical that I was lulled into a hypnotic trance.  I mention this because if the eagle had not turned abruptly I would not have turned my head and noticed the turn, the turn that keeps bicyclists from tumbling head first into oncoming traffic.  Word to the wise: eagles are beautiful and somewhat trustworthy, but dont think they are fully trustworthy.  I wouldn't be surprised if the eagle was trying to build up my trust so that next time he would not turn, causing me to crash, so that scavenger could feast on my scattered parts.

2.  Bus Justice.  The other day I was immersed in a book while riding from downtown Mpls back to church when a scuffle started.  It seems one elderly gentleman was upset with the lady sitting next to him.  The elderly man started yelling and cursing.  The dude sitting beside me, calmly, with a lolipop in his mouth, shouted, "Shut the F*** up and sit your f***ing a** down"  The elderly man stood up and got off the bus.  Would the same thing have happened if I had gone to the elderly man and got between him and the woman (which was what I was going to do)?  How would the elderly man have reacted if I had calmly told him to sit down, take my seat, and chill out?  I dont know.  The bus was moving, there were a lot of people aboard.  Maybe at the moment all that could have been done was to yell, calmly, with a lolipop in your mouth, Shut the...  But I hope not.

3.  The Importance of a Living Wage.  As I rode the bus up from the police station downtown a woman got aboard wearing a subway sweatshirt.  The woman next to her asked if she, indeed, worked at subway to which the woman replied, "Nope, I work at the grocery store.  But I applied to work at the new warehouse where they pay $16/hour.  If I could make $16/hour do you know what that would mean for me?"

4.  On Being Lazy, or the Temptation to be Lazy.  A couple weeks ago I used, for the first time, Car2Go.  It was a great experience.  I noticed thereafter how tempting it is to just use Car2Go rather than ride my bike or take the bus.  Because riding my bike and taking the bus takes more time, and I have to plan my days out more.  How easy it is to simply take the Car2Go wherever and whenever I need to go.  Sure, it has been a great benefit to use the carsharing tool but it also nearly sunk my bike/bus experiment.

It is kind of like organics recycling.  Minneapolis now has an organics recycling program, which is great.  I now have a place to put bones and dryer lint and wax paper and pizza boxes.  But you can also place paper towels, tissues, paper plates and such in the organics recycling.  Rather than limiting my use of paper towles I think no big deal I can recycle them.  But that's not the point.

Perhaps that is why sloth is one of seven deadly sins.  Because before you know it, not only are you right back where you started but even worse off than when you first started.

26 September 2014

Are You Ready for Michaelmas?

     As Americans continue to condense into urban centers our ability to stay connected to the land that sustains us has become more fragile.  Our disconnection will continue to have dire consequences unless we intentionally sow a creative relationship with the land and the people that work it.  One way to connect urbanites with farming concerns is with the observance/celebration of Michaelmas on September 29.  (for the record, Judson will observe Michaelmas Oct. 5th)

     Never heard of Michaelmas?  Neither had I until I read the recipe for Struan in Peter Reinhart’s Brother Juniper’s Bread Book: Slow Rise and Method as Metaphor.  Struan is bread, made with harvested grains, the ancient Celts baked for Michaelmas.  The day was an ancient locavore feast.  The more I researched Michaelmas the more I realized this largely forgotten holy day could be the day for urban churches to connect with the land.

-What if on the weekend before Michaelmas churches offered locally harvested/sourced meals?
-What if churches imagined Michaelmas as the day to lift up compassionate and sustainable agriculture practices as part of its mission?
-What if churches offered Michaelmas as the holy day for urban populations to reconnect with the land and rhythms of life our ancestors intuitively knew?

     Like most, if not all, religious holy days, Michaelmas, originated as an agricultural observation.  The ancients Celts celebrated the last harvest after the equinox with bread, poems, songs, dancing, and feasting.  To the protector of the harvest, Saint Michael the Archangel, they offered prayers and incantations. 

Michaelmas could become the urbanite-locavore “holy day.”  By the time the fourth Thursday in November rolls around our tomato vines have shriveled and apples have dropped.  September 29th is the perfect time to enjoy the peak bounty of the harvest season. 

     By observing the day we can both reconnect with the land and deepen the relationships with the communities we will need in order to flourish.  Environmental author and activist Bill McKibben has stated the best thing we can to do adapt in a changed climate is to forge deep relationships in small communities (like churches).  We cannot afford anymore too-big-to-fail institutions, we need communities so small and deep they succeed. 
     This week deepen your relationships by going to your local farmer’s market and filling up your basket.  Then invite over friends, family, neighbors and soon-to-be friends over for a local feast.  Bake a loaf of Struan (it makes killer toast for breakfast the following morning), write a blessing, place some Michaelmas daisies (or any asters, or any local flowers) on your table, say thanks to those who nurtured the land, and have a joyous local Michaelmas meal.  

Traditional blessing, translate by Alexander Carmichael

Each meal beneath my roof
They will all be mixed together,
In name of God the Son,
Who gave them growth.

Milk, and eggs, and butter,
The good produce of our own flock,
There shall be no dearth in our land,
Nor in our dwelling.

In name of Michael of my love,
Who bequeathed to us the power,
With the blessing of the Lamb,
And of His Mother.

Humble us at thy footstool,
Be thine own sanctuary around us,
Ward from us spectre, sprite, oppression,
And preserve us.

22 September 2014

Are we on Kairos Time or is it just a hyper Chronos Moment?

Sometime over the last few days while riding in a Car2Go, I was sick last week (gimme a break), I heard a commentator on the radio talk about the failure of the #Occupy Wall Street movement.  Something along the lines "they had no agenda or didnt make any specific demands or was not attached to a political machine."  On the surface the commentator was correct but under the surface...he couldnt have been further from the truth.

I confess that during the #Occupy time I was not at all connected or interested.  Ironically I was unemployed, had only emergency health insurance for me and my family, every day was a struggle to get by, debts were mounting & etc - if there ever was a time I should have been connected or interested, it was then.  But I was emotionally depressed and drifting and desperate, I had to get a job.  Thanks to some dear friends, a loving (and patient) spouse, an amazing therapist, the world's greatest American Baptist Churches, USA executive minister, and the world's greatest American Baptist congregation I made it through my trial.  I am just now in a place where I feel I can connect with the #Occupy movement.  I hope I'm not too late.

The movement is over you say, there are no more camps, protests, no meaningful legislation...  Au contraire.

-This weekend at least 400,000 people marched in the streets of New York City to march for the environment and demand meaningful and immediate action.
-This Spring a nearly 700 page book on economic disparity was on the best seller list!
-Seattle has set the bar with a $15/hour minimum wage.
-Further expansion of LGBTQIA rights in state and federal courts.
-Moral Mondays demonstrations/marches in North Carolina and other states.
-Righteous Outrage in St. Louis!
-How the water pollution in Charleston, WV brought a new consciousness to the community.

I look at these events and others as a movement, a movement that is saying ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.  These events and others, in my view, are the children of the #Occupy Movement.

Are we on Kairos Time or is this just a hyper Chronos Moment?  It will be just a hyper Chronos Moment unless various groups get together, sing the same song, and push this to Kairos Time.  I'm hoping, preaching, praying, joining with others, and doing what I can to make this Kairos Time.

How are you helping to push this chunk of existence to Kairos time?

an adaptation of Howard Thurman's Prayer, The Work of Christmas

When the songs of the protest are stilled,
When the banners in the sky are gone,
When the event organizers are home,
When the marches are back with in their homes,
The work of Kairos begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,

To expand equal rights for all,
To pay the worker a living wage,
To release the prisoner,

To reconcile the human family,
To repair the earth,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers & sisters,
To make music in the heart.

15 September 2014

Damson Plums

The other day I arrived a little early for a visit with a parishioner.  I was in the Seward neighborhood so I moseyed over to Seward Co-op to have a look-see.  To my surprise, I discovered an entire bin of Damson Plums.

Several years ago, when I lived in RI, I used to buy Damson Plum jam jars by the case.  I love damson plum jam.  But I have not seen it anywhere in Minnesota.  When I saw the bin of damson plums, I granted myself a 100 mile leniency (more on this later) and envisioned homemade damson plum jam; I bought several pounds worth.  I was so caught up in making my own damson plum jam that I forgot that I would have to not only carry my bag of plums with me on my pastoral visit, but I would also have to lull them around on the bus ride back to church and haul them on my bike from the church to the house.

Oh well.

Yesterday I carved out a couple hours to make jam.  I thought it was going to be super easy, especially with our cherry pitter.

Not so, cherry pits are smaller than plum pits.  Alas, hand pitted plums.   

I looked online for several recipes but they were either too complicated or had too much sugar.  So I improvised.  A pot of cut up plums (with skins), a little less than two cup of sugar, about a half cup of water, and began cooking.  When I thought it looked like jam I stopped cooking, jarred the jam, then placed the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.


reaction from my youngest.  This isn't good, it's delicious!!!

A Day Well Spent: What Does a Pastor Do on His Day Off

This Friday I had my first full day off in a good while; I took a bike ride and went on a hike.  I do not know what my other colleagues do on their days off but I try and get out of the city and to the countryside whenever possible.  I know that i need to fill up my "silence reservoirs" as much as possible.  But with only a bike/bus (or car share) as my transportation and deeper explorations into agrarianism, and having to be home by mid afternoon to pick up the kiddos my options are limited. But that doesn't mean there are not meaningful options.  

This Friday I made a pot of coffee, hopped on my bike, and started riding.  

First stop, Melo-Glaze donuts.  As an old-man-in-training I ordered one plain cake donut, but they were out of cake donuts.  So I got a plain long john.  

Second stop, public library.  I turned in some books and checked out a few magazines, movies, cds, and books.  

Third stop, Fort Snelling State Park for a hike around Pike Island.  

Fauna spotted: one whitetail deer, plenty of squirrels, one eagle, two crows, lots of birds (I really do need to start learning the names of birds), and lots of beaver signs. 

Flora: cottonwood, oak, wildflowers, and lots of once tamed grape vines.

The hike began with an interesting historical flood marker.  I wonder where the flooding of this Spring and Summer was on this marker?

The main destination of the hike was to see the point where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers converged.  It was a little melodramatic, maybe I had more in mind, maybe it was the steamboat pushed by a tug boat, maybe it was the crowd of high school students on the steamboat waving to me, maybe it was that the convergence was like any other meeting of two rivers.  

I also know that the meeting of the two rivers (MDOTE, or Mendota) had significant meaning for the Lakota people.  
It was their Eden.  

Finally, a picture of Fort Snelling.  I know my boys were not the first to ever term this moniker but it is still funny: Fort Smelling.  

10 September 2014

The Writing Pastor: a year's worth or words.

As an experiment last year I put all of my pastoral writings in a three ring binder. I included sermons (and sermon outlines when I didn't preach from a script), morning prayers (when I wrote them and did not offer them extemporaneously), welcomes (when I remembered to write them), benedictions (I've almost crafted "my" benediction), letters to the editor (3 last year), articles submitted for publication (2, 1 was accepted), wedding homilies, funeral homilies, & opening remarks before a concert. 

Here is a year's worth of pastoral writing:

Yes, that is a 7 year old macbook.  Yes, that is a portion of a sermon on the left mentioning Gustavo Gutierrez.  And yes, I write out most of my sermons in long hand first.

For the 2014-15 preaching year (which I view as late August to late June) I am keeping track of sermons, prayers, welcomes, benedictions, weekly emails, monthly newsletter articles, article submissions for publication, newspaper submissions, lectures (i am hopefully teaching a course in the Spring), letters to preschool parents, & etc.

Why am I doing this?

One, pastors are writers.

Two, so I can review my thoughts, sentences, and ideas.  Mary Nilsen shared with me the wisdom of this review process.  Also, it is easy for me to repeat myself.  But then again it is easy for folk not to know I am repeating myself.  Rule #304 for pastors: Do not fool yourself into thinking parishioners are always listening.  They do listen, but not all the time. 

Three, I have realized that many seeds for articles emerge from my sermons.  I like the Ralph Waldo Emerson example.  First, there are the ideas in my journal.  Second, these ideas, sometimes, come to life in a sermon.  Third, I take the initial ideas and research to expand (or contract) them into a fuller article, chapter, or essay.

Lastly, I can see what God is up to with me.

09 September 2014

The Cycling Clergyman: Installment #7: Summer Update

With MPR's Paul Huttner predicting a wind chill of 36 degrees this week I reckon I better hurry up and post a summer update.

1.  General Update.  I have continued to ride my bike and take the bus for my work as a pastor. I know a situation will emerge when I will need immediate (and fast) transportation, so I signed up for a Car2Go membership, C2G's area now includes both Minneapolis & St. Paul (but I have yet to use it).

2.  Changes.
A.  Time.  I am amazed at how riding my bike and taking the bus has changed my outlook on time.  I know that getting from Point A to Point B will take more time on my bike or on the bus.  I used to get frustrated by this slowness, but no more.  Now I appreciate the scenery and the people I see and the relative quiet.  In June I took the bus over to Augsburg College to visit someone, it took me almost an hour.  Rather than get frustrated at the length of time, I used the time on the bus to read (I read almost 55 pages of a theology book!  When was the last time you had an hour of silence to read 55 pages of theology - that bus pass just got a little more tantalizing).

B.  Bike Racks.  Since I last wrote a post Judson Memorial Baptist Church and Judson Preschool and Dero and the City of Minneapolis got together and installed not one, not two, not three, but four bike racks on Harriet Ave.  Woohoo.

C.  Influence.  I have no idea if my riding around town has much, if any, impact on congregants or others.  But I have noticed an uptick in the number of bikes parked at Judson on Sunday mornings and throughout the week.  (For the record it was a Judson member who rode their bike during the winter that provided initial inspiration).  And I had one member share about the insights he/she has since he/she also started riding their bike to work.

this my jersey from the race.
it was fun to have people cheer for Rev.
Especially, the chant, "go rev go"
Someone also yelled, "give em hell Rev.  
D.  Physical.  Unknown to most, I have always had a secret desire to do a triathlon.  In January, around the time I started riding my bike full-time, I registered for a tri in Aug.  This August I finished two triathlons.  I reckoned if I could ride my bike in the snow and wind I could finish a tri.  I was right.

It was great fun training and competing in the races.  I cannot wait until to a few more next year.  (I need to report that for the last race I was mis-registered as a newbie - basically for a glorified kids triathlon.  I corrected the mistake on race day, but my times were reported with the newbies.  For the 100 yard swim everyone else had times of around 4 minutes while mine read 18 minutes.)  For the record, I competed a Sprint distance tri with a swim length of 1/2 mile.

Another, deeply lodged, impetus for riding my bike full-time was to also get in shape.  As a pastor there are times when entire groups of muscles do not get used.  I sit down quite a bit and eat lots of unhealthy, but tasty, foods.  Last year while at the Minnesota State Fair I got on the official scales at the Minnesota Commerce booth; I weighed a whopping 196 lbs.  I had not weighed that much since my senior year of high school, when I was the starting left offensive tackle (I was really a guard but the coach flipped the tackles and guards to combat the 4-4 defensive scheme).  I vowed then and there that I would weigh less than 196 lbs the next time I was at the fair and climbed those scales.  Thanks to riding my bike, cutting back on sweets (and beer, but since nearly all Minnesota beers taste like some version of grapefruit, this was not nearly as difficult as you may think it was), and training for the triathlons I am proud to say I lost nearly 15lbs.

E.  Style.  For most of the winter and spring I wore my clerical collar.  But I really dont like my clerical collar.  I know I can wear them but everyone either thinks I am a Lutheran, Catholic, or Episcopal pastors - all are welcomed associations but I am quite fond of my baptistness.  I tried the blue + baptist + water = blue clerical collar shirt but no one "got" my association.  I tried a blue and white striped and a plain white clergy shirt but I spilled coffee on them both the first day I wore them.  Plus, once when my collar "popped out" on my white shirt a clerk at a store was convinced something was terribly wrong with my shirt, she was deeply troubled by it.  Resolution: I went Tom Rice or Lawrence Hargrave or Bill Austin- i.e. back to the bow tie, exculsively.  I love bow ties.

Here is my first sermon back after summer vacation, with a bow tie.  I think this may be my favorite sermon of all time.  Why?  It describes my self re-discovery.  Thank you Judson.

Judson Sermon 20140817 "An Expanded Heart" from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

that's a wrap, for now.  Join with me, get on your bike and get moving.


a bucket of Sweet Martha's from the State Fair

a sign at my favorite (sometimes) donut shop.  Favorite that is when they have plain cake donuts in stock.  Yes, my favorite donut is a plain cake donut.  Yes, I like my coffee black.  Yes, I am an old-man-in-training.  

15 July 2014

Continuing Ed Day One: Review of the past year

I loaded up the mystery van with the contents of the ACME Q46 Sermon Generator and trundled up to the library of the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (me and four other people occupied the building for the day).  I'm not sure what was going on but there were some painters working in the main hall (which is not unusual, it is low time a perfect time for sprucing up the place) but, they were playing the Pointer Sisters really loud (which is not odd either, but the volume level was - for the record it is impossible to be in a bad mood with the Pointer Sisters welcoming you to a theological library).  And for the record I will be an adjunct faculty member at UTS this Fall (Baptist History and Polity) don't believe me?  Check this out.

I started the day off by reviewing a year's worth of sermons and writing.  It was painful and kind of sad to be done with my review in 90 minutes, especially knowing that it took me countless hours to produce them.  Verdict: some of the sermons were so good I couldn't believe I wrote them and some of them were so bad I was ashamed to have my name associated with them.  I also realized that I start off strong but tail off by the end of the month.  I also try to do too much with my sermons.  I also have some good ideas but not enough time for them to flourish (thus the dedicated week of sermon prep).  Finally, I repeated the theme of a sermon in consecutive weeks.  Which again punctures my nascent theory that everyone pays attention to every word I say.  Which again proves my theory that preachers can never repeat themselves enough!

After a period of review I went to work mapping out the year.  I identified 12 themes for the 2014-15 year.  Armed with my themes I went digging in the stacks for books.  It was a good day.

Today I'll be at the Central Mpls Library continuing the quest and reading.

08 July 2014

My Sermon Writing System: The ACME Q46 Sermon Generator

Warning the following blogpost is about the only time you will find me operating on a highly organized level.

While on the mission trip/pilgrimage in WV a couple of weeks ago one of the youth asked me what do I do all day.  I answered with a question, "What do you think I do all day?" The youth replied, "Well, I figure you write your sermons on Saturday evening then have a part-time job during the week at Dairy Queen or someplace like that."  I used it as a teachable moment to explain the ins and out, the pluses and minuses, the heights and depths of pastoral ministry.  I hope it sounded like more fun and more rewarding that a part-time gig at Dairy Queen.

I am not a Saturday evening sermon writer, although there have been a few moments when I have had to rewrite a sermon on Saturday evening.  Using our time together I would like to reveal the Travis Norvell method of preparing to write a sermon, or the ACME Q46 Sermon Generator

Next week I will start a five Sunday vacation (including a week of continuing education).

I start off by writing all of the Christian, secular, solar/lunar, church specific, agricultural, Baptist dates I can think of on my giant pad of paper.  I also list all of the themes I'll be preaching on for the year.

Then I set off for the first few days letting my mind & soul get lost in libraries, bookshops, museums, galleries,  hikes, movies, and the like all the while picking up artifacts that I place in my "special box."  (For the record I really do have a "special box,"  Like Rock Baptist gave me this special box as a going away present.)  In addition to the artifacts collected during my continuing education week the special analog box includes artifacts from the year: newspaper articles, New Yorker cartoons, New Yorker articles, New York Review of Books articles, poems, song lyrics, NPR stories/interviews, quotes from books, quotes from parishioners and life, movie scenes, works of art, any and everything that I find interesting, funny, thought provoking, stimulating, or down right amazing.  (For the record my practice of collecting artifacts drives my spouse absolutely bonkers because I refuse to recycle any scrap of paper until I have looked it over carefully and evaluated its potential.)

Near the end of my continuing education week I dump all of the contents from my special box out onto a large table.  Then I start sifting and sorting the contents into theme piles.  Then I match up them up to the themes for the coming year: longing, brokenness, grace, hospitality, belief (that is all I at the moment).  Each theme has a folder, all the folders go into a 1970s era binder which I will then carry with me to work and the library throughout the year providing me with further clarity and direction.

This method enables me to research material throughout the year.  How many times have you been writing a sermon on Wednesday and thought to yourself, "this would be a damn good sermon if I had read X or had more time to think about Y."  Now you do.  I am sure this method could be adapted for use on an email machine but I like my analog box.

This method will not produce stellar sermons but it will hopefully lift the determining third.  Determining third?  Tommy Lasorda once said that all baseball teams win a 1/3 of their games and lose and 1/3 of their games, it's that third 1/3 that separates great teams from average teams.  I apply the same theory to my sermons: a 1/3 will be great, a 1/3 will be not so great, and the other 1/3 will hopefully be pretty damn good.

At the end of the preaching year you could have something like this (if you write out your sermons).

This year I included all of my sermons (even the outlines of a few that I preached without a script), the prayers, letters to the editors, submissions to magazines, wedding homilies, blessings, and opening words at special events.  I did not include newsletter articles or my weekly paragraph in the church email (maybe this year I will).  Why do I keep all of these?

Two reasons.  One, to give myself a visual reminder of how crucial writing is to my profession.  Good writing is essential.  Two, I have a way to checking/reviewing my writing.  Am I repeating myself?  Do my paragraphs balance (short sentences followed by long sentences)?  Where are my weak spots?  What do I need to work on?  Bonus reason: it proves (to myself) that I do not JUST write sermons on Saturday evening and work at Dairy Queen during the day. :)

What is your method?  Please share.

14 May 2014

Why Mess with Perfection?

My late father used to bemoan every time he heard about new and improved chocolate chip cookie recipe, or when my mother tried a new and improved chocolate chip cookie recipe.  In his mind the chocolate chip cookie was perfected in the 1950s.  Why would people mess with perfection?  I've pretty much adopted this mindset concerning chocolate chip cookies, and black clergy shirts.

Several months ago I decided to sell my car and use only my bike and public transportation for my job as a clergyperson (I have, however, been known to drive the new van to a meeting or two).  Riding my bike changed my life in many ways; one of those ways: my choice of clothing.  I couldn't very well ride my bike and wear a suit with dress shoes.  So I simplified.  I switched back to khaki pants, hiking boots, and clergy shirts.

Can a Baptist wear a clergy shirt?  Sure we can.  Yet I've always been a little uncomfortable wearing a black clergy shirt with a tab collar because of the immediate association of imitating Roman Catholic priest (but with Pope Francis, that aint such a bad thing).  So I tried to forge new ground with a blue and white striped and a plain white clergy shirt.  I really like these shirts but no one has any clue what they are.  No one recognizes them as clergy shirts, I should ask someone what they think they are.  Therefore, I have been wearing my old threadbare blue clergy shirts until I order some new black shirts.

The other day after dinner I had a revelation about the wisdom of black clergy shirts.  Here is my revelation: Not only are black clergy shirts the uniform for clergy, not only do they hide wrinkles, not only are they Protestant (yes they are), not only are they visually thinning (at least folk say black hides a few lbs.) but, are you ready...they hide stains!  I've only had my new clergy shirts a few weeks and they already have stains on them.  I love chocolate and red wine, two things that my non-black clergy shirts love to reveal.

Why mess with perfection indeed?

12 May 2014

2014 State of the Church Address: Why I'm Not Worried: Numbers and Soul

Judson Sermon 20140510 "State of the Church Address: Why I'm Not Worried" from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

2014 State of the Church Address: Numbers & Soul: Why I’m Not Worried
Third Sunday of Eastertide - 11.May.2014
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

            First Lesson: Jeremiah 10:17-25

            Why I/We Should Be Worried

            Of the 250,000 Protestant congregations in America, 200,000 are either stagnant or in decline.  200,000 out of 250,000, that is 80% are either stagnant or in decline, 80%. 
Every year 4,000 churches close, that is roughly 76 each week.
Every day 3,500 people leave the churches they call home.
Since 1965 each of the seven denominations that makes up Mainline Protestantism –  United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church, USA, Episcopal Church of America, American Baptist Churches, USA, United Church of Christ, & Disciples of Christ – has reported a decline.  Some have called for the end of the term Mainline, instead using Oldline or Deadline. 
There are 25 million less Mainline Protestants since the 1950s.
This year Alban Institute closed.  The church consultant agency, that has focused on forming healthy mainline congregations closed. 
This year the American Bible Society is selling its 12 story building in downtown Manhattan.
There are no more brick and mortar Cokesbury stores! 
And most seminaries are either hanging by a thread or operating at a membrane thin margin.  In last few years every Mainline seminary has either had to cut faculty and staff, sell buildings, or like Seabury Western and Bangor Seminary closed. 

            Many biblical scholars have turned to the theme of exile as the metaphor to describe the current state of decline amongst Mainline Protestantism; tradition that has been torn from the land, left blowing in the wind, and composting in the dustbin of history.  And that is what keeps me up at night: to think that a life-giving tradition with names such as Roger Williams, Harriet Bishop, Martin Luther King, Jr, Henry Ward Beecher, William Sloane Coffin, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Howard Thurman, Vida Scudder, Georgia Harkness, or Sallie McFague would up and die. 

Sometimes I feel like a member of the rear guard who is still fighting a battle when the war was long ago lost. 

A few years ago I decided maybe my future as a clergy person is to hold onto liberal Protestantism by serving communities that were willing to persevere…and had a large endowment. 

Why I’m/We’re Not Worried

            Then for reasons I am still trying to figure out, we stumbled upon each other and ever since I have given up on the idea of Exile as the working metaphor of our tradition; and I’ve given up on the idea that a healthy, robust, and vibrant liberal Protestant church is a relic and a thing of the past.  Furthermore, each time my mind starts to think that we are not going to make it, something beautiful and amazing happens here and I think what I fool I was for thinking otherwise. 

            This is not a period of Exile, this is a time of flourishing, of hope, of imagination, of promise, of homecoming, of restoration, of new beginning. 

            Second Lesson Jeremiah 31:7-14

            I want to offer you some numbers.  Now I know that y’all do not look to me as a numbers person, but believe it or not, on certain days of the year I can be a detailed oriented person. 

            Simply put, look at the numbers.  The benchmark for what a church can look like is to take the average attendance for Christmas Eve and Easter over the course of a few years.  In normal years Judson has averaged 200 for both Christmas Eve and Easter services.  Last year our average Sunday attendance was 108.  So the goal is within five years to have our Sunday attendance be the same as our Christmas and Easter average.  That would take an average of at least 18.4 new members each year. But we know some people will move, others will disassociate, and some will die, so the number is more like 25 each year. 

            Keep in mind, about 200 maybe up to 250, that would be the maximum we could go for Judson to still be Judson.  Any bigger than that and we’d have to talk about spinning off and starting another church, which would be exciting too.  But that is a good piece off. 

Now that number of 200 for weekly worship may sound insurmountable, but look at it this way:

Each Sunday we average at least one visitor.  Over the course of the year that’s 52 visitors.  We can attain our magic number just by retaining ½ of our visitors.  I know, I know, some are visitors from out of town, some are family members on vacation, and for others Judson just aint what they’re looking for.  Okay but don’t get down yet. 

Each week the parents and caregivers of 119 preschoolers walk through our doors (not to mention special events when grandparents attend). 
Each week roughly 100 volunteers for Meals on Wheels enter our building. 
Each week visitors and friends attend yoga, painting groups, community events, book groups, bible study, to rehearse, to play musical instruments, to sit in the quiet of the sanctuary, to deliver supplies, drop off correspondence, check on things, nose around, and seek help. 
And what about the folk who attended concerts (over 200 were visitors). 
And what about those who stop by at Street Fest? 
And those who attend, or listen in on at the Bandshell? 
And those who visit us in a virtual way on our webpage or via facebook?  And those who find out about us via Pride events,
while we are at public events at the state capitol,
or various venues in and throughout the metro area? 

            Numbers are on our side.  Each day, week, month, season, and year we come in contact with more than 25 prospective members of this community.  They find us with little or no effort on our part – and that is an amazing fact!  Maybe the most amazing fact of all. 

It means we do not have to devote thousands of dollars in marketing, branding, and outreach. 

It does mean, however, we have to do an intentional job of making sure we hold onto those 25 future members: connecting with them in meaningful ways, inviting them, integrating them, and letting them help shape the future and mission of this church.  No matter what the event, how big or small, if everyone there is a friend or not, we have to keep the steady drumbeat of invitation going again and again and again and again. 

            Sure, it would be great if our financial numbers were a little bit stronger.  But again, I’m not worried.  It would be different if we had to shake the bushes, call and beg people to find their way to Judson.  It would be different if we out of hand budget deficits, it would be different if we weren’t growing.  The budget may not be balanced, we are looking at somewhere in the range of $8,000 in the red.  But that numbers would happen if every committee and entity spent all of their budget and it assumes that there will be no growth numerically: new pledges and givers, or grants.  So balance the budget with a simply line of faith: expected growth!  We expect as a congregation to grow this year, we expect new members, we expect new streams of revenue and funding for ministry.  I, for one, expect growth. 


Now a focus on the soul of Judson.  I simply want to highlight some of what happened here last year.

            Bandshell service in the freezing cold, with Wayne and Cheryl throwing snowballs for the time with children. 
            The different summer musicians we heard, the exchange of the Episcopals and the Gospel 5.
            Judson presence at the American Baptist Biennial in Kansas City
            Youth Mission trip where they learned about youth homelessness
            Brent Walker from the Baptist Joint Committee visit and Twins game with UBC.
            Sundaes on Sundays
            Installation of the Little Library
            Seniors Luncheon
            Table at Pride
            Hiring of Brett as Children & Youth Coordinator
            The new life created by Marriage Equality
            Char and Barbara singing This Land Is Your Land with a new verse celebrating marriage equality!
            And that was just last Summer.

            Rally Day
            The use of Ranked Choice Voting for best hotdish offering.
Mac Chatfield winning the Silver Lamb award
We needed space for a new Sunday School Class
Blessing of the Animals
Wedding Celebrations at second hour
Shower of Stoles
            AWAB 20TH anniversary
            Michaelmas service with Struan bread and Celtic music
            Great Gatherings – and the amazing amount that involved alcohol and that they were all overflowing with attendees.
            The amount of people who ended up getting flu shots on the Sunday we offered them!
            The Rutter Requiem!  And let us give thanks to the choir, Jim and John!
            The arrival of David Bloom
            The dedication of Chip’s stained glass window and blessing of Chip’s endeavor in Thailand.
            End of Liturgical year service with candles
            Advent  The kid’s bulletin covers
            The Christmas pageant
            Sara Thompsen Solstice concert
            Christmas sing-a-long
            The lutefisk sermon
            The White Elephant party and the amazing surprise of Silver Lamb that Mac Chatfield won in the Fall. 
            As the calendar year closed: the amazing amount of stuff on the Lost and Found table. 

            First Jazz Sunday – king cake, chicory coffee, king cake babies
            Pancake Brinner – folk eating like it was the last supper
            Trust MLK, Jr service
            Renewal of Baptismal vows/promise
            Second Jazz service, (who can enough jazz?) the premiere at Judson of Josh Johnson’s original composition Cora.
            The GSA Drag Queen/King ball/party
                        Lenten reflections on the Psalms
            Ash Wednesday service (interesting that more people attended the showing of the Life of Brian than attended the Ash Wednesday service, not sure what that says about Judson…)
            Locking up of the Alleluias
            Taize services
            Maundy Thursday service
            Good Friday with UBC
            Easter Morning and the release of the Alleluias
            Dinner and a Show
            Low Sunday & Hendrix’s second hour with his doctor!

            Blessing of the graduates
            You heard 74 different musicians
            You heard over 30 different liturgies.
            You heard 13 different people offer Time with Children
            You heard 8 different preachers
            You heard at least 72 voices reading psalms, reading scripture, & leading prayers.

            For Second Hour
9/22, 9/29, 10/6, 10/13: Kate Brady & Katherine Barton on meditation/Reinventing your future
10/20 Norvell reflections on weddings
10/27, 11/3, 11/10 Rev Julie Neraas on Stages of Life
12/1 Trust Parish Nurse
12/8 Chuck Dayton  Interfaith Power & Light
12/15 Dr Carolyn Pressler UTS on Advent
12/22 Prof Mark Sealy Climate Changes, we had Mark Sealy here!  Just imagine if would have had Carl Kasell here on the same day!
12/29 D Moore on ABC Biennial on social justice
1/5  Norvell on epiphany
1/26 Sr Stories  ? re: Gracie Jones 100+ yrs
2/2, 2/9, 2/16/ Rev Bloom & TN Social Justice
2/23 Doug Wallace Academy Awards films
3/2 Kate Brady Loving Kindness
3/9 Kate Brady Loving Kindness
3/18 Rev Dr. Eric Baretto
3/23 Missions on Youth Link
4/29 Hendrix Johnson & his MD
5/4, 5/11 Judson Youth DVD
We celebrated the weddings or recommitments of
R and R, K & L, M & G, J & M, N and S, the surprise wedding of S and M, and the not surprising, but lovely, wedding of D and A!

We dedicated C and G
We baptized J and L
We welcomed new members: Garrio and Joanna, Sand, Rich, and Jeff.

A dozen of you were at the state capital for the MN Interfaith Power and Light rally for the environment

What about the food we donate for Joyce’s Food Shelf? 
The funds for Starfish
Funds for mission, we’ve already given over $24,000.

The countless visits, cards, phone calls, and meals delivered to those in need.
The hours given to Meals on Wheels, making Judson look great, The Gathering, decorating for the season, correcting my grammar, moving things, hours given to meetings, personnel reviews, the sincere and heartfelt greetings.  The hours and hearts given in service on the Worship, Mission, Christian Education, Adult Education, Property, Personnel, Finance, Building Use, Planning and Policy, Membership/Leadership/Stewardship, Congregational Care, & Street Fest Committees, in addition to the Soup Group, TRUST representatives, Loaves and Fishes, Spiritual Voyageurs, Ushers, Second Hour coffee and treats, Church Officers, and historian.  The way you uphold, inspire, and push each other to be better human beings.  The way we embrace our mixture of Northern Exposure and Vicar of Dibleyness.  The freedom to cry & laugh on Sunday morning.  And maybe the most telling sign of your health as a congregation: the willingness to talk through difficult places. 

 From my own perspective: on several occasions I have said things in such a manner that if taken the wrong way could have been hurtful, rather than let that sit and fester, you approached me and asked for clarification.  On all accounts we laughed off the unintended message but that does not undercut the amount of courage and trust that took, for that I am extremely thankful.  Let us not stop this partnership, it is a work in progress. But well worth the time and effort.  I describe it as slow church.  I have intentions of being here a long time, I want to continue to take my time, when I can, on developing and nurturing relationships for the long term.  This is frustrating, probably, for both of us but it will be worth it. 
This is an amazing and beautiful place.  On the one hand it is a sanctuary, the last stop for many on the journey of religious life, helping them get through life. On the other hand it is a dynamo of religious power and grace propelling others to change the world. 

It is true I’m not silver with wisdom but I’ve been around and a part of enough different religious communities in this nation to know this is a special and unique place – do not take it for granted, let us build and expand making sure this is a vibrant, robust, and thriving community.  Amen.