Monday, June 22, 2020

Keeping the Pressure On

In the late 1960s Catholic monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton wrote an essay entitled, “Religion and Race in the United States.”  He began the essay with these sentences, “The idea of kairos - THE TIME OF URGENT PROVIDENTIAL decision - is something characteristic of Christianity, a religion of decisions in time and in history.  Can Christians recognize their kairos?  Is it possible that when the majority of Christians become aware that ‘the time has come’ for a decisive and urgent commitment, the time has, in face, already run out?” 

I read those sentences in divinity school and wondered if there would be a race relations kairos moment in my lifetime.  There seemed to be a moment surrounding the events in Ferguson, but that kairos came and went.  There seemed to be a moment when The Charleston Nine were killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church, but that kairos moment came and went.  There seemed to be a moment when Philando Castile was killed, but that kairos moment came and went.  There seemed to be a moment when the white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, VA and Heather Hyer was killed by a car ramming into protestors, but that kairos moment came and went.  

Four weeks have come and gone since the murder of George Floyd at 38th St. and Chicago Ave.  Is the kairos moment coming to an end, is it closing up?

On the one hand it feels like it is.  Yes, there are protests and marches and vigils and policy change meetings taking place.  But the crowds have thinned, the energy has leveled off, and everyone wants to focus on getting back to “normal.”  Nevermind that we are still in the midst of a global health pandemic and an environmental crisis (on June 22, it was 100.4°F in the Siberian Arctic).  It is the counter narrative, the on the other hand, where communities of faith like Judson Memorial Baptist Church come in!  

We need to keep the pressure on our elected officials to keep this kairos moment opened.  We need to keep reminding ourselves of our place and our work to keep this kairos moment opened.  We need to maintain the drumbeat of invitation to invite others to join us on this journey (and we need to also respond to invitations to partner with others too) to keep this kairos moment opened.  Remember, we are all at different places on this journey of racial justice, we need to create room for people who are just now “getting it,” while at the same time creating room for people way ahead of us to challenge and push and make us feel uncomfortable.   

Recall, our prayer is not that God blesses our endeavor; our prayer is to find where God is already at work blessing in this endeavor and join hands. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Tribute for Rev. Dr. William R. Herzog, II (1944-2019)

Dale Edmondson (former pastor at Judson) emailed me this week to tell me a great man had died: Bill Herzog (Dale and Bill were close friends).  Bill was here at Judson when Dale was installed on April 22, 1990.  

Others knew Bill much better and longer than I did. Like many of you I loved Bill Herzog.  But I felt compelled to share some of my experiences with this great man.  He was more than my New Testament professor, more than a mentor, more than someone I admired, he was more like a godfather - someone who revealed how to be an authentic, compassionate, a devoted father and husband, and a loving human being.  He was a divinity school version of Mister Rogers (Rev. Fred Rogers gave the commencement address at CRDS in 1994, this is my favorite picture from that event).

I first met him via VHS tapes: the famous 1996 homosexuality debate he did at Green Lake with Manfred Brauch (I'll try to find a copy and upload them to youtube). I thought this guy is amazing and this guy needs to grow a beard. I believe he told me his wife said the same thing about the beard. Later, I would discover not only did he like the American League, but he was a Boston Red Sox fan. If I had known this...

After college I was too afraid to venture too far from home in West Virginia for seminary, so I attended BTSR in Richmond, VA for two years. But at the end of my second year I knew I needed to transfer to CRDS. I cold called Bill Herzog (he didn't know me at all) and said, "I'd like to transfer to CRDS". He replied, "Sure thing, when do you want to come up for a visit? We'll pay for your flight up." I said, "no need for that Lori and I will drive up for the weekend." to which he added, "Sure thing, and if you all want you can stay at my place."

We didn't stay at his place, but we did meet him that weekend. When I told the admission office Herzog said the school would pay for our flight they nearly fainted. I told Dale Davis (then director of admissions at CRDS), no worries, we drove.

I wouldn't say he was a great administrator, why was he a perpetual dean? But he had a great sense of style (great wool suits). He excelled in the classroom. As a professor he was giant; he would push you but not to the breaking point. He demanded quality work, but he also wanted to know you as a person. I once turned in a paper to him and he gave it back to me saying, "It's a good paper, but it's not a social gospel paper. If you're going to write like a social gospeller then you've got to write clear for both the person sitting at the bar and the person sitting in the pew."

I took two independent studies with him on the historical Jesus and social justice. For two semesters I got weekly private one hour sessions with Bill Herzog! It was amazing. We would not discuss his work, he had ethics! A book a week, it was brutal but well worth it. I think he had a theology book in him but it never came forth. It would have been a book that combined liberation theology, with New Testament social sciences and ecclesiology. He hinted at this in his books, but during the private sessions he really became animated about this idea.

He had a wicked sense of humor, he loved to laugh. He loved to tell stories (usually, they were too long). A classmate of his in seminary, David Bloom has a picture of Herzog wearing a sweatshirt with Snoopy on the front. Bloom said,  "On the occasion that we would meet going in opposite directions while changing classes, he would say to me out the corner of his mouth, "There's no excuse for you, Bloom!"

He was also a great preacher. During chapel services he would take on a biblical character and preach from their perspective. He loved doing Peter. Most Sundays one would find Bill working as an interim at local American Baptist congregations or teaching Sunday school (especially the great gig he had at the Episcopal Church). I once asked him about the balance between the pulpit and the academy. He said, "you have to incarnate the tension". I thought at first that was just divinity school bs, but I think better of his advice now.

Every year he would have the Baptist students over to his house for an end of the year cookout. During my senior year I recruited him to be the pitcher for our divinity school slo pitch softball team (terrible team, but great fun). Herzog threw a curve, a knuckle and a quick pitch. He said there was no way Chris Evans (Chris Evans was then professor of Church History at CRDS, he is now at Boston University; they also co-authored/co-edited a book on baseball, see below for more info) could hit his curve, I believed it. The loser of each game got a pitcher of cheap Genesee beer, we had all the Genesee we wanted that season.

Bill left CRDS and took one final position as Dean of Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, MA. At the time I lived in Lincoln, RI, so I would drive up from and see him every now and then. He loved it at ANTS, well he loved getting his Red Sox clergy pass at least. :)

Most see Herzog's influence in the work of his former student Ched Myers. But I see his influence in the 100s of alums, friends and associates - people of integrity, those who think pastoral scholarship matters, those who don't take themselves too seriously, those who genuinely listen to you and don't look through you, those who enable you to see the kingdom of heaven for just a few bright moments.

When he was in New Orleans for the SBL annual meeting I invited him to come to the church I was serving to preach and teach.  He had the congregation in the palm of his hand, they were in awe of him.  As I drove him out for lunch he started asking me questions about pastoral life then said, "Aha, you're a problem solver, you're officially a pastor!"  I made a face and said, "I guess so."  He just smiled.

God bless you, Rev. Dr. William R. Herzog II

the picture is from my graduation from CRDS in 2000. as you can tell from the look on my face (and from Bill's) he just said to me, "And now for the rest of your life you get to be an American Baptist pastor!" (i told you he had a wicked sense of humor)

Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed, 1994
Jesus Justice and the Reign of God: A Ministry of Liberation, 2000
The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture, 2002
Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus, 2005

plus other articles in many academic journals.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

One Last Good Chance: Sermon at Judson Memorial Baptist Church. 28.July.2019

Our One Last Good Chance
Leviticus 25:1-7 & Mark 1:14-15
On the Occasion of my Seventh Anniversary
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
Rev. G. Travis Norvell

One time my brother-in-law asked my father how long it took my him to learn how to become a bricklayer.  My dad replied instantly, “seven years.” My brother-in-law looked skeptically at my dad; my dad sensed this and elaborated a little more, “After two years I could use a trowel, but it took me seven years to master the trowel”.  

The movie The Biggest Little Farm tells the story of John and Molly Chester’s attempt to create a farm utopia on an old, hardpacked, dilapidated, lifeless farm an hour outside of Los Angeles, CA.  They get advice from a permaculture guru who tells them they have to rebuild the soil first until each teaspoon of soil contains one million microscopic lifeforms in it.  So they did just that, they started with the soil and built it up.  

They built a worm composting unit. They composted manure from the animals, they planted a diverse variety of fruit trees, crops, and obtained every farm animal imaginable.  It looked beautiful and it looked like all would come together within a year. But each season brings new problems, coyotes eat the chickens and snails the size of golf balls come from nowhere and eat the lemons and oranges.  The permaculture guru kept telling them, if you’ll rebuilt the soil and diversified the farm all will come together in the seventh year. In the seventh year...

Since my return trip from our racial justice pilgrimage to Memphis, TN last October I have read approximately 20 books on church revitalization/church rejuvenation. Out of those 20+ books I am holding onto this one line from Small Strong Congregations: “Your most productive work will not start until your sixth or seventh year!”  

Seven years ago on July 29, 2012 I began, officially, as your pastor.  

What is it about seven?

Six days God created then rested on the seventh.  Every seven years was to be a sabbatical year where the land rests.  Then every seven cycles of sabbatical years shall be a year of Jubilee where debts are forgiven, slaves are set free, and land is returned.  

So what are we going to do during this seventh year together?

First, how about what we’re not going to do.  No seven year itches.  

I feel like we are, emotionally and spiritually, just now ready for the work at hand.  

In divinity school the Dean of Students would tell us, “5 will get you 10, 10 will get you 20 and 20 will get you life”.  Translated for the pews it means, “If you’re at a church for five years, you should probably stay 10. If you’re at a church for 10 years, you should probably think 20.  And if you there 20, that’s probably the only place for you until retirement.”  

Going forward I am not thinking of my call here as another step of preparation for another call, I am thinking of our situation more like a rabbinical call: this is it for me.  (Think how many times rabbis move around, they don’t). 

What we are going to do together this year.  We are going to seize the moment.  

We have one last good chance to revitalize Judson.  

By last good chance I mean while we can still benefit from the resources at hand.
  1. Our giving increased by 10% from last year.  That is unheard of.
  2. We still have people who can literally move chairs and set up tables.
  3. While we have kids and youth.  
  4. While we have momentum. 

While we still have over 500 people who walk through Judson’s doors each week.  100+ for worship + 200+ associated with Judson Preschool + 100 associated with Meals on Wheels + another 100+ associated with the four counselors who use our building, the Girl Scout group, the opera company who is practicing here, the philharmonic and neighborhood group that has office space here and various sundry outside groups who use the building (and that doesn’t even touch the number of people and families who play on the playground, the people who walk their dogs by, the people that jog by, the people who sit on the steps for a moment).  We still have people who visit Judson because of the sermon title or what’s on the sign out front, The Southwest Journal even did a story on Deadra Moore’s sermon title! What zany world are we living in? We still average three visitors per Sunday. While we still have name recognition.  

This week a counselor called and asked if I would speak to a client of theirs.  Why me? Because years ago they had a positive experience at the Family Life Center that used to be here.  We have to seize this moment now before it disappears...  

Brothers and Sisters and Siblings the time is now, not next year, not five years from now, not ten years from now.  IT IS NOW.

In the 30th year of Jesus’ life he preached his first sermon with an urgency of now.  “The time is fulfilled”. In the Greek mind (the New Testament was written in Greek even though Jesus and the disciples spoke Aramaic) there were two ideas of time.  There was chronological time (day to day, week to week, year to year time), chronos.  

Then there was special time.  The time you fell in love, the time you found your calling in life, the time you finally stood up for something or somebody, think of Whitney Houston time 

“I want one moment in time
When I'm more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away

Or Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton time, 

But that won't happen to us and we got no doubt
Too deep in love and we got no way out
And the message is clear
This could be the year for the real thing

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That kind of time is kairos time, it is what Jesus meant when he said the time, the kairos, is fulfilled.  And it kairos for Judson.  

I have specifics, you have specifics, but let us center around this metaphor, it’s on the front of your bulletin; it’s simple and it’s straight from theologian Richard Rohr and I think he meant it just for us.  

The Bible gives no comprehensive basis why evil exists, why suffering takes place, why human beings experience tragedy.  The Bible simply operates with the assumption that chaos exists. We all experience chaos. We all respond to chaos. We went through a divorce, we or a family member or close friend came out as gay or lesbian, a parent died, we miserably failed at something, our dreams were crushed, something tragic or tramautic happened, we stopped believing in God, Christianity stopped making sense, our faith seemed hollow and shallow, and on down the line…  Some people respond to chaos with Order. They build safe place amidst the chaos to keep the danger at bay, “Don’t drink, don’t cuss, don’t chew, don’t go with girls that do.” That’s an Order box response to chaos. Some people respond to chaos with Disorder, they define their lives over against the Order they and others built, “Their religion is simple, mine is complex and nuanced”.

Conservative churches are Order Box congregations, Liberal churches are Disorder Box congregations.  Neither are mature congregations. Once you jump out of the Order Box, you cannot go back. And once in the Disorder Box you cannot go on in life simply defining ourselves over against what we used to believe. 

I recently bought a bluetooth speaker that fits on my bike so I can listen to sermons and podcasts while on rides.  I have crossed a threshold of supreme preacher nerdom. Oh the looks I’ve received over the past couple of weeks. While listening to Richard Rohr’s explain his simple metaphor of boxes for the spiritual life I had to pull over.  That’s it. Hallelujah. Over the past few months I’ve been banging my head over and over against the Disorder Box. I kept thinking if we just do it better then we won't need to change, just do it better. But Rohr invited me to another place, to the Reorder Box, to the reorder pastor, to the Reorder Judson.  

Have you seen the movie or read the book A Man Called Ove?  It tells the story of an aging Swedish widow whose life of Order collapsed after his wife died, he was laid off from work, and a pregnant Iranian woman moves next door.  He tries to die by suicide but each time his attempts are thwarted. He quickly moves from Order to Disorder. As he moves moments of tenderness, compassion, humor and grace emerge.  By the end he is in the midst of a Reordered life. The same is true for Best of Enemies the story of desegregation in Durham, NC centered on two people, one the leader of the local Klu Klux Klan chapter and the other is a community activist.  Order is clear, the other is the enemy. Disorder - desegregation and they are ordered by a judge to work together to provide a way forward. Reorder - they both changed and became lifelong friends and worked together for the common good.   

If we are going to live into the new life God has for us in kairos time we will do so in the “Reorder Box”.  There is healing after pain, there is reconciliation after being harmed, there is getting up after failures, there is belief after doubt, there is life after death.  We don't have to apologize for the Bible, we don't have to be embarrassed that we’re a church, we don't have to be ashamed that we’re Baptist (because in a few years folk won’t even know the difference between Lutheran and Baptist anyway).  What we have to do is live honest, compassionate, loving, authentic, vulnerable, Christ-centered lives. Let us take the gifts from the Order Box and the gifts from the Disorder Box and let us pilgrim together to the Reorder Box.  

Brothers and Sisters and Siblings this will be difficult. Another line I’m holding onto, “The experienced church leader has learned that while renewing an established congregation may take only half as many radical ideas as projected, it will take twice as long as anticipated, and be three tims more difficult than ever imagined. We can never underestimate the time and energy required”.  And yes we’re all have to sacrifice our sacred cows, so what? This is our last good chance, while the opportunity is present, while we still have the energy and potential, while folk still harken our doors, while we still have name and recognition to cash in on... What are we waiting for? The time, kairos, is now. Let’s do this.  

Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Prayer for Bicyclists

While perusing the church library the other day at Judson Memorial Baptist Church I found a title that intrigued me: Prayers for the Domestic Church by Edward Hays. 

It emerged from the 1970s Catholic movement of prayers and blessings for home life, i.e. the Domestic Church.  In this book there are all kinds of neat and interesting prayers/blessings: for pets, for before meals, for seeds and even the "wedding bed".  Sure enough there was even a prayer for the purchase of a new automobile.  One could pray for a mutual enjoyment intercourse, a tasty meal, playful pets, and the new car smell but, no prayers for bicyclists. 

In my morning prayers I pray for my family, my church, friends and bicyclists in the Twin Cities (although I feel my prayers reach family in WV, I feel my prayers have no effect for bicyclists in Albert Lea or Duluth).  Most mornings before I start pedaling I will pray for a safe journey (recall one child and my spouse have both been hit by automobiles, one child went over the handlebars, one child wiped out, and yours truly has gone down on numerous occasions).  This morning practice, coupled with the absent of a prayer for bicyclists caused me to write a prayer for bicyclists to pray before they cycle. 

But we can't just jump to the prayer...Reader, did you know there was a patron saint of bicyclists?  The Madonna Del Ghisallo.

Pope Pius the XII on October 13, 1949 deemed her the patroness of bicyclists.  St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Portland, OR has a shrine to her (the only one in the US?)  I think a certain Baptist Church in south Minneapolis, MN needs one too! 

So here is a first attempt prayer written to the Madonna Del Ghisallo for all bicyclists.

Madonna Del Ghisallo,
Protector of all bicyclists,
you watched in agony
as your Son suffered a cruel and lonely death;
knowing too well the experience
of pathos, I pray you will keep
me safe and all others who pedal today.

May drivers be focused and not distracted,
for they are controlling 2,000lbs vehicles.
May folk look before opening car doors.
May there be three feet between me and other cars.
When I swerve to avoid a pothole,
may I not swerve into danger.
May all the nuts and bolts hold tight.
May my brake pads grip.
May my wheels turn true.
May I arrive safe and not too sweaty.
May daredevil squirrels be kept away...

Mother of God accompany us
help us to be ambassadors of peace and love and justice
fill us with joy
and let us be signs of your healing grace.


Monday, July 1, 2019

A Car-Free Tithe

A few years ago I began the experiment of riding my bike, walking and taking public transit for my job as a pastor.  I thought up excuse after excuse not to do it, but somehow found the unction to start pedaling.  One of the thoughts that propelled me was: just a couple of generations ago pastors didn't have cars and they seemed to do just fine.

Think about it: having a car in the city, until after WWII, was a luxury, not a necessity.

This week I read in Eugene Peterson's memoir, Pastor, that while in seminary he worked at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church where George Buttrick was the Senior Pastor (1927-1956).  As an aside Peterson mentioned that Buttrick did not drive or have a car.  George Buttrick, maybe the best white preacher of his day did not drive or have a car: he walked and took public transit (I'll have to consult with historians to learn if he rode a bike).  If the pastor of MAPC in NYC could operate without a car, then surely the pastor of a smallish Baptist church in Minnepolis can too!

A certain type of pastor, yours truly included, loves the writer/farmer Wendell Berry; we kind of idolize him and his way of life.  We live in cities, but dream of the country.  We love our technology, but curse how it has changed our lives.  We eat out all the time, but love the organic choices at Whole Foods.  We are baskets of contradictions.

Berry's insistence on minimal technology (he does not own a computer) and using draft horses on his farm makes me think further about what would pastoral practice look like without a car, without a phone, without email?

Because of the congregation I serve I cannot do this job without access to a car, without a phone, without email.  It is the way life is right now.  But I know pastors who do not have cell phones, and I know pastors who are not on social media, and I know pastors who do not have cars.  But I don't know pastors who do without all the above (but I'm sure they are out there).

I wonder what kind of lost wisdom we have lost with our reliance on technology and non-mass transit or self-powered transit?

Recently I was in my hometown of St. Albans, WV for vacation.  Going on five years of my experiment of biking, walking, and taking mass transit I saw my hometown in a different light.  It was designed, originally, at a human scale.  The population is around 10,000. When it was developed the population was around 2,500; and it feels that way.  Main roads are narrow, made for moving not for parking.

You can walk across this road in just a few steps (I tried to measure them with a tape measurer but traffic would not cooperate).  Other streets are wide and can easily accommodate cars and bicycles.

The town's mass transit is served by the Kanawha Valley Regional Transit, with service between St. Albans and Charleston.  The town used to have a train station, but it closed years ago.

I wonder what it would have been like to pastor in this city without a car (take the bus to Charleston or the train to Huntington or Cincinnati or Pittsburg or Washington, D.C. or New York City? (you can take the Amtrak Cardinal out of Charleston to Cincinnati or to D.C).    Or if the congregation was within the confines of walkable and bikeable city?

The truth of the matter is that you can do this now, but it ain't that easy.

Here is a new bike lane on Route 60 from St. Albans to Charleston.

You'd have to be high to use this bike lane.  There is no buffer between you and vehicles and the speed limit is 55mph.

And then there was this, about 1/2 mile from my the home I grew up in I saw this bicycles share the road sign.  I noticed something about it and sure enough, just what I suspected: bullet holes.

I don't blame folk for not walking, biking, and taking public transit all the time for their jobs as pastors. But I do think we can try to create the space and time for some periods of the job that we bike, walk and take public transit.  Maybe a car free tithe of some sort when we walk, bike, and take public transit for 10% of our trips.  We have to start somewhere.

Why?  Because we are losing ancient wisdom, connection to the community and place, when we get into our climate controlled sealed bubble mobiles, turn on our podcasts that already affirm what we believe, and go from point A to point B.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Pardon me Mister Inertia we need you to move so we can become The-Best-150-on-a-Sunday-Liberal-Church-in-America. We said MOVE!

This is a first in a series of posts about revitalizing a liberal mainline congregation.  I am 44; I have not desire to go to another church; I have no desire to be a part of a large church.  I know my strengths are in pastoral sized congregations (less than 200).  I've dreamt that maybe my legacy in church life would be that I helped a congregation go from making it to flourishing.  I'm at a good church, Judson Memorial Baptist Church (our web page is under construction) but I know if I don't get my act together my work will be described like the work at a previous church I served, "Yeah, Old Fred rested on his laurels.  That church could've been something if Old Fred had not rested on his laurels."  I don't want to be the Minneapolis version of Old Fred.  I know there are many currents going against a mainline liberal church making it, but can I at least we gave it everything I got...

Last summer my family and I were on pilgrimage in Scotland and Northeast England for my sabbatical.  The trip was amazing and transformational.  We visited every chapel, sanctuary, cathedral and holy site we could.  After the trip I described our experiences in the religious places with three "Ds": Dark, Dank, and Dead.

The Three Ds gave/give/still give me many head and heartaches.  If the 3Ds could happen at a, once flourishing, cathedral then it could definitely happen at Judson Memorial Baptist Church too!

Before the trip I viewed Judson as a great church, maybe even a mega church (in liberal American Baptist circles).  We average a 100+ in worship, we have a balanced budget (sometimes even a small surplus), we have kids and youth and young families present (our vice moderator is under 50), great music, people with the ability and vigor and strength who can literally move things (like chairs and tables), we have a lovely building and we have an above average pastor (throw me a bone here folks).  But after the trip I viewed Judson with new eyes...honest eyes: despite our current "goodness" the 3Ds aren't that far away (yikes).

But what to do?

I was trained in a model that assumed liberal Protestantism would continue to exist.  There was talk of a great sea change coming in American Christianity, but there was not a sense of urgency undergirding my divinity studies.  So I did what most well-meaning, scared $h!tless, pastors do: I tried to bury this fear deep down in my soul.

Two events, however, brought my fear to the surface again and again.  They made me look at my fear and realize it's not as scary as it seems.

The first event was a workshop in September of 2018 led by Rev. John Pentland at Baptist Temple in Rochester, NY.  John was there at the request of Rev. Alan Newton, part of Alan's retirement weekend.  John offered a workshop on his book Fishing Tips.  Alan had sent me a copy of the book ahead of time, but I didn't pay much attention to it.  Due to my acute case of knowitallness, I read the first couple of pages then put the book down.  I attended the workshop really out of loyalty to Alan, I said, "Ill go to the workshop because of Alan."

After five minutes into the workshop I was transfixed; Pentland was describing a flourishing version of Judson Church in Calgary, Alberta Canada! After ten minutes I didn't think I would have enough room in my notebook to handle all of my notes and ideas.

Now reader, here is the irony.  In divinity school in 1999-2000 I started a church as part of my senior project, it was called God Talk (I know terrible name).  The church was designed for folk who were de-churched or un-churched.  It was centered around a meal (usually designed and prepared by my lovely bride, we even made venison chili once), conversation, a reading, a story, a song.  It was never large, but it was formative.  People would come once, exhale; then share too much, too soon and then never come back.  At the time I didn't have the skills to say slow down.  And then I graduated in May of 2000 and largely left all the energy and experiences and learning from the experiment in Rochester, NY.  

The irony, you ask?  Where is the irony?  The workshop was offered in the Fellowship Hall of Baptist Temple, the very room where I offered God Talk!

When I got back to Judson I started tinkering with the worship service, I started to see where changes could be made.  But nothing too big.

Then the second event in October of 2018 50 people from Judson went on a Racial Justice Pilgrimage to Memphis, TN.  The trip was transformative again on many levels but in a surprising (for me) it made me think seriously about leadership.

Then Advent where I announced the death of Judson and the resurrection of Judson (when the Spirit says jump...).  And then when I was struggling over whether or not to offer a formal vision for the congregation an angel, literally, came up to me at the coffee shop and said, "Sometimes as a pastor you just gotta lead."  The angel was rather longwinded and went on to say a bunch of other things, but I got the point.

And then good old inertia taunted me with, "Sucker, you really thought you were gonna move me".  But thanks to Emily Winter we embraced risk and fooled Mr. Inertia.

Yeah, Mr. Inertia I do think we're gonna move you!

In a dream I was at a dinner party having a conversation with the person next to me and they said, "Why don't you lobby for Judson to become the best 150 worshipping on a Sunday liberal church in America?"  I woke up and saw the phrase as one long dashed together word.

And that is what we're (Judson Church and myself) doing.  How to do it?  What does that even look like?  I haven't a clue.  That is why I'm in a months-long process of relearning how churches do this.

Thus far this is my pile of books (one can read one of these books in a day or every two days and because no one thinks there is any future in these books I find them for a $1 or $2 at used books shops and on

I've got another pile just as high to go through (plus others that I don't know where they are).

Normally, I would make notes in the book and then move onto the next one.  But this endeavor called for more thoughtfulness on my part.  (warning long run on sentence fast approaching) Because I knew I would never recall everything I read or what book it came from I got a heavy duty notebook, a field/lab engineer kind, and started making notes, copying quotes and indexing why I wrote the stuff down in the margins.

It's extra for sure, but it's the only way I can keep track of the stuff.

I know we cannot "read our way through this problem."  But I still find value in the books.  The books are good because every now and then I actually find a good idea (not that many).  And every now and then the ideas spawn a vision of what Judson could look like in five years.  And every now and then the books cause me to smile and say, "we can do this."

There are not many books specifically tailored to mainline liberal churches (and that's okay). Do you have other titles?
There are not many people giving this subject serious work and concentration (because we're all hanging on by our fingernails). But there are a few like Mike Piazza. I'd love to find a list of thriving, flourishing liberal mainline churches.  And I'd love to go visit them.

Maybe you know of one.  Who are they?  Let's start the list...

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Leah Chase thank you

During my three years in New Orleans I ate at Dooky Chase's every chance I got, which wasn't often but you get the point. It was like entering a portal to another food universe.  The color of the walls, the art work, the aromas, the amazing staff, the white cloth napkins, and the food my divine the food.  Nothing could have prepared me for the food at Dooky Chase's.  Unlike Commander's Palace (which always left me gassy) or Parkway (which always left me looking like I ran into a gravy truck) or Mosca's (which took four days to sweat out the garlic) when I left Dooky Chase's I felt like I was on top of the world and ready for anything (it was also a great bicycle destination too).

Do you remember the movie Tucker with Jeff Bridges (pre-Dude movie)?  Do you remember the one scene when he fixes nearly raw roast beef during his investor luncheon speech?  It was a great move on his part, rather than focus on their lunch they had to focus on the speech (because the sandwich was terrible).  Which brings me to my ultra experience at Dooky Chase's.

One day in 2011, after Mitch Landrieu was sworn in as mayor, somehow I received an invitation to join community leaders at Dooky Chase's for meeting with Department of Justice officials concerning the New Orleans Police Department.  Myself and two other faith leaders drove over to the restaurant for brunch on a weekday.  The room was full of powerful African-American leaders, myself and two other white clergymen.  The room had an energy level I had never experienced and this was before the suits arrived!  Then the suits came in: Mitch Landrieu's staff followed by men and women from the Department of Justice, ending with Tom Perez (now the head of the Democratic National Convention).  The suits were present to tell us that the DOJ would be taking over the New Orleans Police Department, but here is where my memory of the event is fuzzy (I even went back to my notes and they aren't very clear either).

Remember the Tucker movie scene?  Now imagine the inverse of that scene.  Leah Chase, for the event, prepared brunch for us.  Before our eyes was a buffet to die for.  I heard one community leader  as he lifted the lid nearly shout, "Good God.  Tomato-Eggs Creole.  Thank you Jesus!"  In my notes all I find are descriptions of the eggs, the softness of the butter, the thickness of the coffee, the sweetness of the jam, and the deliciousness of the bacon. It was the greatest brunch ever in my life, the greatest meal I had in New Orleans, and to this day, eight years later I sometimes wake up from a dream where I am sitting at Dooky Chase's with President Obama, discussing Reinhold Neibuhr, over brunch.

The city and Mayor Landrieu received terrible news, but all I can remember was the meal; that is how good of a chef Leah Chase was!

Requiescat in pace Leah Chase.