Monday, August 20, 2018

Embryonic Thoughts on the Pilgrimage/Sabbatical

For Clarity: I was on sabbatical from Judson Baptist Memorial Church from mid-May till mid-August; my family and I spent a large portion of the sabbatical walking and biking and public transiting in Scotland and England. This past Sunday (August 19th) Judson welcomed me and my family back; it was a marvelous re-entry with a wonderful and playful litany (which made me laugh and cry), I shared Chocolate Buttons with the kids during Time with Children, lots of hugs and and smiles and get this: they even sang Welcome Back to us!

Im still processing the past few months, but here are the four gifts/graces I brought back with me.

1.  I Learned to Pray Again.

I know it sounds bizarre for a pastor admitting they needed to learn to pray again, but it's the truth.  The springboard for this grace was The Examen, a Jesuit practice where one (or, in our case, a family) asks at the end of the day to reflect on their highs and lows (moments of consolation and desolation).  The examen was not my idea, but all roads kept pointing to it.
  -a woman from the congregation gave my family a copy of Sleeping with Bread
  -my spiritual director who is a Benedictine monk said, "I think you ought to consider the examen."
  -our family spiritual director (more on this later) a Methodist turned Buddhist said, "I think you all would benefit by incorporating the examen during your pilgrimage."
  -then four books by authors from all over the religious spectrum all extolled the virtues of the examen.

OK Divine One.  I get it.  Take up the examen.

I did, we did. It was an beautiful gift for us on our trip and opened up thoughts and feelings that the trip was stirring within us.  And for me the examen reawakened my dormant prayer life.

2.  I Got to Know My Kids Again

Like most jobs, but especially pastoral ministry, the church gets the best of my time and hours, while my family gets the leftovers (I still think my leftovers are some pretty good leftovers, but you get the idea).  Being away for such a length of time allowed me to not think about sermons, to worry about everything under the sun, to anticipate pastoral calls/visits, or planning while reading (in fact the only reading I did was a book of poems, Still Pilgrim) and instead give my undivided attention to my kids and lovely bride.

As we walked 8-10 hours each day, experienced castles and cathedrals and cows and crows and terrible instant coffee I got to see my children as the amazing human beings they are.  Grace upon grace upon grace.

And get this, my kids still like me!

3.  Get My Act Together

We visited what seemed like a thousand churches in England and Scotland, they all had these elements in common:

     -A Gift Shop
     -Ancient Docents in charge who could die at any moment
     -Places to pray and light a candle
     -They were all messy and could have benefited from a trip to Ikea and purchased a few shelves or storage units.
     -They were all, mostly, empty and barely getting by.

There were some churches doing some amazing ministries, you know, last ditch efforts, not-counting-the-cost type of risky ventures.  But they were thirty years too late, the remnant membership needed to have done these types of ventures when they had energy and vitality.

I kept thinking: Is this the future of Judson?

Possibly.  Unless...unless I and Judson get our act together.

4.  The Vicar of Dibley Is Real!

We walked into and lived in tiny villages all over England and Scotland and sure enough the goings-on in the Vicar of Dibley are real.  The entire trip, in some way, felt like we were characters in one long episode.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Elegy for a Fire Holder

My first purchase after moving back to West Virginia in August of 2000 was a 22inch Weber Kettle Grill, same one everyone else has.  It was on sale, for $70, at the Lowes in Princeton, WV.  I bought it before I knew I didnt have any money (we were a one income family; the one income coming from a small, but lovely, American Baptist Church). 

I loved cooking on this grill, looking out over the southern highlands of West Virginia on the back deck of the parsonage drinking a Rolling Rock (before RR was bought out by Budweiser, back when RR was brewed in Latrobe, PA, back when I could buy a case of RR at the Kmart in Bluefield, WV with a coupon from the Sunday paper).  On this grill I made hamburgers and hotdogs for the students from Concord College who attended the church and my campus ministry group (that was until the West Virginia Baptists fired me for being pro-LGBT).  On this grill I made dinner for my extended family after the dedication service of my first born.  That particular afternoon I was having a presbyterian of a time lighting the coals; I was still learning how to adjust the airflow for the grill.  My brother-in-law came out to help and wondered why I was using dryer lint to start the fire rather than lighter fluid. Thankfully, he noticed I had the vents on the grill closed too much.  He opened up the vents and then went inside and told all those gathered not to eat anything I cooked on the grill because it would taste like my dirty socks and underwear. 

Good times.

The grill moved with us to the parsonage at Lincoln, RI.  The grill and I matured together.  It was there that I experimented with the Thanksgiving turkey, I smoked it and rubbed bacon fat on the skin. Where I learned how to smoke a Boston Butt, even cooking 5 butts for 75 people at the church yard sale one Saturday.  I thought I could do no wrong on this grill till I tried grilling a pizza and caused an amazing fire to break out. 

Good times.

The grill survived our next move, to New Orleans.  Although we were only there for three years the humidity and rain (and three major storms) did a number on the grill; but nevertheless it persisted. I've never sweat so much grilling as I did in New Orleans.  We made some good food, especially grilled boudin; I tried ribs but failed miserably.

Good times.

And the grill survived one more move, to Minneapolis.  Here we were introduced to the Juicy Lucy, a great concept but a lousy burger.  And we were made more intimate with brats, now the cheesy brat is a much greater alternative to the Juicy Lucy.  But the grill started feeling deprived and lonely and resentful.  The grill thought I was having an affair with the Instant Pot and didnt love it anymore.  Truth be told I was and still am head over heels for the Instant Pot.  If anything the Instant Pot prolonged the grills lifespan. 

Good times.

Last week I went to move the Weber grill and a leg fell off.  The leg could not be repaired.  The broken leg forced me to face the facts: the rust and holes and lost was time. 

18 wonderful years together.  We cooked some great meals together.  Thank you 22inch standard Weber Grill. 

Good times. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Incentivizing Bicycling or Paying My Children Not to Drive

In 1988 License to Drive appeared on the big screens; I was 14 at the time, I thought like most teenagers the greatest way toward freedom was a drivers license.
Just like Corey Feldman I ditched the bike (a sunset orange 78lbs Schwinn Continental with front headlight, white plastic bike pump, under the seat basket, and clown honking horn) and started driving my father's truck (a 1983 Chevy Silverado) with delight.

Foolishly, I thought I could go anywhere anytime I wanted: Myrtle Beach for the weekend (in WV this was where you vacationed), up to Williams River to trout fish, to the movies, to hang out with friends, & etc... But there were lots of holes in my theory, primarily scarcity.

In my family we only had two working vehicles, the two my parents used for work.  That meant I could only use one of the vehicles, at most, when my parents were not working during the evenings and on the weekends.  Then there was that other aspect of scarcity: money.  Driving cost money: insurance, gas, maintenance, wear and tear and money I did not have. Then there was that other aspect of scarcity: interpersonal - I really wasn't all that popular, I did not date in high school and I was a burgeoning introvert.

I soon discovered that driving, rather than providing me a rush of freedom it provided me with the disappointing experience of being trapped.  Odd how in just a few weeks I went from a teenager who rode his bike all over town to a licensed driver who wouldn't even think of biking, walking or taking the bus to his destination when he did not have access to an automobile.

If I had only stayed with the bike, walked around town and learned the bus system...

It took me twenty years to get back on a bike, but not the Continental (years ago I heard it was being used as an anchor for an ocean worthy vessel in Lake Erie).  When my oldest progeny approached 16 I had to find a way to make bicycling, walking and public transit more attractive than driving.  For the record my oldest loves to bike, walk and take public transit.  But I knew this love would not be enough for the onslaught of societal pressure to get a drivers license and start driving.

Pause for a moment and think how difficult this is in our culture:
-Main form of identification: drivers license.
-Class offered at school: drivers education.
-ratio of parking spots at schools for car vs bikes
-sports programs that do not have busing
-pop culture images of driving (when was the last time you saw a bike commercial on television? a teenager in a movie forgoing a car and biking instead? a song on the radio about biking or walking or taking the bus?)

I thought and thought about this, even prayed about it.  Then the idea occurred to me: why don't my lovely bride and I just pay my progeny not to drive?

But how much?

I called up my insurance agent, did some internet explorations, computed some numbers, talked it over with my the above mentioned lovely bride and came up with a number: $50 a month.  It was going to cost us around $50/month to add our oldest to our auto insurance (that's with multiple line, good grades, and drivers ed deductions)

Here is how it works. We pay our oldest child $50 a month not to drive a car.  We also put $20 a month on a bus card and purchased a new bike for this young adult.  It's a small investment to hold off the automobile/drivers license temptation during this time of peer pressure, cultural pressure, and out of control capitalist pressure.  Will it last forever?  Probably not, I see this young adult sometime getting a drivers license. But if we can help this person see that car ownership is not necessary for life in a city (and in college) then I think we can help this person imagine an alternative life that is healthier, cheaper, and environmentally friendlier than a car-centered one.

Did your parents ever pay you not to drive?  Did you ever ask your parents to pay you rather than put your on their auto insurance?  How do you keep the love of biking, walking and public transiting more than the desire for a license?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Tom Goldston Experiment

When I began work at my first parish, Athens Baptist Church in Athens, WV, I had the greatest pastoral mentor a young pastor could have: Rev. Tom Goldston (a retired pastor who was a member of Athens Baptist, had been the pastor of Athens Baptist, and who still loved Athens Baptist).  The man absolutely loved being a pastor, the love he had for his vocation was contagious.  I learned lots from just listening and watching this man, but the one thing that still sticks with me is his constant waving. 

While I was in Athens Old Tom (his moniker) discovered he had some heart complications that required him to walk several laps around town every day.  Athens was a small town (about 400 people), it didn't take long to walk a lap around town.  While out walking Old Tom would wave at every single car that passed by.  After a few weeks I noticed that every single car that passed Old Tom started waving back and before long when they would see Old Tom at the pharmacy, or the Biscuit World (more on this place later), or the bank or gas station they would start conversing with him. 

Why this story?

One of the things I find lacking within the Minneapolis-St. Paul biking community is a lack of cohesion.  My proposal: adapting Old Tom's practice - saying hello to every biker I encounter. 

I tried this the other morning and here are my results.

Approximately 123 cyclists encountered. 
Approximately 123 'Good Mornings' delivered.
Definite 9 positive responses, meaning 'Good Morning' reciprocated. 

I think this is a good beginning. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March 2018 Books

The Mister Rogers streak slowly turned into a Henri Nouwen streak...

1.  Dear Mister Rogers, Does it Rain in Your Neighborhood?  Letters to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers. 
This collection of correspondence between families and Mister Rogers is great.  Some of the responses are repetitive, but they show the care and attention of the company. 

2.The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids by Doing Less Themselves by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchinson. 
Written by two moms who are not Dutch and how living in Holland has transformed the way they parent.  This book was awesome.  It also gave me my Easter Monday breakfast: waffles with dulce de leche and hot chocolate. 

3.  Nouwen Then: Personal Reflections on Henri ed. by Christopher de Vinck. 
I read this book for the essay by Fred Rogers, but I loved the recollections; especially the one by Luci Shaw.

4. Cain and Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Joani Keller Rothenberg. 
What a wonderful book. 

5.  Anne Frank and the Remembering Tree by Sandy Eisenberg Sasson, illustrated by Erika Steiskal

6.  Dare We Be Christians by Walter Rauschenbusch.  I think the first two pages are his finest two pages ever written. 

7.  Genius Born of Anguish: The Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen by Michael W. Higgins
A biography, sort of.  I was curious how honest folk would be about Henri's homosexuality, they are very honest.  This book and others give his writing such a richer texture and deeper meaning. 

8.  Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J. M. Nouwen.  same as #7.

9.  Beloved: Henri Nouwen in Conversation with Philip Roderick.  I wasn't very hopeful about this little book, but within the first few pages I was taking all kinds of notes!

10.  Gospel of Mark  still violent.  What did Jesus have against figs?

11.  Befriending Life: Encounters with Henri Nouwen edited by Beth Porter with Susan M.S. Brown and Philip Coutler. 
My favorite book on Nouwen thus far, and to think I almost took it back to the library without reading it...

12.  Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin - more killings (but not in Scotland, this one is set in London). 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February 2018 Books

The kiddos told me I was obsessed with Mister Rogers, I told them I was not.  My book list for February 2018 tells me otherwise. 

1.  Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers by Michael Long.  
On the one hand this book revealed a side of Fred Rogers that disappointed me.   Mister Rogers did not advance racial reconciliation on his show as much as I wished (but he did advance this topic), he did not advance LGBTQ rights as much as I wished (but he was a member of a More Light, pro-LGBTQ PCUSA congregation in Pittsburgh).  On the other hand I learned to appreciate his implicit and subtle work for racial reconciliation, economic justice, peace and non-violence, and gender equity.  

2.  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery  
One of Mister Rogers' favorite, and now one of mine too.  "What is invisible to the eyes is essential"

3.  Many Ways to Say I Love You: Wisdom for Parents and Children from Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
A collection of sayings, stories, aphorisms from Mister Rogers' show, speeches and writings.  Great stuff.  Made me want to start a Continuing Education class for the parents at the preschool.  How do you raise children with the principles of nonviolence?  This idea is not taught at the hospital after the birth of a child or offered at community centers.  

4.  Wise Trees by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel
Fantastic pictures and stories behind "wise trees"  I had never thought about the permanence of trees and their allure.  This book inspired me to make sure we visit the Fortingall Yew in Scotland, perhaps the oldest living thing in Europe, maybe 5,000 years old.  Also, the stories of the survivor trees were amazing (Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Oklahoma City, New York).

5.  Mr. Rogers: Young Friend and Neighbor by George Edward Stanley.  
This is a children's biography book.  It was great.  I loved it, great insight into Fred's childhood and how those moments shaped his life.  

6.  Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman.
"Picture book" but amazing still.  I am still shocked by the impact of the HBCU West Virginia State College in Institute, WV (across the river from my hometown of St. Albans, WV)  I was ignorant of its story, its impact and its legacy.  But i'm trying to make up for that now.  Katherine Johnson was a graduate.  

7. Life Journeys According to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Way by Fred Rogers
Another book of quotes, another great resource.  

8. The Giving Box: Create a Tradition of Giving with Your Children by Fred Rogers
This is a beautiful stewardship program!

9.  The Gospel of Mark
Gee Whiz this book is violent.  

10.  Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin
Another Edinburgh murder mystery.  Maybe we should just skip our days in Edinburgh and go straight to St. Andrews...

11.  Fred Rogers Writes and Sings About Many Ways to Say I Love You for People Who Care About Children by Fred Rogers.  Published by Judson Press, so maybe Fred Rogers is an honorary American Baptist :)  Although small this is a gem.  1.  It is the most Christian of his books that I have read thus far.  2.  It tells the stories behind his songs and presents them first as poems.  3.  Musical scores for six songs.  4.  A very thin 331/3 EP is included!!!

12.  Creative Ministry by Henri Nouwen
You he and Fred were good friends, of course they were.  I like Nouwen because he confronts me with his faults which are mine too.  "The most intimate is also the most general"  The last chapter about the balance between action and contemplation I found especially helpful. 

in march, more Fred Rogers, preparatory books for the pilgrimage and bike books.  Yes, I am working a chapter in the bikeable parish book about Fred Rogers.  

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Little Help from My Friends

One of the principles of the bikeable parish is to rely on existing networks and institutions to partner with rather than repeat or overlap.  Example: we, Judson Church, partners with Bethlehem Lutheran for a program called Starfish Ministries to help those with immediate need.  Bethlehem has a social worker on staff, the institutional heft Judson lacks, but a cooperative spirit. Even though the equation is tipped in the favor of Bethlehem, together we can do more than we could separate or alone.  Thank you friend, thank you neighbor.

So here comes the thought for the week.  After Ash Wednesday I saw several posts on twitter and then in the New York Times about the Anglican Church's call for a Plastic Free Lent.  I thought this was a great idea, wish I had thought of it.  But I didn't, and that's okay.  I consider myself a fairly conscientious person who tries to reduce his use of plastics, but the Anglican call has made me realize how pervasive plastic is in my life.  And how deliberate and intentional one has to be to try and rid oneself of plastic.

Example: yesterday I went to the local bread shop to purchase some potato rolls.  I did not think to bring my own bag, so without thinking I went to grab a plastic bag for the rolls.  But then I heard the voice of Justin Welby say, "oh no you don't".  I scanned the display and discovered a paper bag for a loaf of French bread, which I used to place seven potato rolls (five for dinner and two for egg sandwiches the next morning).  When I took the bag of rolls to the counter I announced that I had a bouquet of potato rolls, the clerk was not amused.

I am thankful the Anglicans brought this to my attention.  I am thankful and trustful of friends to help me along.  I think churches and houses of worship should try and trust more of their local congregations for activities like this.  We don't have to do it all ourselves, its ridiculous to even try.

The Archbishop of Canterbury may not hold any sway on the state of my soul in eternity, but he is providing a good example for life here and now.  Thank you friend, thank you neighbor.