Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Monday, Monday, So Good to Me: October 8, 2018

Here is a new weekly feature: a wrap-up of Sunday in case you weren't here, or in case you were here but missed something, or in case you wanted to be here but you had to attend another church instead, or in case you just want to be nosy - all are valid motivations.

It was Marathon Weekend so everyone, knowing that traffic would be horrid, did the unimaginable act: they arrived by 9:40am.  I was dumbfounded and flummoxed.  Then to make matters even more amazing when we read the Mary Oliver poem, When I Am Among the Trees responsively they read it altogether.  By that I mean no one was ahead or behind a word.  It was beautiful and amazing.

Question of the Day: Favorite meal you ever had?  At first there was just a murmuring of conversation but then it got very loud and animated.  Someone from the back of the church said I would never get the crowd back...but I did.

Song of the Day: Blowin' in the Wind duet by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.  Why this song?  I had contacted Joan Baez' publicist to see if Ms. Baez would join us for worship on Sunday (she was in concert in St. Paul on Saturday night and had a long break in her concert following).  Now why would I think Joan Baez would want to worship with us at Judson?  Well her father used to worship here with us.  And a member of the choir even shared on Sunday, "Not only did he worship here but he also led us on a tree-hugging retreat!"  Good enough for me.  Plus I needed a song that expressed desire and how the work of one person could make an impact in this world.

Scripture Lesson: John 4:1-42, but I think I stopped somewhere around verse 30.  Why did I stop there?  I'm not for sure, just felt right at the time.

Meditation (communion Sundays I dial back the length of sermons to a meditation)
What Are You Hungry For?
Judson Sermon 100718 "What Are You Hungry For?" from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.


Then we were off to Second Hour

The wonderful Dr. Kirsten Delegard, a local scholar affiliated with the University of Minnesota and the Project Director for Mapping Prejudice shared with us about her work.  It was an amazing time and we could have listened to her presentation and asked questions for another full hour.


Why did we invite Dr. Delegard to present and engage with the congregation?

To help us prepare ourselves for our upcoming pilgrimage.  Over 50 (including nine youth) Judson Church folk are going to Memphis for a racial justice pilgrimage.  The pilgrimage is centered around three main sites: The National Civil Rights Museum, the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, and the Stax Records Museum plus bible studies, reflections, and interactions with leaders and activists in Memphis.  I'll share more about this next week and when we return.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Learning to Pray: Sermon August 26, 2018

Learning to Pray
text: "teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1)
26.September.2018
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
Luke 11:1-13
Rev. G. Travis Norvell

One thing you may or may not know about me is that I lose things all the time, particularly my keys and my wallet.  One time I thought for sure I had lost my wallet, I searched everywhere and even brought the master finder of my lost things, Lori, in on the scheme.  No avail.  When I had given up hope…for some odd reason I looked behind the buffet and sure enough there was my wallet, suspended about three feet in the air wedged between the back of the buffet and the wall.  If not for a chancing glance over in that direction I would have called given up, called the credit card company and took a number down at the DMV.  

Im sure you lose things too: cats, tools, ear buds, homework, spoons, bills, phones, & etc.  But I am sure we all lose other things as well, intangible things: the capacity to love, the energy to forgive, or in my case the experience of prayer.  

It may sound odd to hear that a pastor lost their experience of prayer, but it is true.  It is not that I couldn’t pray.  I did.  I could pray for other people and causes and needs on a dime.  But I couldn’t rekindle the experience of prayer I once had in my life.  By experience of prayer I mean the ability to be in the presence of God without an agenda or to-do list, just being.  

And the more peculiar thing to me was that I didn’t even realize I had rekindled this passion or experience until weeks after I had found it.  I offer my story as a entry or reentry for you to also journey together toward the experience of the Living God.

Let us pray: Living God, be with us as we listen, inwardly digest, respond and react.  Let us trust wherever you lead we will be open to the way.  Leave us not hungry, but instead let us feast at your table.  Amen.  

After dropping off our bags and swords (more on them in a couple of weeks) at our hotel in Newcastle we caught the next “hop on, hop off” tour bus to take us to the Museum of the North.  The bus took a break across from St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in downtown.  We knew the cathedral had a cafe, and we were hungry.  We entered the cafe, it was like any other Northumberland cafe: linoleum topped tables, aroma of freeze dried coffee, people with lap tops doing work, and people enjoying the presence of one another.  

I asked the woman behind the counter for five scones: three plain and two fruit and five teas to go.  She handed me five cups of tea and a bag full of scones, jam, and enough butter to satisfy 20 Americans or 3 English customers.  I said thanks, and we headed back to the bus.  But as we were leaving the woman called back saying, “but you’ll need a knife to spread the butter and jam.  Here.”  She placed in our bag a metal butter knife.

It may sound like a small act but it changed my inner geography somehow.  We exited the cafe and went inside the cathedral to look around.  We walked through the glass doors into the sanctuary and were transported in the words of the St. Paul into the third heaven. The organist was playing the Main Theme to the movie The Mission, the air was light and warm, the colors were expressive of the congregation’s devotion.  I wrote a prayer request down in the book, lit a candle, then kneeled at the kneeler.  In my silence I realized what I had been looking for, what I thought was lost, was present again, at that moment the organist was playing the Gabriel’s Oboe from the Main Theme and my response was to weep in gratitude.  

I would dare say all of us here have at one time or another had a transcendent experience where we felt at one with God, with another person, with the universe; felt that we stood on holy ground, cried tears of gratitude, laughed uncontrollably, felt truly loved and free and whole.  The moment may have only lasted for an instant, but it was enough to convince you that the inner life was something worth pursuing.  

I am sure the disciples were people just like you and me, folk who too had had some kind of inner experience of the holy that they wanted desperately to find again.  When one day Jesus came along they thought maybe he could show them the way.  They knew he was in touch with the perennial wisdom, ancient traditions.  He possessed a life giving spirit.  He warmed your heart just to be near him.  That kind of presence doesn’t come naturally but through years of practice and cultivation.  The disciples left everything to follow this Jesus.  Im sure they thought he would teach them his ways of of the spirit, but he didnt.  He just spent hours alone, and he didn’t like it when others disturbed his times of solitude.  Finally, the disciples had had enough.  Holy One, teach us to pray.  

The disciple knew the work Jesus was engaged in and the work they were called to so was draining, exhausting, and never acknowledged.  They were always giving of their time, their energies, their bodies to the movement and it was taking its toll on them.  

Holy One, teach us to pray.  

You may have in your mind a portrait of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as an activist, a truth-teller, a rabble rouser for peace, a prophet.  And all of those portraits are correct.  But there is another dimension to him.  HIs press secretary John Allen described Tutu this way, “His power of communication is, of course, rooted in spirituality.  His spirituality is natural and normal and is the central part of his life.  In one way or another, the first four hours of the day  were spent in silence, probably two hours in the middle of the day and an hour at the end of the day at least, so you’re talking about six or seven hours of the day in silence…even when we were traveling he kept the silent times.  If you were arguing with people who were scheduling him, you would say, “Who do you want?  Who did you invite?  Did you invite the ebullient, warm, communicative Tutu who woos the crowds?  If that’s who you invited and if you want that then you have to recognize that the warmth and the ebullience and the reaching out to the crowds, that loving to be loved and the enjoying of the crowd and the reading of the crowd and the sharing of the emotion and the sense of inclusive humanity, that’s one side of a coin.  The other side of the coin is hours and hours a day in silence.  And if you schedule him to run around morning, noon, and night, you are not going to get the Tutu you want.  He cant be the ebullient without the hours of silence."  

Holy One, teach us to pray.

But we are not called to be an Archbishop Tutu , although I do think there are prophets among us, I think I’ve already baptized a few in my six years here!  Where do you and I start?  Or how do we start cultivating the inner workings of our soul?  

One spiritual writer suggests this as a starting or restarting place…
"If we find ourselves drifting away from spiritual engagement, even if we are already feeling alienated from the spiritual world, the direction can be reversed if we try to come back to the practice of personal prayer.  To step back from our many important activities on a regular basis to make room for God.  It can be as simple as you like.  Words that mean something to us are important, but the meaning of prayer transcends the words we use.  What counts is that we are reactivating a relationship that is life-giving.  After that anything can happen."

Holy One, teach us to pray. 

Before we left Newcastle for Durham we had one last stop, we wanted to return the butter knife to the cafe.  We walked through the rain in downtown and reached the Cathedral only to find the cafe closed for a week of cleaning and holiday.  We were saddened because we could not return the knife and express our thanksgiving and we were saddened because we could not try their hot chocolate, because they made it with shaved fair traded dark chocolate.  But we did take advantage of their public restrooms and dry space to prepare for the train trip.  As we were repacking and shuffling swords (again, more on them in a couple of weeks) and going to the restroom an elderly gentleman came up to us and started to talk.  His presence was a bother, wrong time more than anything.  But there was something about him that told me to engage him and pay attention.  

As we got on the train and headed north I couldn’t get this gentleman out of my mind.  He was lonely and just wanted someone to talk to and listen to him.  But I don’t think he was just an elderly gentleman.  I honestly believe he was an angel, a messenger of God - testing me!  Would the in-breaking of prayer result in a more compassionate heart?  Would I make the effort to stop and listen.  Because what he had to say was critical to our pilgrimage.  

The angel wanted to tell us something but he couldn’t quite communicate it.  So he walked us to the cathedral doors and pointed to the northern saints: Saints Aidan and Bede and Cuthbert and Hild and Oswald and Wilfrid.  In the sanctuary of St. Marys about eye level wrapping around the entire sanctuary are tiles printed with the names of these saints and hundreds of others and after each saint are the words, “pray for us”.  

There are many times, most of the time actually when our faith in God dwindles and atrophies but God’s faith in us never tires.  God is always reaching, seeking, and desiring to listen to us, to speak to us, to open us up to love supreme.  And if you cannot believe God hasn’t given up on you, then at least take comfort in the Saints praying for you.  And if you cant do that, then at least take comfort in the saints among you praying for you, take comfort that a small but lively, quirky but sincere, undisciplined but meaningful community on the corner of 41st and Harriet (reader, this is the address of Judson Church) has your back.  

In closing, We brought the knife home to Minneapolis.  I have it in my bag of relics I’ll share with you on September 16th during Second Hour.  We thought of sending it back but instead we would like to send back a “Judson” knife, you do know we have our own custom stamped silverware: “Judson” spoons, knives and forks.  Sharing with them a Judson knife as a way of symbolically keeping the link between their hospitality and our gratitude in our quest for a rich, vibrant and robust inner life. 


Holy One, teach us to pray.  Amen.  

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 pieces...it 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
WOW.

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.

Friday, February 16, 2018

To Will One Thing: a Lenten Experiment

I have actually read Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, but I cant remember a damn thing about it other than the great title. 

Nevertheless...

When I was ordained in 2002 (I was licensed back in 1997, for those who want to update my stats on my preacher cards) I had a retired pastor deliver my charge to ministry.  For those who have never been to an ordination service in the free church tradition the charge to ministry is kind of like an imperative from another pastor not to screw up the beauty past generations of pastors gave their heart and soul to create.  

His charge was simple but beautiful: There are many worthy and noble causes that will demand your attention and time, but you cannot save the entire world.  Find the one or two issues that speak to your heart and give them everything you have to bring change and salvation and redemption in that particular area.  Over the years I have tried this approach, but there is always another worthy cause beckoning my energy and attention, or colleagues win me over with their devotion and energy to a certain cause.  I try to stay focused, but there's always something else...

Then one day I was at an event, just to listen, with a group of 20 year old activists.  They had the greatest gift idea: trust.  In their words, "Trust that we will do our thing and we trust you will do yours!  We're never going to get anywhere near where we need to be if we do not trust each other." 

But it is hard to trust and to stay focused during the Trump era.  Right now I wake up every morning and try to stay away from hearing or reading the news until after my prayers, after I read the bible, after a cup of coffee, and say good morning and i love you to my lovely bride and wonderful children.  Because if I read the news or hear it on NPR then my day is done.  I have nothing but scat in my heart, mind, and soul.  And my mind is broken, my concentrated will on one thing is fragmented and I feel the pull of a thousand different issues beckoning me to come toward them.  

But if I am going to have anything to contribute to this world I have to stay focused and centered.  I cant keep feeling like a pinball at the mercy of a pinball wizard going hither and yon.  I have come to realize my one issue is bicycling.  It seems small and meaninglessness but I have seen a transformation in my life, my family's life and the life of my community because of my commitment to bicycling.  All the issues that matter to me: environmentalism, racial reconciliation, economic equality, joy, beauty, nature, justice, health are all available through my concentration on bicycling.  

Trust that I am doing my work, I trust that you are doing yours.  Together we can help bring a spirit of human flourishing.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

January 2018 Books Read

Every year I say I am going to read at least 60 books, sometimes I get close, sometimes I do not.  This year with a summer sabbatical, a book project and a mind that will not cease seeking answers to interesting questions...I think I'm gonna make it to 60, maybe even blow past it.  But this is what happens: I read a backpack full every winter month then as soon as the weather warms up I stop reading.

But this year...

1.  The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olena and Harold Pollack.  (This book makes an appearance in chapter 2 of the bikeable parish).

2.  Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin.  Reading Scottish detective novels in preparation for our time in Scotland, but it also makes me think we'll have to step over piles of bodies in Edinburgh.

3.  The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from teh World's Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth.  This book initiated my Mr. Rogers journey.  Also where I learned Mr. Rogers and Henri Nouwen were friends, of course they were.

4.  March: Volume Three by John Lewis.  Amazing.

5.  Book of Acts by Theophilus. Yes, I count books of the Bible.  Acts also makes an appearance in chapter 2.  I forgot how much I love this book.

6.  Why the Dutch Are Different: a journey into the hidden heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates.  Good book, interesting but I dont think I would have read it unless dude from Modacity (twitter city planning + biking dude) had recommended it.

7.  I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Mr. Rogers by Tim Madigan.  Great book, I cried often while reading it.  Mr. Rogers was an amazing dude.

8.  Be My Neighbor with Words of Wisdom from Fred Rogers by Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanhoe Mr. Rogers + public transit + bicycles and neighboring, what's not to love? And yes, I count kids books too!

9.  A Month in the Country by Joseph Lloyd Barr.  CBC Radio had a story about a playwright who reads this book every January.  Although one can read this book in one setting it took me a few days. Why?  Lots of English phrases and words that were new to me.  A WWI veteran goes to an English village to uncover a painting in an Anglican Church.  The longer he stays in the village the more he heals.  I'll reread it again in January 2019.

10.  The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers.  Quotes, amazing and beautiful quotes.  I read the book too quick.  I need to savor the quotes.

11.  Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace, and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice.  This was the selection for a book study for a pastors group.  This book was worth it for me because it focused on the small and slow work of reconciliation and its relation to the larger work of reconciliation.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mr. Rogers: Pastor Emeritus of the Bikeable Parish

A few months ago Bill Lindeke and I sat down for a beer and a chat about bicycling and churches.  During the conversation Bill noted the importance of Mr. Rogers, maybe even calling him the first urbanist.  I had never thought of Mr. Rogers as an urbanist but as soon as Bill said it sparks started flying all over in my mind.  (And if you haven't read Bill's prayer for Streets and Sidewalks that he shared at the Christmas Eve service, you must, you must.)

But I never followed up on the Mr. Rogers sparks, perhaps because Bill filled me with even more great ideas.  Then a couple of weeks ago when I was could not picture the path and contents of the fifth and final chapter of a book I am working on Mr. Rogers popped into my mind and then that familiar song started playing in my mind, "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood.."



and then the chapter started coming together.  Since then I have been reading all I can about Mr. Rogers.  On the one hand his material provides a great resource for the fifth chapter, on the other hand I am finding my pastoral practice being changed by his life and habits and values.

For the record, you know that Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister.  Ordained not to pastor a church or preach from a pulpit but to produce children's television.  And did you know he and Henri Nouwen were great friends!  Can you imagine the conversations between those two, oh I bet they were beautiful conversations.


I started thinking, "I bet Mr. Rogers had something to say about bikes."  Sure enough there are more pictures on the internet of Mr. Rogers riding a bicycle than there are of Mr. Trump riding one (couldn't resist).
And in Mr. Rogers books you will find plenty of references to bicycling and walking and public transit.  This paragraph below is a sermon just waiting to be preached:




Here is another benefit of my Mr. Rogers research.  There is no better way to refresh your brain and soul than to turn off the news and replace them with Mr. Rogers stories.  


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2018 Transit Stories, number one

A few weeks ago someone made mention online that there had only been anti-biking commentaries in the commentary section of the Star Tribune.  I've often thought more bicyclists, walkers and users of public transit need to share more stories about their experiences.  One, to counter the often anti voices.  & two, to reach people of a more visceral or emotional level about walking, biking and public transiting.  I think people are moved more by stories then they are by arguments.  So tell stories and hope that they find a way into public discourse.

I was wanted to write such a story but I didn't have anything.  Then the other day when it was pretty cold (that is saying something for Minneapolis).  I chose to ride the bus rather than pedal my bike south to see a family to discuss a memorial service.  On this trip I caught a story.  I shared the story with my family, then I shared it with the congregation, then I sat down and typed it out and shared it with the readers of the Star Tribune; it appeared last Thursday.

here it is.

I actually like to read the comments, I find them interesting.  This article brought a sad response.  One person commented, "many of us do not want to feel connected to strangers".  I feel that is part of our problem today as a culture.  We do not want to feel connected to strangers.  If you are a Christian or a person of faith or person of conscience not wanting to feel connected to strangers is not an option.  There will be no social progress if we constantly remain unconnected to strangers.  The Christian story is at the least the transformation of strangers to friends (not conversion to belief, but openness of heart).  What if walking, bicycling, and taking public transit were viewed as faith practices, as  ways to engage and meet people and help the grand work of transforming strangers into friends?


Monday, January 8, 2018

Book Review: Street Smart

As my time at divinity school came to a close, almost 18 years ago, my church history professor made me promise him that I wouldn't stop reading.  I wondered why he made such a bizarre request, but I gladly promised.  After a few years of pastoring I realized why he made me make that promise.  I discovered a bundle (I believe that is the proper nomenclature of more than two clergy) of clergy colleagues who stopped active/critical reading after they graduated.

I've been, I believe, a "stable"reader during my pastoral tenure.

I try to read 50 books a year.  The titles of which are predictable: Biblical commentaries, church life, church problems, church solutions, books on prayer, books on self care.  Nevertheless, I am surprised how the demands of the job, personal interests, and vocational aspirations shape and direct my reading.  For example, I realize the importance of reading more fiction than non-fiction (fiction feeds my imagination more).  But I never foresaw the day where I would voluntarily read a book on streets,  this is what riding my bike has done to me.

Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars by Samuel I. Schwartz

from the prologue, "Street Smart tells the story of a transformation in the common travel decisions made daily and weekly in the industrialized world generally, the United States specifically.  Its focus is a modest 9.72 miles - the distance of the average automobile trip, including to work, to shopping, to social encounters, to entertainment - how we've done so historically and how were going to be doing it in the future."  That may not sound like the kind of book the average pastor would read, but it should be.  Because the churches we serve are on streets and people get there, largely, via cars.  But what if the formula changes?  What if people start walking, biking, taking public transit to church more?

Rather than offer a regular book review I will of a book review for pastors (why should a pastor read this book).

How is church life shaped and altered by street design and street policy?  Although this book never addresses this question, if a pastor kept this question in her mind as she read this book she would develop a more intentional approach to church life on the street level.

Church life was been dramatically shaped by two national policies: Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (which provided the funding for the interstate highway system) and the G.I. Bill (which only provided guaranteed loans for new homes).  Take these two policies and you have an incentive and subsidizing for folk to move out of urban centers to the suburbs.  These policies shaped church life and growth (and decline) since the 1950s.  But we are now seeing a generation, almost singlehandedly, reversing these polices!

Despite cheap gas, despite low car loans, despite the Chevy "denim" and "techno pink" car colors Millennials are driving less, biking more, and moving back into urban centers (as are other age groups).  Cities are slowly being transformed back to their pre-car pasts with an emphasis on dense urban centers, public transit and walkability.

This book will give a pastor some reasons for hope and some reasons why they should be involved in the shape and direction of streets and urban policy.  This involves showing up at zoning meetings, participating in Open Streets, and encouraging church members to take public transit, walk, and bike to worship and church life.

I don't foresee a revival of numbers and church plants in urban centers. But I can see urban/neighborhood churches experiencing new life, still as small communities, and possibly flourishing in light of Americans' desire to live in urban areas.




Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017: A Year in Numbers

Last night the missus and I got down the wall calendar and did our year in review after dinner with the kiddos.  At first it seemed like an okay year, but the more we flipped through the pages the more we realized it was a full and fun year.  Then this morning when I got into the office and switched over  my work calendar I looked back on 2017 and thought, what a year.

So here we go a year in numbers, mostly...

26 number of books read (low year for me but the reason why will become clear soon enough).
Best biography: Raoul Wallenberg: The Heroic Life and Mysterious Disappearance of the Man Who Saved Thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust by Ingrid Carlberg (after reading this book I'm trying to get my city council member to changed the name of Columbus Ave to Wallenberg Ave.)
Best Fiction book: The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb
Best Non-Fiction book: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries From a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
Best Graphic Novel: March by John Lewis
Best Kids Book: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi
And best Musical Find: Koln Concert by Keith Jarret (centered my Easter sermon around it)


52 number of sermons + lectures + memorial services + presentations
6  number of times published (Star Tribune,  MinnPost, The Christian Citizen)

5 number of those articles that featured bicycling
1,500 approximate number of miles ridden on my bike 
5 number of people in my family 
5 number of people in my family who now ride regularly
3 number of people in my family who are or who are considering winter biking
2 number of bike rides organized (Portland and Atlanta)
100 approximate number of people who participated in the record breaking Baptist bike ride in Portland, OR
30 seconds the amount of time it took me to get comfortable being typecasted as the person who always talks about bikes at church/clergy/theological gatherings

6 number of times I mowed my yard this year
28 number of times my neighbor mowed his yard


611 number of twitter followers
97 number of real people who followed me on twitter for three or less days then unfollowed me
492 number of people i blocked on twitter
2 number of people i follow on twitter that i met face-to-face 
702 number of friends on facebook
15 number of people i regularly interact with on facebook
X number of people i am still friends with on facebook but have unfollowed them
456 number of people, ballpark estimate, of people who I'm still friends with on facebook but have unfollowed me, because they know im not nearly as clever as i think i am.  

62 number of round trip miles the boys and I pedaled for our bike camping trip.

13.August.2017. the day I found out I was awarded a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Foundation!!!  Thus why my reading numbers were down.   

5 number of years a gas station donut has occupied in my office desk drawer and not changed, at all.

0 number of Tudor's Biscuit consumed, damn.  
2 number of donuts consumed while visiting with Michael Tisserand
2 number of times the school principal called to inform us about a kid's behavior
1 number of times the school was calling about the other Norvell family's kid and not ours.

there you go folks.  great year, but more than anything looking forward to 2018!