Monday, January 28, 2008

Fertile Soil

It's been a pretty remarkable month here at Saint John's.

Think about it. In the last month, we've rightly celebrated Epiphany on January 6, the 12th day of Christmas. That doesn't happen that often. May not matter to you, but for those of us charged with planning worship, it's a gift, believe me.

We've heard a sermon preached by a candidate for ministry preparing to come before the Board of Ministry to be commissioned as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. And true enough, Renee's gifts and graces are profound additions to the ministry of Saint John's. Matched with that sermon she preached was our annual observance of baptismal remembrance on "Baptism of the Lord" Sunday - an opportunity to reclaim our vows and chart our course aright in the new year.

We've had the extraordinary honor to have had one of the most influential figures in my ministry come to be a part of our worship. To have Bishop Ken Carder among us was itself a gift. In the day and time in which we live, to hear a bishop speak so clearly and prophetically was as a wellspring in an arid land.

To hear an ecclesiology and Christology from the Wesleyan perspective, after its conspicuous absence, made my little Methodist heart skip a beat or two. To have him preside at Table - cool off the charts if you live in my world. You all heard me say of him before he came that he is my Yoda. Those of you who are of the "Star Wars" mythology will know that it's not until the prequel movies that we understood just how ably Yoda could, uh, take care of business, if you know what I mean. . . so it is with Ken - he can get it done.

All of which is to say, and I hope you see this - what is happening on this corner is fertile soil. It is fertile in two notable ways. I've heard from many who have told me that it is this congregation that they feel at home, that they can grow, at last, spiritually. And, this is the place that is becoming an incubator for ministry to be launched from and into the church at large.

That is, we are becoming a "teaching congregation." There are those who seek to be engaged in ministry who desire to be here, if, for no other reason, to get a feel for how to be "church" in an urban setting, and do so unafraid of difference and embrace it instead.

What a remarkable thing - fertile soil - and get ready, church, for what grows!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Cruel Shoes

I didn't read any books over the holidays (by that, I mean, books for me - not books for work, wherein I'm constantly in a state of reading any of a number of texts, often at the same time - those of you who went to seminary understand).

But, I did listen to a couple. The one I was most eager to get to was by Steve Martin.

It's easy to forget that most of the world was introduced to him through his stand up act. He has been an actor for so long. But there was a time, wow, when he ruled the comedic world like a rock star.

To be more specific, it was through the albums of his stand up act. Back in the mid 70's, memorizing his act was mainstay for the cadre of teenage malcontents with whom I ran. "Let's Get Small" and "Wild and Crazy Guy" recast a comedian's act in ways we had never heard before. Coupled with the periodic appearances on "Saturday Night Live," this guy had my attention.

Like him, we were "Wild and Crazy Guys," (or so we certainly thought we were) and, when it seemed our conduct was just a bit beyond appropriate, we were willing and ready for an extended, "Well, excuuuuuuuuuusse me!"

Even now, when I watch my older boys acting out and thinking they're hilarious, I'm reminded of myself in those days.

I'm pretty sure he was the funniest person I had ever heard. It was one of those moments when the right person with the right approach was in the right place at the right time and I was among those hanging on every word. To this day there are lines from those albums I could recite -

So, when his latest book, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, came out, there was no way I was going to read it - I wanted to hear him read it to me.

I'm generally ambivalent about audio books, particularly when it comes to fiction. But when it comes to nonfiction, or an autobiography, or, as he calls this work, a memoir, I find it enchanting because I'm hearing someone tell me their story.

I had always found it curious why he completely left stand up comedy. And he did. Completely. In fact, he notes in the book that he had shut the door on that chapter of his life and had not even considered it for 25 years.

It's the "why" of his decision that seemed familiar. You never just leave something. You never just walk away. There's always some precipitating factor or factors at work. Sometimes we are not even fully aware of what they are - but, if we're honest, more often than not, we know what's going on. Try as we may to hide it - whatever "it" is, there is a point of saturation.

Not one more thing. Not one more.

I'll not book report his work, but you could anticipate some of what was going on. Questions like:

  • What motivates the clown?
  • Is the clown crying on the inside? And why?
  • Why work so hard, so obsessively at the craft--trying to please someone who cannot be pleased? Hmmm.
  • And then, when fame hits, too much, too fast - and his well honed act now becomes a parody of himself, what then do you do?

He says that he discovered and now appreciates that chapter of his life from which he ran so long ago. Seems like there are times it takes distance to be able to look back at what was and find some appreciation impossible to see when in the thick of it.

Maybe I was immersed because I was such a fan - but hearing him talk about what was going on in his life during the days he made me double over in laughter leaves me ever mindful that, whatever else we see of each other at any given time, there's always so much more we don't see at work.

And sometimes it's what we don't see that's pushing what we do.

My encounter with this book, coming at year's end and the beginning of a new one, fits so well with the thoughts I find I usually deal with during this season - - Who am I? Who will I be? What motivates me to be who I am and do what I do?

And so, I take from Steve this lesson - the intentional pursuit of reflection of previous life's chapters to find how they shape me now, and, to find the places of gratitude, if not appreciation for those chapters long since closed.