Monday, May 19, 2008

Woodstock for Preachers - Day 1

Greetings from Minneapolis, where I'm participating in the Festival of Homiletics. Last year was my first time at this event that has now run for 16 years. I found it remarkably fresh and something my soul sorely needed.

I had not considered coming this year for some time. Last year was in Nashville - a quick jaunt up I-40. But Minneapolis? Seemed like it might be too much.

But my brother in ministry and Glad River bandmate, Rob, was determined to come this year, and it placed in my thoughts real prospect that I might find a way to go.

And I'm here.

Minneapolis in late May and Memphis in May are not the same thing.

So, here I am at the Festival of Homiletics, which I've determined is "Woodstock for Preachers (absent the free drugs and love - I hope! Uggh - kill me now)." All you have to do is watch this bunch of clergy, some 2,100 of us, and it is the stuff of sociological, if not anthropological study. And it's clear that how many of these you've attended creates a caste system of how "in" or connected folks think they are.

We can be a pitiable lot.

You don't have to ask a long time attendee how many times they've been - they'll tell you first.

And then there are others - a group in which I place myself, who are starving for something to guide, to challenge, to inspire and to feed them. Having known times when the spiritual well was flowing freely, at these events we drill for new wellsprings to refresh parched spirits longing for the day to know it again.

Coupled with that deep desire is knowing all too well that it is we, who are clergy - we who preach, that so many deep and devoted people are looking for the same thing on Sundays that I'm looking for this week.

You can't be a container of grace to be outpoured if there's a hole in the bottom of the pitcher.

Some thoughts after the opening night.

We experienced a concert from the National Lutheran Choir. They were absolutely and completely stunning. As "tight" vocally as I've ever heard with dynamic control that is simply unmatched. It was a wonder to behold.

Tom Long lectured on preaching paths for the Gospel of Mark - which is the primary Gospel for the next Christian year.

Anna Carter Florence preached on "Mary and Martha." A rich sermon, to be sure, and one that struck me deeply. Besides that of it that I'll "borrow," I was convicted at the notion of "distraction," a feature of that reading -

41But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing.* Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

The very mention of distraction - distraction from the One who calls me - hit me tonight. Life is so much distraction, and mine has been abundant. I'm not talking about life itself - the stuff of life comes and goes. Business, schedules, three places to be at once, and the expectations that come from each.

As tiring as that can be, I can deal with that. No, I felt the realization that my distractions were of the inner life - and if nothing else happens this week than that I was confronted with that truth and awakened to it, then the effort of this week is well spent.

Maybe that is "the one thing" I'm needing right now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A May Potpourri

A few random thoughts on a number of different issues:

Evidently, to be seen as a credible political candidate, you have to "denounce" your preacher.

Recent admittedly inflammatory, if not conspiratorial comments by Rev'd Dr. Wright have demanded a response from the political candidate who used to call him pastor, or spiritual advisor, or person he only sorta once knew. It all gets to be a bit much after awhile, doesn't it? I'm the first to make it clear that we clergy are not perfect and that some of us relish our "humanity" a bit more than others. Some of us heed well the maxim of the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, who said that if we were to sin, then "sin boldly."

I'm not going to parse what Dr. Wright said or didn't say. Frankly, I was surprised he was silent as long as he was, but when he spoke, brother came out swinging, didn't he? Think about it - would you want the sum of your professional life reduced to a few words?

But one word of caution - it is easy to dismiss larger truths when they are wrapped in what appears to be rambling, if not at times irrational rhetoric. One thing's for certain, he didn't need any help from the YouTuber's who looped sound bites out of context - he can get it plenty stirred up on his own in context. But as I alluded in a previous post, to dismiss the prophet completely is to dismiss what the prophet points toward.

So if any of my congregants run for office (again), I give you blanket permission up front to "denounce" me if it helps the cause. But if denouncing me helps your cause, I have to wonder if your cause is one I'd want to be a part of anyway.


The first of the month brought with it an anniversary. We passed the one year anniversary of my intentional efforts to get my weight down and live a healthier life. For about six months, I was a “JC”man - right there with the girls from "Cheers" and "One Day at a Time."

And I hated it.

Nice enough folks, to be sure - but in the end, the issue with JC is the cost against the basic tenet they preach. It's not nutrition so much (although that's there), but portion control.

During that time, I logged my progress on this blog. I did it as much as a means to make me be accountable at a time when it was clear that I was not able to do it on my own. I've appreciated the words of encouragement and support that helped assuage the powerful self-loathing I was experiencing for allowing myself to get into such a mess.

Since October of 2007, I've managed and progressed on my own. I've not weighed in some time. My guess, based on how I was charting before I stopped weighing weekly, is a total loss thus far of between 45-50 lbs. But the measure I go by is how I feel, and the daily-ness of being aware of what I'm eating. A regular day for me has me eating 1,750 calories. A splurge is 2,500.

And then there's this -

Today, Kristy told me to go into Andrew's room and pack up some clothes he can't wear anymore to take to Neighborhood Centers. In that stack was a pair of short that he wore last Summer for our family portrait on the beach. 34" waist. I figured, what the heck, let's see what happens. I had already achieved one goal and made it so I could wear 36" waist jeans again (I'm wearing a pair even right now as I write this). So, with the shorts, one leg in - so far so good, the other...uhh, a bit snug but they're on. And now, the moment of truth --yes, I fastened them. No, I can't wear them out of the house. I won't wear them in the house, not yet---but those shorts are not going to Neighborhood Centers. Nope, I put them in my drawer. August, 2008. That's my goal.


And speaking of my beloved Andrew...
guess who's driving now on the streets of Memphis and Shelby County?

One more rite of passage to be sure. It's fun watching him transition from utter fear at the prospect of driving at all to asking virtually every time we get into the car, "can I drive?" Funny how one goes from willingness to receive any and all instruction to looks of dismissal at the very notion that we, the experienced drivers have anything to offer.

But watching him drive (and, by the way, he drives more with his mother than with me - wonder if that means anything?) it occurs to me that my family is growing up - right in front of my eyes. And I wonder how am I growing as a man, a father and husband - how am I growing as a pastor, now over 20 years under appointment? To stop growing, or even to try to be more than what we were is to be complacent with what we are - and no where in the Gospel do I get the indication that Jesus gives us room for that.

One more step on the journey.

This day.

Every day.