Friday, December 31, 2010
As I look at my dashboard, I see a surprising number of drafts never published. Impressive posts begun here, the incomplete display of profundity there. (ha!)
My ability to bring coherence to issues for which a real time response was called for was sorely lacking in 2010. It's not that I haven't had thoughts about many things. I didn't have energy to see it through. A fragmented life will always yield distraction.
But I'm not going to beat myself up about it though (there's plenty other things about which I can). True enough, a relentless pursuit for relevance can veer easily into the absurd. And I'm often on the line of the absurd anyway.
So I end the year with one more post. One of self awareness that there were decent thoughts shared, some interesting life stories imparted, and they are mine. This blog is composed of my thoughts reflecting my journey. Some of these stories may have intersected yours at certain points.
One of the things that this year has taught me is that our journeys, sometimes once thought long since divergent, seem to have a way of intersecting again in ways you least expect.
What is it that Christians say? Never goodbye, just see you later.
I think that's right. Not always in the ultimacy of time, but sometimes in the dailyness of living. I cling to the hope of what is and what will be---and in the meantime, I'll be trying find a bit more balance in the new year.
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Sunday, December 26, 2010
We'll be invited to look back at pop culture, politics, lead stories, and trends. Because we have a short attention span, the recollection of things happening no more than 12 months ago will seem a distant memory. That is not among our most endearing traits.
We'll see video packages of key figures in our culture who died in the previous year. Their deaths remind us of what we've lost and that we're not what we were.
I've found myself rather introspective of late, looking back across my year that was to help give me a course to steer in the year at my doorstep.
So here's some thoughts about my year in review-
Once again I find myself at the breaking point of a lifelong struggle with weight and the anger, shame and self loathing that are my constant companions when I consider that I've allowed this to happen---again. At my age I can no longer afford the delusion that I'll get it right one of these days. If I desire longevity and vitality I've got to "find some balance here."
The "Dr. Phil" voice would argue that I must find something in this struggle that I'm looking for, otherwise I'd change it because we can't change what we won't acknowledge. So what is it? I've been reflecting on the year that was. It hasn't been an easy one, and at times quite difficult. Just because I'm called to do a certain work, and sometimes do it pretty well, does not mean there is no toll taken. Who is pastor to the pastor? Right now that's an open question. There is a direct correlation between how I'm dealing (or not dealing) with life healthily, and the insulation I add to my physical frame. Rather than thinking of storing up for a winter's hibernation, the added weight I pack on serves me more like a Kevlar vest presumably to protect my heart from the perceived threats "out there." And I think it's always been that way for me, from childhood on.
While I've not always given my permission to ponder such things, I think I'm right on this one. It's a self-protection mechanism, that ironically, is going to damn near kill me if I don't find a way through. How is it with my soul? Look at my body and you'll see the answer my mouth dares not speak.
For a Song -
I don't know when I've sung more than I have in this past year. It's been a long time, probably not since Asbury days as Glad River was coming together and we were recording and touring, and I served as Associate with a singer as Senior (MM). Fun days. Music is as much soul medicine for me as anything. I've been reminded of that great quote from Augustine, when we sing we "pray twice," Guess I've been doing a lot of praying. I recently saw a video of me singing and was taken by how different my countenance was. I could see it. My affect is almost transcendent. Held in juxtaposition with the usual "me," I have to say I like the "me" I am when I sing a lot more than the "me" I am when I don't.
In my current appointment, I'm blessed with very talented musicians. At times I've tapped into my inner rock star when we do tunes of the 60's and 70's to augment our worship experiences. Even bought myself my own solo mic - EV- N/D767a. Yep, all about the tunes.
And then there's The Travelling Cokesburys (click and check us out) which has been an utter blast (CD coming soon). To be able to play and sing with John Kilzer has been a treat. But it is our project, hymns from the Cokesbury Hymnal, that has allowed me to reconnect with a touchstone of my faith that had meant so much. It's not the hymns themselves that matter as much as my recollection of the congregations I grew up singing them in.
In Search of Community -
My clergy group, of which I've been a part on a weekly basis since 1990, is struggling to survive. While its number and configuration has changed many times over the years, with just three of us left the inevitable is upon us. I don't know what that means for me. For a long time we tried to model what healthy clergy relationships could look like, those in which we lovingly hold each other accountable. Sometimes we were actually good at it. But itineracy and attrition has moved this group to a perilous state, and I'm saddened by that. I'm also worried because the loneliness of those in clergy, something for which I had a weekly antidote, is now evermore in front of me in the year ahead.
Reconnecting with friends of my past, those who knew me, loved me and trusted me long before I claimed a vocational life has been one of the greatest blessings of this past year, no question about it. I hate to admit that Facebook is partially responsible for that being true, but it is. My friends from Mayfield, Jackson and early Memphis days have each touched me again, and I'm ever thankful. And that's been a complete and welcomed surprise.
I've also been reminded this past year that with some friendships, sometimes you just have to move on. That's something you'd think I would have learned by now. Moving on is what I've done all my life. Close a door, open a door. It's an axiom of we in clergy life that I thought I could ignore or manage because I'm just that smart. Not so much. Learning to do that at peace? That's the trick, and a lesson I'm trying to learn, and so far not so well.
Being a Dad -
For every moment I feel like I did a great job as a dad, there's scores more when I blew it. Too busy, too tired, too distracted...too not present. And yet, my boys affirm in me how much I matter to them. They make me laugh. I make them laugh. And when they are in trouble they know they can come to me and they do. The craziness of my home life since Kristy took over the stores several years ago is that I'm now by necessity a part of the dailyness of running the house, and tending the family. It gets to be nuts but it's been a blessing. And in the new year I'll have my first graduate. Not sure what that's going to mean for us all just yet, but it ought to be interesting!
So there's a look back at me. For what is right and good I'm thankful. For what of it that lingers, that I'll carry with me into 2011 as baggage I hope that just saying some of it out loud is the first step in unpacking.
Happy New Year!
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Let me also say that I'm proud to have travelled to Israel with brothers and sisters in the clergy with whom I've enjoyed a profound covenantal relationship for the past several years. I've written about this group previously in our responses to Lester Street and The Med, and Tear Down the Walls.
While there's much I will reflect upon in due course about being in Israel, the spiritual impact of being in a "holy land," for this post I find the need to clarify things for those left with certain impressions about this group, what we did, and why we did it.
Here's David's article:
Now I confess to sadness for feeling the need to do this at all. First, it would have suited me fine if there had never been any media about this. Granted, media exposure is common with many of the folks in this group, although I'm clear that I'm at the bottom of that food chain, and that's just fine by me. While I don't think any of us were really looking for it, it was too good to pass up as a story. I get that.
Being in fellowship together out of the spotlight, where we could be ourselves with one another, while understanding the pressures of what it means to be spiritual leaders was what gave life to this group. It is what draws us to it still.
When you turn that which had one purpose into the hands of the media, regardless of intentions, you open yourself up to perceptions that belie what is true.
On it's face, a public airing opens us to opinions. Perceptions from those who don't know me matter very little to me. My sadness, bordering on feeling betrayed is that some of these perceptions are from those I thought knew me, trusted me, and counted me as friend. And I'm not sure what to do with that. It confronts my continual internal conversation about not being loved unconditionally for who I am, and seen as having value only because of what I do.
Let's see...I've had "friends" concerned that I was going to be indoctrinated to a specific point of view, one they didn't hold. The belief I'd be indoctrinated by anything or anyone lets me know I'm not really known or trusted by those I thought did. That stings.
I've been labelled as being like those clergy to whom MLK Jr wrote in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." (them's fighting words, by the way). I was confronted by that masterwork during my Vandy days. It was thrust before me in critically constructive ways that made my focus be such that I will do everything I can in ministry not to be associated with those whose silence equals concurrence to what is going on around them.
So what's the real issue here for me? I thought about this a lot. And I'm surprised by how much this has gotten under my skin. I've sought the counsel of a trusted voice who does love and trust me for who I am and what was said resonated.
"Your integrity was called into question by those who know you, or at least you thought they did."
And there it is. "For everything there is a season." It is now the season to peaceably move on from what I thought was to what is. Ever been there? It happens.
How many of you have the motivations of your trips questioned?
I mean really?
It's a trip - a group of friends who happen to hold ministry in common took a trip together with our partners.
We went to Israel, a beautiful, complex place. I knew that before I got there, and found it confirmed upon arriving. The issues of security, justice and peace for all who call that place home have no easy answers. We went to see, to experience, to talk, to touch, to process, to pray, to consider the land of where Jesus lived, to ponder the implications of a land claimed by multiple faith communities and consider what that means in the places we live and do ministry.
We did not go to engage in Middle East peace talks.
Now David would have you believe that our common cause for friendship means we don't have different opinions on issues. How anyone who knows any one of us could believe that's true just isn't paying attention. The variable is that we gather as friends who hold work in common, not as ministers first, friends second. Some people either can't get that, or don't want to.
Most people were glad I went, glad we went, proud even that this fellowship of leaders, imperfect as we are, seeks to model the community in our common life that we proclaim in our work lives.
Where we went was not nearly as significant as that we went somewhere together. That we went to a place that holds significance to our faiths added a dimension that cannot be underestimated.
Shortly after returning we received word that David was going to write an article about the trip. David issued a request that each of us answer: "How did what you experienced in Israel inform your life and work in Memphis."
Eisegesis is defined as reading into something what you want it to say, rather than what it really means. It's a no-no for preachers when dealing with biblical texts. It's a no-no period. Ever encounter someone abusing scripture to say what they need to so that their point is validated, rather than let the scripture shape them? There you go.
While David was free to edit my words, the complexity of what I intended was co-opted into something altogether different. He eisegeted my quote. Here it is in total:
As we traveled through Israel together, we often heard the words "it's complicated," when describing ever present geopolitical and religious tensions. It's always there. There is a growing awareness that a two state solution may well be the last best enduring legacy for the land claimed as sacred by those who claim the God of Abraham, Mohammed, and Jesus as the center of their faith. But is the "two state" solution that we have long known on the parcel of land we call home our most faithful expression of the love of God and neighbor? As it is there it is here...a question always present. My sense is that to live fully into the justice and mercy of God compels Israel and Memphis to different conclusions on that question. It is complicated. But since when should what is complicated excuse doing what is faithful?Inasmuch as we who traveled together know what it meant and why we went, there is eisegesis aplenty by too many others. It's not about intentions, I don't believe. I think we read into way too many things what we want them to say rather than what they actually do. Driven by our own predispositions, biases and prejudices, and in the absence of trust and conversation, we make anything say what we want it to.
I've encountered this. It does not diminish the import of this experience for me. I am bothered that there's always someone who can't celebrate the blessings of others and will interpret what they want how they want.
But truth be told, I'm sad. The number of people with whom I entrust myself is comparatively few. And apparently, it's even fewer than I thought.
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Sunday, November 07, 2010
A short walk brought us to the water's edge where Micah lead us in the service ended the Sabbath. It was a thing full of beauty and hope.
First day take away was that. Hope in the face of conflict. Hope found in coming home. Zeal for life to be celebrated always---let everything
that breathes praise the Lord!
We walked the streets of Tel Aviv to the Goshen Restaurant. A great banquet. Our guide, Jonathan, who lives outside of Bethlehem shares his life and world view.
A good start.
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Saturday, November 06, 2010
Within the hour we'll enter Israeli airspace.
Fellow pilgrims on our flight-
Rick and Jane Kirchoff
Stacy and Rhonda Spencer
Keith and Shelia Norman
Andy and Sybil McBeth
We meet up with the crew in Tel Aviv. Settle in. And then begin.
First impressions of trip so far. It's a pretty selfish one. Amazing that you have to cross the globe to have time with your spouse.
It's the nature of our lives. Two jobs that are constantly before us, even at home. 3 children with all their interactions and demands.
Just us? I've got my girl again. This may be reason enough for the journey.
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Sunday, October 31, 2010
This cadre of clergy represent the diversity of spiritual leadership in Memphis. We are friends first, colleagues second.
We raised our voices as one to call the city together after the Lester Street massacre. We spoke as one about the need to preserve a healthcare safety net for the least among us, which is currently provided through The Med.
We believe that the character of our friendships feeds us because we understand in each other the impact our work has on our families and us.
I've been blessed to know these guys and their spouses. We travel together as interfaith, ecumenical and multiracial representatives of the people of faith in the Memphis area.
I'll be filing updates of our pilgrimage throughout.
Looking forward to something special.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010
In fact, I guess this blog has given space for thoughts and feelings to be processed and considered. As an old friend is want to remind me, all things unresolved always resurface. As I've alluded in previous posts, I think that much of who I am comes from my understanding of what of me was left unresolved from those years--
- Friendship, and the fierce loyality attached to those you dare call friend. The truest since of that for me is probably a confusion between loyalty and desperation that the friends you have are friends you'll lose.
- Living in the balance between self worth and self loathing. That's probably always been there, but is exacerbated by not being able to process what it means to be "me." Am I loved for who I am? Do I even love me for who I am?
- Saying goodbye to the world you know when you're not ready - but truth be told, when are we ever really ready to leave the comforts and protections of the world that is safe to venture out into the great unknown?
- Curiosity of what happened to that world you left with you no longer in it. It's not like people you leave behind will never be the same without you, I mean, really. But there is something about knowing you've been remembered, especially in your absence, that brings a depth of meaning to what you once knew.
And there's the tie....the worlds I've left, from childhood to the present moment. For most of my life, those chapters never interact or overlap. They are sequestered pieces of the overall puzzle of my existence.
Part of my own issue about what of me I'll reveal to another, and the biggest part of me that I won't is impacted by this realization. It is part and parcel of being an itinerant family. And almost literally from the day of my birth (the family mythology goes that the day I was born was the day dad got his first appointment - it's no "brand plucked from the burning," mind you, but it is something to hang your hat on), to this moment in time.
I've not known anything other than itineracy. While my experience of it, and my reaction to it may not be that of others (and I certainly hope it's not), I can only claim what the impact of that covenantal life has had on me.
Just because you promise something to God, and honor that promise, doesn't mean it stops being hard.
So I've had this fascination with my life in Mayfield in recent years. I think it may have been brought to the surface when Jimmy died. Nothing like the recognition of mortality to make one look across the broad expanse of one's life and wonder what if? And, what now?
A month or so ago I was asked to represent the Memphis Conference Board of Ministry at an event in Baltimore. Apparently, no one else but the chair could go (which I take as no one else wanted to), but I was willing. Because I value the work of that body so much, if there was something I could glean from representatives across the church who do similar work, it seemed well worth the effort.
That, plus my expenses would be paid.
As soon as I knew I was going, I was reminded that someone I knew lived there. Someone from my Mayfield childhood. Someone with whom I had reconnected on "the" Facebook. Elaine.
So I wrote her, told her when I was coming, and wondered if she'd be available for a visit. She was. She and her husband were going to pick me up and take me out for crab--in Baltimore. Not too shabby.
I was shocked by how excited I was to reacquaint with her. I had not seen her in over 35 years. Me, whose emotional shield is usually always up, was venturing into something I never thought I would or even wanted to.
What would I say? Would she recognize me? We spoke on the phone to arrange pick up times and she said "you sound just like I remember you sounding." And I thought, "really?" I was like 11 or 12 when I left and now I'm 46. Could that be right? And all the while I was thinking "you do, too."
I sat outside the hotel to wait for her to come by after her work. I saw her, and of course it was Elaine. We smiled and hugged and sat to visit for awhile waiting for John, her husband to drop by and pick us all up.
We talked about our lives. Where we'd been. I asked about old friends and if she still goes home to Mayfield. We small talked for awhile as I mustered up the courage to do something I could no longer avoid.
Make a confession.
Now some of you reading this will have heard my sermon in which Elaine is an illustration. It has to do with growing up and she was always the one who'd score just one point ahead of me on a test. For every 10 grades I might eek out a "win" on 1 or 2 of them.
Hmmm. Maybe that's while I'm a Tiger fan? Another post for another time.
I was the Methodist preacher's kid. She went to the Baptist church...blah, blah, blah.
I was "confirmed," she was "saved." You know, that old chestnut.
And I've told that story of my competitive engagement with her several times in ministry. Why wouldn't I? I'll never see her again.
Preaching 101 - don't tell stories about other people without their permission. I'm just saying.
You should have seen her face when I said, "I need to make a confession to you."
And I shared my story. She was most gracious. Even laughing a bit. I don't know if she needed to hear what I said, it's no big deal, really. But I surely needed to say it.
John picked us up, and took us to Nick's Fish House. We sat outside on the water, learned how to eat crab, and had a wonderful time. We reminisced. We laughed. I heard about her life and I told her about mine. She's always been brilliant, and her work career bears witness to that.
One of the first things she said to me was "so, you followed in your dad's footsteps, huh?" Her inquiry came from a point of reference that few have. She knew me for what I was and now sees me for what I am. There was also a sense of "really? you? a preacher?" I get that curiosity, bordering on surprise....I really do.
Resolution. It felt like grace.
It was as profound a couple of hours as I've had in many a year.
I have no idea what our reconnection meant to her, but I know what it meant to me, and I was so glad. I felt like I had a claim on the lives of that bunch of people with whom I shared a childhood. Trapped no longer in the past, it now has new life and perspective. The chapters of my life are no longer sequestered from each other. And this word rarely (and sadly) comes from my lips--it makes me "happy."
Because the occasion that had me in Baltimore kept me in a hotel conference room, I didn't get to see much of the city. She told me I'd have to come back one day, and they'd show me around.
I told her I'd want to see Lovely Lane Church, the birthplace of Methodism in America.
"Oh really," she said. "I didn't know that."
Ahhh. Score one for me!
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Rather than declaring the kids of today as soft, needy of constant breaks, I've seen the wisdom of living fully into the opportunities that come.
Fall breaks are ok. Fall breaks on the beach are better. So here we are.
Aren't we the better for taking the opportunity of every day and make of it a blessing?
I'm doing my best.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Ok, first things.
Are we really on the set of the Late Show with David Letterman, and is that really me sitting as his desk?
"How in the world did you get to do that?"
While it all started a very long time ago when I was at Asbury, for our purposes, let's pick up the story in March, when the family spent spring break in Orlando.
While there, we caught up with an old friend from the Asbury days who lived in the area. Jan was very much a part of our early days in ministry. She and her husband, Reid, worked with the youth. Their son, Deuce, was a part of the group. Jan and Reid babysat, almost newborn, Andrew, almost exclusively. He was our son, but he was her baby.
A job opportunity moved the family to Dallas, and shortly thereafter, I moved to Bemis. A tragic car wreck killed Reid ( a bear of man in stature, but as tender a heart as you'll ever find). I returned to Memphis to participate in the funeral.
Jan and Deuce stayed in Dallas until he was preparing for college, and the program he was pursuing was in Florida, so there she moved. We only sporadically kept in touch with each other over the years. When Jimmy died, she showed up one day at Saint John's just to hug me, talk with me and see if I was o.k. She and I have always had a bit of a connection.
Fast forward to Orlando in March, we went out to dinner, and she told me that Deuce, who was now working in NYC with a theatrical production, was getting married--and would I do the service.
She's among that handful of folks in my life that if they ask it, I'm pretty much going to do it. You build up that kind of capital with folks with whom you've weathered life's storms. But I said, "I will, but he's got to ask me," I've got to be back for worship, and, "What are we going to do about pre-marital counselling, because that's a non-negotiable for me?"
Well, the upshot was this--he asked, I said yes, and we did our counselling via Skype. Am I hip, or what?
The second weekend of June was the appointed date. Kristy and I would take flight to NYC, enjoy some time away, I would preside a wedding for a young man I love deeply, a beautiful young woman I was coming to know, and share time with a family that had meant much to me over the years.
During my last "Skype" session I asked Deuce, "Hey, since you're up there in show biz, why dont' you see if you can wrangle me up some Letterman tickets."
His response was, "let me see what I can do."
I didn't think much of it. I wasn't going up there for that, but thought, why not?
Feel free to check my Letterman fandom on this blog. There are posts aplenty.
Deuce called me the day before we were to fly out to ask me what time I was getting to the city. I told him early afternoon. He said that was perfect because I had to be at the corner of 53rd and Broadway at 3:00 p.m. to go to the Letterman show.
Now, here's the cool part.
We get to La Guardia, taxi into the city - nice hotel, the Fitzpatrick on Lexington between 58th and 59th. Meet Jan, see Deuce, who gives me a piece of paper on which is scribbled a phone number, and the name of "a guy."
We walk the blocks west to the appointed place. I make the call. Goes to voicemail, except it says his voicemail is full, so I can't even leave a message.
We call again. The same thing.
Just down the block is where The Ed Sullivan Theater is located. The was a gathering of folks in front, the audience for the day, and a Late Show staffer wearing her Worldwide Pants jacket, with a clipboard seeming to check off names.
Surely we're on the list. I approach. Gave her our names. Nope.
I showed her the piece of paper with the name and number on it.
"I'm sorry, sir, you're going to need more than that if you think you're going to get in."
Oh well, I thought. I'm this close. It's still cool. This is just not going to pan out.
I called Deuce, told him my problem. He told me to stand by.
Few minutes later, I see a guy walking toward us on his phone. We must have looked like frustrated fans.
"You Johnny?" he asked.
"Yes, I am. And this is my wife, Kristy."
"Nice to meet you," he said. "My name's Martin."
Martin's the name on the slip of paper. "Sorry I couldn't get your call. We don't get good signal down in the control room."
"Oh," I said. "I tried to see if we were on the list to go into the theater, but the lady told me it was a no-go."
Martin said, "We're not going in that way...follow me."
We walked to the corner, turned onto 53rd, in that area where they drop stuff off the roof, across the street from the revival of "Promises, Promises," starring Sean "Just Jack" Hayes and Christen Chenoweth, featuring the powerful music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
As we're walking to the side door I asked, "So, how do you know Deuce?"
Martin said, "I don't. We just watch out for each other and do favors. One day he'll be working on a show that I'll have someone who wants to see and I'll give a call. That's how it works around here."
Wow, I thought.
And Martin was the consummate host. As we walked in, the band was rehearsing. There's Paul and crew, working on the day's special music (with Peter Wolf). Technicians and staffers roaming all over the stage.
I was standing in The Ed Sullivan Theater. And that lady who wouldn't even give me the time of day? Still standing outside with the audience. It's about 3:10 p.m.
Martin takes us downstairs to the control room. That's where he works. His job is engineering the stationary lights in the theater. Certain lights come up at a certain time...stuff like that.
Saw the director at his post. They were going through several practice things. And then, they started taping the night's Top 10. It was an on location shoot of Washington Nationals pitcher, Stephen Strasburg. They record it early and Dave is reacting to tape...who knew?
Walking back up from the basement we'd pass these suited guys with secret service looking communication devices, "Dave's private security...he's had a pretty rough year."
We walked up to the balcony, where at the very top was a station for the motion light engineer. Next to him was two seats behind a table..."you all will sit there."
And there we were, not in a regular seat, but with the crew. Very cool. Our view from the top was actually more appealing than a floor seat because once the show starts, the cameras and other equipment block the view from below.
By this time, it's about 3:40 p.m. "Can I get you all anything?" he asks. "No, we're good."
And we sat there, watched the band finish rehearsal (they are a great band), crew was rushing around.
Audience entered little after 4:10 p.m. and everyone's pretty much seated by 4:15 p.m. As they walked by us to take their seats I think they thought we're with the production. Kinda funny.
After a few minutes of sitting with our newest friend, Kristy says, "Is that a space heater I smell?"
Sure enough, this guy had a little space heater at his feet.
"Dave likes it cold." I had heard that before. So I asked, how cold is it?
"49 degrees, always."
You've got to be kidding. Now being up top it wasn't that cold, but it was chilly.
Warm up comedian came on and tried to be funny. He introduced the band and they come on stage one at a time. It's about 4:27 p.m. when Dave is introduced. He runs across the stage, grabs a mic, says hello, yucks it up the crowd. The clock is seconds away from 4:30 p.m. He abruptly says he has to go, runs off stage and the theme hits right at 4:30 p.m.
The experience is very different, as I would have expected. It's a very technical thing, a television production. It's the necessary work that happens never seen on the television that makes all things appear fluid, natural and entertaining. Lights, applause signs, watching what the band is doing when they are off camera--watching what Dave is doing when he's off camera.
But it was such a kick. Up high in the theater was really the best view. Harry Connick, Jr. was a guest. Jayden Smith was as well, and I found him a disrespectful - not like his dad at all. Peter Wolf was the music guest and by the time he came on and did his number, I could have done it along with him, because we heard it rehearsed before air about 5 times.
Some observations about Dave - when he's not on camera, he is out of his jacket. Takes it off and throws it. One of his little minions has to keep up with it and make sure he has it back on before he back on camera. While he talked with Harry during the commercial, at other breaks he was away from the desk and talking with what looks like a team of 4 or 5 writers.
He's on stage and at his desk not once second longer than the camera demands. At the close of the show when he says, "good night,everybody,"the band hits the theme and only plays about 15 seconds of it until camera is off. Dave was handed a house mic and said, "Thanks for coming, enjoy New York, we'll see you next time," and that was it, he was gone.
I imagined the words, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Dave has left the building."
The show was over, and pages were escorting the audience out of the theater rather quickly. Folks were polite and didn't seek to linger.
But Kristy and me? We were with the production, don't you see, so we stayed right where we were.
After the audience filed out our secondary host said, "I'm going to take down to Martin, he's on stage."
You know that circular staircase that's one Dave's left as he sits as his desk--we came down it.
And then in one defining moment, there we were, on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Just standing there like we were meant to be there. That stage, in Dave's care now, but much bigger than Dave.
I thought about the people who've stood on the very spot I was standing--giants in the entertainment business.
Every comedian of note from the 50's forward.
Every singer and band of note from that time forward.
I'm telling you, surreal doesn't capture this. I wasn't expecting this at all, and I went from getting up one morning in my own bed in Memphis, to standing on the stage of The Ed Sullivan Theater that afternoon.
And while I standing there, Alan Kalter's hanging around yucking it up with a couple of his guests, Paul's still at the keyboard working on something. The stage is not that big, it's actually a pretty small theater as theater's go. And there I am, like I'm supposed to be there.
"Go over to the desk," Martin said, "and I'll take some pictures."
My phone was dead. I didn't bring a camera--didn't know all this was going to happen. So the picture you see if from Kristy's phone. I'm not sitting in Dave's chair. Nobody does but Dave. It's taking away and covered right after the show. It's just a basic office chair, and it's set for him at the desk on camera.
What about Dave's desk? Not really a desk, no surprise, more like an L-shaped table.
Underneath to the left is Kleenex, a gallon pump bottle of Purel, a trashcan and other miscellaneous things. Pretty utilitarian, actually.
The desk mic is real. I picked it up, looked at it. Put it back. Nobody yelled at me.
"Where's Dave's pencils?" Kristy asked. There were not any on the desk.
"Just a minute," Martin said, and he walked over the where the Producer's station was, grabbed a handful, and handed them to her.
You know what they say on them?
"The Late Show" No. 2
We sat at the desk several minutes before getting up.
Kristy talked with Alan Kalter a bit, seems like a really pleasant guy--you know, like a guy who's really glad he's got a gig.
And let me tell you...it was COLD.
"Man, it really is cold down here."
"Yeah," Martin said. "Dave doesn't like to be hot. It's 49 all the time whether we're dark or on the air. When the lights aren't on you can see your breath."
I believe it.
"He didn't really seem to interact very much with the audience," I said.
"Dave doesn't like people very much," Martin replied.
I can see that.
Anyway, we walked backstage where just offstage by Dave's desk is Dave's coffeepot. Coffee just for him, brewed from a Mr. Coffee like in anybody's home.
Backstage looks more like a theater backstage than a studio, and that's what it is.
He shared some of the challenges of retrofitting a theater for television production. Kinda cool.
We walked around a bit more, passed Sid McGinnis, guitarist--head nod was all that was necessary being the cool musician he is, I dig it, then out the backstage door.
Alan Kalter hung around to shake some hands and chat up the lingering fans and then looking up to the sky he said, "wow, what a beautiful day," and then headed west on 53rd on foot. It's New York.
I shook Martin's hand and thanked him profusely for his hospitality.
I'll never see this guy again. And I'm here to tell you, this guy modeled hospitality and graciousness to people he'd never seen before better than any church I've ever served or been in.
It was extraordinary.
And all because of this unspoken "code" between folks in productions in NYC.
There's a sermon in there somewhere, and it's not too hard to find.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
2. Sleep. It's amazing how my view of life changes when I go from 4-6 hrs. of sleep a night to 9-10 hrs. What, then, must I do in my "regular" life to make vacation rest a part of it?
3. Play. By play, I mean be play-full. Be of a playful spirit. I know only too well the rap placed on me by those (even those who love me) that I'm too serious. I don't know where that comes from (yes, I do--thanks, Dad), but playfulness leads to joyfulness and joyfulness lets you handle whatever is happening in life from a different perspective. What play-full thing did I do this year that was different than any other? Karoake night at Sandestin, baby. It was a blast. Yes there is video, and no, you can't see it (well, maybe...if you ask me nice).
4. Be With Friends. If this past year had done nothing more than allowing me to be involved again into the life of one of my best friends, Tim - it would have been enough. I've known him since I was 15. We churched together, roomed together in a first apartment, he was my best man, and I officiated his wedding. And in this past year, I buried his dear mother, and both of his in-laws. Tim and family are members of Covenant (used to be Underwood, but that's another story--feel free to browse the blog for my opinions on that one), and we have been able to be a part of each other's lives after so many years just as it was when we hung out all the time. I was Tim's friend long before I was his pastor, and I'll be his friend long after I've been moved on down the trail. Tim and family were in Florida while we were. It was a good thing. Together with other Underwood friends, Jodie, Michelle and Halle, opportunities to fellowship, talk and play were far more abundant than in years past. Being with family is always good. Being with family and friends makes good become great.
5. Exercise. There's a 2.1 mile circle that encompasses the area that we live when we're there. It's not a ton of miles, but going from nothing to everyday, in the heat of the day was good. No question, I needs must incorporate that back into the rhythm of life I lead at home. Has to happen.
6. Spend Every Afternoon You Can on a Beach. I know some folk can take or leave a beach. I get it. And there are times of the day I can leave it, too. But late afternoon, from about 5 to sundown...made for me. The ocean breeze blowing in. The seagulls looking for something to snack from what others left, the more tolerable sun beaming down. Magic. As the days of my vacation moved from one into the next, what I to notice was a bit of a congregation that would gather at about that time everyday to take their seat and listen to the liturgy of the ocean in worshipful praise for the God of all creation who makes all things new, even tired, worn out preachers who need some re-creation.
7. Eat crabcakes at Louis Louis. Nuff said.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
I've been twice before. This year, I return to Nashville. A place important to my journey.
FoH is a gathering of the some of the masters at the craft of preaching. There'll be workshops and such.
But I go for the worship. I'm not there so much to take notes or steal ideas, although I'm always open to new ideas. I go to soak in the worship experience in which I'm not in charge. I participate as a congregant. It speaks to me.
I've written before about who is pastor to the pastor? It's a tough question to answer.
Like any person who goes to Church seeking a word--of truth, of hope, of challenge, of love and of grace, we who pastor and preach need that, too. So I'm going--gladly and earnestly.
The events of recent days in Nashville impacts the trip only to the degree that the reality of damage sits in front of us as we gather. Alterations in the agenda allow the 1,500 of us who are gathering to offer assistance in the damaged areas. So, a spontaneous mission trip sits out there, too.
One further benchmark of note: I'll be part of a mini-Vandy class reunion. This month, 20 years ago, I graduated from The Divinity School at Vanderbilt. A few of my classmates will be at FoH, and others still live and serve in Nashville. It will be good to reconnect with folks with whom I apprenticed long ago--to see where they are, what they're doing.
I suspect a post or two while there will bubble up.
But what am I up to next week? I'm going to Church!
Saturday, April 17, 2010
My thoughts of Jimmy this week have been of what was. The kid I knew. The pain in the neck he enjoyed being for me. The attention and love he long sought from me that while present, was never quite as much as either of us needed...and yet, we were both too damn proud to admit it.
I've written extensively about Jimmy and processing my grief in the years since his death...they're all labelled "Jimmy." For this year, I pause, remember my kid brother, and shake my head that it's been six years. He'd be 40 this year, and I would have so enjoyed rubbing that in.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
First time in many a year.
The constructs of our worship experience tonight really lent (no pun here) itself to music, action, ancient words read and meditated upon.
But I'm always drawn to this night. Before I had a theological lexicon to describe it, this night held a singular importance for me.
Like my Jewish friends who are celebrating their liberation from another time through Passover, I always feel like asking "Why is this night different that all others?"
Long before I found a blog to reflect aloud for those who choose to read it, this homily has been in me. I continue to return to it as my Credo for who Jesus is, the nature of faith, and the profound challenge of discipleship.
It is the "basic sauce," the "roux," if you will, that when any of a number of contextual ingredients are added, suits what I have come to believe about this significant day.
A simple search of this blog will reveal the various iterations of this homily in the past five or six years.
Last year, in 2009, I engaged in a significant reworking for two predominant reasons. The first was the introduction of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book The Last Week, which I continue to hold in highest regard for framing the central thesis. They gave words to my long felt sense of Holy Week. I count it as a means of grace.
The second reason came as a result of my last Maundy Thursday with a congregation I had led for eight years. I've come to think of this as my Valedictory Address. It's no "The Queen is Dead," by any stretch, but it is me, and it was something I wanted to be sure I said as clearly as ever as I prepared to take my leave.
This year, even though not preached, I continue the discipline of living with it to see what is being pushed in me and what needs to be shared.
Here it is.
There are moments in life when the actions we take, the engagement of our lives with the world around us reveal something about us, whether we’re conscious of it or not. We can talk all day about who we are and what we believe – but there’s nothing more revealing or indicting than action or inaction.
Conscious awareness of our role, place and motivation in life, and the relationships that ebb and flow in the slipstream of our existence is best defined as “mindfulness.” Taken from wisdom of the eastern religions, it is that capacity for us to know that wherever we go, there we are - -and thanks to John Kabat Zinn, the western world is the beneficiary of understanding a spiritual state that belongs to all people of faith.
In times of greatest moment – to act or not to act - - “to be or not to be - that is the question.”
Act with haste, that is, without prayerful discernment seeking guidance from trusted voices, and action becomes an end in itself. Those who yearn to be seen as the hero who sweeps in and saves the day act hastily.
Ask anyone who has been caught up in the aftermath of one’s hasty pursuit of hero worship and they’ll tell you such action may look good on the surface, but there is collateral damage aplenty.
Is there compassion or consideration in the face of collateral damage, or, willingness to put aside being the hero for the common good?
Inevitably, collateral damage, in whatever form it comes, is considered an acceptable loss, and the price of doing business. The end always justifies the means.
Others live with perpetual inaction.
Able to articulate and argue relevant points of whatever their issue is with passion – they fail to act. They feed so much on the energy generated by the problem itself so that their motivation to enact a remedy, is muted by the fear that if the problem is solved, the “stuff” that feeds their lives is gone.
They know the issue.
They know the problem.
But they are crippled to do anything about it.
A vicious cycle, that. Indeed, it is pitiful.
Those who refuse to forgive a wrong because to do so would extinguish the rage that fuels the hellish fire of their every day – choose perpetual inaction. Like the hostage who begins to side with very one who has held them bondage and would do them harm, we, who choose inaction to make right a wrong, or to forgive, suffer from a Stockholm Syndrome of the soul - - loving our pain and anger because it’s what we know. Being liberated from it scares us to death. We love our chains more than being free.
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus would say.
"Take" up your cross and "follow."
It’s the difference between saying you’re a Christian and actually being a companion of Jesus wherever that leads.
Action and inaction. The transcendent truth of either approach to life is self defining and a prophecy perpetually self-fulfilling.
Maundy Thursday is one of those days when the abstract and absolute, the flesh and the spirit, the universal and the particular collide. It is one of those occasions where “the rubber hits the road.” Here, at the end of Lent and the start of the Triduum, the Great Three Days, it reveals through action the character of the One who draws us into this worship space tonight. It confronts us with the real life, real time implications of what a life made sacred looks like. It makes us look at Jesus’ life and consider what we’re doing with our own.
Is life made sacred because it just is…or is life made sacred by what one does with it?
So, action, these actions give meaning to what Jesus has taught. They give meaning to what we believe. They make all this Jesus business real – incarnate.
On this night we focus on an action of Jesus found only in the 4th gospel. The Synoptics don’t have it. John, historically considered the last of the canonical gospels written, has a particular agenda – the writer has a bias, and his bias is always for Jesus – his life, his teaching, and the nature of the Christ that has always been.
Only John has this text – Jesus, at Passover, after sharing table fellowship, takes upon himself an action that will be self-defining hereon, as it will be for all of us who carry his name.
He, the one called, Rabbi, Teacher, Lord, Messiah, Christ – comes now to assume the role of the menial laborer – literal dirty work is not beneath him – he embraces it...he love us in it.
It defines him. He takes a towel, a basin and a pitcher – and washes his disciples feet.
Rarely in our observance of Christian liturgy do you find something so profoundly intimate as the washing of feet. Maybe that’s why it’s not a sacrament (which it should be), there’s really no way to observe this liturgy with integrity without literally touching someone.
It’s too close, too intimate. It’s not “churchy.”
Getting on our knees and taking off shoes, using water, towels and basins, it’s beneath the dignity of our erudite gathering.
To which I say, “right.” It is.
But it is supremely of Christ.
And if we are going to be “of Christ,” with integrity, then tonight, our action or inaction is, guess what? Dare I say it again? Self-Defining.
And maybe that’s what all this dramatic fuss is about this Holy Thursday night and there following into the Great Three Days. If nothing else, we observe integrity at work. That’s an awe inspiring thing. For to live with integrity is joyful, because in it we are complete. We are fully what we’ve been created to become.
Don’t forget, though, that just because we live with integrity, even joyfully, does not mean our work is pleasant, or that we’re giddy about it.
To do so was not a choice absent other options. Think of those presented to Jesus in the wilderness temptations, – No, this was a matter of integrity. He did this thing, both in the upper room with his disciples, as well as walk the Via Dolorosa because that’s who he is.
To have done anything other than to be a servant, than to identify with the suffering of humankind by embracing the cross, would have been to have missed his moment – the moment when his action defined who he was.
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15.12-17
Another way of seeing this night might be this. Jesus did not miss his moment and he’s imploring us not to miss ours. That our lives are gifts, to be sure, but they are only made sacred when we enact self-giving love as every moment's measure.
Look. Ministry is hard.
Giving yourself away is hard. Following Jesus to where ministry leads you is hard.
It is counterintuitive to everything innately part of our being that cries out for self interest and self protection.
Placing yourself in the role of servant and not hero is tough. Doing ultimate good without lusting for credit is extraordinarily difficult.
If it were easy, wouldn’t more folks be doing it?
Instead, too many of us play at Church, play at following Jesus, use our religious pursuits as a contrivance of convenience rather than a covenantal commitment.
Listen, people. To live with integrity or not is far more in our control that we'd care to admit.
It’s in your grasp, sisters and brothers – right here, right now.
How far are you willing to go? Could it be that tonight it is at least to declare that “no greater love have I” than to give myself away, even sacrificially, because of love?
What we do tonight, through bread and cup, is a liturgy you have repeated many, many times. May it be, however, that tonight you see beyond your own action of getting up and coming down here and partaking Eucharist.
Consider and embrace the life made sacred because of what he did…made his life sacred, for you.
Monday, March 29, 2010
There is no voice better to help us hear clearly the the call of Jesus, and what the life of the disciple of the Crucified and Risen Christ looks like than Henri Nouwen.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
What does God want me to do with my life?
Isn't that the question that lives in each of us as some point?
Or, how about this one - Am I doing what God wants me to do? And if I'm not, why not?
We treat that question as if it's something we can't know the answer to absent some "Damascus Road blinding light" -or - "Moses and the burning bush experience."
Whenever I broach this question with lay people, invariably I hear that it's easy for me because I'm a member of the clergy, God made it abundantly clear what I was supposed to do.
Keep on believing that if you must, but ask any of us who have accepted ordination's yoke of obedience and see if it was always or is still crystal clear. Trust me, this a call that's not answered without a Divine wrestling match worthy of Jacob first.
Being the spiritually impatient people we are, we tend to think that unless the signs in life blink in neon or are posted on a billboard, it's something we can never fully know.
The result of our impatience is the living our days hoping against hope that the life we're living is exactly what God wants for us - or, what God needs from us . Deep down, though, given our own power to choose - we'll always tend to live in ways that will require less risk of us and more security. And we'll "bless" that safe choice with God language as a cover for our fears and insecurities.
Starting this Sunday, and there following for four weeks, I invite you into a conversation with God and each other through a congregational emphasis based upon Parker Palmer's book, "Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation."
This will be the fodder for a series of sermons that I'll preach beginning this Sunday, January 24, in all services. Lora Jean will be facilitating our Wednesday night conversations in which we'll consider the gifts we've been given and how that matches the call we may yet answer. She will also be using Palmer's book as a guide for the women's midweek study beginning on January 27.
I invite you now to start listening to your life. What is it saying? What is God saying to you through it? The problem with listening well to the voice of God as spoken through our lives, is that we may not like what we hear. The temptation to ignore what we hear is real. So, too, is the tendency to immerse ourselves in guilt for not being what God desires of us. But guilt is an escape mechanism from doing and being what we really called to be.