Summer is in full swing in Florida. Heat. Humidity. Afternoon showers followed by even more humidity. it's summer! I have been working as Organizing Pastor for a new church start near Amelia Island, Florida. We recently made the decision that this work will not continue, so I am seeking another call and wondering what's next. In the meantime, I am doing some interim work for a congregation that has just begun to search for a new pastor.
Just finished Greg Garrett's The Other Jesus. Everyone probably ought to read it.
In fiction, couldn't put down Welcome to the Fallen Paradise by Dayne Sherman. Read it in almost one sitting. Good southern stuff.
John S. Kloppenborg's Q The Earliest Gospel. Interesting, especially the connections between Q and James.
Douglas Ottati's Theology for Liberal Presbyterians and Other Endangered Species, which I heartily recommend, even for those who will need help getting past that word in the title. I'm with him: either we believe and trust grace, or we don't!
Martin Thielen's What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? Turned out to be less than I had hoped it would be, but still helpful. Would be fun to do a short term discussion with a group.
Right now, I'm indulging myself (Yes, I know it's Lent.) by reading the first four years of New Stories from the South, a collection of stories I've been reading at Christmas for years. Finally got the first four years I didn't have and and treating myself.
A friend recently wrote on his own blog about a meeting of Presbytery in which a minister declined to receive Communion because he didn't agree with some positions taken by some during conversation about some issues. Someone else recently came to me with concerns about folks who are deciding they may not continue to worship with our congregation because they don't agree with some positions we take and some practices we follow. Then today, I caught part of the early conversation about the President's nominee for the Supreme Court. That conversation was mostly along ideological lines, and the person (whose name I don't remember and had not heard before) who was opposed to her quoted one line she had written at some point in her career as a reason not to confirm her appointment. These three events all took place in different places and times, but they all concern me for the same reason. It is simply too easy to think we can get through life talking only to people with whom we agree. It is something I'm not sure how to name to assume that those with whom we disagree have nothing to say that we need to hear. Those of you who know me have heard me say a million times that I don't understand why people are not beating down doors to become Presbyterians. Our system of theology and practice make good sense to me, and, better yet, they seem, in my mind, to be faithful to Scripture. At my church, however, people are not beating down doors to get to us. We are growing, as new churches are supposed to, but we are not yet turning people away. I hear from some who call to inquire about our ministry who decide they already know us when they find out of which denomination we're a part. Thankfully, I hear from others who decide to give us a try. We work for some. We don't for others. My biggest concern is for those who decide they can't hear the Gospel here or in any other place that doesn't conform to all the things they've already decided to be true. Something about a God who is alive and active, saying and doing things in the world convinces me that I need to listen to lots of different voices and try to discern where God is in the midst of them. I know it's easier to stay with what we know and understand, but I'm not so sure that easy has much to do with being faithful. Dialogue is always harder than monologue, but unless it's God doing the talking, I suspect dialogue is better. God, I hope so!
One more word from the weekend in Kentucky, and then I promise I'll shut up for a while. The priest with whom I co-celebrated the wedding was a wonderful example of hospitality to this Presbyterian from out of town. Since the wedding was in his church, he laid out the service and assigned responsibilities for the two of us. He pastorally decided to use the order for a wedding that did not include Mass, since at least half of those attending would be Protestant and not able to participate in Communion. Whatever you think about that division, I am grateful that he avoided signs of it for this service. (I know he wouldn't have served me communion if I had gone back to his church for worship later in the weekend, but at least he avoided awkwardness while we were together.) In the note he sent me some weeks before the wedding to assign responsibilities, he spelled out what he'd be doing and what he was inviting me to do, then said, "then we would both be doing good and important things for Kelly and Jesse." When we arrived in Kentucky for the weekend, Father Chuck was welcoming from the first time we met. When the service was over and we were milling around in the narthex waiting to go to the reception, some lady I didn't know came to me and said, "I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen a Protestant and a Catholic work together as well as you two, do." She didn't say whether she thought that was a good thing or a bad one. I didn't ask. I told her that this Protestant and that Catholic had it figured out, and that if others would listen to us, we'd be happy to tell them how it works. She decided to talk to someone else. I continue to be amazed at how much distance there is between believers who claim to serve the same God. I discovered that Father Chuck had studied preaching with David Buttrick, the real person. That's something I've only done in books. And that he is a big fan of Fred Craddock. What humble preacher isn't? I am grateful for a positive experience and will look forward to others.
I know you can't go home again. Most days, I don't even want to. But I did this past weekend. Our trip back to Kentucky to perform a wedding took us back to where life together began for Deanna and me. The son of our oldest friends was the groom. Those friends who used to eat brownies and watch Dallas at our house after football games on Friday nights have lived and worked in Elizabethtown since we all lived there together. They go to the same church. She works in the same enterprise. He retired from teaching and now works in his church (So you know he's crazy.). We, on the other hand, moved from there to Indiana in 1980 and from Indiana to Tennessee, back to Kentucky, to Mississippi, back to Kentucky, to Alabama, and now to Florida. Every time we go back there to visit, I wonder what our lives might have been if we had stayed there. There is a lot to be said for stability and long-term relationships. I can't say much of it, but there is a lot to be said for it. As I wandered through those beautiful rolling hills that are central Kentucky, I always wonder what life would have been if I had stayed there. But then I remember that it was God's call that took me away from there and that it is God's call that continues to sustain me where I am. Our choir is about to sing an arrangement of a favorite old song of mine: Give Me Jesus. One of the things that song says over and over is "You may have all this world; give me Jesus." I think I'm hearing something in those words I haven't heard before. Something like, "OK, if you mean that, stop looking back at what was and be thankful for what is. If you really mean to follow me, then follow where I'm going." OK. You may have all this world, even the places I sometimes wish I were. I receive much in return: an abiding presence that sustains me; a call to work that challenges me; a voice that shakes me out of looking back and reminds me that here and now are gifts, too.
Deanna and I had fun this past weekend. We went back to Elizabethtown, KY, the first place we called home together so that I could perform a wedding for the son of our oldest friends. We've known Jesse since before he was born, and it was a special privilege to be invited to preach for his wedding (a Protestant/Catholic event that will likely generate another post). Deanna and I were teachers when we lived in E-town in the '70's. I taught high school English; she elementary music at St. James School, the school connected to the church where Jesse and Kelly were married on Saturday, so the event gave us plenty of opportunity for strolling down memory lane. The children at St. James who were receiving their first communion on Sunday were the children of the elementary school children Deanna taught to sing way back when. We also saw a few of my former students who have various connections to Jesse and Kelly. Some of them I remembered, and some I had to have some help remembering. I was doing fine when they told me how they remembered hating to read Billy Budd and when they still complained about how hard my tests were. I puffed up a bit when they told me how much they remembered learning when I was their teacher, and how different it had been when their kids went to the same high school. They could have stopped talking then and we'd have been fine. But they went on to talk about having kids in college! My students! Their kids in college. We left E-town in 1980. Intellectually, I know that that's twenty-nine graduating classes ago, but at some other level, I still think of my students as they were when I left them. I was only twenty-one when I started teaching, so my earliest students are nearly as old as I am. I wasn't altogether sure that some of them were going to make it to college, and now they're sending their kids. One of them is assistant principal at an area school. Another one is an investment broker. Another manages a local business. But they have kids in college! Time stands still for none of us, I know, but I was pretty shaken by that one. They were gracious and didn't say much about how much older I am. They were polite and didn't shout, assuming that someone of my advancing years must be hard of hearing by now. It was fun to be back at one of the many places I have called home for a brief visit, but, as much as I love that place, I think I'm glad I don't have to live there and see former students all the time. When they discovered that I live in Florida, they all promised to come and visit. I suspect they won't, but if they do, I hope they hurry before my memory of them is gone forever.