Saturday, September 27, 2008


Boy! what a day so far. I biked 7.8 miles. I've weeded my garden, fertilized the plants and the lawn, journaled. I'm planning to visit a parishioner in the hospital and the friend of another parishioner, if he's still in the hospital. Then, I'm going swimming. And then home to collapse.

It is so wonderful to be back. My brain doesn't work right all the time; I have neuropathy in my feet (two toes on each foot curl back), but when my toes curl back, I can now straighten them out using the muscles in my feet without having to pull them straight with my hands. My lawn lady has finished the repairs to my front yard after I had a huge elm removed and the tree people tore up the lawn. I have grass and new plantings along the side edge of the lawn. I'm planning to buy some mums for the front porch. The impatients still look pretty, but they will start to go soon as the days shorten.

I can't believe how wonderful it is to feel normal. I do have a hernia I want to have fixed. I may go to Cleveland to have it done if I can't find anyone here to do it the way I want it done. I don't have much faith in the medicine here. It is as far from cutting edge as the social realities are. (The UT medical school is across the street from Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. That Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Civil War general who really started the KuKluxKlan.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


We have a lovely Advent banner with four candles on it. The worship committee wants to make new banners out of felt. Barring that the committee chair has put up a tacky banner made of burlap and felt. How do I tell them I'd prefer the lovely old banner (the creator of that banner and I agree that there simply isn't time to do what the committee would like and that it would probably be tacky to boot)? I will try to avoid the work "tacky" when I talk to the worship committee chair.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Paranoia or Reality

I'm new to Memphis, and over the last two years I have encountered more fear of the "other" than anywhere I have ever been. When I lived in Cleveland and worked as a volunteer and then a staff person for Habitat for Humanity, I hung out in dicey areas (including the ward with the highest crime rate in the city). I knew families in those neighborhoods. I wouldn't go wandering around at night, but I'd often walk in the neighborhoods by myself, out to see how building was progressing. I sure wouldn't walk around at night unless I was with a group from the neighborhood. But I knew people; I knew that if I got into trouble or was afraid, there were houses I could go to. I went to church in Hough area (the one that went up in flames in 68) lots of times.

A parishioner, a young woman, is working in a rough neighborhood, about a mile from where I live. (Our neighborhood has been described as the doughnut hole in midtown, as being relatively crime free because we have a private security guard who cruises the neighborhood 24/7.) She works for an organization that has an after school program for 6 to 14 year olds. She talks about crack houses. The neighborhood president will no longer go to her agency because the president called the police on the crack houses and the president is concerned that people will associate her with the agency and the agency will be attacked. The parishioner thought about bringing some of the children to our church for a Sunday school experience but decided that would be dangerous for the congregation. The children might tell their fathers, brothers, etc where the church is and they might come and do something at the church. She is concerned because someone blew up a car in the street the other night.

Now, there is a real difference between Memphis and Cleveland. In Memphis, bad neighborhoods abut good neighborhoods. The city is segregated, but on a block by block basis. Children of white liberals go to the city schools. So, I just don't know whether Memphis is as dangerous as folks tell me it is. Is it dangerous or is it simply racism? I don't know how to sort it out. I ask people I trust and they tell me it is as dangerous as I've been told, but I just don't know.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Enough--A Sermon

Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16

God has brought the Israelites out of Egypt, defeated Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea. Now they begin their journey through the Sinai. I've been in the Sinai twice and I can understand the grumbling of the Israelites. The Sinai is the deadest, driest place I've ever been. I remember driving for miles without ever seeing a living thing. Not a living animal, though there may have been insects or creepy crawlies that I didn't see. Not a living plant. Not even a dead plant. Red rock and sand. Nothing for miles and miles and miles. Not a single living thing. I've been in deserts in the southwest, in other desert areas. I’m sure some of you have traveled in the American southwest. You know what the desert is like. Dry, but usually there is some plant life: scrubby plants, cactus, something. But not in the Sinai.
So I can understand why the Israelites are complaining. At least in Egypt they had something to eat. They were not in danger of starving or dying of thirst. They may have had to work in the hot sun, but there was water and some food; they had shelter and warmth at night. So here they were in the dry, red rock Sinai wandering around. Heck, I'd be complaining, too.
So God tells them that God will send them meat in the evening and bread in the morning. Now God wanted to test them. He sends them bread for each day. If they gather two days' worth of bread, it rots so they can't eat it. Except on the day before the Sabbath. Then they can gather two day's worth, because no bread comes on the Sabbath. There is enough for each day. Enough to be filled. Enough to be satisfied. Everyone has enough. This is, I believe, God's plan for the world: to have enough, enough for everyone enough for everyone's stomach to be filled.
Walter Bruggeman points out that the Bible begins with God's abundance. Genesis 1 tells the story of creation. Each act ends with the words "it is good." God tells Adam and Eve to go forth and be fruitful: to multiply. God is there giving humans what we need in abundance. Abraham and Sarah are told their descendents will be like the stars in they sky and the sands of the earth: abundant, numberless. Bruggeman says that the idea of scarcity comes in the Bible in the first time with the Pharaohs, when the Pharaoh of Joseph's time dreams of the seven fatted cows and the seven lean cows. Pharaoh says, for the first time in the Bible, "there is not enough."
We seem to be a country that lives by saying "there is not enough." There is not enough oil, there is not enough food, there is not enough water. Television, magazines, the movies, everywhere we look tries to convince us there is not enough. Only by having more will we be OK, only by buying more will we be safe. We are in economic turmoil right now simply because of the idea that there is not enough and the only way I can be happy is to get more and more. We demand bigger and bigger houses, larger than we need (I’m not immune from this.) Lenders lent more and more money, more than borrowers could afford. Real estate agents convinced people that they could afford bigger houses than they could afford. Wall Street traders sliced and diced those loans into investments no one could evaluate. More and more and more and more. Only more and more and more could make us happy. And now, suddenly, the house of cards has collapsed and most of us are afraid about the future. For you who are retired, for those of us looking forward to retirement, we watch as our nest eggs diminish. We wonder whether our safe investments will evaporate, leaving us destitute. Some of you may be wondering if you can find a job, if your job will be cut. Right now is a time of great fear. There is reason for fear, for trying to be prudent. It is not a time to be consumed with fear though.
Jesus teaches that we must choose between trusting God and trusting in ourselves, in the world's material goods. God's ideas about economy and abundance are so different from ours. The gospel lesson for today is one of the strangest of strange parables in the Bible. It is, though, a reflection of God’s economic system. Many of Jesus’ parables have lost their power to startle because we live a long way from the time and culture of Jesus time. Many of Jesus’ parables have lost their power because we have heard them so many times. But this story, the story of the laborers in the field continues to startle us. The owner of the fields went out at dawn and hired workers and agreed to pay them the going rate for a day's work. Then he went out again and again, later and later in the day. When sunset came, he had his manager pay the last first. When they received a day's wage, the ones who had worked all day thought they would be paid even more. They were disappointed when they received only a day's wage. As in many parables, there are many lessons we can learn. Among the many lessons from this parable is the idea that God wants us to have enough to eat, enough for a place to live, enough. God's abundance is enough. Enough for everyone. The owner pays the workers, each one of the workers a living wage. Enough. Enough for food. Enough for a place to live. Even though some workers worked harder and longer than others, everyone received enough. The owner did not distinguish between those who deserved the pay and those who came late and may have lollygagged through the hour or so that they did work. God provides for our needs. We can trust in God. Having enough is not the same as having as much as we want. God’s economic plan is dependent on us, though. We have to understand that God’s plan is for those who have much to share with those who don’t have. In the Hebrew scriptures, God tells landowners to leave part of the fields unharvested so the poor can come along and gather food for themselves. In the New Testament, we learn that the members of the early church shared all their material goods. God’s plan is that those who have been blessed share with those who have not.
When he visited Africa in 2002, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was astonished to find that for only $25 to $30 million dollars, a well providing clean fresh water could be drilled for every village in Uganda. For less than 10 cents from every person in this country, every child in Uganda could have clean water to drink. The health of every person in the country would improve markedly. Ten cents. Just ten cents. When he returned to this country, he found that we simply did not have the political will to embark on such a project. Ten cents and we couldn't do it. Or wouldn't do it.
On top of the economic crisis, our country has endured a spate of natural disasters. Our charitable and relief organizations are stretched to the breaking point, with hurricane damage throughout the eastern half of our country. I was in Cleveland this weekend and some areas had been without power for almost a week. Ike had roared through the city, its devastation cutting through the center of our country. I can’t imagine what is happening in Haiti which has endured four hurricanes this season. The poorest country in the western hemisphere, the people of the country have little to fall back on in times of crisis. The leaders of our denomination sent a letter this week asking churches to consider aid for those in our own country and for the people of Haiti.
Just a little from what we have can go so far. Some of you may remember that I told you about hearing about Presbyterian Disaster Relief in Iran after the devastating earthquake there in 2003. I mentioned how our guide had been so impressed with the Presbyterians, how they truly cared about the people they were treating and how appreciated the toys for the children were. This is an opportunity to share our abundance with others, to be a part of God's plan that all people have enough.
And we have more opportunities. Soon, we will begin our stewardship campaign. This year will probably be a tough year for all of us. Gasoline prices have skyrocketed. Prices in general have risen, reflecting the increased costs of transporting goods. The economic crisis have left all of us feeling much poorer and frightened. Our economic woes will hit the poor in Memphis hard as they try to make ends meet, to decide between buying food for their families and gasoline so they can get to their jobs.
Our response to stewardship should not be how much does this congregation need to operate the church, but how should I respond to the abundance God has given me. How much is enough? How much do I spend on myself and my family and how much do I share with those who have been given less than I have? Am I like the Israelites who collected all the manna they could, who hoarded the manna, only to find it rotted the next day? Or do I respond, knowing that God has given me enough, more than enough, for today and trust that God will continue God's generosity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I think I may be working myself out of a job (and not in a good way)

This link was in Preaching Now, an evangelical email I get on preaching. I have copied it and will give it to my session. Basically it says that old folks have to become uncomfortable so that we can bring younger folks to the gospel. Not a message my folks want to hear. Either I have a death wish (possible) or God keeps pushing me to push them.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I have now seen everything

I get CNN feeds on google reader. I rarely read them, but they are a way of letting me keep up on the more "popular" news that gets buried in the NYTimes and Washington Post on line. So I just saw a headline which says "Rove thinks McCain went too far in ad." Amazing, just amazing. I suppose I'll have to read the article, but back to cleaning the kitchen. And this evening the dining room table awaits. But, the living room has been dusted, vacuumed and the hardwood floor cleaned (not just swept). And all before 8:30 and I exercised this morning--rowing machine 30 minutes, upper body resistence, some Pilates and a bit of stretching. You'd think I'd been taking prednisone.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pet Funeral

Well, I'm doing a funeral for the neighbor's cat this afternoon. Andee decided to go to his reward in my back yard. I was just avoiding the back yard until the animal rotted, but my neighbor asked if I had seen Andee. I told her I had a dead animal in the back since yesterday (well the smell since yesterday). When her husband came to investigate and then to collect the remains, I told him I do cat funerals. So when I saw her a few minutes ago, she asked me to say a few words.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The World Does Change

I just watched Glory Road, the story of Don Haskins (coach) and the NCAA champions Western Texas (now UTEP). I remember, my school, the Yaaaan keee school in NC was in the final four that year and lost to KY. (The next fall we started the season ranked number 1 as I recall and then lost in a preseason game to a school in California that had a freshman--or was it a sophomore--named Lew Alcindor. They were unstoppable after that. Oh well. We finally won a NCAA championship in 1991, a very long time to wait and still one victory behind that school that's seven miles away.)

Back to the movie. Haskins played only African American players in the final game. This was at a time when it was assumed that African Americans did not have the intelligence to lead on the court.

And now, a black man is running for president of the US.

Prejudices do moderate. One day, we will look back and wonder why the church was so concerned about ordination of gays and lesbians. One day, we will laugh at folks who didn't think gays and lesbians should marry each other. One day. . .

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Bit Sad

I went to circle this morning. I never go, but thought I really ought to start. I think I will alternate the day and the night circles. So, after circle this morning, one of the old ladies, whom I dearly love took me aside and said she wanted to talk with me. I asked what about and she said that she had really listened to my sermon on Sunday (on reconciliation) and she was sorry about things she had thought about me. Well, at least I know people are listening to my sermons, but I am really saddened. I just don't think this is the right fit for me. I think I'll start putting together my PIF (resume in secular speak) and post it and see what happens. Or I may stick it out to the end of my contract in a year. And then just retire.


What can one do? Go home, love your children, try not to bicker, eat well, walk in the rain, feel the sun on your face and laugh loud and often, as much as possible, and especially at yourself. Because the only antidote to death is not poetry, or drama, or miracle drugs, or a roomful of technical expertise and good intentions. The antidote to death is life.

From the NYTimes
Last night a small group of clergywomen got together as we try to do monthly or thereabouts. We talked a bit about my congregation. One of the women present is a former pastor there, two others had worked with the congregation (as pulpit supply and as moderator of session) while they were looking for me. So we talked a bit about the congregation and its unwillingness to change. They will do all the steps towards implementing something new and then it just doesn't happen (the congregation blames the former minister for things not happening: who so they think is supposed to do the work they have decided to do). So, on the way home, my friend who is unrelated to the congregation and I were talking about graphic novels. She is 68 and she knows what graphic novels are. I am 62 and know what graphic novels are. She was really excited about one she had seen with no words at all. (Does this mean sermons are a thing of the past?) We talked about how so many people in both our congregations never venture far from home. They don't go away to school (every young person with one exception) in my congregation goes to school in Memphis. Our inquirer wants to go to Vandy because she has friends there and it's close to home. So, they are not experienced with change, except change brought upon them by unforeseen circumstances which is almost always horrible: loss of a child, suicide, cancer, death. They have no experience with chosen change.

In the latest National Geographic Adventure Traveler magazine--sorry I can find the article on line--there is an article about group mind. It begins talking about A&P and how successful it had been after the depression, but then as people's ideas about what they wanted in a grocery store changed, A&P did not because they had been successful for 100 years. The thesis of the article was that we get into a group mentality and do not listen (accept??) outsiders and outside advice.

So, I'm not going to change the congregation. Only God can do that. I'm just going to do what needs to be done (preaching, visitation). I've already told session that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Nursing Home Visit

It's an Episcopalian home, so it's nice. So, I found my parishioner. I wheeled up back to her room. Her roommate was sitting in a wheel chair, slumped over and drooling all over herself. I thought that this was awful. I also assumed that this was the way she was and I was depressed. I hope that when I get that way, I'll just die. My parishioner was complaining about severe pain and so I set out to find a nurse. I asked a worker and she said she'd tell the nurse. The nurse didn't come, so I went to find one. My parishioner's nurse was at lunch and so I found another. (I'd like to swap nurses.) The second nurse said that my parishioner had a pain pill earlier but she would see if she could do something for her. Then she saw the roommate and went into hyper drive. Evidently the roommate isn't usually like that.

My grandmother, in her 90s, cooked until almost the very end. She got pneumonia. She was unable to care for herself for about three months before she died. Despite the fact that I am not ready to die, I sure don't think I like the way we stretch out death these days. One of my aunts just quit eating. The nursing home sent her to the hospital for IVs. I was there with my son. Almost as soon as he arrived, she died. It was too late. Fortunately. My cousin said she thought my aunt just decided to die.

We need to come to grips with life and death.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

More on Palin

I just saw a YouTube video of McCain on Fox. McCain smiles like a guy with a huge crush and calls Palin "a partner and a soul mate."