Wednesday, September 01, 2010

how i spent my summer

As it is now September 1, it seems appropriate to reflect on the summer. I do remember those "how i spent my summer vacation" essays we wrote in the third grade, and in that spirit I offer this. For better or worse, there is precious little summer left.

1. For us, the summer began when our younger daughter left for Europe with four of her friends. There were in a number of countries for three and a half weeks, they had planned this excursion for over a year, and they executed it very well. My gift was a "Konig Ludwig Hell" glass mug, which holds a nice tall drink of ice water really well, especially in the hot summer. Abby returned safe, sound and a citizen of the world.

2. Bill (also a pastor at Providence) and I spent a week in intensive continuing education at Duke's Center for Reconciliation. It was a rich and challenging experience, learning from excellent speakers (especially John Perkins and Vergilio Elizondo), taking in excellent Bible Studies by Richard Hays and Ellen Davis, and meeting men and women from across the world who are engaged in the ministry of reconciliation.

3. Annual Conference at Lake Junaluska was shorter, hotter (yes, global warming is real) and marked by an unsuccessful business session that would be repeated, revised and redeemed later in the summer, on a cool morning in mid August. I made the modest suggestion at this latter meeting that we adopt the budget, after a two hour session, and ever since I have been receiving notes of gratitude. I thank our Bishop for helping me (us) through this. Apart from all of this, I was honored to participate in my friend Robb's ordination, which was a joy.

4. Three of us (Pam, Abby and I) spent a week at Holden Beach. I realize it had been almost six years since we had really been to the beach (except to lead a two day retreat or two, which really does not count). This is our own doing; we have a small mountain place and are inclined to head in that direction. I love Holden Beach (North Carolina) and also Sunset, just below, and Calabash, also adjacent, and home of fine seafood. Some good friends happened to be just down the street, and so we had a memorable meal with them.

5. I preached July 4 Sunday morning. I made a vow, when I was an associate pastor, that if I were ever in this role I would not delegate all of the holiday and post-celebration Sundays to the other pastors (I mean the Sundays after Christmas and Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.). And so we divide them, and I took this one for the team. I reflected on faith and patriotism, and then drove up to Lake Junaluska to see the fireworks over the lake with friends.

6. At the end of the next week Pam and I flew to Boston, rented a car and drove to Bangor, Maine to see our friends Jim and Faye-Ellen. Jim serves All Souls Church in Bangor, and we have been friends through the Center of Theological Inquiry. They drove us around the Acadia National Park, we stopped for popovers at Jordan Pond, and took in the scenery of Cadillac Mountain and Mount Desert Island. Breathtaking. We also enjoyed an honest to goodness fishing cabin on a Maine lake, which is about a peaceful as it gets. And a part of me could get used to the New England tradition of having the whole summer away to be renewed.

7. After a couple of days, we drove down to Boston (in a torrential rain) in time for the Sunday service the next day. My friend Bob had invited me to preach two consecutive Sundays at Marsh Chapel, and this was truly a gift in many respects (thank you Bob!). It is a beautiful place of worship, the staff were all hospitable, and it was fun to preach there. We had meals both Sundays with our close friend Ann, who is a pediatric chaplain at Mass General (she had been a member of Mount Tabor in Winston-Salem during our years there and was especially close to our daughters). In between the Sundays we took in as much of Boston as we could: the Fenway Park Tour, the Freedom Trail, the Italian section in the north end, the Union Oyster House, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Charles River. And I saw a Red Sox game, which I consider something of a miracle. We also caught up with one of my closest friends from high school, Scott, whom I had not seen in 34 years (18+34=52). He gave us a tour of Harvard, we ate hamburgers at Mr. Bartley's, and then we toured the Media Labs at MIT, which were quite amazing. The next day another friend, Ted, took us on walking tour of Harvard, including the Divinity School and the chapel where Emerson preached. And then, the following day we toured the areas surrounding Boston with Ann and her husband Richard. Then I preached the next day, again, and we flew home.

8. Through the summer we have focused on the Book of Acts. I won't go into much of that, except to say that I preached sermons on Acts 1, 2, 4, 7, 15, 17, 20, 27 and 28, and they are all posted on this blog. We also held Bible Studies on Mondays, which were well attended throughout the summer. And my friend David from Texas came to preach and teach. He is certifiably insane---I exaggerate only a little here--but also brilliant (he has a PhD. in rhetoric) and our congregation really enjoyed him. In fact they want him to come and be the permanent preacher. I exaggerate only a little here also. I tried to introduce him to North Carolina cuisine, which he enjoyed, and one evening he, Joe and I went to see the Charlotte Knights (aaa). As Joe and I cannot get our spouses to attend these games, we seek any opportunity we can to make it to the park. David was game for this. I really cannot recall who won the game, and in minor league ball it really does not matter. As an aside, David serves a 5000+ member United Methodist Church in Texas. In my bio, when it says I have preached in churches ranging in size from very small mountain churches to congregations of over 5000 members, I am referring to this one.

9. All summer our parsonage has been in a process of renovation. We are now in the sixth month. The end result will be quite nice.

10. At the end of six months (Jan-July), our church had received 48% of its annual need in financial income, no different statistically from the year before. For this I sing the doxology; our people are extravagantly generous and sacrificial, and I am blessed to be here.

11. I went with two friends (Jonathan and Rush) to spend 3 days at St. John's Abbey and the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota. I am being truthful when I say that I am addicted to Benedictine hospitality and the praying of the Psalms there. It is a beautifully creative setting, and we spent time there with Don Ottenhoff, Director of the Institute, Kilian McDonnell, award-winning poet whose work appears in Garrison Keillor collections (I recommend Swift, Lord, You Are Not), and Richard Bresnahan, who presides over the largest kiln in North America and is an amazing potter. Kilian, also an Old Testament scholar and an authority on the Holy Spirit, asked us to pray for him on his birthday, which is September 16...I invite you to join me in that. Richard kept pushing us to learn more about the pottery in our area, particularly Seagrove, and this is on my list. We also had a great seafood dinner with Don and his wife Kathleen Cahalan, a pastoral theologian at St. John's, and author of a very fine book on evaluation (Projects That Matter). There is more to St. John's than I have described, but, having been there twice, it is a place of pilgrimage for me. And being in Minnesota, and while I know winter has a special beauty there, I would suggest that you go in the summer.

12. My wife would want you to know that I have watched more Atlanta Braves games than usual, but they are in first place, and if there is any justice in the world they will end the season that way. And given that Brian McCann executed the game winning hit in the All Star Game, thus giving the National League home field advantage, there is a symmetry to it.

13. A real highlight was the visit from our daughter who lives and works, and now studies in China. It was simply wonderful to have her home, and now she begins the M.A. program at Peking University. And our younger daughter served in a volunteer internship with the Starfish Academy in Charlotte, which reaches out to first graders who read below grade level. She flourished in this environment. Apart from Europe she was home all summer, so this was also really nice. Oh, I also took Abby and her friend Ashley to the Carolina Panthers Training Camp one afternoon. We met the legendary ACC basketball player David Thompson. As for the Panthers, you can call me a person of little will be a long season. While we were there we had a great meal with our friends Ron and Heidi.

14. I should add that my wife continues to speak on a very regular basis about the mission in Haiti. She survived the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, but now talks more about the ongoing lives of the people there. Along with a large number of gifted volunteers---to be more precise, a number of very organized and motivated women, $33,000 was raised for the people of northern Haiti in an end of summer Attic Sale at the church. Yes, that is an accurate figure and there is no overhead. With God all things are possible.

15. I have been involved in a couple of small writing projects: a piece for Faith and Leadership on "Traditioned Innovation and Roots Music" (thanks Jason), particularly about Patty Griffin and Robert Randolph; and a piece on Greil Marcus' new work, When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening To Van Morrrison, which will appear in the Englewood Review (thanks Chris). And some blogging for Day 1 and No Depression. I also read The New Rabbi by Stephen Fried, which I found fascinating, and Atul Gawande's The Checklist Manifesto, also great. And I made my way through three commentaries on Acts: Will Willimon, Jaroslav Pelikan and Anthony Robinson and Robert Wall. Each different, each helpful. Next in line: a biography of Henry Aaron and a memoir by Rosanne Cash.

So, the summer is almost over. For me it has been rich and full, and this mostly because of the intersection with friends and some time spent in a couple of beautiful places. And now the fall season approaches.


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