|inner stillness: when everything is all the same to you, and you live for the day, and you are not dreaming and waiting
books I've been reading
Communion, Community, Commonweal: Readings for Spiritual Leadership, by John S. Mogabgab
The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath
The Catholic Imagination, by Andrew Greeley
Spiritual Guides for the 21st Century: Faith Stories of the Protestant Reformers
Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, by Dallas Willard
movies I'd like to see
Lost in Translation
The Station Agent
sermons in process
Ruth 1:1-18--"Why Go with Me?"
Mark 12:38-44--"Abundance and Poverty"
1 Samuel 1:4-20--"The Desperation of Hannah"
John 18:33-37--"An Interrogation"
Malachi 3:1-4--"Messages and Messengers"
lectures on tape in my car
Introduction to Renaissance Literature
Dante's Life and Times
Dante's Literary Antecedents
Erasmus, In Praise of Folly
Introduction to Shakespeare
|Saturday, January 19
Tomorrow I’m preaching on John 1:29-42, “John’s Testimony.” If I have a Biblical hero in addition
to Jesus, it is John the Baptist. This is not my favor John the Baptist passage, but it is a good one. Do the clergy
really get it about John? Does the organizational church--our denominations--our bishops--really understand John? I
don’t think so. For me, John is the ultimate model of humility. That’s something about which the church seems to
have forgotten. We--the organizational church--have so bought into the global corporate model of growth, that we
have forgotten humility. Bishops don’t become bishops because they are humble. I heard a pastor friend comment
regarding another pastor--whom he knew well--who had become a bishop: “He’s been running for bishop all his life.”
And when my bishop, upon being selected to be a bishop, is quoted as saying, “I never dreamed this would happen to
me,” all I could think was, “So how on earth could this happen to you if it never crossed your mind?” I think she lied.
I suspect that humility may be a dead issue for most pastors. And I’m not so sure it’s all their
fault. The culture pays attention only to those who can lay claim to large congregations. If one is not a “senior”
pastor with a staff, one is nothing. Just as the largest business in town--often a Wal-Mart--gets all the attention, so
the largest churches in each district and conference get all the attention. Besides which, it does not pay--literally--to
be humble. Humility might mean serving small churches that can’t pay well.
So, how is John humble? He spends all his time preaching about someone who is coming after him
who is greater than he is. He is on the lookout. He wants the messiah to come. And he pronounces Jesus as “a man
who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” John is prepared to be supplanted. It’s interesting that in the
Bible we have no idea how many followers John had. Although Jesus often preached to “multitudes,” he laid claim to
only twelve immediate followers. And yet, today, when I read news about pastors in denominational news releases, I
see things like, “Rev. John Doe, Senior Pastor of the 5,000-member First United Methodist Church of Gotham.” Did
John or Jesus need titles? Jesus even told his disciples not to tell anybody about him. Would they have based their
value on the numbers of people who regularly listened to them preach? I doubt it.
We claim to be concerned with making disciples for Jesus Christ. But how many of us who are
clergy, and district superintendents, and bishops have the foggiest notion of what it means to take on the humility of
Jesus and John? How many of us are prepared to make their sacrifices? The cynic in me is suspicious that when the
powers-that-be speak of “making disciples,” their primary concern is adding to the membership roles so that they--the
pastors of very large churches, the district superintendents, and the bishops--can have more to brag about. And
Jesus weeps.posted by
John Harrison at 8:07 PM
|Friday, January 18
We near the end of the week. I think that I have
readjusted to returning home, but I’m not quite caught up. I still
haven’t finished my sermon for Sunday. While I was at the most
recent session of the academy someone suggested that I volunteer to
preach a homily at the next session in April. I declined. Each session,
volunteers are solicited to help lead the worship services for the next
session. However, I figure that with only eight sessions but sixty
members of the academy, there won’t be time enough for everybody
who wants to preach a homily to get the opportunity. Besides, three
times every Sunday morning is enough for me. I also explained that I
really didn’t care for the pink stoles that are worn with the white robes
by those who do the preaching and the serving of
It’s a great weekend for football. Four outstanding
games in two back-to-back days. And then the AFC and NFC playoffs
followed by the Super Bowl. And then, a half-year of “ordinary time.”
Hendrik Hertzberg wrote, in “The New Yorker,” “The fact that one set
of highly paid entertainers gets more points than another set of highly
paid entertainers on a given day, while of surpassing and perfectly
legitimate interest to many people, is not of great moment.” He is
quite right. So why do we get caught up in it? I think it is like an
annual cultural rite that occupies about half the year. During that
period we adopt favorite teams and follow them as if the season were
one long game. During this “one long game” of four exhibition games
and sixteen regular season games--twenty weeks--we even know that
forty percent of the teams will get a second chance: the playoffs. So,
we don’t get too bent out of shape very soon by losses. The four
exhibition games don’t count for anything, so we can watch them
without worrying about the score. In the regular season we know that
the odds favor a 10-6 team being in the playoffs. 9-7 teams
occasionally make it, and there is a rare possibility for a break-even
8-8 team to qualify. In short, even if our favorite team is mediocre, it
may be in the playoffs. That mediocrity may show up late in the
season, so we can even live with a poor team for the first part of the
season. At what point do we give up on the mathematical chances of a
team making the playoffs? Not until the season is half over, for the
very worst of teams. For mediocre teams we’re still holding out hope
until the season is two-thirds to three-fourths over. And even when
we have given up hope on the current season, the worse our favorite
team is, the better its opportunity to draft some outstanding talent for
the next season. And, for those of us with access to newspapers with
decent sports sections, we follow our team even in the
John Harrison at 12:22 PM
|Thursday, January 17
Last night I started filling out my end-of-year reports and this morning I finished them. Three pages, in duplicate, for three congregations: 18 pages. I really hate those things. There are obvious--to me--serious errors in their construction. But I have no idea who to talk to about that or whether it would do any good. So, my irresponsible response is to simply leave it alone.
We had our Disciple 4 Bible study this morning, and we have begun to study the psalms. We will be spending three weeks on this book. This week we have been studying songs of faith. This will be followed by songs of pain and songs of joy. Actually, although we always begin with the lesson at hand, we frequently get off the subject, take side trips, go off on tangents. But that’s okay. Our group is as much a covenant group for attempting to tie our study of scripture to our lives of pastors as it is a scholarly research group. And we never run out of things to say. In fact, today, once we got going in response to the video, we ran on for about an hour and a half before I re-directed to the study manual.
We had snow today. Not a lot, but enough to know that it had snowed. The snowfall in Joplin was heavy around the noon hour. If that had continued for several hours, we might have had significant accumulation. But it didn’t, and we don’t, at least not in Sheldon. Usually, I would leave the study group immediately at eleven o’clock and head north to Nevada for Rotary. However, this morning was different. I needed to buy a drum for my printer, so that necessitated a side trip. And that ruled out getting to Rotary in time for the meal. Then, because my district superintendent did not attend the Bible study, I needed to take my end-of-year church forms to the district office. Another side trip. And that pretty much ruled out my getting back to Nevada in time for the Rotary program. However, considering the snow and the wet roads, driving north at 75 miles per hour would probably not have been a good idea. Instead, I drove home at 60 miles per hour.
My e-mail is down. It has been down most of the last four days, but the folks who own the ISP are passing the buck, blaming it on somebody else. I’ve heard this before from them. I am reminded of when I worked as a managing editor for a financial newspaper. We received much information from outside sources, much of it by fax. (This was in the ancient days of the 1980’s.) When material was behind schedule, the frequent explanation--or excuse--was that “the computer is down.” I was suspicious that this explanation was simply a convenient way of passing on the blame. It is easy to blame a machine that can’t talk back. And, for someone hundreds of miles away, the excuse is as good as any.
John Harrison at 1:43 PM
|Wednesday, January 16
It’s the third day after returning home from San Antonio, and I’m continuing to have difficulty readjusting. I think I became too dependent on the daily rhythms of the academy: morning prayer, breakfast, morning lecture, quiet time, response to the lecture, concerns, lunch, personal time, afternoon lecture, quiet time, response to the lecture, eucharist, dinner, options, covenant groups, evening prayer, sleep. I’m wondering: is this a good or a bad thing? Is it good to have this much discipline, or does this much discipline create an artificial dependence? I suppose that others in the academy returned home to offices where they kept certain hours. They may even have secretaries scheduling things for them. But my office is my dining room, and I have no office, and I have no tight schedule. And again, I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing. I know that I work well with imposed schedules. That’s not the point. The question is, what is the most desirable arrangement? An advertisement for Insport athletic goods proclaims, “If you’re not out there this morning, the road will not miss you. The gym will not wonder where you’ve gone. Your bike will not ask after you, the free weights will not talk behind your back. You have only yourself to answer to. Make sure it’s a really good response.” When I was at the academy, except for the quiet times, the personal times, and sleep, I was always in the presence of somebody else. If I was NOT there, someone would miss me, someone would wonder where I had gone, someone would ask after me, someone would talk behind my back. In fact, I did miss one thirty-minute response session--I was tired and wanted a nap--and a person who was sitting behind my empty chair later asked about me. But now I’m home, and most of the time, there is no mandate to be anywhere doing anything. That is up to me. I arrange my time as I see fit, which can often be rather strange, like staying up too late at night and getting up too late in the morning. But again, the “too late” is based on the norms of other people. One of the books we are being asked to read for the next academy session in April is Richard J. Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth.” This is the third edition. It will be interesting to see what has changed since the first two editions, which I have read. Foster neatly categorizes twelve disciplines into three categories of four apiece: inward, outward, and corporate disciplines. I’m not sure I recall his considering the stewardship of time a discipline, but it seems that it could be. I have a parishioner who claims that clocks are irrelevant to him. But, he is retired, and doesn’t need to be at work at any particular time. I’ve also heard a pastor tell me that she doesn’t wear a watch and doesn’t need to. I don’t know how she manages that.
John Harrison at 1:38 PM
|Tuesday, January 15
I’m still struggling to recover from last week. However, I did get around to attending the Rotary board meeting this noon. I thought they had planned to meet last Tuesday, in which case I would have been absent, and I told the club president that I could not make that meeting. Yesterday, however, I received a call reminding me of the meeting today; so I guess last week’s meeting was postponed. I enjoy these meetings as much for the informal banter that goes on before and after as I do for the business that is conducted. For example, I learned that the fellow who puts together the weekly bulletin and a regular directory of e-mail addresses of the membership has recently put some extra effort into prying e-mail addresses out of all the members. It turns out that only five or six of the approximately 120 members do NOT have e-mail addresses. In other words, about 95% of our membership have e-mail addresses. That’s pretty close to saturation. And, it may be that those who do NOT have addresses are those who are retired and feel that they have no need of such.
Last week while I was in San Antonio I received a message on my answering machine informing me that a book which I had ordered had arrived at the bookstore. Actually, I had ordered the book in early December, having seen in advertised. Then, I learned that the publisher had not yet released it. So, I’ve been waiting. Anyway, today I picked it up. It is “Acts of Religion” by Jacques Derrida. I have not read any other books by Derrida, and this may not be the best place to start, but I was intrigued by the title. With my understanding of Derrida’s deconstruction, I was curious to see what he would do with religion.
Time stops for no one, and so it is with church business. Each year I have to turn in year-end report forms: Three pages in duplicate for three congregations. That is eighteen pages. Fortunately, I have three treasurers for the three congregations who do very good work in helping me with these. One turned in her forms before I left for the academy last Sunday. A second gave hers to me yesterday. This afternoon I went to visit the third to see if hers were done. (They are due the day after tomorrow.) As it turns out, she misunderstood the due date and thought that she didn’t need to have them done until NEXT Sunday. But, she was in the process of working on them, and was sure that she would have them by tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I helped her alter her template for her regular treasurer’s reports. She does a great job of keeping records, but her computer continues to be, in some respects, a mystery to her. Anyway, we re-designed her template so that she could get two months of data on one sheet instead of two.
John Harrison at 1:32 PM
|Monday, January 14
I am home. I arrived about 1:30 A. M. this morning. It was pretty close to the usual 12-hour trip. And now, I’m struggling through my typical Monday. When I do worship services on Sunday, I have difficulty getting myself going on Monday. I didn’t have worship services to do yesterday, but I am STILL having difficulty getting myself going. However, unpacking is no small matter. And doing three loads of laundry. And sorting through a stack of mail six inches deep.
When I returned in September, I discovered a tree blown over in my yard and a computer with a RAM chip burned out. That was not a good time. So, I returned home this time wondering what might have gone wrong. I turned on my computer to check my e-mail. (In a week’s time I usually receive at least 75 messages.) However, it seemed that something was wrong with my ISP, because there was no downloading of messages. I tried again later this morning and again in the middle of the afternoon. No luck. I called the company and was told, “They’re working on the server.” Finally, when I tried at about five o’clock, I downloaded 93 messages.
I am suspicious that whenever I return from an academy event, or anything like it, I am vulnerable to culture shock. Most of the other folks at the academy live in urban areas and participate in large, active churches. In my covenant group, everyone else lives in or near the metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Dallas, Austin, or Corpus Christi. For them, moving in and out of the academy experience may be no big deal; but for me it is like night and day. For almost a week I am in the middle of a city with a large, active group of people, following a tightly-scheduled daily program. Then I come home to a largely unstructured schedule in a very low-density population.
pResident George W. Bush was in Aurora this afternoon. Wow. Of course, this makes for major headlines in the area newspapers. It also gives the local folks opportunities to say stupid things about the event, like “I think he just wants to get away from Washington, and this is about as far away from Washington as you can get.” Of course. George Bush is on vacation. He’s going to the ends of the earth, and that turns out to be Aurora, Missouri. Actually, I think he was really looking for places that were heavily Republican, and southwest Missouri certainly fits that profile.
I already miss Monday Night Football. How many more weeks before it starts again? But I don’t miss it enough to watch John Turturro in “Monday Night Mayhem.” It may be a very good movie, but I have difficult watching “reality” movies in which actors are playing the roles of people whom we have actually seen. I know what Howard Cosell looked like. John Turturro doesn’t do it for me. (Nor John Voight in “Ali.”)
John Harrison at 1:22 PM
|Sunday, January 13
Being a pastor, I hardly ever get a chance to hear anyone else preach. And, even when I am not in my own church, I am usually in another United Methodist church. So, this morning was a unique experience. I worshipped in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Kerrville, Texas. The last time I was in an Episcopal church was about fifteen years ago for an ordination service. The last time I attended a regular Episcopal worship service was almost thirty years ago. The details of my memories of those services are not clear. However, I was struck by how comfortable I was with the liturgy of this Episcopal service. Of course, it included much more than the services for my little churches do. I think this service ran over an hour, while mine run about 45 minutes. Also, this service was conducted by two rectors, and there were about four persons serving communion. It was interesting that the associate rector was previously a United Methodist whose seminary training had been at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. St. Peter’s is a large church, at least large enough to have three services on Sunday morning. However, the design of the sanctuary made it difficult to tell what the attendance was for the eleven o’clock service I attended.
After the service we went back to Phyllis and Jack’s home for lunch. We didn’t rush things, and I didn’t finally get away until between 1:30 and 1:45. This was with a 700-mile drive ahead of me. The trip first took me east to Austin, through Johnson City and LBJ country, which was the first time I had been in that part of Texas. Although I had been through Austin a few times, this was the first time I had approached it from the west. The city has a population of about a half-million, but the downtown skyline makes it look even larger. (And the highway construction indicates that it is growing larger.)
It’s my personal opinion that through most of Texas and Oklahoma the selection of radio stations is pretty terrible, unless you like country music or want to listen to Spanish-speaking stations. Fortunately, today there were two NFL playoff games that I managed to pick up on AM stations. When I lost a signal for one station I could usually find another. That worked until the end of the double-header; I couldn’t find any station for the last couple minutes of that game. The highlight of my evening was getting lost--again--in Dallas. Actually, I didn’t really get lost; I was just unable to access an exit ramp. Next time I will remember that I need to be in the far left lane to make one exit and then immediately get in the far right lane to make the next exit. With six lanes of traffic moving at seventy miles an hour, this is not easy. It is especially difficult to do in the dark, when one does not really see other vehicles--one just sees headlights.
John Harrison at 9:35 PM