What I'm Writing
Hi there. Rev. Jeremiah here.
So another Pastor Jeremiah fast fact is I’m a sucker for any new sort personality test; the latest being the one offered from Strengthsfinder.com. (You do need to buy the book, get a secret code and log in before taking the 35 minute test.)
I would recommend it to folks and to congregations looking for something positive to build upon. All too often in church land, we tend to focus on what’s missing and not what’s possible. This book would force a governing body, a small group, or a clergy gathering to focus more on the strengths present in the people in the room.
To give you a taste, here are my own top five: futuristic, input, strategic, includer, and learner. I know it sounds like a salad made of the latest business buzzwords, but I found it to be an affirming test and worth your time.
The beauty of this time is it has never been easier to connect the various strengths and needs, or to put it in Paul’s language, for the foot to find the ankle and the leg.
Here’s a link: www.strengthsfinder.com
Let me know what you think? Tried it? Liked it? Hated it?
Sitting here on Labor Day: I realize that I have never been able to see the parking lot across from me empty before. It’s usually overflowing with cars looking for takeout from Mesa Verde.
It’s Labor Day in the Pioneer Valley and I’m stuck working.
There is something calming about how the blue of the sky hugs the orange siding and the exposed brick of the building next door.
Downtown Greenfield, MA is a fascinating place, but when it’s basically empty of people. It is possible to see both the beauty and the need more clearly. Beauty in the old buildings. Scratch the need bit. Add, more beauty.
People being people despite the heat of the day. Riding bikes. Running. Walking slowly. Or, merely, there in the aching absence a public square feels without people to fill it.
This afternoon I’ve been reading a book about bringing the arts into spiritual direction. The author describes how there are really two approaches to living the spiritual life: kataphatic and apophatic; or receptive and expressive.
Sitting here, watching the day slowly turn from hot afternoon to more shadows and threat of thunder storm, I am struck by the idea that places some time also need the empty spaces to come into their own. Perhaps, this is another way of understanding place, by looking deeper at what a particular space is waiting for?
Speaking about my home in the Pioneer Valley, I’m thinking this place is waiting for something to happen. The region’s older mill and industrial towns especially almost seem to want to let out their breath and let something go. I see this in the struggle the older generation clings to itself. I feel it in how relations, well known family groups, and friends have a tendency to burrow into themselves. The implied fear being: the next breath might send them spinning away.
Call it the fear of the emptying spirit.
There is another story happening in this little valley, which I am only lately coming to understand. There is a stream of people that come down from places like North Adams, slips into Greenfield, flows down to Holyoke, and settles in Springfield. This is the stream of the poor looking for opportunities, jobs, and better housing, a stream that all too often gets trapped in places this older generation wishes not to see.
My eyes have seen the glory of God and I am ever watchful for God’s new song. I hear the echo of God’s work in this river flowing down.
I suspect, can’t know for sure, that this great flow of people is part of a much larger pattern that could be discerned for the people and places all across the nation. We are a people once again on the move: seeking new jobs, new families, and new hope. Few now are those that live and die in the place where they were born.
This emptying spirit has made many of us pilgrims again.
I have a hope and prayer that, years hence, we will be thankful for the space this gives.
Part of an occasional series about the nuts and bolts of church work. I’m always interested in learning more about how people work, write, and create. I offer the following up in the hope that it inspires your own preaching efforts, or at least is marginally helpful.
Step 5: Pick a focus text. I usually use the Old Testament text to point to the New. Meaning, I am reading the Gospel, standing in the place of the Old Testament. Or, sort of, kind of, if you squint. like the informed listeners of Jesus’ day.
For example: in the parable, Jesus is describing the actions of a farmer, who chooses not to pull the weeds before harvest time for fear of damage to the wheat. Now, my family has been dairy farmers for generations. Something doesn’t sit right about just letting the weeds be, free to steal the nutrients from the soil away from your good crops. Here’s the rub: would they, those old listeners, have felt the same way?
That’s what commentaries and scholarship is for.
Last Thursday, I was flip-flopping back and forth between talking about parables and thinking about dreams. The commentaries I consulted left me feeling a little dry.
Step 6: Go online! There really are a great many good resources online.
I tend to check out WorkingPreacher, whose Craft of Preaching video casts are great!
My latest tool: google.com/trends
Looking at the word: dreams/Google score.
in dreams 100
the dreams 95
dreams lyrics 70
sweet dreams 65
my dreams 60
broken dreams 30
What’s that list mean? Drill down a little. These are song lyrics; probably. But, I’m more interested in seeing the tone of the searches. Are they hopeful? Sweet dreams beats broken dreams. Tuck this away: people searching for dreams, might be following songs, music, or creativity.
And, I wonder, what would the music have been like for those angels Jacob saw? Enter: sense of sound.
Another great one: google.com/trends/correlate
Correlated with dream
Analysis: dream is paired most strongly with home and business, and then some money thing, and then concerns about health and fitness. Sounds right. Success. Money. Beauty. And, then travel. I’ve played around enough to know, that these are not real high correlations, at least in the world of Google correlate.
So, see Jacob, there, on the plain. And, see him dreaming, and he’s dreaming of a place to call his own, a home, and a place to be accepted. And, with that I have found a key to connect our current people, those who will be here on Sunday, with the wider world.
I won’t take you down the same track with the Matthew text, but it could be done in a similar way by picking out the key themes and drilling down into them.
The preaching challenge is always a couple fold: first to make the stuff in the bible have any sort of sense and then to make people actually care about it.