the wheel, un-reinvented

Well, after lay speaking this morning at Cannon UMC and Mt. Lebanon UMC, I went to look up next Sunday’s passages from the Revised Common Lectionary, so that I could start working on my sermon for Goose Pond UMC in Coffee County.

If you’re not familiar with the lectionary, it’s sort of a schedule for the scriptures to be used in Sunday worship. The Catholic Church has its own lectionary; the Revised Common Lectionary is a Protestant version, for those denominations or preachers who believe in such a thing. These would tend to be the same churches that recognize some form of the liturgical calendar – seasons like Lent, Advent and what have you.

Each week, there are four basic scripture passages. There’s at least one Old Testament passage (other than the Psalms), at least one New Testament passage (other than the Gospels), a passage from the Psalms and a passage from the Gospels. Some weeks, there are more than that – especially if there are alternate ways to treat that Sunday within the liturgical calendar.

For example, some churches celebrate the Sunday before Easter as “Palm Sunday” and would want a Gospel passage about Jesus’ triumphal entry of Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. Those churches would typically recognize the crucifixion during a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service. But churches that don’t have a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service might choose to observe “Passion Sunday” instead, treating the crucifixion one week so that they can concentrate on the resurrection the next. The lectionary includes passages for each of those two options.

The lectionary runs on a three-year cycle – if 2011 uses the calendar for Year A, and 2012 uses the calendar for Year B, and 2013 uses Year C, then in 2014 you go back to Year A again.

A pastor may pick only one of the week’s lectionary passages and focus on it exclusively. Often, though, there’s some sort of common theme or element, and the really skillful professionals can often weave two, three, or all four of the passages into a single sermon. I’m an amateur, and I usually just preach on one of the four passages.

United Methodism would in general be a church that uses the lectionary, although it’s enough of a big tent that there are pastors, especially at small churches, who don’t use it. There are also special occasions when a pastor might want to ignore that week’s lectionary because of some special occasion or situation which the pastor feels requires a different direction.

Lay speakers, especially if we’re called upon at the last moment, aren’t necessarily expected to go by the lectionary, but I do, whenever possible.

I recall a lay speaking class I took in which the class members had differing opinions about the lectionary. Some didn’t like it, feeling that in every case you should seek God’s inspiration rather than relying on some dusty man-made schedule. Others, and I am among them, find God’s inspiration within the lectionary, which sometimes forces us out of our comfort zones and requires us to look at passages we might ignore otherwise.

Anyway, I want to look at the passages for next Sunday and they looked familiar. I save all of my sermons to a folder on my computer, and it didn’t take me long to find a sermon I preached on the Third Sunday of Lent three years ago – remember, the lectionary runs on a three-year cycle – at my home church, First UMC Shelbyville. I looked at the sermon and remembered it immediately, and I recall being pleased with it. (Boy, that sounds egotistical.) And it incorporated two different lectionary passages — the OT passage and the Gospel passage.

Anyway, I decided that, rather than start from scratch, I would update and adapt  that sermon from three years ago and use it next Sunday.

It runs about a page or two longer than my usual sermon; it may need a bit of tightening. I’ll read it aloud some time in the next night or two and see if it really is longer time-wise. Then again, some of my sermons are on the short side so maybe this is just more of an average-length sermon.

Anyway, I won’t have to panic this week about whether or not I’ve written my sermon.


Mt. Lebanon UMC and Cannon UMC
March 16, 2014

John 3:1-17 (NRSV)
1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the TV show “Doctor Who.” It celebrated its 50th anniversary last November, and It’s been one of my all-time favorites since I discovered it as a college student in the early 1980s. It’s a British science fiction TV show, about a mysterious alien, whose name is “The Doctor,” from a planet called Gallifrey. The main character has been played by 12 different actors over those five decades, and a 13th has just taken over the part and will start in new episodes later this year.
What happened was, the first man to play the part, in the mid-1960s, decided to quit. At that time, “Doctor Who” was considered a children’s show, and so the producers just made up a new plot point – something they might not have been able to get away with in a show aimed at grownups – and decided that the people of Gallifrey have the ability to “regenerate” – to heal themselves from some great trauma by transforming into an entirely new body.

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ding-a-ling update

I have really enjoyed being a part of the handbell choir at church, although I had a bit of  meltdown after our first performance a few weeks back. (You might have noted that I blogged a lot about the performance in advance but almost nothing after the fact.)

I screwed up that morning. Now, the nature of an all-ages handbell choir is that we still sounded just fine as a group. But I played a wrong note and then was thrown off by it, such that I missed playing any of my next few notes at all.

In the great scheme of things, this was, well, nothing. But I was under a lot of stress at the time, and I think I let it come out in the form of beating myself up, childishly, over having screwed up “Amazing Grace” on the handbells.

I eventually realized how stupid I’d been, and I was looking forward to getting back on the horse. We had started rehearsing a couple of new songs for our next performance.

I found out yesterday the date of that next performance: March 23.

I can’t make it that day; I’m already committed to preach at Goose Pond UMC over in Coffee County, and have been for many weeks.

Fortunately, the new bells that we took delivery of last week made some reorganization possible. Some people had been playing tone chimes instead of bells, and some people only had one bell.  Now, everyone has bells, and everyone has both hands full, even though there’s some duplication. Donna Northcutt is able to play the bells that I’d been playing for this month’s performance. We now have two sets of those bells, so Donna and I were both playing them during practice last night. We were conversing during a lull and Donna realized that she’d worked with my sister Elecia at McDonald’s back when they were both in high school.

I won’t be at practice next Wednesday night – not that I need to be, since I won’t be at the performance – because I’m covering an event in Murfreesboro.

The March 23 performance will likely be our swan song until the fall. The next week will be spring break, and by the time that’s over and done with we’ll be gearing up for Easter, and at some point our Wednesday night meal and activities will shut down until the fall. Dulcie wants us to work on holiday music next fall so we can be a part of the church’s Christmas programming.

I will miss handbell choir during that summer break. I’ve never had much in the way of musical talent, and this has been a fun way of expanding my skill set.

My podcast appearance

Last week, I visited Michael Hansen and my former castmate Brenden Taylor for a taping of their podcast “Finding Christ in Cinema,” which looks for religious allegories and talking points in secular films. My original intent was to interview them for a story, which I did, but they also invited me to sit in as a guest on the podcast, and I did that too. Logrolling? Maybe. But I enjoyed it, and think I got a good story out of it, too.

Being a guest on the podcast was fun — I probably should have leaped into the discussion more often than I did, but I was kind of feeling my way around. I have an invitation to come back some time, and I think I’ll probably be a little more comfortable and a little more vocal whenever I do. It will have to be the right movie, though.

Anyway, my episode can be found here. You can listen to it from that page or click for a little popout player that you can then minimize so that you don’t forget and close it by mistake.

I’ve said here in the past that I’d love to have some sort of podcast. But (except for the short-lived talk show I did on WLIJ some years back) it’s been nearly 30 years since my radio days, and last week reminded me that filling air time is harder than it looks. My experiments, such as the little pilot episode I did in 2011 for a faith-based interview podcast — have also been very low-tech. Michael has a nice home studio, and you can hear it in the quality of the product he produces. I’m not in a position to even pay for hosting right now, much less equipment.

I’ve also never really settled on what I want to do. The more marketable ideas are also more restrictive; what I really want is the freedom to play, but that quickly becomes self-indulgent and not interesting to other people, which sort of defeats the purpose. The podcasts I really enjoy listening to are hosted by comedians or other creative people who have good content, but even when they stray from the content they can make stream-of-consciousness interesting to someone other than themselves. They also have a lot of access to good guests, sidekicks or interview subjects to play off of.

But I can still dream. Maybe one of these days, I’ll come up with a format or premise that I can run with.

Seth and pete

I was excited about the premiere of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” last night, of course, but I was also excited about the return of “The Pete Holmes Show,” which had been on hiatus for a couple of months but which TBS happily picked up for a new season. It’s times like these I’m happy for the DVR — I don’t need to stay up for Seth every night, as I did last night.

I watched Seth’s monologue and the comedy bit about Venn diagrams last night, then today I watched the Amy Poehler interview. I didn’t watch the Joe Biden interview – I’ve come to agree with pop culture blogger Mark Evanier about political figures on the entertainment-oriented late night network talk shows. Republican or Democrat, they come on, field a few softball questions, and rack up some unearned good will by appearing to be a good sport. Again agreeing with Evanier, I don’t think the answer is for the late night hosts to ask tougher questions – for the most part they aren’t qualified to be journalists. I don’t think office-holders need to be making the rounds of the entertainment shows to begin with.

Anyway, I enjoyed what I saw of Seth’s show.

I had been watching Fallon last night duirng Pete Holmes’ season premiere, so that, too, had to wait until today. (I watched it this morning while getting ready for work, as was my habit during his last run of episodes.) Holmes is a mystery – like another late-night comic, Craig Ferguson, he can careen from thoughtful intelligence to silly, sophomoric (but never mean-spirited) vulgarity in a heartbeat. Holmes comes from a religious background, and while he appears to have rejected the traditional Christianity I still hold dear, he’s still fascinated by spirituality and spiritual issues, much more so than any current comedian with whom I’m familiar. He had controversial author and former pastor Rob Bell on his podcast for a serious interview, then later featured him on the TV show in a comedy bit about surfing.

I think he fired just about all of the X-Men during his first run of episodes, but I hope he finds some use for his sharp-tongued Professor X during the new season. Maybe he could fire the other Marvel superheroes too.

My people

One small glitch in the “Raise Your Hand” program in Bedford County is that when your normal host teacher happens not to be there, the substitute may not be expecting you.

This happened to me a few weeks back, and it happened again today. Today, the substitute happened to be a former cast-mate, Keith Wortham. Just a couple of months ago, I was Clarence the Angel to Keith’s razor-sharp George Bailey in the benefit performances of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” We’d worked together a couple of other times prior to that.

If you know anything at all about school kids, you know that their behavior for a substitute teacher is not necessarily their behavior for the regular teacher. Today, when I arrived, five or six of them immediately ran over to me and gave me a big group hug. (“Mr. Carney!!!!”)

“They don’t normally act this way,” I told Keith, embarrassed. I do occasionally get one or two hugs when I’m arriving or leaving, but nothing this disruptive.

I really felt like a disruption, and I sort of wanted to leave and let Keith get back to what he was doing, but once the kids saw me I sort of had to stick around. Keith rolled with the punches and sent half of the kids he was working with over to play a game with me; we did that for half an hour and then swapped groups.

Keith, I hope I wasn’t too much of an imposition. You seemed to be doing a great job, not that you need my recommendation.

Here’s a confession: It was, disruptive or not, nice to get my excited welcome from the kids. I’ve been a little down for a few days, for various and sundry reasons, and that was kind of a pick-me-up.

Like sands through the hourglass

It just occurred to me that the end of the Jay Leno “Tonight Show” a week or two ago might have been the end of an era — I wasn’t sure if it was the last production in the Burbank Studios, formerly owned by NBC. NBC sold the studio in 2008 and gradually moved most of its production to Universal Studios (which is now, of course, part of the same company as NBC). During Conan O’Brien’s short tenure as host of “The Tonight Show,” he broadcast from a studio on the Universal lot. I read just now that Conan’s old studio is now the home of “Chelsea Lately.”

Jay Leno, however, was comfortable in the Burbank facility and stayed there throughout both of his runs at “The Tonight Show” and the short-lived “Jay Leno Show.”

It turns out Jay wasn’t the last NBC star to leave the ship; Wikipedia says that “Access Hollywood” and “Days of Our Lives” are still being shot at the Burbank facility.

I got to tour the studios in the year 2000 when visiting my brother and sister-in-law in California. (I may have told this story before.) Our tour guide told us the story about Jay Leno and the studios.

When Jay first took over “The Tonight Show” in the early 1990s, he went into the same large stage where Johnny Carson had been presiding since moving the show from New York to California. Johnny, who got his start in radio, was used to not being able to see his audience, and he was far enough away from the bleachers, with bright TV lights shining in his eyes, that he didn’t see them when doing his monologue. Jay, who got his start in comedy clubs with the audience at his feet, was never comfortable with that arrangement. During a week of “Tonight Shows” on the road in New York, he found himself in a much smaller studio and noticed a change in his energy level. Upon returning to California, he asked to move onto one of the smaller stages in the Burbank complex, and a special platform was built so that during his monologue, he would be much, much closer to the audience than he had been. He could even shake hands with them as he took his mark. Jay became more relaxed in his new surroundings and eventually started beating David Letterman in the ratings.

We did not get to see the “Tonight Show” studio that day – they were doing sound check or something at the time of our tour. But at the time, they took you into the parking lot to see Jay’s parking space, and which of his many vehicles he’d driven to work that day. We went out, and gawked, and as we turned around to go back inside there was a man standing on the loading dock from which we’d emerged, smoking a cigarette.

It was – no kidding – Maury Povich, who was taping the first few episodes of his revival of “Twenty-One” that day. (Someone in the gift shop had tried to recruit us for the audience, but we already had tickets for a sitcom over on the Warner Brothers lot that evening.) Maury saw the tour group looking at him, tossed his cigarette and ducked back into the building.

There were murals outside some of the stages of famous shows that had been shot on those stages, and the one of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” made me think of Gary Owens, hand cupped to his ear, announcing that the program originated from “beautiful downtown Burbank.” (This was sarcasm; Burbank is neither particularly beautiful nor does it have a noticeable downtown.)

Steve Allen did his version of “The Tonight Show” from Rockefeller Center in New York, where Jimmy Fallon has just taken over. But this is from some other prime time show or special that Steverino shot in Burbank, and I like the way it makes use of the corridors, which actually still looked a lot like this in 2000:

Anyway, I don’t know if the current owners of the Burbank Studios give tours, but if they do, and if you’re in Southern California, you need to stop by. It’s a pop culture historic site if ever there was one.

now is the podcast of our discontent

I was excited when Alton Brown, former host of “Good Eats” and current host of half of Food Network’s repetetive, overblown food-competition shows, started his own podcast. I even wrote a glowing story about it that was included in our Times-Gazette cookbook, a story about which I was reminded day before yesterday when I was looking at one of the cookbooks we’d set aside as a contest entry.

But I think I’m now officially disenchanted.

To backtrack a bit: “Good Eats” started on the Food Network in 1999 and ran for 11 years. Reruns still air regularly on Cooking Channel (a sister channel to Food Network). It remains one of my favorite things ever on television. It was a half-hour cooking show which combined recipes, science, sketch comedy and jury-rigged cooking contraptions. It won a Peabody Award, and Alton won a James Beard award for his work as creator and host.

During the run of “Good Eats,” Alton also had several outstanding food travelogues presented in miniseries format: two runs of “Feasting on Asphalt” (Alton and his crew traveled by motorcycle), and one of “Feasting on Waves” (because it’s hard to travel the Carribbean by motorcycle).

When Food Network, which had run and rerun episodes of the original Japanese “Iron Chef,” created its own version, “Iron Chef America,” Alton was signed as host – and that was fine with me at the time; I had been a big fan of the original Japanese show, and Alton brought a lot of his wit and knowledge to his “play-by-play” commentary. But, over time, Food Network became all about the competition shows. “Iron Chef America” doesn’t appeal to me at all anymore, nor do any of the other shows, all of which seem to blend together: “The Next Iron Chef,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “Food Network Star,” all of them involving Alton in some way or another, plus others like “Chopped,” “The Worst Cooks In America,” and on and on and on. (And on and on.) Someone is apparently watching them, but I have long since gotten sick and tired of them.

When “Good Eats” wrapped up, I figured Alton would be back with some different but equally-imaginative project in a year or two, and that all of these reality shows he was hosting were just helping pay the bills (which I completely understand).

Then, Alton launched his podcast, on the well-established Nerdist podcast network, and I was thrilled. The podcast originally had sort of a magazine format, including cooking tips that would have been at home on “Good Eats” as well as listener questions, along with an interview segment.

Over time, however, all of the other segments have been de-emphasized and the interview segment is now pretty much the whole podcast. That would be OK if the interview subjects were great – and a few of them are, such as the fellow from Nashville’s Olive & Sinclair Chocolates a few episodes back. But too many of them are either tied in with Alton’s competition shows and/or chances to reminisce about the behind-the-scenes production of “Good Eats.” Alton apparently does not share my feelings about the competition shows; based on the interviews, he’s still excited to host as many of them as they’ll throw his way. As a huge fan of “Good Eats,” I enjoy some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, but there’s been an over-reliance on it. I’m not as interested in “Good Eats” as I am in the next “Good Eats,” whatever that turns out to be.

This week’s episode is an interview with the production manager for Alton’s live tour – again, not a bad idea in and of itself, but in the context of where the show has been headed it just means another episode without any real food content, since the interview is the entire show.

I don’t guess I have much room to complain about a free, and advertising-free, podcast. It’s just that the podcast, when it first started, seemed like it might be appointment listening in the same way “Good Eats” was appointment viewing. And it’s not. Alton, you need to be doing something more worthy of your talent.

not a pilgrim

Is it heretical to say that I have no desire to tour the Holy Land?

The host of the daily Bible podcast to which I listen, and a different fellow who’s a former pastor of mine, are each (separately) in the Holy Land right now, beaming back reports through the podcast and through social media.

I’ve seen numerous slide shows and heard numerous accounts over the years, and I always have to bite my tongue and grit my teeth when I’m shown a photo and told that this is definitely, no question about it, the exact spot where such-and-such a Bible event took place.

Yes, we know where the temple was, and some other landmarks like that. I’d love to be able to see the Sea of Galilee even if I didn’t know the exact spot on its shores where Jesus stepped onto or off of a boat. But anyone who tells you that this is the exact field where Ruth gleaned Boaz’s grain is selling you something. I think about how many times control of Jerusalem has changed hands over the milliennia. I think about how many events in the Gospels were private, intimate events, the full significance of which might not be known until they were recalled much later, in the light of subsequent events. The idea that the exact locations where all of these various events happened have been known and preserved through the ages – especially during the medieval era – seems absurd to me. I don’t know how much of it is backed up by scholarly research and how much of it is just informal claims by individuals. And that doesn’t even get to all of the other various claims and artifacts and what not that I see on those slideshows and Facebook posts.

I have no problem with those who have been moved and inspired by trips to the Holy Land; I just don’t have any interest myself. Maybe there’s more scholarly research than I’m assuming, and I’m just being cynical. But I really don’t have an interest in going.

Ready to ring

Well, even though we missed a practice last week we’re moving ahead with our scheduled performance of the First United Methodist handbell choir this Sunday morning during the 10 a.m. service. I must say, I’m looking forward to it.

We’re going to get together during the Sunday School hour for one last practice.

I wondered if we were going to keep going after this performance, and apparently we are – Dulcie gave us two new pieces of music last night which we’ll start practicing next week. We may even go to one or two of the local nursing homes or another church or something of that sort.

We’ll probably take a break from practicing over the summer (as do many of FUMC’s Wednesday night activities), but Dulcie is already talking about us working on Christmas music next fall and performing over the holidays.

As someone with no real musical talent, I’m excited about this.