One thing I wasn't really able to do during the past few months is read. I did not expect this. It turns out--and I realize that many of you already know this--when one is experiencing extreme and chronic pain it becomes very hard to concentrate! Reading, of course, requires concentration. I had none.
I did manage some. However, the problem was that--with my limited bandwidth--my approach leaned toward the merely efficient and pragmatic. There was no pleasure reading. There was no research-for-fun reading. On the surface I was getting things done. Still...there was little time to focus on the things that would help me gain a deeper and broader sense of the world, of life, and of the human condition.
Now of course there was a great deal to be pragmatic and efficient about. First there were the decisions and discussions around the opening and closing of church. Then we had to think about how the congregation and I would respond to increased interest and energy in the national conversation on race and discrimination. These problems gave way to many smaller ones. Each required me to pay attention to current events, to interpret the articles and explanations of the diseases--both biological and societal--then help apply them to the shared experience of our congregation.
Finally--or perhaps ultimately--there were those worship services. Even in this era of video technology, the progressive Protestant .tradition that I and the church are part of relies heavily on the written word. There is the Bible, of course, that is read every Sunday. There are all the other texts as well. Some are from other faith traditions that help illuminate the theme for the day. Others--at least on the face of things--are more "secular." All of them require study and interpretation so that we can apply them to the text of our lived experience.
Other than the book of Job--which suddenly made much more sense to me--I had to be strategic in my approach. Out of physical necessity, I encountered the readings in small doses and digested them over time. However--and strangely for those who know me--I was actually somewhat prepared. At least, that is, when it came to worship.
Some history: For most of my ministry I would have scoffed at trying to plan out worship for an entire "church year" from September to June. However, three years ago while trying to entertain myself while on a study retreat, I managed to get a reasonable outline of topics completed. It kept me busy enough during that week away. Then, when the fall came around and it was time to step back into the pulpit...it worked!
Or, at least, I got more out of it than I put in up front. Basically, having thought about what to talk about back in August helped me to deepen my perspective when I finally got to that particular scheduled theme in October...or December...or February...then--in 2018--the system broke down. So much for the first try.
Last summer, though, I was ready to give it more time and intention. I compiled a reading list that spring that was made up mostly of books I had always been interested in. There were a few re-reads in there as well. There were also specific books of the Bible that I knew I wanted to hit again. Then, in one long week sequestered at my dad's house, I came up with themes and readings for every service of the year.
It is funny how things work out. I had no idea how strange things would become between then and now. However--while the themes were often altered to address the rapidly changing spiritual landscape of 2019-2020--I rarely needed to move a reading from it's assigned date. Every Sunday afternoon from late February through June--most of the time after watching myself preach on YouTube and wrapping up the "Zoom Coffee Hour"--I would take a look at that list, grateful to my summer self for planning ahead.
Now I am back at it again. I mean, really. I don't think I could have made it through the past few months with out the me of the past guiding my sermon prep! I mean...I am so disorganized in normal times! After all that happened, I am committed to the process for year number 3. It saved my bacon in more ways than I can count.
However...I am behind already. Now that the back is somewhat less of an issue--at least for now--I am binge-reading; digging in to a tall stack of neglected books. In order to maintain accountability, I have revived my old "Goodreads" page (last updated in 2013). Feel free to check me out over there. I use my real name so I shouldn't be hard to find.
I am also writing short reviews there and may cross-post them here. They are partly just for my own use. I need notes and some place to start so I can remember what I wanted to talk about when that topic is a mere two weeks out. Finally there are notes written in a notebook titled "Sermons '20-'21" and in the margins of the books themselves. I am behind in my reading, but I hope--if infirmities don't slow me down--to catch up in time for a late summer brainstorm.
Oh yeah...and I am on retreat of sorts for just this week. Then I will return home. There is a lot to get done while I am away from the parish. A change of scenery brings with it a change of attitude that I, at least, desperately need.
That is all for now! May all your summer studies be fruitful. Keep in touch. I am thinking of you.