Showing posts from 2008

Playing for Change: Stand by Me

Judy Ruppel

My mother died just before Thanksgiving. My current Northminster family already knew that, of course. Here is the eulogy I delivered at the funeral:

So we used to go to the zoo every year, the day before Thanksgiving. Mom, the kids and me. She used to fuss about if it was too cold, if anyone was going to catch the double, triple, or quadruple pneumonia. She used to worry that it would rain. But we always always always looked forward to it, because Mama was so much fun.

One year, we got to the front of the Louisiana Swamp exhibit, and the kids wanted to see the alligator. Mama most certainly did not want to see any alligator. She said she'd wait for us at the entrance to the exhibit.

Well, we took a little longer than she thought we should. When we got back to where we'd left her, she wasn't there. We started looking for her, keeping in mind that she was probably looking for us. Finally, my daughter and Mama saw each other: Mama was in the Zoo Train. She'd gotten all the w…

Being Ready

We've got another hurricane out there. Everybody's trying to get ready. Most people will never feel ready for another hurricane.

We're training one of our youth to be ordained as an elder of the church. He get ordained in a couple of weeks. He probably doesn't feel ready.

Before our kids were born, I certainly didn't feel ready to be a dad, even though I read enough books about childbirth and early childhood to get an advanced degree in the subject.

I wasn't ready to say goodbye to our college students, at least until the next time I see them again. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to Dedie or Sue, even though I'm truly enjoying getting to know Keith.

The thing is, being ready is overrated. It's good to be as ready as you can, to be prepared. A lot of times, though, there just is no being ready. You try, but you get blind-sided. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad.

Paul wasn't ready for Jesus when he met him on the road to Damascus. Peter wasn't ready for…

The Tennessee Valley Tragedy

If you haven't heard, there was a shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee. A man, who seems to have believed that liberals and those fighting for gay rights were directly to blame for his and his country's problems, entered the church during a children's program and opened fire. He killed two people, one of whom seems to have stepped in front of the gunman to protect others.

Click on the link title for an Associated Press story.

Click here to leave a note to the congregation.

If you want to be heard, it sometimes seems you need to say that whatever bothers you is a threat to all the world, and whatever you enjoy is somehow a blessing for everyone. I've heard people seriously speak of killing spammers.

XBOX 360s won't end world hunger. The internet is not a cesspool of sin and destruction. The United States did not plummet downhill the day the Civil Rights Act gave some measure of equality to people of all races, and the Presbyterian church …

Saint Ruby Yenkala

I have noticed that there are people in this world that seem to change everyone around them. It seems like merely speaking with them, or shaking their hand, is enough to transform you. I believe that this is what Paul meant by a "fruit of the Spirit."

Saint Ruby Yenkala was not always sunshine and roses, not always happiness. Sometimes, she was frustrating and infuriating, but she changed us, and I think, she changed us for the better, and she changed us for good.

She was a white woman of Jesse Helm's generation who thought nothing of worshiping with, embracing, and helping people regardless of their color. She was a woman who should, by all rights, been sitting in the back of the church, keeping her mouth shut except to responsively pray or sing. And yet, ever since she walked in the door of Northminster, she was standing in church, telling us what was needed in the community, giving us the good news and the bad news. Ruby was Christ's eyes and ears and hands and feet…

PC(USA) News on Montreat Youth Conference

Click the post title for an article on the PC(USA) site about the Montreat Youth conferences.

The week we went, there were "only" about 400 youth there, largely because most folks were still in school. Most Montreat Youth Conference sessions are about 3X bigger.

Montreat Pictures

Click on the article title for a Flickr album for the week we were at Montreat!

Iowa Flooding and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

We just got back from our first Montreat conference, and it was AWESOME. I don't think I can write a short post and do it justice. If you want to learn more, you're just going to have to wait until I get the chance to write a longer post (or a series of shorter ones), or just come talk with me or any of the folks who went. Also, check out the youth bulletin board at church. (Or, you can wait for the video, hopefully in the next week or so...)

I did want to point out something, though: We are a church for a reason. Actually, for many reasons. One of those reasons is that we can depend on our fellow disciples to be there when we can't, and they can depend on us to help when we can.

You've probably seen on the news (or The Daily Show) about the flooding in Iowa, or the tornadoes in Virginia, or the flooding in Arkansas. If you're like me, you've had some rather uncomfortable flashbacks to other scenes of water inundating someone's home town. If you're like m…

Google Analytics

I've put Google Analytics on this blog. It's a free tool I can use to see how many times this site is read, and where in the world they are.

The idea is that everything on the web is "out there", and anyone anywhere can read it. I consider this a very very very very good thing, especially for our group and the content here. I really hope that we're getting hits from China or Ireland or even maybe Mississippi!

Google Analytics isn't giving me any personal information, like your name or your favorite kind of toothpaste or anything. Even if it did, I'd throw it away without looking at it.

I'm not going to sell advertising. Mostly, this is just for a warm fuzzy on my part, to let me know what this particular tool is doing, all on its own.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Preaching but Were Afraid to Ask Your Sunday School Teacher

Update: Due to a bad reaction from everyone who saw the original version of this, I changed the title (which meant actually thinking about the title), and made some minor edits (no content change).

Also, if you happen to get the allusion in the new title: shame on you.

One of our youth are preparing to preach a sermon soon (May 11 - Pentecost Sunday). We do this pretty much every year, so I thought I'd put here what accumulated knowledge I have after having preached a few times as an elder.

Writing for the Ear
The main thing to remember, and probably the hardest thing to remember when you're writing a sermon, is that you're writing to be heard, not read. In other words, your sermon is for people's ears, not their eyes.

That makes a difference because there are a number of things you can do with your eyes that you can't with your ears. You can read something again, but you can't "rewind" a live sermon. You have to remember that if your listeners' attent…

The Shoulders of Giants

The scientist Isaac Newton once said:

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants."

By "giants" he was referring to people like Copernicus and Galileo and other "scientists" (they would probably have described themselves as either philosophers or theologians) who went before him, allowing him to discover things like the fact that what keeps the moon in orbit is the same thing that pulls apples to the ground.

I think there are two parts to this quote: (1) standing on the shoulders of giants, and (2) seeing further. I think we are meant to use the knowledge, writings, and tradition of those who've gone before us in order to look to a farther horizon, and push our knowledge, action, and tradition out to places unseen and even unimagined by the giants beneath us.

It would be a poor scientist who said, "I have stood on the shoulders of giants, and they are very nice giants." Looking merely at the accomplishments of those in…


I've never been a big fan of the season of Lent. I've disliked it so long, I'm not even sure what started me off. Among other things:

I don't like how self-righteous people treat Ash Wednesday in the New Orleans area. They act like it's the final victory bell in the fight between "holier-than-thou" and "bound-for-hell". I'm a New Orleanian who believe that the dancing, generosity, and tolerance of Mardi Gras is a really good model for the Kingdom of Heaven, and I don't like it to be just "cut off" at midnight on Wednesday.

A man my father knew used to give up alcohol for lent. However, since wine is drunk in the Bible, he'd down two or three glasses at lunch every day. Lent seems to me to be a time for hypocrites to thrive.

In my experience, Joy is a precious commodity. I don't think it wise for Christians to stop praying for it, looking for it, waiting for it, and working for it for 40 days out of 365. And it seems to …