An Invitation to Matt Damon

Dear Matt:

Like everyone who loved Ocean’s Eleven (Twelve and Thirteen not so much), I was sorry to hear that St. Ann’s turned down your children.  I know you make $20 million a film, but it must still sting.  No one should blame your kids for Monuments Men.  Maybe you should have given them a Bourne Ultimatum.

This whole ordeal has to be hard on your family.  I’m guessing you are feeling pretty down—like the only person left on Mars, a criminal who has infiltrated the Boston police department, or a private in World War II caught behind enemy lines.

You and Luciana seem like great parents, so you know the importance of surrounding your children with caring people.  You should come to Plymouth Church.  Our congregation works hard to help children learn what it means to live in God’s hope.  You will love our children’s minister.  Julia Rassmann has helped create an environment in which children feel cared for.  (I am sorry that you are moving back to New York too late for your children to attend our preschool.  Plymouth Church School is fantastic.)

We have lots of activities for children.  Each Sunday after the children’s time in worship, they go to Sunday school.  Like St. Ann’s, we don’t give grades.  Our teachers use games, crafts, and music to share the Christian faith.  We have children’s choirs and summer camps.  (As you recently learned, it’s never too early to get on a waiting list.)

We have children’s movie night on September 16.  We are planning to show Milo and Otis, but if you have a DVD of Happy Feet 2 we would be glad to show that.

We will observe Children’s Sabbath on October 2.  We believe the church is an Adjustment Bureau improving the lives of children.

The Blessing of the Animals is October 4.  You would be welcome to share a few lines from We Bought a Zoo.

I have never been to Pumpkinland (October 30), but I hear it’s stellar, if not Interstellar.

Our church shows True Grit in our commitment to social justice.  Our congregation is given to the countercultural way of worship, friendship, and service.  We are a diverse community of faith, coming from many different backgrounds, but unified in God’s grace.

How do you like them apples?  (I bet you get a lot of that.)  I am sure Isabella, Gia, and Stella would find friends at our church.  You and Luciana would, too.  We would love to see your family at Plymouth.  If you see Ethan Hawke or Maggie Gyllenhaal, tell them their children are welcome at Plymouth, too.

Grace and peace,



Too Busy To Sing

I came to work on Tuesday with a detailed to-do list.  If everything went perfectly, I would end the day writing something for the e-news.  If I got through six of the ten items, it would be a productive day.  If I got through five, I would have kept up.  If I only got through four, I would be seriously behind.

I got off to a good start, but made the mistake of checking e-mail.  (Don’t look at your e-mail if you want to get things done.)  I had seven e-mails to which I needed to respond.  The wonderful sermon ideas I had written on Monday night were now clearly unacceptable.  I remembered something that I was supposed to have done a week ago.

Someone I really wanted to talk to dropped by.  I had several conversations with children who were at Vacation Bible Camp.  Carol was with the youth, so I was on my own for lunch—which I should have realized before I went home at noon.

On Tuesday afternoon, we have worship planning and staff meetings.  I enjoy both, even when they go long.  At 6:00, I had gotten through three of the ten items on my to-do list.

I wanted to work late, but I had told Jacque Jones that I would go to the hymn sing at 7:00.  I did not have time to sing, but I took my bad attitude with me to the choir room.

Bruce Oelschlager had chosen international hymns.  We started with a Spanish tune, “Come Christians, Join to Sing.”

The people in attendance were smart enough to know that if we do not want to sing, then we have lost our way.  Music is yoga for people who do not want to wear yoga pants.

We sang a Brazilian hymn, “O Sing to the Lord/Cantad al Senor”—which is Spanish, though they speak Portuguese in Brazil.  I briefly considered raising my hand to complain.

We sang a Scottish song with the wonderful line, “The house of faith has many rooms where we have never been.”

People who sing are happier than people who do not.  Singing makes it hard to stay frustrated.

We sang “Christ beside Me,” a Gaelic hymn based on the Prayer of St. Patrick from the fifth century.

I was no longer thinking about what I should have gotten done.

We sang the Ghanaian hymn “Jesu, Jesu” and asked God to “fill us with your love.”

Singing reminds us of things that are not on our to-do list.

Some of us will gather in the choir room to sing hymns at 7:00 on August 23 and 30.  If you are too busy to sing, you should come.  If you are too tired to sing, you should try.  If you think you are too important to sing, you need to sing.



Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, and Adam Sandler

Years ago when attendance had gotten small, Plymouth Church brought in a consultant who said, “You can either be a museum or a church.”   The consultant had been going to the wrong museums.  A good church is like a good children’s museum—a place to learn, explore, and discover.

On Monday night I met with eighteen members of our church’s history ministry.  They know how good a museum can be.  Plymouth’s tour guides are better than the ones who wander down Orange Street.

I have interrupted five tours in front of the church.  One thing those guides do well is fit the tour to whatever tourists have paid the thirty bucks.  When the tour was filled with teenagers, the guide talked about Adam Sandler making a movie here.  When the tour was an African American choir, the guide described the Fisk University Choir singing here in 1871.  When the tour was a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the guide pointed to 74 Hicks Street where Charles Taze Russell’s cousin lived.  (Who knew?)

We share an amazing history, so touch Plymouth Rock and give thanks.  Sit in pew 89 and wonder what Abraham Lincoln prayed when he sat there.  Turn off the lights in the basement and imagine what it feels like to run for your life.  Visit the Senior Minister’s office and think of Branch Rickey praying there until he decided that God wanted him to ask Jackie Robinson to integrate baseball.

Some of our heritage is complicated.  The sculptor of the statues in Beecher Garden, Gutzon Borglum, was in the Klan.  Our founding pastor was a gifted minister who fought courageously against slavery.  His adultery trial sold a lot of newspapers and ended in a hung jury.  Look at the portrait of Henry Ward Beecher in the arcade and ask yourself if he is attractive.  Mark Twain wrote:  “Mr. Beecher is a remarkably handsome man when he is in the full tide of sermonizing, and his face is lit up with animation, but he is as homely as a singed cat when he isn’t doing anything.”

The list of people who have been in our building is surprising—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hillary Clinton, Sonia Sotomayor, Elliott Spitzer, Colin Kaepernick, Norah Jones, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

A couple of years ago our Senior Minister Search Committee was asked to fill out a form that asked for the three biggest moments in the church’s history.  They picked Henry Ward Beecher’s tenure as the first pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching an early version of his “I Have a Dream” sermon at Plymouth, and the church recommitting itself to Jesus Christ in 2004.  Plymouth’s resurgence is part of the story.

We do not have to choose between being a museum and a church.  We think about what God has done to remind us that God is still at work.



The Theological Implications of Barbecue

To the casual observer those gathered for the Plymouth men’s barbecue had merely found an excuse to eat meat and drink beer, but to serious students of the Bible and church history, we were doing God’s work.

Deuteronomy 12:15 says, “Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you.  Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it.”  You may want to crochet 12:20 on an apron for someone you love, “When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as God promised you, and you crave meat and say, ‘I would like some meat,’ then you may eat as much of it as you want.”’

Ezekiel 24:10 offers a simple recipe, “Heap on the wood and kindle the fire.  Cook the meat well, mixing in the spices; and let the bones be charred.”

This is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Barbecue brings people together.  The perfect combination of smoke, meat, and fire creates a meal and a moment when we taste and see that God is good.  Church barbecue has a long, rich history.  In the first half of the 19th century, evangelists enticed crowds to camp meetings by serving barbecue.  Before grocery stores and restaurants, you could not order a single barbecue sandwich.  You ate barbecue only when an entire animal was cooked.  In order to avoid waste, everyone was welcome at a barbecue.  For some poor people, revival barbecue was one of the few times there was more than enough food.

Barbecue is still a religious experience—especially in African American churches in the South.  In Texas, there are church-connected barbecue restaurants, like New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbecue in Huntsville.  Pit masters are called “preachers” and their barbecue pits “pulpits” from which the holy word is served.  One barbecue joint trying to avoid the sectarian divisions that divide Texas barbecue from North Carolina barbecue claims to serve “nondenominational barbecue.”

In a 1902 article about a Methodist church barbecue, the chef said, “This method of serving meat is descended from the sacrificial altars of the time of Moses when the priests of the temple got their fingers greasy and dared not wipe them on their Sunday clothes.  They discovered then the rare, sweet taste of meat flavored with the smoke of its own juices.”

Praise the Lord and pass the sauce.