I had a friend in college who changed roommates every term. Our alma mater, Hendrix College, was on a trimester system back then, so a student theoretically could have three different roommates in the span of an academic year. Except with my friend, it wasn’t theoretical. Each trimester he would petition the housing office for a new roommate. By the end of our sophomore year, he’d had six. He came to me and lamented, “I can’t figure out why the college keeps giving me such lousy roommates.” And I responded, as pastorally as I could, “Jim, sooner or later you have to ask the question, ‘Is the problem the roommates?’”
I own guns. I am a bird hunter, about which I have blogged in the past, and I own shotguns for that purpose. I also own a single-action, six-shot revolver loaded with shotshells as protection against poisonous snakes on our small piece of land in the country, where copperheads are as common as mosquitos. My father taught me to shoot guns responsibly before I was a teenager. I am teaching my kids to do the same.
In 1848, General Zachery Taylor was fresh from his victories in the Mexican-American War, when the Whig Party set its eyes upon him as a presidential contender. In an era of frequently rancorous and deadlocked political party conventions, at the Whig convention in Philadelphia, Taylor was joyously and resoundingly elected as the party’s candidate for president.
But the General himself was not present; he was back at home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tending to his farm. Enthusiastic Whig Party leaders immediately dashed off a letter to Taylor, extending the offer and honor of the nomination, and they eagerly awaited Taylor’s acceptance. And waited; and waited. A second letter was sent, to which there was also no reply. Only after a third missive was sent, by which time some Whig Party leaders were rethinking their choice of candidate, did Zachery Taylor finally get the word of his nomination.
The first parish I served as a priest is Holy Apostles, located in suburban Memphis. When I arrived there, however, Holy Apostles wasn’t located anywhere. I mean that geographically, not spiritually. Holy Apostles had been planted in a city neighborhood in the early 1970s, and as the demographics of Memphis shifted over the years, the parish’s fortunes waxed and waned. Some years before my arrival, Holy Apostles had shrunk precipitously and sold its church building. For some years they’d rented worship space in a Presbyterian church parish hall. Eventually, that church, too, was slated to close, and Holy Apostles once again became a shrinking band of wandering nomads. The low point may have been the day the Mission Council formally interviewed me to be their new vicar at a Perkins Restaurant on Old Shelby Drive in the middle of Memphis, amidst waiters busing scrambled eggs and French toast.
He was left there hanging between heaven and earth. What a line in the Old Testament reading today! Holy Scripture can turn one heck of a phrase and tell one heck of a story. As both Canon Razim and Canon Callaham pointed out in their very good sermons last week, this summer the lectionary is taking us through the long and conflicted reign of Israel’s King David. David is one of Scripture’s most complex characters. Of David, the poet Robert Pinsky says, “He is wily like Odysseus and an impetuous daredevil like the Scarlet Pimpernel. Like Hamlet, he pretends to be crazy. Like Joan of Arc, he comes from nowhere, ardent and innocent, to infuriate the conventional elders…Like Robin Hood, he gathers a band of outcasts and outlaws. Like Lear, he is overthrown and betrayed by his offspring.”[i]