My name is Mike, and I'm a Parrothead. All right, maybe not a fullblown Parrothead. But I do like Buffett's music. (I have one of my elders to blame.) You've heard "Margaritaville" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise," of course--along with "Come Monday." Yeah, yeah. Probably even "Fins" and "Volcano." But how about "Tin Cup Chalice," "One Particular Harbor," "Migration," "School Boy Heart" and "I Love the Now"? Maybe "Meet Me in Memphis" or Jimmy's version of "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Mexico," or "Southern Cross"? - - - - One of my best reads last year was Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The novel is a long letter from a 76-year-old minister to his 6-year-old son. John Ames married when he was young, but his wife died in childbirth (along with the daughter she was giving birth to). He remained single--and at the same church--for four decades, when he married a woman thirty years younger. Near the end of his life, he writes to his son to tell him who he is (was) and to let the boy know about his grandfather and great grandfather, also pastors--one a big war-promoter and the other a pacifist. There are so many things I love about this novel, but one of the most significant things to me was her insight about sermon preparation, about preaching, and about ministry. How could someone write this who hasn't been a minister herself? Here's a sample: "Your mother is respectful of my hours up here in the study. She's proud of my books. She was the one who actually called my attentionn to the number of boxes I have filled with my sermons and my prayers. Say, fifty sermons a year for forty-five years, not counting funerals and so on, of which there have been a great many. Two thousand two hundred and fifty. If they average thirty pages, that's sixty-seven thousand five hundred pages. Can that be right? I guess it is. I write in a small hand, too, as you know by now. Say three hundred pages make a volume. Then I've written two hundred twenty-five books, which puts me up there with Augustine and Calvin for quantity. That's amazing. I wrote almost all of it in the deepest hope and conviction. Sifting my thoughts and choosing my words. Trying to say what was true. And I'll tell you frankly, that was wonderful." And then this: "I suppose it's natural to think about those old boxes of sermons upstairs. They are a record of my life, after all, a sort of foretaste of the Last Judgment, really, so how can I not be curious? Here I was a pastor of souls, hundreds and hundreds of them over all those years, and I hope I was speaking to them, not only to myself, as it seems to me sometimes when I look back. I still wake up at night, thinking, That's what I should have said! or That's what he meant! remembering conversations I had with people years ago, some of them long gone from the world, past any thought of my putting things right with them. And then I do wonder where my attention was. If that is even the question." One more: "A good sermon is one side of a passionate conversation. It has to be heard in that way. There are three parties to it, of course, but so are there even to the most private thought--the self that yields the thought, the self that acknowledges and in some way responds to the thought, and the Lord. That is a remarkable thing to consider." - - - - And speaking of sermons, just a moment for preacher geek. I just finished Paul Scott Wilson's Preaching and Homiletical Theory. I had already worked through his books God Sense: Reading the Bible for Preaching and The Four Pages of the Sermon, but I enjoyed this one much more. If you haven't had a chance to catch up on works on homiletics for a while, this will provide a lot of help. The opening section on the Bible (with chapters entitled "Biblical Preaching," "Exegesis for Preaching," and "Homileticians and the Bible") is excellent.