Out of the Woods, Literally, but…

I am out of the woods in a literal sense, but not by any means in the metaphorical sense.


The dearth of posts here has been in large measure due to the busy-ness of life and the press of my other responsibilities. Then we took our annual family camping trip, which puts us in the woods in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, about thirty miles from the nearest internet access. It was wonderful. But isolated.

So, now, I have emerged from the woods, but I am not out of the woods. Life is still busy, the mind is cluttered with lots of things. Many notes and drafts for posts are pending. By God’s grace I hope soon to be able to wrestle those to some tangible, readable, and helpful form.

Thanks to those of you encouraging this!


UPDATE: In posting this, I discovered that I had failed to renew my domain name, so that those of you accessing the blog through somberanddull.com or randygreenwald.com were being told that it was no longer active. Oops. I think I’ve fixed that now. I’m sorry about this.

Farewell, Orion

The weekend has been one of deep emotion which, I hope, none will mind my sharing in this space.

One year ago, today, I had the unexpected privilege of being installed as the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Florida. This has been a wonderful placement for me, and I thank God repeatedly for the grace he has shown to me in giving me this call. It has been a wild year, one sprinkled with challenges, certainly, but as well one blessed with many precious new relationships.

The joy of this anniversary, though, is dampened by the somber reality that yesterday marked the final service of the congregation of Hope Presbyterian Church in Bradenton, Florida, the church I pastored for twenty-five years. My mind does not have a place for conceiving of Bradenton without HPC. And a lively debate could be held concerning the degree of my own culpability in its demise. I know. That debate rages in my mind often.

And yet I don’t want HPC to pass without a notice of its strength. The church was composed of men and women whose love for Jesus ran deep. Children were reared there who are continuing to serve Jesus around the world. Creative ways of bringing Jesus to the community were effected. The church had a genuine beauty that was an honor to Christ. The gospel was more than preached there, it was lived.

I am so grateful for the years that God gave me and my family there. Even now, the great longing of my ten-year old is for the friends and adult mentors he knew there. The impact, not just the memory, of Hope Church will live on in our lives and, we hope, in the lives of many others.

God in his mercy did not allow the impact of these corresponding events go without notice. On Saturday, as members of Covenant Church invested time in my son, playing basketball with him and forming new mentor relationships with him, we were blessed by a surprise visit from Andrea, a former member of Hope, now married and living in St. Louis, who through her years in Bradenton had been like a daughter to us. Both our worlds overlapped.

Then, on Sunday, we enjoyed a long and happy lunch with a few or our new friends from Covenant Church. Later that afternoon we headed off to help a friend from Bradenton, Doug, a med student moving to Orlando to finish his rotations, unload his U-Haul. We were joined in that by Tom and Sam and Pete and Sarah, all young people with Bradenton connections, some deep. Again, our worlds overlapped.

God was masterfully weaving the two parts of my life, the joy and the sorrow, the Bradenton and the Oviedo, together in a way designed to remind me that he is God and the he is good.

Each morning in Bradenton, while it was still dark, I would walk out of my east-facing front door to retrieve the newspaper. When the season was right and the sky was clear, I would look up and see bright and distinct the constellation Orion. That sight came to symbolize for me my life there, a life that has now past.

When I left, I saw it one last time from that place, and bid it farewell. It was hard, harder than I imagined.

I no longer see Orion on those clear and bright mornings. But what I cannot forget is that the God who put Orion in the sky is the God who put me in Bradenton for a time and and who has now put me in Oviedo. To grieve the past that is lost is normal and human. But I celebrate the God who is not lost, who is not past, who is ever present and loving and good, whose shepherdly instincts lead me, undeservedly, beside still waters and into green pastures, and has, beyond hope and imagination, placed me with another flock, who continue to bless me in ways that I will never completely understand.

My heart goes out to the now scattered flock that was Hope Presbyterian Church. I am comforted that we serve a God whose purposes never fail. Far more meaningful than greeting a constellation in the sky is this:

I greet thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
my only trust and Savior of my heart,
who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray thee from our hearts all cares to take.

An Illustration Looking for a Sermon

Sometimes I run across a story just so amazing, just so good, that I want to write a sermon just so I can find a way to tell the story. Such is this one. A taste:

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A man survived with injuries after driving his car over the south rim of the Grand Canyon by accident, authorities said on Wednesday.

The unidentified driver, aged 21, was treated for nonlife threatening injuries in a Flagstaff hospital on Monday after plunging 200 feet over the lip of the mile-deep chasm, a spokeswoman for the Grand Canyon National Park said.

He landed in a tree.

I don’t think they are making this up. Just HOW one drives one’s car off the rim of the Grand Canyon is, of course, the question of the hour.

Family Surprise

I have three siblings, two brothers and a sister. The oldest brother lives in Ohio, as does my sister. The second oldest lives fifteen minutes from me now, which has given us a chance to reconnect. I am the ‘baby’ by a substantial margin (my brothers are 14 and 15 years older than I).

On Friday morning of last week, my Ohio brother considered the snow that was about to fall, and decided that right then would be a good time for him and his wife to take a Florida trip. He would, they decided, visit their Orlando brothers. They also decided that one of the brothers would be informed, and the other kept in the dark. In addition to getting up early and working with wood, surprises are a deep part of the Greenwald male DNA.

My brother’s intention was to sneak into the worship service of Covenant Presbyterian Church without the preacher, me, knowing about it. He was determined to savor the moment in the middle of my sermon when I suddenly saw him sitting there. And he almost pulled it off.

A minute before the start of worship Sunday, my daughter came to my wife and asked, “Isn’t that Uncle Jerry and Aunt Mary over there?” My wife then came to me and said, “Your brother’s here.”
So the surprise was blown, but the joy only began. That evening I had the rare, very rare, pleasure of sitting with my brothers and wives eating pizza, talking about kids, and being family. Family that has had its share of disruptions and brokenness over the years. But family nonetheless.

I consider myself richly blessed.

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Primed and (Sometimes) Ready

See Randy run. See Randy pant.

See Randy puzzle over inconsistency.

My tracking app tells me that my 13.5 kilometers this week is a new record for me. That 4.5 Km average for three runs is not bad for a guy who two months ago couldn’t have run to the mail box.

But what I don’t understand, and what veteran runners have not yet been able to explain to me, is why on one day, Wednesday of this week, for example, I can run a good pace for distance and time and feel good when it’s done, and then two days later under similar conditions, 1/2 of a kilometer into the run feel like I’m near death and never going to ever attempt such foolishness again.

On the way to work the other day I saw a gal running. This very little part of me whispered in my ear, “I’d like to be doing that.” That very little part of me went on vacation today.

Couch to Pooped-K

The trailer for a soon to be released film from one of my favorite writers, Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor, Up) begins with a little girl lying in bed with her mother, and she asks, “Where’s daddy?” After the mother answers, “Running,” the little girl pauses and asks, “From what?”

Great question.

Though I’ve turned “Spunky” off, her handlers told me that I was to run 25 minutes each of my three workouts this week. (I should note that no serious athlete would mistake what I do with actual running.) Today, though I trudged along at a miserably slow pace, I cranked out nearly 34 minutes and (cue the drumroll) 5.02 kilometers!

I was helped today by the soundtrack generated by the shuffle setting on my iPod. The following lyrics emerged, giving expression to the whole experience. I record below the relevant lines.


“My hands are tied, my body bruised…” (U2 – “With or Without You”)

“Red eyes and fire and signs…Oh, such a prima donna, sorry for myself…” (Weepies, “Gotta Have You”)

“…I thank God that I’m alive…” (Sara Evans, “I Could Not Ask for More”)

“…time goes by so slowly…” (Leann Rimes, “Unchained Melody”)

“Maybe I might have changed and…Not been such a fool…” (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, “From the Beginning”)

“The rugged road through barren lands, The way is dark, the road is steep…” (Alison Krauss, “A Living Prayer”)

“…you’ll catch me if ever I fall…” (Alison Krauss, “When You Say Nothing At All”)

“Half of the time we’re gone but we don’t know where…” (Simon and Garfunkel, “The Only Living Boy in New York”)

The final song to play was appropriate as well. It was called Arabesque #1 by Debussy, and, as we all know, the word “Arabesque” is a well know French phrase meaning “Gonna Fly Now“. (Go ahead – play the sample. You’ll recognize it…)

Couch to 4K

At the very real risk of boring the majority of you, some of you have asked for updates on my ‘race’ to running fitness. I know it does not seem like much to true ‘jogophiles’, but today I was able to crank out 26 minutes and 44 seconds covering just over 4 kilometers. My ‘spunky lady‘ does not let me walk anymore, so I guess I’ve graduated to the bigs. The next milestone will be the big one.

As for my running partner, his sickness gave him pause to reflect and his conclusion was that running long distances with no one chasing you was just a degree or two over the edge into Crazytown. I’m a soloist from here on in.

Couch to 3.21K

My “spunky lady” pushed me today. She surprised me by demanding that I run 20 minutes uninterrupted. I thought she was being a bit overly confident in my status, since to date we’ve interlaced running and walking. But what she says, I do.

Found out why I pay her the big bucks. I did 3.21 kilometers in 21:30 (I did not want to stop – imagine that!). I know, I’m not setting any speed records here. That’s a 5K in about 33:29. But still.

My son’s had a rough go of it. He took a couple days off last week complaining of soreness. My wife took him to the store on Monday and found out his shoes were two sizes too small. (Who ARE these parents, anyway?) That afternoon, I ate his dust.

But then he got a bad cold and has taken two more days off. And yet, something tells me that ten-year old legs are a bit more resilient than 54 year old legs. He should do fine.

Personal Trainer: $2.99

I realized the other day that I exercise best when I have a measurable goal. Living longer and improving my general health is good and all, but obviously has not been sufficient to get me into a regular exercise routine. So, I set a goal. I turn 55 in April. Perhaps there is enough muscle and lung capacity to run 5K by 55? It has a nice ring to it.

Typically when I get such notions, I start fast, hurt myself, grow to despise the whole idea, and conclude that even people who exercise die, so why bother.

I needed help. A little research showed me that, of course, “There’s an app for that.” (Follow that link; you won’t be disappointed.)

I landed on a spunky little gal called “Couch to 5K“. The name pretty well summed up my situation, so I shelled out the $2.99. What I now have is a lady (I could change her to a man, but I’ll stick with the default for now) who three days each week tells me how long to warm up, when to run, when to walk, when to run again, when to walk again, and when to cool down.

I’ve been at this for over four weeks now. I do what she says. Today I combined running five minutes with walking three. Wednesday the plan is to run eight minutes, walk for five, and run for another eight. Slowly, slowly, she is working me up to the point where, I do believe, I’ll be able to do this.

So, my goal date is the Corporate 5K, April 14, in Orlando. It is an evening run/walk attracting nearly 13,000 people. I think I just might pull this off.

Better still is that my ten year old son is training with me. We, with my wife walking, should be able to run it together, though, if today is any indication, ‘together’ is meant loosely. I expect to see a lot of his back.

And that is priceless.

In Praise of Laptopistan

I read with amusement and identification this article about the laptop/coffee shop culture. I find that I am not alone in finding that I work more productively in a public environment. The author notes this.

At home, the slightest change in light is enough of an excuse to get up, walk around, clip my nails or head into the kitchen. Though home offices seem like the perfect work environment, their unrestricted silence, uninterrupted solitude and creature comforts breed distraction. In Laptopistan, I focused with intense precision, sitting motionless for hours at a time…..
Laptopistan provides structure, and freelancers, like children, secretly crave structure. You come to work, for two or four or eight hours, and you take comfort in the knowledge that everyone else is there to work as well. There’s a silent social pressure to it all….
Back home in Toronto, with my ergonomically correct chair, spacious desk and dedicated Internet connection, I pulled up my notes from the journey to Laptopistan and tried to write. Within 10 minutes, I was lost in Facebook and watching old “Soul Train” clips on YouTube.
So I unplugged my laptop, traded my sweat pants for jeans and walked two blocks to the nearest coffee shop. There was some country music playing at a comfortable volume, and the familiar sight of cords along the floor. I took a seat between a guy working on an identical MacBook Pro and a woman drawing in a journal, and I worked like I was back in Atlas: productively, contentedly, fueled by a steady diet of Earl Grey tea, an economically acceptable quantity of cookies, and that social pressure I was craving.

There are aspects here that some may not really understand. It is easier for some of us to be focused when the environment in which we work is stripped of the familiar. I prosper under the general background hum/white noise of the coffee shop environment.

However, Laptopistan as described in this article and found in Brooklyn and Toronto does not exist in my suburban Florida context. I am working this morning from the closest Laptopistani imitation, a local Starbucks. I have been reading theology since 8:15 A.M. with a focus that would not happen elsewhere. But I’m not sitting where I started. Shortly after claiming the warm seat by the window, a woman came and sat near, a woman in high heel black boots soon joined by others in identical attire, some kind of high heel black boot beauty cult. It wasn’t their public meeting that was the great distraction. It was the woman’s strong, penetrating voice which insisted that it be listened to.

Nevertheless, I still gravitate to places like this, but not only for the focus they afford. I come here to write sermons. It helps me as I write to look around me and see people instead of empty space and books, as I would see in my study. It helps for me to see ordinary, lost and searching people. It helps me to see them and ask, “Am what I am thinking of saying going to make any sense to them at all?”

Those I see here may never hear the sermon revisions they inspire. Nevertheless, I think I’m a better preacher because of them.