I’ve been sort of following Larry Patten’s “And Yet” blog for enough years that I don’t remember how I first learned about it. I can’t say I read it every time I got a notice of “a new And Yet.” It’s sort of the way I feel about fireplaces and waterfalls, a place to look when I need some not-so-intensive care, nice to have it around. The blog has been a place to rest in gentle conversation, maybe share a chuckle or shed a little tear, or just to sit companionably.
Larry has now published his second collection of 40 of his blog essays, available in paperback or Kindle. They don’t seem to be in any particular order, though I’ve been enjoying them as they come on my Kindle app, as a morning reflection. I’ve forgotten on a couple of mornings, and I didn’t terribly miss it. But when I remember to take the time, I get up with a little more of a start on the day. I will not rush to finish for purposes of this review, either, any more than I could say I’ll rush through to the end of that friendship and lay it aside once I’ve reported on its utility. Companionship is not about utility. Companionship comes along gently, undemandingly.
Each entry in the book closes with a question – usually on the order of ‘What similar experiences have you had?’ – and a Bible reference that often repeats a citation from within the essay. They’re really unnecessary, because Larry doesn’t do much exegesis. He does assume, when he doesn’t quote or paraphrase the passage, that readers will recognize it from a general reference. At first I thought this was too bad, an opportunity for Bible education missed, but that’s my interest, not Larry’s.
These essays are more on the order of extended sermon illustrations, anecdotes from Larry’s professional and personal lives. He’s been a pastor of the United Methodist Church, where pastors get moved around from parish to parish and tend not to have long associations anywhere, based in a history of “circuit riders.” Larry Patten has added to that by his own wanderings, mostly on foot, backpacking with youth groups and old friends, and those experiences enrich his essays at least as much as his pastoral anecdotes.
He does sometimes get caught up in the anecdote and make the point a bit hard to find. The essay I read this morning starts with praise for a sermon on the “Transfiguration,” when Jesus is said to have met up with great Hebrew prophets at the top of a mountain, received a witnessable endorsement from God, and then gotten back to work. Larry tells us the sermon was preached on the top of a mountain, on a youth backpacking trip, by Larry’s direct supervisor.
We never get to hear the sermon or understand what made it so great, because there’s another extended anecdote from that trip, about a developmentally delayed girl new to the group, whose parents have pushed her out onto the mountain but later whisk her away forever without processing the experience. The senior pastor stays behind when the girl refuses to go on, but ultimately gets her back with the group by yelling at her.
I don’t remember whether the “great sermon” came before or after that hiccup. But isn’t that the standard for companionable conversation? Our most reliable companions don’t always know where they’re going with stories, and I may not take away from them what my companion thought was the point. But now we both own that story, and it’s part of the bond between us.
I’m pleased to have Larry Patten as a companion on my journey. I can get too intense with the scholarship and making sure the big point is properly made. I’m more than a little reluctant to reach essay number 40 and may have to get his first book so he can remain my morning companion.