Sunday, May 8, 2011

Unfinished Business

There are a number of steps in my process of sermon development. I often translate the passage from its original language. I read it a number of contemporary translations. I read and consider other theological voices that have interpreted the scripture through commentaries and scholarly journal articles. One occasional part of my process that I likely wouldn't mention to my seminary preaching professors is the time I spend on Google. I am not sure they would be upset. It is not like I am doing my biblical or theological research there. This is what it looks like: often in the creation of sermon or series a theme comes to the surface. Sometimes this is in my own work or the work we, as pastors, do together when working on the common sermon calender. Sometimes, I like to throw that theme out in the pop culture of cyberspace to see what I might be missing in how the theme relates to the world.

Let me be honest, this is not the most fruitful part of my overall process. However, it probably takes about two minutes unless I get sucked down some rabbit hole. This is a long way of explaining how I stumbled on the book Unfinished Business by Lee Kravitz. The sermon title for Easter Sunday was "Easter is Good News for Unfinished Business." I googled "unfinished business" and there it was at the bottom of the page under the listing for books. Thinking I was actually teetering on the edge of a rabbit hole, I clicked on the link. Finding the descriptions and reviews compelling, I found myself buying the Kindle edition and, on the day I was supposed to be actually working on my Easter sermon, reading a book I had never heard of from an author I had never heard of. Cue the white rabbit.

Kravitz book is about a journey, both mental and geographical. Upon losing his job, he feels
called to pursue a quest to attend to the major loose ends of his life. He writes (in a paragraph that actually made it into my Easter Sunday sermon,)

There are acts and nonacts that prosecute you from within. They trouble your soul and cast aspersion on your character. They tell you that you are callous, small-minded, less than you want to be. Isn’t it strange how small these things can seem on paper, yet how large they loom in your head?

These things that we wish had done or not done end up being heavy burdens that we carry around and we become enslavesdto them. The author found much freedom by attending to the sometimes messy work of going back and tying up loose ends.

What starting out looking like a rabbit hole for me ended up being quite helpful not just for Easter Sunday but as we launched into a new sermon series. We are now in the midst of a series called "11 Words" based on Leonard Sweet's thought that there are eleven words we all yearn to hear before we die. It occurred to me that, if Easter is good news for unfinished business, the words that we need to hear and the words that we need to speak are some of the most important unfinished business we need to take care of. Through that lens, the "11 Words" series became the perfect follow through for the Easter sermon and I became more thankful I stumbled on the book.

In my sermon for the Sunday after Easter, I shared,

I have been fascinated by this book that I starting reading right before Easter, Lee Kravitz, Unfinished Business. In it, he finds himself on a journey of trying to finish up all the stuff he has left undone. It has made me rethink unfinished business. I guess I used to think of it as though there were certain things that I wanted to do before I die or someone else dies that I would feel guilty if I didn’t accomplish. And there is a certain truth in that. There is a lot of stuff I wish I had said to my Mom before she died. But there is more to it than that. In the book, the author realizes that it is more than freedom from guilt. There is a great joy and restoration in taking care of these things that we inherit now. As he reconnected with an beloved Aunt that he hadn’t spoken to in 15 years, as he finally made a condolence call that he should have made 3 years ago, as he repaid a debt from over thirty-years ago he found great joy in restored relationships, new beginnings and rekindled memories. Kravitz writes, "My psychologist friend gave me another way of looking at it: 'Our unfinished business isn’t about resting in peace,' he said. 'It’s about moving forward. It’s about optimizing our potential as human beings.'"

This unfinished business is big stuff, Kravitz also writes,

The items on my list of unfinished business were linked to my deepest feelings of helplessness, disappointment, and fear. It’s ironic: We consign our most essential business to the bottom of our to-do list because we lack the time and energy to do the things that matter most in our lives well. It makes sense: The most important things take the most time and energy and we have only so much time and energy in a day. You let things slide. But I would also discover the corollary to this in the coming months: that, if one can attend to these things, great rewards will follow.

Maybe it is a reflection of my own baggage that I am carrying around, my own need to attend to some things of my past, but I really thought this book was amazing. It brought into focus just how life draining it can be to hold onto unfinished business and how rewarding it can be to reach back to some things in the past to sort them out.

Two little cautions I give in my review: 1. Kravitz is not, nor does he claim to be a mental health professional; neither am I. Some of us have some unfinished business that we need help sorting out. Some self-awareness might be a helpful tool before trying this at home. 2. This is a not an explicitly Christian book. In fact, Kravitz is a fairly non-observant Jew. I don't see this a stumbling block to the power and purpose of the book. I just have to write it because some people who read my blog assume because I read it and wrote about it that it must be Christian.

You can read more about the book, the premise and the author at


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