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Buzzy Pickren's Story 

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Buzzy’s Story...

An Interview with Billie Sargent

Buzzy ImageOver the years I’ve been attending January Adventures (JA), founder Buzzy Pickren and what his story could possibly be were mysteries which intrigued me. I knew Buzzy by sight, but who was this man who spoke quietly and necessary things happened at the January Adventure seminar? Why does he stay in the shadows when he is the star player? What moved him to start January Adventure? And, finally, how does he find the wonderful speakers and attract six hundred people to come to this tucked-away island year after year? And how, for goodness sakes, did he get the name “Buzzy”?

Not that I wanted to intrude on his privacy, but, really!

When I joined JA’s staff and began to play a part in its Face Book page rejuvenation, I thought others might be curious, too, so I asked the Chief of JA State, Buzzy Pickren, for an interview. And he said, reluctantly, okay.

We met one Sunday afternoon following the 2016 January Adventure at his house, overlooking St. Simons Sound. And the words that follow comprise the comprise what I learned about the man and the people who made JA what it is today.

->Billie: In the Beginning?

->Buzzy: I was born as the Great Depression was bottoming out on February 9, 1933, in Argyle, Georgia, on the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. Within a few weeks, FDR moved into the White House with, among others, his grandchildren: “Buzzy” and “Sistie” Dall. My sister, Annette, and I, being fairly close in age to the Dall children were bestowed with those nicknames. “Sistie” did not last long for Annette, but I have been “Buzzy” for 83 years. My legal and christening name is Lovett Bennet Pickren.

Old book coverAn Aside from Billie: The Okefenokee is a mystical place. Where Buzzy grew up in Argyle is 'way at the western tip of the swamp -- truly a wilderness. Today guides take folks into the swamp in small boats...the boats winding their way through towering cypress trees filled with Spanish moss and exotic birds. Alligators are here and there along the way, checking for the boat’s intentions.  This is truly an experience not to be missed while visiting this area.

This is the background for Buzzy's early years. The culture there was/is unique, and Buzzy captures it perfectly in his book Pine Woods Stories -- 1914-1949.


Now, back to Buzzy's story:

->Billie: What was it like to grow up in Argyle?

->Buzzy: Well, RC’s (12-ounce Royal Crown Colas) were a nickel each, Silver Bells (now Kisses) were five for a penny, and you paid fourteen cents to see the picture show in the nearby metropolis of Homerville. It was always a cowboy movie with a comedy and serial.

But getting your hands on a nickel or dime took a little doing. I remember my Mama saying some years later that we didn’t have any money and nobody else did either. I think I always had shoes, even if sometimes they were hand-me-downs from my sister. But when I was in the first, second and third grades, some of my classmates came to school barefooted all winter.

-> Billie: Did Argyle have a school?

->Buzzy: Yes, and it was a good one. First and second grade in one room; third, fourth and fifth in another; and sixth and seventh in the one by the front door. The lady who taught those last two grades put enough English grammar in my head to get me accepted at Georgia Tech. And the principal of the high school in Homerville, the county seat, did the same for me with mathematics.

->Billie: What about the military?

->Buzzy: My dad was working for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Unit of the Internal Revenue Service in Atlanta by the time I got there to attend the North Avenue Trade School (aka Georgia Tech), and we had a little more money, but not enough to cover my college expenses. I managed to get selected for the NROTC scholarship program which obligated me to serve in the Navy for three years after graduation.

I was commissioned Ensign an hour after I got my diploma. I reported to flight school in Pensacola the next day. With my gold wings pinned to my tunic, I reported to my squadron for an eight-month tour in the Mediterranean.

I flew AD-6 dive bombers. Duty in the Med with romantic environs like the Riviera and Napoli was mesmerizing, but alas, I had left Mary Lula, my wife and sweetheart since the fourth grade, behind with our first born, Laurie, and soon-to-be-delivered-Tom, our first son.

->Billie: So you didn’t stay in the Navy.

->Buzzy: No, I worked as an engineer for the paper mill in St. Marys (30 miles south from St. Simons Island) for three years. Our second son, Jim, came along before we moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1962. For the next 25 or so years, I traveled an area from Macon to Miami to Mobile selling industrial equipment. In 1989, I built Saint Simons Inn by the Lighthouse, and managed it for about 15 years. Mary Lula died in January, 2000, and I was adrift in many ways. But my life turned around when I found Joyce. We married in 2012.

->Billie: We need to talk about religion.

->Buzzy: I’ve been a pretty good Methodist all my life, but not one who could stand in a testimony meeting and recount the details of my salvation. I had worked pretty hard at doing good and the right thing, but the party line was “Good works won’t get you into heaven -- you have to believe.”

I desperately needed a new paradigm.

Under the influence of John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg and a few others, I caught a glimpse of another way. At Ring Lake Ranch, Wyoming, after two weeks of Marcus Borg lectures in 2001, I felt like the tent meeting preacher who would say, “God has put it on my heart.” Whether it was God or indigestion that put it there, I wanted to bring some of that “Emerging Christianity” of Borg and Crossan back to the Bible belt.

I approached Marcus with that idea, and January Adventure in Emerging Christianity was conceived.

->Billie: What was the gestation period for JA in EC?

->Buzzy: Marcus Borg was the godfather and Reverend Carl Vorpe joined me as a sponsor. Carl and I asked for and received the blessing of the bishop of the South Georgia Methodist Conference. And with that blessing, we approached the inn-keeper of the Methodist facility, Epworth by the Sea on St. Simons. He had room for JA on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend in January, 2005. About 240 souls witnessed the birthing as Marcus and Rev. Will Willimon presented.

Carl retired with health problems in the fourth year of JA, and R.C. Johnson came on board as Mister Do-It-All. He was a dynamo and best friend to me and the program. R.C. died in his sleep in 2014, but he had ushered in many capacity crowds and left us with one of the two or three best comments ever regarding January Adventure.

JA Stage View of AudienceThere were some latter-day Pharisees who have expressed the opinion that JA should not be allowed on Methodist property. To which R.C. commented, “They’re afraid there’s thinking going on over there!”

->Billie: Is there an epilog?

Buzzy: Yes, and you, Ms. Billie Sargent, and Peter McCall are it. Billie is our new moderator and Peter is our webmaster and resident computer dude. Billie is set to take over JA when I can’t reach the pedals anymore. I was reminded of that urgency by a comment on one of the 2016 JA questionnaires, “Buzzy is not immortal -- get on it.”

My beautiful wife Joyce and I live overlooking Saint Simons Sound.

“With a step I will stand on the firm-packed sand
  That borders a world of sea.”

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What does Richard Rohr think the term Emerging Christianity means?

Posted April 3, 2017

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Richard RohrGreetings! We at January Adventure are always on the lookout for insightful dialogue about the term “Emerging Christianity.” Several weeks ago, I was driving to Winter Park, FL, and decided to listen to the JA-2012 Richard Rohr CD on the way down.

On Disc 5 of that series, there is a question asked that caught my attention, probably because we all seem to ask the same thing at one time or another: “I live in a community with no known progressive churches or groups. What suggestions do you have for finding like-minded people in my community.”

Here is Fr. Richard’s response (transcribed, edited lightly):

“It’s almost a price we’re paying for agreeing that we don’t want to build parallel structures that then have to defend themselves, and create an infrastructure, soon becoming another denomination.

“(Finding like-minded people) is a matter of finding support systems, discussion groups, prayer groups, service groups, ministry groups where a lot of your Christian need is met by belonging to that group. Certainly serving through that group. It doesn’t need to call itself Emerging Christianity in any way.

Richard Rohr Rainbow“I know some Catholic men, for example, who said to me ‘You know, I’ve heard sermons all my life; I know how to recite the creed; I know how to receive communion. All these sermons are telling me to go and do something. Well, it’s time I do something.’ So they’re using Sunday morning to work for Habitat for Humanity (instead of going to church) and that’s their emerging church without any guilt, without any shame.

“I love to say that Jesus didn’t say, ‘Worship me.’ He said, ‘Follow me.’ One of the most clever ways to avoid following Jesus is this obsession with God needing correct worship. I think this is tied in with the sacrificial notion…that this does something for God. I’m not against the gathering of the Christian people, but certainly in the Catholic world correct form, decor and vestments became an obsession.

“As a confessor, I would say the most common ‘sin’ confessed by Catholics is ‘Father, I missed mass on Sunday.’ This is not a high level of moral discernment of what evil is. I’d say, ‘Try to get the feeling of what evil is. Missing a service on Sunday is not even in the same ballpark.’

Richard Rohr“Some people cannot pay their employees a just wage, they can be racist, but they go to mass on Sunday.

“After a while, you recognize that ‘correct worship’ is smoke and mirrors. We’ve got to say ‘What’s really Jesus about?’ We clergy (and I understand it if you are a pastor or clergy), have a vested interest in keeping parishioners coming back. But we see Jesus in this mobile, peripatetic ministry where he clearly is not hanging up a shingle and creating an institution that people have to belong to…membership requirements, who’s in and who’s out, rights and privileges, responsibilities, degrees of investments, and you just say, ‘Is this really worth it?’ It probably is worth it on some levels. But on other levels it isn’t.

“And that’s what Emerging Christianity has the courage to say. Is there some way we can address those other levels without being dualistic, reactionary, rebellious against our mother church? And, for me, that’s the heart of the matter, the heart of non-dual thinking. Both Mother Teresa and the Dali Lama said the same thing: Bloom where you’re planted. Stay and don’t rebel against your mother tradition; thank God for it. But also recognize that no matter how wonderful your reform of the Christian Gospel is, it’s still only part of the pie. It’s only a piece of the picture, and usually you have to compensate for the few blind spots of every denomination that I know of. We all get a certain part of the Great Crown that was Christ, and we neglect a few others.

“Emerging Church for me has the freedom to let us pay attention to some other things. Do we have to organize that? Not necessarily. It might destroy it.”

Reference: A January Adventure in Emerging Christianity 2012: “The Change That Changes Everything,” Disc 5: McLaren & Rhor in Dialogue—Questions and Answers.

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JA 2017 Survey Results

Posted March 17,2017

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View from the podiumDear Adventurers,

Thank you for giving us a piece of your mind!  Here is our recap of the JA 2017 Questionnaires. 

Out of a total of 675 JA 2017 attendees, 310 filled out our Questionnaire and submitted it to be tallied.  There were 56 first timers responding at one end of the spectrum, and five having attended all thirteen January Adventures at the other.

For the tally-task, Margie and Frank Lenox, two 13-timers and long-time JA volunteers, stepped up to the plate.  They worked their way through the data — not an easy job! — and made all your circle-checks and comments come alive.  Thank you, Margie and Frank!

The 2017 Speakers sitting on stageNaturally we can’t post all of the comments, but be assured that we have studied each one.  We have selected a few comments from each category that we hope give the tone and tenor of the majority. 

Seventy percent gave our program organization a rating of “5”, with 26% giving a “4”.   Some of your words:  “Very well-organized; well-oiled machine.”  “An excellent meeting in every respect!”  “Love spending the weekend with 16 friends while having spiritual enhancement/expansion.”  “Almost too much scheduled…and we tried to do it all!”  “Saturday was very full!”

JA 2017 continues the better-than-ever tradition:  “Having been here for eleven of The Adventures, I have to say this was one of the very, very, best!”  "Only place where I can find melding of religion/history/Bible to make sense."  ”The trajectory you are on makes the JA experience better each year!” 

Our speakers, Rev. Robin Meyers, PhD, Senior Minister of the Mayflower Congressional United Church of Christ, Oklahoma City, and Dr. John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus in DePaul’s Department of Religious Studies, led the way as a classic JA blending of speakers: ”Great combination.  Both so helpful.  Learned a great deal."  ”Like their clear and deep theological outlook.” ”Dynamic and thought-provoking."  ”Great combination of speakers. The Best Ever!"  ”As good as Borg & Crossan in the early days.”

Owen and Moley in ConcertWe stepped out of the January-Adventure box in 2017 by adding music…Owen and Moley o Súilleabháin:  ”The addition of music was GREAT!”  ”Owen and Moley were wonderful!”  "We are in a holy place.  Group singing like we had with Owen and Moley brings this out in a beautiful way.”  "Owen and Moley's music was a wonderful addition!  Eight Stars for the concert!" 

As a result of last year’s (JA 2016) Questionnaires, we changed/added/reconfigured some things for 2017. Thank you for noticing!  “Liked having no envelope at registration.” “Less is more!”  “Good improvements on name tags.”  “Liked agenda on the back of name tags.”  “Later start Sunday is good.”  “Thanks for the emphasis on recycling.”  “Blue aprons made volunteers easy to find.”

And we received good suggestions that we will think about carefully for next year:  “Consider starting evening talks earlier.”  “The schedule is packed!”  “Maybe add another evening?” “We’re thinking about coming a day early next year!”  “Breaks could be shorter.”  “Thanks for the longer breaks!”  “Need more breaks.”  (ed.: Can’t please everyone!) “Update auditorium restrooms.” 

Buzzy and Billie at the podiumFLASH!!!   We interrupt this message with news from Epworth:  Buzzy, Billie and Peter met with Epworth staff last week, and the following announcement was part of an email received the very next day:  “Joel (Willis, President and Chief Executive Officer of Epworth) has approved the upgrade to the Strickland Auditorium stage-side restroom facilities.  I (Tiffany Flavell, our conference coordinator) am excited to let you all know that this is already underway.  We will complete one unit per month.  Each unit will use less water and move more efficiently as well as have the desired ADA height.”  Thank you Epworth by the Sea!

And now, back to more of your good suggestions for future January Adventures:  “Longer Q&A”  “Shorter Q&A” “More Q&A” (ed.: We try!) “Better advertising for when book signing takes place.”  “Use credit card reader for book store.”  “Consider a JA focused on anti-racist theology.”  “Have camera take close-ups of speakers for projection.”  “Fewer announcements.”  “Make the program easier to find on website.”  “Make the audio replays a separate category on website menu bar.”

Robin Meyers very generously offered to give an unscheduled presentation Saturday afternoon on his November 13th sermon “The Revenge of the Deplorables”.  The questionnaire had already been printed so no data available, but attendance was high and enthusiastic.   Thank you, Robin!

Have more thoughts for us?  Post them on our Facebook page.

Because of a low response to January Adventure in August, we are compelled to cancel this venture.  Those who signed up have been notified.

We’ll be talking more about January Adventure 2017 in future posts — including transcripts from some of the Q&A sessions. … Save the date announcements for January Adventure 2018 will be posted on Facebook and emailed to you in April. … And we’ll open up registration for JA 2018 in June.

Thanks to each one of you who came to January Adventure 2017.  You are the most important ingredient of our annual Adventure with your ardent participation, your enthusiasm, and your presence.

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JA 2016 Survey Results

Posted March, 2016

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MLK OvationOut of the almost-600 attendees of January Adventure (JA) 2016, three-hundred -twenty took time to complete questionnaires.  That’s better than 50% (!) and includes attendees from fifty first-timers to twenty-two 12th-timers, and everything in between.  We are delighted to have all of your unfeigned opinions and ideas to plug into our planning for next year, and to consider for future-future January Adventures.  Thank you!

Naturally we couldn’t post all of the responses (but, believe us! We’ve studied them all), so we decided to select a few from each category that gave the tone and tenor of the majority. Here we go!

JA 2016 was “one of the best!” “Excellent”  “Thank you!  It’s always a great weekend.”  “Just as refreshing as ever and a blessing.”  And from a 12-time attender:  “This has been the best yet!  Most relevant JA for me so far!” 

Our speakers were Rev. Robin Meyers, senior minister at Mayflower UCC for 30 years and a Distinguished Professor of Social Justice in the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma City University; and Rev. Lori Walke, holds a juris doctorate in 2009 and passed the Oklahoma Bar Exam, and then Lori earned a Masters of Divinity degree from Philips Theological Seminary in 2011. She was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 2012 and serves as assistant minister to Robin.  speakers

Here are some of your words about them:  Rev. Meyers:  “dynamite” “thought provoking” “courageous”; and Rev. Walke:  “a rising star,” “a revelation,” “great to have a youthful perspective.”  Both were “Challenging, engaging, thought-provoking speakers with important messages and new perspectives.” “These teachers scintillate!” “Both treated us like adults and were not fearful of stretching our minds and hearts.”  And one or two: “I appreciated their take on everything. I do wish they had been more extemporaneous and not read from a script.”

We were bold to have two relatively unknown working ministers:  “To my surprise, both were excellent!” “Came having never heard of them, and they are tops.” “We didn’t know what to expect and were delighted.”  

You might have noticed we had one each -- a man and a woman.  We also had one each -- a mature, experienced minister who is a Distinguished Professor at Oklahoma City University (“Enjoyed the pastoral and academic being combined”); and a Millennial, an ordained minister who’s also a lawyer, a thirty-something with innovative views and insight on her fellow Millennials (“Fresh, lively presentations!”). 

So many compliments for both, and there were comments saying there was news attendees can use in their lives and churches:  “This helps local church-goers reach and not settle for status quo.”  “So pleased to hear that we need to renew our activism.” “Both speakers challenge us to evaluate current religious practice.” “Both are able to make one think about ways to re-make a church.”  

The unexpected -- and therefore dearest -- remarks were about elements of January Adventure we failed to include specifically in the questionnaire...the things that you remembered when we forgot.  These remarks, and many more like them, were in the “comments” section, and some, when there wasn’t enough space elsewhere, were in the margins.  You wanted us to know.   Thank you!MLK Speech

The traditional Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was special to many:  “MLKjr program was the best we’ve ever had!”  “MLKjr program was great, and I’m glad you made it part of Saturday evening (program)!”  “I loved the MLKjr tribute!”  “Very good way to present the MLKjr tribute/remembrance.  Beautiful!”  “I cried!”  “Best MLKjr program ever!”

And the new moderator received kudos:  “Billie was an inspiration...the delightful glue to JA activities.”  “Top marks for mistress of ceremonies Billy (sic)!!  Invite her back as she was superb!”  Along with Rev. Dave Hanson:  “Dave Hanson does a great job with Lectio Divina.” “Thanks to Dave Hanson for Lectio Divina.  Leadership and hand crosses that are so helpful to so many!”   

And last, but certainly not least, suggestions for the upcoming January Adventures:  These were among the many good ones:  “Need more time for Q&A.”  “Please!  Let’s have an African-American voice!”  “Please, have some meet and greet sessions!”  “(Give us) more information about any discussion groups held on Saturday afternoon.”  “Possibly have (Lectio Divina meditation) in the evening or late afternoon.”  “Print (attendees’) home-towns a bit larger on name tags.” “Still need additional bathrooms for women.”  “Please correct (JA) Epworth address (on web material) and map locater so GPS recognizes route.”  “Would like something to do Saturday afternoon on campus that would supplement the experience.” 

So there you have it!  We’ll be talking more about January Adventure 2016 in future posts -- including where responding attendees called home, how many January Adventures responders had attended (more than you think attended all twelve!) and Robin and Lori will answer some Q&A questions we didn’t have time for during the event.  

January Adventure 2017 is shaping up to be another humdinger, with some additions we know you’re going to like.  Announcements with more details will be made soon.  Registration will be this summer, so stay tuned!

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