Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Monday, March 30, 2015

First church and first home

Fresh out of seminary and trying to plant a church is not an easy situation.  The men who were earmarked for leadership had a poor notion of seminary education and a consequent faulty set of expectations of me.  I think they adopted the caricatured model of seminary being some magical institution that opened my head and poured into it all the knowledge of Scripture and theology I would ever need.  They were quite puzzled that I needed to spend my mornings in the study rather than going door to door and winning converts to fill our chapel.

I did go door to door, but since no one ever taught me how to be effective at this, it yielded few results.  A nice atheist couple with whom I had extensive conversation never attended church.  And yet a year later they called me on the phone, asking if I was willing to christen their new baby.  I did learn that the longer I could engage strangers in friendly talk, the more inclined they were to receive an invitation from me.

We lived on Railroad Avenue in Neptune, NJ.  As you might have guessed, across the street from out second floor apartment were railroad tracks.  It was a shabby apartment in the shabby part of town.  There were large patches of pealing paint in the stairwell, and the roaches ran for cover when we turned on the light at night.

Philip, our first born, was a rug rat here.  He was 16 months when Calvin was born, but hadn't decided to walk as yet.  We had a borrowed little 6 mo. crib in the middle of our living room, and that is where we laid our precious new family member.  We thought it a good idea to tell Phil that we were bringing home a baby for him.  He took well to this catechizing, and he used to crawl over to the crib, pull himself up and reach into the crib.  He would gently stroke baby Calvin's head and say, "Baby, baby".  It was really quite cute.

But Calvin had developed jaundice and returned to the hospital at 8 days of age.  His bilirubin count was just a few points below demanding a transfusion before his body caught up with the process.  My poor wife had to commute to and from the hospital to nurse him (even though the medical community discouraged it).  When the Sabbath came, these nascent leaders demanded that she continue to play the piano for services.  I was too foolish and too weak to stand up for my wife, and she carried the burden.

When Phil crawled over to the crib and did his routine, he reached his hand into the empty crib and said with an inquisitive tone of voice, "Baby?".  We both wept.

Phil may have enjoyed that apartment more than anyone else.  He loved standing at the front windows, watching the choo choo chug by.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


I've heard it said that procrastination is the main doctrine of the Presbyterian church.  I'm thinking this ignorant quip may be unintentionally close to the truth.  I used to have a motto sign on my desk which said, "I'm going to stop putting things off, starting tomorrow."

If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done.

"Procrastination always gives you something to look forward to." (Joan Konner)

"One of the greatest labor-saving inventions of today is tomorrow." (Vincent T. Foss)

We like to make jokes of procrastination, but there are occasions that it is anything but funny.

New Year resolutions are a strange twist on procrastination.  We put off committing ourselves to a course of action that we know is the right thing to do (lose 10 pounds, for example), but we wait until New Year's Day to begin.  If it is something good and right to do (either for self or others) then why in the world did we wait until the first of the year to do it?

Christopher Parker said, "Procrastination is like a credit card; it's a lot of fun until you get the bill."

In fact James 4:17 says there is a kind of procrastination that is sin.  They are called sins of omission.  "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

James gives good reasons not to procrastinate.  For one thing life is short.  Our life is but a vapor.  For another thing, providence is quite unpredictable.  You do not know what a day may bring forth.

And for all that you'll never know how long I put off publishing this post.  Where is that sign that used to be on my desk?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Jehovah and the Jitney

As a young pastor I fancied myself as a pastor for the youth group.  Whenever there was an activity I was driving a carload of kids to attend.  We went to snow camp.  We went to youth rallies.  Sometimes our weekly meeting required some transportation by me.

I found my joy in being accepted by high schoolers as not only the leader, but part of the group.  It's my opinion that kids take me more seriously if they see that I like to play and have a more balanced personality than they may have originally thought.

In my first church I couldn't seem to get the group started on the right foot until one of the girls in the church determined that she was going to make it work.  She had a strong character and a commanding manor.  I think she may have threatened some of her school friends, I don't really know this, but she showed me how important it was for the young people themselves to take ownership of the project.

Anyway, Bonnie's brow-beating invitations brought together 20 or more kids to the first meeting at her house.  A couple of the boys took turns leading the Bible study portion of our meetings.  Then we had refreshments and played some special games and just hung out (before that term was actually invented).  What was so remarkable was that this meeting took place on Friday nights, competing with the local basketball games.  And the kids kept coming back.  Only when I thought there was needed supplementation or that we were straying from the meat of the text did I offer my comments.  The Lord was with us.  These kids even talked about spiritual matters during the "hanging out" part of the meeting.

One of the neighbor kids who had visited the group came knocking on my door one night, asking me to tell her what made them tick.  She said she could see these kids had something she did not have, and she wanted to know what it was.  Talk about a straight line!  We talked about Jesus as I explained the gospel and she asked Christ to come into her life.

One year, coming home from a winter camp, my Rambler American stuffed with kids, we were delayed by freezing rain and snow.  This wasn't the fluffy stuff that blows and drifts like baby powder before a fan.  This was crunchy stuff that hit and stuck and froze up my windshield wipers more than once during our treacherous journey.  I stopped and relieved the wiper blades of ice formations more than once.  Here I was leaning over this slushy car, whacking the nascent glaciers off as the traffic squished by, throwing dirty slushy snow at my feet.

All I could think about is how the parents of these young people must be worried about them, and how I could get them home sooner.  Oh yeah, this was long before the day when everyone owned a cell phone.  In fact they had not yet been invented.

The final stop before heading home was to drop off the daughter of an important business man in Westfield, NJ.  My home was still 40 miles south and it was dinner time and I wanted to get home.  It seems that this family was holding a formal dinner with friends, and they invited me to stay and eat with them.  I squirmed at the invitation because although I was hungry, I could hardly be more inappropriately dressed with my dirty, wet blue jeans and sweat shirt.  The girl's father was so genuine and disarming that I did stay and sit amid these suits and ties and gowns.  He said he could always trust me to take good care of the kids, and that he really wanted me to dine with them.

We don't deserve to sit with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb either.  It is only at His gracious invitation that we dare to come.  But when Jesus calls you just can't say "No".  In that case He actually takes away our filthy garments and clothes us with spotless clothing, reflective of the holiness that He drapes over every believer who heeds His call.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

9 out of 10

Nine out of 10 readers of this blog are of Mensa intelligence.  Since you are now reading this blog, you want to believe this statistic, and are willing to accept it.  Of course, I made it up out of my own fertile imagination.  It is possible that I have taken a scientific survey.  I tested 10 of my friends and found 9 of them to be so intelligent.  But, alas, I didn't even do that.  I just flat out lied.  We all know that old hack, figures don't lie, but liars can figure.

If I told you that 9 out of 10 statistics are drawn out of thin air, you might be willing to accept that because of your own experience with alleged and suspicious published statistics.  But that would simply be praying on your unfortunate anecdotal evidence.  But anecdotal is no more scientific than my fertile imagination or polemical guesswork.

I remember reading that coliform bacterium can travel through 12 sheets of toilet paper in 4 seconds.  I suspect that this is one of those phony statistics, but it's graphic image has improved my sanitary habits by a large degree.

I guess it all goes back to the truism that we tend to believe what we want to believe.  Isn't there any source of statistics that we can trust?

Even scientific statistics are subject to our skeptical scrutiny.  We were told of the danger of eating butter with all the fat content.  Now they are saying that margarine is worse for us than the butter.  We learned that artificial sweeteners are a must because of the dangers of too much sugar.  Then a study came out to show us that artificial sweeteners create formaldehyde on the brain.  We get the idea that these scientific studies draw conclusions most complimentary to the interests that are funding the study.

We seem to do best by listening to someone who really knows, and taking it on his authority.  It's good to have a PhD chemist or engineer as a friend.  He may have read both studies and can explain how there is partial truth in each camp.  He may be able to read between the lines of esoteric phraseology and tell you what the study report really means.  It's nice to hear from someone who really knows.

When you find yourself stuck in the middle of a mine field, it would be a good thing to know who drew up the map you decide to use.

And, of course, that brings me to our Lord, Jesus Christ.  He didn't have an engineering degree, but He knows.  And He is the one who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me."  He also said, "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has eternal life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life." (John 5:24)

You ask me, "What are his credentials?  Why should we believe him?"  That's a fair question.  The short answer is: because he came out of the grave to prove it.  Jesus predicted His death by crucifixion and his resurrection 3 days later.  Then those who were eye witnesses gave us their dossiers.  You find them in the first four books of the New Testament.  Don't scoff until you read them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Let's hear it for cloth diapers!

Progress always leaves a wake of nostalgia.  This post is a ripple in that wake.  Undoubtedly paper diapers are a wonderful invention, I applaud the advantages of this bit of progress.  But there is a whimper of nostalgia I need to raise for the old cloth diapers, lest they be completely forgotten by a culture that fails to appreciate it's history.

Some kind person (or church group) gave us a month's subscription to a diaper service.  Now the invention of paper diapers has destroyed an entire industry.  The delivery driver would pick up our bag of nasty diapers, and leave us with a neat stack of folded, sanitized fresh diapers.  This replaced a disgusting chore that we soon intimately experienced because we couldn't afford to continue the subscription.  Now just think of the several small business entrepreneurs who have been frustrated or bankrupted in the crisis of change.  No self respecting Republican can be proud of that record.

Cloth diapers were soft and cuddly for baby's chubby little buns.  We learned to fold them in effective triangles that covered the vital areas with maximum comfort to junior.  We learned to pin them with one hand in the diaper between the cloth and baby's skin for obvious reasons.  An experienced mom (or dad) could quickly change these diapers without sticking herself (or himself).  Part of that experience was to construe the contour of the installed diaper so as to keep it from falling from these little hips.  Such costume malfunctions were embarrassing at least, and sometimes disastrous.

Oh yes, diaper pins are now antiques I suppose.  I can't remember the last one I saw.  These were safety pins with plastic heads that were about 2 inches long.  Sometimes the heavy cloth resisted easy piercing, so we learned the trick of dragging the pin through our hair to apply just enough grease to run the pin through the diaper most smoothly.  I'll bet there are few, if any, reading this blog who remember that little trick.

A serendipity development was the discovery that cloth diapers make wonderful dust cloths.  They were also wonderful clean up rags for spilled milk and other liquids.  After all isn't that what they were manufactured to do?

In cold climates one can determine that diapers on the clothesline were dry when they freely flapped in the breeze.  Before this they would swing stiffly back and forth like a board in the frosty air.

Of course when junior did his thing in these diapers it would drip on the floor.  You would get wet, your furniture would get wet or your company (who insisted on holding baby) would get wet.  And, of course, this was not just water.  We then invented plastic pants to cover diapers, with elastic waist and leg openings to hold the urine inside.  This gave way to concentrated ammonia and diaper rash which hit us in epidemic proportions.

And so it became necessary to invent paper diapers.  Well, I'm sure this was progress, but it still leaves a little wake of nostalgia ripples.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Big eight oh!

Okay, last year I ragged on why my 79th birthday was a big nothing.  It was no round number.  No one aspires to be 79.  It's never recognized as a remarkable milestone.

But now I'm 80.  That number is round.  It's a milestone: "You have reached 80."


As I thought about this blog my mind could not stop thinking of Moses.  When he reached 80 God was just now ready to use him to deliver the children of Israel out of Egypt.  One big difference "His vigor was not abated" (Deuteronomy 34:7).

Our forebears left us with some quaint expressions.  For example, when one is an old duck, the Presbytery calls him one of the "fathers" of the church.  That doesn't mean that he has begotten a whole congregation.  It means he has become one of the elite wise men of the body.  Now that scares the liver out of me.  The idea that any of these sharp, intelligent young men now in our Presbytery might look to me for wisdom is absolutely terrifying.  Wisdom is not a matter of chronology.  The longer experience I've had only means that I have learned how many blunders can be made in one lifetime.

There are things I can get away with now that I couldn't as a younger man.  I can be crotchety, and people take it in stride.  "Oh don't mind that insult.  The man is 80 years old."

I can opt out of activity because it is nap time.  "I can't possibly go to that committee meeting.  I have a previous engagement."

When someone else is driving, he tends to drop me off at the destination and then find a parking place.  When I'm looking for a parking place I find a blue wheel chair symbol near the front door.  We have a handicap license.

Would you believe that the Presbytery actually sang "Happy Birthday" to me during the recent meeting? I groaned inside and thought we have more important business than this.  But as they started to sing, I realized how much better any song sounds when this group of 40 plus men belt it out.

On the actual day (Oct 21) I was dumbfounded to see my dearest friend in this world (other than my sweet wife) who came 3,000 miles just to be with me on this occasion.

Okay, now the celebration is over (hey, I still have a free meal at Hoff's Hut to redeem!) I can get back to shuffling along to the tune of the loving kindness of my Father in heaven.  Now that is sweet.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Old Cars

I told you about my first car.  It was a "Crosley".  They also make home appliances and stuff like that.  The car they made was quite like a shipping box with a sewing machine engine.  We had many adventures in this tinny machine, but I have reported these in old blogs.

I learned to drive on my dad's '39 Mercury.  It was a black 4 door sedan.  In those days we had windows you rolled down with a hand crank.  In fact that was how you could turn on the air conditioning.  It was crude, but effective.  There were obvious disadvantages noticed when driving past a stock yard or through a dust storm.  But we were young and rugged in those days.

May Company was closed on Sundays back then, and that made for a great student driver venue in the parking lot.  One day I froze with my foot on the accelerator instead of the brake.  My dad grabbed the wheel and thus we avoided wiping out a stop sign (yes they had several of these strategically placed around the parking lot).  Following that traumatic crisis, dad thought we had spent enough time for the day.  In spite of all this grief, dad was a skillful and patient teacher, and I eventually passed my exam and received a "Junior Driver's License" when I was just 14.

Actually, I'm screwing up the story, dad's preparation was for my real driver's license.  The Junior model was for my doodle bug motor scooter two years before this.  Well that's another story.

The 39 Merc had four on the floor, you know, a long handled gear shift poking up from the floor board with a shiny black round handle on top.  I had to learn the "H" pattern for selecting the gears, and there was the clutch with which to reckon.  Fewer and fewer cars come with a clutch these days, and that is an experience too many modern drivers have missed.

The clutch disengaged spinning gears beneath the floor board and thus enabled me to shove the stick into position for first gear.  This being the gear with the highest disparity of spinning ratio between the gear coming from the engine and gear sending torque to the wheels.  When the clutch was pressed, and gears at rest, engaging the gears was a smooth operation.  If one forgot to depress the clutch and yet attempted to engage the gears, a hideous grinding racket would emerge from the gear box.  "Hey, why don't you grind me a pound!" was a frequent sarcastic quip that has now disappeared from our vocabulary.

The front seat was like a wide, padded bench.  Sorta like the back seat in most cars today.  Of course we hadn't thought of seat belts yet, and that made for some cool dating.  We were never distracted by some cell phone or other electronic device.  But there was a considerable distraction from driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other arm around my girl friend who was cuddling up next to me.  Only race cars, or very expensive sports cars, had bucket seats.  And dating teenagers really didn't want that kind of seating arrangement.  Couples learned team driving with the girl shifting the gears while the guy drove with one hand (often on a knicker nob mounted on the steering wheel to enable strong turns by easily spinning the wheel).

And there actually were some things you could do for maintenance that are out of the question today.  That's because modern cars are half computer and half car.  So in the old days most of us learned to be amateur auto mechanics simply by necessity.  I remember replacing second gear in my old Rambler American.  I was clearly in over my head, and when I had to replace second gear again the next month, we decided to save money and buy a new car.

But changing the oil and cleaning the carburetor and replacing the points were all things one could do to tune up his own car.  They don't even have points any more.

One summer we packed up the whole tribe and headed out to visit the grandparents.  Barbara's parents lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, and mine were in Los Angeles.  When we got to the border of Nebraska, a frightening, rhythmic knock developed in the engine.  But that station wagon was an eight cylinder auto, and it still maintained highway speed without over heating.  So we kept going another 40 or so miles to the Piper house.  One of dad Piper's parishioners had recently retired from the maintenance yard for a major utility company.  I paid him a mere $20 to look over my shoulder while I opened the engine.  It was a simple case of a broken valve lifter.  He even knew where to buy the part at dirt cheap prices.  When we closed the engine again and it purred, I said, "Doesn't it make you feel good to know you fixed it?"  I was feeling quite elated, I know.  But after 25 years on the job he was ready to retire so he said, "No."

I began thinking how the internal combustion engine is similar to the human body.  We can have a lot of things wrong with us and still be able to operate.  And even though the soul is cut off from God and spiritually dead, a man can appreciate life and be thankful.  He just doesn't know who to thank.  But when he realizes that his life is messy and he will be judged by the Creator for every irresponsibility, he needs to cry out to someone to help him get repaired by the original Manufacturer.  That's when I need to be there to point him to Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.