Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tent Camping

Experiences from the terrifying to the humorous come to mind merely by those two words: tent camping.

My parents taught me to love camping, having taken me to the Mammoth Lakes every year for vacation for several years in a row.  A nine year old boy finds great delight in living in the dirt, digging a hole to poop and swimming once a week instead of taking a bath.

We camped in tents at June Lake before there were condos.  Hey, it was before there was a paved road.  (Yes, I am that old.)  The latrine was behind a tree up the hill.  I had my own pup tent, and didn't mind sleeping on the ground.  That was then.  Now not so much.

I actually rose at dawn to catch a trout and fry it for breakfast.  Camp food was wonderful.  The ashes that drifted into the beans just made them taste better.

Now my wife has taught me the sensible pleasure of camping at resort hotels.  On a recent junket she ordered lobster eggs Benedict.  And as for the pup tent and earthy mattress, I've come to the place that I am unable to get down to the ground, and if I do, I need serious help getting back up.  Now for an octogenarian whose bladder demands attention at 4 in the morning, that routine is way out of the question.

There were several years that Barbara and I took our boys camping, however.  It was not because I had convinced her of the joys of the rugged life.  No, it was an economic necessity on the preacher's impecunious salary.

There was the time we traveled from Front Royal into the Blue Ridge Mountains to find a camping spot all by ourselves.  I kept the boys busy hiking and Barbara fixed meals.  It was a beautiful sight.  Some people just do not appreciate the experience of cooking and doing dishes in refugee conditions.

When we visited Williamsburg for the first time, we pitched the tent not far from the town and made daily trips.  Very educational.  On the Lord's day we took a drive to see Yorktown, but there was a rainstorm that stopped traffic.  It was like we were parked under a waterfall.  Later, when we returned to our campsite, we discovered that a tree branch had fallen through our tent, ruining the tent and drenching the contents.  Wasn't that funny?  No, actually it was not.  Other campers let us use their station wagon so, between their's and ours, we housed the family for one last night.  Later it was reported that that storm produced 2 inches of rain in half an hour.

Fast forward a few years.  The kids are grown, and we have camping friends.  I weighed my chances of giving my wife a pleasant camping experience, and decided I should cook.  I determined to cook gourmet meals.  Steak from the freezer would take two days to thaw completely, and a favorite of ours was cornish game hens.  I simply doused them with generous amounts of salt, pepper and garlic. then I double wrapped them in heavy foil.  I rolled them back and forth over the grill, listening to the spit and crackle of rendering meat.  Couple that with potatoes baked the same way and maybe some corn or a veggie bought from a farmers' market on the way, and we had a worthy meal.

This became our planned routine for camping until we ran into hornets.  Camping with our dear friends, Bob and Susan Lee and their two children, I treated everyone to this cornish game hen banquet.  However, who knew that there was a hornet nest nearby?  And who knew that they would be frenzied by the scent of grease?  It turns out we were more in danger of eating a live hornet than we were of being stung by one.  This definitely modified the pleasure intended for this meal.

They say with age there comes wisdom.  I think the point is with age more mistakes have been experienced by all the dumb things one has done.  If this is wisdom, so be it.  The wisdom I have gained in lo these many years has me enjoying the camping we do at resort hotels.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Termites and their work

Many years ago when I was up studying for a sermon late at night, I heard a distant noise, sorta like Horton hearing a Who.  It is amazing what sounds can be made by an old house when there are so few competing decibels to mask them.  It was a tiny cross cut saw, or like the distant crunching of a corn-on-the-cob eating contest.  I rose from the table and crept about the room, where ever my ears detected the source of this curious sound.

My keen hearing (remember, this was many years ago) brought me to the fireplace.  In this clean and seldom used fireplace was one old log, cradled on the andirons. And it was definitely from this log that the sound was emanating.  It wasn't a constant sound.  It wasn't a freak or capricious sound.  It came in a deliberate series of cadences.  It was too tiny to be creepy, but it was--in its own way--ominous.  I concluded that it was an army of termites, so I kindled a fire and consumed the log.

Fast forward many years.  A friend in the building trade, a contractor who does a little of everything, told me that, yes, you can hear termites at work, but usually it requires a stethoscope.

I'm sorry, my ears are not as sensitive as a stethoscope, but I did hear those dastardly beasts at work in my fire place.  I can't imagine any other explanation for that tiny munching sound.

The reason I was reminded of that silly experience is that recently my wife awakened me to listen to the definite sound of gnawing.  No, this was far too noisy for termites.  In the middle of the night, my judgment being muddled, I told her that it was probably a tree in the wind rubbing against the house.  Not a bad description of the sound, actually.  But in the light of day it was obvious there was no tree anywhere near the house to comply with that simple explanation.

The next night I heard the noise myself before the narcotic of sleep dulled my senses.  It may have been a rat or raccoon (please, not a beaver) chewing a two-by-four in the crawl space under the house.  I haven't heard it again, but it is on my mind.  I may have to ask some daring, slender young man to inspect the foundational timbers under our bedroom.

My friend says, just be certain it isn't in the attic.  He claims that rats, and other assorted rodents, tend to chew on the insulation of electrical wiring.  This may cause the house to catch fire, or at least it may electrocute the varmint, creating a growing stench

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Okay, I cheated.  The following post was written a couple years ago, but I'm too occupied with other stuff to take the time to write another Christmas post right now.  So this will have to do.  I hope you will forgive me.

I enjoy hearing of family traditions for the holidays.  Thanksgiving is still relatively free of commercialism, so they are infringing on it with Black Friday's now.  But most folk still like to get family together for turkey and all the trimmings.  If you like turkey sandwiches, it is best to be sure you host this meal.  After picking and burping, the men retire to the couch to watch football, the kids play outside, and the ladies clean up.  No, it's not fair, but that is the tradition. 

Then there are myriads of differing Christmas traditions.  Some make certain to find a church that has a Christmas Day worship service.  Others may read the Christmas story as recorded in the gospel of Luke.  In our home we actually memorized this portion of scripture and recited it together.  In most of our homes, however, Jesus got little more than a tip of the hat.  We piously proclaimed that we were celebrating His birth (and we actually convinced ourselves this was true), but the main event always comes down to the fun of opening presents on Christmas morning. 

Some homes allow for one curious present to be opened Christmas eve, as the remainder wait for the morning.  I've heard of some homes where the presents are opened Christmas eve.  I forgot to ask them what they did in the morning.  Slept in, I suppose.  It is so difficult for a kid to wait past 6 o'clock to get out of bed and begin the arduous task of ripping open all those pretty packages.  If dad was up the night before, assembling a complicated toy until the wee hours of the morning, 6 o'clock is mighty early.  But that was part of the tradition when I grew up.

I don't know when I began to realize that it really was more fun to give than to receive, but parents get even more fun than their spoiled little ones, seeing the twinkle in their excited little eyes.  We teach them so easily about greed and indulgence.  Then, as they grow, we hope to teach them that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.

Since my Barbara's birthday is December 24, and since we got married on December 26, you might think we developed unique traditions.  It might have been nice to have a routine that would give proper emphasis on each of these significant calendar events.  But we never found a way to do that.  When we tried to go to a fancy restaurant on our anniversary, we were still so full of Christmas goodies that we couldn't enjoy a meal as we might on a different night.  So I suppose you might say our tradition began to be to celebrate our anniversary on any night, but not Dec. 26.  That works much better.  On our first anniversary, we were in Philadelphia to attend Westminster Seminary.  We did go to Old Bookbinders restaurant, and I learned to eat a whole Maine lobster.  I told the waiter I would order it on the provision that he taught me how to eat it.  He came with a complete bib, a nutcracker and a tiny fork and showed me the finesse of dismantling one of these delicious beasts.

Then, because we usually had a Christmas eve service, Barbara constantly had her special day trampled with other plans.  Seldom did she get her chocolate cake (unless she herself broke down and bought one).  What does a family do with a chocolate cake when the house if already full of candy canes, pfeffernusse cookies, fruitcake, hard candies, fudge, etc.? 

She was frequently short-changed, even when growing up because her father too was a minister.  Yet it was my dear wife who supported and encouraged us to have Christmas eve services where ever we were.  And, of course, she played the piano for the service.

We do share fond memories of one special Christmas eve service in our fledgling chapel in Neptune, NJ. when the first snow of the season arrived in the form of a blizzard that night.  Our neighborhood came out for the service in unusual numbers.  Ushers had a snow shovel by the door with which they periodically cleared the porch.  And when we lit candles and sang "Silent Night" to conclude the service, we had a tradition that almost everyone there cherished.  It was necessary to dig cars out of the parking lot, and at least one of them needed a passing cowboy with a rope to pull him out of the slippery stuff.

We had taken an enjoyable Christmas Carol and scripture reading service, with a pointed sermon for the holiday visitor, and made it a time to point to Jesus, the author of all of our good times.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Controlling Power

I discovered that braking on black ice is like riding a bobsled.  This southern California boy moved east to attend Seminary in Philadelphia.  On my way to school one chilly morning I jammed the brake to prevent hitting the car that had incomprehensibly stopped in the middle of the intersection.  What I learned later was that the train tressel just above had been dripping water on the roadway below all night long.  And that roadway was freezing that water into a large, invisible lake of ice ("black ice").  I swear the car accelerated, and I ran into the car ahead.  Had to total it out and shop for another car, but that's another story.

My point is simply this: that scary moment when I realized I was not in control of this car.  There are moments in our lives when we must admit that awkward or dangerous truth: I can't stop this immanent calamity.

Fast forward 10 years or so.  A special musical group was singing at our church.  We had invited the community.  I met a young man who told me how he had become a Christian.  It seems that the lead female singer in this group had been a long time friend of this guy.  After a few years during which their paths went different directions, they met again.  Only everything was different.  She was now singing for the Lord, but he was still doing drugs.  He told me that he decided to give up the drug scene and straighten out his life, but terror struck when he found he couldn't do it.  All along he thought he was taking drugs and alcohol as a matter of choice which he could quit whenever he chose.  It really spooked him that he was not really in control.  He asked his long time friend how she dumped the drug scene, and she simply told him that Jesus turned her around.

Just one of many accounts of the terrifying power of sin in our lives.  The girl who develops an obsession with her figure.  She wants to be slim, and so refuses to eat.  It becomes a fixation which is out of her control.  We call it anorexia, but it has the power to kill.  It begins with a prideful obsession with her appearance.  Okay, you may want to argue the point, but it is still an illustration of how we lose control.

One who is managing money for others and finds himself in serious financial need may cross the line and "borrow" some of that money which will never be missed.  But as the conscience grows a callous, he finds the second and third time a little easier until he is overwhelmed and finally uncovered as a thief.

The managing of the half truth is an art with many people.  Instead of having a concern for the truth, this person finds verbal spin to work for social advantage.  It gains friends and influences people.  He doesn't see himself as the inveterate liar he has become.

It is so easy to view or read porn with just a little search.  No one needs to know, so why not a little indulgence.  No harm, no foul.  But we hear of those who wake up to realize this is an addiction which they are powerless to control.  "Having eyes full off adultery and that cannot cease from sin" (II Peter 2:14).

There is a point when we decide to play with sin, but it is like opening the door for a malicious giant who pins you to the floor.  At this point, try as we might, we cannot get up.  To use another analogy, sin is like a virus within us.  I keep seeing the commercial encouraging me to get my shingles shot.  They remind me that if I have had chicken pox, I already have the virus in me.  Even so when sin is triggered by a little "indulgence" we set off powers that overwhelm us, and the virus of sin is fatal.

The fallen condition of human nature is no joke.  Scripture tells us that Joseph's brothers were not able to speak kindly to him.  They had become controlled by jealousy and hatred that it was not possible for them to break the cycle.

The good news about Jesus is that He died to deliver us from sin.  He paid the penalty, yes, but He also rose again to break the power of sin.  He is the only real "higher power" that can deliver the 12 step alcoholic.  He can throw that giant that has you pinned.  He is the great physician who can cure that virus.

Oh dear reader, come to Christ today!

"But now being made free from sin, and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." (Romans 6:22)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Saying "Goodbye"

Final goodbyes are packed with emotion.

One of our very dear friends is currently headed for the finish line, and we must cheer her on to victory.  What a difference it is when there is a living hope in the finished work of Christ.  He has canceled our guilt by his work on the cross.  And He has fired our confidence in the future by rising again from the dead to prove His promises.  How hopeless it is to face death without this.

In my 50 plus years in the ministry I have said "goodbye" to many people, and some very dear friends.

Before even getting to seminary (and before we were married) Barbara and I experienced the passing of her grandfather--on her 20th birthday.  He was convinced that he had been sent to a nursing home to die, and so he did.  It was not, therefore, a pleasant birthday for her.

Then there was the dear old lady friend from our church who was dying of heart problems.  While we were visiting her, we three began to sing something like "What a Friend we have in Jesus" and she stopped singing to grasp her chest.  When Barbara and I also stopped singing, she made motion for us to continue singing as her pain subsided.  Singing the love of Jesus was more important to her than death pains.  Not long after this she passed into glory.

I'll never forget the time I was visiting a dear saint who had labored in service of the Lord for many years.  Even though she knew many scriptures, I have learned to go with the familiar.  God's children always seem to appreciate the old, familiar verses.  She was not well enough to communicate at this time, but she knew me and knew I was there at her hospital bed.  I decided to recite Psalm 23 without use of a Bible.  It was one of those things when the very familiar plays tricks on you.  I left out a phrase of this Psalm, and I know she knew it.  I can imagine the two of us laughing about this when I see her in heaven.

It has to be a priority of every pastor to visit his people when they are in the hospital.  I have always tried to keep this responsibility at or near the top of my list.  When I haven't visited in a day or two, or when I have heard of a change in condition, I always made it a point to be there quickly.  One such character was in our Wilmington congregation, languishing with cancer tumors popping up here and there.  When I came to his bedside one afternoon, he was choking on growths in his throat.  He looked at me and said, "You show up at the damnedest times!"  To this day I'm not sure that was a compliment or a complaint.

When I'm not certain of the spiritual condition of the one I am visiting, I stay with the familiar, and usually read John 14:1-6, making emphasis in my comments about Jesus saying no one goes to the Father except through Him.

People don't want to talk about dying, but when they are in the process, the subject can hardly be avoided.  Even though I may have a man as a captive audience, it's not fair (or helpful) to overwhelm him with nagging toward repentance.  But just to lay upon him the simple claims of Christ on him by reading John 3:16; John 5:24 or Romans 6:23 and praying that the Holy Spirit will use it as He pleases.

Those visits must be about Jesus.  Certainly it is not about me (how convincing I can be), and not even about my dying friend (pleasant memories or false comfort).  I must tell myself, "Keep it simple, Stupid!  Keep it simple."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Baseball prowess

I got a base hit off a major leaguer.  It's true.  It's true, but admittedly a managed truth.  Politics has certainly taught us a lot about putting a spin on our reports.  We have learned to manipulate the facts to obtain a calculated effect, and I must admit that I am guilty of just that.

Here's my story.

Way, way back when I was almost 20 years old, I frequently found myself on a baseball diamond some place or other.  On this day I was on the field of La Cienega Park, near Dorsey High School.  When we had finished our game a pickup game was beginning to form.  There weren't enough players to reject me, so I was chosen to play on one of the teams.  You know, good old fashioned sandlot baseball.

The pitcher for the other team was a young star named Billy Consolo.  On one of my trips to the bat I got a broken bat single, and that is my claim to fame boasted in the first sentence above.  Shortly after this Billy Consolo was drafted by the Boston Red Sox as an amateur in 1953.  They called them "bonus babies" in those days.  When offered a certain amount of money the team was required to keep him on the roster for at least a year.  Billy played third base for Boston, and though he was never spectacular, he managed to stay in the majors with one team or other for nine years.

As for me, well my career went from sandlot to Municipal Ball (about two cuts below semi-pro) with the Southern Pacific Railroad team.  I was only a utility man, but played every game, nevertheless.  Sometimes I played third base (I understand why it's called the hot corner), short stop, second base or left field.  I never hit a home run, but one day I had four hits in five at bats.

I don't consider my time on the baseball diamond a waste of time.  I was participating in the American experience at it's best.  Even the greatest players of the game fail two-thirds of the time at bat.  That's closer to the reality of life than other sports experiences.  In life too, I probably failed at least two-thirds of the time.  But when God gives you the exhilaration of a "base hit" in life, it's so much more joyful in contrast to the last two defeats.

Well I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never play baseball again.  That's okay.  When you get to be 80 there are a lot of things you will never do again.  I no longer wonder what I will be when I grow up.  Actually I no longer fear that I might die young and miss something.  God has been so good to me that the only things I regret are my sins.  Yes, and I really regret them.  If it weren't for God's declaration of "once for all" (Hebrews 7:27) in the covering of my sins, I would certainly despair.

I may have failed two-thirds of the time, but my pinch hitter bats a thousand!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Memorable Anniversary

There's a moment in time when a tragedy becomes a hilarious memory.  One of those moments occurred on or about our 17th wedding anniversary.  I was pastor of our church in Wilmington, DE, and it had to be a Monday night.  That was the day I took away from the weighty thoughts of the church to enjoy my wife.  We had made reservations for dinner at a nice restaurant, and were anticipating a special evening together.

Well, the evening was special, but the way God planned, and not the way we had planned.  

Let me prepare the scene by telling you that our station wagon had taken our family to a camping vacation earlier in the year.  At that time I backed into a rock that was just low enough to fit under the back bumper, and just high enough to hit the tail pipe.  This makes for an interesting experience.  

The tail pipe bent just enough to make a shorter route from the holding bracket at the bumper and the holding bracket at the muffler.  This created a tension on the junction of the pipe with the muffler which shortly worked the muffler joint loose.  Now when the tailpipe comes loose from the muffler, it can be jerryrigged with a wire coat hanger until a more permanent fix can be done.  But if that tension happens to dislodge the muffler from the exhaust pipe coming from the engine, it is an entirely different experience.  It is the sound of an airplane engine.  It cannot be ignored or postponed.  

We jerryrigged it nevertheless, and all was well.  That is, all was well until we took the car for our anniversary outing.

I wore my tweed suit and gussied up for my special girl.  We were on our way to the restaurant when we were rudely reminded that wire coat hanger jerryrigs don't last forever.  We were making prop plane imitations that could turn heads for miles.  And yet we happened to be on a portion of highway that was relatively uninhabited.  Like it or not, this racket had to be abated and right now.  

There was a light rain falling.  The roadway was wet, but not flooded.  My tweed suit was not my best suit, but until now, looked rather nice.  I resigned myself to the fact that I had to crawl under the car, suit and all, to make the repair.  While struggling with the wire and the hot tail pipe in the gritty puddle I began to see the humor in our situation.  We usually tend to take ourselves too seriously anyway.  It was during this struggle that I noticed the seam in the crotch of my trousers was ripping open.  By the time I had concluded the second jerryrig, I had opened a slit several inches long, just at the crucially private section of my anatomy.

Now we had to make a decision.  Undaunted, we chose to complete our special date night with the dinner reservation.  After parking the car we engaged strategy for me to follow close behind Barbara so as to block the view of my embarrassing exposure.  It seemed to work well, but we may have looked strange as I walked so closely behind her that we seemed to be playing the game of shadow.  When we were shown to our table, I had another challenge.   The table cloth was not long and did not fall much over the edge of the table.  My exposure would be evident to the whole world if I didn't keep my legs crossed.  Suddenly I realized how modest young ladies must be trained, and I needed to learn in just a few minutes.

So between the airplane noise of the exhaust pipe, the drippy environment and the ripped crotch of my suit, we began to giggle about the evening.  I have no idea what we had to eat that night, but I will never forget the loud car and the torn pants.  It was a special evening after, but it was providential humor that made it special.