Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

Hang out with the old preacher by browsing my blogs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Love Begins on a Roller Coaster

Although our relationship did not begin on an exciting note, Barbara Lu and I did begin to relate. (Read “How I Met My Wife” for the introduction to this blog.) We were young people, and the natural venue was the Young People’s Group, or the “Machen League”, as it was then known. When social events were planned, I would ask Nance (she was French, but it was pronounced “Nancy”) to come along. In fact that may have happened only this one occasion.

Anyway, the group was going to Long Beach New Pike. This was an amusement pier, complete with Ferris wheel and roller coaster, and therein lays the tale. (Magic Mountain was but an entrepreneur’s dream at this time.) Now it happened that we all stood at the entrance to the coaster, daring one another to ride. I always looked forward to riding the roller coaster, wherever the amusement park, and this was no exception. Nance, on the other hand, was refined and reticent. There was no way she would get into the seat of such a death trap. Well, this was a group date, you see, so Barbara Lu spoke up and said, “I’ll go.”

Little did I know at that time that she had had her own history with roller coasters. She tells the story of begging to go on the coaster when she was but 5 years old. Her mother, a cautious Brit in nature, resisted. Her father was more adventurous, so mother agreed to allow Barbara to go, certain that the experience would scare her out of ever asking again. You guessed it. She not only loved the thrill, but she begged to go again.

Now it was 14 years later and we were standing at the entrance of that very same coaster. Barbara Lu’s love for coasters had not diminished. So we got into the double seat together, and left Nance at the gate. We yelled and laughed in delight together. And I suppose I should take advantage of the obvious metaphor and say we have been yelling and laughing together for these 52 years since then. She has been by my side through all the ups and downs, bumps and jerks of life.

Now when it comes to literal roller coasters, I let her do the riding. I figure I’ve been there, done that. A couple years ago we had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas, listen to a 90 minute sales pitch for time share, say “no” and then enjoy the incentives of two motel nights and a trip up the Stratosphere. You know, it’s that tallest structure in Vegas that you always see at the beginning of CSI. The observation deck is 104 stories high, and that is enough to raise my pulse rate to the border of panic. Did you know that they actually have a roller coaster on the roof of that observation deck? And what’s worse, my Barbara Lu wanted to go. I told her that not only was I not going, but I would have a heart attack if she went. She briefly pondered those options and decided to forego the thrill.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How I met my wife

I met my wife in church. I suppose that is not a surprise to anyone. But the manner in which it happened needs to be noted. Wouldn’t it be romantic to say that across an auditorium of a thousand faces our eyes met, and we knew we were soul mates? Romantic, yes, but pure fiction. It would be so spiritual if I could say we bumped each other in the foyer following the worship service and began talking about the insights into the meaning of the text of Scripture we each gained from the pastor’s message. Spiritual, perhaps, but a complete prevarication.

In the first place it was not a thousand-seat sanctuary (more properly “auditorium”) where we were worshipping. It was an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, after all. If there were 50 people there it was a better day than most. The Rev. James Erskine Moore was the preacher, and he was effective at leading the worshipper into the text of scripture. Later in our relationship we would agree that once we got over staring at his teeth, we thought Mr. Moore was a better preacher than any others we knew about. He had a unique way of setting his jaw and pronouncing some of his words literally through his teeth, such as the word “chuch” (which we all knew meant “church”). But the day we met at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Eagle Rock, it was not to discuss the sermon or Mr. Moore’s teeth.

Rumors had preceded our meeting, and I had heard that the teen-age daughter of the first pastor was going to be visiting that Sunday, and I was always up for meeting a new girl! Apparently Barbara had heard that there was a young man in the congregation who was beginning his studies that were intended to lead to the gospel ministry, and that he was engaged. The rumor was not exactly accurate (which is the fatal flaw in most gossip). Although it was true that I was almost engaged, what could not possibly have been known by those wagging tongues is that Nance and I were beginning to stall out on our relationship. We had recently moved across town from where Nance (sic) lived, and since I sensed a call to the ministry I was feeling a great reluctance to pursue that relationship with any stronger vigor.

So let’s go back to the church. Following the worship service the pastor’s wife found opportunity to introduce the two of us. It happened like this in my memory. Barbara was busily chatting with someone in the aisle of the church, and I was standing behind her. Maglona Moore came along beside the two of us and made the introduction. Barbara turned swiftly to pay her respects with a, “O, hello” and just as swiftly turn her back to me again. It was as close to rude as she could get without actually being rude. As I say, this was how it now registers in my memory bank. She left me standing there without an opening to flirt or be clever in any way. Consequently I am sure that she was left with a negative--or at least a bland and neutral impression of this new guy in church. Not a very auspicious beginning for our relationship, but there it is.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easy Sainthood

I think it is easier to be canonized in the OPC than in the church of Rome. In Rome it is necessary for a miracle to be associated with your name. In the OPC all I need to do is move away and wait 10 or 20 years. All the foolish and sinful things I have said and done seem to be entirely forgotten. And the nicest things are remembered.

Take as a case in point the 100th anniversary of Emmanuel OPC in Wilmington, Delaware. All of the living former pastors and their wives were brought back for the celebration weekend. You'd think we were royalty, the way we were welcomed and doted upon. One of the long-time members cornered me and recited the title and salient points of a sermon I had preached there about 25 years earlier. I was impressed.

There was a negative side of the ledger, but memory banks had been erased. No one seemed to remember that a foolish miscommunication on my part gave permission for a charitable organization to hawk their memorials in the parking lot of our church—on Sunday! I was even more chagrinned to discover that some of our members bought their wares before I chased them from the premises. What was I thinking?

Then I was shocked—and secretly delighted—that one of the guys remembered “the catch”. Our church had a softball team in the local church league. One of those games became a laugher (lopsided score), and I was roaming center field. I remember determining that not one more hit would sail over my head. By magic or mayhem I was going to get that ball. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the next batter lofted another long one headed straight for the tall grass well behind me. I want you to know that Willy Mays had nothing on me as a fleet footed fielder. True to my resolve, I calculated the trajectory of that sphere, turned my back to home plate and sprinted as rapidly as my youthful legs could carry me into the tall grass of deep center field. I looked up just in time to see the ball descending to a spot directly ahead of me by several yards. I had to leave my feet and dive to catch the ball in my extended glove hand as I skidded to a stop. When I stood up to throw the ball back to the infield, several uniformed players on the other side of the field stopped to watch and then to applaud my efforts. For my entire baseball career, this was my moment—it was “the catch”. And now, some 25 plus years later someone who was there had remembered that moment with me.

Oh yes, 20 or 30 years can adjust the memories of a congregation well enough to make one a saint. There was my portrait on the wall of the hallway just off the main auditorium, along with the other former pastors. What a privilege, what an honor, to serve the Lord, Jesus Christ, by ministering to His church, even if it was a rather checkered career. They didn’t remember it that way.

Upon returning home to Carson, CA, we were still enjoying the memory of our visit. My custom was to eat my sack lunch with the students of Peninsula Christian School (the K through 8 school using our church property). I was explaining to a young lad where we had been over the weekend and about the 100th anniversary of the church. He asked me in all sincerity, “Were you the first pastor?” Kids are wonderful for their capacity to humble, especially unintentionally.