Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Singing sweet myth

"It came upon a midnight clear..."  Did the shepherds check their watches?  Where is it recorded that the angels appeared to the shepherds at midnight?  This is no big deal.  In fact we grant poetic license for the sake of a popular Christmas Carol, written by Edmund H. Sears in 1850.  But did you know that Mr. Sears was a flaming liberal?  He was a minister in the Unitarian Church, and was almost dared by his friend to write a Christmas song from his theological perspective.  And I guess he put one over on all of us with this Carol.

Perhaps it was the tune that gave it lasting value in the hearts and minds of believers.  But I will guarantee you that it definitely was not the theology of this hymn.  It basically has no theology.  When you stand at a distance (as in observing a piece of art), you will notice it is peculiarly lacking in doctrinal content.  In fact the author seems to go out of his way not to mention God or Christ or sin or salvation or any of the record of events that took place the night of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Oh yeah, there is the message of "Peace on the earth good will to men" in the third line of stanza one.  In spite of the unfortunate King James translation of a phrase that was intended to underscore election, there is this sound bite from the angel's message that makes the theme of this song.

According to the gospel writer, Luke, the message of the angels that dramatically cheered those shepherds was, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."  Messiah, anticipated for these thousands of years, had arrived in the form of a newborn.  Those who knew they needed a Savior had been looking for the Messiah for their whole lives.  The announcement was emphasized by the fact that it was delivered by angels.  The peace and good will anticipated were for those to be rescued by this Savior.

The song we are looking into does not celebrate--or even mention this.  It is carefully written to make the message no more than a wistful longing for a peaceful life on earth.  It is not a careless mistake that the true gospel is excluded from this song.  It was calculated to be that way by a man who didn't believe in the deity of Christ or the need of His death for sinners to clear the way for true peace.

That longing for peaceful life finds its fulfillment in the final stanza of the carol.  The ever circling years finally brings in the age of gold.  Then the whole world will give back the song to the angels.  It might as well be the age of Aquarius (remember Hair?), or evolution's  crowning refinement of human nature.  We don't need God (so why mention Him?) and we certainly don't need a crucified Savior (how medieval!).  We just need to grow up and be nice to each other.

Now, of course, this is a free country.  You can believe that if you want, as did Mr. Sears.  But let's be honest with the documents of the New Testament, that is NOT the teaching we find at the heart of the Christian faith.  The good news we like to sing at Christmas time is that the God/man has come to pay the price for our sins that we might be forgiven and made fit for heaven.  "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.  Hail the incarnate deity...born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth." Now there's a mouthful of theology.  And it has the advantage of being what the Bible actually says.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Believe"

Macy's department store likes to use this word as an advertising slogan.  During the Thanksgiving Day parade I saw the banner on the facade of Macy's in New York City.  Without bothering to do the research, I'm going to guess that it has its origins in the movie, "Miracle on 34th Street" in which a clever lawyer "proves" in court that Macy's Santa Claus is the one and only Santa Claus.

In the course of the story line, a cynical rationalist single mother is raising her daughter to be a skeptic too.  Mom was burned by a bad marriage, and the little girl is taught to disregard fairy tales and all other intangibles along with the fabrications.  The test case boils down to Santa Claus.  When mom inexplicably learns to love and trust Kris Kringle, she tries to get her still cynical daughter to believe by repeating the mantra, "I believe, I believe...."

In this case the object of her faith was Santa Claus.  The adult theme was to have faith in people.  If you really love someone, you have to think the best of them and expect the best from them.  It's a fun movie with whimsical fantasy accompanied by an upbeat message about relationships.

But I was pondering the implications of this one word slogan: "Believe".  Grammatically speaking it is an imperative.  It commands us to take a certain attitude about something, namely develop a conviction that it is true.  It is only fair to ask, "Believe what?"  If you believe everything you are disregarded as gullible, and subject to the wiles of every bunko artist that comes along.  Surely this cannot be the message.

If it means to believe in the spirit of Christmas and create irresponsible debt in order to shower all your friends and relatives with impressive gifts, then it is just a part of the great conspiracy to make us slaves to the wealthy aristocracy.  Since it is put forth by an emporium of merchandise, this becomes the more likely scenario sought by those who purvey  this slogan.  Enough cynicism.

To believe is the same as to have faith.  And when we speak of the meaning of faith, someone needs to ask, "Faith in what?"  Here's a kid high on some hallucinogenic drug, who believes he can fly.  This is likely to lead to his untimely demise.  No matter how strongly we believe in a thing (or person), it is not our faith that creates reality.  If I strongly believe there is oil under my back yard, I might spend all the money I can borrow to sink a well.  My faith will not bring up oil.  It may or not be there, but my faith will not place it there.

Since we're are being hypothetical here, let's say that I have studied geology, and that I have spoken to many in the field who know more than I, and they all say there is oil under my property.  Let's say we have verified its presence with sonar tests.  Now if I say I believe there is oil under my property, it is not a blind faith that hopes against all odds that it is true.  Instead it is really a faith in experts and empirical evidence.

Are you with me so far?  Okay, then lets try these models on religious faith.  Far too many people think the definition of Christian faith follows the blind faith model.  How many times have you heard that faith is a leap in the dark?  Unfortunately there are too many churches that will reinforce that definition. There are professing Christians who think that is how we believe in God.

Let me suggest that the Christian faith is a little more like the second model, trusting the experts and examining empirical evidence.  In my antitype the "experts" are not ministers.  In this case the expert is Jesus Christ.  He said, "No man comes to the Father but by me."  He promised, "Whoever hears my words, and believes in Him who sent me, has eternal life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." (John 5:24)  I don't believe in heaven with blind faith.  I believe in the Expert who has been there and came back to tell us about it.  No one else in all of human history has authority documented by anything as strong as resurrection from the dead.

Now as for the empirical evidence.  The science is jurisprudence.  The process is to examine the eyewitness testimonials of those who walked with Jesus and were there at His resurrection.  We have those documents, and we have more textual evidence to examine than we have texts to prove that Julius Caesar existed.  Don't scoff unless you have read the New Testament for yourself.

Now it's time for me to confess that this is not really how I came to faith in Christ.  When I heard Billy Graham say this is what the Bible teaches, something deep within me recognized the message as true.  I found that what Billy said the Bible was teaching about my human nature vibrated a harmonic response in my heart and mind.  I knew it was true because that book knew me with frightening accuracy.  I knew I needed a Savior.

Don't just "believe".  Believe in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas traditions

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 7, 2012

A day that will live in infamy

I remember Pearl Harbor.  Yes, that piece of ancient history was a current event in my memory.  I was only seven years old, but the adults around me were so suddenly sober and serious that I was impressed that something really big was happening, but I lacked the maturity and experience in life to measure just how big this was.

It was a Sunday when the family gathered around the table at grandma's for a three course culinary climax.  Someone turned on the radio (remember there was no such thing as TV yet), and whatever else was scheduled was interrupted for the shattering announcement.

Later I was told that our family had an intensified interest in the events of the day because my uncle Harry was in the navy somewhere in the south Pacific.  Nobody knew just where.  He was just a kid himself, having lied about his age to join the navy.  Anxiety lasted for quite a while before we heard from him.  As it turned out he made it through the war, but with a few hair raising stories to tell.

I remember blackouts, neighborhood wardens, air raid sirens and special blankets for us school children to lay in the hall during drills.  I remember food rationing, gas rationing and other commodities which were limited to mere civilians because of the priority of the war efforts.  I remember Rosie the Riveter.  I heard of Tokyo Rose, trying to demoralize the marines with her taunting radio broadcasts.

And I remember patriotism.  Today what would be sneered at as corny and naive devotion to America, was easily the majority spirit of our culture in those days.  I've never seen anything like it until 911 when patriotism made a brief revival.  I think there are some in New York who still carry this devotion.

Isn't it strange how a few decades change things so radically?  War veterans would get together and remember their buddies who had fallen in the war.  And increasingly the news showed us reunions that included Japanese veterans as well.

It may well be that not many "Welcome Home" banners were flown for kamikaze pilots (I couldn't resist that temptation to indulge in inappropriate humor), but it is true that the best jump-start a nation's economy can get is to declare war on the USA and then lose.  We don't hate the Japanese people any more.  In fact we send billions of dollars to help them recover from the tsunami.  We buy more of their automobiles than we buy domestic made.

Peter Sellers made a hilarious movie, "The Mouse that Roared", based on the very principle that a tiny country might save its economy by losing a war with America.

We can have fun with the idea.  And we can be glad that our countries now live in peace (and dependence) with each other.  But that only emphasizes the question, who ever really wins a war?  President Roosevelt said, "I hate war."  Those who have been there say war is hell.  And for every war there are hundreds (thousands?) of survivors who never really survive.  Some wars are necessary, but they are necessary evils.

It's a broken world, and it should be obvious that the sinful distortion of the human heart is the cause.  How do you change that twisted human heart?  You can keep pretending that human nature is basically good, or you can cry out to the Manufacturer to repair the damage we have done.  God can change the heart.  And this season of the year we like to celebrate that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Under the Knife

My first basal cell carcinoma was a bleeding mole I discovered about 30 years ago.  I had taken the young people to a beach party during which I reverted to my teen years, finding sets appropriate for body surfing.  But I spent far too much time under the sun.  That night, when my shoulder stung under the assault of the shower's tiny streams, and then bled when I toweled off, I knew I had a problem.  The surprise for me was how much tissue the surgeon removed.  It reminded me of the old days when the grocer would "plug" a watermelon to show how ripe it was.

Since that time I have had a few more relatively minor basal cell's removed.  Now my wife herds me to the dermatologist with regularity.  He sides with her, saying that married men live longer than singles because their wives keep monitoring their health.  So he touches up my face with liquid nitrogen here and there, leaving temporary but painful scars where the potential cancer cells were found.  One of these locations was found on my right ear.  The last time he checked my ear he decided to send me to the surgeon instead.  Though the dermatologist explained what was going to happen, he has a way of making it sound so casual as to be boring.  I was led to believe the greatest problem would be the need to have some reading material.

Well, yesterday I had that appointment with the surgeon.  As I expected he shot me with some numbing fluid (zylocain?) and did a little cutting and scraping.  He left me on the table and went to his lab to analyze the cells removed.  A half hour later he interrupted my reading of Calvin's Institutes to take a second bite of the ear tissue.  (Yes, I actually was reading the Institutes.  I had brought my Kindle with it's whole library available.)  "Ouch, that one hurt!" I reported.  The doctor apologized and gave me another shot of the numb stuff.

During the next half hour pause I switched to a light novel on my Kindle.  I guess I was building a concern that made it more difficult to read heavy theology.  It only increased when he came back for another whack at my ear.  As he took the third snip out of my ear the doctor casually mentioned that I might want him to make a referral to the plastic surgeon to rebuild my ear.  Now I became concerned!  I had visions of my cat, Pernicious, who contracted some sort of tissue rot on her ear that slowly ate away the ear until there was only a stub on one side of her head.  Because of the location of his work I couldn't actually see what he was doing, so my imagination began to run rampant.

By the time it was necessary to make a fourth cut from my ear I was certain that I was hideously deformed.  I could imagine myself with a plastic approximation of a human ear.  I was wondering if the congregation would gasp when I mounted the pulpit to preach this Sunday.  I need to conduct a funeral on Saturday, and I thought about the monster bandage that would no doubt be distracting from what I had to say.

At last he was finished.  His lab work indicated that all the affected tissue had been excised.  Now I was given a mirror, and together with the mirror held by the nurse behind my head I could see both the front and rear view of my hacked ear.  I was quite relieved to find that my imagination had so exaggerated the anticipation, that the half inch of missing flesh seemed minuscule.

It's quite unlikely that I will get any mileage of sympathy from anyone.  The fact is, I will be surprised if anyone even notices.  Well, at least my sweet wife gives me strokes.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fossils can be fun

It scares me to think that people expect wisdom from us aged folk with hoary hairs adorning our heads. It's just not true that getting old makes one wiser.  I suppose it may be that when the farmer steps on enough pasture pies he learns how to get to the barn without getting his shoes nasty.  If that is wisdom, then I might admit to a little.  You don't need to touch many hot stoves to learn that is not a good idea.

I must admit it is pleasurable to be treated as a celebrity simply because I am a fossil in some one's trove of ancient history.  Barbara and I were treated like rock stars when we were greeted by a young lady who explained to her middle school son, "This is the lady who taught aunt Mary to play the piano when she was this high."  She added some flattering epithets about us being such sweet people.  How nice it is to be remembered like that.  Often that is due to poor memory, but that's okay with me.

When men address the Presbytery as "Fathers and Brethren" I now realize that I am one of those "Fathers" to whom others look for sagacious remarks.  That's frightening.  If there is any truth to that, then what I have learned is to keep my mouth shut.  People always think I am more intelligent than I am when I keep quiet.  But when I talk too much, they inevitably hear something stupid.  Actually I have learned that in Presbytery meetings it really is true that meetings last too long simply because although everything has been said, not everyone has said it yet.

Children have a little different perspective on age.  I'll never forget the time I explained to a child at the Christian school that we had been back east to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of a church I had served.  He innocently asked me if I had been the first pastor.  They know the truth.  I didn't get wiser, so much as I just got older.

Yes, I have stepped in enough pasture pies to have gained a little knowledge about where not to step.  Along life's way those metaphorical pasture pies leave one older and wiser, but also sorrier.  You know what happened to our first parents when they fell into sin: instead of being holy and happy, they became sinful and miserable.  The catechism embodies great wisdom here, because wisdom that is gained from experience is most often a wisdom after the fact.  Now I know why I shouldn't have done that.

Wouldn't it be great if a few words of hard learned wisdom could be passed on to the young?  If they could just be spared some of that misery that comes with sin by taking heed to what us fossils say.  "Don't lie to avoid trouble.  You will get caught and make it much worse."  "Don't cheat on your school tests because you are only cheating yourself."  "Don't divorce.  You can learn to love each other.  The children will be hurt!"

There is forgiveness to be found in Jesus.  Yes--praise the Lord--that is true.  But it is also true that some sins carry consequences with them that are very painful for you and others, and just because they are forgiven doesn't mean you will avoid that pain.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Trick or Treat

Isn't it cute how we teach our tiny children how to extort candy from neighbors by threatening, "Trick or treat"?  Does anyone actually need to teach a perverted human heart (even that of a cute little 6 year old) how to demand treats from others for no virtuous reason whatsoever?

They have been practicing that kind of behavior since they first were able to talk (and even before that).  Give me that toy or I will cry.  I want to play with the remote control or I will pout.  I want to eat my dessert first or I will throw myself to the floor, screaming and kicking my feet.  "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child" (Proverbs 22:15).  (You need to look up the reference if you want to know the solution to this problem.)

I remember many years of candy extortion, and I enjoyed this criminal behavior far more than I should have.  Back in the day, I can't remember anyone giving us apples with razor blades embedded or candy that was laced with hallucinogens.  But then, what do I know.  My experience formed a very small slice of history.  Now, as a septuagenarian, I am prone to say that society is going down the drain.  But I suppose the older generation has always maintained that posture.

I also remember the last time I said "Trick or treat".  I was a greedy teenager with my friend who was equally greedy.  It was getting a bit late in the evening--too late for the cute little pirates and ballerinas--when we approached that final door.  We roused the lady of the house, who opened the door with something near terror in her eyes.  She didn't have candy in a bowl by the door.  In fact she excused herself to fetch our treat.  When she returned she offered a small bottle of grape juice and a piece of fruit.  Even this thoughtless, selfish teenager was ashamed of the consternation we had caused this trembling old lady.

I can remember when some more genteel members of society tried to change the tradition by encouraging kids to say "Halloween handout" instead of "Trick or treat".  Fat chance they had to push against the flow of this ossified classic.

There were a few years that we joined the entrenched tradition and handed out candy, but we determined to be spiritual about it.  We had ordered a hundred tracts for children, printed for the very occasion.  That only lasted a few years, mainly because the quality of the tract was so distasteful.

Now we unashamedly take the coward's way out.  We usually eat at a restaurant and run errands during the crucial hours, and keep the light off when we return home.  The last thing these kids need is a duffel  bag full of sugary comestibles.  We already have an epidemic of childhood obesity.  If it doesn't bloat their bellies, it is sure to rot their teeth.

What a lousy tradition our culture has developed to dominate Reformation Day!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pneumonia

The Greek word for "breath" is "pneumatos".  Hence pneumonia refers to the sickness that reduces--or removes--breath.  Actually the root word means "lung".  The Greek word is most interesting because the same word is translated "wind" or "spirit" depending on the context.

It is not idle curiosity that finds me toying with the word.  Three years ago I almost died of pneumonia, and just the other day I discovered I have it again.  I figured I had better write this blog post quickly before my demise.  Heh, heh,...a little dark humor there.

Once one has contracted pneumonia, the body retains a weakness that makes it susceptible to repeat the infection.  A week following my flu shot, I seemed to display symptoms of the common cold, but only some.  I preached and taught Sunday School last Sunday with my voice noticeably fading the whole time.  By Thursday I was croaking like a frog and coughing like a chain smoker.  So my attentive lady coaxed me into visiting Kaiser's Urgent Care unit.  A doctor listened intently with the stethoscope, then sent me to xray.  He said I had just the tip of one lung beginning pneumonia.  So I got an antibiotic, a codeine cough syrup and an asthmatic inhaler.  Of course this is in addition to the 12 pills I take every day to save me from diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, and expanding prostate.

I remember the last time around, my infection was classified as some type of bacteria.  I think this is good news because I can take medicine (antibiotic) to kill those little beasties.  I took my third dose tonight, so I think I am on the way to repair.  The albuterol inhaler helps me expand my lungs and cough up some nasty lugies.  The codeine syrup, whatever else it does, seems to help me zone out into lengthy sleep time.

I have learned, however, that the most intelligent of doctors cannot heal.  Only God can do that.  The same medicine that cures one, cripples another.  Side effects of strong medication are legion--and terrifying.  Pneumonia is able to kill me, I know.  But reaction to medication is equally able to kill.  I am so glad to be in the hands of the Great Physician.  In the mean time I walk around in a sort of dream world, feeling I am only two steps from passing out.  Am I only a butterfly dreaming all this?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dangerous Dog

Before I leave off telling stories about my dog, Talitha, I need to relay a few other special memories.  Though I am nobody's idea of a carpenter, there are a few projects of which I maintain a modicum of pride.  One of which is the dog house I built for my dog.  There were a couple of large toy boxes which I also built that lasted a long time.  In fact one of them is in our garage as I type this stuff.  Anyway, we wanted to house our little girl dogie in something warm and comfortable whenever she was outside.  I made a standard shaped house for her with a shingled roof.  Nothing imaginative.   With an old towel or cast off blanket or something to insulate the wooden floor, it was quite canine comfortable, if I do say so myself.

She was quite a people person, er rather a people pup.  It's hard not to think of her as a person, since she was such an important member of the family.  So she spent a great deal of her time in the house with us.  She was a great companion for the kids.  We had Talitha for 16 and a half years, so all our kids grew up with her.  I have already confessed that she had thoroughly endeared herself to me, her master.

One evening, as my eldest son sat in front of the TV aside a curled up Talitha, he was stroking her fur when he alarmingly called out to me, "Hey Dad, Talitha has a spider in her fur.  I think it's a black widow."  Without touching the shiny round intruder, we got it to the floor where someone promptly stomped the guts out of her.  My son cautiously investigated her fur to make sure there were no other offending arachnids.  I took flashlight in hand to inspect the dog house, and there found the formidable fortress of another shiny black spider complete with cotton-ball egg sac.  Extermination ensued enthusiastically.  Black widow spray (yes, they really make such stuff) was sprayed all over the freshly cleaned out dog house.  Then I had the leisure to imagine some more frightening scenarios that might have been.  That sent a shiver down my spine.

Of course Talitha was oblivious of the potential danger she--and we--had just escaped.  She just loved us, and trusted us to take care of her.  She was anything but a dangerous dog.  I just put up that title as a hook to gain your attention and make you want to read my blog.

Oh how she loved to ride in the car, with the window down just far enough for her to sniff all the scenery that passed by.  On long trips she was content to lie on the floor of the back seat between the feet of children.

When we had to take Talitha to the vet for burrs in her fuzzy ears, I had to wait for our turn to see the doctor.  I had already registered on a card, included in the information requested, of course, was my dog's name.  When it was our turn, the receptionist came over to me, holding the information card, and tried to pronounce the name on the card.  She pronounced it correctly, "Talitha", and immediately she jumped to her feet and wagged her tail in anticipation of something fun.  "Well, she certainly knows her name, doesn't she?" the girl observed.  I don't think we ever spent much money on vet service for Talitha.  In fact that became an unfortunate factor in later life.

Once, one of my middle sons got the idea of dressing the dog in people clothes.  She had shorts, shirt and little socks on her feet.  She endured all these indignities as more than worth the attention she gained from being a comic model.

At the end of her life Talitha's eyes were glazed with grey cataracts and her hind quarters were slow in rising from the floor.  She would whimper with pain, and her teats seemed to be deformed with what we thought might be cancer.  One day, after being prompted many times, I took her to be euthanized.  When I carried her to the car, she still expressed excitement for the prospect of going for a ride.  We didn't have much money, so instead of heading for the vet, I just drove to the pound.  They would not let me stay with her.  I reluctantly handed my sweet dog to the man, crying like a baby, and drove home.  To this day I feel bad that I left her like that.

A week later, while pulling weeds near the roses, I saw paw prints Talitha had left in the mud, and I lost it.  I had to throw down my shovel and walk back into the house.  To this day my eyes get misty as I write these words.  Yes, you could safely say I loved my dog.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Talitha games

Our house was a ranch style layout. I think we actually had shag carpet in the living room. On the other side of the wall was the family room, and these two rooms constituted the straightaways for Talitha's race track. The south turn was the entryway, and the north turn was through the kitchen. So a complete oval included all these rooms and their various flooring. There was a throw rug in the entry, a carpet in the family room and linoleum tile in the kitchen.

Talitha was always up for a time to play with her family. If one of us would get down on the floor and feign a bark and attack on her, she would turn and retreat a few steps, only to turn back and be on the attack. When she did this we would be prepared to get up and run away from her. She loved to chase. We would run the oval race track as quickly as possible, and Talitha would follow in hot pursuit.

Now the desired goal was to get her to race through the north turn in the kitchen. When in full chase, Talitha's claws gripped the shag carpet and even did quite well on the other carpet. But when she arrived at the north turn, we invariably heard her claws scratching through the loss of traction, and like a racing machine at full throttle slides through the turn, she would skid across the kitchen floor only to bang against the cabinets.

A race driver may be injured or his car may be immobilized, but a dog is not so vulnerable. Talitha was somewhat slowed in her pursuit, but she soon gained the traction of the shag and off she went again. This was a great source of family entertainment, and I think Talitha enjoyed providing that entertainment as well.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Carrots and Cats

Our dog liked carrots and cats. She ate the one and played with the other. When we lived in Modesto, one of the men in the church advised us, "Plant food!" The soil was rich and yet sandy. The result was that we had lush gardens that were easy to til. We had frequent salads of home grown leaf lettuce. One year we planted butter lettuce, and it was wonderful. Jonathan claimed his salad had an aphid, but I had washed the lettuce well, so I told him it must be some spices. He won the argument by pointing out that this particular bit of "spice" was walking (as he dramatically mimicked the motion with his arms). One year I noticed that the kids were pulling up carrots and only eating a few bites and then leaving them in the yard. After demanding that they stop leaving half eaten carrots around the yard, I caught the culprit in action. It was Talitha! She turned her head sideways to the ground, grasping a carrot and then pulled it right out of the ground. She loved to chew carrots.

Talitha also loved to get a cat head in her mouth. This was not for eating, but Phil had taught her to play the game. He gave her the order, "Talitha, go get that cat." And off she would go after the cat. With its head in her mouth she would shake her head a couple of times, but not so hard as to harm the cat. Meanwhile the cat would grab Talitha's beard and kick with her hind feet. It was quite a tussle to observe, and yet neither animal sustained any injuries from all this. It was quite a different story when Phil would take her for a walk. When he saw a neighborhood cat he could not resist the temptation. He would give the familiar order, "Get that cat!" The problem was that even though Phil knew the game and Talitha knew the game, the cat definitely did not know the game. Usually that cat would end up in a tree. The most unusual feature to this routine was what happened when the cat died. Somehow we went through many a cat during Talitha's 16 years.

We deprived Talitha of the joys of motherhood, surgically.  But motherhood is not to be easily denied by many a female.  We discovered that Talitha would mope around the house without a cat to play with. Even though the family was quite satisfied with this dog for a pet, she pined for progeny to nurture. We needed to get a cat for her to mother and to amuse her.  As soon as we adopted a new cat, Talitha was her bouncy, happy self again. And the new cat had to learn the game quickly.  Since Talitha had been spayed she never had a litter. But she would curl up and sleep with her pet cat. She even enjoyed the cat nursing on her unused teats.

I mentioned in an earlier log that Talitha decided that she was my dog. She would never let me forget that. In Modesto our home was several blocks from the church where I had my study. But when Talitha discovered one of the kids left the gate ajar off she would go. She had to round the corner, run two blocks to the alley, go down the alley several hundred feet and come to the door of my study. More than once I answered the phone to find it was Barbara, asking if Talitha was there. I was unaware of it, so I put down the phone and went to the door, and there she was with her enthusiastic pant, asking to come in.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Talitha

Talitha was not a dog--at least not just a dog. She was a member of the family. Since I was raised with cats, I wanted a cat, but my wife's experience was dogs. So when it came to a pet for the children we couldn't agree. I guess I got tired of gerbils and hamsters and goldfish, so when Barbara proposed we adopt a poodle she caught me at a weak moment. She said the bulletin board at the supermarket advertised pups of a pedigreed poodle. Since they were offered free, we were very skeptical, and discovered that even though mom was a poodle, the dad was a "traveling man" as the vet put it. Anyway she brought home this little bundle of curly black fur that was so wriggly at both ends that it was difficult to discern head from tail. Of course the kids loved her immediately, and learned to kiss the appropriate end. Barbara and I agreed that it would be her dog, and life continued.

We wanted to give her a name from the Bible, but we didn't want her to have too common a name. "Talitha" is the Aramaic word that is given us in the gospels as what Jesus said to Jairus' daughter. It is translated "little girl". So Talitha was our little girl--the bitch. (I just thought it would be fun to say that word legitimately.)

Well I guess Talitha had ideas of her own about relationships. When she entered a room, she came straight to me. When family members took turns barking orders at her, she invariably obeyed me best. It became evident in due time that by her own choice she was my dog. It was her own fault that we had a theme song between us. I did sing it to her several times. "You made me love you. I didn't wanna do it. I didn't wanna do it."

Talitha grew up with our kids. We had her in the family for 16 years. Yes, there are many tales (tails?) about Talitha, but I'll make you wait for more.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Taking Bribes

It all began so innocently.  We were with the group from our church at an Angels' baseball game when we were approached by this fast talking young man who wanted to show us how we could get a trip to Catalina Island with an overnight stay.  We've been there before, but we both thought we might like to do that again.  So we listened.

We had not only been to Catalina before, but we had been hustled with bribes to sit through a sales pitch for a time share resort before also.  As he piled on the bribes to strengthen our incentive, he listed two tickets to Knotts, two more tickets to later Angels games, a $25 coupon for a meal at the resort, which turned out to be the Lawrence Welk resort in Temecula.

The deja vu syndrome was still at work.  Back in '04 we had been there and done that at the Welk Resort too.  But this pile of desirable incentives (bribes) seemed to strike us just right.  Then when he threw in two extra tickets to Knotts, Barbara was hooked.  She did all the arranging, but if I had objected I'm sure she would have put on the brakes, but I didn't.  Before we could say "Play ball!" we were signed up for an appointment.  If you have never done this, you need to know that they take a $40 deposit just to make sure you show up for the pitch.

We also arranged with the Welk Resort to have overnight accommodations at half price.  We put in our time for the sales pitch.  We managed to say "No" once again, and enjoyed our resort room and half priced dinners at the elegant restaurant.  Barbara has a hard time bypassing prime rib, and I enjoyed a new culinary delight of stuffed chicken breast with asparagus, capers and brie with a sauce that was the most delicious I've ever had on a chicken breast.  No, we didn't order any wine--mostly because we both take some prescriptions that warn us not to drink alcoholic drinks.  Oh, the hardships of getting old and decrepit!

Now we need to redeem our coupons for these other trips (Angel game, Knotts Berry Farm and Catalina) before they expire.  I'm ashamed to admit that I have let incentives (bribes) expire before.  I ought to quit this blog post so I can take care of that right now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Boardwalk Chapel

The Rev. Leslie Dunn had a vision of reaching out to vacationers in Wildwood, NJ by erecting a chapel building right on the boardwalk.  Somehow he persuaded the Presbytery of New Jersey to purchase a parcel along the boardwalk many years ago, when it was only remotely related to the amusement locations.  Today businesses, sandwich shops and tourist trap shops line the boardwalk on either side of the chapel.

Activities attract crowds every night.  It may be a young violinist or a special choir or a gospel magician or other entertainer to catch the interest of passers by.  Christian supporters come and sit in the chapel to encourage others to linger also.  A good musician will stop a large crowd around the open doorways of the chapel.  Then when the speaker of the evening takes the stage to talk about God, they usually scatter like roaches when the light goes on.  At least that was my experience.

As a poverty level preacher with four kids, it was difficult to plan fun vacations for my family unless it was tent camping (which we did a lot).  This was a free week at the beach, and my kids loved it.  There was a large house associated with the chapel that was available for the preacher of the week and his family.  My only responsibility was to speak each night.  I tried to create two or three short zingers for each night.  For this kind of preaching it was important to get their attention in my first sentence.  Perhaps some of the methods we used there ought to be employed in church--at least once in a while.

The four listeners laws for public speaking were very much on my mind in those days.  The four laws? Oh yeah, they were: 1) Ho hum, 2) Why bring that up?, 3) For instance?, and 4) So what?

When I jumped on stage to preach, I had to imagine my audience as stifling yawns and thinking, "Boy am I bored.  And this guy is going to make it worse."  That was "Ho hum".  You can guess the contents of the other three, I'm sure.

Well one night I jumped on stage and asked for a show of hands of people who believed they were perfect.  People who had never sinned.  From there I was going to teach that our perfect God requires perfection in order to get to heaven, and from there I would offer them the Savior that God prescribes.  Clever?  Well, I thought so.  Only one rather aggressive man came down the aisle toward me with his hand raised, saying, "I am.  I'm perfect."  I really didn't know what I was going to do with him by the time he got to the stage, but my friend, Leonard Chanoux, the director of the chapel, intercepted this guy and ushered him aside for a chat.  I learned later that the same guy had been disruptive with other speakers at the chapel.  I was glad for a savvy director.

It was a good experience for any preacher to learn a little humility.  Why don't they flock to hear my interesting message?  Why don't more of them linger to hear where my clever introduction will lead?  Why didn't dozens of people get saved when I preached my heart out?

During the day the chapel was open for discussion.  A seminary student lingered near the door with interesting literature on display, and several people stopped to argue, listen or browse.  One of the more outrageous lingerers stopped to tell the seminary student who god really was.  Several off-the-wall assertions were laid on the discussion table before he ran out of gas.  The student just patiently listened. I was within ear shot, and felt like jumping into a roaring argument with this dude.  When he finished, the seminarian simply said, "That's all very interesting.  Where did you get those ideas?  Here's what the Bible says."  And he proceeded, expecting social courtesy to require the young man to listen to the truth.  That day I learned that I needed to argue less and listen more if I was going to be an effective witness.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Aurora massacre

Another horrible headline.  Other nations can't understand this, and frankly we don't get much of a handle on it either.  We're not supposed to understand the powers of darkness, but what's frightening is that so many are drawn to it nevertheless.  In an attempt to be positive, some people are spiritually naive.  But one thing proven every time we have a publicized random killing is this: there is an evil that lurks in the hearts of men.  You may not like to recognize this fact, and you may not want to call it "sin" but come on, get real, there is a dark side to human existence.

The depravity of human nature is a basic bible truth.  There are bad people.  In fact we all are bad, only some are more bad than others.  Polite company coaches us to cover this unpleasant fact with pretentiousness.  Those who deny this are always nonplussed to explain these all-too-frequent events like Columbine, Duke, Denver, and now Aurora.  The news media is stretched until it uncovers something like crisis events in the life of the perpetrator to make some semblance of rationality of these awful killings.

The gun control debate flares up again.  But we are way too far down the road for this kind of solution even if we wanted to go there.  Do we want neighborhood disputes to be settled with gunfights like the wild west?  Would James Holmes have been deterred by a citizen with a revolver?  The scenario I can well imagine sees the perp with his body armor and assault rifle with multiple rounds of high velocity ammo hardly more than aggravated by a few deflected shots from the good guy.  But then he concentrates his barrage on the good guy, who surely dies in this scenario.  He is hopelessly overwhelmed by the imbalance of fire power.  It is possible that fewer people would have lost life, but that is not even a necessary conclusion of this scenario.

I want to suggest that assault rifles ought not to be in possession of any citizen.  I see the importance of hunting rifles, target guns, and licensed revolvers for personal protection.  But assault rifles were made for the very purpose of killing many people quickly.  Then I think of the founding fathers who left us the heritage of the right to bear arms, and they wanted that right just for this very purpose to oppose an oppressive government.   I think they would have approved of the citizenry bearing assault rifles.  The only advantage of banning guns that I can imagine is that police could arrest gang members for the mere possession of a gun.

Even other nations that are classified as a "free" country, do not know the degree of freedom we have in America.  We like to go wherever we want and do whatever we want.  This is a dangerous thing when we are talking about depraved human beings.  Sinful people want to do sinful things, and what makes our country work is not the freedom we allow, but the checks and balances that are in place.  We are a nation of law, and, no matter how you may curse it, the system of law makes us work better than others.  When authority is corrupt, we have the free press to expose the power brokers and bring them down.  Madoff made a billion with a long lived poncy scheme, but he was eventually discovered, and he is in prison.

No, the real solution for the ugliness of murder we see in our frequent headlines is still found in curing the human heart.  Though there is iniquity at the root of every human heart, there is a cure for those who turn to Jesus Christ for help.  The good news may be old, but it is still fresh in it's ability to save.  Jesus bore our sins in his own body on the cross, so that we might be changed and helped to live for Him.  There will still be dangerous killers among us, but there is another world to anticipate in which there is no iniquity, and consequently no more tears, pain or sorrow.  How can you not love Jesus for that?

Monday, July 16, 2012

When I first went to prison



Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE, tried a reach out to the community by placing clever little brief gospel presentations in the local newspaper.  At the conclusion of each article we offered a simple Bible Correspondence Course.  Although we never developed a plethora of contacts by this method, we did manage to get the name of the church out there.

There were some who took the course, and one of them came from a box number in a nearby town.  I had no idea he was an inmate in the Delaware State Prison system.  As I read over one of the little tests that were at the end of each section of the correspondence course, it was my judgment that Lewis did not really understand the concept of "repentance".  I wrote back to him, as diplomatically as I could, that perhaps I could meet him in person some time, and explain what biblical repentance actually was.

The next week I received a phone call from the chaplain of the Delaware prison, seeking to arrange for me to visit the inmate.  It was a new experience for me, and I acceded to the request.  So here I was scheduled to visit a prisoner to explain that he did not understand what it was to repent.

I wore a suit and sported my most professional deportment as I parked in front of the brick and steel bars of this formidable structure.  I presented my identification clearance which had been engineered by the chaplain.  The huge iron gate was opened and I stepped into the vestibule, and the heavy door clanged behind me.  An ominous mood overcame me at that moment.  The clang of that door was like the rap of a gavel for a guilty sentence.  I knew better, but the feeling was there anyway.  I could hear a devious voice down inside, saying, "You'll never get out of here."  Something much worse that this must come over those who know they have lost their freedom.

Lewis turned out to be a pleasant black man who was very glad to meet me.  I was more at ease with him than I thought I would be.  In time I learned that he had murdered his girl friend in an unspeakably vicious manner.  He would rather speak of the event in generalities and in the passive voice, rather than in the first person.  To hear him tell it, he just happened to be in the room when it happened.  It was his lawyer who later explained the gruesome details of this killing.  Now it became a matter of focal point that this contact was created because I had discerned a lack of understanding of the biblical doctrine of repentance.

I visited Lewis several times, but to no fruitful conversion that I could see.  Instead I learned that he was using me, because he wanted me to testify at his immanent parole hearing.  Moreover I learned that he was practicing "jailhouse religion" for the purpose of getting out of prison.  I also learned that he had purchased the title "Rev" by mail order (from another source, of course).

His lawyer arranged for me to testify, which I did reluctantly.  I warned him that I would tell the truth.  I had to tell the parole board that as a Christian minister it was my opinion that Lewis was a man who was sorry for doing something to put him in prison.  I thought he even wanted to be an influence for good among at-risk boys.  But it was my considered opinion that Lewis was not born again.  I don't know if any members of the parole board believed in being born again, but supposed they were probably acquainted with the term nevertheless.  Lewis was denied his parole.

Months later I read an article in the local paper, telling that a volunteer prison worker had been stabbed by an inmate, one Lewis Tucker by name.  I did not feel good about the vindication of my opinion, but I didn't lose any sleep over the fact that he was still incarcerated.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

About being the old guy

Getting old is no job for cowards.

Every day I take 12 pills for various conditions.  Presumably I need to take them to keep me alive, and if that is the case, I guess they are working.  Sometimes, half in jest, I am heard to say, "I'm sure if I stop taking them I would feel better.  But I would probably die."  Of course, when Jesus has reserved a place for me in glory, I can safely joke about this.  But somehow God has built into us a sense of self preservation that keeps us from stepping in front of the bus, even if we are certain of heaven.

When I am working in the kitchen, I say to myself, "don't drop any of those zucchini slices on the floor.  They are so much trouble to bend over and retrieve."  Often that thought is quickly followed by the dreaded event itself.  This creates a strong temptation for profanity, and then a minor depression sets in because I have just displayed my retarded sanctification.

And, speaking of those pills, it is an increasing aggravation to open "child proof" medicine bottles.  Some of them defy a breach of their security.  At least my nitroglycerin pills don't come in that kind of bottle.  I think my great grandchildren could open my medicine bottles, if it comes to the need of outside help.  When you get old, you need to learn how to gulp down a handful of pills with a little water.  If you add vitamins to that number, then we are talking about 20 or more pills, and some of them are giant footballs.  Younger folks have been known to stare in wide-eyed wonder as I gulp down this plethora of capsules.

Now and again there are perks for being an old duck.  Great grandchildren are those kind of perks.  Even though I can't handle the three-year-olds for more than a couple of hours, they are so fun that it is worth the collapse that puts me in my chair for the remainder of the day.

We like to watch old episodes of Matlock or Murder She Wrote, and even though we remember enough to know that we have seen it before, we get the pleasure of watching them again because we don't remember who done it.

We seem to be very busy, but never accomplish much in the same amount of time.  It is a major effort to plant a dozen marigolds.  I have begun to sandpaper the gate, and even though I have an electric sander, it will be a long project.  Just a few boards each day.  Well, something like that.

I find myself sleeping for 8 hours at night.  I never got that much in my younger days (and didn't need it).  Though I can remember as a small boy, fighting with my mother or my auntie when they tried to coax me to take a nap.  I was constantly bouncing around on the bed.  I was bored, but not sleepy.  Now a nap is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon hour.

We're wearing out.  In point of fact we are condemned to die.  God told Adam that the day he ate the forbidden fruit he would die.  And so he did.  And so did I.  We are like cut flowers.  They look beautiful in the bucket of water at the florist's.  They make a sweet bouquet to present to someone we love, but that biological fact is: they are dead.  They are cut off from the source of life, and it is only a matter of time before we see them fade, turn color and shrivel.

That is also the case with us.  The difference is simply that the flower's span of beautiful display is much briefer than is ours.  But just as certainly as cut flowers, we too will fade, turn color and shrivel.  It is only those who know they have a faithful Savior who can see humor in these things, because they are only temporary problems.  Jesus said, "Because I live, you shall live also."

Photos and chapels






Here are some photos from the petrified forest and the painted desert.  We may have a new chapel join us that is located just a little south of these points of interest.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I like leeks and garlic

Those stupid Israelites!  God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt with spectacular miracles.  He began feeding them with miracle food that fell from heaven like frost.  This huge camp of desert travelers were given drink from a rock--a rock, no less!  Why would anyone complain, after seeing all of that?  But complain they did.  Shame on them.  Their curse was to wander in that wilderness for 40 years until all that complaining generation died off.

But shockingly, the next generation began to complain about some of the same things.  How is that possible.  But then I began to imagine myself in that second generation.  Some had been born in the desert.  They had not known the taste of anything besides manna.  They had it morning, noon and night.  Picture dad returning from herding all day.  He asks, "What's for dinner?"  "Manna"  "Had it for lunch!"

Seriously, manna--miracle food directly from God--was routine for them.  It was no more a miracle than the rising of the sun is considered by us to be miraculous.  The plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea were just stories from the past.  "What have you done for me lately?"  This while God's cloud overshadowed them and provided shade to prevent sun stroke etc.  Shame on them.  They are so short sighted and self-centered.

Woe, wait a minute!  When I point my finger at them, there are three fingers pointing back to me.  Am I thinking, "Nothing exciting ever seems to happen at church."?  We heard a very good sermon last Sunday, but we heard a good one the week before too.  It may be sweet like honey and tasty as coriander, but it is routine.  Shame on me!  This is God's miracle food for me.  When pastor opens the Bible and preaches the truth from this book, something IS happening that is supernatural.  I don't feel it, and it may take a while before anyone sees it, but the Spirit of God is showing me the glory of the Lord, and He is transforming me into that same image, little by little.  (II Cor. 3:18)

If you can't remember what your pastor preached a month ago, it still is miracle food.  Can you remember what your wife cooked for dinner a month ago?  But it was nourishing and kept you alive.  The great tempter wants you to dis worship and find other things to take priority over church.  But your soul will shrivel if you fall for that lie.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Killing My Father in law

Here's one of those episodes that loom dramatically before my mind's eye. I thought you could tolerate.

 Okay, now that I have your attention, let me tell you another yarn from my memory banks. Barbara's father lived to see his 100th birthday, and he was a sharp witted enjoyable guy almost til the end. He got to ride horseback on his 98th birthday, but that is another story.

When he was a mere 96, we traveled east to see him. The family that lived across the street from our family (40 years ago now) had moved their parents to an elegant retirement community near Lancaster, PA. Combining the two visits seemed wise. Quarryville, where dad was living in retirement, is an excellent place to spend one's latter years. There were always alternate choices of cuisine, and the tables were set with fine plates, crystal goblets and cloth napkins. It was clean and comfortable. The place is populated with former ministers, their wives and assorted Presbyterian retirees. One of dad's table mates was the professor who wrote the Hebrew grammar from which I first learned the language. At another point in his long stay in Quarryville, he had a lady table mate who, with dad, did so much laughing at lunch that they were frequently asked to tone it down. He used to bring a page from his joke telling desk calendar for her to read, and they would giggle and guffaw like 4th graders.

It turns out that the dining hall at the other retirement place was a step higher in elegance than the beloved Quarryville. We had to show dad. Since our friends invited us all to dine with them, we took dad to taste for himself. But when we put him in the wheelchair and headed for the elevator, we were told that the elevator had stopped working. We were not to be thwarted, however, and decided to carefully maneuver the stairs with dad still in the chair. Now the caveat was this; I was still recovering from hip replacement surgery. My progress must have been a trifle slower than I thought. This was a short flight of stairs, because there was a landing after about 6 stairs before the stairwell doubled back to reach the next floor with another set of stairs. I carefully navigated the first stair, tilting the wheelchair back and taking one step at a time. The second stair also went without incident, but about the third stair I began to realize that I had tragically over-estimated my repaired hip, and by the time we hit the fourth stair something tragic was ominous. My footing was compromised, and the chair slipped from my hands.

To this day I can replay, in slow motion, the picture of my aged father in law tipping out of his chair, hands flailing in the air, and the chair crashing after him to the landing. What have I done!! I've killed my wife's father! No bones were protruding, no blood was evident, and he even was able to gain his feet soon after. But the remainder of our trek down the stairs, dad chose to take the stairs on his feet with a tight hold on the banister.

Later that evening, as we dined elegantly at the other home's buffet, dad made a joke about his son-in-law trying to kill him. It was at that point in the evening that I knew he was his old self, and had successfully survived my ostensible attempt on his life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Defense of Neckties

I haven't published lately. Sorry for that. Maybe there's no one out there looking for my posts, and my comment is irrelevant. But just in case, here is a vintage post that I find amusing, and I hope you may too. Being a minister, decorum often dictates that I wear a necktie. Retirement tends to relax that demand somewhat, and living in southern California grants everyone a few more degrees of informality. Nevertheless there are occasions when a tie must be worn. And on those occasions I wear a tie with playful design, and it makes it worth the ordeal just to be a trifle rebellious. Nothing too outrageous, just Winnie the Poo or Mickey Mouse. I especially like Charlie Brown characters and Snoopy playing tennis or something like that.

My friend, Jay Adams, shamelessly rails against this timeless convention as the sole reason women outlive men. He claims that men slowly choke themselves to death with this silky rag. I don’t know if Insurance companies have made it an actual study, but my personal anecdotal testimony claims at least two good reasons to wear a tie (in spite of the risk).

The first reason is one I discovered as a young father. By the time I had two boys who liked to play “boys climb on daddy” I had observed the first practical use of the cravat. Carrying a two-year old boy on my arm was a safer proposition when he used my necktie as a sort of trolley strap. And when I held two little boys at the same time, and they insisted, “Daddy, run with us” that trolley strap was quite useful.

Well those days are long gone. I am not the man I was then. In fact I am closer to being twice the man I was then. But that is a circumstance that occasioned the discovery of the second practical use of neckties by this corpulent clergyman. It makes a great cover for the strained buttons down the front of my shirt. It seems that a tie, like love, can cover a multitude of sins.

Actually there is another very practical use of a tie that I have found, but it does not involve the wearing of it as a fashion statement around the neck. Old miserable ties make the perfect bond for a three legged race at the Sunday School Picnic. The tie is just long enough to bind the legs of these contestants, and yet it is soft enough so as not to cut into the flesh of rambunctious runners.

Ties, like other fashions, run in cycles. The wide tie will occasionally experience a revival, as will the narrow one. You may like to save for those fashion revivals. But once you commit your tie to the three-legged race, it is not likely to see another fashionable day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Volkswagen memories

Our kids grumbled when we finally traded in the old VW bug.  It was a favorite in our family for several years.  It is a lot of fun to whip through traffic with those four on the floor.  I forget what year was our beetle, but earlier, when driving my father's bug, I had the fun of learning how to kick in the extra tank when I ran out of gas.  They had no gas gauge, and when the engine began to sputter you had to reach your foot down and find the lever to kick 90 degrees to open the extra tank.  Then it would work as good as new.  Actually it was not an extra tank, but the final quart or so of the regular tank.  But that was how you were informed that you needed to fill up with gas.  It was all so simple then.

There was a time when we lost the clutch, and it required a little finesse to discern, from the whine of the engine, just when I could shift from low to second gear.  But it was something you could do with a bug that you wouldn't think of doing in another car.

They make "bugs" today, but they are only remotely similar to the automobile I'm talking about.  The vintage Volkswagen bug had an air cooled engine with four horizontal cylinders mounted in the rear.  Hitler had determined to manufacture a car that could be afforded by the common people, hence it's name "people's wagon".  But the project was detoured by WWII.  And when they made the bus model, hippies took to the hills with them.

We bought ours from an ad in the newspaper, thinking it was a good buy from a private party, but later found it had a dark secret.  When we submitted the car for the inspection station to check it out, we discovered there was an original owner's manual in the pocket on the door.  In it were recorded dates for maintenance that showed more mileage than the odometer showed.  We thought we were victims of odometer roll back, but the plot was thicker than that.  An "expert" at the inspection station showed us where this car had been pieced together from two separate automobiles.  We had the front of a model that was less traveled than the rear half.  It was so professionally done that there were no outer marks for anyone to detect.

You might think we would have returned the car and demanded our money back, but in fact we already had fallen in love with this bug, and only called for a restraining order against the shop for what they had done.  Pieced together or not, this was already a favorite of all the drivers in the Keller family.  It was this favorite that transported all eight of us from Modesto to the San Francisco bay area for a holiday get together with Barbara's brother and his family.  But I told that story in an earlier blog post.

When we moved from Wilmington, DE to Modesto, CA, instead of selling the bug, we had a friend drive it out west for us.


Once when our Bobby was late for church, he drove the VW only to have it catch fire a couple blocks from home.  When he opened the engine compartment, flames licked out, and a quick thinking neighbor tossed a shovel full of dirt into our engine to snuff the flames.  Fortunately, the insurance adjuster experienced the same thing and authorized the money to rebuild the tubing and wiring.

But most of the time it was an economical, fun and dependable piece of cute transportation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

People watching

Some people just suggest a story to my mind, I can't help it.  The other day I saw a well seasoned old duffer with a rumpled suit in the middle of the day.  It was in the parking lot of the Hometown Buffet, so I know he wasn't involved in a formal affair.  But the story this visual gave me was that of a veteran gangster.  I could swear he was carrying a piece somewhere in that rumbled suit.  Of course it was a dark suit.  And his face displayed a great deal of dangerous experience, confirmed by his thinning hair.  He and his moll found an old four door sedan and climbed in to drive away.  They may have been sweet old grandparents, looking forward to visiting the kiddies.  But that is not what my fertile imagination suggested to me.

Then, while we were waiting for a traffic signal, what should appear in front of the car but a woman, carrying a 2 year old boy who was stiff as a board.  His shirt was raised enough to expose his pudgy belly and its button.  There was that distinctive defiant expression that every parent knows so well.  His arms were outstretched, and she was carrying him like one would tote a pile of firewood, cradled in the arms.  About 10 feet behind them came a male figure, pushing an empty stroller.  It really doesn't take a fertile imagination to read that story.

Actually it is amazing how many times I have seen a little one, riding the hip of a distraught mother who was pushing a stroller.  Often this picture includes several bags of groceries in the stroller, or all the discarded clothing of mother, child and walking sibling.  Perhaps mom finds it easier to tote the tot than to lug all the accompanying baggage.  I might offer to carry the little one, but it is never acceptable to allow a stranger to touch your children.  So my kind intentions must remain just that.

Recently I spoke to a young lady who was sporting the most unnatural orange hair imaginable.  It was casual conversation, not on the subject of hair.  She was actually a very attractive young lady, and she was well spoken and respectful.  Her hair told me that she was an ignorant party broad, but when we spoke, she came across more like a sweet sister.  It is true that you cannot tell a book by it's cover.  But why would you choose a loud, ugly cover for a nice book?

Then there is the decrepit old man who walks with a little stoop.  His grey locks are getting very sparse, and he tends to wobble or shuffle as he conveys himself along.  I used to feel sorry for him, but now I find that this poor old guy is me.  Soon after we moved into our present home I sprawled on the steps.  The guy next door came over to help me up, and that's how we met.  When our relationship is strong enough I intend to tell him that the first day we met I fell for him.  Okay, maybe it's not that funny.  Last month at the local nursery I fell on my knee, and I have only recently felt I am recovered from that.

How well I remember what the Lord told Samuel, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tent Camping

Fond memories flood my mind when I see a tent.  When I was about 9 or 10 my parents took the family to Mammoth Lakes, tent camping for a whole week.  I think at least once we stayed for two weeks.  Mom learned to be a very good fisher, and she had to learn to live with grungy.  We camped at June Lake when it was still raw tent camping only.  Somehow beans tasted better with camp ashes in them, and the only fish I would eat were fresh trout, caught while camping.  I had a pup tent, and warm sleeping bag.  Before setting up the tent I would gather a large pile of pine needles to form a mattress of sorts under the tent floor.  As a teenager I thought this was the lap of luxury.  At Twin Lakes a sympathetic neighbor camper taught me how to catch large local trout.  Yes, those were great times.

Naturally, after I was married, I expected to try camping with my family.  Oops!  It just wasn't the same.  The only reason my wife consented to the idea was because we were too poor to afford any other method of "getting away from it all".  She didn't share my fondness of being grungy for days on end.  It wasn't fun for her to wash dishes in a pan with water heated over a camp fire.  Nor did she appreciate the gigantic stag beetle just above her head.  She remembers it as 6 foot long.

On one occasion we almost lost our youngest who was choking on a plum pit out there in the middle of nowhere.  When I was unable to dislodge the pit, I paced the ground as he turned blue.  "Well, that's not going to do much good!" said my counterpart parent.  (It is absolutely amazing how in crisis times she has been so level headed.  Only one of her many virtues.)  So I picked up my blue son, turned him upside down, (thinking I would either succeed or break his back) and whacked his back like a hockey player.  Out popped the pit, and I don't even remember him crying.  Okay, so that was another negative camping experience.

Perhaps just as memorable when the word "camping" is dropped in casual conversation, was the time we were out for a drive to see York Town when a fierce storm sent a tree branch through out tent roof, and 2 inches of rain were dumped on us.  When we returned to our campsite, needless to say, everything was wet.  We quit a little early that year, and we soon arrived on the stoop of my brother in law for an unscheduled visit.  In fact I think that was the last time we ever took the family camping.

I wasn't cured of the pleasant memories, however.  When the kids were gone I coaxed my good wife into trying it once again.  I bribed her with gourmet meals that I volunteered to prepare.  We ate steak and succulent Cornish game hens and potatoes baked in foil and corn on the cob that we bought from a farmer on the road to the camp ground.  We had a 3 inch foam mattress that covered all the floor of our pup tent.  She found it barely tolerable.  But there comes a time when getting down to the ground is a project the likes of which must be compared to climbing into a casket from which you were not expecting to emerge.  And when it is that time in life when you visit the rest room at least once during the night--and when that rest room is 50 feet or more from our "casket", then tent camping becomes a memory exclusively.

Several years we camped in Sequoia National Park.  This place became a haven for me.  I can remember one year as we passed the gate and entered the park, I could feel relaxation come over my body.  Okay, being a minister can be a stressful calling, but this relief was something I felt as soon as I drove along the tree shaded macadam.  Sequoias compel me to look up.  It is like entering a quiet, majestic cathedral.  I know those redwood giants have been waiting for me the whole year, and now they are welcoming me home.

There is a slice of one of the largest trees that have been felled, mounted at the ranger station.  It has dates highlighted with pointers indicating certain growth rings on this cross section.  I see Julius Caesar's year, and here is Jesus Christ's birth year shown on another ring.  Wow!  These trees talk to me.  They tell me that my Savior really was here in time and space.  Even if our calendars didn't point to Christ, these growth rings do.  This tree tells me that it was not long ago because she was already a thousand years old when Jesus was born.   I see a living tree, estimated to be about the same age, and it has green needles.  It is alive!  In a strange way she brings me closer to Christ.  The Sequoias make me worship, not only because they are such wonderful examples of God's wise and wonderful creation, but also because they condense history and bring me closer to Jesus Christ's time on earth.  There is a day and hour that Christ died for my sins.  And there is a day and hour that He is coming back to collect all His trophies of grace.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Resurrection evidence

We have a natural prejudice against testimony of the resurrection.  We know that the brain begins to break down and decay in a matter of mere minutes after blood flow ceases.  We just know that nobody can die and then come alive three days later.  So if we hear testimony to that effect we tend to discount it or look for another explanation.  But if Jesus is truly God and man in one unique person, the data makes perfectly good sense.  When the bible reader gets to know Jesus Christ, then the end of the gospel account seems to require the resurrection.  Even though it was a shock to the disciples, it makes perfectly good sense.  As Peter later said, it was not possible for Him to be held by death.

Now consider the documentary evidence with me.  We have literally thousands of copies of the New Testament documents.  It has better manuscript evidence than Homer or even Shakespeare.  Even the negative critics agree that the document called "First Corinthians" was written by the apostle Paul somewhere in the mid 50s AD.  Jesus' crucifixion is determined to be 33 AD.  Less than 25 years after the resurrection, Paul is saying in this book, that on one occasion the resurrected Christ appeared to a crowd of more than 500 people, most of whom were alive as he wrote.  Twenty five years is just not enough time for the allegation that over a period of time the myth of resurrection developed.

There was no body to expose (and there still isn't), and there were at least 251 witnesses prepared to take the stand and testify.  Honest scholarship at the very least must say that Paul, and the others, were convinced of the resurrection.  Even if you are not convinced, you must acknowledge that they were.  Now integrity of investigation requires that you satisfy yourself with the answer to the question, "Why were they convinced of such a fantastic event?"

I can only point you to the documents and ask you to read the testimony yourself.  Read the New Testament.  It will become evident to you that these were not the words of men who were foolish, demented or hoax-mongers.  God will begin to show himself to you as you read.  Try it and see.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mary at Calvary

Parents are not supposed to outlive their children.  Everyone knows this intuitively.  But that is only part of the trauma Mary experiences as she stands at the foot of Jesus' cross.  As any mother she is remembering when his little hands would curl upon her breast, the tiny fingers like petals of a flower.  She kissed his skinned knee when the toddler stumbled.  She watched him play with other children in the streets, never to cheat or play unfair.  She remembered with great maternal fondness all those sweet memories that most mothers cherish.  While most of us think our children can do no wrong, in Mary's case it was literally true.

More than any other living soul, Mary knew this was the virgin born son of God.  Even Joseph needed divine revelation to inform him of this miracle.  Mary's best friends may have whispered behind her back.  But Mary was specifically told by the angel, and she was the thoughtful type.  She is known to keep all these things and ponder them in her heart.  She told the servants to do whatever he ordered when he began his ministry of miracles in Cana by changing water into wine.  She believed in him.  Later we will see Mary numbered with the roll of the first church in Jerusalem along with the other disciples and apostles.  She is definitely a believer.

But at the cross even believers were stunned.  Peter had recently rebuked Jesus for suggesting that He--the Messiah--must die and rise again.  His understanding of prophesy promised the Son of David to reign forever.  Mary must have shared some of that confusion.  Disciples on the road to Emaus remarked that  "we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."  


Whatever else was on her mind, Mary must have remembered that somber prophesy of aged Simeon at the time of Jesus' birth that a sword would pierce her own soul.  Through her tears, Mary surely felt the thrust of that sword, loving Jesus, her precious son, and yet knowing him to be her mighty Lord as well. She did not yet know that He had to be made sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.  Even though we know that much more than did Mary before the cross, we are still left without anything intelligent to say when we hear our Jesus cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  It is a scene for us to witness, but not to comprehend with exhaustive satisfaction.  There is always mystery when we hear God talking to God.

But there was a special word for Mary.  "Woman behold your son."  At first she felt a stab of pain as she looked at her little boy now helplessly impaled, drawing her attention with his words.  But then he said to John, "Son, behold your mother."  And they both understood that even in his death, Jesus was keeping the law of God by honoring his mother and consigning her to John's care.

So we now can see both the active and passive obedience of Christ in this scene.  He kept the whole law for his people and suffered the punishment due to their sins.  That is a good day.  It is Good Friday.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wrigley Field, Los Angeles

When I was a kid, major league baseball was an eastern establishment.  Some people still think it is.  Eastern sports writers put their stories to bed, and the presses are roaring before the last West coast game is finished.  They don't care.  They print the previous day's score and the standings, but the standings are always out of date.  Eastern snobbery believes that all the important scores are in.  Let me rant about that another time.

Today's recollection is a pleasant reminiscence of Wrigley Field, Los Angeles.  They tell me it was built to be nearly identical to Wrigley Field in Chicago, that is the playing field.  And the Los Angeles Angels who used to play there were a triple A farm team for the Cubs.  This was the Pacific Coast League.  They played real baseball.  It wasn't moneyball, it was actual baseball.  The brick walls that surrounded the outfield were covered with ivy, just like in Chicago.  And just when a player got amazingly good, the Cubs would bring him up to play in the big leagues.

One year we had Frankie Baumholtz, who almost hit 400 one year.  There was some legal clause in his contract (or somewhere in the machinery) that prevented the Cubs from stealing him until the season was finished.  I saw Chuck Connors hit 4 home runs in a double header at Wrigley.  He was a lanky (6' 5") first baseman in those days.  Later he made his mark in show biz as the Rifleman in a great TV series.

A guy named Joe Dimaggio played for the hated San Francisco club.  Another ball basher was Luke Easter who played for San Diego.  I was always relieved when he only hit a single instead of a home run.

The Angels had a great second baseman who seemed to be very savvy about the game.  His name was Gene Mauch.  You may remember him as a great major league manager, but he was a very good second baseman as well.

Angel Annie was a special favorite memory of mine.  She was an aged black lady who was the Angels' greatest fan.  Following an inning in which the Angels rallied for a run or more, Annie would stand in her place in the stands and hoot a long, high pitched cheer that everyone recognized as it echoed throughout the stands.  I only saw her from a distance, but she was surely a legend in her time.  Every true fan of the Angels loved Annie and listened for her hoot.  There were very few games she missed.

There was an ambidextrous pitcher named Calvin Coolidge McLish.  Actually he only pitched right handed, but he was a switch hitter.  He was a good hitter for being a pitcher, and the season I remember well he hit two home runs.  One right handed and the other left.  I caught the one he hit from the left side. The cheap bleachers were in right field, and that is where we usually sat.  One night he lifted a high drive, and as a young man I still had my sharp baseball instincts.  I could tell the ball was coming right for me.  Yes, I caught it on the fly, and since it was a lofted blow I was able to make the catch, bare handed, without any pain.  I mention this in detail because the next night, when a bunch of us guys were in the same bleachers, our friend, John "Dick" Dickinson, tried to catch another home run.  This time it was hammered by a guy named Dale Long (known for his line drive hitting).  The ball struck the bleachers just in front of Dick, bounced up and hit him in the mouth, and ricocheted in another direction where some stranger chased it down.

If you're not yet bored to tears, I fondly remember attending a playoff series.  One night I took a girl friend, but we were arriving late.  The opposing team was at bat and someone hit a home.  Kids always loiter in the street, hoping to get a ball.  But this ball came bouncing right to my feet.  I proudly stuffed it in my pocket, and then bought the usual bleacher tickets.

And it was the very next night, when I took my mother to the game, that we arrived early, having learned my lesson the night preceding.  After leaving the ticket booth we stopped to rent cushions (the bleachers were just hard benches and it didn't seem right to let my mother's delicate buns suffer that hardship).  It was still time for pre-game batting practice, and as we walked to our chosen perch, I couldn't help seeing a long ball coming from home plate.  Hey, that ball is headed right for me!  I dropped the cushions I had under each arm, stood in place, and caught the ball.  Of course the fans around me were impressed, and gave me feigned praise with applause.

You see, I'm old enough to remember when they really played baseball.  The crack of the bat, the smell of the ball in your glove, the bright green of the field just seemed different back when underpaid ruffians were playing baseball because they loved the game.  Now it's about millionaires working for billionaires, and threatening to strike when they don't get the money they want.   Uggh!  Sinful greed spoils so many things in our society!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fallen People in a Fallen World


Last Monday I tried to dig up asphalt with my right knee and it didn't work.  Don't you know old people who experience a bad fall as the beginning of the end of their earthly career?  Not this time.  We pitiable old duffers don't mean to fall.  We try very hard not to fall.  But we do fall, and it's not a pretty sight.

Very soon after we moved into our present residence, the man next door witnessed my fall on the front steps, rushed over to help me up to my feet, and now I can remind Tom that I fell for him the first time we met.

Of course I can--and do--replay this most recent event in slow motion.  We were at our favorite nursery supply.  We decided to use a wheeling cart to tote our planned purchases.  As I moved toward the cart, I kicked the cement barrier for cars in the parking lot, and my legs can no longer move sprightly enough to recover.  I can see the adamant objects of my environment coming up to meet me, but in review it is happening in slow motion.  There is the metal cart itself, and there is that black pavement, made to resist indentation by 2 ton vehicles, and to my left is the fender of one of those vehicles.  There is really no hospitable touchdown point to which I might aim my trajectory, but I do manage to raise my arms to save my head from concussion.  Somehow the primary contact was made with my right knee, and with my considerable girth behind it, it came down with devastating force.

Some concerned fellow customer asked if I was alright.  To this lame question I offered the distinctly honest answer, "No, not really."  I was still lying on the pavement, and frankly I intended to stay for a little while at least.  I couldn't imagine being any more comfortable doing anything else--certainly not using my damaged limbs to regain my stance.  He wisely advised me to take my time.  Eventually a clerk rushed to the scene and offered the same lame question to which I gave the same honest answer.  Between the two of them I attempted to regain my feet.  Once again my corpulent physique posed a challenge, but these rugged men were able to set me upright at long last.

We sat at a table which had been offered for solace, and made plans for the remainder of our day.

Later that day, when we saw the grapefruit-sized knee that seemed to be headed for watermelon instead,   Barbara asked if I wanted to go to Urgent Care, and I submitted to her reasonable suggestion.  No broken bones, but some blood vessels were obviously opened, and what with my aspirin and plavix regimen, my veins were leaking copiously into the surrounding tissue.  The prognosis is for my survival, and in fact I am scheduled to stand and deliver a sermon on March 25.

When I took a fall over a curb in Chattanooga, TN, my wife asked me, "What are you doing?"  Which inane inquiry prompted several sarcastic quips to come to mind.  But that is all recorded in some ancient blog of former days.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Personal Integrity

Does anyone remember what personal integrity means?  It's not just something we use to embarrass politicians, but it's something that is supposed to look back at us in the mirror.  Integrity is not a category of public image polishing.  It is at the heart of that sacred cornerstone of modern American culture: self esteem.  When a person has a modicum of personal integrity, he feels good about himself.  If he feels good about himself, this is self esteem.

A few years back, some agency or survey was questioning young people from many different countries.  They asked them if they thought they were good at math.  The American kids all answered in high degrees of the affirmative.  Asian children were quite modest about it and all claimed they were only average or below.  But the actual test results proved the Asian young people to be dramatically superior to the American kids.  Perhaps most of this result is accounted for by cultural differences.  The point is simply that we have taught our youth to feel good about themselves when there may be nothing of substance behind that confidence.

When someone shoots several people, invariably some relative comes forward to say, "He's a good boy."

But what is breaking my heart today is what I see in people I love.  Kids planning divorce which will destroy their little ones.  What part of "better or worse" did they not understand.  Or taking a 5 year old into a major theme park, pretending he is three.  Don't you hate seeing a liar and cheat in the mirror?  Or do you think yourself extremely clever?

Why does my culture scoff at the doctrine of total depravity when people are scamming the medical system with phantom pains.  And local catastrophes turn nice neighbors into looters.  And sometimes I see a very cheap price for personal integrity, cheating a vending machine out of a few dimes. If all we can get for political candidates are liars and cheats, perhaps it is because there is no one else to choose.