Saturday, July 31, 2010

I am Thankful For Safe Travels Home

It was a long drive home. Traffic was terrible adding two hours to the trip. A tire had a slow leak requiring several stops. [I am thankful for on-board monitors for tire pressure.] We saw only one accident scene. I will be good to sleep in my own bed.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 31, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

I am Thankful Women Can Now Serve on Church Councils

It has been another long hard day. I am extremely proud of Cheryl’s speech on the Assembly floor. It was the best of the week. I give her much credit for the passage of the motion for women to be able to serve on the council of the local church. I am blessed and thankful.

Orlando, Florida
July 30, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I am Thankful for ...

It has been a long day and I am tired.  But I have some things for which to be thankful.
1. Seeing old friend and former students at the General Assembly.
2. The evening worship service especially (a) the enthusiasm, (2) the diversity, (3) the depth of the worship of the youth.
3. Watching and indirectly advising five Hispanic women as they worked behind the scenes to get the item on ordination as bishops for women back on the agenda.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I am Thankful for Complements Sent by God

I am reasonably self-confident and assured. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I am aware of my contributions. Yet, I am also conscious that before God “I am the least of Your Kingdom.” That has been a consistent phrase in my prayers for most of my life. I have been accused of feigned humility and I admit that I am pretty good at it – incongruity intended. But in all candor, I am aware I have not given God my best. I could have done much more for my Lord and having reached the stage of "Integrity vs Despair" I reflect often on my unfulfilled dreams of spiritual influence. Cheryl has suggested I need a Clarence (the Angel in It’s a Wonderful Life) in my life. Others have asked that I not be publically critical of myself.

Tonight, I am repenting of my failure to better work for the full inclusion of women in the ministries of the Church of God. Six years ago I submitted the motion to the Motions Committee to open all offices and ranks of ministry at all levels of the church to women. As a Parliamentarian I did not speak to the motion; I instead asked my friend and colleague John Christopher Thomas to give the opening speech. He did an excellent job. The motion was referred to committee. The committee prepared reports, both for and against, that were presented two years ago but without recommendations.

When I left the Assembly two years ago I felt a heavy burden and a sense of call to work for the liberation of women to minister freely in the Church of God. To that end I created a Facebook Group, “Free Our Church of God Women to Serve,” and hosted a couple of strategy sessions. But I was directing the seminary’s programs for reaffirmation of accreditation which overwhelmed me throughout last school year. I dropped the ball. I am currently praying about what I should do in the aftermath of this General Assembly. When the vote to allow women to advance to the rank of Ordained Bishop failed to pass this morning I was angry with myself for not trying harder.

When I walked out of the convention hall, Cheryl was standing at the top of the escalators with Jeff McAffee. I was upset about the vote. Jeff said there was something he wanted to say to us and he proceeded to thank us for our ministry in his life and to share how he was implementing ministries he discovered at New Covenant.

As we left the worship service tonight we bumped into three of our former students from Northwest Bible College whom we had taught in the 70’s. As we talked, another couple we had taught there walked up, followed quickly by another couple. We had a great reunion for a few minutes. (Those were three great years and our students were phenomenal gifts to our lives.) In the conversation two expressed thanks for my instruction and they proceeded to describe learning projects that had an impact on their lives and ministries.

Thanks be to God! I needed those reminders. I may not have made the best use of my talents but neither have I buried them. And I don’t need a Clarence to show me. I have the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of the Church of God and now there is Facebook. I have been truly blessed to know some of the outstanding people of the world as students and church members.

Orlando, Florida
(General Assembly)
July 28, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I am Thankful for the General Council

The Church of God operates under a hybrid Episcopal/Presbyterian polity. Our highest governing body is the biennial International General Assembly comprised of all members 16 and older who choose to attend. However, the agenda for the meeting is set by the General Council of Ordained Bishops comprised of all “Bishops” who choose to attend. “Bishop” is used as a rank of ministry and not an office; the offices of bishops can only be filled by persons who have attained the ministerial rank of “Bishop.”

Today we had about 2500 “bishops” gathered to begin preparing the agenda for the General Assembly which will meet on Friday. The agenda for the General Council is prepared by an Executive Council that was elected two years ago at the last set of meetings. They place on the agenda items they believe to be of importance and items sent to them by any member of the Church of God from anywhere in the world. It is a very controlled process with change coming very slowly.

We were at our best and our worst today; only our worst might be part of our best. Thanks to a new wireless keypad system for voting, we sailed through our nominations and elections finishing them by 4:30 this afternoon. Thirty eight years ago when I made my first trip to the Assembly, this process used paper ballots and lasted several days with other business being conducted while the body waited for a tellers report. By the time I joined the General Council in 1984 we were using computer punch cards; think hanging chads. That sped the process considerably but it still took a couple of days to complete.

Nominations for each of the offices actually come from the floor with each member voting for the person of his choice. Anyone with 25 of more votes on the opening ballot for each office is eligible to be elected/nominated for that office. It is slow and laborious, but it generates a deep sense of democratically elected leaders free of political campaigns. However, one of our ministers did his Ph.D. is sociology and wrote his dissertation on the process. He concluded there is a lot of control in who gets elected; our processes are just very subtle.

The highlight of the day was our Presiding Bishop’s report on the mission and vision of the church. The report was a call to live the Great Commission out of the Great Commandment and climaxed with a season of fervent prayer by all. It was a beautiful and powerful renewal of our resolve to reach the world with the Gospel with a special emphasis on prayer for our children.

We immediately shifted to debate on item #3, a proposal from the International Advisory Council (yet another body, representative of all the regions in the world where we have congregations) to grant women the right to ordination as bishops. There were a couple of powerful speeches in favor and seven passionate speeches against the motion. The speeches against were an embarrassment. The essence of their arguments was (1) it is a move away from Scripture, (2) it is based on secular trends aimed at popularity and (3) it will open the door to ordaining homosexuals next. I found myself exasperated, principally because their argument centered on attacking proponents of the measure as having forsaken the Bible as the inspired word of God (“I might not be able to read Greek and Hebrew but I can read English and the King James Bible clearly states…”).

When we adjourned for the evening I found myself talking too loudly, even when I wasn’t talking about the debate. I was angry. Yet, I am thankful for the General Council. The most idiotic statements this evening were made by persons who fervently love God and the Church of God. Regardless of their level of education or social status they were afforded the same privileges to speak as is granted our most respected theologians and esteemed denominational leaders. It is ironic that within this movement that embraces the marginalized of society, and gives them a platform from which they are allowed to speak, women are still partially silenced. Go figure.

It would be nice if everyone was intelligent and articulate. It would be even better if they all agreed with me. And for those who don’t fit my image of civil discourse, I wish they would just be silent and let my superior wisdom guide them. But I realized a long time ago that if I am truly committed to the liberation of the marginalized I must be prepared for them to express themselves in ways I find offensive. I must be willing to listen to their heart’s desire. I must not silence them. I must be willing to learn from them and when I disagree it must be with love and respect even when they do not return the grace. Some days that is easier said than done.

Orlando, Florida
July 28, 2010

I am Thankful for Grace to Overcome

I often say I have no greater joy than to know my children serve the Lord. Life is rich and full when I reflect on their love for God. I would that their lives were chock-full of ease and happiness, but I pray their lives are full of the love, joy and peace that comes from the presence of God. The two images of abundant living are not always compatible. Happiness is but a veiled reflection of the everlasting joy that flows from the throne of God. Ease is a pitiful substitute for the rest we have been promised.

The path of all who would live Godly in Christ Jesus includes sorrows beyond imagination, private tribulations where no one but our Redeemer can walk beside us. Only the Spirit who searches the deep crevices of our souls will know and feel the pain, wrestle with the uncertainties of our innermost being. I will not be the one to comfort my children as they anguish in the dark nights of the Heavenward journey; But thanks be to God, the Comforter has come. I cannot protect them from harm or shield them from trouble, but praise the Everlasting One, His shield will be their salvation. I can be their friend but my greatest legacy for them is to trust and believe all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes.

It is the calling of the Christian parent to live with and for their children in the land between the past and the promise. We trust and hope and wrestle with uncertainties. The hidden trials of our journey foreshadow their certain fate. If we knew the depth of our parents struggles it might discourage us, but by God’s grace we focus instead on the patterns of their lives and their victories in times of trial. And so I profess, I have fought a good fight; my girls will fight it better. I have endured; they will be more than conquerors. I have been faithful; they will abound in faith.

These thoughts are triggered by an encounter with a Christian couple this past week-end. Their lovely, spirited, fourteen year old daughter was run over and killed at her school bus stop just eight weeks ago. Their grief filled the air of the Bed and Breakfast they operate. Cheryl and I listened and grieved with them as they shared the story of their loss and efforts to trust God. Due to their witness, over sixty people have made professions of faith or rededicated their lives to Christ in the aftermath of the tragedy.

As I listened, my thoughts were not on my greatest joys but rather on my greatest fears; how could I survive the loss of a child? I recalled my sense of helplessness as a young parent, my fervent prayers for God’s protection over their lives. I became thankful I have seen Alethea and Karisa grow into beautiful young women who are making an impact on the world as they care for others. I know I have not been so blessed because I am better than the couple I met; I was humbled by their faith in the face of despair. I just know I have been blessed and I am thankful.

Orlando, Florida
(General Assembly)
July 26, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I am Thankful for Classic Movies

I don’t watch a lot of movies. Cheryl and I go to the theater once or twice a year. Most of the stuff that comes out is not worth my time. There are a few exceptions and there have been some high quality, non-offensive movies in recent years, but not many. I am also aware there were some pretty poor movies made before 1970. But there were some made that set a higher standard for acting, social commentary, and ethical presentation.

I am thinking of movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” (the original), "To Kill a Mocking Bird," “Good-by Mr. Chips,” “Shane,” “Old Yeller,” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (original). One of my favorites is “The Yearling” starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. Cheryl and I watched it last night. We brought it along on this trip because we knew we would be visiting the Ocala National Forrest and Juniper Springs in the general region where the story is set. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings won a Pulitzer for the original novel by the same name. She based the story on characters she knew in the Cross Creek region in central Florida during the early twentieth century.

Rawlings captures the flavor of the old cracker south, the south that could still easily be found in my childhood. I had relatives who lived much like the Baxter family of the movie, houses that were not sealed, no running water, subsistence farming. My parents both grew up in that setting, living just like the characters in the movie and in similar environs. They spoke often of their childhood when men got together on Friday nights to drink and fight; in his youth, Dad was a bona fide practitioner of the ritual. In short, I can identify with this movie because it is a movie about my people.

I especially identify with it because the Penny and Ora Baxter were a lot like my parents. Both were complex characters, each was strong, assertive, and submissive. They had a mystical understanding of each other and a loving devotion that could not be broken. We plan to watch the movie again soon just to reflect on it as a case study in gender studies. The characters do not fit the mold of conservative traditionalists any more than they fit the more recent gender liberation movements.

I appreciate the tone of the movie. It reveals the culture as it was, warts and all, without dishonoring the people. Lawlessness is countered by heroic figures who work hard to preserve their values and pass them on to their offspring. There is a certain realism as the flaws of the main characters are explored and the graces of the antagonists are exposed as well. The depths of human relationships are explored without flaunting sex or glorifying violence.

In this coming-of-age story, coming-of-age means far more than freedom to self-direct; it requires responsibility to act responsibly. The great movies entertain and they educate; they challenge us to move out of our comfort zones and identify with the human condition, to reach toward our own self-improvement. And they honor humanity in the process. They do not debase the sanctity of the marital covenant because it is trendy to do so. Instead, they explore the deeper textures of human relationships. Textures that cannot be teased out in the presence of gratuitously explicit sex scenes.

I am thankful for these classic movies and long for someone to pick up the mantel for the coming generation.

Weirsdale, Florida
July 25, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I am Thankful for Good Local Restaurants

We’re on our way to the General Assembly having ended our family vacation this morning. We are spending a couple of nights in central Florida near Ocala, Weirsdale to be exact. In the local promotional magazine placed in our B&B room Cheryl read a glowing report of a restaurant in nearby Wildwood, The Cotillion Southern Cafe. The accompanying photo was of their red velvet cake, it looked so good we had to try it.

The Cotillion is located on Main Street in the old bank building. We had fried catfish with “Southern Ice Cream,” grits with cheese. It was fabulous. The cake was better than it looked. The owner is an 8th generation Floridian. Her ancestors were loyalist during the American Revolution who fled to Florida after the war. One of her ancestors was the father of Lem Turner after whom one of the main roads in Jacksonville was named. I grew up “just off Lem Turner Road."

It was a blessed discovery. I am thankful.

Weirsdale, Florida
July 24, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

I am Thankful for a Quiet Walk on the Beach

It is our last night of vacation with our family. Karisa and Johnmark had to leave in the early afternoon. I read this afternoon; Reading for pleasure is something I could get into. After dinner we played Pit, a Johns family favorite thanks to my mother. After some homemade blueberry pie (or is that Cheryl made, vacation pie?) and coffee, Cheryl and I went for a final walk on the beach.

We first walked along the street admiring the houses, choosing our retirement home. Tom T. Hall’s house is for sale. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have a house here; they were here this week. Our great ambition is to sink all of our life savings into a down payment on a hurricane magnet.

We returned along the beach. It was low tide and the gulf was quite placid. We walked through the shallows and watched the minnows scurry in front of us. Miniature waves lapped across our ankles. The sun was down, the shadows were vanishing and most of the houses were dark, appearing empty. Except for one couple sitting on the shore we were alone.

There is no better setting to reflect and meditate, to talk about those things that press on your soul – challenges and possibilities, hopes and dreams. Tomorrow morning we will pack the car an head toward Orlando and the General Assembly with a stopover at a B&B near Ocala.

Saint George Island, Florida
July 23, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I am Thankful for Family Portraits

I have always been a camera bug. I love the challenge of getting a good shot that might be cherished some day. I especially enjoy getting good family pictures.

Family portraits are the pictures I most cherish, whether taken by a professional or using a tripod and built in timer. We have very few family portraits from my childhood. I have one hung in my home office that was taken before Darlene was born.

I discovered the importance of family portraits by accident. Mom used to complain about our family not getting together enough. Her sister, Betty, lived less than a mile from her and had a large family. They all lived pretty close and got together often. I lived in Tennessee and Shirley lived north of Atlanta making it difficult for us to all be together more than once or twice a year. Mom commented, “I just wish I could see you kids all together more than once a year.”

A light bulb came on and I decided to surprise Mom with a professional portrait of the four of us. We went to Olan Mills and had the portrait made of the four siblings. When we presented it to her I suggested, “Mom, now you can see us together any time you want.” It was a lame attempt at humor.

The following year we went back to Olan Mills with the entire extended family. That portrait is a cherished possession. It captured us together in a way that has never been repeated. I resolved to take a group portrait every time I am with family. It is a challenge. Usually one or more are not happy about getting their picture taken that day. There is some resistance. But over the long haul it is those group portraits that I return to most often. And I suspect this is true for most people.

I am not overly pleased with the pictures I took this afternoon, but I will cherish them for the remainder of my days. When I look at them I will feel close to the ones I love.

Saint George Island, Florida
July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I am Thankful for Ocean Waves

I have no use for the beach if by “beach” one means the strip of sand between the ocean and the dunes. I am amused by people who lather on sunscreen and sit on a flimsy folding chair under an umbrella in hot, humid weather reading a book when a hundred yards away is a comfortable couch and a perfectly functioning air conditioner.

I enjoy the water especially when there are large waves rolling in from the deep. Like a child I bob up and down in water up to my shoulders that rises to several feet over my head every few seconds. It is best when other family members are with me sharing the glee. We wait for the perfect wave for body surfing toward shore, bobbing over two, diving under one, standing firm against another and then it appears. It has to be the right size and it must be breaking at the right time, just as it arrives where I stand. We celebrate when one of us catches the perfect wave and dives ahead of it at the right time. A good ride can be thirty or forty yards or longer. Most are just enough for a first down.

Today was as good as it gets, Cheryl, Karisa, Justin, Johnmark and myself challenging the surf being offered by the breath of God for our enjoyment. [Alethea is one of those sand sitters who blesses others by watching the children.]

I am blessed and truly thankful.

Saint George Island, Florida
July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I am Thankful for Good, Long Term Friends

We are blessed this evening to have Stanley Lane join us on St. George Island. Stanley is one of our longest-term and dearest friends. We first met him in the late 70’s when he came from southern Georgia to Minot, North Dakota to study at Northwest Bible College where we taught. He stayed with us our last summer there. When we settled in Cleveland in 1984 Stanley was there studying at our seminary. He was a part of New Covenant during the early days. Eventually Stanley moved closer to his family and resides in Dothan, Alabama where he is a respiratory therapist.

There is a lot that could be said about Stanley but I will limit myself to the simple statement that he is a true friend. We have walked with him through some difficult times and he has been there as our support in hard times as well. I trust him without reservation. I know that if I needed anything at his disposal he would not withhold it. He knows how to celebrate the blessings of others and weep in the sorrows of others. He is engaging and compassionate with all ages, races, and classes of people.

This evening he went outside to play Frisbee with Camdyn, Charlie and myself. He pleaded their case to play on the beach and get their feet wet. As we walked back across the boardwalk Camdyn drew close and whispered to me “I like him, he talks with us.” I can’t think of a greater complement than to be liked by a child because he or she recognizes your genuine interest in them.

Saint George Island, Florida
July 20, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

I am Thankful for Advil

One of the signs a person is approaching membership in the society of the wise is aches and pains in the morning. The wisdom that comes with age is birthed in necessity. I must get out of bed; How can I do it with the least amount of pain? The trick is to roll in a seamless motion that plants the feet facing the bed allowing the hands to be used to assist the final upward move. I must walk to the bathroom; How can I loosen the bones in my feet without tapping into some nerve that has been awake all night planning how the send an electrical shock upward through my larger extremities? I’m still working on that one.

The fear of the Lord may be the beginning of wisdom, but the fear of pain follows close behind. The sign a person has arrived as a full-fledged member in the kingdom of Sophia is surrender to the inevitable and finding an Ebenezer to fight the battle for you. My helper of choice is Advil. I don’t need them every night but I do take a prophylactic dose on the days I have been physically active. It doesn’t eliminate the morning pain, but it does allow for a good night’s sleep which makes facing the realities of longevity more tolerable.

I’m on vacation with my grand-children; I need Advil and I am thankful for it.

Saint George Island
July 19, 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I am Thankful For Saint George Island

Vacations serve to remind us there is a heaven and you don’t get there by works. There are three kinds of vacationers: beach goers, mountain goers, and scenery goers. Seen from another angle vacationers can be divided into two groups: crowd junkies and silence seekers. For example, there are scenery goers who fly across country to see the Grand Canyon. They stay on the south rim, the most accessible and most crowded vantage point from which to view the grandeur of God’s artistic talents. There is nothing like wide open spaces framed with camera toting, pudgy tourist trying to out talk each other. The other group of scenery seekers prefers the long drive around the canyon to the north rim where you can still find that special spot to be alone in the presence of God and His creation.

Likewise, mountain goers can be divided into the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg crowd and the Townsend or Bryson City group. The former cannot feast on the beauty of the Almighty’s handiwork without a chaser of funnel cakes, outlet stores, live entertainment, and bumper cars. The later prefers the crackle of a campfire, the tranquility of a quiet mountain stream, and the coziness of family and friends.

Furthermore, the beach goers crave either crowds or quiet. For the majority going to the beach means that favorite strip of sand crowded with people and bounded by the ocean on one side and grotesque high-rises on the other. Sprinkled among the time-share condominiums are gift shops, chain restaurants, and up-scale clothing stores. The silent minority hunger for the serenity of a beach where you can play in the waves, soak up some sun without feeling your daughters are being ogled, take quiet strolls in the moonlight, and search for sea turtles struggling to complete the cycle of life.

I am a mountain lover and Cheryl is a beach junkie; she craves a fix every year and requires one at least every two years. She came by her addiction naturally, having lived a most deluded life as a child. Her father was a disabled World War II veteran. His injuries, while debilitating, were neither apparent nor confining. When school let out for “summer vacation” each year Cheryl’s family took the descriptive mandate with all due seriousness. They vacationed until it was time to sharpen the number two’s in the fall. Mostly, they went to the beach returning home only for short visits to take care of business and resupply. Thus, for her, one of the core measuring sticks of life is marked by the number of days spent body surfing each year.

Currently, we live near the mountains so I can keep my cravings fed. Also, we share a tendency toward scene chasing and intersperse trips to out of the way places.  One of our goals is to stay in a lodge in every National Park that has one. Most importantly for our marital tranquility at vacation time we share a disdain for touristy vacation spots and prefer places that encourage reflection and relaxation with limited amounts of development. Second most important for our thirty-five-plus years of interpersonal detent is our willingness to explore and compromise.  This leads me to my deep appreciation for Saint George Island, a place to come back to.

Nestled in the center of “The Forgotten Coast” of Florida, St. George Island has become our most frequented vacation spot. During the last decade we have enjoyed four vacations here, a full week on every occasion. Each time we have rented a different house, having to increase the size to accommodate our growing family.

St. George is a barrier island that rests at the southernmost tip of the outcrop that bulges from the state’s panhandle into the Gulf of Mexico. The island is twenty eight miles long and two miles wide at the widest point. Most of the island is eight blocks wide or less. One main street runs lengthwise through most of the island. A paved bike path parallels that street through a large section of the “public” middle. The beach is typical of southern beaches, very nice and borderline excellent. At any time it is easy to find a location to set up an umbrella and chairs with unimpeded access to the waves.

The light house and the water tower vie for tallest structure. There are a few three story rental houses, mostly narrow buildings positioned like stacked row houses designed to allow hurricane winds to whip between them. Everything else on the island is one or two stories in height.

On the western end is the Plantation, a gated community comprised of “single family” houses, nicely spaced and each within easy walking distance of the beach. The center of the island has one motel, a couple of churches, several retail stores, and numerous single family houses. Except for a few older homes this more public section looks much like the Plantation next to it. Toward the eastern end there is a large, two-story condominium complex. Beyond that complex is a state park with camping, picnic areas, and a mosquito/gnat nursery.

On the flip side, Saint George is far from generic Americana. There is not a single chain restaurant on the island: no McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Applebee’s, O’Charlie’s, etc. The closest is a Burger King fifteen miles away in Apalachicola. All others are much further away. The closest Wal-mart is an hour and a half drive, sixty miles of two-lane roads. It’s even farther to find a movie theater. In short, Saint George is slap-dab in the middle of the Florida Coast as it used to be, the Florida of my childhood. It is a place for families to be together and rediscover how to enjoy the simple things of life: reading, body surfing, and sunburns.

I am thankful for Saint George Island and I pray the region remains “forgotten.”


There may be a reason I prefer the mountains over the beach – crabs. When I was very young we lived on Eighth Street in the Springfield section of Jacksonville, Florida. There was a movie theater a few blocks away. My cousin Terrell lived near us and Mom would on occasion allow Jimmy to go with Terrill to a Saturday matinee. On one Saturday my pleas and tears paid off and she made Jimmy take me along to see the cowboy flick he had asked to see. I was just three or four at the time and don’t recall if Shirley was sent as well.

Well, it wasn’t Hopalong Cassidy they wanted to see. Instead, they were intent on seeing a dramatized socio-political documentary on the dangers of the atomic age. That is, they carried a three/four year old to see a science fiction horror movie. The plot was about giant crabs that invade the shore. I don’t recall what happened to make them grow large; it was the early cold war era I assume the beasts were the byproduct of some nuclear mistake. What I do vividly remember is some poor sap squeezed in crab pinchers, raised high and screaming in terror. But the most horrifying scene was one of crabs ripping the roofs off of houses to get to the human delicacies inside. Many a night I lay in my bed wondering if the popping sounds of the house expanding and contracting were in fact giant crabs risen from the nearby ocean to devour me and my family. Yes, I prefer the mountains and Jimmy I’ll be forwarding my therapy bill.

Saint George Island, Florida
July 18, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tonight, I am Thankful For…

DQ Blizzards and a wife who surprised me with one, co-workers who are friends, rain in dry times, hot showers, DVR, God’s teasers …

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 13, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

At This Moment, I am Thankful for …

Iced Tea, Blueberry Pie, Antibiotics, Antihistamines, Comfortable Shoes, Clean Socks, Blue Jeans, Air Conditioning, A Good Mattress, Sun Screen, My Electric Toothbrush, My Cameras, My Tools, …

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 12, 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I am Thankful for Vacation Bible School

When I was a kid Vacation Bible School was a major event every year. VBS met for several hours every day and lasted for two weeks. The program began with a parade through the neighborhood around the church. All of the church kids and workers piled into cars decorated for VBS and drove slowly through the community, honking and waving as we went. Every morning began with “Opening Session” in the sanctuary where we sang, heard a devotional and a pep talk with announcements. Then we went to age graded classes for Bible study and crafts. I loved the crafts; who knew there were so many uses for popsicle sticks? We had refreshments (cool aid and graham crackers) and recreation; “Duck-Duck-Goose” anyone? The morning ended with a “closing session” where we got more announcements and another pep talk about bringing a friend to VBS.

We loved competition back then. Groups competed over who could bring the most offering and the most visitors. My favorite was the competition we had one year to see who could memorize the most verses of Scripture. I won a Bible. My strategy was flawless. I started with the verses I already knew pretty well: John 3:16, Psalm 23, the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer. Then I moved to memorizing the shortest verses I could find. “Jesus wept,” John 11:35.

Everything built up to a graduation service timed so parents could come see their children. The most hardened of sinners would come to see their child sing a song, quote a verse and receive a certificate, just not my father who could smell manipulation a mile off. We made mortar board hats out of poster board and wore them. All of the kids processed in with their teachers and classmates like a real graduation. Names were called and certificates were given. After the ceremony the children took their parents to their classrooms where they greeted the teachers and gathered the works of art to be unceremoniously discarded at home.

I think it was in my mid elementary school days that we moved to evening VBS and made it for the whole family with Bible courses for the adults. The program was soon reduced to one week. Toward the end of the 20th century the anachronistic schooling paradigm of VBS seemed all but dead. Workers were hard to find and children had grown accustomed to Sesame Street and the Muppets. Kids Crusades were in vogue for a couple of decades. These were high-energy, nightly children’s church programs designed entertain and evangelize the children. Truthfully, I have always been a little uncomfortable with the hard sell altar call that many of the evangelists used. But done right they could be quite effective ministries to children.

In recent years our church has returned with others to an emphasis on VBS. The annual, themed events are a highlight of our church year. They are led by Vernice Blackaby, our Children’s Pastor. While not a traditional school, there is a well developed curriculum that includes Bible Study, crafts, activities, refreshments, devotionals, and competition. Each year our entire church building is transformed into a theatrical set for the theme. We were a Galilean Village one year and a Roman city the next. If you were to enter our building this week you would step into a tropical rain forest.

There are several things I like about this return to VBS, all-be-it, a modern version. First, they are a lot of fun and fellowship for everyone. We have as many adults and youth present every night as children. Most are workers, but several drop in just for the excitement. Second, the kids (and youth and adults) learn a lot. It is obvious these thematic, dramatized schools are effective teaching tools. Third, these programs surface talents not often honored in churches, talents like set design and art work. Finally, I am most blessed by observing our youth get involved helping lead the VBS. They work hard on setting up the decorations. They dress in character each evening and they are essential workers with the children. Under Vernice’s leadership our annual VBS represents the best of what it means to be the church, all ages working together creatively to communicate the Gospel and having fun doing it.

It is a lot of work. I am thankful for the event and its impact. I am thankful for all of the effort that goes into it. And to be honest, I am thankful I get to participate without being responsible.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 11, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I am Thankful for Homemade Jam

My Great-grandfather, King David Harris, built a two story house for my Great-grandmother. It sat a few hundred yards from the Little Satilla River and near two natural springs. It was the only two story house on the riverside, that is, near the river. But he died at an early age and she moved to town to run a boarding house eventually selling the farm. In time my Grand Parents bought the farm back. By then the house was uninhabitable. They moved into a smaller “shotgun” house closer to the new county road. By the time I was born all that remained of the original house was “the old kitchen” which sat at the edge of a cornfield. Kitchens use to be built as separate buildings attached to the house by a breezeway in case of a fire. My Grandfather used the old building as a storage shed.

In front of the old kitchen were two large pear trees my great-grandparents had planted. They were loaded down with pears every year. Most of them fell to the ground and were eaten by the hogs and cows that were turned into the field after the corn was harvested. When I was very young I would go with my mother to the old fruit trees and help her pick some of the best pears for jam. It was an annual family project: Mom, Shirley and me. When we were very young Jimmy would peal the pears while Shirley and I took turns at the grater. Each pear was scrapped down to the core creating a pear sauce ready to be cooked into jam. I loved that jam.

When I got a little older Mom figured out how much I loved the jam. We would be visiting my grandparents and she would tempt me, “Jackie, if you’ll go pick some pears, we’ll make jam when we get home.” I knew where Grandpa kept his Croker sacks and down the path I went. When I had picked all I could carry I would stumble back up the path to the house. That night I would help peal and grate and never complain, after all it was all for me or so I thought.

Dad never helped in these projects. He would plant a garden, tend it, harvest it and help shuck and shell, but once the stove was turned on his job was over. The only thing I ever saw my Dad do in the kitchen was get the ice. Ice was his culinary specialty. There was one exception when I was about fourteen. Mom was making some kind of jam. It was on the stove just beginning to boil when she heard the washing machine out of balance in the garage. Dad was walking by at the fortuitous moment and Mom drafted him to stir the mixture while she ran out to the garage.

I passed by the kitchen and almost fainted. There was Dad standing over the stove, stirring jam. I lingered to take in the sight when all of a sudden there was a “pow” and jam was shot up to the ceiling. He kept stirring and Mom ran back into the kitchen to see what happened.

There stood Dad, still stirring. She bellowed out, “Ellis, what did you do?”

“Nothing, Teen. Just what you told me. All I’ve done is stir.”

She grabbed the pot and poured the jam into jars. It was clear some was dripping through the bottom of the pot. Upon inspection we discover a hole in the pot where electricity had shot from the element upward. I have no idea how the circuit was completed without killing my Dad, but I do know it was many years before I saw him standing over a stove.

Eventually, my Grandfather brought a shoot from the old pear trees up to his house. When Dad retired he brought a shoot from that tree to his house. I got a shoot from him and the tree is loaded down this year. Several years ago when my pear tree had its first full crop, I decided to make pear jam. It was just the way I remembered it, only I use a blender rather than a hand grater. I don’t make it every year. A drought got the pears one year and a late freeze got them one year. Last year I made a couple of batches because the squirrels beat me to most of the pears. I’m hopeful about this crop.

In recent years Cheryl has taken an interest in making homemade jellies and jams. It all started as a project to make grape jelly with one or both of our girls several years ago. They went to a vineyard and picked the grapes, brought them home and made the jelly. It was great and they decided to make it an annual mother/daughter project only someone forgot to tell them that “annual” meant once each year. Each spring Cheryl would begin talking about making grape jelly that summer. My usual retort was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I don’t think they have made grape jelly since that first year.

However, Cheryl did start making blueberry jam. We have an abundance of berries every year.  I’m the primary picker and kitchen helper. A couple of years ago I suggested we make some peach jam and I have found myself once again the chief peeler and dicer. This year we plan to add apple butter to our venue, once the apples get ripe.

I’m not certain what sense of fulfillment Cheryl gets out of being a domestic diva; I enjoy the nostalgia and the pleasure of giving some of the fruit of our labor to others. I also relish the flavor and quality of our products. We are never without good jam. But the best part of it all is doing something creative with Cheryl. I enjoy these projects and I am thankful for them.

Just call us Ma and Pa Johns, but not to our face, if you know what's good for you; jam I mean.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 10, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

I am Thankful for a Good Trip to Visit Cheryl’s Mom

Cheryl and I road over to Greenville, South Carolina today, actually Fountain Inn, to visit her mother. On the way we stopped and had lunch with her sister, Glenda, and her daughter, April, April’s husband, Rocky, and their son, Zachery. Cheryl’s other sister, Ruth, joined us at the nursing home. Thelma is deteriorating in mental clarity, but she recognized me and Cheryl. She referred to my last visit when I had come alone. It seems that visit troubled her. When Cheryl returned from New York and drove over to visit her mother without me, Thelma kept asking her if we were still together.

Today, she looked into my face and asked, “I don’t believe in divorce; do you?” I replied a simple “No, Thelma, I don’t believe in divorce.” She continued, “Good, my children don’t get a divorce.” That’s a revision of history, but an assertion of her heart’s desire.

Before we left I hugged her neck and she whispered, “I love you.” As I stood she continued, “If I hadn’t loved you, you wouldn’t have married Cheryl.” Perhaps another revision of history, but arguing with Thelma was impossible before dementia and futile at this point. Let’s just all agree she loved me from the start. It’s better that way.  It leaves her in control and affirms the great undeniable truth that nobody caneverybody loves Jackie Johns.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 9, 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I am Thankful for Stein Mart

Stein Mart is my favorite place to shop for clothes. I never let a decade go by without a visit. The General Assembly is in a couple of weeks and Cheryl felt strongly I needed some clothes so we went shopping.

I first encountered Stein Mart about thirty years ago when we moved to Louisville, Kentucky. I knew from the outset it was going to be my place to shop. The stores are always clean, well lit, and well organized. They offer quality clothing at discount prices and getting a bargain is what shopping is all about, isn’t it. They usually have my sizes in the items I like. As a discount store their styles are usually on the back side of the trends and that’s just the way I like it; there’s no need to stand out in the crowd and God forbid anyone might label me “Metro.”

Other than the prices, my real preference for this chain lies in several practical areas. First, is location. These stores are in a strip mall. You can park close, enter and exit without being seen. There is no food court in which you are forced to play “dodge the dripping ketchup.” Most importantly, there are no other stores hypnotically wooing Cheryl like Sirens on the shore of retail. Like most men I have an aversion to shopping with my wife. My nausea is amplified by tortuous memories of having to take my mother shopping.

In 1969 Mom had major surgery (died on the table, went to heaven, sent back to serve kind of surgery). The first thing she wanted to do when she was able to get out of the house was shop for clothes that would fit her emaciated frame. She had to look good for church didn’t she? Shirley and I took Mom to J.C. Penney’s. It was close to the house and in a strip mall making it convenient for her to get in an out. Going in was easy enough; dragging her out was another matter. She was weak when we entered and growing weaker by every sales rack. I was literally holding her up while she looked at dress after dress. Keep in mind, I was 5’11’’ at the time and weighed a whopping 145 pounds. We must have looked like a guide wire bracing a telephone pole.

Another attraction to this chain has to do with the size and order of the stores. They are small. The men’s section can be spotted as soon as you enter. Straight in, straight out -- with no need for a compass to navigate through ladies lingerie and baby clothes and kitchen utensils before getting to the goods. On a good day, like today, I can pick out a couple of sports coats, pants, dress shirts, and ties to match in twenty minutes. In spite of Cheryl’s hints I avoided the dressing room all together. “I’m sure they’ll fit.”

There’s just something unnatural about a man standing around eyeing apparel as if color really mattered. What’s the problem? Ignore the bright colors and pass over the pastels; everything in between is just fine. Who cares about the “cut” as long as the pants have pleats and don’t cut off the blood circulation? Haven’t you ever noticed the people who take their time shopping for clothes? They take something off the rack and hold it up. Pretending to stare at it, they glance around the room to see if anyone is looking at them. They’re looking for some sign of approval from the herd. If caught, the onlookers always nod with an approving smile as if to say “You are a masterful shopper.” Then as you look away and back at the item, they roll their eyes as if to say to other onlookers “I can’t believe she thinks that would look good on her.” There are some things that just should be done in private but only the rich can afford that.

My approach to this ritual of social grandstanding is to go straight to the discounted rack of coats and find one in my size Cheryl seems to like. It’s usually the one she is holding up to my torso. I quickly offer “that’s real nice, let’s see if it fits.” One coat down: one to go.

Then I grab a couple of pairs of standard sized pants from the sale rack, one that complements each of the coats. With luck I don’t even have to break a stride as I grab a couple of ties, each respectively having the colors of the pant and coat sets. I just love shopping.

Cheryl always manages to wonder off to the women’s or children’s sections while I pay for my items. (They should go ahead and name it “Grand-children’s Section.”) But that is Okay; the Stein Mart is small enough I can spot her right away. With careful planning all I have to do is remind her of her appointment and we’re out of there. Men of the world, never go shopping with you wife without a game plan that includes a “must be somewhere” component.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 8, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I am Thankful for My Professors at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Cheryl and I always chose our schools based on who we wanted to study under. We went to Wheaton primarily to be taught by Lois and Mary LeBar, two sisters who were the leading Evangelical scholars in the field of Christian Education. The bonus was that we got to take classes with Drs. Merrill C. Tenney (New Testament) and Earl Cairns (Church History), and other outstanding teachers. I went to the Church of God School of Theology primarily to study with Dr. Hollis Gause and was blessed to also be taught by Drs. Arrington, May, and Crick.

When looking for a place for doctoral studies we had three prerequisites. First, we were called to the field of Christian Education as the discipline that focused on Christian discipleship so the school had to offer a doctorate in CE. Second, the school had to have at least one teacher from whom we desired to learn. Finally, the program needed to allow for our areas of specialization. I was interested in Patristic aspects of discipleship and Cheryl wanted to pursue psychological and theological aspects of faith development. The program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary met all three requirements.

The person we wanted to study with was Dr. Findley B. Edge, the most prominent Southern Baptist in the field of CE and one of the leading Evangelicals. We had read his various books: Teaching for Results, Helping the Teacher, The Greening of the Church, and The Quest for Vitality in Religion. Edge’s area of specialization was theological and philosophical foundations for Christian Education. His heart’s desire was for authentic Christianity. He was a prophetic voice among Southern Baptists, being at the forefront of calls for social justice and spiritual renewal within his denomination.

Dr. Edge was everything we had hoped for. Warm, engaging, demonstrative, cheerful, and insightful, this native son of Albany, Georgia and graduate of Stetson University in Deland, Florida, also set high standards for scholarship. God gave me favor in his eyes and as he prepared for retirement Dr. Edge sought to place me in a teaching position in a Southern Baptist seminary, perhaps his spot at Southern. He took us out for lunch to petition me to accept such a position. He pled, “Jackie, just join a Baptist church and I’ll get you a teaching position.”

I chuckled and replied, “Dr. Edge, you know you would make a better Pentecostal than I would a Baptist.”

He roared in laughter and countered, “Jackie, you know we don’t care what you believe. Just join a Baptist church and we’ll let you teach.”

At the point of his retirement there was a one-semester delay in the arrival of his replacement. Without my knowledge, Dr. Edge negotiated with the seminary president my employment as a visiting professor for that semester. It was one of the highest honors of my life.

All of our teachers at Southern were scholars and gentlemen (and one gentlewoman). Our primary professors in the doctoral program in addition to Edge were, Bill Cromer (Educational Administration), Dan Aleshire (Statistics), Bill Proctor (Educational Psychology/Learning Theories), Sabin Landry (History of Education), Ralph Hardee (Church Administration), and Deering (Research Methodologies). In my focus area (Patristics) is studied under Glenn Hinson and Bill Leonard. Timothy George sat in for Hinson (who was on Sabbatical leave) on my qualifying exams. My dissertation committee was William Rogers (whom I had never met prior to his assignment as my chair), Dan Aleshire and Alan Culpepper. All of these were Christian brothers who perpetuated the dying system of classical doctoral studies. Under their tutelage I believe I finally became a scholar and not just a student; I didn’t say a good scholar.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 6, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

I am Thankful for my Teachers at the Church of God Theological Seminary

If North Dakota was the best three consecutive years of my life, the year back in Cleveland (1979-1980) was the most bifurcated. Cheryl refers to it as the “year of the black hole.”

Before entering a doctoral program I felt strongly I needed an intensive study of Pentecostal theology at our seminary. Specifically I wanted to learn everything I could from Hollis Gause, the “Dean” of Church of God Theologians. The plan was for us to both spend a year studying in Cleveland and then to begin our doctoral programs. The plan began to be challenged before we left Minot. First, God spoke explicitly to me that our house was not going to sell (see Second, Cheryl decided to postpone further studies until I had completed mine. I felt strongly she was wrong but God spoke to me with instructions to stay out of the way and trust her with Him.

We moved to Cleveland just in time for me to enroll in seminary. We had a house in Minot that wasn’t selling. Jimmy Carter was President. Inflation was around 18%. There was a major recession in process. Unemployment was high. Cheryl couldn’t find work and neither could I. I struggled to trust God and not get in the way of whatever He was doing. My parents helped us out financially. (I highly recommend young adults never say they will never do anything again such as take money from their parents. I didn’t ask, but I didn’t turn it down either.] It was a most horrible year.

On the other hand, it was a glorious year. I was like a sponge at school. I took everything Dr. Gause taught that year. I was in class with him several hours every day. His rapid fire lectures were like an artesian well in a desert. I already had a firm spiritual foundation and the skeleton of a solid Pentecostal theology, but my ability to articulate that theology was weak. His lectures were like muscles attached to the frame. What I knew in spirit became sculpted with words, words to the glory of God. Every lecture was like Ezekiel’s dry bones coming to life.

There were several bonuses of coming to the seminary, Dr. Arrington, Joe May, and Bob Crick (May and Crick would later become doctors). I had taken Greek II with Arrington at Lee. At the Seminary I took Old Testament and New Testament with him. His lectures were always precise and engaging. I loved hearing him bring passion to study of God’s Word.

Joe May had already established himself as the Prince of Preachers in the Church of God. He was renowned for his expository preaching at camp meetings. His classes were unexpectedly methodical and punctuated with humorous anecdotes. I had to study more than I expected.

I had Bob Crick for a counseling course. He was provocative and forthright. He said things no one else was saying. He pushed the envelope and helped me own my personal theology of life. Thus, he strengthened my belief that the best theology flows out of the experiences of the people as they strive to know and glorify God.

Or as I would later write, orthodoxy is purposive; it is the port toward which we sail and the stream in which we sail. Our purpose for being is to “show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” We are destined to see God, to know Him, and to glorify Him in perfection. Theology should express our participation in the truth we have received, that truth in which we live and move and have our very being, Christ Himself, the Hope of Glory.

I am thankful for my teachers at the Church of God Theological Seminary. Each of them helped me articulate the faith that first dwelt in my mother Ernestine Johns and her mother Maggie O’Quinn, and was born in me at an early age. Those teachers further showed me that for the Spirit-filled believer a passion for God and a passion for knowledge are not only compatible, they are inseparable. To worship God truly is to know Him and to communicate the truth about Him.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 5, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I am Thankful for Our Time in North Dakota

Recently I reviewed my life and concluded the best three consecutive years of my adult life were the ones we spent in North Dakota. I have had wonderful experiences and innumerable blessings in every season of life. I have enjoyed every place where I have lived but without a doubt the overall most wonderful season was my time in North Dakota.

We were young; I was still 22 when I began teaching at Northwest Bible College. When I was offered my first contract in the spring of 1976 I told Dr. Dan Jessen, my professor at Wheaton, that I wouldn’t hire me to teach at a college. He responded with a word of wisdom, something to the effect that it was a good thing Jesus didn’t depend on me to determine the limits of my abilities and opportunities. He suggested that when God opened a door of ministry we should step through it.

North Dakota included a series of firsts for us: our first teaching positions, our first child, our first house, our first pastorate. I loved teaching, but it stressed and stretched me. In three years I taught 27 different courses and several of them multiple times, everything from all of the Christian Education curriculum to Old Testament Prophets, Acts, and my personal favorite, Business Math.

Our house was an old Victorian that we gutted and remodeled. Our first pastorate was the Butte Assembly of God, a wonderful congregation of farmers. We found the people of the Plains warm and accepting if a little distant at first. I was never officially asked to be the pastor of the AOG. A former pastor arranged for me to preach for a couple of weeks while the church looked for a pastor; I knew I was an unofficial candidate. After a couple of Sundays George, the church Treasurer, approached me and said “Pastor, will you just keep coming back until we ask you to stop?” That was my invitation to be their pastor. It was a wonderful two years.

Our time there wasn’t without some struggles. Finances were very close. My first year I was paid $7,200.00 for the ten month academic year. I had it distributed over 12 months making my gross salary $600 per month. We paid the College $300 a month for rent on a mobile home. Our car payment was $137.00. There wasn’t a lot left for life. Cheryl taught part-time that fall but was dismissed for the spring semester; it might not look good for a pregnant woman to teach the Bible. (Mary should have known better than to carry the Word of God in her womb.) Cheryl was hired full time the next year and we began pastoring as well.

I was not wise in my relationships with the school administrators, especially the President. I was a little too open and straight forward and probably a little too pushy. I think they wanted a 22 year-old who would be a little less opinionated. By the beginning of our third year we felt impressed it was time to begin looking into doctoral programs. The administrators seemed happy to endorse that plan.

Let me offer a more complete picture of our activities. For the last two years we both taught full time at the college, we pastored a church (and a second church simultaneously the final year), we bought and remodeled a Victorian house, we were Family Training Hour Directors at the Campus Church of God, where I also served on the Church and Pastor’s Council. It was the best three consecutive years of my adult life. I was fully alive, challenged and abounding in hope. Busy hands are happy hands.

It was not any single event that made my time there great. It was the gestalt of it and the excitement of everything new. I am not naive enough to think that season could ever be recapitulated. Nor would I want to even try. But I am convinced the best is yet to come and I am thankful for the warm glow of what has been.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 4, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I am Thankful for a Safe Drive Home

I am thankful for safe travels. I have witnessed several severe accidents in my life and driven by many shortly after they happened. I once witnessed across an interstate median an accident where a passenger ejected and flew through the air twenty or thirty yards. It crossed my mind this afternoon somewhere in southern Indiana how I take for granted my own safe travels. I don’t think about the accidents I have seen and I certainly don’t think about being in an accident. I take for granted I will arrive safely. This week I drove over sixteen hundred miles without an incident. I am thankful for God’s protection.

Cleveland, Tennessee
July 3, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

I am Thankful for a Great Visit with Karisa and Johnmark

Tomorrow morning Cheryl and I will leave for home. Home is a wonderful place wherever you find it. It is a place of friends and family, responsibilities and relaxation, worship and rest. We have been at home here in Wheaton. Wheaton was in fact our first home as a couple. We lived in the back half of an old house owned by the college at 722 College Avenue. The house was torn down decades ago to make room for expansion of the soccer stadium. It sat about four blocks from Karisa and Johnmark’s current basement apartment.

Our first apartment had thread bare carpet, Dutch doors, a square bathtub, and about the smallest kitchen ever built. We had a picture window from which we viewed the soccer field. The field served as a natural amplifier for the trains that roared past on the other side. On our first night there I was awakened around midnight as Cheryl crashed down on me with a full body bear hug asking, “What is that?” “A train, it’s just a train.” In her defense, it did sound like it was rumbling through our living room. Those four small rooms were a palace for us.

I loved my time at Wheaton, but the only place that felt like home was that little apartment. We had little money and even less time; we were both full-time students and we both worked. Our only recreation was riding our vintage, abandoned bicycles down the “Prairie Path” trail along the railroad tracks.

While the faculty were very warm and accepting, I never got over the feeling we were there on a trial bases. It had only been a few years prior to our arrival that Pentecostals were not welcome at the flagship of Evangelicalism without a promise to behave themselves – no charismatic expressions while a student. But Wheaton had always been more open than other conservative schools. I had looked into attending Dallas Theological Seminary and they had a strong prohibition against speaking in tongues and Asbury, my preferred seminary, required a commitment to not practice the gifts while a student. Wheaton was happy to let us know they had several Pentecostals before us.

Our church in Aurora was even less welcoming. The members of the congregation were post WWII southern transplants who were still living in the fifties. For me it was like returning to my childhood – same look, same songs, same attire. The members couldn’t understand why we were in school. Most of them had not completed high school. I taught the “Young Married” Sunday school class. My youngest members were a couple that had been married for two years. He was fourteen and she was fifteen. Their parents, both sets, had driven them to Mississippi to get married.

One of the older sisters came up to me after service one Sunday and said, “Do you want to know what the difference between you and me is young man?”

I responded, “Well, I guess you are about to tell me.”

She put her finger in my face and spoke clearly, “I depend on the Holy Ghost and you depend on your ed-gee-kay-tion.”

I chuckled and replied, “I guess that’s my problem. It’s the Holy Ghost that told me to get this education.”

She huffed, turned and walked away. I don’t believe she ever spoke to me again no matter how hard I tried.

I guess I never found my comfort zone in Wheaton thirty five years ago. It’s still not a place I would desire to live. But it is where Karisa lives and that makes it quite comfortable.

Wheaton, Illinois
July 2, 2010

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I am Thankful for Good Times

Tonight we (Cheryl, Karisa, Johnmark, and myself) went to the taping of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” It was Karisa’s suggestion some time ago that we make a trip up for this purpose. Cheryl took the initiative to go on-line and purchase the tickets. It was a most enjoyable evening. A few weeks ago Cheryl and I went to see “Fences” starring Denzel Washington on Broadway, a most enjoyable evening. I am so cultured I might become a Democrat, but don’t hold you breath. Truthfully, this summer has included some of the most enjoyable events and it is not half over yet. I am blessed; I am thankful; I am broke.  Nobody said all the good times are free.

Wheaton, Illinois
July 1, 2010