Glass Houses and Fishbowls

I Peter 2:9

pe-cu-li-ar: (adj.) strange or odd; unusual

From birth, a PK (preacher’s kid) is different.  Just as the parent is set aside for a singular purpose, the PK is included in the unique situation.  Living in the parsonage is often likened to living in a fishbowl.  Your life is transparent to anyone and everyone.  This tends to create a situation in which the child, early on, begins to develop strategies to be just like everyone else, normal. It’s an uphill battle.  Once your peers are informed of your heritage, it begins.

stand-by-me

PKs are especially prone to peer-pressure and bullying. Recently, I was telling a friend about my formative years. Somewhere around sixth grade, I spent most afternoons wondering who would try to beat me up that day.  I wanted nothing more than to simply be “one of they guys;” I just wanted to fit in. In those efforts, I usually went overboard trying to prove my normality.  I was an easy target for peer pressure.  I remember the neighborhood fellas daring me to throw a rock through the window of the vacant house, just to prove I wasn’t a “goody-two-shoes.” (I won’t recount the story here, but Google the term. It was originally a tale designed to motivate children to live a virtuous life.) I bent down, picked up a stone of adequate size, and threw it straight and true. CRASH! As schoolboys do, they all scattered, and left me staring at the results of my vandalism.

I ran home and hid in my bedroom.  I sheepishly moved around the house, waiting to see if I had gone undiscovered. The rest of the afternoon went by, and it was finally bath-time to get ready for bed. I had escaped.  There I was, naked in the tub and counting my toes, when my father walked in. “Come here.” I was naked in more ways than one. He didn’t even let me dress. He wrapped a towel around me and led me to the front door. The stranger there turned out to be the owner of the rent-house under renovation. I wondered what that sticker on the window meant. It meant they were brand new windows.  I had never seen this man before. How in the world did he know I was the culprit? There wasn’t even a line-up with the other boys, just me.  There went my allowance for the month.

I had not only embarrassed myself, but also my father. He was serious about the way his children’s actions reflected on his ministry.  At one point a year or so later, he was especially irritated at my grades in school.  I brought home three Cs.  Have I mentioned I am a “junior?” He was Arthur Wesley Wellborn Sr. I was Arthur Wesley Wellborn Jr. After one lick of the belt for each C on the report card, he sternly asserted, “Boy, that’s my name you’re carrying around in this world, but you’re acting like a jack-ass.  If you keep this up, I’ll take you to the courthouse and change your name to Jack Ass.”  I believed him. The next report card was nothing lower than an A. He put his arm around my shoulder, and told me he was proud. He then pulled out a brand new pocket-knife as a reward.

These days are a little different. It’s not just preacher’s kids who are under scrutiny.  There is literally nothing hidden. Digital technology assures that. We all live in fish bowls.  Our actions are open and permanently recorded for everyone to see. Everything comes to light at some point.  In many ways, I still feel different, peculiar, odd. In many ways, I still want nothing more than to feel “normal,” whatever that means. It does give me comfort, however, to know that God’s people are different by design. We are different for a reason. As Christians, it is Christ’s name we carry through the world.  We are set apart in that world, and if “normal” means clinging to the darkness rather than proclaiming the light, maybe being peculiar isn’t such a bad thing.

Published in: on July 27, 2017 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Hot Daawgs; Getcher Hot Dogs!

Mark 7:19

I am told that today, July 19, is National Hot Dog Day.  We Americans do love adding yet another reason to celebrate.  Today, we celebrate that wonderfully horrible food that stands for everything we are as a nation. The hot dog’s glorious mixture of meats represents the blending of cultures, where beef, poultry, and pork co-exist in a harmonious state.  The resourcefulness of our forefathers is echoed in the use of each and every part of the animal. The simplicity of preparation makes a cook out of anyone. That most American of foods, today, we salute you.

Oscar Mayer

Wieners were a staple at our house when I was growing up, along with tube steak (bologna). Although we never missed a meal, we were often unsure of where our next meal would come from.  Beans and cornbread, bologna, and wieners were the substance of our sustenance. Sometimes they were dressed up with cheese and stuck in a slice of bread. Other times, they were simply naked.  Strangely enough, bologna was the only one of those entrees I lost a taste for.  Somewhere around sixth grade, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I still love beans and cornbread, and I still love hot dogs.

I’ve only gotten sick from food twice in my life; both events involved hot dogs.  The first time was on a family vacation.  I’ve already told you about our trips to Medina, Texas. Often, there were other pastors and their families at the same facility, enjoying much needed respite. One year, I think I was eight years old, the whole lot of us had a cookout. I waited my turn in line, then I scarfed down my first dog. I returned for a second…and a third…a fourth. In all, I consumed eight hot dogs that night.  Needless to say, later that night, I let the dogs loose. (Now you know the answer. I let the dogs loose.)

The second event took place my junior year in college.  On the last day of finals, I finished my exams at around 3:30 pm.  I had an eight hour drive ahead of me, so my brother (who was a freshman at the same school) and I decided to take in a movie, get a night’s rest, then drive home the next morning when we were fresh.  We went to the local cinema and watched Arnold Schwartzenegger in Conan the Barbarian.  I had a jumbo dog at 9:15 pm.  At 2:30 am, the jumbo dog had me.

Many folks would have given up on the lowly dog, after just one of those episodes. Not me. I have been loyal to the dogs, and they have been loyal to me.  I have often entertained the idea of having a hot dog cart as a retirement job.  A well-placed hot dog cart – near a park or river or lake or downtown offices – can net the owner a pretty nice cash reserve. There is low overhead, low maintenance, and simplicity of process.  You can’t lose.

In our health-conscious society, the wiener has taken a lot of criticism lately.  To that, I simply respond, “Jesus declared all foods clean.”  Sounds impossible?  Well, if he can declare clean anyone who comes to him, no matter what they have done…no matter what… can’t he just as easily use a hot dog for that most Baptist of prayers, “And bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.”

Published in: on July 19, 2017 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Christian Cursing

James 3:10

I’ve already introduced you to Tom Greenhill, my best friend for the four years we lived in Balmorhea, Texas.  Tom’s dad, the Methodist pastor, had several children. I can’t remember now if there were four or five Greenhills, but I know there were more Greenhills than Wellborns.  It seems one of them may have been allergic to cow’s milk because I remember they kept goats.  It was the goats and the Greenhills that introduced me to cursing.

First, you should know we were not allowed to curse. That was one of the “big” sins. Not only that, we were not allowed to use by-words.  A by-word is a word you use to get by without actually cursing.  Therefore, you have words such as “shoot” and “darn.” My father’s approach was curse-words (and by-words) showed ignorance and disrespect.  If you can’t express your thoughts and feelings in legitimate verbiage, it shows you have a limited vocabulary and need further education.  My dad was consistent, too. I never remember him uttering profanity, even when he hit his thumb with a hammer. He would simply grit his teeth and grunt.

 

Back to the Greenhills. We all know cute and funny goats are, forgetting that Jesus always, always used goats in negative terminology and metaphor.  I remember one day at the Greehill home seeing the oldest daughter experience some displeasing event and spitting out a quick and venemous, “dammit!”  I had never heard the word before, but there was something mature and adventuresome about the way she said it.  She was older and pretty, and I kind of liked the way she said it.

goat lick

It was a week or two later when Tom and I were in their back yard playing with the goats.  One of the goats bit me, so I spat out a quick and grown-up, “dammit!” Everything and everyone around me froze.  All the Greenhills stared at me.  All the neighbors stared at me.  God stared at me.  Scripture rightly asserts, what you have said in secret will be shouted from the housetops.  I ran home, but the news of my vulgarity beat me there. I humbly accepted my sentence of a spanking, a mouth-washing, and a lecture.  To this day I think it was unfair that the very Greenhill daughter who taught me the word was the same one who reported my use of it to my parents.  At age six, in one day, I learned the dangers of loose-lips and worldly women.

Years later, when I was attempting to learn golf (preachers love golf, so I tried to fit in) I again found the need for self-expression of negative emotion.  This time I invented “Christian cursing.”  In retrospect, it was truly another fashion of by-words, but sometimes you just need a good interjection.  Teeing off into the sand-trap, I invented words like “flibberjibbit” and “snagdabbit.”  Shortly after that, a movie called “A Christmas Story” stole my approach.  I still laugh when I watch that movie and the dad spews his modified D-words and F-words.

What’s the point?  My dad taught me that cursing is actually cursing.  In biblical times, placing a blessing on someone – wishing them well – had an antithesis, cursing. Damnation is a bad thing, and “damn you” wishes that bad on the other person.  Cursing spews sewage on everyone who hears it.  I’m not the speech police, but I still wax bold when someone is flaunting their ignorance of the language by slinging their curses on everyone within earshot.  My spouse often worried when I reminded some young buck, giving a stern look, “I have my wife and children here. Please watch your language. I won’t ask you again.”  I’ve never had to ask twice.  They know it’s inappropriate, and they immediately apologize.

There was a popular country song recently about a father who hears his toddler son spout a curse word. He asks where the son heard language like that.  The son replies, “I learned it from you, Dad! I want to be like you!”

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

Oh, the People You’ll Meet

norman1

I culminated my last post with an observation that motorcycles open doors to meeting people you would not otherwise encounter.  This past week, as my buddy Terry and I were riding through the Texas Hill country, that proved true.

Just southeast of Kerrville lies the tiny town of Medina, where my family would vacation in my childhood years.  Terry and I stopped at the general store for a soft drink and a snack.  As we were stretching our legs, an old gent pulled into the parking lot and approached us with a broad grin.  Terry struck up a conversation about his veteran’s cap, and the two of them began swapping military memories.

Norman Rigsby is a survivor of World War II, specifically D-Day.  I remember travelling to Normandy and Omaha beaches in France a few years back.  Over 160,000 soldiers stormed the beaches, and over 9,000 were killed or wounded in a single day.  Norman survived.  Later in the war, he was twice wounded.  When he could no longer serve as an infantryman, they assigned him to motorcade duties on a 1946 Harley Davidson.  His grin grew even bigger when he pulled from his shirt pocket a picture of him on his Harley.  He had the honor of escorting General George Patton’s entourage.

I found my eyes getting watery as Norman told of lying in a medic tent with an empty body bag waiting beside his cot, since they didn’t expect him to survive. He did survive, though, and I am privileged to have met him.  At a spry 92 years of age, he shared his philosophy of long life (which I choose not to share here for reasons of my own – sorry). He, and others like him, are the reason they are called “The Great Generation.”

I also think of my father, who served in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict. That word, “conflict,” certainly waters things down, doesn’t it? It wasn’t a conflict; it was a war.  My father worked in the K9 corps, as an MP guarding an ammo dump in Okinawa. He never talked much about it, saying it was a dark time in his life.  He did, however, use his veteran status as an opportunity to reach out to other veterans.

My friend, Terry, also saw combat duty.  He served three tours in Iraq in the recent wars, Desert storm and Iraqi Freedom.  He knows first-hand the mental and emotional impact of duck-and-cover during artillery fire and the grueling grief of seeing fallen comrades.

These men, I consider true heroes.  To a man, they say the same: “I was just doing my job.” Their job was to give up their freedom and safety to protect ours.  They did that job for woefully little pay and under horrendous conditions.  They don’t usually care to discuss it much in-depth, except with other veterans.  They don’t brag. These men, in my opinion, come the closest to identifying with the mission and sacrifice of Christ, who gave up all position and power to sacrifice himself in our behalf and for our benefit.

This Independence Day, if you encounter a veteran, thank that person.  Honor the service and sacrifice, whatever your political leanings.  Your right to disagree, your freedom to debate how wrong or right those wars (or any wars) may be, your right was purchased by these men and women.  Norman, Terry, and all others, my hat is off to you today.

norman2

Published in: on July 3, 2017 at 9:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

CB 450

I am currently packing up my bike for a week-long outing with a buddy of mine.  Consequently, I thought an appropriate follow-up to the bicycle story might be to explain my love of motorcycles, so I borrowed the title of Robert Pirsig’s best-seller.  Even the customized bicycle was meant to reflect a motorcycle. That was the point of the handlebars, the seat, the cards in the spokes.  At age seven, I was making progress toward my ultimate goal.

About a year later, we moved to a new town, and I met a friend who had a mini-bike.  It was a short little frame powered by a lawn-mower engine. You had to pull a rope to start it, then you could hop on and ride around at a nice little clip.  I asked my parents if we might be able to get one.  My father said we couldn’t afford it, and my mother said absolutely not.  In fact, she said, “When you are 18, you can do what you want. Until then, you cannot have one.”  At age 16 John Terrell, who lived on a farm, would invite me over, and I could use one of their small bikes, a Yamaha 80. On the first day, I rounded a curve too fast and slid under a barbed-wire fence, slicing my right calf open. I still have the scar, and I still had the fever.

When I turned 18, I reminded my mother of her words and promptly secured a Kawasaki 125 enduro (street/dirt) bike that was a true fixer-upper.  That was the first of a long line of bikes I have thoroughly enjoyed.  There’s nothing like a couple of hours with the wind in your face to get your head straight.  As bikers say, “It’s cheaper than therapy.”

The thing I could never figure out was the reaction I got from parishioners.  A preacher on a motorcycle? What? Why?  I guess films like Easy Rider created a certain persona about motorcycle riders that good church-going folks felt was incompatible with the ministry.  In fact, at my first full-time church staff position, I rode my motorcycle to the office one sunny summer day.  I thought it might be a great way to open doors for youth ministry.  It was an avocado green, Honda CB 450, that had been chopped (the front forks cut and re-welded at a much sharper angle and extended). Well, the leaders of the church had a different opinion and strongly requested (demanded?) I not ride it to the church.  They didn’t want their youth led into delinquency and suggested I sell it; I didn’t.

Even though, through the years, my bikes got progressively larger, more comfortable, and more suited to touring, I still got the question: a preacher on a motorcycle? The most spiritual answer I can give is, I like it. Some people paint, some people have animals, some collect stamps, I ride my motorcycle. And what about bad company?  I have encountered many truly rough folks as our motorcycle paths cross.  It has always created a sort of mutual ground from which to establish relationships.  There’s a sort of unspoken brotherhood with bikers.  Maybe is the shared danger of dodging cars driven by the short-sighted and distracted. Anyhow, that’s what Jesus did. He looked for mutual ground to establish relationships.  With him, it was always about relationships.  He didn’t go out of his way to manipulate circumstances; he simply did what he was going to do anyway, and looked for the opportunity that presented itself as he crossed paths with someone else.

This next week, I will no doubt make new friends, at least I hope I do.  My buddy (a retired Pentecostal pastor and army chaplain) will accompany me in some much needed recreation and relaxation.  Look out, world: TWO preachers on motorcycles.

Bluebonnet

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment  

My First Bicycle

my bike before

Girl’s bicycle

Psalm 37:24  (Loosely applied)

My first bicycle was a girl’s bicycle.  In 1967, that was not cool.  Most pastors like my dad were paid a marginal salary, so things like bicycles and large toys were lower on the priority list than things like groceries and gas.  As a result, my first bicycle was a hand-me-down, like many of my clothes. My sister had it first, and it wasn’t new when she got it. My parent’s got it at a garage sale, and those were very important enterprises for families like ours.  At any rate, the bike was handed down to me when she outgrew it.

I need to first explain to millennial readers the difference between a girl’s bike and a boy’s bike.  On a boy’s bike, there is a bar that runs from the top of the handlebar yoke to the top of the seat bracket.  On a girl’s bike, the bar drops down from the handlebars to just above the pedals.  As an inquisitive boy, I never quite figured that out. In fact, I could imagine anatomical reasons why that was not a good idea.  Later, I realized that the bar dropping on a girl’s bike was based in a culture of days gone by.  Most young people rode bicycles for transportation, from their childhood into their twenties.  At that time, however, it was unseemly for a young lady to be in public wearing pants. They wore shin-length skirts.  Since a boy’s bicycle had that bar, it was cumbersome and risque for a young lady to swing her leg over the seat to mount the bike, like one might mount a horse.  Therefore, the bar was lowered, so she could step through the middle and simply sit on the seat as her skirt rested on the bar.

Now that you have the history and rationale for the unique designs of the respective two-wheelers, you must know I was more motivated to have transportation than I was by bowing to peer-pressure.  I had a plan.  To compensate for the missing top bar, I decided I would have my own garage sale, after which the proceeds would fund a customization of the bike.  Fortunately, it was already red, my favorite color. I would customize the handlebars, the seat, and the wheels.

First, I removed the wide touring handlebars. I purchased “spider” handlebars, that rise sharply, then drop down, like a chopper motorcycle.  Next, I removed the old saddle-style seat and installed a long “banana” seat. (You can ride two, if a girl agrees to sit behind you.)  Finally, I removed the wheels, but that is where things got sticky.  I had spent all my money on the handlebars and seat and had none left for the wheels.  I really wanted whitewall tires.  With no alternative, I reluctantly replaced the wheels.  Something happened that would become a regular occurrence in my mechanical endeavors. I had a part leftover, but I couldn’t figure out where it belonged.  Everything seemed to work, though, so I dismissed any concern. The final step was to attach playing cards to the spokes with clothes pins.  That way the wheels made a nice rat-a-tat-tat, as I rode down the street.

Once the customization was complete, I rode, and rode, loud and proud on my Huffy….Davidson.  And what was I proud of?  My very economical, self-customized bicycle and my new found skill of riding a wheelie, front wheel in the air, blowing in the breeze.  I could ride a wheelie for three blocks!  One day, as I was riding one of my world famous wheelies, the front wheel dropped off the fork and rolled down the street in front of me. At that moment, there were two realizations that almost simultaneously struck me.  1. I now knew where that leftover part went.  2. In that moment, I knew gravity would win at some point, and I was suddenly GLAD my bicycle was a girl’s bike.

boys bike

Boy’s bicycle

Published in: on June 21, 2017 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Valley…The Shadow

Kimberly

Kimberly

Psalm 23

It has been almost a year since I last contributed to this project.  For the most part, I simply haven’t had the emotional energy.  Caring for my wife in her declining health was sapping all strength.  Others would try to encourage me, assuring me it would help process what I was going through, but I did not want to process.  I simply needed to survive and dedicate every ounce of emotional resource to her.  We had been walking through the valley, in the shadow.

Death casts a long shadow. Each day, every day, it was there with us.  As the tumors in her lungs continued to spread and grow, and her stamina continued to wane, Death’s shadow grew.  We weren’t afraid, not really.  As believers we knew the final outcome would be victory, but it was still a valley, and there was still that shadow.   I was continually reminded of Paul’s observation, “We carry about in our bodies the death of Christ.”

In the valley and in the shadow, there were moments of respite. The Psalmist said God prepares a table in the presence of the enemy, and that he did.  For over a year, my wife’s school and church friends brought food, lots and lots of food.  Other than my intentional routine of Saturday breakfast, we cooked very little.  Not only was there food, but our cup ran over.  In all, friends contributed somewhere around $20,000 toward her medical care. Others came and cleaned our house.  Still others came to baby-sit when she became too weak to care for our grandchildren, as our daughters went to work. Church and school friends pitched in to help plan and carry out our son’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Other friends came to simply sit and visit, as this cheered and encouraged her. All this took place in the valley, in the shadow.

I have traveled this road over forty years ago, when my father died. Death comes to the parsonage, as it does every other home and family.  There is no distinction.  The familiarity of the road gave some comfort…no, not comfort…just familiarity.  I knew the destination.

Two weeks ago, the valley grew deeper and the shadow grew darker.  Her breath was shortened, labored, and her strength was failing.  She spent most of her last few days in the bed or the recliner.  Her thoughts were jumbled, and her emotions were frayed and raw.  Yet she enjoyed what there was left of life, a late-night (early morning) viewing of Camelot, as she sang each and every song from memory. She enjoyed a poached egg breakfast the next morning on the back porch, soaking in the cool breeze after a rain, and commented on the green grass and the tall corn just beyond the back fence.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” We are never told how many days we have, but each day she would end by recounting one thing that happened and say, “Today was another perfect day.”

“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That night, after enjoying our movie and breakfast, she sat in the recliner and talked to the kids. She quipped, “Have I died and gone to heaven?”  Twelve hours later, she did.  After going to the emergency room for relief of a maddening headache and inability to breathe well, the doctor agreed to admit her to a hospice room.  A powerful cocktail of various drugs offered her the sleep that had eluded her for weeks.  She slept for six hours, as each breath was more labored and further from the last.  As I returned from a quick shower and bowl of cereal, I walked back into the room and mustered a cheery, “Hello!”  She took one more breath and was gone.

In all this, He walked with us. There were green pastures and still waters before the end, the trips to Europe, Niagra Falls, The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We lacked nothing. He restored us time and again.  Now, the valley is behind us and the shadow is gone. The future is a big, blank canvass, a new road, waiting to see where he leads next.

Published in: on June 13, 2017 at 12:54 pm  Comments (9)  

The Ordinances – Part II; Baptism

Matthew 28:19

As good and faithful, Bible believing Baptists, we did not have the seven sacraments; we had the two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Preacher’s kids regularly practice both. In fact, any time we were near any body of water that was more than knee-deep, we baptized.  There weren’t any true converts waiting to have their sins washed away, but we practiced doing it anyway, just in case.  There must have been something in us that wanted to honor the somber nature of baptism yet have fun.  The solution was to dunk each other “in the name of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy!”  We dared not invoke the name of the Holy Trinity into potential blasphemy.

baptism

Living in west Texas means there are regular dust storms.  Regular dust storms means the baptistery must be cleaned before each and every service which included the joyful ordinance.  My father took special joy in sweeping, mopping, and rinsing the tank before baptism services. We could see it in his eyes as he labored.

On one occasion, we decided to help. In fact, we offered to do it for him.  After the communion fiasco, he was reluctant, but as any good father would, he offered us a second chance.  On Sunday afternoon, we gathered our broom, mop, and bucket to prepare for the task.  We swept and swept. Then, we liberally applied Tide detergent over the floor of the baptistery, so we could mop it.  I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but something distracted us, and we left the building.  My father, thinking we had finished, crawled under the platform to where the water valve was, and he turned it on.  It takes about 45 minutes for most baptisteries to fill up, so he then went home for a bit. (Wait for it).

When he came back to turn the water off, there was a four-foot-high mountain of suds on top of the water.  By that time, it was only a few minutes until the service was scheduled to start.  He scraped as much of the suds off the top as he could, but not nearly enough.  When the curtains opened to reveal him standing in the baptistery awaiting the candidate, gasps then snickers and giggles swept over the congregation.  He had forewarned the poor fellow, who took it all in stride with good humor. Never was a convert so thoroughly cleansed of his sins.

Through the years, there were many instances of baptizing a younger believer who loved to chance to be in the mini-pool. There was more than one occasion when the baptized was significantly taller and heavier than the baptizer. I usually just told those guys to sit down, as if on a chair then stand back up. You have to be careful to get their top-knot under the water, though.  One fellow was so large, he doused the back row of the choir when he went under. It was sort of like Shamu at Sea World.

No matter the circumstances, we Baptist are good dunkers. We were named for it, and we take special pleasure in doing it. “Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in new life.”

Published in: on April 14, 2016 at 8:43 am  Leave a Comment  

The Ordinances – Part 1; Body and Blood

I Corinthians 11

As good and faithful, Bible believing Baptists, we did not have the seven sacraments; we had the two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  It’s interesting how our Protestant rejection of “dead tradition” often evolved into staunch traditions of our own. For instance, we had the Lord’s Supper once a quarter; that’s four times a year, and only at night.  I remember one time when my father suggested including “communion” as part of the morning worship.  He ran afoul of the deacons who instructed him that “Those other denominations have communion. Baptists have the Lord’s Supper. If we have it in the morning, it can’t very well be the Lord’s Supper, can it. It would be the Lord’s breakfast!”

As a child, I remember thinking the whole thing was a little bit spooky. The trays were set on a long table with a white table cloth covering them.  The outline of the trays on that covered table almost looked like a body.  The deacons would silently lift the cloth and meticulously fold it, laying it aside.  My father would somberly quote the passage from I Corinthians 11.

23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

After everyone ate and drank, the trays were placed back on the table and the cloth returned to its original place.  It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized it was purposefully intended to portray a body, Christ’s linen-covered body, on the rock-hewn table of the tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimethea. (I’ve often mentally rehearsed a fictitious conversation between Jesus and Joseph. “Hey, Joseph, can I borrow your tomb? I’ll only need it for a couple of days. Then you can have it back.) At the end of the service, we would stand, hold hands, and sing “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”

As preacher’s kids, all that didn’t matter. What was really important was, after the service was over, we got to snack on the leftover crackers and juice. I don’t know if the mystique lay in the spiritual mysteries symbolized or simply the fun of tiny little crackers and tiny cups of juice. It was a quarterly treat, and we loved it.  I remember one particular Saturday in Balmorhea when my father prepared the trays for the next Lord’s Day.  My brother, sister, and I snuck over to the church and feasted on the bounty. We ate every cracker and drank every cup.

Communion_Baptist

I’m pretty sure that was a violation of St. Paul’s clear instructions in his letter to the Corinthians that we are to wait on each other and not struggle to be first to eat.  Well, we were by far the first. Daddy rarely got angry, but he was mad! Actually, he was frantic, then angry.  You see, in Balmorhea, Texas, the store (singular) closed at 6:00 pm on Saturday and did no open again until Monday morning at 8:00 am. The same was true for Pecos, the next town over.  After a couple of hours of frantic phone calls, he finally found a church member who had a box of Nabisco Saltines and a bottle of Welch’s grape juice: crisis averted.

When I became established in ministry, communion became my favorite observance.  Of course, by the time I had reached my first pastorate, most churches were willing to have the service once a month, in the morning, and call it communion.  Now that’s progressive! What made it my favorite service, though, was the way the deacons in that first congregation carefully and lovingly prepared it. They actually baked the bread and aged the juice (just a little). The care they took truly impressed me. More than that, they truly lived in Christian unity as they observed Christ’s sacrifice.

The ingredients of the elements and the frequency of the meal mean nothing if they don’t lead to one-ness in Christ.  My brother-in-law recently told me of a church member who refused to attend church because of some disagreement, but he insisted the deacons bring communion to him at his home, so he could take the elements without being around “those people.”  That attitude reminds me of the new trend in some mega-churches. By sheer necessity, they buy the all-in-one communion cups. Peel back the top layer to access the wafer, and peel back the next layer to access the juice. I don’t think it’s actually bread. It’s more like that silicon packet in the bottom of the box, the one that says “DO NOT EAT!” The juice tastes something like Pennzoil 10-40. Well, maybe we could just mail those tasteless little packets out to the contrary Christians who want to be one with the body, all alone.

Published in: on April 7, 2016 at 10:52 am  Comments (1)  

15 Miles Past “Resume Speed”

Luke 14:23

I often remember a song that was popular in the days of the Jesus Movement. I remember when we played our guitars and sang with fervor:

Little country church on the edge of town, Doot’n-doot’n, do-do-do-do.

People coming everyday from miles around, Doot’n-doot’n, do-do-do-do.

And it’s very plain to see, it’s not the way it used to be, No-no-no

People aren’t stuffy like they were before, They just want to praise the Lord.

People aren’t talkin’ bout religion no more, They just want to praise the Lord.

My dad and uncle pastored those little country churches in west Texas towns, where the names of the towns were also descriptors. Brownfield, Littlefield, Plainview, Levelland, Sundown, and Needmore conjure up images that are exactly what they sound like.  Of course, there are some other towns that were named in irony, like Big Lake; it’s not big and there isn’t a lake. When my dad met someone who was unfamiliar with the area, they would ask, “Where is that?” His response was usually, “That’s 15 miles past ‘Resume Speed’ referring to the road sign as one leaves the previous town.

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My dad felt called to “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in.” He loved the country churches in small west Texas towns, and he loved the down-and-out who sought refuge in the wilderness. My mother told me this weekend the first thing my father would do when moving to a new church was look for the derelicts and rejects of the town, the alcoholics and addicts. Cities have no monopoly on that.

When I pastored in Miami (Texas), I felt like we had moved to the city.  Previously, I pastored in Channing, a town of 250 people and half a million head of cattle. We drove 35 miles for groceries, but around 100 folks met weekly in the red-brick church to worship.  In Miami, however, there was one of everything: one gas station, one grocery store, one bank, one café, and one traffic light. There was one Baptist church, one Methodist, one Church of Christ, and one Christian church (Disciples of Christ). Our motto for the church was “streams in the desert,” denoting how God was working in our remote little town of less than a thousand people.

This past Easter, I went with my wife and mother to visit my sister and her family. I remember Pennye vowing she would never marry a preacher, much less one who served a country church.  I snickered when she said it because I know what happens when you say “never” to God.  Shortly after she married her school teacher husband, he felt called to ministry and enrolled in seminary.  On this Good Friday we packed the car and headed for Seagraves, Texas, where my brother-in-law pastors a healthy church in a dying west Texas town. He too serves God in the highways and hedges.

I still have a stirring every time I am on the road and pass little chapel in the middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of no-where, God is now-here.

P.S. If you’re ever in west Texas, be sure to visit Big Spring, Loop, Circleback, Paint Rock, Muleshoe, Farwell, and Earth.

Published in: on March 30, 2016 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment