Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Of Chinamen and Tramps

Grandson Joe and his Grandma Mac were looking at Halloween costumes, he said, “My favorite holiday is the one that’s coming next.” That’s pretty much his attitude toward life. That’s one of the reasons he’s my hero. I want to be like him when I grow up.

When I was Joe’s age, we had just moved from Indianapolis to the country near Oakland City, IN. We lived on a dirt farm without indoor plumbing or a car or money, three miles from town if you walked, five if you drove. My social life consisted of the school bus, school, and church. My usual seat-mate on the bus was Donald Gene Taylor.

Donald Gene lived with his grandparents, Carson and Dora Blair. [1] He had parents, in Indianapolis, and they came to see him every once in a while, but they both worked and apparently felt it cramped their style to raise a child. Being raised by grandparents, Don, as we called him in later years, was a bit immature in those school years, but he went on to have a very successful career as a Navy pilot.

He and his grandparents were very nice to me, the new kid. When the Heathmans, our nearest neighbors, with whom I normally rode to church, were out of town on a Sunday, which wasn’t very often, the Blairs would even drive down our long dead-end road to pick me up to go to church.

They took Donald Gene to events in town, too, things I couldn’t go to because I didn’t have any way to get there. So they took me, too. The first of those was a Halloween parade and costume contest, when I was ten.

Grandson Joe has a purchased costume for his favorite holiday, this one that’s coming next. It’s very scary. I think he’s the grim reaper. [2] He has a silver face, rather hideous, and a black robe, and long bony fingers. When I was 10, I don’t think there were any whole costumes for purchase, although you could get a suffocating Halloween mask, with uncomfortable strings to go over your ears, and eyeholes in the wrong places, at most dime stores.

I didn’t have enough money even for a mask, or a way to get to the dime store, so I took everybody’s fallback position to this day; I went as a tramp. I tramped the mile to Donald Gene’s house, a stick over my shoulder with a red bandanna tied at the end of it, old jeans with holes, which was not a good idea on a cold October night, and some old yellow gloves, with the fingers mostly out.

We marched down Main Street with the other kids, and then someone from the Kiwanis Club judged our costumes, by category. I was quite shocked when I was put in with the “Chinamen” for judging.

I don’t know why there was a whole category of Chinamen. Maybe Trusler’s 5 & Dime had a sale on Chinaman masks. But surely anyone could see that I was a tramp, not a Chinaman. Competition in that category was tougher, because there were a lot of tramps in the parade, but how many Chinamen carried their belongings in a red bandanna and had dirty white faces?

It was the yellow gloves, Donald Gene suggested on our way home. The beleaguered Kiwanian in charge of herding us into groups looked at my yellow hands and decided I was a Chinaman. I didn’t win a prize. I wasn’t a very convincing Chinaman.

As I tramped home from Donald Gene’s in the dark and cold, I looked at the scary moonly back-lighted wild blackberry canes blowing in the breeze and worried that somebody who didn’t like Chinamen might jump out of the bushes and do me in, all because a Kiwanian stuck me into the wrong category.

It wasn’t the last time someone took a look at just one part of me and put me into the wrong category. In fact, it’s happened a lot over the years. If I showed an old holey yellow glove in the wrong place, I was put into some wholly wrong category and judged accordingly.

I’ve made my peace with it, for the most part. They may have misjudged me, but I always knew who I was… a tramp, whose favorite holiday is the next one.

[1] Dora was born around 1890. She had a brother. Their parents decided not to name them, but to let them choose their names when they were 12. Until that time, they just called them “Boy” or “Girl.” Her brother chose George. I guess Dora was the “hot” name of 1902.

[2] When I was in seminary at Garrett, at Northwestern U, the students at McCormick Theological Seminary [Presbyterian], in Chicago, always referred to “the grim reaper” as “the international harvester,” in deference to Cyrus McCormick, who invented the mechanical reaper and started the International Harvester company and contributed enough of its money to get his name on the seminary.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five-Minute People

“I’m not a five-minute person yet,” Helen said this morning.

We read recently that the ideal tea-steeping time, to release all the antioxidants and other healthy stuff, is five minutes.

We’ve had the tea habit since we made a trip to Scotland 35 years ago. I assume they must have steeped it three minutes there, because at first, we steeped it for three minutes. I set the count-down mode on my runner’s chronograph/wrist watch to three. There was a nice little “ching-ching” that rang 10 times when the three minutes were up.

Then we heard it should be four. I reset for four minutes. We seemed to make the adjustment from being three-minute people to four-minute people okay.

But we were younger then. Change comes harder when you’re older.

I don’t run anymore, but I keep buying the same Casio runner’s watch I’ve had since I started long-distance running when I turned 40. I know how to set its different functions. I don’t want to learn how to operate a different watch.

So it wasn’t any problem to reset the “ching-ching” for five minute tea steeping. Waiting for the ching-ching is quite different.

I’m usually up first. I clean up the kitchen from the night before [Helen cooks; I clean up] while I cook my oatmeal and steep my tea. I can wait five minutes because I have other things to do.

Helen gets up later. I’m sitting on the sofa eating my oatmeal and drinking my tea. When I hear her tea kettle stop whistling in the kitchen, I set my timer for five minutes. But her toast doesn’t take that long. She’s sitting in the living room with her tray when the chronograph does its ching-ching to alert her to remove the tea bag.

There’s no tea bag, though. She already pulled it out of the cup in the kitchen. She couldn’t wait. She’s not a five-minute person yet.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cheeses vs Jesus

Scott Emmons in “The Daily Rhyme” for today [which is actually now the weekly rhyme] entitles his rhyme, “It’s All Gouda.” The last line is, “My once pathetic life was changed/When I accepted cheeses.”

Scott likes to poke fun at religious types, and this is a clever little effort in that direction, playing off of religious phrases like “God is good all the time,” and “My life was changed when I accepted Jesus.”

I know that for Scott it’s just fun, with a tinge of unbeliverliness, but it gives me a chance to point up once again the difference between pleasure and joy, which is represented here by the difference between Cheeses and Jesus.

Nothing wrong with pleasure, says Jesus. Jesus reminds us that pleasure is good. Otherwise, why would we seek it? Those who do seek it and find it “have their reward,” he says.

But Cheeses, the spokesman for the world’s salvation, tells us that pleasure is enough; it can give meaning to life. Jesus knows there is something more.

Having money and what it can buy gives us pleasure, says Cheeses. Yes, but sharing, not just having, goes beyond pleasure to joy, says Jesus.

Having power, controlling others, be it financial or political or familial, can bring us pleasure, says Cheeses. Yes, says Jesus, but going beyond the pleasure of power to service brings us joy. [See the story of James and John wanting the best places in the Kingdom.]

Boozing and doping and wagering and porning and over-eating can give you the pleasure of getting out of your pathetic life, says Cheeses. Yes, but being the real you, the person God wants you to be, brings you joy, says Jesus.

Casual sex can give us pleasure, says Cheeses, [although it’s often surprisingly quite un-pleasurable], but only love brings us joy, says Jesus.

I like Cheeses and his cheeses. When I hang out only with him, though, it’s like stopping the meal after the appetizers. The entrĂ©e is where Jesus is. Don’t stop with just being cheesy. Go for the joy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More Like Ourselves

As we age, we become more like ourselves.

It is an oft-quoted truism. Many truisms are simply trite, but this one, I think, is actually true.

I am a patient person, and I have become more patient in winter. In winter, I have to drive more slowly and walk more carefully, allowing for the ice under my tires and feet.

I am an impatient person, and in winter I have less patience with those who are driving or walking even more slowly than I and thus impeding my progress. My days are limited, and I don’t want to have to spend any time or energy behind those who choose to be slow.

I have always been both patient and impatient, As I age, I become more like myself, more patient with those who are stupid by nature and less patient with those who are stupid by choice. My days are limited, and I don’t want to have to spend any time or energy on those who choose to be stupid.

The point is this: as I age, I become more like not just myself, but like BOTH my selves, the sinful self and the redeemed self. Just because I am stuck with being more like myself now that I am old doesn’t mean that I can’t choose WHICH of my selves I shall copy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One True Sentence

In the years and places of winter, life becomes both simpler and more complicated.

That is my one true sentence for today.

Helen and I just returned from a cruise that started in NYC and ended in Quebec City, so I’ve been away from my computer for two weeks. We’re not cruise people, but this was a special cruise with the Chad Mitchell Trio, our favorite folk group from the 1960s. We got off the ship each day and poked around in the places we docked, Bar Harbor and Halifax and such, but our reason for shipping out was to hear the CMT in concert [they did two] and to sit around with them in the evenings after supper and sing folk songs.

When folk music gave way to rock and roll in the late ‘60s, the trio broke up. The previously unknown John Denver had taken Chad Mitchell’s place when he left the trio for a solo career earlier, and he went on to a remarkable solo career of his own. Mike Kobluk, the bass, went back to Spokane, where the trio had formed out of the glee club at Gonzaga U, and directed cultural events for the city for 35 years. Joe Frazier, the baritone, went to Yale Divinity School and became an Episcopal priest. In recent years, Joe and Mike and Chad have reunited occasionally for concerts, especially those reunion concerts you see on PBS.

Joe likes my book about ministry, “The Strange Calling,” and asked me to help him get started writing a similar book of his own, so we worked on that most afternoons on the cruise.

One afternoon I told him that it is my habit to write one sentence, hopefully one true sentence, as the first thing I do each day, to remind me of who I am.

Hemingway said that is the secret of writing: write one true sentence, and then follow it with another.

Today, my one true sentence was: In the years and places of winter, life becomes both simpler and more complicated.

Perhaps later I’ll follow it with another.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Passing It On & Labor Day

Continuing the discussion of iconic hymns and the worship theme for next Sunday, Sept. 5…

If “Are Ye Able” was the iconic Methodist hymn for the 20th century, perhaps the equivalent Methodist hymn for the turn of the century is Kurt Kaiser’s 1969 hymn, “Pass It On,” # 572 in the Methodist hymnal. Jennie Edwards, a high school girl in my congregation at Arcola, IL, learned it at camp and taught it to us. It seems to speak to her generation in the way “Are Ye Able” did to young folks in a former generation.

It’s also Labor Day come Sunday, and it’s hard for preachers to ignore secular holidays, regardless of what the Lectionary calls for. Besides, I always enjoyed using the Labor Day theme.

One year at Orion, I asked everyone to bring to worship a symbol of their labor to put on the altar, which, in Methodist terms, is the table in front of the pulpit where we put the offering plates, to dedicate their work to God. It was a lot of fun. One farmer brought a box of baby pigs, which he thankfully put under the table instead of on it. There were wooden spoons from housewives and pencils and text books from teachers and students, and hammers and a plumber’s helper, etc.

“Snow” Cole had just gotten the job as regional manager for the brand new Illinois state lottery. This was when people, especially Methodists, had not yet accepted the almost instantaneous transition from “gambling is a sin” to “gambling will make lots of money for education.” So Snow put a lottery ticket on the altar. It was, after all, representative of his labor. I did not know how to respond to that, so I didn’t.

Of course, gambling did not make lots of money for education. With the advent of gambling, Illinois actually dropped about 10 spots among what the states spent on education. The mantra for legislators was: We don’t need taxes anymore, because we’ll get all our money from gambling.

I was chatting 25 years later with the young pastor of a church so conservative it doesn’t even use musical instruments. He said, “I really appreciate that you Methodists keep reminding us that gambling is a sin, even though it’s like tilting at windmills. I can’t say anything against gambling, because conservatives believe that the only real sin is taxation, and anything that allows us to avoid taxes is okay, regardless. I keep thinking we’ll legalize dope and prostitution so we can take a cut of their proceeds, too. We’d say homosexuality is okay if we could avoid taxes that way.”

I don’t know how to respond to that, either, so I won’t. In fact, I won’t say anything for a couple of weeks, because I’ll be away from my computer. When I get back, it will be very close to winter in the UP, but I hope to have “some good memory,” or maybe several, to warm me in the cold days.

And also with you…

[1] Jennie is 40 and Jennie Edwards Bertrand now, and the Director of The Wesley Foundation campus ministry at Illinois State Univ, a position I used to hold. On Oct. 16, we’ll celebrate 70 years of the WF at ISU together, along with other former directors, Raydean Davis and Tom & Sharon Neufer Emswiler. All WF alums and friends are invited.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mary Maxwell Explains Old Age to God

Bill Zander sent me a video clip of Mary Maxwell giving the invocation at a gathering of old age caregivers. It's hilarious.

Are Ye Able

Following up on the post of Sept. 1 about the “sacrifice” statements in the Gospel for this coming Sunday….

Lorraine Bruehl teaches organ at Valporaiso University. She has doctorates in both organ and theology. She did the theology doctorate just because she felt she had to know the theology behind the worship music to be able to interpret and teach the music adequately. That’s real devotion.

She led one of the weekends at the Grace Institute, a two-year Lutheran program for learning about and becoming more spiritual. I was one of the few non-Lutherans in the program.

At meals and free times, a group of young women Lutheran pastors, four to six, according to the occasion, coalesced around me. I suspect it was because I treated them as colleagues when older male Lutheran pastors were less receptive to them. Or maybe it was just my animal magnetism.

One lunch period, Lorraine and I were eating together. When the meal was over, my group of young pastors came and joined us.

One of the young pastors asked us about Methodist theology. Lorraine has always been a Lutheran, but she got her theology doctorate at Garrett, a United Methodist school.

“I’ve always thought Methodism was primarily active theologically, rather than just intellectual,” she said. “You try to do the right thing first, and only then you think about it. It’s a very heroic faith. Your hymn is ‘Are Ye Able.’”

That surprised me for a moment. I would have said our hymn was “O For a Thousand Tongues.” It’s a Wesley hymn, after all. But I think Lorraine was right. For American Methodism of the 20th century, Earl Marlatt’s “Are Ye Able” was our hymn. [1]

Then Lorraine started to sing it. But being non-Methodist, she began to falter on the words. So I joined in and we sang it together.

Are ye able, said the master, to be crucified with me
Yea, the sturdy dreamers answered, to the death we follow thee.
Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine
Remold them, make us, like thee, divine
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
A beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.

Are ye able to remember when a thief lifts up his eyes
That his pardoned soul is worthy of a place in paradise?
Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine
Remold them, make us, like thee, divine
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
A beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.

Are ye able when the shadows close around you with the sod
To believe that spirit triumphs, to commend your soul to God?
Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine
Remold them, make us, like thee, divine
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
A beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.

Are ye able? Still the Master whisper down eternity,
And heroic spirits answer, now as then in Galilee.
Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine
Remold them, make us, like thee, divine
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
A beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.

Heroic, indeed, perhaps unrealistically so. That hymn still stirs me, though. It’s a sung response to Jesus’ call to forsake everything to follow him.

The young Lutheran pastors looked a bit astonished as we sang.
When we finished, they had tears running down their unwrinkled cheeks. The tears were probably the audacity of my scratchy bass intruding on Lorraine’s clear soprano, but I prefer to think it was because, even though Lutheran, they are able.

[1] It’s # 530 in the Methodist hymnal. Marlatt wrote it in 1926. Henry S. Mason wrote the music in 1924.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Total Sacrifice

[I suggest you check out the interesting comments Suzanne Schaefer-Coates and Bob Parsons made on the post for 8-29, “Some Good Memory.”]

The lectionary readings for Sunday, Sept. 1, are: Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33.

The general theme is Jesus’ dictum: Take up your cross and renounce everything you have or you can’t be my disciple!

I liked this sort of talk a lot when I was in college, mostly, I think, because I had little I had to sacrifice—no home, no job, no family, no money. As I began to acquire all those things, this idea of total sacrifice became a lot less intriguing.

When I was a campus minister, I found that college students and old people were in cahoots. We worked on things like “open housing” together.

When we moved to Normal, IL in 1966, “Negroes,” as the polite word was in those days, were not allowed to live in Normal. That would have included Barak Obama, although he is as much white as black. But IL State U had just hired a new math PhD from U. of IL, Charles Morris. Some folks said it was stupid that a guy with a PhD in math was considered inferior to live in a place with a name like Normal. Others said to let any black person into town would drive property values down, and that obviously property rights were more important than human rights. I said that I did not think we should let U of IL PhDs into town for next we would have to let Purdue people in. The folks against letting black folks be Normal citizens were not amused. [Nay-sayers are rarely fond of humor.]

The coalition of college students and old people prevailed, including the tie-breaking vote on the town council from Methodist preacher and director of The Baby Fold child care center, Bill Hammett, Sr.

Now is our last chance to renounce it all to follow Christ, actually to live by following him without an extra tunic. Isn’t it a shame to renounce our deathright for a mess of senior discounts pottage?