Monthly Archives: December 2004

Phantom, Newsboys, and the Tsunami

Phantom of the Opera. The movie “Phantom of the Opera” was very good, but could have been outstanding except for two things:

  • The lip-synching was off, and it was very distracting. I’m glad that the actors did their own singing, rather than having other person’s voices dubbed over them. But they just did a poor job of dubbing in their own voices after the acting was done.
  • I wasn’t all that crazy about the guy who played the Phantom. His voice was nothing special. Or maybe I just had Michael Crawford’s voice too firmly in my head.

Newsboys. Pam got me the Newsboys “Adoration” worship CD for Christmas. I love it. The song “Presence” is especially outstanding. It’s been playing on the local Christian radio stations for quite a while now. The Newsboys may just be my favorite Christian group at this point, narrowly edging out Third Day (whose last album was very poor). Our worship team does “He Reigns,” and the congregation loves it. I’m hoping we can do “It is You” and “Presence” in the months ahead. The Newsboys are putting out some really great stuff.

Tsunami. ABC and CNN had superb specials last night on the tsunami, which is probably the worst natural disaster of my lifetime. Amazing stuff. I’m fascinated by some of the video which is coming now of the waves actually approaching. I always assumed a tsunami featured a tidal wave. I guess it can include a tidal wave, but not necessarily. In this case, it looked like a regular wave breaking on the beach…except that it didn’t break and recede, but just kept going inland, pushed by masses of water behind it.

At work today, I sent out two emails to our church constituency reporting on the tsunami. Our missionary couple in India live in a town back from the coast, so they are fine. But about 5000 people from coastal villages, which were struck hard, descended on their town, and they were able to provide help.

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The Worst of News

I got hit in the gut just before lunch, and I’m still feeling it. I learned that our best friends are separating. She wanted out.

Pam and I never saw this one coming. Great people, great friends, great kids.

I called him a couple hours ago. He’s devastated, a “basketcase,” he told me. She told him just last night that she was leaving, and her mind was made up. I told him to call me anytime he needed to talk, and that I would drop whatever I was doing if he wanted to get together. I meant it.

I love these people. I know reconciliation is possible. And I know that God is sovereign. Pam and I will be spending a lot of time in prayer over this one (she and Pam have been quite close). My friendship will go a long way, as will that of other persons. There is a middle-schooler at home, great kid.

Pastors deal with situations like this often. I’ve heard other people tell of friends who separated or divorced, and, “I didn’t think it would ever happen to them.” But it does. That’s our world.

I think my friend was happy to talk to me, glad to hear a voice of acceptance and assurance, after he had been dealt a blow of rejection. He’ll need more of that. And I think of someone else at church whose husband left her a year-and-a-half ago for another woman. I’ll bet she’s still dealing with a lot of pain even after all this time, and I’ve not shown her the concern and support and encouragement that I did in those early months. I need to pay more attention to the people around me.

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Christmas with Family

Yesterday, Pam and I had our last Christmas gathering. Things started last Thursday, when we had supper at Smokey Bones with Pam’s biological father and stepmom, Jim and Ann, and then went to see the movie version of “Phantom of the Opera.” They had seen the stage play four times, including the Michael Crawford/Sara Brightman version.

My parents, along with my brother Rick’s family, came to the Christmas Eve service at Anchor. We arranged the sanctuary seats in a circle, with the grand piano in the middle, and mostly sang carols. I played the piano. Dorene had told me that their two-year-old son, Cameron, is fascinated by piano playing. I would occasionally look in his direction and see him staring intently at me. It always made me smile. Pastor Hallman gave a nice Christmas devotional. At one point, he asked the congregation to name their favorite Christmas movie. My smart-aleck brother Rick said, “Die Hard.” We all laughed.

After the service, we went back to our house, and Stu and Joyce and their four kids, along with assorted friends/girlfriends/boyfriends, soon arrived. It was a fun evening. Mom made her famous noodles. Christmas Day itself was rather uneventful, except that I watched the Lakers/Heat and Pistons/Pacers games.

Then yesterday, after church, we went to Pam’s brother’s place around South Whitley. We had a gift exchange. But the main event was watching the Colts game, where Peyton Manning beat the touchdown record in what was truly a thrilling game. Jim had a big-screen TV, so that was nice. Pam’s Mom is in California, so the only contact with her was by phone. I’m sure she missed getting together with her family over the holidays.

For my first nine years, when we lived in Indiana, we always went to Elgin, Ohio, to spend a day at Grandpa and Grandma’s place on Christmas. My aunt and two uncles and their families would be there, along with my best friend in the world, my cousin Mike. Those were great times. Of course, Grandma always had great food. But then there were the presents we always received from Grandpa and Grandma.

One year, they got each of us three older grandsons–me, Mike, and Brad–a “Johnny Seven.” That was an awesome, and bulky, toy gun that fired seven different things (grenades, missiles, etc.). The two middle grandkids, Stu and Trent, each got what was called a Monkey Gun. It only shot one thing, a yellow missile, but it shot it hard. Our Johnny Sevens, by comparison, merely lobbed missiles, and you could take a hit fairly well. But if you got hit by a Monkey Gun, it really really stung. We had raging battles in Grandpa’s utility room (I can’t believe we didn’t break something), but we older kids were deathly afraid of the Monkey Guns wielded by the young pipsqueaks. How humiliating!

I loved those Christmases. But we moved 500 miles away to Pennsylvania in 1966, and four years later we moved to Arizona, so those special Christmas gatherings with relatives came to an end.

Stu’s kids, now all out of high school, were fortunate. Every Christmas, they were together with their two uncles and grandparents. I, likewise, cherish those get-togethers, the latest version of which occurred on Christmas Eve. It won’t last forever, because Stu’s kids will eventually marry and move to parts yet unknown. But for now, things are as they should be. Especially since I’m able to spend Christmas with Mom and Dad, who remain healthy. What a blessing!

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When the Body Acts Like the Body

Rodney, a twenty-something young man, has been attending Anchor for a year or so. I haven’t gotten to know him well, and I regret that. Last week he was involved in a terrible accident–a semi truck ran over and crushed part of his body. He’ll survive, but his body will undoubtedly never be the same, and he’ll be hospitalized for around three weeks or so, followed by much rehab.

Through this, I discovered that another fellow in the church had given Rodney a Bible about a year ago. I wouldn’t have expected such an act from this particular person, but was delighted to hear about it. It was an act of Christian outreach which went unnoticed, but which demonstrates the Church in action–as it should be.

This morning, Melissa told me that she and her mother, Lori, have been volunteering at a city homeless ministry on Sunday mornings. They had gone there this morning prior to church. I don’t know how long they’ve been doing this. Both Melissa and Lori are fairly new converts; both were baptized at Anchor about 18 months ago. I still remember Melissa springing up out of the water, arms raised, yelling, “Yeah!” I didn’t know they were involved with this homeless ministry. Just something they felt led to do. It’s another example of the body of Christ at Anchor involved in being the Body.

Karen is a new Christian. She has been coming with Sandy, and both of them are bringing their mothers. Now, I understand, they are inviting other coworkers to come to Anchor. Terry invited a young black man, who has come a number of times. He and Laura have reached out to other neighbors.

Annie and Kelly have been coming for less than two years, probably more like a year. I joke with them a lot before the service. They’ll come with a whole truckload of kids from their neighborhood, up to ten people piled into the cab and bed of Kelly’s pickup. Kelly and one of the teen girls were both baptized during our annual picnic and baptismal service over the Labor Day weekend. A couple months ago, I talked to a friend of theirs whom Kelly brought to our monthly adult coffeehouse, who had recently moved up from Florida. Anita said that Annie and Kelly are known around their community for doing things for people, particularly taking care of elderly people.

More examples of the Body being the Body.

I love hearing stuff like this. It’s not something we organize or program at Anchor. It just happens as people encounter Christ and reach out in love. I’m sure much more is happening that I’m not aware of, and may never hear about. That’s okay. I know this stuff brings applause in heaven.

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Don’t Want No White Christmas

Woke up this morning to about eight inches of white stuff. Knew it was coming. Hoped it was just a bad dream. The good news: we closed the UB offices, so I didn’t have to go in to work today. And then Pam stayed home, too. The bad bad news: had lots of time to shovel lots and lots of snow. I got the snow blower running last night, but it’s just a little thing suited mostly for just a few inches of snow, not the deluge we got last night. Might as well run a blow dryer on a long extension cord.

When I hear the song “White Christmas,” I groan. My parents like to have a white Christmas. Dad, after all, grew up in Michigan. I’m sure they’re happy today. And I must admit–it’s very pretty outside. But I can do without.

And, in fact, I did do without for a number of years. We moved to Arizona in 1970, and in the desert, all Christmases are brown or tan. I liked that. I liked going outside in December in a T-shirt. The lake in Lake Havasu City was too cold at that time of year, but you can’t have everything (unless you live in the Caribbean, I guess, which is something to consider). We moved to California in 1974, and there, we could at least see snow up in the Sierra Madres, but it kept its distance. Out there, we talked about “going to the snow.” If we wanted to sled or throw snowballs, we piled into the car and drove into the mountains. That’s the way to do it. Snow by invitation only.

Until 1988, I spent most of my Christmases in California or Arizona (my parents moved back to Arizona, the Phoenix area this time, in 1983 or thereabouts). I would fly out there for a couple of weeks during the holidays, often leaving–or more accurately, fleeing from–a white Christmas. But alas, everyone moved back to Indiana or Ohio in 1989, and fleeing is no longer an option. If it snows, we have a white Christmas. It comes to us, unbidden. On Saturday, we will have a white Christmas, unless there is an unusually strong solar flare.

Give me the desert any day. I wonder if Jesus ever had a white Christmas? Jesus, of course, was unfortunate to have his birthday on the same day as Christmas, which meant one less day for presents. But even divinity couldn’t solve that dilemma, I guess.

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Random Act of Christmas Kindness

We had a big surprise at work on Monday, and it was a very cool thing. Mark Beers and Wes Kuntzman, two United Brethren ministers (Decatur and Monroe, Ind.), delivered a big box of goodies to each us at the United Brethren Headquarters. That’s ten boxes of goodies. LOTS of goodies. We’re talkin’ a full turkey, a half-ham, a sack of potatoes, two litres of pop, a box of Stovetop Stuffing, a jar of gravy, a bunch of oranges (very sweet!), a bag of M&Ms, and probably some other stuff I can’t remember offhand.

These care packages actually came courtesy of the United Brethren church in Daytona, Florida, where Chuck McKeown is the pastor. Wes Kuntzman is from down there, and that’s probably the connection. Daytona is really passionate about doing “random acts of kindness,” and this was just an example. They probably figured maybe we were feeling somewhat blue as a result of the October UB election (and we are), so this was a wonderful bit of affirmation. They’ve been doing creative acts of kindness for people in their community for years–merchants, civil servants, neighbors, anyone. Reach out in love without expecting anything in return.

Mark and Wes had fun delivering the goodies (Wes wore a little Santa hat), and had two helpers (college students, I think). We’re talking big, heavy boxes. Pam and I are going to do the ham tonight; I’m not sure when we’ll get around to the turkey. We didn’t need any of this. But I’m still shaking my head at the thoughtfulness of the people in Daytona. Thanks, Pastor Chuck!

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Uncle Dad

On Saturday, Pam and I grabbed a quick lunch at Panera Bread, beating the crowd by a good half hour. As I ate my excellent baked potato soup (Panera has some of the best soups in town), I noticed a thirtyish man, short and balding and with lively eyes, eating lunch with a boy I figured to be about a fourth-grader. His son, I safely assumed. They were having a good time, talking easily. The father leaned down and forward somewhat as he talked, as if trying to get on his son’s level.

What was their story?

Were they out searching for a Christmas present for Mom? For siblings? Was this just something they did regularly, going out to eat together, like I’ve heard that other parents do? Or was it a divorced father spending his weekend, or every-other-weekend, time with his boy? I didn’t think it was the latter. I’d seen other parent-child combos in restaurants who I guessed were in the broken-home box. Together, but distant. Talking, but not easily, not naturally, not like it’s something they do daily. Sitting in uncomfortable silence with occasional breaks for words, focusing unduly on their meal as an excuse to avoid awkward conversation.

Back in the 1980s, I read an article with one of my all-time favorite titles, “Uncle Dad.” A divorced father told about going to the airport once a month to pick up his daughter, who was flying in from a distant city where she lived with her mother and stepdad. The writer told about the awkwardness of those court-appointed meetings, how his daughter didn’t always like being there–torn away for the weekend from friends and other activities–and how they often found little to talk about or do together. They endured those weekends as much as anything. He always hoped they would go well, but they never did.

Then one time his daughter came to stay for two weeks, and during that period, there were some breakthroughs. Just sitting around the house, watching TV or reading or doing nothing in particular, the daughter would suddenly make a remark which revealed something of her soul–a problem she was struggling with, an issue at school, hopes and dreams for the future, a question or comment that showed that she did, indeed, like her father. The writer said many Uncle Dads fool themselves by saying that though they don’t have a large quantity of time together, they do have “quality” time. But, he said, “quality” time is a byproduct of “quantity” time, of being around each other for an extended period of time. It’s not something you can just turn on for the weekend.

I think of the times I would come home from school and just sit in the living room while mom ironed, and things would come out. Though we weren’t focused on each other–maybe I was reading Newsweek or doing homework–she might ask questions or I might suddenly volunteer information, and valuable interaction would occur. Not every day, but many days.

I had lots of quality time with my parents, and it was not only because they’re great parents, but because I had constant access to them. I never, ever, felt neglected or slighted. Even when Dad worked three jobs–teaching during the day, the Sears hardware department several nights a week, and selling Book of Life door-to-door when he could–and mom worked at the newspaper, I don’t remember feeling a sense of absence. I should probably give that more thought, because I’m sure Mom and Dad look back at various times during my growing-up years and think they were horrible, neglectful parents who should have spent more time with their kids. But I just never felt that way. I should tell them that. And I should thank them for staying together, even though there were undoubtedly times (I know of two) when their relationship hit bumps. I had a blessed childhood. I don’t want them to have any doubts about that.

I’m playing a lot of Amateur Psychologist here, I realize. But as I watched that father and son in Panera Bread, I was confident that this was no Uncle Dad. This was a father who saw his son every day, and laughing and conversing with him and sharing a meal with him was as natural as breathing. And that kid probably doesn’t realize, yet, just how fortunate he is.

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The Friday Before the Friday Before Christmas

Wow, what a whirlwind day. Spent 90 minutes at Starbucks working on my novel while downing a Peppermint mocha and then a coffee, venti both. Shopped til I wanted to drop–what a madhouse Jefferson Pointe was! More writing at home. Saw “Forgotten” at the Coventry dollar theatres with Pam–a pretty decent movie, but the theatre is dingy and the seats are crammed closely together. I guess we’re spoiled with the stadium seating at The Rave. We lived in the Willows apartments next to the Coventry theatre back in 1989 after we got married, and watched them build the theatre complex–at the time, the nicest cinema in Fort Wayne. My, how fortunes change! More shopping at Kohl’s 5:00 — midnight madness sale, tonite only. And now we’re back home at 10:45.

My, I love my Fridays–my “freelance” day, as I call it. Didn’t do much freelancing today, though. But hey, it’s the Christmas season!

That’s all I have to report today. And to all a goodnight.

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The Denomination of “No”

The local media in Huntington and Fort Wayne have said it, and now the Associated Press has relayed the word around the country: the United Brethren church has said it won’t unite with the Missionary Church. I just saw the AP story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Our groups seemed like a near-perfect match–in doctrinal and behavioral standards, geographic location, mindset, types of churches, etc. The MCs, with much more happening in their midst than is happening in the UB church, were nonetheless willing to view us as equals. But the UBs, rather resoundingly, turned down the idea. Sorry, but no. We’re not interested.

Did this bring applause in heaven? Did the angels rejoice that the UBs decided to remain a separate entity? Did God breathe a sigh of relief, saying, “Now I can accomplish my special purpose for those 25,000 UB people”?

I wish the AP story could have told about this denomination, the one with the rich heritage in the 1700s and 1800s, that gave itself up for something better. It would have been a great example to the larger body of Christ. Other denominations would have looked at what the United Brethren did, found it admirable, and pondered issues of unity and partnership and self-sacrifice and Kingdom-building. “If the UBs could give themselves up in the interests of Christian unity and greater effectiveness, why can’t we?” In that way, we would have made a distinctive contribution to the larger Church.

But we rejected that in favor of…well, we don’t know what. But apparently, from what some people are saying, God has something special in mind for us. My view is that we said “No!” to the “special” thing, and he’s frustrated that we now expect him to provide an alternative. But I don’t really know. What I do know, or feel confident about, is that saying “No!” didn’t prompt any partying in heaven, and it’s not drawing the admiration of anyone who reads the AP story. And that continues to sadden me.

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Unintended Consequences

The US is funding a fleet of planes in Columbia that spray cocaine plants. The thing is, it kinda works against us. A few mutant plants aren’t killed. The farmers make cuttings from those plants and distribute them, resulting in whole fields of cocaine plants resistant to spraying. Since the spraying kills all other plants too, the result is that our planes actually do the weeding for the farmers, eliminating other plants competing for soil nutrients. We enable the cocaine plants to grow stronger.

Not only that, but the spraying often ends up killing legitimate crops. So, to earn a living, farmers turn to the only crop that is resistant to spraying–the “Roundup Ready” cocaine.

It just shows that problems aren’t always as easy to solve as we think.

I just finished a little Newsweek article about John Kerry urging Democrats to moderate their pro-abortion views. Hardly anybody agrees with partial-birth abortion; most people view it as an extreme and unreasonable procedure. If the Democrats had come out against partial-birth abortion, more undecided voters might have swung their way. But the Planned Parenthood hardliners won’t allow that, citing Slippery Slope arguments: if they give in on this admittedly extreme position, they’ll next be asked to compromise on something less extreme, and then something else–until, eventually, abortion is outlawed altogether. It’s the same reason the National Rifle Association adamantly defends the right of hunters to bear bazookas. And so, apparently, the pro-abortion hard-liners, in a most unpragmatic fashion, would seemingly rather lose an election than moderate their agenda.

But people on the right can be just as unpragmatic. I think it was Charles Colson that I heard speak about this some years ago. He said that during the 1980s, Congress could have passed legislation banning abortion in many cases. However, the legislation was deemed soft, compromising, by Religious Right hardliners who insisted on banning all abortions. They took an “all or nothing” position–and got nothing. Colson said (I’m making up numbers, because I don’t know the real ones), “If there are now two million abortions a year, and we could have prevented one million of them–wouldn’t that have been a good thing? But by refusing to take what we could get, at that time, we effectively gave our permission for a million more babies to be aborted each year.”

But, had pro-life legislators backed such partial measures, they would have reaped the wrath of the all-or-nothing crowd, their key supporters, and possibly been committing political suicide. Interesting, the choices politicians must make.

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