Monthly Archives: April 2005

Smoke Over the Vatican

I thought the white smoke thing was pretty cool. All this tradition, going back a couple thousand years, regarding the selection of a Pope.

In 1999, Pam and I visited the Vatican as part of a larger two-week tour of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and stop-overs in a few other countries. In every news report showing the Vatican, my eyes go right to St Peter’s Basilica. Of all the great sites we saw during that trip, St Peter’s was at the top for me. It was just so unbelievably massive. The pictures don’t do it justice. You can walk and walk and walk inside. There are all kinds of nooks and crannies, all kinds of great sculptures and paintings to see. Totally, totally impressive. The Sistine Chapel was unbelievably cool, too, but the Basilica transcended it, for me.

The Apostle Peter himself is buried under the building, which gives special meaning to Christ’s words, “On this rock I will build my church.” We Protestants would argue that Christ wasn’t referring at all to the Basilica or the Roman Catholic Church in general, but to the Church universal. But why couldn’t Jesus have been using a double meaning? I’ll bet he was. For a long time, the Catholic Church was THE church, pretty much. But since my knowledge of church history has serious gaps, I’ll stop here, lest I betray my ignorance by saying something stupid.

It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it, that the Catholic Church has remained so conservative. Sure, there’s lots of deadness, and I’m sure there are liberal pockets (like in the USA). But in the Vatican, where the buck stops, a conservative/orthodox spirit reigns when it comes to theology. This, after 2000 years. Think of some of the Protestant denominations, like the United Methodists, and how liberal they have become in less than 200 years of existence. What is it that we can learn from the Catholics in this regard?

This summer, our National Conference will elect a bishop–the same one, or a different one. I’m sure there will be jokes about white or black smoke, as the ballots are distributed and counted and reported. Maybe I’ll make such a crack. But I must admit–there is beauty in some of these rituals. I’m sure there is plenty of allure to post-moderns, who tend to be drawn to this stuff. If all of this attention draws unchurched people to the Catholic Church, that would not be a bad thing.

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Lessons from Nancy Drew

The legend is that the same man wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries and the Hardy Boys mysteries. That’s not quite true, as I just learned from reading a wonderful article in The New Yorker. A guy named Edward Stratemeyer, a superb writer, came up with the idea of book series aimed at kids, and with continuing characters. But he didn’t have time to write them all. So, being quite the entrepreneur, he developed the idea of a “publishing syndicate.” He would send a writer an outline for a book, just enough to get him going, that person would write the book, then Stratemeyer would edit it for consistency and quality. This started around 1906 with a series called the Rover Boys. He eventually had 14 series going at once, with a slew of writers cranking the books out.

The books were basically ghost-written, and then published under the same name. In the case of Nancy Drew, it was “Carolyn Keene,” although a young college grad named Mildred Wirt wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books. That became Stratemeyer’s best-selling series, eclipsing the Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift.

I used to read some of Mom’s Nancy Drew books, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. My wife, Pam, has the whole series, too. Now I find out that we probably didn’t read the same books. In 1959, the whole line of Nancy Drew books was updated. Among other things, Nancy’s age increased from 16 to 18. Offensive stereotypes were expunged. Lots of stuff. Those are the books most of today’s readers remember. But I had Mom’s books, which predated 1959. I’m sure they were more pure and wholesome.

The Hardy Boys books, which came before Nancy Drew, attracted severe criticism from educators and librarians. They said “the harm done is simply incalculable.” The series would “debauch and vitiate” a child’s imagination. The books were simply escapist, with no overriding moral theme. Keep in mind that in the early 1900s, most kids were growing up on farms, and kids worked hard. For a boy to lay around reading a mystery book…that probably didn’t sit well with farm dads.

So I’m thinking of parallels. Despite the early condemnations, today people look at Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys as good, clean, safe reading for any kids. The TV shows I watched during my childhood were probably blasted by conservative Christian groups, though we now look back on 1960s TV fare and say, “That was good, wholesome entertainment.” People used to rant about how families didn’t converse with each other or do things together–they just sat in a room like a bunch of zombies and stared at the boob tube. So people claimed. But today, families don’t even do that together–each member of the family has a TV or computer or X-Box in his/her own room, and they part ways for the evening. I remember very fondly my whole family looking forward to Friday night, when we would don our PJs (with the built-in feet) and gather in the family room to watch “Friday Night at the Movies.” Mom would make her wonderful buttered popcorn, and we’d have Pepsi. Good times. Are there families today that spend the evening watching, together, “Desperate Housewives”? I hope not.

Until the mid-to-late 1800s, the United Brethren church had some strict rules against music. We outlawed choirs in 1861, reasoning that everyone was supposed to sing at the same time, not just part of the congregation. In 1865, we outlawed using instrumental music in church services. Those prohibitions were removed in 1885, and I’m sure people, being people, decried it as the liberalizing of the church.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen how shocked people are when we add drums and guitars to a traditional hymn. Imagine in the 1800s when people, for the first time, heard a mere piano used with a hymn, instead of singing only acapella. Maybe there were fierce debates about adding an organ along with the piano, and people who complained that the newfangled organ sounds just didn’t go right with a hymn. Of course, the piano-organ thing was the norm for me.

In my church, we’re doing some of the new songs that combine a hymn with a few new lyrics. Like Todd Agnew’s “Grace Like Rain” (Amazing Grace) and Chris Tomlin’s version of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Today’s generation, having never heard the unadulterated hymnbook version, will assume that that’s how it was originally written. Just like readers of Nancy Drew after 1959 assumed they were getting the original book, when actually it was an older, more contemporary Nancy Drew.

I guess we shouldn’t be quick to criticize changes in society or the church. Because, 20 years down the road, we’ll probably wonder what all the fuss was about.

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Breakfast with My Wife

Pam and I had breakfast together this morning. It almost never happens. But today, she has an all-day meeting at Huntington College, right next to where I work, so we rode in together. She’s a member of PACE–the President’s Advisory Council on Excellence. They meet twice a year, and the spring meeting always occurs at a highly-inconvenient time for accountants–just before April 15. So she’s taking today off, despite a huge stack of tax return crying out for her attention.

For the past several weeks, we’ve both been heading off to work–she to the east, me to the west–at around 6 a.m. But since her meeting didn’t start until 9:00, we both slept in (our cats were very confused), and then went to Sara’s Family Restaurant for breakfast. Breakfast is my favorite meal, but I rarely eat it. And it’s even more rare for me to eat breakfast, out, with my wife. So today was a nice treat.

I’m sure there’s a point here. Some people talk until they think of something to say. I’ve been typing, hoping for a wonderful Christian illustration or spiritual application to invade my brain cavity. But it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen.

So, suffice it to say: I had breakfast this morning with my wife, and I greatly enjoyed it. Period.

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Delinquent Blogger

For the untold thousands of surfers who eagerly check Whatever every day, perhaps even every hour, anticipating with demented abandon the chance to fondle the latest pieces of random Dennie brain debris–I apologize. I’ve been fully focused on some other creative projects, really energized, and it seems that blogging doesn’t weigh heavily enough to force its way onto my priority list. I’m not sure what that means, but that’s the way it is.

Anyway, let me catch up on a few things.

  • I’m really fascinated by the whole Pope successor thing. This is a pretty momentous thing. Tonight when I get home, I’m sure the Pope will be on the covers of both Time and Newsweek, which typically arrive on Tuesdays. My favorite day.
  • Go Illinois. Oops. Well, it was a good try. Why couldn’t they do to NC what they did to my Arizona Wildcats? Actually, I guess they did, in terms of making a comeback. They just didn’t hit the final nail.
  • Nearly every day someone asks me, “So what’s the denomination going to do?” I hear all kinds of things, sentiments this way and that way. I haven’t yet encountered anyone who is really jazzed about doing away with the conferences and replacing it with a cluster system. Most of the concerns focus around leadership–do we have enough people not only able, but willing, to be cluster leaders? Willing to be, as most people characterize it, little superintendents? Lots of questions. Not a lot of hot emotion one way or the other.
  • Oh, come to think of it, there’s all kinds of great stuff I could be talking about. But alas, I need to head home. There’s a ping-pong tournament on the east side tonight, as there always is the first Tuesday of the month. I’m feeling like I’ll have a good evening. I’ll probably be disappointed. But excuse me, I need to go home and clean my Butterfly rubber.
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