Monthly Archives: January 2006

More Cowbell

The Anchor Church worship team is a big fan of the Saturday Night Live “More Cowbell” skit. We have a copy of it on the computer we use for projecting Powerpoint slides. For Christmas this year, Pam got me the “Best of Christopher Walken” SNL DVD, which includes the cowbell sketch.

The skit is really famous among the younger set. I’ve run into many college kids who can recite some of the lines, like “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.”

Yesterday, we did a jazzed up version of “This Little Light of Mine” as part of the music package. As we practiced before the service, we decided to add an instrumental verse in the middle of the other verses. The drummer used the cowbell during the instrumental. And then a light came on in my eyes. Instead of showing just a blank screen during the instrumental, how about if we flashed for a few seconds the words “More Cowbell”? We all smiled at the idea.

And we did it. During both services, as we did the instrumental, the words MORE COWBELL flashed on the screen for about three seconds, prompting the drummer to use more cowbell. Did the people in the congregation get it? Did they know what the words meant?

A few did during the first service. A few more did during the more-crowded second service. Last night during a meeting, I talked to a couple of 50-ish adults, asking them if they knew what the “More Cowbell” slide was all about. They didn’t. Probably most of the adults didn’t get it. But a few did, and most of the younger adults and teens “got it.”

I’m just glad it’s something we would try at Anchor. We brought some smiles to people’s faces, including my own as I stood at the keyboard.

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Tom and Paula, Engaged

Tom and PaulaThis morning I received a call from my niece, Paula. “I have some good news. What do you think it is?”

I immediately assumed she was engaged. It’s something we’ve been waiting on, knew was most likely coming. She and Tom are a great match. Tom’s a great guy. I totally approve. But yet, I was afraid to guess and say, “You’re engaged?” So I hemmed and hawed, while Paula said, “Oh come on, you know.” Finally I said, “Did you get a ring?”

“Yes!” And she then proceeded to tell me how and where and etc.

Tom and Paula have been dating for a couple years now. Last summer, Tom was part of our family vacation in Gatlinburg (to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary). The picture above shows Tom and Paula on a trolley the day we all went to the Aquarium in Gatlinburg. In front of them are Stu and Joyce, Paula’s parents (Stu is my brother).

One evening Paula asked me, “So what do you think of Tom? He says you’re kind of hard to read, and he’s not sure what you think of him.”

I told Paula, “I’ve liked Tom from the moment I met him.” And it’s true. I think it’s great that he was interested in the approval of me, a mere uncle. He’s a good Christian guy from a good Christian home, a hard-working fellow, and I’m sure he and Paula will have a great life together. And I’ll enjoy having him around.

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Preying on the Believers

Keith Drury published an online piece called “Let us Prey.” I highly highly HIGHLY recommend reading it. It includes “Five Things that Make Me Mad at Parachurch Organizations.” He really goes after TBN and Benny Hinn. I got a kick out of his statement about the “seed faith” TV preachers: ” I get angry when parachurch preachers promise poor people that God will bless them if they ‘plant a seed of faith’ by sending money to the televangelist. Hogwash! If this is true, then the televangelist should send money to the listeners‚Äîthen God could bless their own seed-faith! Seed faith preaching is a signal of crooked hucksterism.” (Read this eye-opener about the extravagant lifestyle of Paul and Jan Crouch of TBN.)

He also refers to an organization called MinistryWatch which keeps an eye of accountability on parachurch ministries. I checked out that site and was impressed.

In a previous life, when editing our denominational magazine, I did two special issues about parachurch organizations. I wrote to gobs of organizations requesting their audited financial statements and other info. It was all very interesting. It was also encouraging to see how many organizations are organized to humbly respond to requests like that. If they’re on the up-and-up, they’ll send you their audited financial statement. But then there are the low-life hucksters who bring shame to the body of Christ, and yet find ready victims among the seemingly infinite ranks of gullible, gullible Christians.

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Where Do You Start to Help?

LUYC_350.jpgOn Friday night, Pam and I stopped in at the Friday night youth center our church runs. It’s open 7-10 pm every Friday night. We meet in a house next door to the church (which the church owns). There’s a pool table and other games in the basement, a room upstairs with TV/videogame equipment, a front room with bar chairs and tables, a kitchen, and a large room in the back of the house. Teens and post-high schoolers drop in, and adults spend time with them. Pam and I volunteered with this ministry for about four years, but during the past year we transitioned out to focus on other ministries. But on Friday night we drove over to the Third Street Cafe (which is what we call this ministry) just to check in and see what was happening.

We spent the whole time in that front room, talking with adults and some high school age kids. There was open talk about birth control methods and other things I don’t remember my youth group ever discussing. It was good being reminded of the dysfunctional situations these kids come from. In particular, we talked with a guy and girl who are living together, she’s pregnant, he recently got out of jail (for the second time), and they’re thinking of getting married sometime this year. They come to church regularly. They were there today and stayed for the potluck after church. I think that’s great.

The guy had just landed a job. He told us about it Friday night, and we celebrated that with him. It’s tough for guys who have been in jail to land decent jobs. He was telling people today at church about it. We have another fellow who was in jail for a while, and I remember how happy he was when he finally found a job.And now he’s gonna be a dad, and he seems so terribly young, so terribly unready. Both of them do. How do we help them? They need good examples, and they have them in the adults at the youth center. But that’s only for a few hours. You can’t replace the value of growing up in a home where you can watch a mom and dad interact year after year in healthy ways. I treat Pam like I saw Dad treat my Mom. But for this couple, who come from dysfunctional situations (she never knew her biological father, and both her mom and step-dad died within a few months of each other a few years ago, at which point she went to live with an aunt), they both start from such a terribly deep

It’ s just overwhelming, sometimes, when you see the depth of needs in people’s lives. Particularly in a neighborhood like ours, though you can find these situations in smalltowns just as easily. Anyway, they have little or no family support system, low-paying jobs, a baby on the way, little knowledge of how to relate to each other in healthy ways, a shallow value system. But they have us, and a loving church. That needs to go a long way. They’ve been on my mind a lot during the last few days. That makes me happy. I can be callous. I guess in this situation, I truly care.

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Faithfulness Out of the Spotlight

Back in the mid-1980s, I came across an amazing little free-verse poem by Ruth Harms Calkin. I typed it and taped it on the wall above my AT&T MS-DOS computer (2 floppy drives, no hard disk). Back then, I was editor of my denomination’s magazine, a position which gave me quite a bit of visibility. People knew me. Because of a popular monthly humor column I wrote (disguised as an editorial), people often told me they had been wanting to meet me. Imagine that.

The AT&T was, blessedly, supplanted by a Mac II (still two floppies, but with an enormous 20 megabyte hard drive), but the poem remained in place. In fact, it hung on that wall until 1993, when I moved to a different office.

At that point, the poem found its way into a “keepsake” box. That’s where I rediscovered it a few months ago. It was originally typed on an IBM Correcting Selectric typewriter, which makes me wonder if it actually predates the AT&T. It’s still a wonderful poem, goading me on issues of humility and faithfulness.

So here it is. Enjoy, and be thought-provoked.

I Wonder

You know, Lord, how I serve You
With great emotional fervor
in the limelight
You know how eagerly I speak for You
at a women’s club.
You know how I shine when I promote
a fellowship group.
You know my genuine enthusiasm
at a Bible study.

But how would I react, I wonder,
If You pointed to a basin of water
And asked me to wash the calloused feet
Of a bent and wrinkled old woman,
Day after day,
Month after month,
In a room where nobody saw
And nobody knew.

–Ruth Harms Calkin

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There Because They Wanna Be

A group called the Literacy Alliance meets in the basement of our church on Thursday nights, during the time that the music team is upstairs in the sanctuary practicing. The Literary Alliance teaches people of all ages to read and write.

Tonight I noticed a light on in an upstairs classroom. I peeked through the cracked door and saw two people sitting at a table, their backs to me. One was an adult woman, and to her left was a young man with black hair. Was he Hispanic, perhaps, and wanting to learn English? Or just a young man–junior high, high school, post-school–who never learned to read? I couldn’t see their faces. But they were both looking down at a book on the table, and the woman was leading the young man through something in a voice too low for me to hear.

I thought of some of the junior high school boys from our neighborhood who come to the Wednesday night children’s ministries and wreak havoc. Just do everything they can to disrupt the teaching. They come voluntarily, but they don’t really have any interest in the reason we do Wednesday night.

Then here was this young guy, coming probably by himself on Thursday night, coming without any requirement that he be there. Coming because he wants to learn. And he’s listening intently to his tutor, following her words, taking it all in.

My, wouldn’t it be nice it all of the youngsters we attract held that attitude toward spiritual things. I’m certain that some of our regular Sunday morning adults don’t necessarily come because they’re truly interested in learning about the Bible and spiritual growth. There are other motivations, like just making the wife happy, or out of some long-established habit they just can’t break.

Anyway, I’m glad the Literacy Alliance uses our church, and that they want to be located in our neighborhood. Just seeing those two faceless persons, their backs to me, huddled in purposefulness, made me feel real good.

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I suddenly have no interest in football. I’ve been paying closer attention this year than I have for many years; Pam has even gotten into it. But after the Colts lost today, I feel totally deflated, like I don’t care about the NFL anymore. Sure, I’ll watch games again next week. But I didn’t realize how much my renewed interest was dependent on the Colts. As I type, the Panthers and Bears are playing, and I haven’t even been watching it.

I’m bummed. Maybe I’ll call in sick tomorrow. The work of the Kingdom can continue without me.

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How Does She Read So Fast?

Pam, my wife, read 175 books last year. She’s had a goal, since the mid-1980s, of reading at least 52 books a year. Lately, she’s been doubling that goal. I think she was somewhere around 120 last year. But 175? Geeesh! That’s almost a book every two days. And she doesn’t skim. I skim, to an extent. Pam reads every word.

So far, she has read five books in 2006. I’ve read two, one of which I actually started in 2005. I’m a competitive person. But in this matter, there is absolutely no competition. I flat-out concede to my wife’s superiority.

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People Who Prefer to Say No

I came across an interesting quote: “There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes,’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘No.’ Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.”

I’m still inclined to run many things through the filter of the Missionary Church vote. That’s the biggest “No” I’ve encountered for a while: when my denomination said “No” to joining forces with another highly like-minded denomination. It would definitely have been an adventure. And yet, the No vote pretty much forced us to launch into a different kind of adventure, an adventure in remaking ourselves, an adventure in survival. And I must admit–it is kind of adventurous.

But I suspect that as we go, we’ll get increasing resistance. Because the vote, I’m more and more convinced, was not against joining the Missionary Church. It was in favor of existing comfort zones. People didn’t want to be yanked into the unknown. If they felt comfortable with the world they were inhabiting, they wanted it to remain that way. And so they were saying, “Let it be. I’m happy. Don’t force me to leave the Shire and go on an adventure.”

Not everyone held this attitude. So Anthony, don’t scold me here. But many did.

Nevertheless, we’re on an adventure as a denomination. People seem cooperative right now. But when the bishop starts stretching people with accountability and continuing education and evangelism and other things, there will be resistance. Because people don’t like being nudged out of their comfort zones, out of the safe worlds they inhabit. And they’ll start finding new things to criticize in their efforts to preserve their comfort zones. They’ll crititize the process (“process,” I’ve observed numerous times, is always an easy target, and usually the first target), and the leaders chosen, and “the way things are being handled,” and other things. So the seasoned cynic in me says.

This is the adventure which lies ahead for the bishop–dealing with the people who prefer to say No, who prefer to remain safe. Fortunately, he knows they’re out there.

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A Year After the Mugging

JoannaAs we pulled into our usual parking place–beside a telephone pole on a side street down from the church–Pam remarked that it was just a year ago that Joanna Herrick was mugged in the church parking lot. When I mentioned it to Joanna, she said, “It was a year ago tomorrow. I don’t normally remember dates, but I remember that one.”

I wrote about the experience a year ago, how Joanna came to church an hour early and, while still in the church parking lot, was approached and mugged by two guys. They stole her purse, which was the small thing. The big thing is that she fell to the ice-covered lot and broke her right leg. A very nasty break.

Joanna and Annie“I consider myself a miracle,” Joanna told me today. “Doctors said it would take me a year to recover, but look at me.” Indeed. On Labor Day Sunday, when we hold services at a campground for a baptismal service, Joanna was walking around fine, though a couple ladies would assist her. Joanna was back to driving her car in the fall, coming to my Sunday night home Bible study. During our Halloween event at the church, she dressed as a clown and did face-painting.

Joanna is somewhere in her 70s, the latter part, I think. But she sure doesn’t act it. She jokes easily about the mugging. Nothing’s gonna make her afraid or cautious. The leg still hurts sometimes, but she doesn’t complain. The muggers were never caught, the purse never recovered. But I suspect that if she met the two fellows, she would go up and hug them. And then tell them they needed to get right with the Lord. And she wouldn’t be able to resist kidding the bigger guy about how, when she fell to the ice, she took him down with her.

We’re truly blessed to have somebody like Joanna at Anchor Community Church.

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