Monthly Archives: December 2007

The Church World, Home of the Incompetent

Years ago, I heard Jerry Ballard, the head of World Relief, talk about taking Charleton Heston with him on a tour of some of their mission relief work in other countries. He said Heston was impressed with the World Relief workers. Heston told Ballard, “They are committed, and they are competent.” To an extent, Heston was surprised that they were competent. If they were truly competent, wouldn’t they be doing something… meaningful? Like advancing up a corporate ladder, promoting and selling some banal product for excess-addicted consumers? Instead, these competent people were laboring away in a situation devoid of recognition and economic reward.

It’s interesting how, in some people’s eyes, working in the church world sucks out the credibility of your competencies.

I’ve been a writer, editor, and graphic designer for nearly 30 years. A web designer for ten years. Been doing these things professionally. And I’m a student of my crafts; I don’t just run on intuition, but study the techniques and theories of written and visual communication. It’s part of being a professional.

And yet, throughout my career, I’ve encountered people–both within and outside the church universe–who assume that I’m less skilled than someone who does the same things in the corporate world. If I had worked a few years for an ad agency or a PR firm, or in some other corporate capacity, I might be artificially elevated in people’s eyes. “Steve’s good at what he does. He used to work for an ad agency.” If I had a smidgen of “corporate communications” on my resume, no matter how minor, it would do wonders for my professional credibility.

But no, I’ve always worked in church communications. Therefore, my skills must be sub-professional. We need to draw our sense of identity from God, not from the views of others. But sometimes I just want to tell people, “Hey, I’m really good at what I do.” And, in fact, I just did. I’m afraid that I inhabit a Rodney Dangerfield world besmitten with the paranoia of Joe McCarthy and the insecurities of George Castanza.

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Now Playing Left Field for the Yankees….

I dreamed last night that I was playing left field for the New York Yankees. And at third base was Cosmo Kramer (a.k.a. Michael Richards). A-Rod was evidently injured or in contract negotiations.

A ball flew over my head, hit the wall, and bounced to me. I grabbed it and threw a really nice bullet to try to pick off the runner streaking toward second base. Unfortunately, my throw, though straight and fast, was not in the vicinity of the second basemen’s glove. So the runner made it safely to second.

That was my first error. Then a fly ball came my direction, but short, so I had to run in for it. I had my glove out, zeroing in on the ball. But the thing missed my glove entirely and struck me in the gut. Error number two.

At that point, Cosmo told me bluntly, “You can leave now.” I looked into left field, and my replacement was already there: my good friend from church Russ Baker. He gave me a shrug, as if saying, “Sorry.” And then I must have awakened, because I can’t remember anything else.

Why the Yankees? Maybe because my first year of Little League, I played for the Yankees. We ended up winning the league that year (after my 4th grade year). I played shortstop most of the time, but I remember playing first base a few times. One game was especially memorable. Someone hit the ball over the head of our right fielder, a very young, unathletic fellow with minimal interest in playing baseball. He just stood out there, his glove tucked under his right arm, daydreaming. I yelled at him to get the ball, and that startled him out of his alternate universe. But he didn’t understand what I was telling him. I ended up running out there, getting the ball myself, and heaving it toward home plate. But alas, it was too late. An inside-the-park homer.

So maybe that’s why I dreamed about the Yankees, as opposed to the Phillies or some other team. Why Russ Baker turned up in my dream, I don’t know. I hope he played better than I did.

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A Most Unusual Christmas

So it’s Christmas Day. Pam and I slept in ’til about 9:00, and have been reading most of the day. She polished off a Nora Roberts book, and now is well into another book, which she’ll no doubt finish tonight. Me–I’m reading Brown’s Requiem, an excellent hard-boiled detective novel by James Ellroy (better known for writing L.A. Confidential). I’m almost done.

I heated up some vegetable soup I made on Sunday, when Pam’s family came over. Pam and her brother and sister spent all day Saturday at Chuck’s condo, continuing to divide things up. (I got a nice heavy tan coat with some black grease stains on one shoulder, and a fine London Fog jacket with fur lining that will fit nice after I lose a bit more weight.) The question, “When are we getting together for Christmas?” came up. It kind of depended on when Jodie had the kids, and this weekend was it. So how about tomorrow? At our place? Agreed.

And so, at 5:30 on Sunday, after Pam and I gave the house a quick picking-up and vacuuming, everyone showed up at our abode. Everyone except Chuck, of course. The previous Sunday, we were all at the funeral home for the viewing. So that made the get-together very different. And yet, it was no mopey affair. We had a great time. Lots of laughter. Kelly brought a superb potato soup, Pam made her delicious ranch beans, and my experiment with vegetable beef soup actually succeeded. Throw in a Papa Murphy’s pizza, and we had a real party.

The only living person missing was Spencer, Jim’s oldest, who had to work. He’s a college student here in Fort Wayne, living on his own. Chuck had a couple cases of corn beef hash, and most of it went to Spencer, who loves the stuff. We also wrapped up a case for him to open. I had wanted to see that, but alas. However, on Monday, Jim brought Spencer to our house, along with one unopened, wrapped, very heavy present. Spencer unwrapped it on the kitchen table, and we all got a kick out of it.

At 4:00 that afternoon, on Christmas Eve, Carolyn and Allen came over, along with Connor and Dennis Michael, who was born on Tuesday. Less than a week old. They were actually all in church on Sunday, which is practically unheard of nowadays–bringing a newborn to church on his/her first Sunday of life. But there they were, and I got to hold Dennis. What a joy.

Now, at our apartment, I got to hold Dennis much more. We unwrapped gifts for each other. I played with Connor, who is now practically running and has a strong affinity for grabbing cat food (not to mention cats). He fell, butt first, into the water bowl. Nice.

Then it was off to church for Anchor’s Christmas Eve service. The sanctuary was set up in the round, with the piano in the middle. I played ten minutes of carols as a prelude, then we sang a bunch of carols. Tim did something for the kids, then gave a meditation for everyone. Then a couple more songs. Forty-five minutes–that’s how long the service lasted.

At home, Pam and I watched two Season 2 episodes of The Unit, on DVD. Love that show. Then we opened presents. We hadn’t gotten much for each other. This has been a very unusual Christmas. We’ve both been ill during the past few weeks, and since Chuck went into the hospital on December 7, our lives have really been thrown off-kilter. But Pam managed to find me a bunch of hard-boiled detective novels, and I got her a batch of eight or so Christian novels. I actually managed to find books she hadn’t read. There were a few other minor gifts. And that was sufficient. We’re at the age where we just don’t want or need much. Books are always good.

And that’s pretty much how our Christmas has gone. Right now it’s 5 p.m. I’m gonna call Mom and Dad, see if they’re home. Go visit them a while.

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Snowblower Blues: Resolved

When I got home yesterday, the driveway and sidewalks had been snowblowered with my very own heretofore dormant Troy-Bilt. Thanks, Dad. I can be so helpless without you.

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Snowblower Blues

Last year I bought a big, powerful Troy-Bilt Snowblower. Just chews through snow like it’s something softer than snow that I can’t think of at the moment.

With last week’s hecticness, I didn’t get the snowblower ready for the storm that dumped unacceptable quantities of white stuff, unbidden, upon our driveway. Despite my best but futile efforts, I couldn’t get the snowblower running.

And so, I reverted to the lowly shovel. It’s actually quite a marvel of technology. No batteries. No gas and oil to mix. No string to pull. Just pick it up and start heaving. And then go to the chiropractor.

Meanwhile, my lovely Troy-Bilt stares at me from the garage, keeping warm, still hibernating, refusing to pay its keep. As I shoveled, just imagine how much disgust I was swallowing.

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Death of Pam’s Dad, Chuck Wilkin

Chuck WilkinMy father-in-law, Chuck Wilkin, passed away just after midnight on Friday, December 14. He was 65 years old. 

Chuck drove himself to the emergency room of Lutheran Hospital  on Friday, December 7, where a CAT scan revealed a tear in his heart. He was rushed into surgery, and underwent an eight-hour operation that lasted until 12:30 that night. Though the operation went very well, Chuck never woke up. He remained on a ventilator and other artificial support for the next six days. 

Early Thursday afternoon, December 13, the surgeon met with the family. A brain scan revealed little or no higher brain activity. The kidneys had shut down, blood pressure was extremely low, and there were other complications. Difficult decisions were made. Chuck finally passed away very peacefully at 12:45 am on Friday. 

The funeral will be held in Fort Wayne, Ind., at the following times:

Sunday, December 16: Viewing 3-8 pm at D.O. McComb & Sons funeral home at 8325 Covington Road in southwest Fort Wayne.

Monday, December 17: Viewing 10-11 am at Anthony Wayne Church of God, 6012 South Bend Drive, Fort Wayne (260-432-3342). The funeral service will be held there at 11 am. Burial will follow the service at the Covington Memorial Gardens cemetery. Don Dennie, the father-in-law of Pam Dennie, will conduct the funeral. The children have determined to keep the funeral casual in dress. 

Chuck served in the US Army from 1965-1967, and spent his career working for International Harvester (later renamed Navistar) in Fort Wayne, Chicago, and Milwaukee. He retired from Navistar in 1993. For seven years he lived in Asheville, N.C., and in 2000 moved to a condo in Fort Wayne. 

Chuck is survived by three children and four siblings:

  • Pam Dennie (daughter) lives with her husband, Steve, in Fort Wayne, Ind.
  • Jim Mize (son) lives with his wife, Kelly, and four children–Spencer, Kelsey, Trapper, and Levi– near South Whitley, Ind.
  • Jodie Kelly (daughter) lives with her two children, Austin and Logan, in Fort Wayne, Ind.
  • Dick Wilkin (brother) and his wife, Barb, live in Findlay, Ohio.
  • Jeanne Morgan (sister) and her husband, Joe, live in Van Wert, Ohio.
  • Dave Wilkin (brother) and his wife, Elaine, live in Huntington, Ind.
  • Carol Penhorwood (sister) and her husband, Marty, live in Evansville, Ind.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any gifts or memorials be sent to the USO (United Service Organizations) or the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute at the Indiana University School of Medicine (Chuck was losing his eyesight).

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Books: The Getaway / 361

Two nights ago I finished Jim Thompson’s “The Getaway,” the book on which the movie starting Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw was based. I loved the movie, and wouldn’t mind seeing it again. The movie followed the book in some ways, but there were major differences.

The book was very good until the last ten pages or so, when the main characters end up in Mexico. Then it got really strange. I’m really not sure what happened in those pages, or what Thompson was thinking. The movie ending was superb, on the other hand.

Last night I finished Donald Westlake’s “361,” another novel in which the protagonists (as in “The Getaway”) are criminals. My first Westlake novel. Will definitely read more.

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R.I.P. Mr. Whipple

I read yesterday that Mr. Whipple, the “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” guy, died last week. Age 91. That ad campaign lasted 20 years, starting in 1964, and included over 500 commercials. Real name: Dick Wilson. The first ad was filmed in Flushing, NY–somebody’s idea of a wierd joke.

In interesting guy, according to this obit.

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Pam’s Dad Undergoes Heart Operation

Pam’s Dad, Chuck Wilkin, underwent an eight-hour open-heart surgery on Friday. He had driven himself to the emergency room of Lutheran Hospital, which is only a half-mile from his condo.¬†Pam was called at her office around 1:15, and told she needed to come right away. So she left work, and on the way she called me. I, too, left for Lutheran.

Shortly after Pam arrived at the ER, the doctors got the results of a CAT scan. At this point things kicked into very high gear, since the scan showed a tear in his heart and a lot of blood leakage. When I arrived, a number of doctors and nurses were hovering around Chuck doing their thing. A chaplain stood next to Pam. 

The doctor explained to Chuck and Pam what was happening, and that they needed to operate right away. The situation was very, very serious. As a surgeon told us later, Chuck’s condition was “universally fatal” without surgery.¬†

The problems were extensive, and the surgery was extremely complicated. I won’t try to explain what they did, because I don’t understand it all. Suffice it to say, they spent a couple hours getting Chuck stabilized and ready for surgery, and the surgery itself lasted eight hours. Until after midnight. A number of us–siblings, kids, grandkids–waited around.

The surgeon finally came out at 12:30 and met with us. He said the surgery went as well as could be expected. It was very complicated, and the recovery would be long, but he was pleased. 

About 2:30 am, the six of us remaining were taken back to see Chuck. He was sleeping, and would be kept that way for several days. And we then went home.

Chuck remains unconscious, and his condition is very critical. They removed the sedation, wanting him to wake up, but it’s not happening. This morning, Pam received a call asking permission to put him on dialysis.

So, we wait and pray.

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The Quiet Dennie Home

Last Friday, about noon, I received a call at work from Kathy Ayres, a lady from my church. Some things were in motion. It looked like Allen and Carolyn might be able to get their own place. Right away. I needed to type up something and bring it to her. So I typed it up quickly and left for home. I called Pam on the way. She immediately left her own work. Before long, six of us were at home: Allen and Carolyn, me and Pam, and Tom and Kathy Ayres.

It’s complicated what happened. Suffice it to say, with the help of a social agency, an apartment was secured. We spent the rest of the day and Saturday morning packing. Saturday afternoon we began moving them, until an ice storm put a stop to the proceedings. We finished up on Sunday afternoon (in the pouring, cold rain).

So now, Pam and I inhabit what seems like an empty house. Just us and our two cats. It was December 1, 2006, when Allen and Carolyn, and two-month-old Connor, moved in with us. And it was exactly a year later when we got them set up in their own apartment.

What a year. A rewarding, topsy-turvy year.

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