Category Archives: It’s My Life

Rockin’ with the Pops

I guess I’m not an orchestra fan. This afternoon, as part of the United Brethren Headquarters Christmas party, I attended the annual performance of the “Holiday Pops” at Huntington University. This was done by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. They were good, if you like that kind of music, which lots of people do. But give me a lead guitar with some distortion, a bass, a drummer, and someone who can half-way sing, and I’m happier.

I’m not criticizing this type of music. It’s just not my thing. I’m a rock & roll guy. I like blues. I like most of country. I even enjoy the Gaither reunion specials which I stumble across on TV and which magnetically capture my interest for some reason known but to God. I don’t like rap (with a few songs exception, usually by Eminem), and I don’t care for jazz, which always surprises people, since I’m a piano player. I like some New Age music, which gets into orchestration, though I’m usually attracted by the use of piano. I don’t like punk, I’m indifferent toward disco. Don’t even think about taking me to a classical concert.

There are occasions when I like orchestra music. Like in Sheryl Crow’s version of “Sweet Child of Mine,” where they use an orchestra in place of Slash’s superb guitar solo–a compliment to Slash, a way of saying “it takes a whole orchestra to replace you.” I love the strings in Verve Pipe’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” and can’t imagine the song without it. Coolio’s “Gangster Paradise” is superb with the strings in the background. But in both cases, the orchestration is a complement to more traditional rock.

It’s not that I disliked the Holiday Pops. I just wasn’t all that crazy about it (plus, I had to miss the Colts vs. Jacksonville game). Give me the MercyMe Christmas album (which I highly recommend, especially their incredible version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”). Or the Lynyrd Skynyrd Christmas album (which has the prettiest version of Greensleeves I’ve heard–Skynyrd’s keyboard player is outstanding). Or my favorite, the Tractors Christmas album (with “Santa Claus is coming in a Boogie Woogie Choo-choo Train”). That’s my style. Call me uncultured, if you want. I can live with it.

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Learning Scripture in Code

Pam’s radio goes off at 6 am every morning, and we lay in bed listening to WBCL, one of the local Christian radio stations. Today, the morning DJs invited people to call in and tell about their favorite teacher, or a teacher who had been meaningful to them. Something like that. I was only half awake.

But it got me thinking about teachers I’ve had. There was Mrs. Yeager, 4th grade, who let me write funny stories and read them to the class; I credit her with creating my interest in writing (which blossomed into a career). Mrs. Runo and Mrs. Harbour, in high school, further fueled that interest by letting me do an independent study; I went to the library for one period during the day, wrote stories, and submitted the stories to them for critiquing when they were finished. That was important.

But the best teacher I ever had was in Sunday school, 6th grade, in Harrisburg, Pa. Dick Zimmerman. He designed a big posterboard type thing with a huge grid, like a spreadsheet. There was a line for each kid in the class, and little boxes where he would put stars for such things as attendance, bringing your Bible, bringing friends, and for memorizing a host of different Scripture verses and passages. That doesn’t sound anything special, does it?

But here’s the thing: it was all in CODE. Our names, the verses, everything. And he gave each of us a “code book” to decipher what was on the chart. It was SO cool. Other people, adults, could walk into the class and look at this big board, admire it all they want, but they wouldn’t understand it. Only us kids, with our code books, had the answers.

I memorized everything he offered in that book and filled my line up with numerous stars. It motivated me like crazy. I’m sure many of the verses which remain fresh in my mind were first memorized in Mr. Zimmerman’s class. But another lasting legacy of Mr. Zimmerman is his example–a guy who expended a great deal of creativity and time into motivating a bunch of 6th graders. When it comes to teaching Sunday school, Dick Zimmerman is my gold standard. Always has been.

Years later–in fact, my first year out of college–I was asked to teach a group of 4th to 6th graders on Wednesday nights. I duplicated the whole thing–the board, the code books. The kids seemed to enjoy it. But not as much as I did with Mr. Zimmerman.

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Of Lost Cats and Men

Jordi in the GrassWe have a screened patio in the back of our house, and Jordi spends a lot of time there. But what he really likes is to go clear outside into our unfenced yard. That’s what he lives for. And when it’s a nice day and I’m home, he’ll cry and cry and cry at me until he wears me down, and I take him out.

I can’t just let him out by himself, because he’ll wander off. I have to watch him. And even that doesn’t always work.

Like today. I was standing out on the porch reading the latest BusinessWeek, shivering for the sake of my little golden boy. He was out on the ridge at the back of our lot, looking for mice, his favorite pastime. He wandered a bit behind the neighbor’s property, in a little thicket area, but I was watching. Then, suddenly, as I looked up from my magazine (how long had I been reading that particular article?), he wasn’t there. No problem. He was probably in the little dip behind the ridge. I went out to make sure that’s where he was. And he wasn’t there.

Hmmm. I roamed all around the area, looking. No luck. Pam saw me searching. “Did you lose Jordi again?” she asked. Because this wasn’t the first time. “I did, and I was even keeping a close eye on him.” Pam got her coat and joined the search.

It’s awful when this happens. The thought of not finding Jordi creeps into my mind, and I can’t imagine that. We’ve done this search-and-locate thing many times, because he can take off in a blink, lured by a mouse or rabbit, or maybe just because he was zoning out and he wandered along and we weren’t paying close enough attention. But it hadn’t happened in a while. And after 15 minutes of looking, I was getting pretty worried. What if Jordi was gone for good?

Well, of course I prayed. “Lord, help us find Jordi.” I’ve prayed far more about finding Jordi than I have for the salvation of my neighbors or relatives. And Jordi’s eternity is no doubt predetermined–he ain’t goin’ anywhere. At least, I’m not one of those people who think our pets will be in heaven. If I had to live with all of the pets I’ve had during my lifetime, that would be one crowded heavenly mansion. But still, I pray more for Jordi’s whereabouts than I do for my neighbors’ eternal whereabouts. Perhaps that’s normal for us devout pet owners sans kids.

I could say that Pam found Jordi. Or I could say that God led Pam to where Jordi was. I prefer the latter. He was two houses down, hiding in some bushes. When Pam rattled a container of treats, he moved enough to ring the bell on his collar, and he was busted. And tonight, all is well in the Dennie household. One happy family. I can’t tell you the situation in my neighbors’ homes. Maybe that should concern me a little more.

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Me and the Revolution

Well, it’s my birthday. Age 49. Really. Not “49 and holding,” but an actual 49. So next year, people will probably make a bit deal out of the big 5-0. Our worship leader intended to draw attention to my birthday during the services this morning, so they could sing “Happy Birthday,” but he forgot. That’s fine with me. I hate having “Happy Birthday” sung to me. It’s excrutiating.

I was at a little medical clinic several years ago for some ailment I can no longer remember. A nurse came in, looked at my chart, and saw my birthday: October 23, 1956. In an East European accent, she said, “You were born on a very special day.”

I responded, “I know. The day the Hungarian Revolution started.”

It about blew her over. The expression on her face was priceless. She was from Hungary and experienced the invasion by Russian tanks. She remembered it well. And she was astonished that this American knew that date. My Mom had told me about the Hungarian Revolution connection when I was young, so I’ve always been aware of it. That nurse made sure I was well taken care of. It’s nice when a piece of trivia, after 40-some years, actually comes in handy.

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Is This Some Form of Racism, or Not?

I’m no racist. When I was in junior high, Dad taught in an all-black inner city school, back in the days of the Martin Luther King riots. My sister-in-law teaches in a mostly black school. I graduated from a California high school which had a huge ethnic mix–hispanic, Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, blacks, Filipinos, and various brands of caucasians: Oakies, Arkies, and Texans, who moved out during the Great Depression. My first day of school there, when I left the bus back in our town, I found myself surrounded by a group of blacks as another black tried to pick a fight with me, and everyone was egging us to go at it. Yeah, I was scared spitless, but I managed to walk away intact. From then on, I walked to a different bus stop. Those same guys came over to our house frequently, since the parsonage had a full-court basketball court in back. I played basketball with those blacks–and with bunches of Hispanics–all the time.

At the ping pong club, I enjoy talking to the various immigrants who show up. There are probably a half dozen guys of Chinese ancestry. There are several Hispanics–Panama, Peru, Cuba, and elsewhere. This week there were two new guys. One seemed to be arabic or persian. He was GOOD, too. I’d like to get to know him. All of these immigrants have interesting stories.

Then yesterday I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning. Normally Becky is my hygienist, but she’s on maternity leave, so I let them set me up with Lonnie, a new girl. I arrived at the office, and there was a black girl standing in the receptionist’s area. I hadn’t seen her before. I told her I had an 8:30 appointment, then sat down in the waiting room. A minute later, she came out with a folder. I figured it contained information for me to update. Then she said, “We’re ready for you now. I’m Lonnie.”

And I began kicking myself for assuming that this new black girl must be the receptionist, and not a professionally-trained hygienist. Some people would say I was just showing some kind of racist stereotyping or exhibiting latant racism lurking within my core being. But I think I just made a simple mistake, an errant assumption…BASED on some kind of stereotyping, I guess. I don’t know. I’m confused.

Anyway, Lonnie was great. I like her better than Becky, and asked specifically for Lonnie the next time. And I ask myself again: is that just the playing out of some white guilt? Over-compensating by making sure I make a choice in favor of an African-American? I don’t want to think so, but…maybe I did?

This is all complicated. And it’s made more complicated by the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons, who continually tell us we’re a bunch of racists, even if we don’t think we are. And I resent that. But there’s a mixture of truth and untruth there, and I’m not smart enough to sort it all out.

Am I racist, and just don’t realize it?

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The Guys-and-Girls Dance

I’m currently in the library of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. My pastor has been working on his MDiv for the past two-and-a-half years, and this semester he has a class on Monday night. So I rode up with him today. Good chance to talk about stuff. I spent some hours at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, then went down the street to the Borders bookstore. I can always kill time in bookstores. And now I’m back at the college library, waiting for him.

It’s 8:25, and Tim’s class gets out promptly at 9:00. My Airport wireless card is connected to the Trinity wireless system here in the library, but I’ve got a very weak signal. But good enough to connect to Blogger, if I wait long enough. I better hurry, since my battery level is down to 34% and dropping quickly. I’m too lazy to go find an outlet.

I’m in an area with some nice padded chairs. A guy and a girl, new acquaintances, are sitting at two more chairs nearby, and I can hear them talking. Nice kids. Both freshman, evidently. The guy is doing the pre-ask-out-on-a-date dance that I remember playing when I was a college student, several ice ages ago. It’s fun to observe, because I know what’s going on. The guy, a tall skinny fellow with short blonde hair and a backpack, is taking the initiative. The girl is appreciating it. They talk about their classes, dorms, how they ended up at Trinity, what churches they came from, who their professors are, yada yada yada. He plays soccer. They talk well together, easily, no silences.

The guy will find ways to run into her during the day, and maybe they’ll talk in the cafeteria. And one of these days–maybe soon–they’ll go out on a date together. And they’ll have a good time, because it’s obvious they don’t have any trouble conversing. They seem compatible. And they’re both Christians. This is what Christian colleges are for.

I find the whole thing very cute and innocent. And I’m glad I don’t need to do that anymore.

I’m down to 28%. Better hurry.

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Uh…Hello? Anyone Still There?

So what happened? Did I just get bored with this thing? I haven’t posted in, like, three ice ages (or one global warming). What, now, causeth my prodigal return? And do I intend to stay?

I started this thing for my own amusement. Plus, a blog was “the thing” to do. The new thing. Something every early adopter was adopting, most of them earlier than I did.

My stated passion is the local church, and that’s what I liked to write about. Particularly about my church, Anchor Community. But during the past year, my writings drifted occasionally into venting about my denomination’s (alas) failed effort to join the Missionary Church. Some pretty cynical stuff there. Then I wrote about Promise Keepers, and it was drawing PK people from across the country. So I didn’t want to put up stuff that was too in-house or would turn them off.

Plus, in June, my denomination chose new leaders and new initiatives and embarked on an ambitious plan to create a new future. It’s a very big deal, and I’m in the thick of it doing communications stuff, since I’m the Communications Director. I’m still neck deep, and can’t blame FEMA. And suddenly, two months passed with nary a post.

I think about this thing a lot. Miscellaneous ideas float around in my head as I drive the 25 miles to work. But when I sit down at a computer, whether at work or at home, I always have a zillion other things clamoring for my attention, and I just don’t get around to typing in the Blogger address. I guess it means that this blog isn’t a high priority for me. And why should it be? It’s for my amusement, after all, and amusements take a back seat to the urgents.

But I’m gonna give it another good try. Because, frankly, I miss doing this thing. I miss rambling into the cybersphere, as I’m doing right now. This is a totally content-free post. I’m just blabbering. And I’m sort of amusing myself, which means I’m succeeding in my lowly goal.

So, for those of you out there who, for reasons of your own choosing, pop in now and then and wonder why you never received an obituary notice…well, as Fast Eddy announced to the twerp played by Tom Cruise, “I’m back.”

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Paul, Ping Pong, and Peru

Last night at the ping pong club, there was a new guy named Paul. College age. Probably 6-foot-five. Tall, skinny, long hair. I thought it was Dirk Nowitski when he first walked in. Others guys said he used to attend the club when he was a kid, but the family moved to Colorado. Now they’re back in Fort Wayne.

Everyone always wants to play new guys, especially if they’re any good. And Paul was pretty good. I beat him 3 games to 1, but it wasn’t easy. He has some wicked serves.

Before starting our match, I asked some questions to get acquainted. He said he was actually on summer break from college, and that his parents had moved back from Colorado. What college? He said it was in Wisconsin. What’s it called? He said “New Tribes Bible Institute,” and said something about how it specializes in training people for missionary work.

“Sure, I know about New Tribes,” I told him. “I have a cousin who went to Liberia with New Tribes. Her husband was a pilot, and they escaped with their lives when Charles Taylor took over the country.”

Paul’s eyes lit up at the fact that I knew something about New Tribes. To him, it was just a small mission organization. But I was familiar with it.

After we played, we sat down and talked more about missions. His fiance is an MK whose parents serve in Venezuela. Paul says they have their eyes set on going to Peru. He initially wanted to be a pilot (I know Kareem squeezed into the pilot’s chair in “Airplane,” but that was a major airliner; I’m not sure Paul could fit in a four-seat Cessna), but he had kind of ruled that out and was now looking at other forms of ministry.

I’m just delighted that guys like Paul exist. He showed to me a real heart for missions. He comes from a Christian home, but would be the first missionary on his side of the family (obviously, there are missionaries among his future inlaws). I told Paul that missionaries have always been my heroes, and he understood that I was affirming him. Here’s a guy who is looking at missions as a career, not as a work trip. And from everything I saw of Paul, he’s a good catch for New Tribes–smart, likeable, athletic, articulate, and fully confident that missions is where God wants him.

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The Civility of Ping Pongsters

I continue playing ping pong regularly. Mostly, I’m going to the club on the east side of town, which meets on Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons. It has a lot of good players, as opposed to only a couple players coming to the one on the west side of town (my side). Last night, I played 8 or 9 matches during the three-hour period. I beat the guys I should have beat, and lost to the ones who were better than me, though I put up a pretty good fight and won a couple games off of guys who had previously beaten me 3-0 (we play best of 5 games, with 11-point games).

About 25 guys were there last night, and I’ve played probably 40 different guys during the past two months. Two guys, both named Tom, are clearly better than everyone else. They are the upper tier. Then there is a tier of about 8 guys who are very good, and fairly well matched. I was surprised last night when, in separate conversations, two different guys put me in that group. I’m definitely on the bottom end of it looking up, but it was flattering.

This is just about the nicest bunch of guys I’ve ever been around. It’s not a church thing–just a secular, city club that happens to meet at a church. But I’ve never been around a more gracious, nice, friendly, courteous bunch of guys. Not a single person there acts stuck-up, gets upset about losing, or otherwise displays a bad attitude. Like a bunch of Mormons or something.

By comparison, I think of the church softball, basketball, and volleyball leagues I’ve played in. My goodness, if you want to find unsportsmanlike jerks, go play in a church league. Why is that? And why are pastor-athletes sometimes the worst of the bunch? Would the character of the ping-pong club plummet if a preacher showed up to play? Hmmmm.

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When You Love What You’re Doing

It’s been nearly two weeks since I posted anything. I’ve been conscious of that, but I’ve had other things on my mind. Actually, one thing: redesigning the United Brethren website.

I’ve been tinkering around with new designs for several months. I finally found something I liked during February, and worked on refining it. Once I committed to the design and was ready to implement new templates and stylesheets and a new structure, I had to totally immerse myself in the task of converting hundreds of pages over to the new design.

So for three weeks, that’s about all I’ve been doing. During the past two weeks in particular, I’ve been totally engulfed in this. And the thing is: it’s FUN. This week I’ve been coming in around 6 am and leaving around 8 pm, and then feeling anxious to get back to it the next morning. There’s something about a huge creative project that gives me an adrenaline rush. (The fact that Pam is deep into tax season, working similarly long hours, gives me license to work late.)

Yesterday, I went live with the new site, and a few minutes ago, I sent an email to our constituency telling them about the new site. I just know I’m going to hear back about miscellaneous broken links and other problems, despite my best efforts to track down everything. I continue to stumble across such errors. But that’s okay. Other people can help me get it right.

I appreciate the fact that many people work at jobs that are a drudgery to them. I’m fortunate to have something that gives me the chance to tackle huge creative projects that are not only immensely rewarding when done, but are immensely fun in the process. Designing Filemaker databases is that way. Designing slides in Photoshop. Writing books. That’s what I’ll be doing most of next week, taking four days (actually, compensatory time) to work on my novel. I’ll be fully engrossed in that, though it’s a whole different kind of creative project. It’ll be immensely fun.

Yeah, I don’t have a lot to complain about.

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