Random Thanksgiving Musings

We planned to spend Thanksgiving at my parents’ place just south of South Bend, about two hours away from Fort Wayne. That’s where we go every Thanksgiving. But the weather forcast was pretty bad this year, with up to a foot of snow predicted, much of it coming on Thanksgiving day itself. I called Mom on Wednesday night and warned her that we might just stay home, which is what she suggested before I even got out my warning. Then I called again on Thanksgiving morning. The wind was blowing real strong. There was some minor snow action, but not much. However, the forcasts continued being ominous. Mom said, “If I were you, I would hunker down with a blanket and stay warm.” So that’s what we did.

Now I’m sitting beside the patio door, watching Jordi as he stalks mice out on the hill in back of our property. I don’t see a bit of snow. Thanksgiving turned out to be a blustery day, but with practically no snow accumulation. Same Friday, yesterday, which turned out to be a very nice day with the absence of Thursday’s high wind.

So we missed Mom’s noodles this year. The first in many years. She used to do a turkey until a few years ago, but our main interest has been her homemade noodles, and I think that’s all she was fixing this year (as far as main course). I mourn missing the noodles. And her homemade rolls. And the fellowship with my parents, who could be around for many years yet…or not. Like the weather, you can’t predict some things.

I used the days wisely, making enormous headway on a major writing project. It was great fun, very satisfying. I’ll finish it up today, and then print everything out for Pam to read. She’ll like it. I know.

Jordi is being good, staying right out on the boundary line. Two lines, in fact, since he’s perched at the southwest corner of our lot, like there’s a big star there. Of course, he’s looking across the boundary, wanting what is on the other side, and he’ll eventually meander over. He’s got a big yard to enjoy, but instead, he sits on the edge, gazing over, wanting what is forbidden. He’s a guy, after all. Curses upon us!

Okay, Pam’s getting up now. My battery is down to 27%, and anytime now, I’ll need to go fetch Jordi as he wanders into the next yard. I’ve said nothing here that would be of particular interest to visiting readers, and for that, I apologize. On the other hand, you probably have leftover turkey to snack on, while Pam and I have nothing but the usual frozen stuff to get us through the day. So while I’ve given you nothing worth nibbling on, you’ll be fine.

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The Needy and the Unneedy

A new couple have been checking out our church. And other churches. They recently moved from Texas, where they were involved in a dynamic church. They’ve been very deliberate about selecting a new church. They’re the type of people who, once they decide on a church, will probably throw themselves into it. There are lots of really good churches here in Fort Wayne, which is sometimes called “The City of Churches.” I’m sure they’ve attended some churches, during their search, that do some awesome things (because of their larger size and resources) that Anchor can’t touch. But they’ve been drawn to Anchor.

Last week, they were back in Texas dealing with a death in the family. But they sent an email back to Pastor Tim, giving him an update. And at the end, they tacked on, “Thanks for your open arms during this time, and I want you to know, that we’re blessed to have found Anchor!”

My goodness, that’s good to hear!

Starting a new church is difficult. Some of us have been working very hard since October 1998, seven years ago, when Anchor began. And lots of good things have happened. But some of us are getting a bit tired, too. So it’s nice when God sends reinforcements, which is how I view people like this new couple.

There have been others. The Herrolds and Benders and Bards came in 2004, and they’ve been wonderful workers. Much needed. If they attended a larger church, they would probably be under-used. But being “under-used” is not an issue at Anchor. If you’re willing to work, we have ways to use you.

The problem is that we have more “needy” people than we have strong, stable workers. That’s the type of neighborhood we live in. It’s a challenge figuring out how to help some of these people, especially considering some of the difficult family situations we encounter. I don’t think we’re doing all that great a job. I don’t think any of us feel we’re doing enough. And yet, we’re working hard. We really are. And more importantly: we care. After seven years, we still care deeply.

Anyway, we can always use new couples whose main interest is ministering to other people’s needs, rather than finding a place that will minister to their own needs. Come to Anchor. We’ll put you to work, and it’ll be invigorating.

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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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I stumbled across the Dilbert blog the other day. He was talking about “Unfair Stereotypes,” and relating it to the bombings in Jordan. He wrote, “The one woman in the group apparently couldn’t figure out how to operate her suicide belt. I’m just wondering, how many women heard that story on the news and thought ‘Crap. Why did it have to be the woman who couldn’t blow herself up?'”

I just got a kick out of that. If it had been me, I would have been the one who couldn’t figure it out (I’m a software guy, not a hardware guy), but Pam wouldn’t have had any trouble.

My goodness, this is morbid. I’m gonna stop right now.

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“It’s What He Would Have Wanted”

I listen to ESPN radio on my way to work each morning. It’s a 25-minute drive. Last Christmas, I used gift money to get XM Satellite radio, so I can switch between various news and music channels. But in the morning, I mostly keep it on ESPN. So I’m a shallow guy.

This morning, they were talking about last night’s Cowboys-Eagles game (which I missed). They noted that on Monday morning, Bill Parcells attended the funeral for his brother, but that he was on the field coaching at night. Mike and Mike (the ESPN hosts) criticized that, and I certainly agree.

Brett Favre, the Packers quarterback, set a record for playing in consecutive games. But along the way, he buried his father, his wife suffered cancer, and there was some other similar event which I can’t remember, all of which occurred during the football season. But on Sunday, Favre was on the field leading his team.

I remember watching the McLaughlin Group one Sunday, and noting that Eleanore Clift just seemed out of it. At the end of the show, John McLaughlin, the host, said something to this effect: “On Wednesday of this week, Eleanore’s husband,____, passed away. But she’s here today, because that’s what he would have wanted.”

My immediate thought was, “McLaughlin used that line on her to get her to appear. He was just too lazy to go get a replacement, and certainly far too insensitive to think maybe she should just take a week off.”

I imagine Bill Parcells was told, “Your brother would want you to be coaching tonight. It’s what you do. He’ll be watching. Blah blah blah.” And Brett Favre probably heard (or said) the same thing regarding his father, his wife, his relatives in New Orleans post-Katrina.

Well, I think that stinks. Take some days off. Mourn for your father, your husband. Spend time with your wife as she suffers from cancer, even if your streak ends. Show some sense of priority.

If I fall over dead today, I hereby give my wife and family permission to break their usual routines. It’s okay if Pam doesn’t run the sound next Sunday. It’s okay if my Dad finds someone to sub for him in the pulpit at his church, while he deals with the death of his eldest son. It’s okay if my two brothers are bummed out, and don’t do all the things that were on their schedules for the coming week. If anything should happen to them, I certainly wouldn’t be carrying on as usual–playing in the worship team next Sunday, writing new blog entries, going to the ping pong club–under the pretense that, “That’s what he would have wanted me to do.”

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The Church Bouncers

One of those things happened last night that makes you shake your head, wondering what was the best thing to do.

A social service group called the Literacy Alliance uses our church’s downstairs areas on Thursday nights. They work with adults who need help learning to read and write. They have maybe a dozen people involved. We don’t charge anything.

The worship team is practicing while they meet. About 6:50, the lady who runs the program came upstairs and asked if our pastor was there (we had a board meeting at 7:00, also, so he was there). I asked her if I could help. She told me they had a guy downstairs who was totally disrupting things, and refused to leave. She was obviously at her wit’s end, deeply frustrated. Didn’t know what to do about the guy, and couldn’t accomplish anything with him present.

So, looked like we needed to kick someone out of the church, and there could be violence. I called to Terry, one of our guitarists, and told him the situation. And we headed downstairs with the woman. We were not exactly a fearsome duo, but we were heading into potential battle. Me–I’ve never been in a fight in my life.

But soon as I saw the guy, I felt okay. About my size, but nerdy looking. As if I’m not. Said he was 24. Terry and I approached him, behind the lady. She repeated that he needed to leave, and he immediately launched into all kinds of verbal sparring. He was asking why, what did I do wrong?, why won’t you help me? who is your superior? Then he asked, “Who are these gentlemen with you?” Then we got involved. “What gives her the right to tell me to leave?”

I said, “She’s in charge, and if she says you need to leave, then that’s it.”

He argued and argued. Pretty squirrely guy. Wanted to know our full names, as if he would report us to somebody. I briefly considered giving him a fake name, but decided that was dumb. We ushered him to the exit, which on that level is through the garage, and he was arguing the whole way. Finally got him ALMOST out, and he said, “I want someone to take me to the entrance where I came in. That’s where my bike is.” I said I would take him, but he said, “No, I’m scared. You might hurt me.” So it was getting funny.

Well, his bike was about 30 feet away. We got him outside, and he kept arguing. At one point he said, “You guys are scaring me. I’m frightened.” He asked Terry, “Will you promise not to hit me?” And Terry said, “No.” I had to laugh.

Anyway, we eventually got rid of him. Two laypersons kicking a young man, a disturbed guy, off of the church property.

Yeah, it was the right thing to do. I talked to the program director later, and she was still a nervous wreck from dealing with that guy. But it wasn’t comfortable for me and Terry. On the other hand, my sense of machismo has been elevated.

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Jesus Winks

I’ve been learning a lot about meditating on Scripture, and I’m seeing a lot of things in Gospel stories that I hadn’t noticed before. Others probably have. But I’m cursed with having grown up in the church and having been taught the Bible stories in specific ways. So it’s hard for me to give them a different bent. But I’m learning. At age 49, I’m learning.

I’m on “vacation” this week, which means I’m working at home on some freelance writing. It’ll be great fun, a whole week’s worth of quality time for quality writing. I started today out on the screened sun porch reading the story of the wedding banquet at Cana, Jesus’ first miracle. My childhood Sunday school teachers focused on Jesus, Mary, and the bridegroom. I had never really considered the role of the servants, the working class (which is probably a result of my Republican upbringing). But imagine what happened.

Jesus says, “Hey guy, come over here.” The two servants come. “See those water jars? Go fill them with water.” They look at each other, shrug, and then ask, “Why?” Jesus smiles. “Just play along with me on this, okay? We’re gonna have some fun.” The liked Jesus, becaue he didn’t mind mixing it up with them, the lowly servants–talking to them, taking an interest in their lives, joking with them. So they went off and filled the jars.

“Okay, we’re done,” one of them said.

Jesus handed one of them a cup. “Now, draw out a cup of” and he did the quotey two-fingers gesture “water.” He did. It was a dark cup, so the color of the liquid didn’t show up real good. But it sure looked like a dark red wine. The servant looked up at him with a puzzled expression. Jesus had a huge, huge smile. “Here’s what I want you to do. The bridegroom’s cup is empty. That him this cup. Just hand it to him, and walk away. Don’t tell him where you got it. Okay?”

So they did. Then they came back to Jesus. “I don’t think he suspected anything,” they reported.

Later, Jesus, cup in hand, walked over to the bridegroom and threw his arm around him in a chummy way. “Tom,” he said, because that was the bridegroom’s name, “this is great stuff! A lot better than the wine you put out first.” Over in the corner, the two servants are snickering. Jesus catches their eye and winks at them with a sly smile. Tom knows something is going on, but he doesn’t know what. And nobody tells him.

Only the servants knew. And the disciples. John says this miracle convinced the disciples to believe in him. But so did the servants, I’m sure. The bridegroom, the fellow with some money (because he had servants), a guy who would be useful in building a self-supporting suburban church–Jesus kept him in the dark.

That’s my version, consistent with the basic details John gives us, and I’m sticking to it.

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Going Ballistic

Imagine if an official in the Clinton administration publicized the name of a CIA operative, for purely political reasons. We Republicans would have gone balistic. It would be proof of how those liberal Democrats are soft on national defence. We would be totally outraged that someone who puts their life in danger for the sake of the country should be put at risk because Clinton didn’t like the operative’s husband.

Yes, we would be outraged, and justifiably so. So why aren’t we outraged by what the Bush administration did? Is it somehow okay?

I’m outraged. I know the matter has gotten twisted around all kinds of who-said-what-to-whoms. But it obviously started with White House people, and I for one hope they get nailed. We can’t let any administration go around exposing CIA agents. If Scooter Libby was involved–nail the sucker. If Cheney was, or Rove–nail ’em. And if the Republican apologists–Coulter, Hannity, O’Reilly, Fox & Friends, etc.–try to find reason to poo-poo what happened and decry Fitgerald as a witch-hunter: make up your own mind.

My goodness, I’m cranky.

Saw Zorro today. Good movie. Not as good as the first one, but a more than adequate sequel.

And now it’s time to go to bed. SNL is almost over. Stayed up to hear Sheryl Crow sing. Like her stuff. On Weekend Update, Tina Fey said, “According to the latest survey, 66% of Americans disapprove of the way President Bush is running the country. The other 34% believe Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church.” Funny.

Okay, NOW it’s time for bed.

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We’re now on the verge, or maybe over the verge, of having 2000 US soldiers killed in Iraq. It’s pretty amazing that we conquered the country with, what was it, less than 200 killed in action? I guess it’s like Quintus told Maximus in the movie Gladiator, “People should know when they are conquered.”

People should also know when they’re being taken for a ride.

A couple months ago, I was at an event and heard a lady telling another, “Every year 3000 people are killed on highways here in the United States. That’s less than have been killed in Iraq. So no matter what they tell you on the news, it’s actually safer to be in Iraq.”

She noticed me listening, and said, “Isn’t that right, Steve? It’s safer in Iraq than on our own highways?”

I told her, “That’s 3000 out of 250 million. In Iraq, it’s a couple thousand out of maybe a half-million US soldiers who have been in and out of the country.” And she didn’t really know how to answer that.

Where did she hear that? From Rush Limbaugh? From Fox News? Ann Coulter? From Jerry Falwell or James Dobson? Beats me. But I’m tired of the right-wing apologists for whatever the Bush administration does. Or, I’m tired of gullible Christian conservatives automatically believing whatever nonsense these apologists barf up. I’m always ticked when black leaders gloss over whatever Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton say and do, giving them a pass on everything from credibility to morality. But we Christian conservatives aren’t a whole lot better. I voted for George Bush twice, without apology. But I’m hugely, HUGELY disappointed.

But I’ll save that for a post some other time. No sense rushing in to totally alienate the legions of conversative Christians who devour my every post.

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My International Night Out

Tuesday is my “Guys Night Out,” the night I spend three hours at the Fort Wayne ping pong club. It’s also become somewhat of an international night. Like last night.

I started out playing Benny, who is from Cuba. I beat him last week, but he clobbered me last night, 3-0 (we play best of five games). Not a good start for the evening. Benny smashes harder than anyone else in the club. When he winds up with his forehand, you might as well crawl under the table, because you’re not gonna return it, and if you try, you might get hurt. I make a big deal out of his smashes, and Benny gets a kick out of it. When he smashes one hard, and I just wrap my arms around my head in protection, he just smiles broadly.

Then I played Ahmed. He’s been there the past two weeks, but I hadn’t played him yet. He plays up close and very fast. I’d seen him really go at it with some of the better players, and I didn’t expect to fare well against him. He won the first two games, but I figured out some things that were working, and I ended up winning the match in the fifth game (though it went into the ping pong version of extra points). Ahmed looked Arabic, and I figured he was from Iran, Iraq, maybe Lebanon or Jordan. Somewhere in that vicinity. But as we played, I recognized Richard Prabhakar’s accent. He was Indian. After our match, I spent some time just talking with Ahmed. Sure enough, he’s from India. Arrived a couple of months ago, and now works for Cooper Tire in Auburn, Ind. We had a nice discussion.

Then I played an American–Mike, whom I’ve never beat, though I’ve come very very very close several times. One of these weeks, I’ll prevail. Mike’s an engineer with ITT, working on weather satellites.

Next was John, who is from China. I’ve never beaten him, and probably never will. But I played respectably last night. After our match, he gave me some tips which turned out to be good advice. He told me I was passing up some shots which “I know you can hit.”

Then I played Ran, also from China. He’s been in Fort Wayne just three weeks, and works for Essex Wire. Speaks great English. While John is serious, Ran constantly sports a big smile and loves to joke around. A delightful guy. I beat him, by the way. Beat him a couple weeks ago, too, though it went down to the wire. In talking afterwards, Ran pointed to John (who was playing Ahmed at the time), and asked me where John was from. “He looks Japanese,” Ran said. “Mortal enemies,” I replied. He smiled. “Yes, they bombed my town during the war.” But I told him John was from China. Ran visited Hong Kong in 1995, and I was there in 1996, so we had some things to talk about there. He didn’t care for Hong Kong. Too big, crowded, and fast-paced for him. I liked Hong Kong, but agreed that is was too big, crowded, and fast-paced for me.

Next came Rick, who looks Jamaican but is actually from Panama. I’d never beaten Rick before, though again, like Mike, I had come mighty close. Last night, I beat him in five games. He was not moving very well, had a limp or something, but he refused to make any excuses which would lessen my victory. Classy guy.

Then I played another American, a newbie to the club named Brent. Won easily.

So last night, I ended up with a winning record, 4 matches won to 3 lost. And five of the seven were foreigners. Two of last night’s victories came against guys I didn’t expect to beat. So although I started out with a whupping from my Cuban friend, the evening was salvaged.

I enjoy the international guys. I’ve traveled enough that I find things to talk to them about. Plus, they’re all just so doggone interesting. I love hearing their stories. And it helps me appreciate the reality of the fact that the mission field has come to us.

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