Heathers

When I dictated the title of this post, the non-omniscient dictation wizard behind the cyber-curtain inserted an apostrophe in “Heathers.”  This word is neither possessive nor a contraction, however.  I suppose it is rare that one writes about plural Heathers, so I accept the voice-dictation presupposition without too much fuss, but of course I still corrected it.

wild scottish heather in the highlands - heather stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

I think first of two Heathers from different phases of life who happen to look a lot alike.  They are both on the short side, a little plumpish, friendly and confident, with very nice smiles and glasses on their faces.  One of them was a musician.  I share one or two common interests with each.  One in particular moved in a very concerning direction, but she was a product of her times, and I hope she has moderated or even repented.

There is another Heather that I worry about a lot.

This Heather was trusted.  She is no longer.

She was once a friend.  She is no longer.

She once took advantage of my position and my trust and pursued her interest in a guy who was running a Bible study.  Later, although she had been interested in Christianity, she made a stink over her husband’s trying to put their child in a Christian daycare.  She didn’t want Christianity being rammed down the child’s throat, she stated.

And then she turned away from me, someone she always knew as a Christian influence, in favor of someone who has more decidedly left Christianity.  This is very sad. Very, very sad.

There is another Heather I’m worried about, too.  I wish I knew more and could help more, but I have become gun-shy over putting myself in any sort of spiritual-counselor position.  I feel prophetic at times.  I doubt the prophets felt very good about their roles all the time, either. They just knew who God is and what his standards are.  Why do I think of these females named Heather?  Why did one of them come strongly to mind while I was reading in Romans today?  I actually think redemptively about a lot of people, but I feel stymied, and you just wouldn’t know it by my interactions these days.

Dear God, help all the Heathers to keep, or refocus, their eyes on You.

– B. Casey, 6/30/22

 

Black and blue

One morning, I put on black pants and a blue shirt.  Then I looked in a mirror and thought to myself, “Self, why did you do that?  You look like a b r u i s e.”  So I started thinking about bruises and bruising.

The passage below was recently connected to a recent study of a Romans text block.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the coastlands will put their hope.” – Isaiah 42:3-4.

It doesn’t really seem that those coastlands’ hope would have been well placed,  does it?  Amos 5:24 notwithstanding, justice doesn’t seem to roll like a river, either.  Au contraire:  unfairness and ironies run rampant.  Since we are stuck in time, it is only sporadically that we experience God’s justice.

Where then is the care for the wick and the reed?  Whatever those specific, symbolic references might have meant to people before Christ Jesus, the general meaning seems to be that the weak things are noticed and nurtured by God.  He won’t ultimately allow them to die.  A couple of decades ago, I read a Max Lucado book that quoted and expanded on this same Isaiah text.  I don’t have access to that book right now, but I’m pretty sure this is the opening of the chapter I remember.  I cried when reading that then, but I don’t think I’d cry now.  I think I’d just be more disillusioned in the waiting. . . .

Bruises.  Mine don’t seem to be healing too well.  On one evening last week, as I made my way through the town streets, I experienced four “blunt instruments” (psychologically speaking)—things that had bruised me.  This week, other wounds have surfaced all around—in my life and in the lives of some around me.  Some of these make me angry; some make me withdraw; many of them become challenges to a life of faithfulness.  The hurts just can’t be escaped, it seems.  Even words alone may puncture, lacerate, or bruise us.  (More on the lasting hurts of words soon, unless I’m too wounded—and worried about further wounding—to post it.)

Bruises look bad, and they sometimes hurt.  The hurts of psychological and spiritual bruises aren’t necessarily constant, but they are persistent.  At this writing, I’m not up the challenge of Colossians 3:13:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Searching and wandering

Bumper stickers and t-shirts assert that not all who wander are lost.  I think that’s true.  Some wanderers are not aimless at all.

I know a devoted married¹ couple who move from church to church every few years.  With a smile, the man² said, “We’re wanderers.”  In the present life-phase, I am more of a Christian-at-large, enjoying relationships across different congregationsª and wandering among them from time to time.  Someone once charged good-naturedly that I’ve lived nomadically.  I think the travels have largely been intentional and justifiable, but there have been costs while searching and wandering.

The notion of the “spirit animal,” somewhat ironically, allows for human personality to be discussed with some amusement.  The spirit animal is not an existential reality (nor is the notion of the “furry”³), and I seriously doubt that non-human animals have eternal souls, but that wouldn’t preclude “dogs in heaven,” I suppose.  At any rate, I can relate a bit to the guy shown below (daytime address, approximately 4 blocks from my house) and referred to him as my spirit animal after photographing him, possibly against his will:

Othniel Possum (O. Possum)

Why is the daytime possum my spirit animal?  I thought you’d never ask.

  • He is out of place.
  • He is wandering, sometimes in the weeds (which can be surprisingly nourishing and protective).
  • He is searching for something, but he isn’t always sure what it is.
  • He is not of the same family as the armadillo, yet he seems to have another kind of protective shell.
  • He is unwanted by the general public.
  • He is misunderstood.  Only a few people really “get” him.
  • He’s actually not all that bad, and he does have value.

The daytime, searching possum.  He isn’t “playing possum,” but when danger arises, he might.  I don’t identify³ as a possum, but he’s my guy.


ª At present, the principal congregations are in Atchison, North Kansas City, and Platte City.  Relationships with others help to form a far larger, interconnected web, though—ranging into Delaware, New Jersey, Arkansas, Texas, Indiana, and other places.

¹ Here, “married” means man² and woman.²  Of course this is what it originally meant.  There were no other options considered.  These days, in terms of secular, civil rights, I can see that the definition has had to change, and I don’t have too much trouble with that—in terms of secular, civil rights, that is.

² Here and everywhere, “man” should indicate “male human,” i.e., with a Y chromosome, a penis, etc.  “Woman” indicates “female human,” i.e., with two X chromosomes, a vagina, etc.  Genetic aberrations are just that.  When one “identifies” as one gender but is not of that gender, pathology appears to be indicated.

³ I heard recently of a high school about 45 minutes away that has added a litter box for those students who identify as “furries.”  I cannot confirm the litterbox placement at present; other, similar stories seem to have been debunked.  For the uninitiated like me, a “furry” is a or someone who might have a “fursona” and/or sexual attraction to anthropomorphic animals.  Some furries report being animals in human bodies.  My first glances suggest that this nonsense appears to be a very real, freakish extension of childhood play for adherents in the furry fandom.  Some of this has been around for a couple of decades.  The fact that such things are conceivable suggest strongly that the slippery slope once barely imaginable now has people sliding down it.

Anna (et al)

In my orchestra last year sat eight Annas,¹ or close approximations thereof.  Specifically, there were two Hannahs, two Annas, three Annies, and an Ana.  I found the concentration of this name amusing, but this little piece isn’t about any of those delightful players/people/ensemble members.  Nor is it about my niece or our friends with the name “Anna” or “Hannah.”  This is about the Anna of Luke 2, whose mention can lead to the attentive reader’s delight.

There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was well on in years.  Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years  before becoming a widow.  She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer.  She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.  (Luke 2:36-38, NJB)

What an interesting historical figure this Anna is!  Initially, at least, we might not suspect that she’s mentioned because of the significance of her family heritage:  never does the tribe of Asher seem to play any special role in Israel’s history, and the only other mention of Asher in the NT is in a symbolic list in Revelation.  Anna’s individual life was noteworthy for Luke, though.  Alone in terms of life-partnership, Anna nevertheless appears to have purpose.  She was persistently in the temple courts—the same place Jesus was to be when he was 12 (noted nine verses later)—fasting, praying, and now speaking about the deliverance of the people through this Child.

Aside:  I’ve known a few Christian women who are, for one reason or another, not interested in marriage, yet they don’t see themselves as “alone.”  I don’t relate to the notion that relationship with Jesus is enough—during human life, that is.  Although at first blush, the notion of “marriage” to Jesus and intensely devoted, singular connection with Him is admirable, and although there is that pesky Paul passage², the lack of a true marriage partner is unsatisfactory for this particular human male and, I think, for most human beings.  Anna therefore seems all the more uniquely, impressively devoted.

Back to her, then.  Speculations include Anna’s age.  The NET Bible translates the beginning of v. 37 this way:  “She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years.”  That could easily make her more than 100 years old.  In other words, it’s possible that the 84 years could be (1) Anna’s age when Jesus was born, or (2) the time since being widowed.  (See the 7th and 8th paragraphs of this essay from Biblical Archaeology Review.)  

Giotto - Scrovegni - -19- - Presentation at the Temple.jpg
One of the many medieval images of the “Presentation” that includes Anna. This is is attributed to Giotto. Source: Cappella Scrovegni a Padova, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94614

We cannot know much about Anna for sure, but what makes her one of the few females labeled “prophetess” in our scriptures is that she speaks truth concerning the identity of Jesus as redeemer of Jerusalem.  I take the mention of the city as metonymical, referring not to political boundaries or buildings to God’s people of the time.  Also of interest is the antecedent for “redeemer” (or “redemption” or “deliverer”) in the Luke passage above.  This λύτρωσιν | lutrosin is a rare word, used only two other times in the NT — in Luke 1:68 with reference to Zechariah’s prophecy of Jesus, and in Hebrews 9:12, also about Jesus.

For more on Anna, see this fine article by Doug WardWard draws heavily on the research of NT scholar Richard Bauckham and offers two broad possibilities for Anna’s background: 

  1. She could be from northwestern Galilee, where Asher originally settled, and where some people remained after the Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 15:29).
  2. She could be from a family that went into captivity and ultimately landed in Media (now Iran).

Bauckham settles on the 2nd possibility, noting connections with the story of Tobit, the absence of the name Anna in Galilee (247 historically known women’s names and none of them Anna), and the meaning of the name of her father Phanuel (“face of God)—possibly connoting eschatological meaning.  On this point, see such OT passages as Deut 31:17-18, Psalm 80, and 2 Chron 30:6-9.

My favorite Luke character is Simeon (immediately above the Anna vignette in Luke), but Anna is someone to be reckoned with, too.  As the above-referenced article points up, the combination of Simeon and Anna is complementary, summing up the meaning of the appearance of God in human form—Simeon representing Judah, and Anna, both the Northern tribes and the gentile world in general.  Whether her name is spelled “Hannah” or “Anna” or some other way, this woman has a significant spot in redemptive history.  Personally, it has been stimulating for me to complete this post on “the Lord’s Day.”  Connecting Israel’s history with the hope of Israel in Jesus the Messiah enriches me far more than I expect to be encouraged later this morning in a Christian gathering . . . but here’s to a lasting effect in the soul!


¹ This simple plural takes no punctuation.  Annas is the plural of Anna.  It might look funny even to educated, well-read people, because so many do insert an apostrophe incorrectly (“eight Anna’s”), but there is no possessive or contraction here, so no apostrophe should be there.

² The “pesky Paul passage” is this:

“With regard to the question about people who have never married, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one shown mercy by the Lord to be trustworthy.  Because of the impending crisis I think it best for you to remain as you are.  The one bound to a wife should not seek divorce. The one released from a wife should not seek marriage.” 1Cor 7:25-27.

I have no idea what the “impending crisis” was for Paul or the first readers of this letter, but it strikes me as nice that Paul marked this as his “opinion,” ostensibly acknowledging that not everyone is alike with respect to the need for marriage partnership.  As one “released from a wife,” I’m a trifle annoyed that he tells men not to seek marriage, but I do know he was writing within a specific context, and I try to see the dialogue between God and His people as alive, not dead, so there’s still some latitude here.

A preferred sermon type

For years, I gravitated more and more toward scripture-oriented (as opposed to topic-oriented) sermons.  There is a difference.  One might presume—and would generally be correct—that the less explicitly scripturally tethered the sermon, the less palatable it would be.  Lately, I’ve started to reconsider.  (See?  Even we outspoken/opinionated people can change a little!)

Frankly, although I’m likely forevermore a neo-protestant in some senses, I don’t at all favor the sermon-centric assembly that’s been part and parcel of non-Roman Catholic church assemblies since the Reformation.  There are hazards with the speech-centered approach.  One of them is a decreased focus on the worship of God, and another is an undue emphasis on the preacher and his role(s).  Nevertheless, I’ll hazard to propose a list of sermon types, roughly in the order of apparently decreasing orientation to scripture.

  • Exegetical
  • Paragraph-by-paragraph
  • Verse-by-verse
  • Expository (this one sometimes overlaps with one or more of the above)
  • Topical

These days, I think I’d rather hear a good topical sermon than a bad scripture-oriented one.  Why?  Because it’s quite possible that a scripture “verse” or paragraph can be presented in such a way that it’s the word of the preacher instead of the word of the Lord.  This hazard, disrespecting the original, is especially true for poorly trained or inexperienced interpreters.  Many seem to feel that if they simply quote a verse, they are preaching the Bible.  In most cases in my experience, that’s only shallowly true, at best.  Faced with these two alternatives . . .

Hearing scripture expounded or treated verse-ily by someone without the ability to do so responsibly, or

Hearing good, topically centered words (whether crafted and polished or not, it doesn’t matter much to me) that point to something important about God, Christian living, or sound thinking . . .

I prefer the latter.

Vivian and Dulcinea

I once had convictions against watching a movie like Pretty Woman.  I doubt I’ve “progressed” since then, but such negative factors as gratuitous bad language and plots build on illicit sexual relationships still repel me.  I tend to gravitate toward “people” movies that have some possibility of being realistic.  I don’t know how realistic “Pretty Woman” is, but its story line strikes me as impressive. . . .

Filthy Rich Dude takes Nice-Girl-Turned-Prostitute and temporarily gives her a new life in a 5-star hotel.  She has trouble accepting his gifts (and we viewers have trouble figuring out the motivation behind these lavish gifts).  Even Edward (Mr. Rich Dude) can’t seem to figure the whole thing out.  It just doesn’t make sense.  There’s no reason that such a high-end person would take such a “worthless” person and give, give, give….

Yet I love watching Vivian’s (Julia Roberts) eyes reflect the bright, worldly-yet-gracious gifts from Edward (Richard Gere).  Vivian strains to take in the magnitude of it all.  One can witness the transformation of her identity.  She begins to feel affirmed when she thought she was worth nothing at all.  She is loved, and she loves.  She dreams again.  It’s painful at times:  When someone replaces your old, worthless world with a new, eminently worthy one, it takes some time to get used to the idea!  In essence, it seems to me that Vivian is captivated by grace.  What an analogy! To be given a new life … new worth….

25 years ago, I read thoughts in a similar vein from Rubel Shelly, and I’ll paste them in here.  The stories of Pretty Woman and Don Quixote (below shown in the derivative musical Man of La Mancha) seem connected.

 

Subject: "My Name Is Dulcinea!" 

Date: For the Week of May 26, 1997 

Ever notice how people tend to live up to the labels we put on them? I watched in anguish the other day as a man scolded his little boy in the aisle of a store. "You're just a rotten little monster!" he said for several of us to hear. 

The kid was being a terror, all right. But his father was making things much worse by giving the boy a negative self-image to fulfill. The embarrassed young dad who clearly didn't know what to do with a rowdy four or five year old was, I feared, programming the child for some unsuspecting teacher's class -- or some warden's prison. 

The good news from this is that it works positively as well as negatively. Maybe you've seen the musical.  It is the story of Don Quixote, a nutty character who jousts with windmills and thinks he is a knight battling dragons. The most poignant part of the musical is his relationship with Aldonza. 

Aldonza was a worthless slut, the town whore, a hopeless piece of human trash. But to Don Quixote, she was Dulcinea -- a name that means "Sweet One." The townspeople would howl with laughter when the crazy knight called her by so tender and flattering a name. Yet he never relented. To him, she was Dulcinea. He loved her with a pure love that was unlike any she had ever experienced. He refused to see her as others did. 

Near the end of the musical, Don Quixote is dying, and Aldonza is with him. When he has taken his last breath, she begins to sing "The Impossible Dream." It is an inspiring song that dares the human spirit to dream, to soar, to achieve. As the last note of the song fades away, someone shouts, "Aldonza!" And the woman stands up defiantly to respond, "My name is Dulcinea!" She had been transformed by the kindness of a would-be knight. A woman without self-respect had come to believe that she was a lady who deserved to be treated with dignity. 

If life has labeled you unflatteringly, God's voice can still be heard above the chaotic noise. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1). Hold that thought as you take on another week in the strength of God's empowering love.

                                                                             Rubel Shelly

The CEV

You wouldn’t know it by the total time I’ve spent on it in the last month or two, but I believe thoroughly in giving attention to responsible reading and study of scriptures.  One morning, I had a few choices in front of me, and for once, I made a good choice:  I picked up a Bible.

I chose a hardbound copy of the Contemporary English Version—which I thought, based on the stamp inside, had once been in the library of my grandfather.  As it turns out, the particular Andy Ritchie who owned this would have to have been my uncle, since the publication was after my grandfather’s death.  The two libraries must have gotten mixed at some point after my uncle moved into my grandparents’ house.   (Both Andys are now in the land of the eternally living.)

This copy of the CEV doesn’t appear to have been used much, and I knew next to nothing about the version, so I looked a few things up.  Apparently there is a perceived link with the Good News Bible (GNT), and the CEV is understood to have been produced for a lower reading level, incorporating these translation principles:

  • must be understood by people without stumbling in speech
  • must be understood by those with little or no comprehension of “Bible” language, and
  • must be understood by all

It would appear, then, that the “understandable” quality of the version was the guiding principle.  OK, good.  If a version can’t be understood, it’s not doing its job, right?  But there is more to it than that.  For years, when picking up a new version, I have been going to Romans 12 to see how the first two verses are rendered.  In my opinion, the CEV does a fine job of verse 1:

12 Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That’s the most sensible way to serve God.

“Sensible” and “serve,” in my somewhat studied estimation, are proper, understandable translations of λογικὴν | logiken and λατρείαν | latreian.  Overall, this rendering rises above most other English translations.  On the other hand, the CEV does perhaps the worst job I’ve seen with Philemon 6:

As you share your faith with others, I pray they may come to know all the blessings Christ has given us.

The phrase “share your faith” throws the reader off, obscuring a more contextually aware understanding of the word koinonia, which rarely has anything to do with communicating words.  “Sharing” here is not about speaking evangelistically. Neither is “all the blessings” on point in this case.  The word behind “blessing” is singular.  Moreover, an important, verbal connection exists within this latter that appears to be ignored by the general, vague expression “all the blessings Christ has given us.”

A thorough reading of a fuller context will almost always lead to better interpretation.  Still, it is good to note that almost any Bible is better than no Bible at all, and when one reads more than one verse and gets a sense of the whole, he or she will emerge with something of value.

– B. Casey, 5/14/22 – 5/19/22

The Studio, six years ago today (young musicians)

A tremendous musical opportunity came my way during an otherwise difficult year.¹  Thanks to a referral from my college friend Trey, I made a new friend, LaDonna, the Director of at The Studio (Bald Knob [AR] Fine Arts Council).  At this establishment, just down the road from the public school, there were various instructional classes and activities, such as guitar, robotics, creative writing, hand drums and other percussion, voice, woodwinds, and strings/orchestra led by Alicia, this highly qualified wife of another college friend, Jay, who is now the chair of music department at our alma mater.  (Small world!)

At The Studio, I taught brass lessons.  LaDonna also arranged for me to run brass sectionals, two days a week, for the high school and junior high bands at the public school down the road.  I specifically remember the applied brass students (trumpet, horn, and euphonium), but I didn’t remember how many brass pieces we’d offered in a culminating performance six years ago today.

The last page of the program also gives me pause in that I see that my dad, Gerald Casey, is named as a staff member.  He had just begun teaching creative writing and did so for another year before his final illness.  He loved his work there, and I still find evidences of his caring preparation for his students.  My son also gained from participating in a couple of the music day camps that summer.  He has since expanded and built on his musical interests considerably (the pics below, all taken within the last five months, indicate only a portion!), and the early work at The Studio was an important formative influence.

Thank you, LaDonna, Jane, Lumie, and all the others who made the good experiences at The Studio possible.  Life has brought its serious challenges to most of us since then, but I count you all as blessings, and I’m grateful that you care about maintaining our connection, too.  And Jedd will be a “living legacy” for some time, God willing!


¹ There had been other, difficult years, but this one seemed to be the worst for my soul to that point.  It would soon get worse.

 

Roles: pastoring, serving, and handling stuff

As a teenager and growing believer, what I wanted to be was an elder (not a preacher).  A husband and father first, and then a church elder.

Initially, I had a fairly provincial concept of what the “elder” role entailed, but that concept eventually grew. In the ideal, I soon came to see the elder as essentially pastoral, and I started thinking of it more as a hybrid “shepherd-elder.”  An elder was a man who took care of people individually and collectively—much like I thought a shepherd must take care of sheep.  (I find both similarities and differences between this role and the typical “church pastor” role in most protestant churches today.)  My dad became one of these shepherd-elders while I was in college, and he cared for people in multiple ways.

During my 20s and 30s, I grew critical of the standard ways in which elders operated in churches.  They seemed primarily to be a layer of “management.”  While most wanted the elders (not the preaching minister) to be the top layer, that didn’t always occur, practically speaking, and that raises the question of whether anyone should be thinking with such a pecking order in his mind in the first place.  Few truly examined the status quo with a critical eye.  There seemed to be little hope of growth in the right directions.  My own better-than-most congregation gave me more heartburn than the churches that were more off track.

Let me explain.  After my early 20s, I wouldn’t have affiliated myself with a church that seemed to have no hope or potential, but when my congregation stagnated or resisted what to me was a clearly positive direction, I tended to react with greater intensity.  Those who at times called themselves “shepherds” and seemed to understand pastoral, servant leadership but who acted more often (publicly, at least) as corporate directors were more culpable than those who simply swallowed the general legacy of single-pastor-led congregational life.  I suppose I applied a presumed principle inherent in the parable of the “talents”:  better things were required out of those to whom much insight had been given.  There was, then, a lost hope for me:  if a congregation I’d invested in saw the right things and talked the right ways but didn’t take enough affirmative steps in the right direction, I became more disillusioned, with waning hope for positive change.

Around this time, there was an uprising of sorts in the C of C—a force that countered what they saw as progressive “change” within the associated congregations.  To an extent, the threat they perceived was an illusion.  There was by no means a single force advocating change, yet there certainly were changes afoot.

And I was a change-driver in my small corners of the Christian world.  I was working closely with teens, both individually and collective; I led and planned assemblies and classes, and more.  I continued to see myself as a future shepherd-elder-pastor.  Yes, in my world, those were all about the same basic thing, which wasn’t just right.  It didn’t strike me to question that no one person should even try to be all those things.  Earlier on, I simply figured I would eventually have children, and I could then become one of those leaders that most people called “elders.”

My vision for my life changed during my late 20s and 30s.  By my 40s, it changed again, and I knew that I would never be an elder.  More significantly, I no longer wanted to be one.  And yet I pastored.  I guided.  Once in a while, I cared like a good shepherd.¹

I also had thoughts of being a deacon/minister/servant.  Yes, these words are all found in English Bible versions as renderings of the same Greek word.  Despite the de facto scenario in some churches, in which deacons are seen as junior elders or as future elders, there is no such precedent in our scriptures.  The notion of “deacon” is not that of a fledgling or developing “elder wannabe.”  A deacon proper has a function, an area or task group in which to “deac.”  This is no “office” for an “officer.”

Aside:  As a faculty member in a Christian college, I was trying to build an ensemble’s esprit de corps, and I found that this group had never had “officers” like its sister ensembles.  In this group, I turned the “officer” word on its head, instead describing the roles in terms of ministry and service.  Rather than having a president and vice president, etc., the group would have a lead organizational minister, a minister of organizational promotion, a devotional coordinator, and hospitality servers.  Although my descriptions and conceptualizations and verbalizations were a bit overwrought, I still smile on them.  Below, in the footnotes, I’ll paste in the conceptual rationale from the “officer” information I published to this student musical ensemble a dozen years ago.²

Now, back to my earlier period of intensely involved worship leadership in youth groups and with the entire congregation, my role included developing a songbook supplement.  These were also the days of overhead transparencies for contemporary music, long before PowerPoint had begun to be used in churches, and I more-or-less managed the box of transparencies that were used on many Sunday and Wednesday nights.  During that period, Jim, a friend had two young children. was officially made a deacon for finance.  His family and household, combined with his vocational training and position, made him suited for this position. yet this friend noticed what I was doing.  Good-naturedly, yet a bit jealously, he commented once that I was the one who really should be a deacon and that I was doing the more important work.  I began to ponder when I was really doing important work, and I couldn’t have cared less most of the time whether I was recognized as a deacon or shepherd or not.  This general feeling remains to this day.

And now I come to the pedestrian, the earthy, and the self-centered.  I spend a lot of time handling “stuff.”  This is part of what I learned as a child made one fit to be a deacon in the church.  One managed one’s own affairs.  I took this to mean that one’s family finances were in order, one’s children did not behave noticeably badly in public, perhaps one’s house and yard were reasonably attractive, and things were not out of control in one’s personal life.

I often have these thoughts in mind as I handle stuff.  Sometimes it’s organizing, sometimes it’s getting financial matters in order, and sometimes it’s just having a peaceful “feel” in one’s home, so one can sit and think and read and talk and be.  It never seems to be all handled, yet I can look around me and feel relatively good that most things are relatively in order.  There is little fulfillment, because life is not as it should be, but I suppose I handle “stuff” better than most.

I’ve preached a few sermons in my life, but I’ve never wanted to be a preacher per se.  I still never want to be a corporate board administrator/elder of a church, although I continue to care and feel pastoral towards some.  I still don’t care whether I’m ever made a deacon of a church.  But I do want to have my stuff in order, so that I have “margin” and space in my life—in order to be have room to serve and to care about others.

When, O Lord, will there be energy, margin/availability, and opportunity to care for others again?  I’m asking.  I’m asking intensely.  When that time comes, will I have the attitude of the One who did not consider equality with deity a thing to be held onto, but rather took human form and served?  O Servant of Servants, make me one, too.


¹ One of the little things I did in order to show interest in the lives of those with whom I was closely associated was to visit their home congregations when I could.  I continued to do that even until about four years ago, wanting to get to know the souls and what else they were influenced by.  This practice came to a grinding halt with one particular church visit.  I basically knew what I was getting into, but when I finally forced myself to go where this person went, I was incredulous that a man of such apparent spiritual depth and knowledge could waste his time in such a place as the one he attended on Sunday mornings.  At that point I felt like not like a shepherd or even a peer (this person is older than I) but like an onlooker while wolves devoured common sense.  To be fair, other aspects of life also necessitated that I stop caring for others this way.  It was not only this particularly challenging church visit.

² The following verbiage is taken from an organizational document posted for my college orchestra in 2010:

“As we continue the relatively new organizational dynamics in the Houghton Philharmonia’s story, may we ponder seriously the Christian character advocated in the New Covenant scriptures.  The spirit enjoined on us all by Jesus includes such aspects as poverty of spirit (Matt. 5:3) and the servant heart (Matthew 20:20-28).  Clearly, our Master Teacher and Lord wants us to develop and exhibit attitudes of service in all our spheres of influence; the Christian should be more interested in service and community than in positional authority and hierarchy.

This foundational concept—one of Christian ministry that is more given to deeds of service than to hierarchical position[1]—is at the heart of the officer servant roles established in 2007.  Those who wish to be considered for “office” should therefore be willing to work—to serve—the Philharmonia, the Greatbatch School of Music, and Houghton College.  Though there will naturally be some decision-making authority and de facto “position” involved, officers should not primarily be motivated by thoughts of position.

[1] It is interesting to note that the single Koiné Greek (the New Testament language) word diakonos is alternately translated deacon, minister, and servant in our English versions of the New Testament scriptures.  Biblically, there is no conceptual distinction between deacons, ministers, and servants.  In all these word-concepts, service to the group is implied.  The British government terminology (Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Housing, etc.) might originally have had this fact in view, and we are following this nomenclature with the Philharmonia officer/servant roles.  You may also note the non-hierarchical order in which the offices are listed.  🙂  Ministry is service, and our officers will serve.”  – Houghton College Philharmonia, B. Casey, Fall 2010

 

Good pickup!

I’ve owned two little, used pickups, including the first one below for a dozen years and the second for a couple years.

Maybe I’ll have another one at some point, but only as a second vehicle.  I’m actually pretty tired of pickups, and particularly of full-sized ones.  Where I live, the only good, full-sized pickup is a dead one!  They’re everywhere, they cause driving and parking problems galore, and only about a quarter of the people that have them actually need them.  But this post is not about vehicles, actually.  It’s about picking up conceptual things.

When my son was sick (but not too sick) on a Sunday, I had him watching one of those “Jesus” movies while I went to a church gathering.  He got frustrated right away because it wasn’t accurate, so I gave him pen and paper and suggested he keep track of things that seemed off, according to what he knows from the scriptures.  He did just that but kept getting frustrated.  His list was nearly 20 lines long before he quit about 30 minutes into the movie.

Some of his observations were more about the film-making than the content, but his ability to observe made me proud.  Good pickup, son, when you notice, for instance, that “baptizing” in the movie wasn’t really baptizing . . . and when it seemed more like “sci fi” than videography and imagination . . . and when you see that the Jesus of the movie isn’t using power the way you envision your Lord using His.  As this is being posted, it’s about time to pick up and go to a church meeting where, doubtless, a few things will be off-base and others will be good.  I hope we can pick up on things that help us on our journey.

Gideons, be aware

This announcement appeared in a public school bulletin:

“On May 4th and/or May 11, the Gideons will be on the sidewalks outside of school passing out small bibles. They will not be on school property (on the city sidewalks) and students are not required to take anything that is given to them. Teachers & Administration will be supervising as always during the dismissal of school on these days. We wanted to make you aware in case you see them.”

Please, please, dear Gideons. Don’t distribute King James Bibles. If four kids actually open the Bibles you give them, they need to be reading in reasonable language. Goodness knows there is enough serious confusion among our schoolchildren; they need understandable guidance, not another reason to mock good values. Also, I hope you don’t wear something formal for this occasion, like white shirts and ties or suits. I’m actually concerned that some kids might just use this as an opportunity to taunt Christians. If you are still distributing KJVs, make room for new leadership in your organization so that decisions will be made that are appropriate for now, not 100 years ago.

“Today’s versions are not all worthy, but just about any one of them has a better chance, in 2011, of communicating something God wanted said than the KJV has.” – B. Casey, 11 years ago, on the 500th anniversary of the KJV’s publication.

The giving Gideons need to be aware of this truth, and so do the rest of us. That’s why this post is titled “Gideons, be aware” and not “Be aware of the Gideons.” They are not to be feared, but they do have some policy revising ahead of them.

Off for a while

I’ve never been a bumper sticker guy, but I do notice other people’s stickers.  I think I had a sticker on an old, hail-damaged car once.  Around that time, I bought a new car.  (It is the only time that will ever happen.)  I really liked that car quite a bit.  It was a VW Jetta, 5-speed.  I affixed one of these to the back of it:

At some point I became a little uncomfortable with the symbol, because my driving habits in Delaware and Pennsylvania didn’t exactly show courtesy or calm, i.e., they were not those that I would want other drivers to associate with what it meant to be a Christian person in the world.  So I took the decal off my car, painted a stone with the fish symbol, and put it in my front yard, where fewer people would see it but perhaps it was more in keeping with the possible, early uses 1,900 years ago.

Ichthus Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | ShutterstockSometime later, I put one of these variants on a car.  It’s a little less “in your face,” not having the Greek letters, and so possibly less noticeable.  I also eventually became uncomfortable with this one, so I didn’t carry any kind of Christian symbol on my car for quite some time. When I got another car last year, I got the items shown below.  I put the green plate on the front and the license plate frame on the back.

But I have taken both of these off my car—for a while, at least.  (And you thought I was going to be taking off time from blogging.  I should probably do that, too.)

For now, I don’t feel like much of an ambassador for Jesus Christ.  Oh, I still think that everyone, including myself, should know that Jesus Christ is Lord (and, hermenuetically significantly, that the God of the “Old Testament” is now inextricably tied to Kurios, the exalted Lord Jesus).  Everyone would do well to pursue what that means.  And I certainly still want to be a non-franchise Christian, which is a phrase I’ve only heard one other person use.¹

Not a single person ever asked me about either message, as I had hoped, but I continue to affirm both of them.  (I’d even written more about the mock-CO plate here.)  But I suppose I would rather be something or at least work on being something than advertise it.  So, for now, these messages are not in sight.


¹ The other person is the late Cecil Hook, who was something of a thought mentor for me for years.  He is the source of this label.