It’s sad for a child

Taking a short walk earlier this very morning, I happened to glance between two houses to see another house, and the sight reminded me of something sad.

A couple weeks ago when Jedd and I rode our bikes past that same house, he commented,

“That’s Crystal’s dad’s house.”

Instantly I thought, “That’s sad for 5-year-old Crystal.  Her dad has a different house from her mom.”  (Obviously, this happens a lot in our world, but it’s still sad for a child and for all concerned.)

Then it got worse.  Jedd followed up by saying,

“Well, her dad goes there a lot, anyway.”

And I realized that what he meant was that Crystal is probably sort-of half-living-with a woman that is not his wife.  I suspect he goes there—to the woman’s house—more than he goes to see Crystal.  These things, too, make me sad for the little girl.

And then I remembered that I’d heard Crystal herself say, only a couple weeks before that,

“My mom has gone to jail three times in a row!”

Crystal (not her real name) lives with her grandparents.  I gather that she has lived there for half her life or more.  This probably started because neither of Crystal’s biological parents is fit to raise her.  One of them is probably addicted to illegal drugs.  Crystal’s grandparents give her food and shelter.  In fact, they give those things to two other grandkids, too (from other parents).  And two more sets of grandkids seem to be at the grandparents’ house more than at their own houses.  One set walks a few blocks in the dark, well before 7:00 every school day, to be fed breakfast and go to the bus stop near the grandparents’ house.  The grandparents are not very capable of giving a lot more than food and shelter, but they do what they can.

Crystal is growing up in a very broken life.  We are all broken, and aspects of every life manifest the broken condition of humankind.  I think what Crystal must endure as a young child is cause for great sadness.

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Xposted: Maybe it’s just our luck

I just posted this on my Christian Assembly and Worship blog:

https://christianassemblyandworshipblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/maybe-its-just-our-luck/

The lack of much activity on that blog says a little, perhaps, about people’s interest—but it says much more lot about my own waning energy for the assembly as most Christians think of it.  Nevertheless, I hope some will read this perspective about congregational singing.

By way of reminder to longtime readers, or advertising to new readers, my book on the assembly is available here.  That book was revised and reprinted about two months ago.

(Im)maturity

Maturity involves a developed sense of thought, discernment, and the capacity for appropriate response in various situations.  I suppose, then, that immaturity would involve a lack of discernment.  An immature person would be prone to respond inappropriately, without a developed sense of what is acceptable.

A business might reach a mature stage.

A person might mature in his/her ability to communicate or paint or write music.

We might observe that there are immature ears of corn, immature savings bonds, immature singing voices, and immature people and behaviors.

How should one begin a meditational post about the last kind of immaturity?

tantrum child: Little girl with her arms crossed and angry expression Out of the gate, I want to acknowledge the immaturity in me,¹ and I do so in all sincerity, but a full disclosure would also confess that this piece started out, a couple of months ago, as a less-than-mature, silent tantrum thrown over other people’s immaturities.  Below are some behaviors that strike me as immature.  Some of these are recent, and some are long past.  Some just might be mine, or potentially mine, and some might have been observed in others.

  • A young musician takes every opportunity to show off skills and knowledge (say, on the piano or trumpet or saxophone).
  • A Little League baseball mom with some knowledge and skills tries to push her way into the coaches’ ring.  When her conceited efforts are not appreciated, she begins a campaign to show the assistant coaches she is better than they are.  (And actually, she is.)  Once, when her child is held at third base, she erupts in the full colors of immaturity by yelling, loudly enough that both sides of the bleachers can hear, “I don’t care what he says!  You’re my kid!  You run when I tell you to run!!”
  • An office worker asserts thoroughly detailed knowledge while manifesting little appreciation for relationship, let alone insight or discernment in particulars.
  • A Bible student inserts corrections, responsible questions, and textual insights, regardless of the group’s interest level or capacity for understanding.
  • A coworker reacts outwardly to mistakes in punctuation² and regional symptoms of poor grammar.
  • An employee takes liberties when the boss is on vacation.
  • A parent who’s having a bad day places too many restrictions on a child just because the parent is mad or worried.

No one is completely mature.  We all have more or less serious immaturities that come out from time to time.  Some of these behaviors are seen in less-than-emotionally responsible, less-than-considerate, and less-than-grown-up people, while others are more run-of-the-mill.  Surely there are countless marks of immaturity.  Yes, I’ve pointed the finger at others and have been rather irritated over a couple of the above.  But again, I’m also aware of some of my own immaturities.  We are all carriers of the immaturity disease.

And then there’s spiritual immaturity.

When I drafted this in early July, I knew I wanted to end it with a spiritual emphasis, but I’ve never become settled on a conclusion.  It’s not that I don’t have something to ask or something to say (although I often do).  It’s not that it’s an awkward segue (although it is).  I think it’s that I feel increasingly spiritually immature myself.  I don’t handle some things with as much discernment or mature Christian response as I once did, and this is of much greater concern to me than the behaviors listed above.  Regression here is worse than ironic; it might be putting Grace to the test.

So, what to say about spiritual maturation . . . I could spout some verbiage about the illusory doctrine of “total sanctification,” as though I were experiencing it.  I could manufacture some exhortation about “iron sharpening iron” or “letting go and letting God.”  Those might amount to little more than a diversion of attention.  

I could cherry-pick any of several mentions of maturity from New Testament passages, but that might prove to be immature in itself.  Few of the scriptual mentions seem related to what I have shared above, anyway.  Philippians 3:15 has something specific at its root.  Hebrews 5:14 might be close, but I’m not sure.  Any of these, including the one I am deciding to leave in below, is purloined from its literary context—a times a spiritually criminal act.  I will not be satisfied, no matter what I say, how I feel, or however I close this little essay.  I am in need of refinement and growth and more maturity—likely more than you are.  Perhaps unwiselyI suppose I will opt to finish this with James 1:4, in isolation from its context (although perhaps some readers will read/ponder the context):

Let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

I don’t currently have any illusions of enduring very well, but my weak self hopes to attain to the growth—the maturation—that can come later from having endured.


¹ Some of the following parts of my past and present might at any moment lead to manifestations of immaturity:

  • deep losses of human trust
  • general irritation and anger at things both big and small
  • vocational injustices and misfortunes
  • various insecurities
  • an ebbing/flowing faith in God (now in an ebb phase), and a sense of not feeling cared for by the Almighty

² “Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking,” said Lynne Truss famously in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.  In that same book, she also wrote, “The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning.”  Truss is essentially right, but I’m also thankful for grammar that gives us a shot at aptly interpreting most Greek passages that didn’t have any punctuation to begin with.

Inexplicable courses of action

HastingsLogo.PNGIn a good-sized city, a Hastings store went out of business last year.  Inexplicably, a new store with essentially the same slate of business lines just installed a store at the same location.

Also last year, in a small town with a fairly prominent Taco John’s and two fine mid-range Mexican restaurants, a Taco Bell/KFC went out of business.  Subsequently, an entrepreneur decided to add to the somewhat lacking mix of fast-food options Taco Bell 2016.svgwith a startup burrito joint that offers mostly Mexican fare.  Later, a restaurant group inexplicably tore down a ramshackle building and broke ground to install a new Taco Bell . . . a block away from the Taco John’s and five blocks from where the last Taco Bell failed.

Both of these examples call to mind the proverbial definition of insanity—doing the same things and expecting different results.

In a new locale, tired Christians try to maintain a trusting outlook.  Almost inexplicably, they visit church after church, hoping to find a small, biblically attentive, mutuality-emphasizing, non-franchise group to work with.  Nearly every visit to an established congregation results in listlessness, discouragement, waning hope, and windless sails.  (Churchiness has a way of doing that.)  I think these folks are more idealistic and fatigued than insane, but the matter might be argued otherwise.

– B. Casey, 7/29/17

Pilgrims

Consider pilgrims, nomads, and clergypeople.

A pilgrim journeys with a destination in mind.

A nomad wanders from place to place, somewhat seasonally and/or according to the need for food.

A clergyperson is a fixture in a church institution’s office.

It seems to me that the first guy walks with some underlying purpose beyond himself, the second moves rationally for his own survival’s sake, and the third is beset by fiduciary, institutional concerns (along with whatever authentic pastoral and theological ones might be in mind).

Just as there is a difference between playing on a barnstorming baseball team and working in, say, accounting in the MLB commissioner’s office, there is a difference between a pilgrim or nomad on one hand and a clergyperson on the other.  I prefer to avoid the clergy mindset altogether, minimize the nomadic life, and try to focus on a relatively purposeful pilgrimage.  I trust that the ultimate “destination,” whatever its nature, will be amazing and so much more than anyone—biblical author or otherwise—could describe.

B. Casey, 7/31/17

Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears.  ‑ Peter (1Peter 2, NET Bible)

These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.  For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland….    ­‑ Heb 11 (NET Bible)

Horror and terror

How’s that title for an attention-getter?

Horror movies often strike me as ridiculous, and movies that are all about broad-scale terror don’t attract me all that much.  On the other hand, the dramas and suspense series I watch do involve short-lived, mostly-small-scale terrors fairly often, I’d have to say.  They say (I’m not sure who “they” are, really) that watching such things can give kids nightmares, and I worry about myself, too.  Will a diet of bad visual experiences get inside my soul?  I suppose I’ve almost assumed that watching any horrific things would make me think about horror more acutely and more often.  Now, I wonder if it’s had the opposite effect:  have the terror images almost anesthetized me, keeping me from proper wincing and fear?

Lately I’ve wondered what terror would be like if personally experienced.  What if?  And then it happened very near me.  Very recently, a small plane went down less than 10 miles from our house.  My wife brought me the news, both in the form of an image on her phone and in her eyes.  I could tell she felt it deeply, and her empathy moved me.  What was that horrific human experience like for the two who were killed?  (May God have granted that it was quick.)  One decedent was from a few hundred miles away, and one, from our little town.  People knew them and must themselves have experienced shockwaves of terror after the news broke.  The more I think about it, the more I am affected.

I’m not much on the “hellfire and brimstone” stuff that’s historically been associated with a few denominations and preaching styles.  I’m grateful never to have been subjected to regular preaching like that in the congregations with which I’ve worked.  I’ve never dug into the hell topic much but find myself leaning toward the view that God’s punishment will not be ongoing but will rather be a one-time event.  Whatever it turns out to be, it is obviously something to be avoided.  I believe it will be a terror in some sense, whether once or in perpetuity.  Otherwise, why would the inspired teachers throughout biblical history have described it in such horrific terms?

Of distance and connection: speaking transparently

Reconnecting and staying connected has always been important to me.  Long before Facebook, and even before personal computing and the WWW, I had lists of friends and contacts, not to mention an alumni directory that helped me find college friends when I traveled.  Sometimes I would try to squeeze in too many visits, but my pace has slowed over the years.  On a family trip last month, we did spend some good time with three extended family members and five sets of friends.  Each visit was rewarding and had distinct value—for instance, meeting the fiancée of a dear, longtime friend a month before their wedding.  It is enriching and energizing to talk face to face with anyone I care about.

I do long for more/deeper/better friendships.  Through the years, some people have played highly significant roles in my life (and/or I in theirs) as we worked together on long-term projects, or because we were there at just the right time for each other.  In some cases, lengthy discussions about the scriptures, the church, or serious personal concerns seemed to cement our friendships.  My family and I are fulfilled in having maintained some relationship with most of the people in this picture, but where there has been this type of connection, a later sense of increasing distance can be more stark.  I can think of another group (from a dozen years prior to the above) in which one person has unilaterally and without explanation rejected the prior relationship, and there are other cold shoulders, as well.  Thoughts of that group led to thoughts of another group of eight or nine in which only three have shown any interest in building on the closeness we once had.

A couple of my friends, independently of each other, have confided to me that they value our friendship in part because they have few other friends.  I have a similar feeling.¹  I’ve had a couple of “best friends” and have been devoid that relationship “level” for a while now.  For various reasons, I have not stayed in any one place too long in recent years.  In most cases, it takes years to develop magnetic, deep friendships, whether or not they are of the “best friend” type.  If one moves away, not even Herculean efforts can keep the relationship from changing.

It’s been well said that the worst lonely feelings come in the middle of a crowd.  (Not everyone will understand that.)  I would add the modifier of all sizes to “crowds”:  physical proximity with even one other person might suggest, but does not guarantee, connection.  When the actual relationship lacks closeness, the appearance of being part of a friendship or “team” is painful.  A once-upon-a-time friend once looked at someone else and me and said “You are such a great team,” but we were actually very personally distant.  Being a part of an educational or Christian small group while feeling like an island has probably given me more emotional pain than can be imagined by those with more sanguine or phlegmatic personalities.  On the other hand, the relational ease and richness of conversation and relationship that sometimes does come in small groups (as in the one shown here) and one-on-one conversations can be incomparably rewarding.

There has been a lot of aloneness in my life . . . yes, a great deal of goodness and relational presence, but also a lot of absence² and a lot of wishing . . . a lot of wondering about connections that were, that might have been, or that might yet be.  Having a generally melancholy temperament, I over-think (brood?), and I create.³  I am not a natural smiler, so it might look like I’m unhappy when I’m just thinking deeply, pondering.

It is from these ponderings that the following passage comes.  I don’t suppose it’s really a poem; it’s more a piece of structured prose.  It is chiastically arranged, and I’ve indented to show the arrangements more clearly.  Here, a matched indent level indicates a related pair of passages, and the middle is central within the whole.  You might even read it that way, starting from the outer edges and progressing inward.  I will resist the urge to provide commentary on the piece.  On the other hand, if the chiastic arrangement is curious to you and you want to critique it or ask questions about what I have in mind or the intratextual relationships, please comment!  You and I might even enhance a connection….


I don’t like feeling alone.  For about a decade, I felt very (and increasingly) lonely, and no one seemed to understand enough to come alongside me.

On the other hand, I have often needed more alone time than I get.

Gene Edwards’s unusual book The Divine Romance paints a verbal tapestry of a pre-creation “time” in which God longed for a counterpart, an “other.”  At some point, Edwards imagines, God had a startling realization—that there could be two.

If I am in some sense made in God’s image, perhaps I experience, on some level, whatever God experienced that led Him to create humans.  Did He feel aloneness or loneliness?  I don’t think it’s quite appropriate to suggest that God “needs” people, but He certainly desires relationship.  And I, too, need connection.

James Weldon Johnson’s “Negro” literary classic God’s Trombones purports to quote God:  “I’m lonely.  I’ll make me a man.”

I tend to be both energized by, and accomplished in, alone time.

Blessedly, I have a wife and son who love me, and they encourage me.  Oddly, I still often feel alone.


¹ Grammar note:  I initially had “I feel similar” here, and that would have been technically correct.  The intransitive linking verb “feel” does not take an adverb, so it was “similar,” not “similarly.”  If I had meant to comment on my sensation of touch, i.e., how I feel a countertop surface  with my fingertips, comparing that to someone else’s feeling ability, then I would have said, “I feel similarly.”  Being technically correct is not always the best choice, so I opted for “I have a similar feeling.”  🙂

² For meditation-provoking posts based on Martin Marty’s book A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart, start here.

³ In my case, these days, creating primarily means writing.  Besides blogs, I have mounds of correspondence, some “therapeutic writing” that no one sees, a few poems, and a lot of music.  For about 20 years, I wrote songs (a handful of love songs and 100+ Christian songs); later, the musical creativity was directed more into mostly instrumental works, including compositions, transcriptions, and arrangements.  I don’t write much music of any kind anymore.  My creativity has moved more toward verbal prose, which means blogposts and the 5.5 books I have in print (Amazon Author Page), plus major contributions to 2 more books, and a few materials for teaching scripture.

Of distance and connection: prologue

I have decided not to post the first version of this post.  It dealt with connections and relationships in terms of Facebook, and it was long.  Facebook does have implications as a connective relationship “tool,” and it was of some value to me to take stock of my Facebook friends, the highly valued connections there, my perceptions of others’ use of Facebook, and more.  In the end, I have decided all that was of little value to anyone else, though, so I’m not posting the whole thing.  The excerpts below, about 1/4 of the original, can serve as a prologue to the next post that will include a relatively transparent poem.

When Facebook came on the scene, new possibilities for connection arose.  I myself was a little slow on the draw but once asked a close friend to show me the merits of FB.  Soon after, I signed up and began to use it.  I had long been one to reach out to connect and reconnect, and this was a tool that could be used toward that end.

. . .

From my vantage point, the primary reason for FB is relationships with people (not faces).  There are relationships undergirding it all.

. . .

Some share personal things, including health-related situations, and that can connect us with one another’s struggles despite physical distance.  Being a somewhat private person, I tend not to share much personal stuff very often myself, not wanting to appear to be crying for help or publicly revealing one of my many weaknesses.  I acknowledge, though, that what I might find borderline inappropriate may actually indicate strong senses of relationship for others.

. . .

Some, ostensibly the “FB introverts,” like to keep their lists relatively small, while others have thousands of “friends.”  One personal friend I was fairly close to for about a decade only uses FB for family.  Others, such as yours truly, have little to no family as FB friends.  This might seem odd to many, but less than 3% of my FB friends live within an hour of me.

. . .

Facebook cannot by itself satisfy the need for relationship; it is but a fragment of a vast matrix of varying levels of connection in today’s human existence.  Connection . . . and distance.  Yes, distance.  I can sometimes scroll through my FB feed and feel almost isolated.  I don’t have values similar to a lot of people out there—perhaps even the lion’s share of my own FB friends.  We all have some background, mutual friends, or some other connection—musical and/or Christian and/or school-related or what-have-you—but people travel their own paths. . . .

I could write of telephones and Bluetooth while traveling, of letters and e-mails, of visits and wished-for visits—and regrets about visits.  Each person has his own set of experiences, of connections, and of distance, whether they are all recognized or not.

Relationships are funny things.  Relationships can be the glue of life or a daily curse—and everything between.

~ ~ ~

Soon I’ll share a transparent quasi-poem (chiastically arranged! . . . that’s especially for the few friends with whom I’ve connected deeply around scripture).  I’ve been stressing over sharing this poem for a couple of months, and I’ve been slow to post it because of thoughts of . . . you guessed it:  relationships with others.

Mrs. Shuck and the mulberry tree

I don’t write vignettes very often, and I don’t think I’m very good at it, but maybe this little piece will interest a few folks to whom my normal fare doesn’t often appeal.

~ ~ ~

She was what you might think of as a “little old lady,” and she lived diagonally across from me, through the backyards.  I suppose she was 75 or so when I met her, and she’s presumably passed from this life.  Her first name was Pauline, but I called her “Mrs. Shuck.”  I could see Mrs. Shuck’s back porch from mine.  And I crossed paths with her over a mulberry tree in my yard.

I happened to be renting a two-story brick house from a landlord whose memory and judgment I had some reason to suspect at that point.¹  He was new at the business and didn’t know how to handle some things.  I later learned that I was probably on the upper end of his clientele, and my house, being owned by his parents, was sort of ancillary to his normal operation, so it wasn’t always on his radar.

Let’s rewind for a minute to pick up the mulberry trail. . . .  After springtime Sunday school in Wilmington, Delaware, we young kids would make our way to the little hill that bordered the property on the north.  There was less rush in life then, and families hung around longer, giving us kids plenty of time to play under the willow tree or to roll grapefruit-sized “monkey balls” down the hill.  We also picked and ate the mulberries from a tree on that hill.  Fresh berries are always good things!

Now back to my rental house and a rejuvenated phase in my own life.  The Heartland sky was big and beautiful, and the surrounding farmland, as charming as it was productive.  I can still recall the fresh, local cucumbers from that first summer in Kansas.  And when spring kicked into gear the following year, I was delighted to find that my backyard had a mulberry tree.  What could be better than fresh, free berries?  Just like on the hill across the parking lot at Cedars!  I wasn’t exactly a kid in a candy shop, but I remember picking and eating while mowing the lawn.  I don’t think I baked a mulberry pie, but I probably put some berries in my fridge.

Enter the villainess of the story.  [Cue mock-sinister music.]  At some point I became aware that Mrs. Shuck didn’t like the mulberry tree.  She groused about the robins pooping purple on the fresh sheets she had hung on her clothesline.  Well, maybe use your dryer, I probably thought.  Sorry, but the tree is 50 feet away from your clothesline, and it’s not in your yard.  I was busy in a new teaching job, and more or less forgot about the issue, unaware that my landlord was seriously entertaining this lady’s complaints.  One afternoon when I returned from work, though, I found that the tree had been cut down!  I called to find out what was up, and the landlord confirmed that he had indeed cut the tree down in response to Mrs. Shuck’s complaint.

I was miffed.

This was before I had developed an abiding cynicism about people with clout, but really . . . who was this meddlesome woman who had the clout to get into my business and rob me of the fresh mulberries?

Within a day or two, realizing that fruit of mulberry tree was not written into my lease, I cooled down and wrote a note of forgiveness to Mrs. Shuck.  I had been mad, and I guess she knew it.  I delivered the note to her door, and she received it graciously.  She explained and apologized for the offense, and we had a little get-to-know-you chat.  She later wrote me a note of her own after attending a concert in which I performed, and she wished me well.

I vaguely remember that Mrs. Shuck was a Christian of some stripe, but I don’t remember her church affiliation.  And whether she was or wasn’t doesn’t really matter in this context.  (I’m stupid but not stupid enough to think that the Jesus-follower’s forgiveness ideal is applicable only to interactions in which both parties are Christian.  No, it’s more of a mantra—an M.O. for every interaction.)  At first, I think my forgiveness toward Mrs. Shuck was through gritted teeth, as it were.  (Remember Stephen Keaton of the old Family Ties series as he uttered the name of Mallory’s questionable boyfriend Nick?)  But at least I tried to act my way into forgiving her for robbing me of mulberries, and she appreciated it.

Now, I again have a mulberry tree in my yard—next to my driveway, in fact.  Poetic justice, you might say.  And now, my little pickup truck is almost as white as Mrs. Shuck’s sheets.  The bird poop stains on both vehicles are abhorrent little masses of disgustingness.  My neighbor acknowledges the nice shade but also wishes this tree had been cut down years ago.

Mrs. Shuck, I understand better now.  And I forgive you better now, too.

~ ~ ~

In anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed.  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”  (Matt 18:34-35, NET)

Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  (Col 3:13, MSG)


¹ In signing the rental agreement, I had made sure the fireplace was operational and eventually bought some wood in the fall.  I checked the flue carefully, and it was open.  I started my first fire, but smoke billowed into my family room.  After throwing water on it and opening the windows, I called the landlord.  He had forgotten that the chimney had been bricked in—completely closed at the top!  A few other, minor things occurred in the first year there, indicating that my landlord was not completely on the ball, but I left on very good terms.