Words . . . and the Spelling Bee

Actor James Spader and his characters have word gifts.  In the scene below, he was losing it (as TV attorney Alan Shore):

Shore’s affliction was word salad.  What a concept.  It must be very difficult to toss your words around like that if you don’t have an actual mental deficiency.

Linguistic perceptiveness can be a curse, but it can also create joy through heightened understanding.  I’m glad my son has some exceptional language ability.  FB tells me that, four years ago when he was in 1st grade, he was reading aloud to me and came upon the verb “present.”  He mistakenly read it as though it were the noun, i.e, a gift.  Then he corrected himself without any help.  I asked him how he knew which meaning was the right one.  He replied, “You can tell by the surrounding words.”

That’s a gift with words, I’d say . . . and it can help him understand other people, scripture, a homework assignment, the intent of lines in a play, and more.

The Podcast “Way with Words” is a new pleasure.  Jedd heard part of an episode for the first time last weekend.  I figured 10 minutes would be enough for a 10-year-old and was about to turn it off, but he said not to.  He liked it.  He too is stimulated by thoughts of words, their meanings, their connections and ramifications, their humor.

In late January, he placed 2nd among all the fifth-graders at his school in the spelling bee.  He asked for definitions to check himself on a couple occasions.  He made it about 12 rounds before being distracted by someone’s cell phone and missing a double “s” that he would know any day of the week.  But no sour grapes.  He was happy with 2nd place and was a good sport, congratulating the very capable winner.

I’m happy that I get to share linguistic interests with him often, and I was proud when he almost won the school spelling bee a few days ago, and I hope he places in today’s county-wide spelling bee, which begins in one hour!

He chose a special outfit this morning, and I adapted.  Below is today’s solidarity attire, on the way to school this morning.

Of holiday times, people, traditions, and peace

It’s been quite a while¹ since I wrote on this blog.  Not that I’ve been empty-headed; I’ve just had to prioritize other concerns.  I have been making notes for future posts, but it usually does me good to express prosaic thoughts, so here goes . . . .

~ ~ ~

I have deeply mixed feelings at this time of year.  The better part of wisdom would suggest keeping such feelings to myself, but I tend trust the written word (often more than talking, in my case) more than the wisdom of holding the feelings in.

I have made many mistakes in my life.  As in your own life, aren’t there too many to count?  Mine have included these:

  • poor judgment calls (that could have turned out for good or bad [and did—both])
  • near-misses that made God’s sheltering grace clear
  • rough-shod runs over people, in the course of overzealous churchmanship ²

I also established obsessive work patterns that, among other negatives, pigeonholed me as a non-people person.  (See here for more on identification as a “people person.”)  But it is holiday family times, not the work environment, that I intend to focus on here. . . .

I can recall a kind of melancholy retreat from holiday family activities, into a corner where I would do what I was better at than spending time with people:  work on my laptop.  This “work” was almost never work-work (for which I was paid); rather, I would be creating music or emailing or reading about God things.  I was hiding from the people nearby, to whom I was related, in order to be “with” other people across miles.  There were reasons for this arguably antisocial behavior, including profound disillusionment over the impoverishment of two cherished institutions, and the powerless feeling of having had to relinquish important ideals.  It’s for good reason that that’s a packed sentence.

I remember that one relative criticized me for laptopping, and I reacted defensively.  Turns out he was annoyed (and on target) for the same reasons that now annoy me when I observe others doing what I used to do.  I still do that kind of thing at times, but I catch myself and quit.  When I’m with people I care about, I ought to show them I care about them by paying Image result for cell phone during conversationattention to them instead of stuff on a device.  The pic here makes me especially sad, because I value fresh, outdoor air, and I feel these folks would do so much better to look at the green around them, sniff the air, and talk to each other.  I place a higher value on human interaction than on nature, and I do know we need, or at least like, to take pics of our experiences in nature and with others.  But do we spend more time finding pics to show people than talking about real life, in the moment?

Image result for google images cell phone in restaurantSee this article on tech addiction and what to do with your smart phones while at restaurants.  I noted that another restaurant offers free kids’ meals when the parents ditch their phones while at the meal. I think that is about the best sociological development I’ve heard all year.

Christmas-season church stuff abounds.  I’ve participated in some of it, as in most recent years.  Yes, I have about 30 Xmas CDs, a couple dozen Xmas cassettes, and a dozen vinyl records.  I think I’ve played a dozen of them so far this year.  But in church, Christmas music often bores me.  (I’m not much of a traditionalist or a creature of habit.)  Some of it is downright glorious, though, and I’ve benefited from it.  I do wish we would dispense with some of the the formalities, and all the presumptions of validity based on tradition.  It is entirely right to ponder and celebrate the coming of God to earth, but certain ceremonies and phrasings put my soul to sleep more than helping me ponder “Love’s pure light” or pushing me to sing, “Glory to the newborn king.”³

One pop song touches me every time I think through some of the words.  “Grown-up Christmas List” (which a former student introduced to me in 2002) combines expressive melody, colorful chords, and key changes in support of phrases like “no more worlds torn apart” and “time would heal all hearts.”  What’s your list like?  I remember being the kid who passed out the presents to the extended family, and I liked that role, and I like seeing my son becoming enthused over similar things.  As grown-ups with years and hurts and growth under our belts, how much do we now care about wrapping paper and bows?  Wouldn’t it be enough if hearts were healed, and if peace reigned in our little worlds?

Here’s where I insert a few lines of my old friend Paul’s favorite carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
    “For hate is strong
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Last December, I recall having had marked feelings of generosity, resolve, and hope.  This time around, time-bound hope doesn’t rise within me, but the other two feelings remain.  I’m just as intent as last year on giving (in various ways)—more than worrying specifically about presents or cookies.  No being tied to a computer for too long, or retreating from being actually with people I love.  Somehow that would not be emulating the God who came to be with us.

– B. Casey, 12/1/19-12/20/19

¹ There have been other breaks of this length.  I suppose, at ~1800 total posts (including my other two, less active blogs), breaks are OK.

² I’m an avowed Christian—but no longer a churchman and will probably never be one again.  I consider myself somewhat uncomfortably berthed among God’s people, and (don’t miss this next phrase!) unflaggingly, observably interested in connections with groups of said people, but it’s harder and harder to buy in to the trappings of local bodies, much less denominations.

³ Wait.  Was he actually a king then?  We shouldn’t be so assertive with theological history here!

Being real & vulnerable

Some topics I touch are ones I should probably stay away from.  “Vulnerability” might be one of those.  Inimitably and famously, Brené Brown has given talks on this topic, touching something deep within many of us.  Surely no one like me could add anything worthwhile to her research and insights on this topic.  On the other hand, it might just be that I can note and transmit something very important, being an under-informed but sincere, sometimes-earnest observer of people and culture.  I’m betting many of you will agree that the following material about vulnerability and the pressure of social media is on track.

A book by Donna Freitas is titled The Happiness Effect:  How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost (Oxford University Press).  Freitas, also the author of Sex and the Soul, “comes from an epicenter of sociological research on adolescents and young adults, Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.”  She conducted 200 interviews of university students.

The Happiness Effect is organized around the topics covered in these conversations.  Each chapter overflows with personal stories, making the book an enjoyable read.  But on a deeper level, Freitas has a theory to test.  She contends that headline-grabbing abuses like bullying, stalking, and sexting are not the greatest dangers that social media poses for young adults.  Rather, they distract from a more insidious phenomenon:  the drive to look perfectly happy, all the time.  (emph. mine   -bc)

. . .

As Freitas puts it, Facebook and Twitter are, in a way, the anti-confession, the places we pretend that we have it all together as though we were the gods of our own future.  The gospel challenges the assumption that confessing weakness and need makes you a failure. . . .

– Andrew Root, Reviews, Christianity Today, March 2017

“Church” has for decades (centuries?) been a place for facades, for hiding.  The age-old story of the stereotypical, churchgoing family yelling at each other, slamming doors, stewing in silence all the way to the church building, then putting on fake smiles and acting as though “God is good all the time” is anything but humorous.  Despite encroaching reports of the likes of emotional illnesses, divorce, pain from LGBTQ concerns, human trafficking, and more, some Christians are still fixated on the need to “celebrate Jesus.”  This celebration sensibility comes from reasonably good, yet partly shallow theology and from good-hearted people.  I, on the other hand, resonate more with the need to be communicative, “real,” and vulnerable, sharing every emotion and experience, not only the nice ones.  I’d go further, too:  lament and other negatives need some affirmative action in churches.  In other words, there’s already enough celebration and praise, way too much slap-happy trivia and hype, and not nearly enough honesty.¹  Let the vulnerability emerge.

Facebook is not the only venue through which anti-confession (falsely presenting oneself and one’s situation as marvelously in control and persistently happy, as though there is no weakness and need) rears its head, but it’s a nearly omnipresent one.  Most of those I know are both well acclimated to FB and/or aware of its limitations and potential fallout.  Let us use it well (and not too much).  Let us share the great pics of our kids and our food creations, and maybe an interesting selfie or two (up to two, not two hundred, thank you very much).  Let us share our inspiring thoughts for the day and our scriptures.  But let us also share² our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, and even our griefs.

¹ Our chosen, local church takes as its moniker “Historic Faith – Honest Fellowship – Humble Service.”  It makes quite a nice triumvirate, I think, and here, I would call every reader to the “honest fellowship” part—honest both with God and with other believing journey partners.

² Facebook allows one to share selectively, i.e., via private message and to specific individuals or groups.

Honors and tributes

Today, I post in my honor of my dad, Gerald W. Casey, and also in tribute to my mom’s father, Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.  Both men died in November:  Ritchie, 25 years ago, and Casey, one year ago today.¹  Having been strongly influenced by his father-in-law, my dad would have wanted to be present for a special event last month.

In recognition of Ritchie’s influence on many Harding students, the university named an endowed chair in his honor.  Here is the invitation to the ceremony:

And here is the program for the event:

The ceremony was an effective length, I thought, and it was carried out nicely.

Some might question the label “Endowed Chair for Discipleship and Church Planting.”  While the term “discipleship” has acquired more meanings and significance since the 50s and 60s, and while the term “church planting” is perhaps not entirely descriptive of Granddaddy’s activities, he expended much energy in personal, relational evangelism² with individuals.  He also led summer campaigns, worked in multiple Christian camps, and preached and led worship in song for evangelistic “meetings.”  His influence resulted in devoted discipleship, and, by multiplication and extension, his work resulted in the planting of churches.  Harding President Bruce McLarty commented, “I began to learn of who this was that I had seen by listening to people who told of the impact he had on their souls—and what he taught them about the presence of God and the holiness of God and the worship of God.”

Below is the bio that appeared in the program:

Granddaddy’s influence was experienced on the Harding campus in group devotionals and leadership in chapel; classes in New Testament, the Psalms, Prophets, and Christian worship; and for a short time, in the chorus.  His book Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God was used in college courses and enjoyed a berth on many shelves.  Also notable, but presumably not directly pertinent to the naming of this university chair, are my grandfather’s teachings and examples in congregational and private worship.

For those who might wish to view the event, I happily share the link to a video provided by Harding University.  Toward the end of the video, in conjunction with biographical photos, my grandfather’s voice is heard saying a few things about worship.  Today I am grateful for the memories of Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., and Gerald Casey.

¹ In the early morning hours of November 28, 2017, just a few hours after he had arrived in the hospice wing of Unity hospital in Searcy, my dad died.  Mom had been with him just a few hours earlier, and his brother all his children, and one of his grandchildren had been with him during Thanksgiving week just prior.

² I recently learned that Granddaddy had a habit of asking for the names of students who were not known to be Christians.  He would seek them out in personal conversation.

³ I observed, in briefly reviewing a copy of the official document last week, that the word “Endowed” was replaced by “Distinguished.”

Not an elder, but older (and wiser?) (2)

[Find part 1 here.]

Given my background/scriptural understandings and some of my personal history, the reader won’t be too surprised that my suspicion of “church leadership” has not faded.  I think my church paradigm overall has been morphing and growing ever since.  It has reached a point of no return and very little likelihood of being influenced in a different direction.  I say this not to discourage dialogue but to acknowledge a reality.  I simply have no interest in what smacks of pandering to a clergy person or to a hierarchy or any other structure.  These organizational things trouble me too deeply.  Lest a CofC reader think I am talking only about other denominations, I will clarify that I think the problem is of the same hue (although typically not as deeply tinted) in CofC congregations as in, say, Methodist or Baptist ones.  It is notable that small, non-franchise “community church” groups are likely to be equally un-healthfully reliant on the “pastor.”

I do affirm that, when possible, people with training and/or experience should work in some areas.  I think here of the teaching of children, the counseling of youth and married people, and the exposition and exegesis of scripture.  Talents, training, and experience do have their places in the healthy, vibrant functioning of churches and other Christian groups, but titles and staff ministry positions can distract and can even be found to compromise the health of a body of people.  Although in just the right situation, I suppose I would myself consider taking a church salary for some kind of church role or roles, I really do not believe in that kind of church anymore.  That doesn’t mean I don’t find good people in institutional churches, and that doesn’t mean I don’t go to them regularly.  I do, and I do.  I simply cannot invest in them or dream about them as I once did.

Back to the present
So, now that I am old enough and experienced enough to be an elder or pastor or shepherd or bishop just about anywhere (no matter how the given group conceives of the label), I have to wonder about another aspect of being the church elder I once aspired to be:  wisdom.  (Please recall that I have recently been drawn to the “wisdom literature” in the Hebrew Bible.  See here and here.)  It is assumed that the old have gained some wisdom.  Not that I’m all that old, but I am a whole lot older than I was 20 years ago.  So, while I thought I had all the main things right in my head in my 20s or 30s, I later learned that that I didn’t.  And now, even if I wanted to be an elder in an institutional church, I wouldn’t think I was wise enough.  I’m surely a little wiser than I was when I was 20 or 30 or 40, but I would feel so inadequate if I were in a role that caused a church group to view me as inherently wise.  Here is another way to put that:  I think all pastoral pedestals ought to be destroyed and discarded—especially any that any unsuspecting person would try to put me on!

Enter another assumption I learned as a kid, based on a patternistic, proof-texty reading of two brief passages in Paul’s (so-called) pastoral letters:  maybe a special level of wisdom comes from having a plurality of children in the home.  A 33-year-old father with three kids (like my dad was) goes through all sorts of interpersonal situations, and by the time he’s in his 50s or 60s, he surely has learned a great deal about how to “shepherd” different personalities within a group.  I, on the other hand, have an only child, and I haven’t always manifest wisdom even in dealing with the one.

When I was having a heart-to-heart with my son a year or so ago, I told him that there are some benefits and some drawbacks to having an older (more presbytish!) dad.  On the downside, I am wounded (deeply so), and life’s experience brings as much incapacity as capability.  I am tired and generally less than patient with antics than a younger dad.  On the upside, there are experiences and insights I can share with him that could not be shared by a younger father of a nine-year-old.  I don’t think I’m a very good soul-shepherd, but I’m a passable physical-needs overseer for him.  I could teach him things that a 33-year-old father probably couldn’t.  (I’m rambling in a sea of inadequacy.)  I would hope I have additional wisdom, but I’m not so sure most of the time.

I feel pretty experienced in “the faith” (depending on how you define that), and I’m “apt to teach,” and I might manifest a couple other qualities mentioned in Paul’s lists, but I don’t feel wise enough to be an elder or a dad.  I will never be an elder in a traditional sense.  I am a dad, however, and I can only hope that I have more wisdom than I did before Jedd was born, and more likelihood of using it in difficult situations.  Good grief.  He just turned nine, and we have not even had difficult situations yet, really.  I am terrified of when he is 11 and 12 and 14.  God, give me wisdom.

To remember and honor: Grandmother Casey

Ruth Edwards Casey, b. 7/14/1914, Denmark, AR

Grandmother Casey would have been 104 today.  The picture above was probably taken in Texas, perhaps when she was in her late 60s.  She was the last of my grandparents to live on this earth, and she was an unassuming, industrious, unselfish, worthy woman.  My grandparents’ house, also unassuming, was on Market Street in Searcy, just across from the sidewalk that split the student center and the American Heritage Building.  The house no longer exists, but memories do.

Two cars could park parallel to the street in front of the house.  I remember four cars my grandparents The 1963 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe had crisp and angular styling.owned from my early childhood through my 30s:  a ’53 Chevy that my grandfather drove to work in Judsonia, a white Chevy sedan that looked much like the one here; and two green Plymouth Furys from the 70s.  I drove one of those Furys myself, and I can remember how it sounded when it started.

There was a tiny storage barn “out yonder” on the north end of the property.  (I think it had once housed chickens.)  The large front porch featured a hanging bench swing.  I remember the unheated, fully enclosed “back porch” where one could always find aged 2-liter bottles of Dr. Pepper and Coke, old newspapers, a washer and dryer, and cleaning products.  A door went through to the 2nd bedroom, but that door was almost never opened.  Back in the back room (also unheated, and reached only through the 2nd bedroom), there was an 8-track player with two cassettes that Grandmother had won in a radio call-in contest.  I remember a box full of simple toys—for example, a nonfunctional camera and some empty, plastic, Avon bottles—that Grandmother or Granddaddy would get out when the grandkids came home for Christmas.  Grandmother would giggle and sometime even cackle.

Arkansas could be awfully hot, and there were two window air conditioners.  It could also get deceptively cold in winter, and Grandmother would stand near the “fire” (a large, vented gas heater in the corner of the living room) with her hands behind her, warming herself.  I remember her kitchen—dwarfed by a table that could seat eight if it had to—and the lack of counter space that she somehow worked with anyway.  She had a wooden stool with fold-out steps, and I would sometimes find her up on it, reaching for something in an upper cabinet.  We went out once a month or so to eat at Wendy’s or Pizza Inn.  She never had much money, but she had a few good friends; Laverne and Lavelle stand out in particular, but people all over who knew her had kind words for her.  She picked strawberries every spring with Laverne during the time I was aware of it.  She had younger friends, too—for instance, Patti, our family’s good friend from Delaware, attended Harding and was at Grandmother’s house regularly.  Patti has spoken glowingly of Grandmother to me, indicating how she “loved Ruth Casey.”  Marcella from next door considered her a friend, too.  The Latham sisters’ storm cellar, three doors down, was a haven during a tornado warning a time or two.

I had the benefit of Grandmother’s cooking on a daily basis during my 3.5 years as an undergraduate at Harding University.  She would serve lunch according to my chorus rehearsal schedule (11:45-12:35 one year, 1:00-1:50 the next, then back to 11:45).  Dinner came after band rehearsal, around 5:45.  I don’t think she left me without a meal once, although I barely took enough time to thank her.  (Yes, I gained weight during college!)  Grandmother once scolded me a little for not wanting her to spend time ironing my shirts.  She liked serving others and would sometimes also welcome my friends to her table–Kandy, Allen, Glenn, Jim, and Debbi, for instance.

Grandmother was a homemaker most of her life but had worked outside the home briefly.  She took up the piano in her late 50s or early 60s, acquiring a cast-off upright from the college.  That piano was in its only possible place in that house–the 8×8 hall with five doors, leading to bedrooms, the bathroom, the living room, and the front porch.  (The door to the porch was never opened after the piano was moved in.)

I sometimes left notes on the telephone table across from the piano, and I addressed them to “GMC,” but I called her “Grandmother.”  That might sound formal or distant if you called yours “Grandma” or “Nana,” but that doesn’t mean my grandmother herself was distant in any sense.  She was comfortable to be around, and I always liked being in her house.  My sisters also had the benefit of living with her for a year or two during college, and they then called her “Gram.”  These days, if she were around, and in view of one of my own developing interests, I might call her “Gramma(r).” ¹

Compared to my other grandmother, Grandmother Casey was less educated, more nurturing, and non-judgmental.  She attended the College Church pretty much every time the doors were open, sitting near the back, often with a friend.  She had only two Bibles:  a KJV and a Living Bible.  She read them at home but didn’t talk much about anything deep.  I’d say she was shy but was also a true believer.  On a few occasions, I tried to engage her about spiritual things, and she responded with faith, concern, and not too many words.

After Grandmother died in 1992, my uncle uncovered her checkbook and showed it to my dad.  She had done the math meticulously and apparently often was down around $1.00 before the next Social Security check came.  There was always room in her house and at her table for another, though.  I wish my son could have known her,² but she was gone nearly two decades before he was born.  Grandmother Casey was a good lady.  I miss you, Grandmother, and I wish you had met Karly and Jedd.

¹ Here is a short list of gramma(r) issues I’ve heard just in the past week or so, from three different people:

  • I need it broke down.
  • It was already ran.
  • I seen him.

My grandmother had fine grammar, especially for an uneducated woman.  I just felt like including the above.  🙂

² Jedd has what I consider a skewed sense of extended family, for two reasons.  (1) the generations are very spread apart, so more grands and greats have died, and (2), to say the least, there are some very non-familial people on both sides of our family.  I am thankful that Jedd knows well his great-grandmother Clara and a great aunt Marie on Karly’s side.  A couple years ago, he had met a great-grandfather, John, and he’s been around a few others.  Jedd knew/knows both of my parents.  On both sides, he has been around several cousins, aunts and uncles—and great aunts and uncles a little, too.

To edit and harmonize (opportunity for musicians)

If the publishers had only asked, I would have edited and re-harmonized this song for them in the children’s theater script!  First off, I would have researched whether the “Mexican polka” idiom is real.  Perhaps there is a better description.  Next, I would like to have known about the Spanish grammar in measures 1-2.  In context, it means “very clever/cunning, very devilish,” but, Spanish-speaking friends, isn’t “diablo” a noun, not an adjective?  Maybe this would be an idiomatic or slang expression?   Now to the stuff I know more about:

  • In the last line, “yip” is probably better as a staccato eighth than as a dotted quarter.  It’s impossible to sustain the “p” consonant, and a sustained vowel (“yiiiiiiip”) sounds dumb.  Practically speaking, a shorter notation would make the interpretation of those notes unmistakably clear to a less-than-confident, neophyte director.
  • I think I would have started it with a D (IV) chord through the whole first measure.  If so, maybe an Amaj7 in measure 2?  Better yet, how about this for the first 4 measures:

|  D ///  |  C#min ///  |   Bmin7 / E9 /  |  A /// |

  • Anyone for an F# minor (vi) chord in m. 6?  That would have helped to make it more of a real progression in measures 5 through 8 (whether or not one uses a secondary dominant in m. 7). One has to try things sometimes, and it looks like this tune benefited from precisely zero read-throughs before it was published.
  • Now, can you spot two outright errors (melody/harmony mismatches) in the last half of the song?

In the play, the college-student helper who played guitar did a great job, adjusting her rhythm to match the kids on stage, and her guitar stylings sounded pretty authentic to me.  Our son Jedd also did well as Puerco the porcupine.  He had quite a few lines at the beginning and the end, serving as the Master of Ceremonies at an animals’ fiesta.  And my TAMUK friends will be happy to know he pronounced “Armadillo” authentically!

A birthday tribute to the late KCR and ATR, Jr.

There are probably only two dozen birth dates I have remembered through the years, and this post comes precisely between two that have always stood out in my memory.  109 years ago last Wednesday, my maternal grandmother was born.  Two weeks later, my maternal grandfather was born.  Here they are in a well-worn photograph, at approximately the age I remember them best.

Kathryn Delma Cullum married Andy Thomas Ritchie, Jr. in 1933, and they had been married barely 50 years when the latter succumbed to congestive heart failure and other circulatory concerns (presumably related to diabetes).  Both of their fathers had been influential Christian leaders.  The two met at David Lipscomb high school and also attended David Lipscomb college (now University) in Nashville.  Their early life together included stints in radio and church work in Texarkana, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.  They would soon move to Searcy, Arkansas, where they would reside for the rest of their earthly lives.  Grandmother taught math at Harding Academy, and Granddaddy led the Harding College (now university) Chorus for approximately a decade, then taught Bible courses for the remainder of his career. 

After their children were grown, they took a voyage across the Atlantic—the trip of a lifetime—making stops in the Holy Land and in Scotland.  My perceptions of the two are limited since I saw them but once or twice a year through my childhood and teens, and I did not take enough advantage of their presence while I was a student at Harding.  Still, I can attest, based on second- and third-hand interactions, to the fact that their lives had impact on a great many people.

Grandmother played the piano well, often accompanying Granddaddy’s bass-baritone voice.  She had exceptional responsibilities for his care, since he was not only diabetic but also legally blind for the latter half of his life.  In hindsight, one of the things I would say she was known for was “juggling” a full-time teaching position, the raising of four children, and the care and support of her husband.  Rare would be the Harding Academy high school student who did not respect Kathryn Ritchie’s math teaching capability, her intelligence, upright living, and Christian devotion.  The College Church’s congregational singing included her strong alto for decades.

Also rare would be the spiritually attuned Harding College student in the late 40s, 50s, and 60s who did not hold Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., in the highest regard as a deeply, genuinely pious Christian and a devoted, humble servant of his Lord.  He led quite a few summer evangelistic campaigns in the Northeast, preaching nightly, and he worked in Christian camps, as well.  As a church leader, he was known for preaching and also for leading congregational singing, emphasizing high-quality songs with good poetry.  He led worship in song long before the term “worship leader” was fashionable.

I recently unearthed a song for which I’d written the music long ago.  I had set a poem that Granddaddy favored when performing weddings, including a few family ones.  Below is the complete poem by Richard Wightman:

Of course, the question how far will you go with me? and the ultimate notion of “going to the end of the lane” rise well above the sophomoric.  Grandmother, a late-in-life cancer victim who outlived Granddaddy by almost five years, certainly “traveled the lane” with devotion, and the two were a pair until the end.  Since I have no recording available of Granddaddy’s voice reading this poem, please accept two of my favorite songs from his solo record as a consolation prize.  At the point at which he recorded these, his voice and ear were probably a bit past their prime, but one can still perceive the talent and the storytelling ability.

Big Bass Viol

Little Boy Blue

Youth, service, and “God time”

In connection with what gets labeled as “God time,” I think of two youth group “mission trips” to Mexico.  I was not involved, so I know only second-hand of how the lives were affected, but I suspect those who went on the trips would agree that it was an entirely positive experience in terms of relationships with each other and with God.  If you asked Bret or Mark or Matt or Holly or any number of others, I’m sure they’d echo the last sentence.

Thom Schultz’s (Group Publishing) polls show that young people tend to draw strong connecting lines between service opportunities and relationship with God.  There is a downside, though.  Schultz mentions how these “service opportunities” are typically framed:

With all this ministry firepower working for us, you’d think we’d be dialed-in to the discipleship possibilities that service trips generate.  Instead, the actual experience most-often compartmentalizes the service part of the trip away from the “spiritual” part of the trip.  I mean, the work kids do to serve is framed as simply “helping people,” while the program (morning and evening gatherings, and devotion times) is billed as “God time.”

Well, the Kingdom of God is not organized into compartments.

– Thom Schultz (Group Publishing, Holy Soup blog), “De-compartmentalizing your Disciple-Making”

Right he is.

Of course, the Kingdom of God is not equivalent to the church or the institutional church, either (heavens, no).  Not one of those should be thought of as involving pigeonholes.  Even the institutional church is better conceived as having a reach outside the walls of a building.

Despite the influence and good intent of songs such as “Take Time To Be Holy,” it should be understood that no devotional or church assembly is inherently more holy or more “God timey” than helping people.  This reality does not downgrade the assembly or prayer or listening to Christian radio or studying the Bible.  It does, however, allow a higher berth for other Kingdom activities.

Story and narrative

It’s an age-old problem—distinguishing between stories on the one hand and stories on the other.  (Yes, that’s what I meant to say.)  The problem is precisely that the word “story” can be used in more than one way!

“Let me tell you a story about the storied history of a three-story house.”

Do you think a story that begins that way would be just a story, or will it be history?  The plot might thicken, or it might not.

Children’s bedtime stories might include “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Curious George Goes to the Fair” and “Peter Rabbit” and “Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” and Bible stories and something about pigs and pancakes.  How will a child learn to distinguish and interpret all this?  (Then there is the comparison between stories about Santa Claus and stories about Jesus, but that’s another story.  I worry about this off and on, but I don’t recall having trouble separating fact from fiction as I moved into preteen years, so I guess my son will be okay, too.)

As skeptics are quick to point out, not every element in a biblical story may be “true” as a 21st-century western mind conceives of “true.”  To be sure, some discrepancies and inconsistencies appear.  I think some of the difficulties may be traced to textual provenance and editing concerns—i.e., we don’t have the original text or even a 2nd-generation copy of it, so we can’t pinpoint how a new word or different spelling crept in.  Other incongruities indicate that ancient writers weren’t concerned with the accurate reporting of “fact” in the same way we are.  Yet the narratives in our Bibles were written to convey important truths, and they are largely structured around historical realities such as the Herodian dynasty, the 2nd/rebuilt temple, the Philistines, or ancient Egypt.

In interpreting narrative, it is both important and helpful to pay attention to the tools of the storytelling trade, such as . . .

  • the presentation and development of characters 
  • the pacing of a story—where it slows down and spends time, and where its gaps occur
  • the setting 

In the area of “setting,” I recommend this short video produced by The Bible Project

More meditations: membership, ministry, & making connections

I am more committed to Christian togetherness than might be assumed by a casual observer—in part, because I don’t actually talk about it much.  To consider aligning with, regularly assembling with, and working alongside others is no light or inconsequential undertaking!  It can be wearisome to explain the mental, spiritual, and physical toil involved in searching for a group of Christians to which to belong.  This enterprise runs deep, requiring thoroughgoing thought and enduring energy.  The very idea of passively allowing geography, denominational history, or the availability of “programs” to make a choice for me is not really an option.  I shared prior thoughts in these two posts:

The crisis of ministry

Musings on ministry and membership

Reactions to those have been mixed, and I’ve wished at times that I had quashed the inner drive to speak “prophetically” and the desire to be understood in this sphere.  I didn’t have to make this so publicly explicit by blogging about it, but it is not out of character, given my “earnestly speaking” modus operandi, to attempt to say something that I believe is (a) important and (b) on the right track.  Words like these can be misread—or perfectly read and sincerely criticized.  Critical attention is never any fun, although it can be helpful.  Something in me craves new or renewed connections with various souls, so the effort is worth it to me.  It might at times be that two will talk past one another or simply turn away, coming from vastly different vantage points.  Perhaps simpatico and/or a potential for synergy might be revealed.  In a rare case, could someone actually be taught or influenced for good through a blog?

Sarah, a friend of nearly ten years with whom our family has shared a great deal, wrote something I want to spotlight:

“Struggling with similar things lately too. I think there is so much to be said about attending the church in one’s neighborhood regardless of minor differences to be connected to those who are literally one’s neighbors and to be serving in one’s physical community, but I don’t know if that’s enough for me. I think I feel guilty about that. The churches in my physical neighborhood feel uncomfortable…preaching that is shallow at best, congregation lacking young families, significant theological differences, and worship style and preferences that leave me bored and/or cringing. We have been attending a church 45 minutes away that just instantly felt like home in every aspect, but it’s hard to be involved and active while living at a distance. Tough. Do I sacrifice the potential for far greater spiritual growth and vibrant fellowship for the sake of what I think I’m “supposed” to do (plug in to The Church as it exists in my neighborhood)? How will that choice affect my daughter as she grows?”

Probably no surprise to anyone who read the first posting, Sarah’s response reverberated in me at a forte dynamic level.  Poignantly and succinctly, she has touched on concerns such as standards and traditions, geography and distance, guilt feelings, service/ministry, preferences/styles, and the intersection of church choice with parenting.  Here, I’d like to echo her good thoughts (con forza e con espressione!) and say a little more before putting these topics to rest for a while.

Communities and neighborhoods.  I know something about Sarah’s locale, but I don’t know her family’s neighborhood intimately.  I can really only speak to my own area, also drawing from past experience in other regions.  I perceive, sometimes to my shame, that my neighbors (in the most obvious sense) are not often the types of people to whom I readily, naturally gravitate.  The lifestyles of some appear to be undesirable or overtly sinful, or their families are broken because of criminal drug use, or their properties are not cared for, or their children are unkempt.  Of course they need friends and they need Jesus, but it’s not always the easiest proposition to deal with that need.  Children that behave poorly require too much of the attention in school, and it’s not exactly easy to put one’s child (or oneself) in the middle of more bad-behavior examples in the neighborhood.

Further complicating these critical feelings in me, I sometimes detect a “boot straps” self-sufficiency and a leave-me-alone quality in many residents of my area.  I don’t know whether it’s the Germanic heritage, the effects of windy or stormy weather, the legacy of a historically agricultural setting, or what, but I find many people unapproachable.  Put another way:  it’s at least as difficult as it is in East Coast Suburbia to get to know my neighbors.  One more thing: where we are, the preponderance of Roman Catholic and Lutheran heritage appears to breed a steely unwillingness to consider anything else.

“Feeling uncomfortable.”  Beyond the neighborhood, there can be a palpable sense of discomfort in a sanctuary or church hall—or, on the other hand, one can just as easily experience an inviting, energized vibe.  I think that some personalities tend to minimize these factors.  It is not insignificant for others of us.  This is not really the type of discomfort that Sarah referenced, but If I feel like a fifth wheel or an alien within a given group, I feel a tremendous inertia when considering either serving/ministering or being ministered to.  Such discomfort is just a part of the picture, and it’s partly mental, but it’s no less real, and sometimes, the chemistry just isn’t there.  Sometimes one just gets a feeling upon walking into a place. We’ve had instantly positive ones (at least one each in Sheridan, Searcy, and Atchison areas) but also instantly negative ones, some of which led to hasty exits.

A lack of families.  A family that moved away was one of three with a child roughly Jedd’s age.  We haven’t been back since, and I feel that we could be viewed as shallow ourselves since we were ostensibly going there partly for that relationship.  How childish of us.  Or maybe not.  Maybe it’s more about the “vibrancy” to which Sarah referred—and the deep desire for connection.  It is not necessary to have organized youth groups or children’s Bible school programs or senior citizens’ programs, but it’s generally a sign of health if a congregation has a range of ages and a balanced demographic.  Families with young children should be careful not to regale middle-aged or single folks with constant talk about their children, thinking it’s all about them, but it should be acknowledged that, for young families themselves, the likelihood of connection is increased if there are multiple young families in a group.

Shallow preaching.  Shallowness has sometimes played a role in narrowing our choices.  It would be unthinkable for us to align in any sense with a church that regularly featured shallow teaching; the churches that stand out positively in our minds do have fairly strong public teachers/preachers.  I fully recognize that many churches are not blessed with gifted communicators, and I lament with Sarah the prospect of having to try to gain nutrients from the tripe or high fructose corn syrup offered from some pulpits.

It might seem a strange question to some, but I nonetheless feel the need to probe. . . .  Because of preaching’s ubiquity and the proportion of time it typically receives, it typically garners a lot of attention when a family is trying to decide on a church.  Notably, the church groups spawned after the Protestant Reformation are distinguished from Roman and Eastern churches by an emphasis on public teaching as opposed to liturgical ritual.  Luther, Calvin, and others therefore played significant roles in the rise and eventual enshrinement of preaching and preachers.  I judge that preaching as a method is greatly exaggerated and has itself become an institution within the institutional church.  It is what it is, but the reality continues to warrant reconsideration.

Theological differences.  Within some churches of my heritage (not necessarily those I’ve been a part of myself), “theological differences” might be reduced to “worship style” wars or other puddle-depth considerations such as whether to have a kitchen in the building or whether to support para-church agencies.  But Sarah is one who knows well that there really are significant theological differences that tend to affect many things.  For instance, I experience sea-depth differences with a person who is interested in starting Bible study opportunities at one of the five churches I wrote about, and I know that there would not be room enough for the two of us in such an enterprise.  I could not even sit in a class with him.  Everything this person says smacks of a bent I cannot accept, and vice versa.  This fact does not damn either of us, but it makes it nearly impossible to work together in the same place.

Distance.  In our case, a couple of churches, including one I didn’t mention, are 25 or more miles away.  There are additional options at that distance—larger groups that would offer us more spiritual food and, in one case, more opportunity for corporate worship output.  We have traveled 40 miles one-way for more than year, and 65 miles for the better part of four years in another location.  Now, one church under current consideration is a 10-minute family walk away.  What are we “supposed” to do with that?

Cringing.  I was initially surprised when I read that Sarah sometimes cringes, because I know her enthusiastically positive demeanor.  But I know she is a thinker and a devoted disciple who also has some opinions once in a while . . . so my “hmmm” reaction turns out not to be paradoxical after all.  It’s rare in my experience that someone uses the term “cringe” to describe feelings and inner reactions to church, but I myself so immediately get this that I want to stand up and shout, “Amen!  There are others of us out here who cringe inwardly and sometimes outwardly when your churches do weird, meaningless, or adulterated things in the name of God!”

Thus ends this series of membership and ministry.  Perhaps in the future I’ll document some experiences from gatherings in Kenya and at camps, in rec rooms and at retreats—or perhaps I’ll point longingly to the open-fellowship chapel groups in Jefferson City, MO or Alfred, NY.  Even more likely, I’ll continue to move in the direction of simple/organic church.  Those who don’t really share the feelings and longings shared in this three-part series are in a large majority, and I don’t even mind if you pity me from afar!  If you don’t “get” or can’t support our struggles, that’s okay.  Perhaps you could consider it an illuminating experience in someone else’s sandals.

Musings on ministry and membership

I have learned a couple of things since posting “The Crisis of Ministry.”  For starters, I learned that I should be more careful in using words like “crisis.”  (I am not in a psychological crisis )¹  It would also have been ill-advised to call it a “crucible” of ministry.  Would anyone accept “psycho-social locus of moderate melancholia and partly floundering quizzicalness”?

I also learned that I underestimated the effect of the lack of recent, face-to-face relational time.  A common background goes a long way, but if I haven’t spent an appreciable amount of time with people in a long time, there’s a likelihood that we’ll both misunderstand or talk past one another when describing some things.  Despite the best intentions and the best of hearts, some comments did not connect for me.  Perhaps they spoke to readers; if so, that’s good.

Internet media can seem to whitewash things sometimes.  A quick comment after a fairly quick read of a somewhat hastily conceived blogpost won’t always be on target.  And I must’ve subconsciously overestimated the capacity of the intentionally written word to overcome any communication gaps.  A few might be able to read between my lines or interpret what I really mean or how I feel about it all, but a topic like this was probably better discussed face to face than blogged about.  I regret aspects, but can’t really say that I repent, because I’m about to sin similarly again.

I’d like to return to a few things so I can perhaps explain or respond to a few suggestions—or even answer “objections,” in a couple cases.  In no case am I intending to take anyone to task, and I’m intentionally moving Facebook and other comments around, so it’s hard to trace who said what.  I am using isolated sentences as a springboard to clarify and illuminate.  The quotes from friends appear in blue below.

Someone said,

We always tended to go somewhere close and just see where we could serve.”

This is as practical as it is good-hearted.  I have had this goal in mind, too, and actually, this is precisely how we started out in our current location and others.  We simply have not found that place we could serve.  We want to do this.  Maybe we are blind and/or deaf, but it has not worked out yet.

“I get the feeling you are looking for the perfect place to minister.  It’s been my experience it doesn’t exist.”

My experience, wider and longer in this respect than that of pretty much everyone I’ve run across, bears out that there is no ideal.  Truly, I have no ethereal dreams anymore and am not looking for a non-existent group.  After visiting scores² of them in the last decade+, I am all too aware that no perfect place exists.

“I find it hard to locate someone really on my wavelength.  I am just glad Jesus didn’t really wait to find someone on his own wavelength before trying to minister!”

Agreed on both thoughts.  What should “wavelength” matter if I find myself near a genuine person wants to please Jesus, learn scripture, and be in a community of disciples?  As for imitating Jesus in serving:  it is always good to think about the one we call “Teacher” and “Master.”  This makes me think about other things (i.e., all of them) that I don’t do as well as Jesus.

“Jedd definitely needs some church friends.  Maybe you can give him that without being totally satisfied in what you need.”

I can appreciate this.  I’m not sure how to weigh the church friends factor alongside others, but I’d rather that Jedd had some.  He does have friends at a Wednesday afternoon church-sponsored activity.  He had one other one that moved away.  He also has friends in our home group (adults plus one toddler).  It would be nice if there were a little quartet of 8-to-10-year-olds that could pal around together once or twice a week.  Maybe a couple of them would see each other at school, too.  But that “perfect group” doesn’t exist for Jedd, either.

Karly is better at “going along” than I am, but she is discontent and wondering what to do, too.  If our parental goal is to have Jedd maybe see two or three kids his age weekly, a line of questioning forms in my heart:

Should we go to a place where. . .

  • . . . we cannot conscientiously participate in some aspects of worship?
  • . . . we have been rejected (and even mocked a little, in one case)?
  • . . . we cannot “join the community” according to its present terms?

Is it really valuable for Jedd to be with a small motley crew of kids when he knows his parents are struggling upstairs, and when sometimes all he remembers is how crazy another kid was acting?  I’m actually unaware of any better possibility at the moment (given distance and other factors).  I suppose having regular “church ‘friends'” is valuable regardless, just like anything “stable.”  I don’t know.

“Church is not trying on people to see if they fit, instead it is looking at how God will use you with the people he has surrounded you with.  Ministering at home is part of God’s plan, but so is ministering to others in a local community.  I would say that if there is something you feel needs to be changed at a local church, first see if it is you who needs to change in your heart.”

Please recall that I am “ministering to others in a local community.”  We happen not to have a “church home” that most others would call a church home, but the lack of recognition does not in itself preclude that what we do have (or search for) can be pleasing to the Lord.  In other words, if our group doesn’t measure up to someone else’s standard, that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid “local community” in God’s eyes.

Now to the “heart.”  More than one person said something about this, and it took me at least a week to quell a negative inward reaction in order to respond as best I can.  The “heart” is a curious symbol.  Linguistics and historical cultural concepts aside, I would all too readily admit that my heart is not in great shape.  I intended to imply that confession in my expression “maybe it’s just me,” but it wasn’t clear enough.  In the third and fourth paragraphs in the original post here, I confessed that I am not who I once was in terms of the inclination to serve others.  I probably should have said more about that later in the first post, after specifically describing a few churches.  I don’t need to be informed that my heart needs examination.  I’m not blaming anyone for not knowing this, but honestly, for me, that “change your heart” verbiage is reminiscent of certain “multiplying ministry” (Crossroads/Boston/L.A. CofC) phrasings with which I was once associated at arm’s-length.  The leadership of that sect used to say you “had a bad heart” if you questioned said leadership.  Well, maybe or maybe not.  (Often, I think those questioning things were not the ones with the heart problems.)  In my case, my heart is certainly in need of some defibrillation or de-calcifying or something.  I don’t think my heart is so bad as to need a transplant, but maybe.  My heart is not as healthy as it was in say, 1981 or 1987 or 1991 or 2002.  My heart needs shaping.  My heart needs conditioning.  Give me an Rx, and it might or might not be the best one . . . but, yes, I do know my heart can use some help.

In the above suggestion to look at my own heart, I detect what I take as a sincere commitment to the gnat-camel and speck-beam principles.³  Yes, there might well be more wrong with me than with the people in the churches.  I’m not consciously judging anyone’s intentions or worthiness.  I’m thinking of groups far more than individuals.  As much as I can, I’m trying to separate thoughts about the people from thoughts about the institutions.  Yes, there might be “chemistry” problems that keep us from being close to certain folks, but I am speaking corporately when I say that the institutions we’ve visited recently range from “civic club” churches to sectarian maintenance groups to corpulent, opulent institutions.  (We’ve generally learned to filter out those that would impress us as repulsively off-track or comatose.)

Back in about 2012, someone I barely knew commented to someone I knew a little better that he didn’t “experience life” as she did.   Those individuals did seem to move to different drummers . . . and the way we experience church is not necessarily how someone else does.  Having lived in 8 states together in 13 years, my wife and I experience “church” out of an unplanned set of experiences.  After scores² of visits and many re-visits, the process of trying to connect and find a reasonable group to be with is exhausting.  I will simply ask that those who have lived in only one or two places try not to be quick to criticize the process and effects of “church searching.”  Some folks may always feel we need to relax our “standards,” and that might be a real need (but not in this one4 described below).  Still, where our Goodyear tires experience friction with the asphalt is here:  we have consciences and principles involved in our discipleship.  You do, too, or you wouldn’t have read this far.  To extend the metaphor, walking a few Sabbath Day journeys in each other’s sneakers would help people to understand each other—and sometimes, to prescribe for them.  Yet my sneakers don’t fit everyone else, so it’s sometimes hard to empathize, let alone help.

It takes all kinds in the world.  We are not of the kind that can sit and accept things we earnestly believe to be off-track and even wrong.  Here, we are not talking about carpet colors and “worship styles” and nursery staffing and parking lot ministries and church bulletin mistakes.  We are talking about deeper, more important things.  My frequently on-target wife commented incisively, “If everyone just went along with the status quo, nothing would ever change.”  It is precisely on this point that I will continue to lose some of you.  For me and us, it is a given that some things require change.  Other things, not so much.  In mere matters of preference, change is not often needed at all.  But it is not helpful to assume that, because you are okay with this or that, that everyone else can or should be content with it.

I can certainly relate to that calling you are feeling.  I’ve been starting to feel a sense that perhaps starting up something from scratch might be the way.  Now for the method.  I’ve lots of ideas.  We’ll see.  I don’t always wait years for an answer if I don’t get one bright away.”

Image titled Console a Very Sad Person Step 8

I too tend to look more for creating and innovating than reforming these days, but I’m also not sure if I have the gusto anymore . . . which almost leads full-circle to the sense of “crisis in ministry” about which I initially wrote.  I have a strong, inner sense of things I need to do in order to be useful.  That “list” has changed in the last 10-20 years, but remains a presence in my heart.  Too, the last decade has been chock-full of times of not doing nearly as much as I used to.  I have had those times of trying to settle into friendships and the ministry of others to us.  Or at least I’ve hoped for that, but very little has materialized, and when it did, it was all too short-lived.  The “sabbatical” of rest and preparation that one acquaintance referred to has lasted way too long, and it’s actually not fulfilled much of a purpose, as far as I can see.  (Yes, I know I shouldn’t depend wholly on my own sight.)

These days, it’s no secret that mainline denominations and other sects are losing members, generally speaking.  There are many more community churches and purportedly nondenominational groups springing up.  Most of these younger groups strikingly resemble the churches from which their pastors came, so it doesn’t seem that much new is happening.  I paraphrase my wife again here:  few are willing to step away from the traditional models—into something that doesn’t look like “church” as Americans and Europeans have defined it.

In mulling all this over, my wife and I remember knowing of some wacked-out people who had taken an evening or two to sit in lawn chairs, in the middle of a fairly busy neighborhood street, yelling at drivers to slow down around their children.  Sometimes it takes radical action like that, but prophesying against dangerous drivers that way doesn’t strike us as very effective.  (Nor do community action groups or speed bumps offer much good effect, but that’s another story.)  We don’t stand in the middle of traffic and scream at passersby that they need to leave and develop something new.  That is too stark an image, no matter how strong we feel.  Even as we continue to value individuals in all sorts of churches, along with some doctrinal tenets held and principles at work in various groups, we figure we’ll continue looking to innovate more than to join and reform established churches.

Here are a couple of places to go if you want to think more along these lines:

  1. A collection of thoughts and further links to Simple/Organic Church material
  2. A specific posting related to the book Simple Church
  3. A New Gathering of Christians—a work-in-progress document I began nearly a decade ago and haven’t thought about for quite a while

Next:  Responsive, resonant comments from Sarah, a strong friend of nearly ten years, will more or less outline the next post.

¹ Nor am I “in ministry,” in the sense that most people use that term.  Yet since I was a teenager, my confidence has been unflagging in that, in terms of the New Testament writings and more, there should be no clergy/laity distinction.  During two isolated phases of my life, I made a little motion toward becoming a paid, formally recognized minister in the institutional sense.  I once had a phone interview but pulled myself out of the running, realizing I was not cut out for it.  A decade later, I made the second cut for the worship minister position at a large Nashville church.  A year or so after that, I was almost hired as a half-time worship minister.  It seems better that none of these things materialized.

I doubt I will ever be a paid minister, and that is fine with me.  I am settled on the more important matter:  all believers, functionally speaking—by constitution and intent—are ministers/deacons/servants.

² Rough estimates of the number of churches visited since 2005:

  • 6 in Sedalia
  • 8 in Greeley
  • 35 in Fillmore (70-mile radius)
  • 8 in Kingsville
  • 6 in Sheridan
  • 12 in Searcy
  • 25 in Atchison (40-mile radius)
  • a couple dozen more when traveling (IA, WA, DE, PA, TX, TN)

³ One should not strain out a gnat and swallow a camel; one should first remove the plank from his own eye before attempting to extricate a tiny speck from someone else’s.

4 In a post in December 2016, I wrote this about one church.  There is probably an “excuse” for the existence of this group in God’s eyes, but that doesn’t mean we could or should be a part of it:

Most churches fall somewhere between mildly disappointing and stultifying in many activities.  The singing aspect of this church’s gathering, experienced for a grand total of five minutes this very morning, didn’t come anywhere close to either of those.  It wasn’t even embarrassing.  It was an utter travesty, and doubly so because no one seemed to be aware of how bad it was.

     aSd     du023d23yad -ad+^^^DqEl878m/]*

Did that make any sense?  Didn’t think so.  The singing at this place was like that:  nonsense.  The reasonable-quality gospel song sung from a poor-quality hymnal should have been familiar to at least half the people in the room, but the “leader” had not a fraction of a clue.  This was not your garden-variety obtuse or relatively unskilled leader.  This was like a paraplegic in a relay race or a short-order cook negotiating a nuclear treaty with the dictator of a 2nd-world communist country.  “Face to Face” ended up sung to a mixed-up, bad-form version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and believe me, no one intended that—or registered a quizzical look when it happened.  It was melodically confused and harmonically chaotic.  The next song, the Gaither favorite “He Lives,” began in at least three different keys with equal melodic confusion.  And no one even seemed aware.  And that in itself should be embarrassing.  Maybe I should have left out the 2nd half of this paragraph.  Nah.