Are you a Christian?

Quotation without comment:

“Are you a Christian?”  I used to love it when someone on a plane asked me that question.  “Absolutely,” I’d answer, proud to be on the side of all that’s good and right in the world.  But answering that question has become far more difficult.  Much of what has been done in recent years in the name of Christianity embarrasses me and disfigures the God I love. Some of it even horrifies me.

So now when I’m asked the question today, I hedge a bit.  “It depends on what you mean by “Christian,” I often respond.  If they are asking whether or not I am a faithful adherent of the religion called Christianity, I have to confess that I’m not.  I’m not even trying to be.

– Wayne Jacobsen, “Bait and Switch:  Trading the Vibrant Life of Jesus for a Ritualistic Religion Called Christianity,” May 2009

A piece . . . of heaven?

A little more than two decades ago, I experienced a joyous return to Camp Manatawny.  The roads leading to that special place gave me such anticipation, and nothing disappointed during that week—the first in which I’d served and worked there for quite some time.  I had the privilege of leading faith-strong, congenial groups of teenagers and devoted staff members in hymn sings each afternoon, and I had counselor responsibilities as well.

“A Little Piece of Heaven.”  Like the phrase “God’s country,” which only Texans are arrogant enough to think applies just to them, the phrase “little piece of heaven” is neither new nor unique.  I picked up on its use there at Manatawny and was inspired to write a song using that as a title.  I still have a soft spot in my heart for that camp and the song, despite some mixed feelings and mixed experiences at the hands of some of the powers-that-be.  I feel some pride in having become a Life Member of the Camp Manatawny Association, but at some point I stopped receiving invitations and communications.

Another Time, Another Place, Another “Piece.”  Fast forward about 4 years. I experienced a remarkable healing/rebirth, having moved to northeastern Kansas.  I was again inspired to write songs—this time, in direct honor of God for His creation and the healing that I was newly experiencing.  In a real sense, during that time, I was experiencing Kansas then as “a little piece of heaven.”

No more.  Now, my experience of Kansas is quite the opposite, with few exceptions.  Whatever pieces of heaven we experience during this life, they seem to be mostly absent in Kansas, this go-round.  

Granddaddy

More than once on this blog, I’ve given written attention to a man admired by many:  my Granddaddy Ritchie.  His character, leadership, and personal influence are still remembered well by many around the country.  He was a persistent advocate for quality and depth in both words and music during congregational assemblies.  Here is a pic of Granddaddy in his prime, leading worship during Harding’s chapel in the 1950s.

image

A year before he died, the extended family had gathered for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary, and I’d been honored with the opportunity to arrange a medley of some the songs Granddaddy performed in recital (and also in the home for his grandchildren on occasion).  Last week, I unearthed the pencil/pen score and parts, produced long before music software was available.  The medley, scored for four of us cousins to play on brass instruments, included excerpts from about a dozen songs, including “None but the Lonely Heart,” “Loch Lomond,” Little Boy Blue,” “The Big Bass Viol,” “Three for Jack,” and  “Ol’ Man River,” a selection for which Granddaddy is remembered.

This day would have been his 111th birthday, and I think I might just dig up a cassette tape of that brass quartet to mark the day.  My prayer-song Lord, I Want To See, was later written in Granddaddy’s memory.

On other April 25ths during the past few years, I’ve also mentioned him, most notably in the postcript to this heavy post #1000 on exegesis of John 9, but also here, in November of 2018, just after he’d been honored by Harding University through an endowed chair.  Although he had directed Harding’s chorus for a time, from what I’ve gathered, he was perhaps even better regarded for leading the Monday evening “PE” (Personal Evangelism) meetings and for leading evangelistic campaigns during college breaks.  In his efforts to lead souls toward Jesus, and to encourage others to do the same, songs and poetry played a role.  My uncle Ed (the second of four children) wrote a fine hymn, later published in the widely used hymnal Praise for the Lord.  Here is a recording of my extended family singing it (stanzas 1 and 4 here; opens in a new tab) in 1992.  The final stanza is a prayer Granddaddy used often:

Lord, lay some soul upon my heart, and love that soul through me,
And help me nobly do my part to win that soul for Thee.

Three readings (the most recent, already obsolete)

This morning before work time, I read three things (in this order):

1.  Part of the MatthewGospel’s text about Jesus in Gethsemane. (This particular reading would have been well chosen for many people today, but I claim no intentionality—only submissiveness.  As directed, I prayed, read the short text, and responded, as part of a biblical studies group.)

2.  Four pages of material on technologies and techniques to “navigate the digital rehearsal.”  This was written and shared about five weeks ago by a conducting professional I don’t know.

3.  Charles C. Helmer IV’s article that selected thoughts, principles, and words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christian community, appropriating them to humanity’s current situation.  This article, titled “Bonhoeffer and COVID-19:  ‘Life Together’ in Isolation,” reminded me of Bonhoeffer’s significance in both Christian and 20th-century world history.

Two of the above readings struck me as relatively timeless.  One of them is already obsolete.¹  (Hint:  it’s the one about technology that’s obsolete.)

The ephemeral complexity of our technological landscape boggles the mind, baffles the massive mainstream, and bedraggles the masses.

Our world changes quickly in some of its aspects, but not in others.

– B. Casey, 4/21/20


¹ Today, I also read a few short, work-related documents.  Composed this week, some were either off-base or already obsolete.  I wrote one of the off-base ones myself!

Creating, dreaming, and envisioning

As the scientific/medical and government worlds churn to maintain healthy populations in the face of a frightening, devastating virus, many are left floundering.

Families are self-isolating or submitting to lockdowns and quarantine orders.

Churches are envisioning how to “do church” without public, in-person gatherings.  (Perhaps many will now be forced to re-envision what it means to be church, quite apart from the man-made creation of the religious “service.”  Please see here for more on the label “worship service.”) ¹

Businesses are temporarily closing, and paychecks are in jeopardy . . . and some now have time and space to dream of newness.

Like most people, I have no medical qualifications and only a modicum of medical insight.  These days, I take typical precautions, and I encounter now-oddly-normal stresses . . . and I also seem to have greater-than-normal time to envision and dream about other things.

For years I have known something about myself, and it’s not necessarily a good thing, although it can be satisfying to an introvert:  I often feel more energized in envisioning, dreaming, planning, and working out plans than I do from seeing the fruition in groups.  That is commentary on several aspects:  on my inner energy and imagination, yes, but also on my lack of ability to plan effectively; on other people’s shortcomings, and on my inability to bridge the gap between dreams and reality.

The best devotional times, the best worship gatherings, the best Camp Manatawny hymn sings, and the best Lights (Christian a cappella octet) programs were better in my head than in the execution.  Even the highest-quality musical performances I’ve been privileged to lead—with the University of Northern Colorado, Houghton College, Texas A&M-Kingsville, and Kansas City Wind Symphony ensembles—probably didn’t give me as much inward energy and encouragement as the silent, planning/dreaming phases that had preceded the performances.

Easter is coming.  I’m not one to get into the “Lenten Season” or to place too much emphasis on one Sunday over another, but Easter can certainly be observed with pleasure and joy.  A friend invited me to perform, and I asked if there could be a place for a special arrangement.  He replied, “Of course!”  “Okay!” said I . . . and off I went to dream and envision.  I had begun that arrangement around the time the effects of the virus pandemic began to be felt in the U.S.

And now what?

What’s going to happen with the arrangement now?  It’s almost finished.  And I’d give it about a  40% chance of being performed at all, and less chance than that of blessing people who choose to be, or are allowed by the government to be, in the same room.  And that’s discouraging, because public performance is one important goal of music.  But was the effort a waste?  No, hardly.  The creative process is a goal in itself.

I’ve envisioned.  I’ve heard it in my head.  I’ve been conscious of the emotions, the intentions.  I’ve audiated.²  I’ve hoped.  I’ve dreamed.  I’ve audiated some more, and I’ve refined the music based on what I see and hear.  And in the process, I’ve worshipped a little.

What are you doing now that you might not have found the time or reason to do a couple weeks ago?  How is this time going for you?  Gotta get back to my arrangement now.  I just had another idea to make it better.


¹ I take this phenomenon as primarily the result of human ingenuity.  It has, just like other human creations, some good elements and intentions.  It has also, like other human creations, gone awry, in my estimation.  I added this footnote after reading Bill’s comment.

² This page gives a nicely succinct definition of audiation:  the comprehension and internal realization of music by an individual in the absence of any physical sound.

Comparing Grahams (not crackers)

Two years ago today, Billy Graham died.

Back when Graham was in his mid-70s, a longtime friend volunteered at one of his “crusades.”  I thought my friend’s supportive service to the Crusade was interesting since she was not of the Graham tribe per se, but I respected her work nonetheless.  She was simply supporting a relatively pure gospeling effort by a good, believing man.

Since that time a quarter-century ago, I’ve come to respect Billy Graham (and a few others not of my bent on this or that) more deeply.  As far as I’m aware, Graham had no scandals during his lifetime, and he was obviously a committed Christ-being.Image may contain: 1 person, closeup  There was perhaps not another like him in the latter half of the 20th century.  His crusades were held internationally, and he surely preached “live” to more people than any other human.  Incidentally, I knew the nephew and niece-in-law of Graham’s evangelistic vocalist, George Beverly Shea.  Those Sheas were also fine Christian people.

Even before the death of Mr. Graham (not “Reverend” for me¹), his son Franklin was preparing to take on Billy’s mantle.  However, each bit I’ve read about Franklin Graham in the last decade or two tells me he is not exactly his father’s spit and image.

Having come across an AP article² about Franklin’s book Through My Father’s Eyes, I immediately became biased against him:  I look with suspicion on anyone who appears to be cashing in³ on another’s work.  The article mentions Billy’s fear that Franklin would become partisan and even political at all.  Franklin’s response?  “I made it clear [that I wasn’t partisan] by making it a prayer rally [and didn’t tell anyone] how to vote.”  There, I see a smokescreen!  The article proceeds to note that Franklin “has become an outspoken Trump ally and writes in the book that he thanks God the Republican was elected.”  This is obviously not Billy Graham.

I know Franklin’s charity organization Samaritan’s Purse as one that has done much good, and most of its causes appear quite well-placed.  (Only one is inappropriate and arguably partisan, in my view.)  The organization, like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has a worldwide vision, which is clearly a good thing.  But Franklin’s alignment with Donald Trump, and his interspersing of Trump quotes with Billy Graham quotes in the book, shows that he has little clue that American as a country has nothing to do with God.  He’s on track with some of the views noted in the article, including the observation that negative influences are rampant in our schools and our nation.  He warns that “Republicans shouldn’t take Christian voters for granted,” but he almost seems to equate Republicanism with Christianity.  Whoa, Franklin.  “God and country” are not a real pair.

I later saw this blog with several quotes from Franklin indicating his nationalistic emphases.   Franklin seems so much more politically motivated, i.e., not nearly as focused on the making of Christian disciples or even on the preaching of the good news of Jesus.  Wanting to be fair, I listened to this recording in order to “get to know” Franklin . . . .

I heard Franklin say “Christians should stand strong.”  That’s good.

Then I heard him say he’s sure “we’re in the last hours on God’s clock.”  That’s not well founded and tends to pigeonhole him with fear-mongers and questionable eschatologists.

Subsequently, there were more emphases along these lines . . . and I tuned him out, because he sounded like a parrot without much conviction in the voice.

Franklin’s nationalistic emphasis is the negative clincher for me.  Not that Billy Graham was unconcerned about the U.S.A.  He is known to have met with and counseled a whole string of presidents.  But Billy’s overall emphasis seems not to have been on the country so much as on the soul and its relation to God.

In the end, the “Getting to Know Franklin” session didn’t make me want to know him any more.  Image result for image "franklin grahamI’m a Billy Graham admirer, despite a couple of serious practical/doctrinal differences.  Franklin?  Not so much.  I’m sure he’s also a good and honest man, but he is not as focused, and his political speech and lack of careful biblical teaching suggest that he is neither the thinker nor the leader his father was.


¹ I won’t call Mr. Graham “Reverend” since the idea of reverence is better reserved for God alone, and I see no point in pandering to the human notion of denominational “ordination.”

² Jonathan Drew (AP), “Book Shares Son’s Look at ‘America’s Pastor'”

³ A casual observer might say I’ve done something similar in “trading” on a couple aspects of my family history in my writing and composing, but I’ve made it clear where I differed instead of being aligned, and I have in no way benefited financially.

But my feet are kinda frozen on terra firma

This meandering little piece could alternately be titled “In the Bleak Midwinter” or simply “Midwinter Melancholy.”

Do you remember the ol’ children’s finger-play about the church/steeple/people?  It might have done more harm than good, because it started out wrong with the words “Here is the church,” while indicating a representation of the building.  Most folks still have trouble realizing that people are the church.

I think about church a lot, and not only on Sundays.  What is church?  What has it been—for me, for others?  What could it or should it be?  I daydream,¹ and I become disillusioned, and I gain some energy or hope once in a while.  A week or so ago, on my go-to “simple church” blog, I read about God’s being on the move, and I was at once inspired and repelled.  Inspired, because I like thinking of a God who is as active as in the old times.  Repelled, because I don’t sense the motion right now.   Regardless, I do like the ideals below, from this blog.  Try them on, opposite your concept of “church”:

  • It’s about a Jesus-lifestyle, not an organization to belong to
  • It’s about being God’s people 24/7, not attending meetings or “services”
  • It’s about incarnating God into the world, not attracting people to a clubhouse
  • It’s about gathering in a participatory manner rather than being priest-led
  • It’s about leadership that empowers and releases rather than controls
  • It’s about discipling by relationship rather than by program

– Roger Thoman, Simple Church Journal (edited)

So what do you think of those affirmations?  I would say very similar things, but I eventually become disappointed by ideals:  they only go so far when there’s no motion—or any real hope of motion.

Remember the song “I’m Pressing On”?  It begins like this:

I’m pressing on the upward way.  New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day.

Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1926)

Hmm.  I press on most of the time, but I feel like a flatlander, not a height-gaining mountain climber.  Another stanza begins,

I have no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay.
But still I’ll pray ’til heav’n I’ve found, ‘My prayer, my aim is higher ground.’

Like Oatman, I have no desire to stay where I am, and my aim is higher.  Still, actually, I don’t feel like there’s foreseeable “advancement.”  God might well be “on the move,” as suggested in the blog referred to above, but I don’t feel as if I’m part of that right now.  I feel like my feet are frozen.  Will the frostbite keep me from reaching “higher ground,” or will I deal with the numbness and tingling, brave the headwind, and plod on?

Oh, for like-minded souls—whether we deal more in the personal sphere or the “church” one.  Or maybe just a couple good friends who will accompany me across the snowy tundra, sharing struggles and wonderings and possibilities. . . .

B. Casey, 1/11/20 – 1/29-20


¹ See this page as an evidence of some rather intense daydreaming.

MM: Baloney

[This is an installment in the very-sporadic Monday Music series, which initially dealt with Christian music topics and has more recently included other music.  The MM category of posts may be accessed here.]

Never has a more ridiculous stanza been written than this one:

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But his smile quickly drives it away.
Not a doubt nor a fear, not a sigh nor a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

That’s from “Trust and Obey,” otherwise known by its first line, “When We Walk with the Lord.”  There are many good thoughts in the song, and I’d sing most of them willingly.  But not the above lines.  Even if God’s smile drives some shadows away for some people some of the time (a reality I accept), it is patently unhelpful to suggest that there’s no shadow or cloud or doubt or fear that can last while we trust and obey.  I know too much about the shadows and clouds to sing such baloney.

Now . . . never has a more appropriate, helpful stanza been written than this one:

The anger of the enemy would have swallowed us alive
Had it not been the Lord who was on our side.
The waters would have engulfed us; we would have surely died
Had it not been the Lord who was on our side,

The above stanzas, being poetic, are probably better interpreted figuratively, and I should be charitable, allowing others to understand it non-literally.  Despite the direct reference in the second example to scripture, the first example makes better English poetry.  My own introductory expression in each case—”never has a more appropriate/ridiculous stanza been written”—is but poetic hyperbole, too, and I acknowledge that.

Whether we trust and obey, or run and hide, or peek around the corner to see what the next horror or disappointment might be in this life . . . or become overwhelmed by a flood, I affirm what the chorus of the second song proclaims:

Blessed be the Lord, who would not give us up.

– Leonard E. Smith, Jr., “Had it Not Been the Lord”

I’m relieved not to have been subjected to Christmas music yesterday.  A couple of weeks’ worth is enough for me.  Today, some score study of Dvorak and Carpenter and some fun flugelhorn playing.  The musical diet tomorrow will include master Horowitz on the piano.

Foremost

Not being a bandwagon kind of guy, I prefer (for myself and others) that statements be based on individual thoughts rather than groupthink.  I don’t know about you, but it’s not often that I start statements like this:

“Well, as a longtime member of this club, I say we should . . . .”

“As a taxpayer, I demand that . . . .

“As a ____________, I think we have to . . . .

If you begin a statement or demand with an affiliative preface like that, what is mostly likely to fill the blank?   What is foremost in informing your philosophy of living?  And what does it mean for that thing to be primary?

Image result for number 1

Depending on the seriousness of the matter, what it comes down to is how we self-identify.  What is foremost in your identity?  Are you first a husband/wife or father/mother, or daughter/son?  Do you identify yourself based on your occupation, e.g., as a teacher, manager, builder, accountant, or chef?  Do you think of yourself as a churchgoer?  Broader descriptions such as “good citizen” and “good person” may run deeper but also fall short.

It was recently suggested that I could “detach”; I took it that I was seen as too personally involved.  The tenor and direction of another conversation surprised me, and the use of a simple phrase revealed a possible difference in operating paradigms.  In both cases, it seems to me, it was assumed that one could be someone different in one setting than he is in another.  I’ve detected this distinction before, and I’m keenly aware of its depth and breadth.  While the difference might go no further than shading opinions, it can also be pervasive and far-reaching.  It has to do with what is foremost in our hearts and minds as we self-identify.  What affiliation primarily determines our thoughts and courses of action?

Some of us have particularly strong family identities.  Did your parents send you out the door to school with the exhortation, “Remember, you’re a Robertson?”  After that, do you think of yourself primarily an employee—one who thinks and acts first as a servant of the employer?  If you have ever been active in the military, you might tend to identify yourself foremost as a soldier.  (I gather there is often a kind of pride in that, and it tends to take precedence over other life-aspects and affiliations.)  Are you an artist, an introvert, an entrepreneur?  These things may be very important in your self-identification, but are they first for you?  Or are you, first, a friend?  (Now we’re getting somewhere.)

Many would identify self in terms of country.  They would say they are, primarily, Americans (or Argentinians or Greeks or Ghanaians or Iranians or Indonesians).  I heard a speech recently that seemed to assume that any American would be, first and foremost, an American.

Not so for the Christian.  Not first, anyway.

The loyalty to Jesus Christ, and identification with Him, will not erase all the other identifications.  A Christian may still be an American and a daughter and an employee.  But the Christian is, foremost and forever, a Christian.  That should trump everything else (when we are at our best).

Verifiable words on real, organic church

Following up on recent thoughts on being vulnerable and real, I’d like to share “Strategic Words in Facilitating Movements.”  I take these thoughts as dealing with real church.  This isn’t to say that non-organic, hierarchically organized churches aren’t real; rather, it is to accentuate some positive qualities of a genuine, scripture- and discipleship-based movement.  In other words, this is not about a denomination’s regional staffing decisions or a megachurch pastor’s move to establish another “campus” a few miles away.  This is about something that appears to move on a smaller scale and yet possesses great potential.

Since I am currently in Africa working with phenomenally fruitful leaders, I thought it would be good to share a few “key words” on church planting movements.  These words are adapted from Galen Currah who adapted them originally from David Watson.  Each “word” listed here has so much meaning and power when walked out.

[Selections mine — bc]

1. Prayer:  . . . Know the mind of God and join Him in His work.  Deep intimacy with God is the foundation for everything else!

3. Disciples:  Make Disciples, not converts.  Converts focus on religion.  Disciples focus on Jesus and obedience to His teachings.

5. Churches:  Communities of Believers.  Form new believers into minimal Bible practice groups that will become Communities of Believers (churches) who transform families and communities.

6. and 2.  Authority and scripture:  Authority of the scriptures and the Holy Spirit are all that is needed to start.  Church Planting is an act of God and His people who are obedient to the Word and the Spirit.  ||  Scripture is foundational and the source of all teaching and preaching.  Scripture → Principle → Practice

9. Plan:  Act Intentionally:  Organic does not mean the same things as “accidental.”  Crops are grown through intentional sowing with wisdom.

14. Culture:  Redeem local culture by embracing all you biblically can in a culture and transforming or redeeming the rest.

As I read and revise this for the last time, I am struck most by the phrase “minimal Bible practice group” in #5 above.  Minimalism tends to be tiresome to me in music, but “keep it simple,” “less is more,” and the “tiny house” bandwagon are contemporary cultural examples of related values.  The “minimal practice group” concept draws me.  How about you?

→ Roger Thoman’s original blogpost, quoted above, may be found here in its entirety.  For more, read this post:  Underground Revolutionaries

Xposted: Freedom, Pleasant Valley, Exile, Presence, and Dentist’s Office

On this day, should you wish to ponder as well as celebrate and recreate, I might point you to this posting from about this time last year:

Freedom reflections

All the links in this cross-posting should open in a new tab in your browser (not sure what happens on a smartphone; I tend not to read much there since I like to see more than 20 words at the same time!).  Here is a link to a recent post on my (less active) Christian Assembly blog:

A pleasant dip in a valley, in which I mention a few good thoughts on a good assembly experience

Recent posts on my Subjects of the Kingdom blog include these:

Exile, in which the pervasive notion of exile is spotlighted

Practicing the presence, in which the presence of God is compared to the presence of His Kingdom

The dentist’s office, in which sterile, calm atmospheres are contrasted with the Kingdom

Celebrities (and authors and Dad)

Celebrities attract the attention of many.  For my part, I don’t recall ever having watched a single episode of a series with the word “celebrity” in its title or its background concept.  (Not even “Shark Tank.”)  I do have to admit that I have a few celebrity autographs, including former major league baseball players Pete Rose and Jay Johnstone, and Colonel Harlan Sanders.  Yes, that Col. Sanders.  I wasn’t chicken to approach him and get his autograph in the airport.  He didn’t seem too fried from his bad flight, and I did respect the pecking order, and I didn’t run a-fowl of airport security.  No, meeting him wasn’t on my bucket (of chicken) list.  Now the jokes are done.  Like a good, rotisserie chicken.

Anyway.  It’s not as though I’m completely unaware of celebrity status.  I’ve been excited by the fame of some.  In music worlds in particular, I’ve had some pretty cool meet-ups.  Here are a few names (several of whose autographs I also have):

Musicians

  • Mason Jones (who was principal hornist for the Philly Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, compiler/editor of a stock-in-trade collection of horn solos … and who, I discovered, was the solo hornist for Disney’s Fantasia
  • Rebecca St. James (autographed a songbook at a Christian concert I attended with teenage friends)
  • Col. Arnald Gabriel (while a grad student, I shuttled him to and from his CO All-State Band rehearsals)
  • Col. John Bourgeois (I played under him in the HAWE in Hornell, NY)
  • Canadian Brass (autographs at a concert)
  • Bonnie Keen, Marty McCall of First Call (autographs at a concert)
  • Michael Card¹
  • Fernando Ortega²
  • Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, David Ragsdale, Billy Greer, Steve Walsh (the 2011 iteration of the rock band Kansas), and Kerry Livgren³

¹ If I had a Christian music idol, it would probably be Michael Card.  Prodigiously prolific for 40-or-so years, he is humble and free of hype and glitz.  One of his principal gifts is locating and distilling core scripture messages into wonderfully acoustic (read:  not over-electronicized) songs.  A group of us attended a Card concert once.  One friend teased me about being such a fan that she was worried I’d throw my underwear onto the stage.  Mine wasn’t that kind of fandom, but I did and do respect Card’s contributions wholeheartedly.  I have referred to him before on this blog, notably here.

² Fernando Ortega has been around in my life for almost as long.  In his inimitable way, he has compelled, driven, and drawn my heart so many times I’ve lost count.  Sometimes, to the point of tears.  I met him face to face once, and I introduced a church elder to his music.  He and his wife became Fernando’s acquaintances, traveling to him and getting pictures taken with him.  I’ll admit to a little jealousy here!

³ And if I had any rock music idol, it would be Kansas.  In my unstudied rock hierarchy, Kansas’ musical and lyrical content  are tops.  Their music consistently manifests qualities that draw me, energize me, and stimulate creativity.  I don’t have the autograph of their principal songwriter, Kerry Livgren, because he could no longer play with the band after a stroke.  Livgren is now a serious believer, and we recently met him at his church.  See here for an account of a special event with Kansas about eight years ago.

Dad and Christian speakers/authors

Today my dad would have been exactly 79½.  He was no celebrity himself, but he did garner some well-deserved awards; he was the first scholar-athlete at Harding College and was later Harding University’s School of Education’s Alumnus of the year.  As a congregational deacon and shepherd/elder, Dad modeled the way to regard those who enjoy celebrity and fame.  He simply treated them like other people.  (No need to stand in awe.)  On the other hand, he must have had an underlying drive to take advantage of the capabilities of some who had, by their virtues, become somewhat famous.  Dad was for years the force that brought well-traveled, well-reputed, “big name” speakers to us.  Our church was in the Mid-Atlantic region, a/k/a the “Northeast,” and we would otherwise have been largely ignored because we were neither huge nor in the Bible belt.  Primarily because of Dad, we had these guest speakers at our church:

  • Cliff Ganus, Jr.
  • Lynn Anderson
  • Jerry Jones
  • Jimmy Allen
  • Harold Hazelip
  • LaGard Smith
  • Rubel Shelly *
  • Jim Woodroof
  • Max Lucado

I might have autographs for a couple of the above (on the title page of a book), but the main thing was having heard them speak in person.  I also shook well-known author Max Lucado’s hand once, because he spoke at a men’s retreat at our beloved Camp Manatawny in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

∗ Shelly’s “shift” is noteworthy—from (1) prize of the far-right, defensive CofC adherents to (2) de facto mouthpiece of the genuinely nondenominational, thoughtfully progressive “wing.”  I heard him speak in a couple other settings, too, and one of his books (I Just Want To Be a Christian) had a deep impact on me.  See here for a touting of that book.

I also have autographs for these other Christian authors in one or more books:

Christian Authors

  • Leroy Garrett
  • Cecil Hook
  • Richard Hughes
  • Gary Collier

I myself invited the late Leroy Garrett to my Delaware church to speak on unity and the Restoration Movement—and to impersonate “Raccoon” John Smith in one of his iconic presentations.  Leroy stayed in my home, and visited in his.  I was in the late Cecil Hook’s home, as well.  Cecil was the less credentialed but also sharp-minded author of Free in Christ (also touted here) and other freedom-themed books, several of which I had the distinct honor of collaborating on.  I’ve eaten lunch with the insightful Richard and Jan Hughes, along with mutual friends the Crowes.  My association with Collier has lasted longer and run deeper than with the others.  I have spent meaningful time with him as friends, collaborated with him (including recently embarking on a significant project), and have been in his home.

On the one hand, celebrity status means little to me, because it so often has little to do with quality, lasting values, or eternity.  On the other hand, some have become celebrated for good reason, and I am glad that my life has involved crossing paths with such men as Anderson, Collier, Garrett, Hook, Hughes, Card, Ortega, and others who have meant much to me.

Rich Mullins’s swan-song album The Jesus Record includes “Man of No Reputation,” a song recorded on a cheap tape deck by Mullins and then later refined by his band.  This song takes a translation of a phrase in Philippians 2 and expands ironically on the awe-inspiring reputation of our Messiah-Servant, Christ Jesus.  Jesus’ lack of celebrity status, combined with His singular attention to His mission and role, impel us to honor Him.