Dolly Parton said, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Well, when I lived in Nashville I bumped into Dolly a couple of times and I can tell you it’s true! I can also tell you she is a tiny, talented, beautiful, friendly, generous wonderful lady. And she is not cheap!
This is why on the town square in Sevierville, Tenn., there is a life-size, bronze statue of their county’s favorite daughter, Dolly.
Long ago Dolly, remembering her childhood in a poor mountain home, began a literacy program that has made her a hero. Each year, each month, her Imagination Library gives a book to each of 850,000 children. She does this from the time of their birth until they enter kindergarten — more than 10 million books annually! Dolly deserves a big bronze statue.
I think it was the late humorist Erma Bombeck who said, “Sometimes I don’t know what I think until I read it on a bumper sticker.” She also observed that, “The grass is always greener over the septic tank.” I think of her when I’m unloading the dishwasher. She said, “Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.”
Some people just seem to have a way with words, don’t they?
Words are endlessly fascinating to me. And then, there are ideas! Words and ideas are wonderful partners. They belong together. They don’t need to be fancy, although fancy is nice. No, simple words and ideas can awaken the brain and new worlds open up for us. I began thinking about this when Michael Braswell, a retired professor, sent me some quotations he thought I would enjoy. He is a wonderful wordsmith and thinker. His hobby is collecting interesting quotations. If you are looking for a neat pastime, you may want to try this, too.
Quotation 1: “A person may sometimes have a clear conscience simply because his head is empty.” This quip by Ralph W. Sockman reminds me of some old folk wisdom I heard in the mountains of North Carolina: “Be open-minded but not so open that your brain falls out.”
Jewish rabbis are wonderful teachers. One of the tools they employ in their teaching is the use of stories. The rabbi, Jesus, was no exception. He frequently told stories to make his point. Sometimes he told a story to help people get a vision of a new kingdom breaking in upon them. Or he might tell a story to recruit workers. For example, he described the opportunity for reaching lost souls as a “harvest field” and he asked his followers to pray for workers in the harvest.
Typical of parables and stories in the culture of the Bible is that they contain surprises or “hooks” that grab a listener. Surprises that sneak up and capture the attention of the hearer. We might call these holy “gotcha” moments. Modern readers often miss these surprises. For instance, what may simply seem to be a quaint agricultural illustration given by Jesus can be like an onion. Peel back the layers and discover rich layers of meaning that may surprise you.
Old jokes have a timelessness about them, don’t they? A really good one is pertinent at almost any time. And if it hangs around long enough, moments arise again and again in which a joke is especially timely. Such is true about the following gem.
A father was about to send his three sons off to the university. He called them together and gave this little speech. “I am providing you boys the finest education possible. I am paying the full cost of your education. You are not expected to repay this. However, when I die, I want each of you to drop $1,000 in the casket to be buried with me as a token of your appreciation.”
So it happened. One son became a doctor. One son became a CPA. The third son became a lawyer. Each became very financially successful. Nature eventually took its course and the father died. As the sons stood before the casket, they remembered their father’s request. The doctor dropped in 10 $100 bills in cash. The CPA also dropped in $1,000 in cash. The lawyer took out his checkbook, wrote a check for $3,000, and dropped it into the casket. Then he took the $2,000 cash from the casket and put it in his wallet.
Baptism is a central feature of Christian faith. Therefore it is important that it be done correctly. My friend and mentor, Dr. John Killinger, tells the following story about a memorable baptism.
“Several years ago I was traveling in the Orient speaking to U.S. Air Force chaplains. One of them told me about his dad, a Baptist preacher who had organized a new church in the American northwest. A carpenter, his dad had also built the church himself. There wasn’t a lot of money, so everything was done sparingly and efficiently, including the baptismal pool. A local welder had fashioned an open-topped cube of steel which was deposited at the spot where the front of the sanctuary would be.
In American church life, most Christians are members of large congregations. However, most churches are small congregations. It sounds like a contradiction. I grew up in a small rural church and early in my ministry I served in small rural churches. My smallest had 18 resident members. I loved them dearly. I was still a student and that is one reason I am a cheerleader for small congregations.
When we pastors are young, our first opportunities are to serve in such churches. There is where learn how to become shepherds. They provide intimate, supportive places where we can begin to grow into effective ministers. They are patient with us. They accept and love us. They endure our fledgling efforts as preachers. Oh, they wish they had pastors like those they see on television and hear on the radio. Celebrity preachers who attract thousands inspire, but they don’t make house calls to the sick. Besides, folk in small churches can’t afford celebrity preachers.
I sat down at my computer to write my weekly column and stared at the blank screen for a few minutes trying to think of an angle to write about. I don’t often have writer’s block, but it happens. Then the phone rang and I was reminded of the old adage: “The Lord doth provide.”
On the line was my brother, Lynn, who lives in New Hampshire. I have two brothers whom I love dearly, Steve and Lynn. Lynn mentioned that he had just been to vote in the local election. There were the usual candidates for local offices plus three pages of bond issues, etc. And, he said the office of dog catcher was on the ballot, too. Good old New England democracy at work!
It’s great to be home after two very recent, serious hospitalizations. One of the joys is to be able to read tons of good wishes and get well cards from you dear readers. They are great medicine at a time like this! They are like the world’s greatest multi-vitamins. Some are deeply spiritual. Many are hilariously funny. All are inspirational.
Let me give you a few examples that knocked me out of the bed with laughter and lifted my spirits. And I’ll add a few comments.
You know me. I am a hopeless, old romantic. This time of the year something always reminds me that Valentine’s Day is nearing. This year it was a report about a Swedish woman who lost her wedding ring 16 years ago. It was a ring she had personally designed. Well, she recently found the ring in her garden. It had a carrot growing right through it! It was a sweet, touching story.
This got me inspired to write about romance, so pucker up! Here’s my story about true romance. It started more than 50 years ago when I was a young, country preacher. A nervous, rustic couple came to me requesting that I “marry” them. They wanted me to officiate at their wedding. Their names were Delilah Scissors and Cicero Fudd.
My story this week is set in the mid-1940s. I was a young boy at the time. Many of the men in my family were away serving in the U.S. military. How many of you are old enough to remember those years? Our mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers were holding things together here at home.
Consult your elders and see if they remember any of what I’m about to tell you. They may not know about this because, while it was not secret, it was not widely disclosed at the time.
World War II was raging at the time. As the war wore on, thousands of German and Italian prisoners of war were brought to America and placed in 700 prison camps in 43 states.
Brace yourself, folks, it’s presidential campaign time again! What that means is that many of the candidates are trying to get the so-called evangelical Christian vote. If you read my writings often, you are aware that I regard myself as a classical evangelical Christian. However, much of the political chatter we hear strikes me as neither evangelical nor Christian. It is the cynical effort by people seeking to use God for partisan political advantage. I regard this as an example of a violation of the biblical commandment against taking the name of the Lord God in vain. In short, trivializing the name of God. That’s why I get cranky about the way religion is used in political campaigns.
Now, I’m not saying faith is not related to politics. Quite the contrary. A person’s faith is related to every aspect of human life. But you know what I mean. One candidate speaking recently about his faith, said, “I have a great relationship with God.” That may very well be true. It would be great if a voter could ask what the Divinity thinks about the relationship with the candidate. In fact, I did ask that question and God declined to testify by invoking the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.