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The birds are chirping and the bees are buzzing and love is in the air. Once again, we are in the season of romance and weddings. As in all of the truly important things of life, marriage is something everyone enters into as a total amateur. Becoming an adolescent, driving a car the first time, going on your first date, becoming a parent; the list goes on and on. A wedding is an especially high stakes endeavor. The reason is obvious. It is all about commitment. This is even true in cultures where arranged marriages are the custom. It certainly is true in most of Western culture.

In our culture, marriage is a delicate dance in which we idealize true love as an expression of unconditional commitment to another. You know you love someone when that person’s well-being is more important to you than your own self. We often use the phrase, “with no strings attached.” We mean that we are offering something to someone with no expectation of anything in return. This is a very romantic notion and one that in real life is beautiful and relatively rare.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016 07:20

Southern Gentility can save a culture

“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than a riot.” So wrote author, Robert Heinlein. Called the “dean of science fiction writers,” he was often wrong about his ideas. I think he is correct about this. A rip-roaring riot usually results in lots of noise, flying debris, property damage, personal injury and even death. But the death of a shared culture can wreck an entire nation.

Bad manners are a plague on us these days. E. M. Forster wrote in A Room With A View, “A thousand little civilities create tenderness in time.” It is surprising what a smile, a handshake, an opened door, a “Thank you,” an “I’m sorry,” can do to reduce distance and make a place for affection between two people. Good manners can make wondrous happen. A scowl, an obscene gesture, a condescending sneer can win an argument but damage a relationship forever.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016 05:53

The choice is simple: God 2016

Up in Indiana, candidates for the presidency recently had a contest about who has the best endorsements. Senator Cruz criticized Mr. Trump for taking pride in receiving the endorsement of former boxer Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist. I get Mr. Cruz’s point but he needs to remember that Tyson once bit his opponent’s ear off in a fight. Or maybe he doesn’t know much about boxing. He didn’t know what to call the hoop that a basketball goes through. Another of Mr. Trump’s endorsees, Coach Bobby Knight, could have helped him out on that.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to endorse God. I got this idea while watching the TV news during this election season. I like God better than most of those who have been candidates. This is because most of what I know about God, I learned in Sunday school. When you are a child, Sunday school teachers can tell you a lot about God by the way they love you. Political spin masters can tell you lots by the way they disrespect you.

Tuesday, 03 May 2016 17:13

‘Anonymous’ may not be so unknown

The author named “Anonymous” is a person I admire immensely. The sheer, literary output of her or him is amazing. Usually the things signed by Anonymous are clever, wise, provocative, funny, or inspirational. This is why they are quoted so often. “Never argue with a fool. Someone watching may not be able to tell the difference.” Anonymous said that, and who am I to argue with it?

Here’s another thought by Anonymous: “If you love someone, let him or her go. If that person returns to you, he or she was always yours. If not, that person was never really yours.” Now I don’t know if that is actually true. I have observed that clutching too tightly can ruin relationships, but so can indifference. I have this in mind at the moment because this is the season when romance is in the air. The birds, they are a-singin’ and the bees they are a-buzzin.’ (Anonymous also said that.) Weddings are being planned in abundance. Some marriages will fail because of controlling behaviors by one of the mates. My advice to couples about to be married is for them to touch each other lightly.

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.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016 14:15

A few words about some great words

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.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016 15:40

Vote every time you get a chance

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!