In a few days, Judy and I are heading north to New Hampshire. Southern New Hampshire, of course. No, I’m not trying to escape our brutal heat here. Although it seems like only the day before yesterday they had seven-foot snowdrifts up there, it’s about as hot there now as it is down here in North Carolina. I’m going north to perform the marriage ceremony for my niece, Bridget Griffin-Bales, and Jeremy Mower. This is a very happy thing for an old minister like me — weddings for kids I love to people they love. Families joining families and making wonderful futures together.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 16:03

Mother Emanuel we weep for you

June 18, 2015. I awoke this morning and said, “Thank you God.” The sun was shining and the temperature was already approaching 90 degrees. It was a beautiful way to start the day. I punched the brew button on the coffeemaker and clicked on the TV morning news. Then I walked onto the patio, sat down and wept. Through the open door back into the house I could hear the details of the overnight murder of nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

I was saying last week that I wonder how we ever got the idea that every argument needs to be won? Games are for winning. Arguments between people who respect each other ought to be something else. Why should we not think of an argument as a “thinkfest” in which the reward is that we learn something together?

Tuesday, 09 June 2015 09:18

Commandments apply at any age

Who would have guessed it? According to news reports there’s a rising crime rate in recent years among senior citizens! It’s happening all over the world. England, Scotland, the Netherlands, South Korea, Japan. What gives?

In Japan they are called “Silver Shoplifters,” according to Bloomberg News. Shoplifters older than 65 far outnumber those between 14 and 19 years of age. And the number of senior stealers is growing rapidly. Many of the items being stolen are food. So if you jostle a granny or grandpa in a supermarket aisle, don’t be surprised if a rice ball, eel and bottle of sake fall out of a sleeve.

I love this time of year. It's a season in which all kinds of special events liven up our small towns and villages. They attract teeming crowds of big-city folks back to the roots of Americana. I regret that I neglected to remind you of the Pickle Festival, recently held in Mt. Olive, N.C. There are about 5,000 puckered-up people living in Mt. Olive. That's the home of the Mt. Olive Pickle Co., America's second largest pickle producer.

The festival was a big success. Of course, the usual ingredients of a good festival were featured. Music, food, helicopter rides. And competitions. There was a poetry contest. Sophie Gonzalez, a fourth-grader at Carver Elementary School, took a prize for her poem:

Have you ever had someone try to insult you by calling you "fish face?" Maybe you were receiving an inadvertent compliment instead. How could that be, you ask? Well, the buzz in the news is that, according to a Microsoft study, a goldfish has a longer attention span than a human being. And the gap is widening! The ability of average humans to focus their attention before becoming distracted is now eight seconds. For a goldfish it is nine seconds.

I don't want to get into the tall weeds of the science of this report, but I would like to raise this question: Is that not some shocking weirdness? In the Bible, we read the familiar words of the the eighth Psalm. The writer is praising God for the wonders of creation and especially for having made humans so wonderfully well. The psalmist says we are made a little lower than the angels and that we rule over all creatures that God has made. Yep, the word used in the Bible is "rule." He even says we humans are superior to the fish of the sea and all that swims in the sea.

Well now, this raises some interesting questions. If our goldfish can focus their brains better than we, how can we rule over them? Maybe the psalmist did not regard goldfish as fish of the sea? Maybe he thought of them as fish of the bowl. All the goldfish I've seen are in goldfish bowls. Or in a pond. I've seen some big old, orange-colored, carp fish in ponds. And ponds are not oceans. Maybe it is simply a case of semantics. But how can we humans rule over every creation and still be inferior to goldfish? Even in something so simple as the ability to pay attention?

This eight-second attention span is a serious thing. How can a friendship or marriage flourish if we only focus on what others are saying for eight seconds? We can get more than that from a fish? Does your beloved ever complain that you do not listen to what he or she is saying? It is probably true!

Are preachers going to need to begin giving eight-second sermons? The ideal sermon might become: "Repent! Go and sin no more." That takes about four seconds, which leaves four seconds to collect the offering. That seems like just about the right ratio to me. Or the pastor could, instead of giving a 20-minute sermon, offer 150 eight-second sermons. Did I do my arithmetic correctly? The calculations take me more than eight seconds. This is making my hair hurt.

I don't even know why I'm ranting on about this. It takes me eight seconds to read the first three lines of this epistle. You probably got distracted even before I did and have gone on back to using your smart phone long before now. By the way, the explanation of why our attention span is shrinking is partly because of cell phones, social media and the Internet.

Ah well, I am going to work at being less long-winded. It's harder than you might think. I found a website that promised "10 Short Jokes Anyone Can Remember." I was going to close this column with one. They were short. But none of them were funny, and I don't want you to remember any of them. I will, instead, leave you with this eight-second exhortation: Do all you can to close the attention gap between yourself and your goldfish. You don't want your fish treating you with ridicule and scorn. After all, he still needs you to change the water in his bowl!

Harold Bales is a retired Methodist minister. For more information about him, Send him an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Monday, 18 May 2015 18:21

How to defeat the 'seven deadlies'

We love "how to" books and TV shows and gurus who tell us how to do things. Whether it is Dr. Phil, or "(Fill in the Blank) for Dummies," or counsel by Judge Judy, we soak up self-help messages and messengers. The greatest how to of them all is the Bible. Oh, I know some would argue this point, and I know this is just my opinion, but I'm sticking to it. Take the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Bible. It is quite the document to help people make it through life and get along well with their neighbors. You can find the Commandments in Exodus, Chapter 20. Those rules for life have lent structure for living for a very long time, and people feel very strongly about them.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015 09:41

Every day should be Mother's Day

Strange things happen in life. Judy and I have two sons, David and Philip. We love and admire them. We take great pride in them. But we look at them differently. I look at them as middle-aged men now. I don't quite know how it happened so rapidly — their aging, I mean. But they have and they have aged well. However, to their mother, they are still her little boys.

Tuesday, 05 May 2015 17:40

Some things need to be furbished first

Y'all know me. Sometimes I get in a preachy mood. This is one of those weeks. My daughter, Susannah, is a lover of words like her papa. Recently she was driving in Atlanta where she works, and she saw a sign advertising "refinished, restored and refurbished furniture." So she rang me up to report this and ask when I had ever heard of something being "furbished." If something can be refurbished, it has to sometime have been "furbished." Right? I laughed and confessed that the answer to her question was "never."

I stopped in the other day to say hello to my good friends Carl and Bette Moore. They have a heating and air conditioning business on South Main Street in Kannapolis. Carl and Bette are admired by everyone who knows them. I sure do love them. Carl is quiet but very thoughtful. He has a wry sense of humor. Bette is about as big as a humming bird and even more beautiful.

It turned out that Carl has recently had a birthday. My first impulse was to sing "Happy Birthday" to him. I refrained because I don't like to depress my friends with my poor singing voice. Especially on their birthdays. Carl is now 90 years old. Bette is 89 years old. They have been married more than 60 years, and their love for each other is obvious.

Monday, 20 April 2015 18:59

The Pastor's spouse has a big job

Most readers of this divine drizzle each week are church-goers. You have a pastor and many of your pastors have spouses. Of course, a minister's partner plays a very important and delicate role both in public and behind the scenes. It can be a wonderful thing to be a pastor's spouse. But it can also be a stressful thing.

Well, John Killinger, my friend and mentor of almost 50 years and author of dozens of books, has written a new one. He has spent a lifetime as a pastor and teacher of pastors. So he knows what he's talking about in The Ministry Life: 101 Tips for Ministers' Spouses (Smith & Helwys Publishing, Inc.). In this new book he offers a treasury of ideas to help the spouses of ministers in their unique roles in the church. And he invited several spouses to contribute 10 tips out of their experience as ministerial mates. My wife, Judy, is one of those contributors. I love her contribution which follows: