A Fair Blessing

While cleaning up at my parent’s house, I came across a folder full of family history materials.  There were a couple of genealogical charts, some handwritten sermons – more on that later – and a diary.  The diary is typed (apparently copied from the original) and titled “DAY BY DAY REPORT OF A COVERED WAGON TRIP FROM LAWN RIDGE, KANSAS TO UNION CITY, OKLAHOMA made by Wilson W. Jackman, Dave Todd, and others.  Lawn Ridge, Kansas – March 28, 1893.”  (Dave Todd was my great grandfather, born 1866 in Holton, KS)

Some of the text has faded and is unreadable, but the parts that are still legible make for interesting reading.  The closing paragraph is a fantastic blessing from Wilson Jackman to Dave Todd.  A couple of months ago Mark Scott told us that a handwritten letter is a warm and personal way to communicate with someone.  This blessing from Wilson is just that.

We are pretty badly sunburned but, withal, as hale and hearty as can be.  I enjoyed every day of the trip and feel sorry that it is over.  David tired of it, though he stood it pretty well.  David is a good boy and always does his part.  He is good company and, remembering that last dinner and forgetting all the other,  I can recommend him as an excellent cook.  I wish him the success he deserves in all his undertakings, matrimonial and otherwise, and trust that he shall be blessed with a worthy helpmeet to accompany him through the “journey of life”, and that as the somber shadows of “the night” shall lengthen toward the close of a long and useful life, when the pleasures of the world shall cease to delight, the consciousness of the close and ever nearing proximity of the unexplored ocean of eternity shall depress, and only enjoyments which afford comfort and consolation is in the happy reflection of a life well spent in the exercise of piety and virtue, may he recall with pleasure the incidents of the journey we took together from Kansas to Oklahoma and ever fondly cherish on memory’s fairest page, the pleasant days of April eighteen hundred ninety three.

As this year comes to an end, and we prepare to begin again, may I also wish for you a fond recollection of the incidents of the journey through 2014.  Even when we look back on the tragedies and sadness we’ve known this year, I pray your memories are filled with the good times and love you’ve known – may you enjoy the “comfort and consolation in the happy reflection of a life well spent in the exercise of piety and virtue…and ever fondly cherish on memory’s fairest page, the pleasant days of” 2014.


Mistaken Identity

I’m not who I thought I was, and neither is the Church.

I still struggle with an appropriate response to God’s love (nothing I can come up with is enough), and I’m realizing that I have expended much effort on rule-following even when I thought I wasn’t.

Some time ago our elders held a series of classes on church history and passed out a book called “Distant Voices” by C. Leonard Allen.  (Used copies at Amazon for a dollar – what have you got to lose?)  I’m no authority on the Stone-Campbell restoration movement, but reading this book has really challenged who I thought the Church was and is.  I thought that even though the Church of Christ doesn’t have a central governing body, we all pretty much agreed on the same central issues and that Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone came together to reform and restore the Church into the pattern of the New Testament Church.

Turns out that not only was that not their intent, they didn’t even agree on some of the basic principles I thought we all agreed on.  They did not agree on baptism as a measure of fellowship (ch 6, p.39), and they had significant differences of opinion on “the dynamics of conversion, the Spirit’s work, and the Trinity.  They differed on the nature of Christ’s atoning death,  fellowship with the unimmersed, and the Christian’s relationship to government.  And they differed over the nature and demands of discipleship, the possibility of present-day miracles, the earthly reign of Christ, and other doctrinal matters.” (pp. 173-4)

I also thought that the Church of Christ has existed since Jesus died on the cross.  While His Church has existed since then, what we know today as the Church of Christ doesn’t look much like the Church did in the first century. And that’s okay.

In a recent post titled “Lessons from the Churches of Christ,” Adam Wood lamented some of the changes in our musical tradition that he thought were degrading the quality of our worship.  I find it curious that as a Catholic, he’d be worried about the quality of music in a Church of Christ worship service that he never participates in.  But, aside from his thoughts on our musical traditions, he did make what I think are some very astute observations about us (or maybe astute observations about human nature), observations that further challenge my thoughts on my identity as a Christian.

The heart of the Church of Christ’s congregational orientation – a theology of community derived from the Acts of the Apostles – has been reduced in common practice to a mere legalism: “No musical instruments.” Once a theological proposition has been reduced to a legalism, there are two inevitable consequences: circumnavigation and abandonment. Circumnavigation happens when the question becomes, “How can we do whatever we wanted to do anyway, without ‘technically’ breaking the rules?” Abandonment happens when the pretense of technicality is dropped and the rule is simply ignored or removed.

There are two typical ways of reacting to this seemingly inevitable evolution from law to legalism to disregard. Most people go along with whatever trend is currently in vogue, whether actively supporting the change or simply allowing it to happen without comment or resistance. A small minority oppose the change, but usually for spurious reasons having to do with legalism and habit.

Philistines and Pharisees. Progressives and Prudes.

Adam cites some examples of how we have disregarded and abandoned the rules, but all his examples are music related.  There are others.  We have rules about how to conduct a worship service, but we don’t spend a lot of time evangelizing outside of the church building.  We have rules about how and when to hold a weekly communion service, but we don’t actively go house-to-house daily breaking bread with our brothers and sisters.  I have seen people show up at worship, and leave immediately after taking communion so they can make it to another engagement – as if taking communion were a “ticket punch” for showing that you worshiped this week.   I know we don’t pick-and-choose which “rules” to follow and which ones to ignore, but I also know we, as humans, simply cannot get it all right all the time.

Even among the most conservative Churches of Christ who all agree on the role of baptism, a cappella music, regular weekly communion services, and women’s roles, there are differences of opinion on what’s allowable and what isn’t (one cup or multiple cups for communion; break the bread before the prayer or after?; paid preachers or not?; institutional support (orphanages, universities, etc.), and so on).

We like rules.  They make it clear to us what is allowable and what isn’t.  Who is right and who is wrong.  But, it’s just not possible for us to “follow the rules.” Hebrews reminds us that the entire experience of the Israelites made it clear that we cannot.

I know there are some of my friends and family who think I’ve drifted away from the old paths, slipped away from holding to the Truth, and begun to engage in popularism.  But I have begun to recognize that as much as like to be a rule follower, it’s just not possible for me to have all the answers, to know what is absolutely right and what isn’t.  But I can pursue a personal relationship with God, read his Word daily, talk to Him regularly, and let Him show me His Way.

What I’ve come to understand is this:

  • God is the creator
  • Jesus is the Son of God
  • Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life (there is no other path to God)
  • Adult baptism by immersion is essential
  • Regular meeting with the Saints and regular Bible reading is essential to your relationship with Christ.

Everything else is open for discussion.

Prayerful, Joyful, Thankful

During the month of November, many of us posted, on Facebook, something we were thankful for each day.  Just before Thanksgiving day, Patrick Mead posted this comment:

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends. Remember: you have to conscientiously practice joy and thankfulness to get good at them. Ready, set, go!

I had already been reflecting on the impact that posting a thanks giving note each day had made me more conscious of the gifts I’ve been given, and it made me more thoughtful each day of those gifts.  I found myself thinking of them throughout the day, and not just when I was on Facebook.

At the beginning of this year, our congregation began reading the chronological daily Bible together, and I re-discovered that being a faithful daily reader significantly reduced the impact of Satan’s temptations on me.  (duh!)

As we neared the end of November, and the end of our thanks giving posts, I started thinking about the impending Christmas season.  I know a lot of people (including me) want to hold off on celebrating Christmas until Thanksgiving is over.  But it occurred to me that these two celebrations really are inextricably bound together.  How can you spend an entire month giving thanks, and ignore the fact that we are about to celebrate the birth of the One to Whom all our thanks is due?

When Patrick Mead posted his note, one of his friends commented

I have 3 words written on my mirror to remind me… “prayerful, joyful, and thankful.” The reminder to practice has helped me a lot. The results of doing each of these is very noticeable.

That made me start thinking.  If I get back to being a diligent daily Bible reader (and the chronological Bible is a huge help with that), and I strive to post something on Facebook each day that is either prayerful, joyful, or thankful, there is just no telling what impact that could have on my life.

I’m a bit afraid to commit to you that I will post something every single day*, but I am willing to commit that every day I do post something on Facebook, I will endeavor to make it prayerful, joyful, or thankful.  For the month of December, I’ll try to focus on praise to Christ.  Thereafter, I’ll just go with whatever is praiseworthy.  Who’s with me?

*(Committing to a daily post is difficult for a few of reasons: (a) I’m terrible at daily commitments, (b) I don’t typically log in every day when I’m travelling, and (c) once in a while I do try to practice an electronic fast and get away from this thing.)

Esta Tierra

Yeah, I know.  It is wildly unpopular to speak of immigration in a favorable tone.  I should clarify that I think immigration is a grand idea, and that I really wish we could find a way to make the legal process a lot easier for those people who are seeking a better opportunity.

On the heels of our independence celeberation, I find this version of Woody Guthrie’s classic song a grand reminder that we are all here because of immigrants who were seeking the hope and promise  of a great opportunity. And I’m reminded that there is no other country where people are climbing fences, swimming rivers, braving starvation and death in a desert, or building a raft to cross an ocean just for a small taste of that opportunity.

How bad do you want it?

La tierra es para ti y para mí.

Via con Dios mis hermanos.

You Might Be an Industrial Hygienist if…

…you know what fart rock is and why it’s called that (and you’ve used it for training)

…you know how to hang a 2-pound sample pump on a lady wearing spandex pants

…you know what a pump jockey is

…you’ve ever been a pump jockey

…you know how to make a belt with duct tape

…you’ve ever eaten lunch from a vending machine (because you can’t leave the plant)

…you know why the glass in a microwave oven door is not necessary

…you get a charge out of running towards the chemical spill

…you’ve ever bought soap bubbles to use at work

…you know what 85 decibels sounds like without using a meter

…you know what Q=VA means

…you’ve ever told a chemist his burette was upside down

…you’ve ever bought 9-volt batteries in bulk

…you carry ear plugs in your pocket (just in case)

…you wonder what happens to the fines from a Dyson cyclone vacuum

…you wish you had that “black box” analyzer they use on CSI (and you know why you never will)

…you know what isoamyl acetate smells like (and like it)

Happy Mother’s Day

I’m not terribly worried about losing my memory, since it seems I don’t have much to begin with.  I really do not remember a lot of details about my childhood.  I have some memories of specific events but if you ask me about growing up in general, I just don’t remember much about what it was like.  So on this Mother’s Day, as I listen to everyone talk about how great their mom was, and what a great influence she was to their lives, I know that those things are true about my mother, but I just don’t remember the details.

I do remember a few specific things and I do know that my life has been blessed by growing up in her house, under her influence.  I’m just not sure I can tell you exactly how.

Mother was a terrific cook.  She taught me some basic kitchen skills, and shared some of her best recipes (some of them I still have, in her handwriting).  Some of those recipes might be hard to follow (“bake at 350 until done” – but when is “done”?), but they are still stained with kitchen spills and my kids still love her meatloaf and fried potatoes (actually, those would be Aunt Grace’s potatoes, but still).  I love to cook and I love being in the kitchen.  I’m sure that without her help, that would not be part of my life.

When I was around six years old, two of my cousins came to live with us.  I have zero recollection of the details of how that got started (I’ve heard the story, but don’t have any original memory of it).  I do remember some of the following six years while they lived with us, and I now know that taking those kids in had to be a huge sacrifice for my parents.  But I do not recall ever hearing my mom complain about the extra work, the cramped living space, the drain on our budget, or any other hardship I’m sure she endured.  All I know is she poured out her heart to all the kids living in her house, and a bunch of kids who didn’t live there, too.  Even with two cousins and a sister in the house, I never, ever felt like she was holding back on anything she could give to any of us.  We were all fully blessed with all of her love.

Mom had a way of making me reach my potential.  When I went to college, she told me if I didn’t make a 3.0 grade point average, I wasn’t going back (my high school GPA was only 2.5).  That one semester when I dipped below 3.0, I was terrified she would yank me out of school, but she gave me one more semester to bring it up.  Later, she told me it was all a bluff because she knew I could do it, and I needed the incentive.

Oh, and besides us kids, she also loved her strawberries.  Both as food and as decoration. Now that I live “just down the road” from the strawberry capital of America, I sure wish I could share some of those fresh berries with her.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom.  Even if I don’t remember the details, thanks for your love and influence on my life.

What I Really Do

What I Really Do