Monthly Archives: April 2012
Watching and listening to the Watoto Children’s Choir from Uganda singing Tuesday night at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Columbia was an unplanned mid-week treat. Taking along four African refugee children that Kelly has fallen in love with and seeing their reactions was equally amazing. What I expected to be a pleasant, mid-week diversion was, instead, an overwhelming — and profoundly satisfying — emotional experience.
Hearing “I am not forgotten, God knows my name” from anyone is a compelling statement. Coming from children who had been abandoned, the statement cut through my preoccupied heart, the dizzying busy-ness of the week and myriad cultural boundaries.
This is normally where I’d wax eloquent, but I’d probably kill the message with words too weak to convey the way this statement challenged me:
“You don’t have to be an African orphan to feel like you’ve been forgotten.”
It’s mid-week at Jackson’s Journal, time for Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, a memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey.
Galileo Galilei and Leonardo DaVinci saw the abstract. Their minds and eyes saw three- and even four-dimensionally. I look at a house and I see the walls, the roof, the doors. Good old Leo looked at a house and saw those, too, but the walls, roof and doors was a transparent skin. Just look at his sketches. Same for Galileo. They both saw the studs, framing, cross beams – I can’t even think of all the segments and details that carpenters and architects design and build.
But G. Leo and Leo D. saw the design, each detail and processed the image in both the abstract and the concrete.
I so envy people who have that ability. I worked some years ago (briefly) as a surveyor’s apprentice. First of all, the guy was a math whiz, measured the azimuth of angles and saw much of the physical world with a Galileo/DaVinci mind.
So where’s all this going?
I’ve been gifted with the ability to hear – even smell – three-dimensionally. Yeah, I said “smell.” I can’t explain it, but many smells come to me as multiple parts, perhaps molecules, but aromas and odors also trigger vivid memories. One of my most annoying habits (if you’d ask Kelly) is that I often smell my food. I don’t just mean sniffing the air or taking a deep breath to draw in the fragrance of life around me. I mean slicing a piece of meat or digging a fork into green beans, lifting the morsel to my snout and smelling. Not every bite, not every morsel, but often enough that it borders on weird. It’s hard to explain.
My hearing, which Kelly claims is deficient when discerning the spoken human voice, is multi-dimensional. I hear harmonies all around. A couple of mornings ago a redbird in the backyard was confidently singing and a trash truck a couple of blocks away must have been backing up, based on the “beep, beep” that sounded a perfect G to the redbird’s C. Without thinking, I found myself humming the E and then the low C.
A “C” chord.
Our youngest, Natasha, has this same gift. (Maybe part curse and blessing. It keeps my head full and occupied). Natasha and I often harmonize with very random sounds: the hum of a moving elevator, the “ding” of the elevator when it reaches the desired floor, just about anything mechanical. The weird thing is that we’ll add the appropriate notes simultaneously, without cue.
I don’t just hear a note or a sound. I hear a symphony. But I’m not equally gifted with the ability to put those sounds on paper.
You’re still asking, “Where’s all this going?”
In my earliest memories of sacred hymns, prayer meeting music (which was often a cappella) and instrumental music, I can’t remember not hearing and “seeing” every note and chord with my ears. Dad had a deep, resonating bass voice and incredible range. Mom had an operatic soprano voice. I think I was 9 or 10 and singing either bass or tenor (sometimes alto) without knowing it.
It’s what I hear. It’s really pretty cool.
I’ll bet Galileo and DaVinci would have envied me.
Here’s our Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting music. This is the Gaither Vocal Band, featuring David Phelps, singing “Worthy Is Your Name.”
A string quarter provides accompaniment. Very sweet. If you’re familiar with David Phelps, you’ll wonder – as I did – why he’s is such a low register. But keep listening.
I dare you not to stand or raise a hand to heaven at the 2:58 mark. Dude goes an octave higher. Very sweet.
I love searching YouTube for performances of my favorite hymns. I seem to always find a hidden gem. I’ve never heard of The Hastings College Choir and I’m stunned this video has barely over 13,000 views.
Beneath the Cross of Jesus features impeccable harmony and you’ll appreciate this performance even more if you’re a stickler for technical elements. You’ve just got to listen.
Finally, no harmony here, just a simple singer, Don Francisco, and simple lyrics. The selected photos are perfect. Make sure you’re volume is up. Prepare your heart for conviction.
Steeple Song is one of the most unique songs you’ll hear.
Yesteryear’s calendar …
Easter Sunday, April 11, 1982 — Preach sunrise service, Pilot Knob Baptist Church.
John 20:15-15 – Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
That Easter sunrise service I preached 30 years ago didn’t use the text I just shared. (That morning the text was Philippians 3:7-11, focus on verse 10). But if I had an Easter message for 2012, the title, based on the above reading from the King James Version, would be something of a take-off on the reality music show, “The Voice.”
Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Easter was a big deal. Sure, it was the fancy-dress Sunday of the year, and the day when you saw people in church who you might be surprised to see in church. (No doubt they were surprised to see me, too.)
There were Easter eggs and a big meal, but nothing like the commercial exercise that accompanies Easter these days. I’m not sure I got an Easter basket as a kid, but I don’t feel slighted. Honestly, I didn’t understand the dyed eggs and what that had to do with Easter, because I knew that Easter Sunday was different – and it wasn’t about bunnies and eggs. I was taught from the earliest days that I can remember that Easter was a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. It was the one day and the one image – and empty tomb – that separated my faith from all others.
We might have attended or been part of some sunrise services, but I don’t recall starting that as a personal tradition until I was in high school, after my parents divorced and as I began finding my own way spiritually.
A friend and I sang regularly at the First Christian Church in Belle and I recall going there for one or two Easter sunrise services if only because the service was followed by Easter breakfast. By the time Kelly and I were married and had Kishia and Natasha, I was pastoring somewhere up until 2001. From 1992 to 2001, Easter sunrise service at Beulah Baptist Church just outside Belle was a dual breakfast feast and early service, just maybe not as early as sunrise. Easter Sunday.
The music, the attire, the sermon – everything just seemed a little extra special even if it was super formal; or early. Strange, I know, but some of the things I now miss most about my early childhood church experiences were the traditions, formality and structure of the church environment. I doubt I appreciated those elements at the time.
I don’t know what Easter traditions you hold dear. Perhaps none. I’ve got a number of atheist friends who scoff at Christians more on Easter than any other day. But I’m not swayed, sorry. Easter is real to me.
The empty tomb. The cross.
Some of the most vivid parts – in my mind – of the story of the passion of Christ:
– The rising tension in the upper room where Jesus and his disciples had the last supper. The knowing glance between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. The uneasy mix of sacred worship and nervous laughter as the disciples could sense something eternally profound was going to happen.
– Impulsive, knee-jerking Simon Peter, the one character with whom I most identify. “I will never leave you. I will never deny you!” Then the rooster crowing and the crushing conviction of betrayal, denial and abandonment – within just a few hours of the humble meal in the upper room.
– The risen Christ’s grace and forgiveness, extended to impulsive, knee-jerking Jodie J… I mean, Simon Peter.
– The unwritten account of the angels of Heaven prepared for battle, poised on the edge of Heaven, anxiously awaiting the Son’s call or for the Father to say, “Go get my son.” Instead … I imagine chaos among the heavenly host – “Hey, isn’t Someone going to stop this?” or “This can’t be happening!” – as they see Jesus betrayed, falsely accused, beaten, stripped, mocked – and nailed to a cross; all the while the Father weeps oceans of tears …
Then turns his back.
– The command from the Father to the angels on the third day: “Go get my son!”
– Mary Magdelene’s broken heart yet continued devotion. “Oh, where is his body? What have you done with it?” Pain so deep that it’s all she knew. Hopeless, exhausted, confused. Pain so deep that she literally couldn’t recognize the man.
Until … “Mary.”
The Good Shepherd knows my name. Does He know yours?
Set aside seven minutes for Ray Boltz’s video and song, “Watch the Lamb.” Please watch it. Let me know what you think. You only need a little over two minutes, but it’s not Easter without “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” My treat, brought to you by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Tuesday, March 31, 1981, Belle City Park.
The opponent wasn’t much of a test and the score was laughable, even ridiculous. But offensively, it was the single greatest game of my life.
Final score: Belle 38, Chamois 0.
That’s right: Thirty-eight to nothing. I’d joke and say I scored five touchdowns, kicked five extra points and kicked a 59-yard field goal just for grins, except this was a baseball score. And Belle High School did not and still does not have football.
Here’s what I did.
First inning: Triple on a 3-2 pitch, RBI, scored. Second inning: Singled up the middle, 2 RBI, scored. Third inning: walked on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, RBI, scored. Fourth inning …
Are you ready for this?
First at-bat: Led off with a walk, scored.
Second at-bat (of the fourth inning): The only time I ever batted right-handed in a high school game. With the bases loaded, I hit a line drive that almost killed the shortstop and the left fielder. From the swing of the bat to the ball hitting the fence in left-center, the ball never got more than about 4 feet off the ground. 3 RBI, double, scored. (And I had to slide head-first into second. A good throw would have nailed me. I hit the ball so hard that I didn’t have time to get to second without a little drama).
Third at-bat (of the fourth inning): The bases were loaded. I never hit a ball that far, not even in my wildest dream. Grand slam, 4 RBI, run. The ball probably traveled 400 feet in the air.
So let’s summarize: In the fourth inning alone, seven RBI and three runs scored. We sent 27 batters to the plate. I was stepping from the on-deck circle into the batter’s box to become the 28th batter of the inning, with two on and two out. Before I dug in for my fourth at-bat of the fourth inning, the Chamois coach called his players off the field.
I finished 4-for-4, 2 walks, 6 runs, 11 RBI. Oh … and I hit for the cycle.
That was the offensive game of my life.
But it wasn’t THE game of my life. That came in July 1977. A few weeks earlier my 13-/14-year-old Little League team went to Edgar Springs. I pitched and my first three pitches — literally, one, two, three, bang, bang, bang — were hit for tape-measure home runs. We lost 27-0. I’m still convinced those kids were 16 or 17 — maybe older.
Then they came to our place, the Belle City Park. I pitched. Struck out 15. We went to the bottom of the seventh tied 3-3. My best friend Kenny Shanks doubled with one out and stole third. I came up.
Kenny and I executed the squeeze play four or five times that season. Coach Rafferty knew by the look that Kenny and I exchanged that the squeeze was on. The only sign Coach Rafferty was giving me from the third base box was a militant head-shake that said, “NO!” I slapped the top of my helmet, the pitcher wound up, and I squared to bunt.
And Kenny took off. He was well over half-way to the plate before the pitcher realized what was happening. He stepped off the mound and fired toward the catcher, but Kenny slid and rolled across home plate — and the ball hit me squarely in the middle of the right thigh. (I think it’s still bruised).
4-3. We won!
But wait! The Edgar Springs coach was livid! It was a hit-by-pitch!, he screamed. “The ball was dead! Runner goes back to third!”
Our fans screamed back: the pitcher wasn’t on the rubber when he threw to the plate! He was throwing to get the runner, not throwing to pitch.
The losing coach grasped for anything and changed his argument, pleading for an interference call against me, except I stepped out of the batter’s box at the last moment to give Kenny a chance to complete his game-winning steal of home.
It was pandemonium. Our team was rolling around on the field like we’d beaten the ’27 Yankees to win the World Series, and I was simply rolling around on the ground because I thought my right femur was fractured. The home plate ump walked toward me, apparently ready to send Kenny back to third and call me “out” for batter’s interference.
“He was bringing the pitch,” I told the ump. “He stepped off the rubber.”
The ump called the infield ump over, I repeated to both umps what I’d said, and the infield ump nodded in agreement.
The home plate ump, holding his face mask in one hand, walked halfway toward the mound, pointed at the pitching rubber, and shouted, “BALK!”
End of story. End of game. Belle 4, Edgar Springs 3.
Dramatic enough, but I still like to say Kenny stole home to win the game.
Southern Baptists do things differently. There are a few tenets that set us apart from other denominations. Consider, for instance, “eternal security” and “the priesthood of the believer.”
The former is the belief that God’s grace not only saves me, but keeps me saved. Christ died once. To lose one’s salvation would require Christ dying again. I wasn’t saved by works, by some action of mine — other than confessing with my mouth and believing with my heart. There’s not a bunch of classes and no curriculum other than the Holy Scripture.
Those who shake their head at the notion of eternal security — and I’ve certainly shaken my head over my own actions at times — ultimately ask the question, “Would a true Christian do” … (fill in the blank)?
Great question. Everyone must answer that for him/herself. And which sin or number of sins tips the scale to “salvation lost?” The question I always ask my friends who believe one can fall from grace and lose his salvation is this: How will you know? I mean, one minute I have assurance that my ticket to Heaven is punched, the next minute some old lady who shouldn’t even be driving COMES TO A COMPLETE STOP! in the Creasy Springs/West Blvd. roundabout, and I honk and scream at her simultaneously.
I don’t scream anything profane — but I’m THINKING it!
What if in the very next instant I’m plowed over and flattened by one of the city of Columbia public works trucks, trash trucks or city buses that generally don’t stop, yield or otherwise obey the traffic laws the rest of us do? Did I lose my ticket — my salvation — because of my unkind, even unChristian thoughts and reaction to the old lady in the roundabout?
The other uniquely Protestant doctrine that Baptists cling to like fried chicken and peach cobbler at a carry-in dinner is the priesthood of the believer. 1 Timothy 2:5, “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Simply put, I come to, commune with and have a relationship with Christ one-on-one. My prayers are to God in the name of the Son.
My mom has a story that illustrates this beautifully. I’ll try to tell it correctly.
About 35 years ago my mom’s parents took my mom and all her siblings to Italy. At one point during the trip they were preparing to take a ride up a rocky hill in a rickety bus when the driver announced he would pray to St. Jude for safe passage. My little granny — my mom’s mom — piped up and said, “Can I just pray to God? I’ve got a direct line.”
That, my friends, is the priesthood of the believer.
Now to the point of this post. It seems that every culture and every religious order has some method of dedicating babies and children to God. In Baptist life, the dedication of a child isn’t a sacrament or a baptism, but it’s simply the parents agreeing that the child belongs to God and an affirmation that the parents will make it a priority to raise the child to love and obey Christ and His church. (Which I define as all believers in Christ, not a particular house of worship or denomination). But the parent’s house of worship does come into play, because after the grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives agree to encourage and hold the parents accountable, the local church body then takes a vow (a simple “we will,” “I will” or “yes”) to affirm what the parents have committed to.
In that respect, the Southern Baptist child dedication ceremony has more to do with the local church, the parents and the extended family than it has to do with the child. But it’s a beautiful thing.
This morning Kelly and I — Grammy and Grandpa — along with three aunts and uncles, a great-grandma, and a handful of cousins, stood at the altar with Kishia and Darnell as they dedicated our granddaughter Kianna Allene Brown to God. Being part of that service was a highlight of my whole life.