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Sakes Alive! Let’s Live Generously!

This week I met a man of whom I’d heard tales. He’s a burly fellow, eager to let you know he’s always worked for a living, and taken nothing from anyone. He also
volunteered that he’s never given anything to anyone. “I don’t believe in giving to charity. I just take care of me and my own.”

His brother is famously different. He’s spent his professional life helping others give to causes they believe in to the betterment of all. His personal life mirrors his work life. I’m left to wonder how those two grew up together and wound up so different. Sakes Alive! They grew up in the same house!

Not to change the subject but it’s October when we hold our annual stewardship
campaign. That means we’ll work and make a successful 2016 budget. Every one of us will be challenged. At very least, we’ll find ourselves challenged to give the same, or a little more. Yet, at most we’ll wrestle some with issues that help us grow in faith. I’m hoping for the most and this year’s theme promises to help.

“Saints Alive! Living Generously” is the theme and it’s based on 1 Corinthians 16. I like it. I hope it makes a difference in all our lives. The material ordered from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center includes questions for reflection. They’re good issues for us to consider. Here they are:

Who taught you about being generous?
When have you received a generous gift from another?
Where have you seen God’s abundance in your home; congregation?
What have you taught others about
generosity?

These questions are my homework for the month. Right off the bat, I pictured Hollis McKnight. Mr. McKnight believed in  Christian missions and he lifted that banner over my home church. I don’t remember him being conspicuously wealthy but I know he got wind of my interest in ministry, and did much to make possible my going to
college. These questions called to mind the various disasters, including the flooding going on in South Carolina, even now. I’m always inspired by the outpouring of time, prayers, money and “getting dirty for Jesus” that comes from brothers and sisters toward brothers and sisters they’ve never met. As to what I may have taught anyone, I’ll have to do more thinking.

But in the words of Johnny Mathis, It’s Not For Me To Say. Sakes Alive! Let’s Live Generously!

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 
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Not Even the Son

“And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.”  —Joel 2:30—31

Scare you? It was meant to. Somewhere between 800—500 BC the prophet Joel, gave us this vision of the “Day of the Lord,” a horrific moment in time wedged between “This Present Age,” and “The Age to Come.”  He wrote of the “moon turning into blood” and ever since it’s been a favorite.

First I ever heard it was the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. A preacher I knew cited Joel and promised it was the end of the world. The next day he was left to conclude the ‘69 moonwalk was a fake. He wasn’t alone, and he still isn’t, but I’m not with him.

We had another dose of this silliness last week. A rather rare, and otherwise beautiful, astronomical event occurred and we were able to see a big Halloween—looking moon in the eastern sky, sadly called a “Blood Moon.” What we know is as the moon orbits the earth in an imperfect circle and is sometimes closer than usual so it looks bigger.  We know about once a year we get a lunar eclipse when the earth gets right between the moon and the sun. We know when these two events are simultaneous the sunlight bouncing off the earth makes the otherwise, whitish moon look pumpkinesque. It’d be a good night to sing “Shine on Harvest Moon” and hold hands, but for false prophets who make a career out of scaring the bejeesus out of biblically illiterate, but decent people.

A Texas (wouldn’t you know it) preacher is especially guilty of appropriating this latest sky show to sell a book. Remarkably, he promoted book sales declaring it would occur between April ’14 and October ’15. He promised “Something will change” in his promotional video. I bet that much is right, since it being a changing world, never changes. I wouldn’t mind so much (even a flim-flaming false prophet has to make a living) but it only encourages people to start dismissing all things of faith as “superstitious.”  I don’t mind being pegged a fool for Christ but I’m not happy to be made a flat earth dumbbell. Worse, it turns searching people off in another direction as they look for meaning in life without nonsense.  Worst of all, it leads faithful, if biblically illiterate, people into faithlessness. Another memory verse:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father.”  —Matthew 24:36

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 
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Zimbabwe comes to FCC

Who is Rev. B. J. Mpofu and why is he coming here?  Good questions, and the answers require some history.  In 2008, I was new here and so was The Well.  We needed some mission project that would help people new to us know better our church’s way of being in mission.  Dr. Johnny Wray was the long—time Director of the Week of Compassion, and just the guy to give us good direction.

So, I called Johnny and told what I needed and learned about “Showers of Blessings.”  This was a mission project of our sister church in Australia to assist the work of our sister church in Zimbabwe. To those who don’t know, Zimbabwe is a country in the south of Africa that’s been run by the same man for about 35 years.  Under his leadership the nation has gone from wealthy to poor to dismal.  Average income is less than $2,000.  All the problems of chronic poverty abound and that includes drought.

Still, the Disciples of Zimbabwe have a passion to share the Gospel in word and deed and that’s where the Australian Disciples came in and let us help. “Showers of Blessings” takes people with smarts into villages needing water.  They locate a likely tree and presume water is down below.  They dig a well and usually strike H2O.  They establish the well for that village; then plant a church beside it.  All things considered, brilliant.

We promoted this cause and raised over $3,000, which dug 3 wells and built 3 churches.  Good thing?  You bet!  B. J. Mpofu is the president of that Disciple community and former president of the World Convention of our church.  He’s traveling with Johnny Wray to say, “Thank You” to people like us.  I hope you’ll come and say, “You’re welcome.”  We’ll all learn to pronounce his name.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 

 
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Beauty and Genius

As I recall I was 14.  It was summer and I was visiting my mama’s people in Michigan.  This was when The Big Mitton was flush and yankee relatives told Tennesseans they were hillbillies showing off in shoes.  I had a cousin who studied violin, and thought herself tres chic, for sure.  She played records of her idol, Fritz Kreisler, and to be clear, he was that good.  He was an Austrian who  glowed in the dark at the Vienna Conservatory at age 7.  I was impressed.  However, each Saturday I watched Martha White’s Flatt and Scruggs Show on WSM.

After supper I’d go outside and crank up the Plymouth because it had the best radio in our house.  At precisely 7 o’clock, the bow would drag across the fiddle and that very same Lester and Earl, and their Foggy Mountain Boys, would sing the wonders of Martha White “biscuits, cakes and pies.”  (Goodness gracious, they’re good!)  The big thrill was that Foggy Mountain fiddler, Paul Warren. Warren played in that string band for the largest part of their partnership, and with Flatt after that, and to be clear, he was that good, too.

I shared this with my cousin and encountered a form of class prejudice then foreign to me.  Still, I had a hunch, and at a time when I didn’t know a lot, I was onto something here.  I thank my cousin for causing me to think about this.  I figured Kreisler and Warren played the same instrument, and played it equally well. She feigned horror at the thought.  Kreisler was formally trained, and as a classical musician, yada, yada, yada.  Not just his music, but the person, couldn’t be compared to that hillbilly.

I figured Kreisler grew up playing what he heard and so did Warren. Paul Warren was from Hickman County, Tennessee, and had to swipe his dad’s fiddle and learn by listening to Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith on the Opry.  He’d whistle what he liked until he knew it in his head and hands.

Later my cousin would encounter “folk masses” at her church.  A folk music craze would put Flatt & Scruggs and Paul Warren on TV, and at Carnegie Hall.  My cousin learned better of such prejudice.  Later, I’d encounter the phenomenon of reverse snobbery from people who disdained reading music or formal training and from the people who did.

Lessons learned: beauty and genius are where they are, people can learn differently, condemnation about subjective realities is dumb and we can find lots of ways to be fools.  Let’s not.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 

 
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Cowboy Up

It’s said “confession is good for the soul.” Well, a lot of things are said, but I think this one might be right.  With that, I must confess to feeling some anxiety and Jesus told me, “Don’t be that way.”  I’m anxious about our new Fall Season and the premier of the “Wednesday Night Show,” hosted by Arnold Nelson.  I wouldn’t be a bit worried if someone else were hosting it.  Why, I’d go out of my way to be encouraging and I’d say some version of, “Be not anxious.”

However, my name is on this and it’s something new.  If it goes as hoped we’ll have a chance to hear from interesting people doing interesting things in our community and across the world.    It’ll let us know of their work, but also theirlives and what makes them tick.  In the process maybe we’ll get new insights on how to make our lives count for just a little bit more.  By the time you read this we’ll have met Jay Johnson, President and CEO of Duncan Regional Hospital.  We’ll hear about Main Street Duncan and get to know Destiny Ahlfenger.  Ed Darling will tell us about the United Way, and Johnny Wray will introduce us to B. J. Mpofu of Zimbabwe, director of a program to dig wells and plant churches, a program we’ve supported in the past.  Lawrence Herndon will share news of a proposed columbarium. Along the way we’ll hear the DHS Reflections Show Choir, and Kelsey Avants and “The Old Geezers String Band.”

We’ll have other musical guests and surprise guests and news of the church.  Sounds good to me but I think I’ve made the self—discovery of being no Jack, Johnny, Jay or Jimmy.  Besides, and actually, this is the main thing: I’m out of the Wednesday night habit, as are we all.  I’m very anxious about that. We get in the habit of doing something, like going to church, and then we get in the habit of not, like not going to church.  The idea of getting back in the groove fills us with all kinds of dread.  Perhaps you’ve felt that experience.  Still, I’m going to cowboy up and get back in the swing of things.

People will be nice to me and I’ll be glad to be there and the roof won’t fall in on us. At least I think not.  Hey, come next Wednesday and check it out for yourself. At least the food and company will be good.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 

 

 

 
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The quiet army

I’m a Christian. Please, hold your applause.  It’s not my greatest accomplishment, and no reason for congratulations.  In the World Wide Web people post things like, “I’m proud to be a Christian!”  Not I.  Before you ball up this newsletter (or delete it) hold your horses a second.  If I’m not proud to be a Christian, neither am I ashamed.

What I am is fortunate, blessed and relieved. I’m fortunate to have been reared in an environment where the stories of Jesus were told in word and deed and I heard them one way or another.  I’m blessed because they took a hold on me at an early age, and as I matured there were people to help my life of faith do [some of] the same.  I’m blessed because all the above has made my best of times better, and my worst of times bearable.  If it goes for me, as I’ve witnessed in others, it will see me through my time on Planet Earth.  For that I‘m vastly grateful and relieved.

What I’m NOT is proud.  Okay, I’m proud of a few things.  Those people who do the “I’m Proud to be a Christian” stuff always want the message forwarded.  It’s put to us as if our only alternative is to be ashamed.  So far, this bullying hasn’t made a dent in me and I’m proud of that.  I’ve not been intimidated by such unsaintly coercion.  In fact, I react negatively to the bragging.  When I hear someone talking about all that they, their church, or para—church group does that’s so holy and righteous, it pretty well turns me to stone.  Any version of “I’m/We’re the: most dedicated, deeply spiritual, sacrificial, hard working, true believing, God—loving, God—fearing and generally, awesome person/people,” is inappropriate to us and the Gospel.  Tooting one’s horn is tacky Christianity.

I’m proud of something else.  Over time I’ve seen Christianity done differently. I’ve encountered people doing good for others; giving as needed, quietly and prayerfully concerned about others, all without drawing attention to themselves. Often they’re embarrassed to be caught at it.  They’re inspiring and charming.  I confess I’m proud to be associated with such as these.  Hey, some of you are such as these.  I’m glad to know you, and I applaud you.

Glad to be your pastor, Arnold

 

 

 

 

 
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Southern Homestyle

After Sunday dinner this week, I went by the farmers market at the hospital.  It was pretty picked over but I espied some purple hull peas and loaded up.  I’m so glad to live in a place where purple hull peas might be found on an August Sunday afternoon.  I’d like to have them with a pork roast, squash casserole and some sliced tomatoes. Cornbread would go well with that.

Being in constant companionship with a Latter Day Vegetarian, I don’t suppose I’ll have the roast, but it’s free to wish.  Soon it will be time for white beans, more cornbread and fried potatoes, and I celebrate living somewhere where that’s understood.

A happy surprise about coming to Duncan was the discovery that it’s about as Southern as anyplace I’ve ever lived except the subterranean Charleston, S.C.  I see it in the food and the pace of life.  I see it in crepe myrtles.  I was ready to buy the first house I saw with a magnolia tree.  There’s evidence of Southerness all around us in Duncan, not only in the surplus of Southern Baptists.  As a rule, these evidences of Southerness are cause for celebration, even the Baptists, but you know how it goes; for every rule there’s an exception.

This week I saw something in the morning rush hour traffic that was discouraging.  I saw this truck with ample evidence in it being driven by a Prince of Peace lover of the Second Amendment.  Four decals on a pickup weren’t enough to tell us how the driver viewed the world.  He had to have a Confederate battle flag flapping in the breeze.  For years in my childhood, I had a similar large one on my bedroom wall, and I took it for granted.  I’m over it and I covet better for this town.  Usually it only demonstrates some lame understanding of what it means to be a man, but it does so at the “in your face” cost of hurting others. (Anyone who says they don’t care how others feel needs to go get saved again, and do it right this time.)  Frankly, flying that flag shows a breathtaking lack of imagination.

If someone in Oklahoma, along with Tennessee, Arkansas or any Carolinan, needs to demonstrate their heritage, let them learn how to tell a good story, fry a pan of okra, or show real hospitality to the first comer. Develop a camellia that will thrive in Duncan.  Stick your arm in a catfish hole if you must, but let the flag be furled. As for me, it’s about the time for baking whiskey cakes, and I’ll be ready.

Glad to be your pastor, Arnold

 

 

 

 

 
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One Bread, One Body

Oklahoma’s own Will Rogers once famously said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.”  He was loved and admired for stating, and living such a life.  That was then and things have changed.

Hating has become a virtue.  An Irish poet, Dylan Thomas wrote, “Once you don’t like someone, you don’t like anything about them.”  That is so tragically true.  I find that many of us have a hard time finding people who measure up to our own very high standards of lifestyle, opinions and beliefs.

Few things demonstrate this as much as the American electoral process.  There are currently about 25,000 people seeking their parties’ nominations and every one of them has accomplished enough in their lives to attract enough petition signers to get on the ballot, and donors to tell us what they want us to know.  I’ll repeat myself: all of them are people of achievement.  Yet, to listen to us, you can’t tell.  The way we degrade the ones we don’t prefer is a national scandal and it belittles us all.

It can’t be enough for us to have differing opinions on philosophies of government, approach to illegal immigration, or drugs on our streets.  We can’t just politely disagree and vote for someone else; no, that’s not enough for us.  We move on to hate them for how they’ve made a living, their skin color, how they comb their hair, the faiths they profess, or the faiths we suspect.  We grant ourselves permission to hate them, speak horribly of them, and diminish the plausibility of our own faith claims.  These are my thoughts when I hear a joke, an unkind statement or see a forwarded email from an all—the—while—professing Christian.

In 1994, the African nation of Rwanda broke out into genocidal warfare between the Tutsis and Hutus.  They’d gotten along fine for over 400 years but tribal warfare killed about a million, making refugees of as many.  People who’d lived in peace now hated the other because they were of different tribes. Western humanitarian aide was dosed with heavy judgment against this nonsense.  Quickly, the American way of hating is leaving us with no room to judge the Tutsis or Hutus or anyone else.

Another African, Bishop Desmond Tutu has observed, “God’s standards are really very low.”  I celebrate this every time I consider God’s love for even me. I must deny myself the temerity of setting higher standards on others.

Glad to be your pastor, Arnold

 

 
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Our brothers and sisters keepers…

This week’s news is covered up with the story of Walter Palmer, DDS, of Minnesota. He’s a long—time bow hunter of exotic game. In his time he’s claimed trophies from around the world including an elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, elk, cape buffalo, big horn sheep, polar bear, a black bear (that earned him some legal trouble in his home state,) a mountain lion and an African lion 10 years ago. Unfortunately, he recently killed another one, a black—mane African lion in Zimbabwe who turned out to be Cecil, a celebrity of his species. Although Palmer paid his fees, got his license and used a guide, Cecil seems to have been lured off a protected preserve with food, and that’s poaching.

Regardless of what comes of this, Palmer’s dental practice and name are casualties. I’m not one who’d assault him as a criminal for being a trophy hunter. If you disagree with trophy hunting, even though it’s legal, you’ve probably got a bigger complaint with the law, not the dentist. However, neither am I sympathetic to hunting enthusiasts who feel some visceral need to defend him as it eventuates he took careful aim at an animal wearing a collar. If he was misled by a crooked guide then the illegal acts can be held against them both.

What intrigues me is the hue and cry of those who’d disregard anything inhumane, or illegal, done to “a stupid lion” in the face of other endangered species, neglected pets, starving children and neglected veterans. Some of these are reduced to rants that attack people for caring about an issue that isn’t the ranter’s issue. Here’s the deal: all are worthy concerns. Rapid depletion of wildlife, large and small, due to pesticides, poachers and nuts in China who think elephant tusks will make them men again, is a problem. Irresponsible persons who take on responsibility for horses, dogs and cats they won’t shoulder are a problem. Certainly children anywhere, any time, being robbed of the prospects of a full life due to abuse, neglect and exploitation is absolutely a concern. Citizens put in harm’s way on behalf of their nation’s interests are a concern to all of us when they return.

There’s no one cause to the exclusion of all others and this wasn’t presented as an exhaustive list. Indifference and studied ignorance are sins of omission as deadly as those of commission. We’re responsible for all the created order and we’re our brother’s and sister’s keepers.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 
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Nickel Knowledge

It will soon be 5 years sine Charles Boyd took a pile of rust and air claiming space of what was once an automobile and began making a new one.  He calls it “restoration.” Sure.  At last it’s taking shape and when its finished it will be a hand built 1959 Mercedes 220S *Cabriolet. Trent and Caleb Cronk have recently done something akin to this with a ’56 Chevy and it’s a beauty.  Not my skill sets at all.

Over the years I’ve specialized in nickel knowledge, obscure matters that don’t matter.  You might call it trivia.  After 20 years of never playing any kind of computer game, I recently saw Cindy Flanigan—Reynolds’ daughter’s, Shelby and Aubrey, playing Trivia Crack.  I tried it and it’s aptly named.

The object is to answer 3 questions to win the chance to answer another over 6 subjects before your opponent.  I can stand my own against about anyone but Don Gooch and Don Weaks (There’s just something about that name?)  The questions are embarrassingly easy.  I can hear my dad say, “Any fool ought to know.”  For instance, “What land was Columbus actually in search of on his voyage of 1492?”  Choices are: the Balkans, Australia, South America or India.  Another, where is Rio de Janeiro located?  Pick from: USA, Brasilia, North Carolina or Brazil.

See? Painfully simple until you miss one, and you miss one.  You miss more than one.  It becomes hard.  I’d have thought we all know Lincoln is on the One Cent, and FDR is on the Dime, until I met people who didn’t.  In fact, I’ve learned some things.  I finally learned there are 11 players on the field of a soccer game.  I’ve also learned I picked up more in 9th grade physical science than either the teacher or I’d have thought.  I’ve learned I’d rather lose than know Justin Timberlake was once in NSYNC.  (Still, now I do.)  I’ve learned there’s such a vast array of things to be known in this world that none of us can know it all.  A silly game can humble any of us and that’s good to remember.

I also know this really is nickel knowledge.  The billion dollar stuff I learned early and some of it I learned in church.

See you there.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

*La-di-dah for a 4 door convertible.

P.S.

India and Brazil.  But you knew that.

 

 
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