Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why does the lamb love Mary so?

On our first date, Evelyn and I dined at Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury, MA. Open as Howe's Tavern in 1661, it's the oldest hostelry in the United States. By 1860, Harvard professors vacationed there, and one of them, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was inspired to write "Tales of the Wayside Inn." The tavern almost closed in 1923, until Henry Ford restored and renamed it as an example of colonial Americana. On a slight hill nearby, he built the New England-style Martha-Mary chapel, honoring his mother and mother-in-law. It's used only for weddings, and if a reception follows at the inn, the couple ride in a "carriage with fringe on top." 

We visited the area often as our girls grew up. It was fun watching wedding parties spill from the white-steepled chapel onto the emerald green lawn, and sometimes we saw the bride and groom in their carriage! But our favorite haunt was a small, one-room school house Ford moved to the churchyard from Sterling, MA. Research convinced him it was the school where Mary had a little lamb. Built in 1798, it served as a school until 1856. It was a dirty garage when he had it dismantled and restored near the inn. He found the original school master's desk and chair, and furnished the room with period pieces. It's open each summer for tours. One desk is marked, "Mary sat here." Our girls sat there too.

The nursery rhyme is based on fact. Mary Sawyer (1806-1859) was growing up on a farm when two lambs were born in her barn. One died, and the other was not expected to live, so she asked to care for it in the house. She nursed it all day, and sat up all night with it, feeding it catnip tea. Gradually it improved, but it thought Mary was its mother. It would follow her anywhere if she called it.

One day her brother suggested they take the lamb to school. They arrived before the teacher and placed the lamb under Mary's seat, wrapped in a shawl. It was not noticed until Mary walked to the blackboard to recite and it walked behind her. Everyone laughed except the teacher, who demanded the lamb be taken outside. Of course it stayed by the door, waiting to walk Mary home. 

A 12-year-old scholar named John Roulstone visited school that day. The incident touched him deeply, and afterward he gave Mary a slip of paper with the original verses of the poem. Eventually the poem became famous as part of McGuffey's Reader. Do you remember it? 
Redstone School, 1983

"Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go. It followed her to school one day which was against the rule; it made the children laugh and play to see a lamb at school. And so the teacher turned it out; but still it lingered near and waited patiently about, 'til Mary did appear. 'Why does the lamb love Mary so,' the eager children cry. 'Why Mary loves the lamb, you know,' the teacher did reply."

Monday, September 29, 2014

The genuine leather chair

(This article appeared in The Christian Science Monitor in 1967)

The rough, clean smell of saddle soap blended with the odor of aged leather on my father's old chair. The creases in the leather were like wrinkles of a loved face -- memories of smiles.

The smell of new leather remained on that chair for weeks. When it first came to our house, its brass tacks shown brightly against the green cowhide upholstery. Now they're rubbed to a mottled brown and yellow.

Dad taught me the special care a leather chair needed. Never jump into it thoughtlessly, or put dirty shoes on the handsome ottoman that stood before it. "Always remember it's a genuine leather chair," he said.

The chair, in my off-campus Boston apartment.

But it was really his special chair. Returning home from work each day, he'd sink into it with his paper, and return to it again after supper for a quiet evening. If he read me story before I went to bed, the chair could hold both of us.

One summer, when I'd grown a little bigger, I flopped into the chair too heavily and split the cushion seam wide open. Dad used a special needle to make firm stitches in the worn leather, securing the seam with a new thread.

When I left home for college, my student budget was too small to include much furniture so Dad offered a remedy, claiming, "we really don't need that old chair around the house anymore." When I protested it was "his chair," he told me I'd love it just as much as he did. "Remember, it demands care in exchange for the comfort it gives," he said. "If you take care of it, it will seem ageless, because it's genuine."

When I showed the old chair to my new wife a few years later, we looked at its tired upholstery as we thought about our new home. "How much longer shall we keep it?" she asked.

"As long as we need it, I guess. Dad said it's almost ageless, because it's genuine."

"What a lovely thought," she reflected. "That's just the way Dads are too."

Samuel H. Horn, 1905-1970

The Bible and the telescope

Some say the Bible is like a telescope. It's nice to know when and where each part was built, and be able to name all the parts. But we look through a telescope to make the stars more visible.

Similarly, we look through the Bible to make God more visible. We uncap the Bible's lens by answering this question. "What if all I had today was what I thanked God for yesterday?"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

40 reasons not to attend church?

A pastor, apparently disgusted with the excuses parishioners offered as to why they didn’t attend worship services, included “Reasons Why I Never Wash” in the Sunday bulletin:
  • I was forced to as a child.
  • People who wash are hypocrites - they think they are cleaner than everybody else.
  • There are so many different kinds of soap; I can’t decide which one is best.
  • I used to wash, but I got bored and stopped.
  • I wash only on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
  • None of my friends wash.
  • I’ll start washing when I get older and dirtier.
  • I can’t spare the time.
  • The bathroom is never warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer.
  • People who make soap are only after your money.
  • I don’t like the songs people sing in the bathroom.
  • I can clean myself perfectly well whenever I pass a sink, so I don’t need a bathtub.
  • I know how to stay clean without washing.
  • The last time I washed, someone was rude to me.
  • What I do doesn’t affect anybody but me.
  • I know someone who washes every day and still smells bad.
  • I don’t believe in soap. I sat beside a whole case of it for an hour once, and nothing happened.
  • Washing was invented by people who knew nothing about science.
  • If people saw me without my makeup, they would laugh at me.
  • I’m so dirty now that if I washed, the drain would clog.
  • Cats, dogs, and chickens never wash, and they are happy all the time.
  • Prehistoric humans were happy all the time until the first soap salesman made them feel guilty.
  • If I start washing again, my friends will think I am trying to conform to middle-class standards.
  • Washing is for women and children.
  • Washing is for people much dirtier than I am.
  • I will wash when I find the bathroom that is exactly right for me.
  • I only believe in things I can see, and I can’t see bacteria.
  • Children need to see that it is OK to be different.
  • Children need a few bad examples.
  • Washing may have been OK in my grandfather’s day, but it’s not practical in today’s world. 
  • I watch other people washing on TV.
  • There are lots of clean people who never wash.
  • We’ve just moved here six years ago and haven’t had a chance.
  • I bought a bad bar of soap once, so I swore I would never wash again!
  • I feel as close to washing on the golf course as I do in the bathroom.
  • I never wash when I have company.
  • Washday is the only day I have to sleep in.
  • My wife washes enough for the whole family
  • I know people who wash but don’t act very clean.
  • Washing is the opiate of the masses.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Let me be a little kinder...

Believe it or not, when I was in sixth grade we had opening exercises every morning. First we stood and faced the flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. (The words "under God" had just been added by President Eisenhower.) Then one of the students stood and read a few verses from the classroom's King James Bible. We only used the old testament, so our Jewish friends could be included. (When it was my turn, I usually read the 91st Psalm.)  Then we bowed our heads in a moment of silent prayer. But I wasn't sure what to whisper to God. Should I ask for good grades? Or ask to be appointed to the safety patrol? That's what I wanted most!

When I told Dad and Mom about this, they said I shouldn't ask God for anything. They wrote down a little prayer (originally by Edgar Guest) and made me read it over and over and over, until I knew it cold. They said if I recited it to myself during silent prayer, and really meant it, my whole day would be better. Since then, I've asked my kids at summer camp to memorize it, and the kids I've taught in Sunday School, and do you know why? Because this prayer works! Maybe you'd like to memorize it too? But remember, it only works if you pray it from your heart.

Let me be a little kinder,
Let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those about me.
Let me love a little more.

Let me be when I am weary
Just a little bit more cheery.
Let me think more of my neighbor
And a little less of me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Our nation's doctor

Americans will long remember the life of Dr. C. Everett Koop, former US surgeon general, who passed away in 2013 at 96. He was trained as a pediatric surgeon, and reports of his death often mentioned that he prayed at the bed of his young patients, ignoring the snickers of some of his colleagues. Why?
"It used to be said in World War II that there were no atheists in foxholes," he wrote in 1973. "I have found there are very few atheists among the parents of dying children. This is a time when religious faith can see a family through trying circumstances."
C. Everett Koop
Although raised Baptist, he was drawn to the Presbyterian church, where he developed an abiding faith. Koop believed the church has always been the safety net for the ill, adding that the original hospitals were Christian, as were hospices and orphanages.
“A remnant of that still remains,” he said, “but after 1964 Medicare and Medicaid changed the entire climate of social help. With these two programs we thought everyone, no matter how old or poor, was entitled to some kind of health insurance. This led churches to say, ‘Hey, we’re not necessary any longer.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“It’s becoming easier to integrate faith and healing today than in the past,” he explained in a 1998 interview, recalling that “in the sixties and seventies students and nurses who talked about their faith were reprimanded. Today, the popularity of mind-body medicine has made faith and prayer very acceptable, opening the door for Christians in medicine to share their faith.”
Fellow physician and neurosurgeon David Levy agrees with Koop. In his book “Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer…One Patient at a Time” he writes, “As I have addressed patients’ spirituality and made prayer a regular part of patient interactions, the response has been impressive. I have seen lives brought to a level of spiritual, emotional and physical health that my patients had never enjoyed before.” (Tyndale House Publishers, 2011, page 11)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The road of patience

Yesterday's blog entry asked "should we expect a miracle?" I know a man who did. When I was a senior in high school, Mr. Henniker-Heaton was my Sunday School teacher. He was from Great Britain, and during WWII lived in bomb-ravaged London. Here's his story, as he shared with us.

Peter J. Henniker-Heaton

"Just before World War II, I was working for the British Home Civil Service when I began to lose the use of my legs. When my sick leave ended, I had a week-long medical exam and they said I had some form of paralysis for which there was no known cure. I was invalided out of the service, and my dear wife cared for me at home, but for almost 10 years I could not stand or walk. At times I ate little and slept poorly. Our home, an upper flat in central London, was under Nazi air attack for four of those years. And we were low on funds."

No medical remedy existed, but Mr. Henniker-Heaton prayed for healing. He read the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, from cover to cover. When he was too weak to turn the pages, his wife left the book open before him, and he memorized the page. Eventually he knew more than half the book by heart. Fellow Sunday School teachers called him "the walking concordance." Walking?

"As I studied, spiritual joy filled me," he remembered, "and with it a keener sense of spiritual innocence. In the tenth year, I began to walk again. My sleep and appetite returned to normal as I went forward in God's strength. All the good of those years remained with me; all the loss and evil are as though they had never been."

Mr. Henniker-Heaton was a part-time poet. When asked how he could trust God patiently for ten years until his health returned, he responded with this verse.

No mortal effort builds the road of patience.
God laid it well before the world began,
Himself, the God of love, the God patience,
For man, His perfect child, to walk upon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Should we really expect a miracle?

When I was 12, living in Wilmington, DE, a local theater changed it's marquee. Instead of a movie title, it said JESUS SAVES. Oral Roberts had come to town on a healing crusade. My parents dismissed him as a hoax, so I did too, until recently -- when I learned more about his life.

Did you know he was raised in frontier poverty near Ada, Oklahoma? As a teenager in 1934, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis so advanced he could not survive. With no other hope, his parents took him to an evangelist meeting in a tent in Ada. In his autobiography, Expect a Miracle, Roberts recalls hearing God's voice on the way to the meeting. "Son, I'm going to heal you, and you're going to take my healing power to your generation." At the end of the meeting, the evangelist put his hand on Roberts' head and shouted to the illness, "Come out of this boy!" Roberts fully recovered and began studying the Bible, giving his first sermon two years later.

He began his TV career in 1954 by filming worship services conducted under a traveling tent big enough to seat 10,000. Leaders of many denominations doubted his cures. Arizona ministers offered $1,000 to anyone who could prove medically that Oral Roberts cured them. They received no response, but thousands claimed they had been healed by the touch of his hand.

During his long career, he placed his hand on more than 1.5 million sick people. Millions wrote him seeking counsel, including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. In 1972, John Lennon wrote asking forgiveness for saying the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus."

If you never watched Oral Roberts on television, click the blue link below to see a brief clip. His disclaimer at the beginning may interest you, as well as the second healing -- of a boy who stutters. When criticized by churches, Roberts replied, "I have more friends among doctors than clergymen."


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Good is happening all around us

At first glance, you might think the world is "going to hell in a hand basket." That's because national media considers good news anecdotal. A cheery snippet concludes some newscasts, as if nothing else good happened that day. But it did! Good is happening all around us, all the time. Consider this. At the drive-up window of a Chik fil A recently, a customer named John paid for his meal with ten $100 bills. He asked that the money be used to buy meals for people in the cars behind him. "Mondays are hard," he said, "and I just want to make a few folks happier." So for the next hour, every driver at the window as told his meal had been pre-paid by a man known only as John. All were surprised. Some were incredulous. And one lady, who had a terrible day until then, broke down and cried.

Meanwhile, some senior girls at a high school in Texas were hatching a plot to heal the heart of a classmate who was the victim of bullying. You'll enjoy watching the news report linked here.


And on another football field not far away, the home team was losing the Friday night game but finally won by just one point. Open this link to see and hear a post-game interview with one of the players. His attitude will remind you what boys can learn from sports and good coaches.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The touch of the Master's hand

During the Vietnam War, I enlisted in the Naval Reserve and was sent to boot camp at the SeaBee base in Davisville, RI. Usually 8 weeks long, my training was compressed into two weeks, and they were busy. First we all got physicals, shots, a buzz cut and a duffel bag of Government Issue uniforms. The swimming test was simple. You climbed to a high diving board and jumped into the pool. If you could swim, you swam when you hit the water. Some recruits who could not swim actually vomited while climbing to the diving board. But they had to jump anyway. When a ship is sinking, there are no other choices. Those who couldn't doggie-paddle out of the pool were thrown a life preserver, and assigned evening swimming lessons.

Trivial stuff was important at boot camp. During inspection each day, bunks were checked to see if the sheets and blanket were folded into "hospital corners." Was the top blanket tight enough to bounce a nickel? Did our shoes shine like mirrors? No dust under the bed?

We never moved between buildings except in formation. "Fall in!" "Dress right, dress!" "Forward march!" "Column right!" "Mark time!" "Halt." got us from the barracks to the mess hall for three DELICIOUS meals each day.

Most days were filled with military classes and marching on the drill field. But a special highlight was the gas chamber. To help us understand how useful a gas mask is, we were ordered to put one on and march into a cabin filled with tear gas. None of us felt any discomfort. Then we were ordered to removed our mask and say our name, rank and serial number before exiting. Without the mask, we could hardly breathe. It was a lesson we'd never forget.

With no free time at all, we all looked forward to mandatory chapel on Sunday morning. The pastor was used to preaching to raw recruits. His recited a poem written in 1921 by Myra B. Welch. It's called "The Touch of the Master's Hand." I never forgot it. Here it is.

'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"
But, No,
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as an angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with it's bow.
"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The touch of the Master's hand."

As we rose to sing the Navy Hymn, I was grateful for the reminder that any life, even mine, becomes priceless when touched by the Master's hand.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The light in the upstairs hall

Vern and Edith Benson's only son, second-grader Bobby, was everyone's friend. Never one to whine or complain, he usually thought about others more than himself. "Gee, Mom, you sure look pretty in that dress," he often said. Or "this meatloaf is really yummy!" Down in the basement workshop, his Dad was teaching him to use power tools safely, and he made simple birdhouses -- as gifts, of course. He was very obedient. When crossing the road on his walk to school, he always looked both ways. But one morning, two weeks before Christmas, that wasn't enough.

Just as he got to the middle of the road, a car appeared out of nowhere. He had no time to run. It ran over him. He died instantly.

Vern and Edith's anguish turned to anger when they learned the car was driven by a 15-year-old boy with no license. They called their lawyer and demanded, "we want that kid tried as an adult, so he can spend the rest of his life in prison!" Edith went to bed and refused to get up. She lay there almost a week, in misery. Vern tried to encourage her, but he had no answer to her question: if there is a God, how could he let Bobby die? What happened next is hard to believe, but true.

Late one night, Vern noticed a light under the bedroom door. He told Edith he must have left the hall light on, and went to turn it off. But the hall light was turned off. The light came from everywhere, and it was almost blindingly bright. As Vern stood in the brilliance, he felt in his heart that his son never died. Bobby was needed by God to do very important work. He was sure of it. When he walked back into the bedroom, Edith was shocked. Vern's face was glowing with light! He told her what he learned, and she shouted, "that's the first thing I've heard all week that makes any sense." Then she paused. "It's true Bobby no longer needs us, Vern, but there is someone who does. He's locked up in the county jail, and unless we help, he won't get any Christmas presents this year."

So they scoured the house for small gifts, and wrapped them up. The next morning at the jail they met Ed, the teenager who killed their son.  They learned he had no Dad and was being raised by his Mom, who worked two jobs and was seldom home. He often skipped school, and had poor grades. When his Mom came home that morning and went to sleep before her next job, he took the car keys out of her purse and went for a joy ride. He never intended to hurt anyone. He was sorry.

After seeing the light, Verne and Edith knew what they had to do. First, they dropped all charges against Ed, provided he agreed to come to their house every afternoon to do his homework. They tutored him when he needed help, and let him sit in Bobby's chair at the dinner table to enjoy a good supper. After his grades began to improve, Vern took him downstairs to the shop and taught him how to make birdhouses, as gifts. Eventually they made beautiful furniture together. Vern and Edith helped his Mom pay off a few debts, and when she could, she joined them for supper with Ed. In the glow of forgiveness and love, Ed's attitude improved. Vern and Edith were in the audience when he graduated from high school on his way to college. As valedictorian, he made a few remarks from the stage. He thanked his Mom for working two jobs, and looking at Vern and Edith with tears in his eyes, he said, "Gee, Edith, you sure look pretty in that dress." Everyone laughed, but Edith knew it was no joke.
(As remembered from a long-ago Guidesposts Magazine)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Eternal Father, strong to save...

While serving during the Vietnam War at the Naval Communications Command Headquarters in Washington, I sometimes attended "Protestant Divine Worship" in the Navy Chapel on base. At the end of each service, we always sang the Navy Hymn, with our voices and our hearts. A link at the end of this message will let your see and hear this beloved hymn.

One Sunday the pastor told of two retired sailors living as neighbors on the rocky coast of Maine. From their homes, they could see sailing ships in trouble on the ocean during storms. Eventually they decided to help. They built a rustic shack with a simple wood stove. It overlooked the water, and they used it for a rescue station. When a ship was in trouble, they'd row out and rescue the passengers, and bring them to the shack to warm up by the stove.

Some of the folks they saved also lived along the coast, and were so grateful to these men that they joined them to form a larger rescue team. They expanded the shack, installed plumbing and electricity. Over the next few years, dozens more victims who might have drowned were saved by this team, which now had five rowboats. Some of these also joined the team, and the station expanded further. Now it had wall-to-wall carpet, and sofas, and a TV. Those who had been saved spent hours at the station, enjoying each other's company. One stormy night a ship was in trouble off the coast. The team went into action and saved the passengers, bringing them to the station, but some team members objected when the ragged, dirty passengers from the ship dripped water on the new carpet, and ate the food, and left the bathroom a mess.

"But rescuing people is the reason we're here," said the two founding members. Others disagreed. The station was also their club, and they enjoyed each other's company. The founders were told if they wanted to rescue "just anybody" they'd need to build another station down the coast.

So they did. The little shack with a stove provided warmth to all the folks they saved. Some of the folks who'd been saved wanted to join the rescuers and improve the shack. You can see where this is going. Eventually, there were six beautiful seaside clubhouses along the coast, but nobody was watching for sinking ships.

"Those are our churches," said the Pastor. "Each one was started to save souls, but what are we doing today? Have we forgotten our purpose? Think about this, as we rise to sing the Navy Hymn." (click blue link below)

You'll never be lonely again

Soon after a sad divorce, I joined friends for a weekend at the Lake Pemaquid Campground in Maine. It was no place for a bachelor. Walking down shady lanes between family campsites, I felt totally alone. Praying for comfort, I remembered that God is everyone's real Father, so these families were my brothers and sisters. That's when I came to the play area. Six kids were on swings, trying to go higher. I watched quietly until one asked me to push him. Then the next asked. Finally I was pushing them all. Seemingly within minutes we knew each other's first names. They were from two families who camped together for a week each year. They met at the playground after dark to tell ghost stories. I offered to meet with them and share a tale they'd never forget. Then we parted for supper.

That evening their parents came along to see the "single man" who wanted to meet their kids after dark. They were all school teachers, and when they heard I worked for The Christian Science Monitor, they gladly left their kids with me.  I told the story of Shangri-la, from the movie "Lost Horizon." After returning to their campsites, the kids all voted to pool their allowance and buy me a gift at the camp store. I also bought them gifts. Next morning we swapped gifts and took pictures and hugged, just like a real family, and I said good-bye.

Back at home in the city, I yearned to keep this new sense of family alive. I called the camp office, but without the children's last names, the office could not locate them. To me, they had vanished into thin air, just like my recent marriage. I felt angry with God, and prayed, "Why do you keep doing this to me? You're supposed to be love, so you know you owe me an explanation. I'm going to sit right here until you answer me!" And there I sat, for about 45 minutes, listening humbly and expectantly, but hearing nothing. Then an idea came that was totally new! It cured my sorrow and changed my life forever. Here it is.


I hurried outside to look for the face of love. I saw it in a grocery store cashier, a gas station attendant, my barber, and many colleagues at work. Looking for God's face, the evidence of love, kept me so busy that I forgot to be lonely. One night I shared this story with friends at church. A new member saw God's face in mine, and I saw God's face in hers. She had two daughters. They were not twins, but they both had God's face. This year we celebrated our thirty-something anniversary, and we're still grateful to see God's face many times each day.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

For those who faithfully accompany us

Students of the Bible are celebrating this week's discovery of the long-lost 29th chapter of Acts, found deep within a remote cave in southern Palestine. The ancient scrolls are still in good condition, according to scholars who translated them into English and put them online for all to read.

Chapter 29 concerns a problem still shared by many Christian churches today. It reads:

"And it came to pass, when Paul was at Corinth, he and certain disciples came upon a mob that was about to stone an organist. And Paul said unto them, 'What then hath he done unto thee, that is head should be bruised?'

And the people cried with one voice, 'He hath played too loud! Yea, in the singing of psalms, he maketh our heads to ring as if beaten by hammers. Behold, he sitteth up high in the loft, and mighty are the pipes, and mighty is the noise thereof, and though there be few of us below, he nonetheless playeth with all the stops; the Assyrian trumpet stop, and the sound of the ram's horn stop, and the stop that soundeth like the sawing of stone, and we cannot hear the words that cometh out of our own mouths. He always tosseth in variations that confuse us mightily, and he playeth always in militant tempo so we have not time to breathe as we sing. Lo, he is a plague upon the faith and should be chastised.'

Hearing this, Paul himself picked up a small stone and was about to cast it, but he set it down and bade the organist come forth.

He was a narrow man, pale of complexion, thin of hair, who took few vacations. And Paul saith unto him, 'Why hast thou so abused thy brethren?'

And the organist replied, 'I could not hear them singing from where I sat, and therefore I played the louder to encourage them.'

Then Paul turned to the mob and said loudly, 'Let him who hath played an organ, both keys and pedals, cast the first stone.' And they looked within themselves and departed, beginning with the music professor even unto the sixth-grade piano student. And embracing him, Paul bade the organist repent, and he did."

The authenticity of these scrolls has yet to be verified, but their lesson is a valuable one. Let's salute the men and women who faithfully accompany us as we sing in church. Led by love, they lift our spirits week after week, with few vacations and fewer pats on the back.

If you agree church organists are sometimes taken for granted, please pause after church this Sunday to give your musician a hug of thanks, just as Paul did in Acts 29.

The true purpose of clouds

Monday, September 15, 2014

When I consider Thy heavens... (Ps. 8:3)

Many remember the summer day in 1969, when the tiny Lunar Module (LM) attached to Apollo 11 separated from the spacecraft and took two astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, gently down to the surface of the moon. Both men soon left the LM and walked on the lunar surface, collecting space rocks. 

But few recall what happened before they opened the door and stepped out.

Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas. Knowing he would soon do something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion and asked his pastor for help. The pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine, and Buzz took them with him to the moon.

He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to Mission Control at Cape Kennedy: "This is the LM pilot. I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way." He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John, and he took communion. Here is his own account of what happened: 

"In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the tiny chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, 'I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.' I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility . It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of Communion." 

No invisible means of support

In the 1950s, when families bought their first television sets, the Milton Berle Show was #1. Berle was nick-named "Mr. Television" or "Uncle Miltie." But he had competition. ABC challenged his top ratings with a show called "Life is Worth Living" starring Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. It would take a miracle for a priest to top Uncle Miltie's sky-high ratings, but the miracle happened! On average, 30 million viewers tuned in to watch "Uncle Fultie." Fans sent him 8,000 letters a day. He won an Emmy in 1952 for Most Outstanding TV Personality. Hearing this, Berle complained, "Sure he won. He has better writers -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!"

Here are a few of Uncle Fultie's best remembered zingers:

Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.
The big print giveth. The small print taketh away.
Hearing a nun's confession is like being stoned to death with popcorn.
The USSR is like the cross without the Christ, while American culture is like Christ without a cross.
An atheist is a man with no invisible means of support.
The reason we are not as happy as saints is because we do not wish to be saints.

To watch a few minutes of "Life is Worth Living," google "Fulton Sheen television."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Healing means making things right

Leigh Chasse was 17, and her sister Sara was 15 in the fall of 2000, when they first heard about Michael Stultz. He was 17, and lay in a coma at Bloomington Hospital after a traffic accident.

Leigh and Sara had studied harp for two years under a professor at Indiana University School of Music. They wanted to help Stulz by playing in his hospital room. The boy's mother, Rita Fox, quickly agreed.

Leigh Chasse, left, and her sister, Sara, right, prepared for a practice with their teacher, Professor Elzbieta Szmyt, at the Indiana University School of Music. The sisters, while still in high school, studied many hours on a daily basis with Szmyt. Their family chose Bloomington for its access to the music school and its famed harp department.
The hospital let the sisters store their 75 pound, 47-string concert grand harp in Stultz's hospital room. Each evening for two weeks, the girls moved the instrument to his bedside and took turns playing for him from 8 until 10 p.m.
The first time Fox heard them, she started crying, because "it sounded like heavenly music."

The girls were not intimidated playing for a patient in a coma. "When I played, I kind of looked at him," said Leigh, "because I had the music memorized."
At first, the girls were told to play very softly, and the door to Stultz's hospital room was shut. But when other patients overheard the soothing strains, they asked that all doors be opened. "They said our music helped them too," Sara explained.
Leigh had noticed that playing the harp made her feel better, and hoped it would have the same effect on Stultz. "We thought maybe he could still hear, and the music might help him relax."
Leigh and Sara hoped to play their harps together in Carnegie Hall someday, but as far as Rita Fox and her family were concerned, they were already stars. 
"They are angels," she said. "They have hearts (and harps) of gold. Healing doesn't always mean getting well. It also means making things right. I think harp music heals the spirit."

"Diligence is joy, molded in the shape of effort."

When the Dalai Lama became the teenage leader of Tibet in 1950, he and his brother Thubten Norbu were both exiled. Norbu later became a professor at Indiana University. He established a Tibetan Cultural Center not far from campus. Every few years, the Dalai Lama visited the center to see his brother and teach classes in Buddhism. 

When the Dalai Lama visited in August, 1999, many monks accompanied His Holiness. One was Matthieu Ricard, one of the Dalai Lama's interpreters. Ricard had just published a best-selling book, and discussed it before an overflow audience at Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Reporting for the local paper, I asked Ricard if he could describe Buddhism in one word. He said it all boils down to love. Here are excerpts from my article.

By David Horn, Herald-Times Staff Writer

"It is lazy to be discouraged. Diligence is joy, molded in the shape of effort."
These and other nuggets of Buddhist wisdom were shared Friday evening by Matthieu Ricard, a monk who sometimes serves as interpreter for the Dalai Lama.
The standing-room-only crowd at Barnes and Noble Booksellers listened intently for an hour as Ricard explained basic Buddhist concepts before signing copies of a new book he co-authored with his father, called The Monk and the Philosopher.
"Freedom is a hot subject today," he said with a smile, "but too often it means freedom to do whatever we want. Real freedom is not to be carried away by every thought that takes you by the nose."
One way to achieve this freedom is through meditation.
"Meditation is more than sitting under a mango tree in India with an empty mind," he said. "It's a process of gradual transformation; a new way of seeing things. You might meditate on a quality you wish to develop, such as compassion."
In Buddhism, compassion means more than sympathy.
"Compassion is the wish to free beings from suffering and the causes of suffering," he explained. "This wish is directed toward sentient beings, but also toward enlightenment and wisdom. Without wisdom about how ignorance brings suffering, you cannot help anyone, not even yourself. Compassion must be cultivated through meditation until it has intensity."
At 26, Ricard had earned a doctorate in biology at France's Pasteur Institute when he decided to become a Buddhist and study in Darjeeling, India.
His father, famed French philosopher and author Jean-Francois Revel, was disappointed by his son's decision, but eventually yearned to understand why Buddhism is so appealing to the Western world. In France today, Buddhism is the third most popular religion, behind Roman Catholicism and Islam, but ahead of Protestantism and Judaism.
To find answers, Revel, a famed gourmet who dined three times a month at Maxim's, agreed to spend 10 days in the mountains of Nepal with his son, eating nothing but vegetables. With probing questions (Does life have meaning? What is mind? What is happiness? Are we free?) Revel discovered that Ricard's Buddhism is far deeper than blissed-out hippiedom.
When the visit ended, edited versions of their profound conversations became The Monk and the Philosopher, a best-selling book now translated into 14 languages.
The book concludes that Buddhism arouses interest in the West today because it fills a gap left by Western philosophy in the area of ethics and the art of living.
Ricard explains. "Behind what might initially look like exotic forms, the Buddhist path is designed to help us become better human beings."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Four Words All Fathers Need to Hear

When Evelyn and I married, her daughters Nicole and Michelle were starting first and third grade. Now they're mature adults. The article below, excerpted from a recent issue of the Huffington Post, perfectly explains the lesson they taught me. It's 100% true.

First it's this...
"Oh man, you're having a girl? Dude, you're in trouble!"

And then it's all of this...

"Oh, wait until they are crawling!" "Oh, wait until they are walking!" Oh, wait until they start talking!" "Oh, wait until they start talking back!" "Oh, wait until they want a cell phone!" "Oh, wait until they like boys!" "Oh, wait until the 'tween years!" "Oh, wait until middle school/high school/college!""Oh, wait until they get want to get married!"

Here's a little secret, fellas, one they don't tell you at the sports bar or the Mommy and Me classes you aren't invited to attend: You can go right ahead and forget all that crap. All of it.

I have a simple, four-word message to all dads of daughters. It is a message I've taken to actually saying out loud to dads I see with very young girls by their side because it's crucial that dads receive a counterweight to balance out all the BS macho guy talk they will hear in regards to their daughters and their role as dad to a daughter: It only gets better.

Yeah, your precious little princess will eventually crawl, walk, talk, talk back, crave some overpriced technology, be sweet on boys, awkwardly grow into her 'tween years, have her heart broken, break a few herself, enter high school and maybe go off to college. That's all absolutely true, but there is nothing in your daughter's timeline that you need to fear. Nothing. The only thing worth fearing as the dad of a daughter is not being there to share in her experiences.

As her dad, you get to be a steady knee to hold onto as she props herself up learning to walk; to be an example of calm in the face of adversity as she tests her limits as a toddler; to teach her how to be a good digital citizen on social media with her new phone; to hold her tight while saying nothing when she goes through her first breakup; to know that even though you are a "fixer" by nature, there are moments in her life when she'll need to cry into your shoulder or scream her lungs out, and to know that all that's required of you in those moments is to be present, to live life not through her, but alongside her as daddy, mentor, confidant, counselor, consoling presence, friend, and dad again.

I need you to hear this and believe this, for I know it to be true: It only gets better.

The conversations get better. The jokes get better. The hugs get better. The laughs get better. The nights out get better. The Saturday mornings get better. The concerts get better. The love, it gets better. And stronger. It ALL gets better.

So, the next time some blowhard warns you of whatever impending doom he insists will befall you as the dad of a daughter, and makes some terrible joke about needing a shotgun to protect her, ignore him and know that it only gets better.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The lights along the shore

Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) was one of the most famous evangelists of the 19th century. In his sermons, he once recalled a passenger ship on Lake Erie approaching Cleveland harbor on a dark and stormy night. A pilot was aboard to guide the ship into the harbor.

Seeing only the light from one lighthouse, the ship's captain asked the pilot, "Are you sure this is Cleveland?" "Quite sure," replied the pilot. "Where are the lower lights, the ones in homes along the shore?" the captain asked. "They've gone out, sir," the pilot said. "Either we find the channel without them, or we perish."

In the darkness, with no lights along the shore, the ship missed the channel and crashed on the rocks. Many lives were lost.

Moody concluded by saying, "The Master will take care of the Great Lighthouse, but it is up to us to keep the lower lights burning."

 Philip Bliss, one of the greatest hymn-writers of all time, was directing music at Moody's service when he heard this true story. Immediately afterward, he wrote the words and music for a hymn called "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning."  Published in 1871, it was loved and sung in churches from coast to coast. It's not in many modern hymnals, so here are the words.

Brightly beams our Father's mercy from His lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.

Dark the night of sin has settled. Loud the angry billows roar.
Eager eyes are are watching, longing, for the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother, some poor sailor tempest tossed
Trying now to make the harbor in the darkness may be lost.

Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Miracle on Fifth Avenue

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” These words from one of mid-century America’s best-known preachers, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, still resonate.  Peale’s practical philosophy is still evident at his pastoral home, Manhattan’s Marble Collegiate Church, which sits in the shadow of the Empire State Building, on Fifth Avenue at 29th Street. The church’s facade dates to 1854 and is an important Manhattan landmark. The interior features striking stained-glass windows and a historic organ.
One Sunday morning in October, 1973, I strolled down Fifth Avenue planning to window-shop instead of worship, until I saw a long line of people on the sidewalk outside Marble Collegiate. I got in line and eventually was seated in the balcony. Television cameras were mounted near me, and kleig lights bathed the rostrum in brilliance. Why the crowd? Today the church's famous pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, would give the sermon. As he entered from a side door and stood in the center of the platform, I watched and listened.
He told us the story of Jesus stilling the storm. (Mark 4: 35-40) To help us understand the violence of the sea, he began swaying slowly from side to side. Then, to steady himself, he wrapped his right arm around an invisible mast, as if he were on the deck of a sailing ship! Hearing him quote the disciples, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" we all felt their fear. Then Dr. Peale suddenly stopped swaying. Looking out thoughtfully, he asked, "And where do you believe the storm really was? Was it in the water? Or in the minds of the disciples?

Life lessons from Mayberry

(Excerpt from the Feb. 24, 2001 Toledo Blade)
During The Andy Griffith Show's eight-year run on network television, only a handful of episodes depicted the amiable sheriff of Mayberry going to church. In nearly every show, however, Sheriff Andy Taylor emerged as a gentle moral leader, whether he was reining in his high-strung deputy, Barney Fife, or having a heart-to-heart talk with his son, Opie.
Forty years later, the wisdom imparted by Sheriff Taylor as he kept the peace at home and on the streets of Mayberry is being applied to Bible lessons in churches around the country.
It all started when Joey Fann, a computer software engineer in Huntsville, Ala., used an old Griffith Show clip in the Sunday school class for young marrieds at Twickenham Church of Christ in Huntsville in 1996. To bring out a point about the hazards of taking each other for granted, he showed the class a segment on the relationship between Barney and his girlfriend, Thelma Lou.
“I was amazed at how captivated they were watching this situation on TV,” Fann said, “and the discussion we had afterward was more vibrant and more people participated.”
Other Griffith Show fans at the church tried the idea with a class of teens and got a similar response. About two years later, the church's education minister suggested starting a Wednesday night class based on the Griffith Show. Fann and fellow church member Brad Grasham went to work on the idea and came up with a series of one-page outlines containing scriptural references.  About the same time, Fann started a web site, www.barneyfife.com, and added the Bible study outlines to it. It turned out to be a means of sharing the Mayberry message with a wider audience.
For Fann, the character portrayed by Andy Griffith is central to the program's solid moral messages. Sheriff Taylor, he said, constantly has the other person's interest at heart, whether it's getting Barney out of a jam or resolving a town problem. But he believes all the characters teach some kind of lesson. “I don't think there's a bad character in Mayberry at all. We can learn from all the characters we see.”
Barney, for example, provides a perfect example of someone who takes himself too seriously or thinks he is a little more important than he is. “We watch him and laugh,” Fann said, “but if we're honest with ourselves, we act like him a little more than we think.”
The Andy Griffith Show Bible Study has been used in 30 states and Canada by a wide variety of denominational groups from Baptist to Catholic. Schools, military chaplains, and prison wardens have used the studies to convey the show's timeless messages.  Fann said he continues to be amazed at the growth that has come from just one church Bible study.
“One person or two or three people cannot be responsible for all that's happened ... This has really been a big event in my life, just to see how God can work through some very simple people like me and hopefully affect a lot of people for good. “Hundreds write or e-mail me and tell me that they appreciate this concept and that it's caused them to look at Scripture in a whole new light and get back in church. I don't take any credit for that.”

How do we "make" a church?

One Sunday morning Mrs. Benson was welcoming pupils to her first-grade Sunday School class. All the "regulars" were on time, but a visitor arrived late. His name was Tom, and he'd been born with only one arm. He was very friendly, and the other children liked him immediately. Nobody seemed to notice his empty shirt sleeve. During the class, children listened attentively to Bible stories and colored lovely pictures of Jesus and his disciples. Near the end of the hour, Mrs. Benson had an idea. She'd reward their good behavior by teaching them the classic finger-play nursery rhyme, "This is the church, this is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people."  No sooner had she begun than she remembered Tom only had one hand, so how could he make a church?

The class grew silent as other boys and girls realized Tom would be left out. Then a little girl named Anne grinned. She was sitting next to Tom. "If we try, we can make a church together," she said, holding one of her hands up against his. And that's the only way church is ever made -- together.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whether you believe in the devil or not...

In 1911, a man named William Rathvon, wrote a little tale that holds as much light today as it did more than a century ago. Titled “The Devil’s Auction”, it has been reprinted many times, including on page 17 of the January, 1952 issue of Guideposts Magazine
It was once announced that the Devil was going out of business and would offer his tools for sale to whoever would pay his price. On the night of the sale, they were all attractively displayed, and a bad -looking lot they were. Malice, envy, hatred, jealously, carnality, deceit, and all the other implements of evil were spread out, each marked with its price. Apart from the rest lay a harmless looking ,wedge-shaped tool ,much worn and priced higher than the others. Someone asked the Devil what it was,
“That’s discouragement ,” was the reply.
“Well ,why so you have it priced so high?”
“Because ,” replied the Devil, “it is more useful to me than any of the others. I can pry open and get inside a man’s consciousness with that when I couldn’t get near him with any of the others. And once inside, I can use him in whatever way suits me best. It is so much worn because I use it with nearly everybody, as very few people yet know that it belongs to me.”
“You say you use this wedge of discouragement with nearly everybody. With whom can’t you use it.?”
The Devil hesitated a long time and finally said in a low voice, “I can’t use it in getting into the consciousness of grateful men and women.”

"The brownies are ready!"

Back in the mid-20th century, I worked 15 years for The Christian Science Monitor, an international daily newspaper published in Boston, Massachusetts. At first, while finishing college at Boston State, I was a night watchman. We were not "hosts." We simply watched. One of my jobs was to sit in my car and watch the grass in the church park from midnight until 7 a.m. On summer evenings, couples from nearby universities sometimes used the park's privacy for canoodling. When this happened, our instructions were clear. We simply activated the remote-control underground sprinkler system.

After college, I worked in the Monitor reference library. Here we had 15 minutes to answer questions from editors. "How do you correctly spell the name of this Palestinian refugee camp?" "What did President Reagan really mean last night when he said......".  I learned telephone extensions at the White House which skirted the unresponsive press office, and became phone pals with a lady named Rhonda at the PLO Mission to the UN. She could spell all the refugee camp names.

This demand for accuracy was more than academic. It was based on love for Monitor readers around the world. When Mary Baker Eddy founded the newspaper in 1908, she insisted it should "injure no man, but bless all mankind." The editors I worked for were dedicated to problem-solving journalism. "Never leave the reader feeling helpless," was a newsroom motto. This love came back to us each June when the church held its Annual Meeting. Open to members only, thousands waited in line to attend the event, and later toured Monitor offices, expressing gratitude for our work.

For me, the love of the Monitor was best expressed in the cafeteria. For 50 years, it was on the 9th floor, and when I worked there, the cooks all appeared to be grandmothers, possibly widows, who were devoting their lives to service. Even though we had 1,600 employees, the cafeteria ladies seemed to know most of us by name! Each department -- accounting, advertising, circulation, and even the newsroom, had a "cafeteria contact." On frigid winter mornings, before making lunch, the cafeteria ladies prepared tray-upon-tray of delicious brownies. Around 10 a.m. they called each department contact and spoke only four words, "The brownies are ready." Contacts then visited the desk of fellow workers, collecting nickels from anyone who wanted a warm brownie. They took their change to the 9th floor and returned minutes later with a plate of fresh brownies and napkins. We all knew why the brownies tasted so good.  The cafeteria ladies' secret ingredient was love.

Times have changed since then. The cafeteria is gone now. But some say that if you go to the 9th floor and stand just outside the elevator doors on a cold winter morning, you can still smell the brownies, and feel the love that baked them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How much can you buy for 57 cents?

When I was born at Temple University Hospital, I little knew the faith of a child gave birth to the hospital! This story is true.

Hattie Mae Wiatt (1877-1886) lived near Temple Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Located in a small house, it was so crowded that pew-owners had to get admission tickets weeks in advance. One Sunday in 1884 the pastor, Rev. Russell Conwell, noticed Hattie and other children standing outside the Sunday School door. They couldn't enter because the room was full. Rev. Conwell put Hattie on his shoulders and took her inside, finding a small seat for her in a dark corner. He promised that someday there would be a Sunday School big enough for everyone.

Hattie Mae Wiatt

Two years later, Hattie contracted diptheria and died. After Conwell conducted her funeral, her parents gave him a small purse she kept under her pillow. Inside were 57 cents she'd saved to build a bigger Sunday School.

First, Conwell converted the money into pennies. Then, after telling his congregation Hattie's story, he auctioned off each penny. They earned $250, and 54 of the pennies were returned to the pastor  to be framed. Converting the $250 into pennies, he auctioned them off and raised enough money to buy the home next to the church, which became the new Sunday School building.

Some members then formed the Wiatt Mite Society (see Luke 21: 1-4), hoping to grow their church even larger by faith. Conwell approached the owner of a vacant lot downtown on Broad Street and asked the price. It cost $35,000. After hearing about Hattie, the owner lowed the price to $30,000, and agreed to accept Hattie's remaining 24 pennies as a downpayment. He later returned the pennies. After buying the lot, members erected Victorian Philadelphia's first mega-church, seating over 4,500 people. When it opened in 1891, it was the largest Protestant church in the United States, with a spacious Sunday School. Meanwhile, the little house purchased with Hattie's auctioned pennies was not abandoned. Church members who were uneducated laborers asked Conwell to tutor them in the evenings. The Wiatt Mite Society donated books and chairs so Conwell could convert the former Sunday School building into classrooms for his Temple School. The school quickly grew into Temple University, which today has 35,000 students on nine campuses, including (you guessed it) the Temple University Medical Center.

In 1912, twenty-six years after her death, Conwell remembered Hattie with these words. "When that little lad brought five loaves and two small fishes to be used by Christ for his great work, it was precisely the same thing Hattie Mae Wiatt did when she gave her 57 cents. The humblest of His servants do just as much for His kingdom as the mighty and the great, when they give all they have."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Visiting with a favorite Guest

I met a long-lost friend at a book sale recently. He was still wearing the green cloth jacket he's had since 1916! He'd spent his years like a country preacher -- comforting the lonely, admonishing the careless, and praising the best in everyone, but now he was homeless and forgotten.

I lifted him gently from the shelf where he sat with other used books; paid the librarian one dollar, and took him home. What a reunion we had that night. From each faded page he shared a sweet sentiment or fond memory. That's what happens when you open a book of poems by Edgar A. Guest.

Edgar Guest was unique. He joined the Detroit Free-Press as a copy kid in 1895 and tried his hand at reporting, but soon carved a niche as the paper's poet-in-residence. His daily verses debuted in 1900 and continued until his death in 1959 -- that's over 10,000 poems. At the height of his career, his  daily verses were syndicated in 100 newspapers.

But according to former Free-Press publisher Neal Shine, fame and fortune never went to Edgar's head. Shine told me, "I started with the paper in 1950 as a wet-behind-the-ears copy kid. Part of my job was to snatch papers hot off the press and rush them to waiting reporters and editors. I saved the last one for an elderly gentleman in a tiny, cluttered office. He had a bulbous nose and white hair combed straight back. His eyes twinkled, so even when he wasn't smiling he looked happy. He often wore a bow tie and always used an old Underwood typewriter." It was Edgar Guest.

"Edgar was already famous when I met him," Shine continued. "Even though I had the lowest job at the paper, he'd sometimes show me his latest poem and ask what I thought about it. Here was a living legend, a man who'd been friends with all the automotive pioneers including Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers, taking an interest in me. Looking back, I'd describe his personality in one word, warmth. The kindness in Edgar's poems came from his heart. His example got me started on the right foot in the newspaper business."

Has the need for Edgar Guest vanished in the new millennium? Are his folksy verses out of date? Here's a typical poem. Why not read it and decide for yourself.

The little church of Long Ago was not a structure huge,
It had no hired singers and no other subterfuge
To get the people to attend, 'twas just a simple place
Where every Sunday we were told about God's saving grace.
No men of wealth were gathered there to help it with a gift.
The only worldly thing it had -- a mortgage hard to lift.
And somehow, dreaming here today, I wish that I could know
The joy of once more sitting in that church of Long Ago.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

The wrong way, the right ending!

By David Horn, Christian Science Monitor Home Forum Page, Dec. 16, 2002

The commuter train felt chilly a few years ago, as I sank into my seat for an early-morning ride from Boston to Rockport, on the north shore of Massachusetts. It was December, and I longed to escape the crowded city for holiday shopping at the seaside village.

"Tickets, please!" shouted the conductor as the train finally lurched forward and rumbled out of North Station. Without a word or smile, he punched our tickets, moving quickly down the aisle and out the door to the next car, leaving our coach feeling colder than before.

Lighting was dim, and the frost-covered windows made it hard to see out, so the car grew quiet as we passengers sat in self-absorbed stillness. I began daydreaming about a cup of clam chowder at my favorite Rockport restaurant. Then we paused briefly at Pride's Crossing to take on passengers. The woman who sat down beside me was aglow. 

"I'm visiting from Indiana," she volunteered. "This is my first trip to New England, and I can hardly wait to go shopping in Boston!"

At first I didn't have the heart to tell her, but there was no way around it.

"I'm really sorry, but you've gotten on the wrong train," I said as gently as possible. "This is the northbound commuter to Rockport. You wanted the southbound train to the city." 

She blushed with embarrassment. She'd assumed the train was Boston-bound. Now she felt foolish and helpless. As the conductor approached again punching new tickets, I encouraged her to tell him her problem, but he showed no sympathy. 

"All you can do now is ride up to Rockport and stay aboard for our return trip to Boston," he said gruffly. "Pay more attention next time." As he left, he shouted back over his shoulder, "Next stop, Beverly Farms," and let the door slam behind him.

Everyone had heard my seatmate's plight, and we all felt sorry for her, but there was nothing we could do. In sad silence, I began listening to the rhythmic clickety-clack of the train wheels as we rolled steadily north into Cape Ann's scrub pine landscape. My Indiana neighbor said nothing. She looked lost, when suddenly the lights flickered and there was a jolt.

The train began slowing down, but there was no station nearby. Curious passengers rubbed their frosted windows to melt peep holes and see out. We were creeping now, hardly moving. Was there an accident ahead? An obstruction on the tracks? Would we be delayed?

Then we heard it. Faintly at first, it sounded like a second clickety-clack on the parallel track, here in the middle of nowhere.  Moments later a southbound commuter train inched passed us in slow motion. Then both trains halted, side-by-side. 

"Where's the lady who wants to go to Boston?" the conductor shouted as he burst through our coach door. "Well, hurry up now," he said impatiently.

My friend burst into tears as she gathered her things and rushed forward. Taking her arm, he hurried her down the steps to the cold ground and across the median gravel to the waiting southbound train, where another conductor was waiting to help her aboard. Seconds later, both trains tooted their whistles and moved apart.

Now our silent coach was filled with warmth and laughter. My friend's good fortune turned the rest of us into friends. What could have been a disappointing day, hard to forget, became a joyous day we'd always remember.  It felt like Christmas!

But silence fell when the door opened and the dour old conductor stuck his gray head inside our car again. We hardly knew what to expect.

"Next stop, Beverly Farms," he said with a wink, "and this time I really mean it."