Two Sermons

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In all of my years of attending church, there are two sermons that always stayed with me, and both were given by my father.

Dad wasn’t your usual minister. Though he was well-versed in the Bible, he rarely quoted scripture and never used it to win an argument. He never tried to convert anybody. In fact, he was never troubled by anyone who disagreed with him about religion; what mattered to him was that people had faith and that they found a way to connect it to their daily lives.

He delivered what they called “the talk” at our church about every two months, on a rotating calendar.

As a child, I was always in bible class while he spoke to the adults. But one Sunday, because my teacher was out sick, I got to stay and listen. He started out talking about me. Now that’s a sure way to get a kid to sit up straight!

He had taken me fishing the day before, just the two of us, and when we got back he told everyone that I’d caught twice as many fish. That was a very sweet lie, when in truth he’d simply caught more on my fishing pole than on his own. He was tending to both of them most of the time, while I wandered down the shore playing in the mud.

That next day at church, he talked about sitting there by himself, watching the water … and how he noticed a caterpillar crawling up the tall grass along the dock. The wind kicked up and the caterpillar fell into the water. Dad watched him absentmindedly for a while, struggling against the gentle waves … until finally he realized he could save it just by dropping his net down to give it something to crawl onto. Ten seconds later, it was back on dry land, getting on with its life.

It made my dad reflect on all the times he’d seen people helping others, and how often a simple act of kindness can mean so much. We are conditioned to waiting until people ask for help, then deciding whether to respond. But often people won’t ask for what they need. Maybe they don’t want to be a burden, or are convinced that help won’t come. Perhaps they don’t know where to turn.

He challenged us to look around, past the borders of our own lives, and notice people struggling. Then find a way to lend a hand.

***

The last time I heard my dad give a sermon, I was an adult visiting home. It happened to be Communion day, and dad began by commenting on the low attendance. That surprised me because he’d never been the type to look down on anyone for not attending, or to insist that sitting in a pew is what makes one a good Christian.

Communion Full.jpgQuite the opposite, he was saddened that so many people were skipping that day because it was Communion.

I need to explain at this point that in our church there is no such thing as not being in “good standing.” After your baptism, you are welcome at any point to attend Communion, drink the wine, and eat the bread. However, like most churches, people who don’t feel they are worthy will pass. And that is what my dad was rallying against.

It’s such a shame, he said, for people who are feeling lost in themselves to forego church because they feel they don’t deserve it. Or for people who feel they have let themselves down to stay away altogether.

Church, as he saw it, was the best place for healing. For finding community. For learning the ways to overcome the aspects of yourself that you’re not quite proud of.

And as church members, he said, we need to remember that the people who shy away from Communion are often the people who need it the most. Reach out to them with love and fellowship.

In other words, put down that fishing pole and lend a hand.

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The Two-by-Four Argument

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I’m guessing my nephew is the only child who ever intentionally gave himself a speech impediment to win an argument.

He was a bright little kid, and ornery as the dickens. He loved teasing his mom and would go to great lengths to out-argue her. And, because he was so dang cute about it, we let him get away with almost everything.

IMG_0012.jpgSo, about a month before his 4th birthday, his mom started telling him it was time for some changes. She said that when he turned 4, he had to start sleeping in his own bed. He had to get fully dressed every day instead of running around in his underwear. And, by the way, he also had to wear everything correctly. (He liked to wear his Underoos backward so he could see the Superhero characters. You’ve gotta be skinny to pull off that move!)

The boy was having none of it. He told her a flat no to all her requests.

She held firm and told him that all 4-year-olds wear pants. It was the law.

This is where the kid put his imagination to work. He announced to everyone that he wasn’t turning four. He was turning two-two.

We thought this was going to be short-lived, but he kept to it the entire year. He even refused to say the word four, and replaced it with two wherever possible.

What’s important to know is that he wasn’t reading & writing at this age, so he had no idea what homophones were. He replaced everything that sounded like four, to interesting results:IMG_0006.jpg

  • Instead of “I got this for you,” he would say, “I got this to you.”
  • Forward became two-ward (not t’wards, like we say in the Midwest, but toowards)
  • A forest was a two-est
  • When evil scientists on his cartoons talked about their evil formula,  he repeated back to the t.v., “evil two-mula.”

The amazing thing was that he never sat down to work all this out – it just came naturally out of his mouth. And it all worked so well in context that we adults just accepted the language shift and moved on.

He grew out of all of this, as kids do.

But I hope I’m around when that kid turns forty. I’m curious whether he’ll spend a year being twenty-twenty.

Fantasy series you’ve probably missed

dirk-gently.jpgBBC America recently made a t.v. series out of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” Though most people my age have heard of Douglas Adams’s more popular “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” it surprises me how few people know Dirk Gently. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a series, since there were only 2 books and the sequel was far better, but I got the impression that Adams intended it as a series. Either way, it had a few quirky, one-of-a-kind scenes that have always stayed with me. If ever a streetlight blinks out as I drive beneath it, I think of old Norse gods and their peculiarities.

I have a few other pet favorite fantasy series that never really went mainstream. It may take some work to find them in print, but seize them if you get the chance.


Moira J. Moore’s “Heroes” Series51ZzUO3P-6L._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Her publishers lost faith in the series before the end, so to read the final book you actually have to write to the author and have her e-mail you the PDF. It’s crazy, but worth it.

Dunleavy has trained her entire life for a specific kind of sorcery, knowing that her graduation entails being paired for life with a sorcerer from the opposite academy. Together they’ll be saving the world again and again, heroes to all.

Unfortunately, she gets paired with the infamous Lord Karish, a beautiful – and impossible to ignore – aristocrat. He’s as egotistical as she is naive. Oh, and did I mention that bonded pairs are forbidden from falling in love?

Book 1 of the series, “Resenting the Hero” was released in paperback and is still easy to get your hands on.


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Nicole Peeler’s “Tempest” Series

Ah, Jane True, how I miss your strange fighting skills and your High-Top Sneakers. This love story between the daughter of a Selkie (half-seal, half woman), a vampire, and a Barghast (half-dog, half man) is spread over 5 books, each more involved than the last. The first one is a riot, interspersed with heavy sex scenes. After that, Peeler gets more interested in character development and action, action, action.

You have to start with Book 1, though. Look for “Tempest Rising” in paperback.

 

 For more book recommendations, see my “Books I Can’t Stop Talking About” series

Grandpa’s Navigation

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When I was little, I thought my grandpa had installed an advanced navigational system in his car. This was crazy, as it was the 70’s. Not only did we not have computers, we didn’t even have LED screens. Heck, even the radio was a twist-dial that only got AM!

Nevertheless, when GPS was developed a couple decades later, I was more surprised than anyone else. I had never realized that this sort of system didn’t exist until suddenly everyone was talking about it.

How did I wind up at this absurd notion? Let’s consider the evidence:

Whenever we went anywhere in his car, grandpa would insist on going out to “get it ready” at least 5-10 minutes early. Sure, in the winters we had to warm up those old cars for a good while before you put it in gear. But I naturally assumed he had a purpose to this the rest of the year, too.

As soon as we piled into the car, grandma would ask, “Now, are you sure you know where you’re going?”

Rather than a yes or no answer, grandpa would say, “Don’t worry. We’ll get there.

As a grown and married woman, I now realize this translates to, “I’ll point the car in the general direction and hope things turn out alright.”  But as a kid, I figured he had some sort of ace in the hole to help him make that statement with such certainty.

And now here’s the kicker: when we got to the next town, grandpa’s turn signal would start blinking a good quarter mile before the actual turn!

I didn’t know anything about cars in those days. I had no idea he was nudging a lever to turn the signal on because I never saw him do it. So I got the notion that the signal was telling him when to turn.

This felt true because almost every time, when grandma would say, “Your turn’s coming up – you have to slow down!” grandpa would suddenly sit up straight, looking as alarmed as anyone that he was coming up on the turn too fast. I figured he hadn’t noticed that his blinker had been going for several minutes.

Grandpa always had a confident air about finding things, the same relaxed, no-worries approach of people nowadays who are using GPS. No matter how convinced grandma was that we’d taken a wrong turn, he’d always maintain that we were fine, right on time, gonna be there in any moment. And when we finally reached it, even if the house we were visiting suddenly appeared to be on the opposite side of the street of where they’d both been looking, he’d shift into park with a flourish and and give grandma a jaunty grin.

Yes, kids, in our day we didn’t have fancy computers with accurate navigation. We got by on cockiness, patience, and luck.

Oh, and it helped that none of the passengers could pull up maps on their phones to prove we were going the wrong way.