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Friday, December 30, 2005

Eine Kleine Nacht Musick

I'm sure that if it hadn't been that our son, Alex, and his band, Turncoat Fanatic, were playing at the Roann Community Center last night, we wouldn't have gone to the program.

At the same time, living a block away from the Community Center, there may not have been a need to go.

The music was loud, loud, loud.

Which we expected.

Alex has a passion for rock music. Not Top 40 rock. Not rock-a-billy. Not even rock that anyone else has written. He loves to take the milleu of heavy metal rock and shape it to express his own thoughts, feelings, humor, perspectives. He almost never 'covers' other bands' music.

At the Roann Community Center, four other bands joined Turncoat Fanatic in what was to be an evening resplendent with thousands of decibels of electric guitars, bass guitars, and drums. One group even brought dancers.

The community center is normally a docile place, home to wedding showers, square dancing, benefit dinners, and family reunions. Years ago it was a furniture store. For those in northern Indiana who know about Tom Spiece, this building was the first-ever Speice Store, started by Tom's father, Dick, as an Army surplus store.

This night, the community center was filled 150 youths from Wabash, Fulton, Howard and Miami counties, dressed in a "rural-ized" urban rock attire, a mix of band geeks and jocks, friends and co-workers, couples and lookers, brainiacs and slower students. They were there for the music, mostly. They were there to be seen, partly. They were there to support their friends in the bands.

Alex was not only a performer this evening, he was also the organizer. As parents of this 17 1/2 year-old, Karen and I knew where our boundaries needed to be - with the other parents of band members, on the metal folding chairs at the back of the room. That is, until performance time, when we would be permitted to near the stage discreetly for pictures and admiration.

Our daughter, Allison, joined the experience in a freshly made, hand-painted "Turncoat Fanatic" t-shirt. She was the evening's ticket taker and hand stamper (and de facto bouncer).

With the notable exception of the first band, the young men who comprised the four remaining groups were highly talented. Though the format was essentially the same - lead guitar, bass, drums, and vocalist - the separate bands created sounds and lyrics unique to themselves. All were punched with a sense of adolescent anger and frustration. All were vividly independent of anything their parents would have created. All were happy middle-income kids expressing themselves electrically.

These were not bands from wide and bizarre places like Seattle or Chicago. Alex's band is based here in Roann, although the two other members live in rural Wabash County. Another band is from North Manchester, a college town of about 4500 near here. And the other two good bands were Christian bands from the Kokomo area.

I would be remiss if I did not tell you that Alex's band was, indeed, the best band there. You might accuse me of 'proud fatherhood' if I told you that Alex was the most talented guitarist of the evening. So be it. They were and he was. :-)

There was another kind of music in the evening that took me a little by surprise. It was the music of human conversation.

Between sets, when each band had to tear down and allow the next band to set up, there was a five or six minute interval. The crowd took on a life of its own during those short breaks. In one corner, a group of 15-20 sat to play a few quick hands of cards. In another corner, girls preened and twisted their hair. The parent group on their metal folding chairs laughed and talked about work and how big their kids had gotten.

The music of pleasant conversation. My personal favorite sound. It is the music that occurs when there is no other obvious music. Whether it's on the lawn at the Deer Creek Music Center in Indianapolis or at intermission of the Manchester Symphony, that music of conversation comes to life when the performers aren't performing.

It was a good evening. My ears have recovered. The community center is clean. And Roann is back to its sleepy little self.

Until the next concert, that is. :-)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

"Must Lick"

Reebok sat on the futon overlooking Ocean View Drive. The sun shone warm on his pudgy frame, but the warmth felt good soaking through his mutli-shaded grey coat.

His view of the afternoon traffic was distracted by the occasional gull that flew from the beach to Ocean View and back. But he couldn't afford distraction. He was looking for "She."

"She" was that fabulous creature who had discovered his inner most secret. "She" was that human who had seen into Reebok's feline nature and spent her hours trying to understand his innermost thoughts. "She" had a hum-drum job and Reebok felt it was his job to help loosen her up, make her feel special at the end of a routine day.

As Reebok waxed reminiscent in the Virginia sun, he recalled dishes of ice cream he helped "She" devour. As he streched his legs, he thought of the quiet evenings spent with "She" stroking his thick coat with that fine wire thingy.

The sudden urge to wash himself overcame Reebok's reverie momentarily.

Then he saw her pull in the driveway below. "She" was home! Time to get the house ready: Jump off the futon and rub the doorpost; Make sure the TV is off; Check the kitchen for food; All was well.

From another corner of the apartment, "Mom." came to the door. For some odd reason, "She" called Mom 'Helen.' Mom had been rescued by "She" after a car accident left Mom with only three legs. "She" nursed Mom back to health and raised several of Reebok's brothers and sisters. He always knew he was the favorite, though, because "She" kept him with Mom through moves and jobs.

Reebok and Mom gave each other the Feline Visual Greeting then sat passively, side by side.

Keys made that familiar afternoon music. A few muffled thuds up the stairs and "She's" voice sang out joyfully, "Reebok!" "Helen!"

The routine was same as usual. "She" put her purse on the counter, coat on the chair, shoes on the mat. She grabbed that big bag and gently shook it as she sang:

"Kitty, kitty, kitty!" ("She" had such a way with words :-)

Reebok and Mom ate casually, as always, while "She" unwound. With full stomach, then, Reebok mosied to the futon that had been his lookout. He rubbed her legs with the roundness of his belly, one side, then the other. His perky tail let "She" know he cared.

"She" mumbled something in those unintelligble human noises she made and grabbed him by the shoulders to assist him onto the futon. "She" gazed deeply into his eyes. More mumbling . . .but it sounded pretty.

Then, the magic moment. In the soft spot between his shoulder blades, "She" tickled lightly, compellingly. Deep in Reebok's throat, a purr began. As the tickling grew, so did the loss of control.

"I am a cat," Reebok told himself. "Control. Control."

The tickling was driving him insane with pleasure. The purring intensified. Reebok squinted to maintain control. Then she said it:

"Reebok . . .'must lick'."

In a moment out of Reebok's control, he began licking his own chest.

Lick, lick, lick!

Like a blithering idiot, Reebok had again succumbed to "She's" temptation. The feeling was so awesome he was lost in the joy of it.

Lick, lick, lick!

"She" chuckled under her breath and mumbled some more in her human sounds. How had "She" seen into his feline soul to know his secret? What did she know that caused him to drop his kitty guard, so nobly carried in his 30-pound frame? How did she cross the line from the human world into this, his passionate cattus sanctum?

He hoped the moment would never end. But he slowed. Lick . . .lick . . .

Then, a sudden stop. Mom walked around the kitchen corner. Their eyes met as Mom sat and began washing herself where her leg had once been. "She" thought Helen was cleaning up after supper. But Reebok knew the signal: "Stop that nonsense at once."

And the evening went on, as always, the rolling of the mighty Atlantic rhythmically calling Reebok and Mom and "She" to the end of another day.

Dear Reader,
I write this entry in tribute to my sister's dear cat, Reebok, who died last Thursday at 15 1/2 years old. Reebok was with my sister, Sue Ellen, through thick and through thin. I hope this little glimpse at one of Reebok's vulnerabilities helps you know just how special he was to Sue Ellen and the rest of us.

As you remember Reebok, find a cat to tickle today!

Friday, October 07, 2005

The State Food of Indiana

Regional foods seem to speak volumes about an area. For grilled steak sandwiches, go to Philadelphia. Beignets? New Orleans. Chili? Cincinnati.

Indiana has no official state food. Ever vigilant, I would like to take the lead in proposing a "state food" for Indiana. There a lot of things that could be commercial contenders - White Castle hamburgs, Orville Redenbocker or Weaver Popcorn, Steak and Shake.

However, my nomination is based on the following phenomenon that can be observed at picnics and Church dinners throughout the state of Indiana. I have never seen an exception. Never.

Here is the scenario:
A table is spread with a wide variety of dishes, casseroles, meat loaves, salads, cut vegetables, pickles, etc. In two crock pots or other warmers, usually on the table after the meat and before the salads, are chicken and noodles in one and mashed potatoes in another.

The hungry diner makes his way through the line picking up a little meat, maybe a slice of ham, half a slice of turkey.

Arriving at the crock of mashed potatoes, he spoons a large dollop in a space reserved for them.

If you are from Indiana, you know what happens next.

If you are not from Indiana, read carefully. You are about to learn a deeply held Hoosier secret.

The diner then spoons a large dollop on chicken and noodles ON TOP of the mashed potatoes.

Not at the side. On top.

No chicken and noodles without potatoes.

And no potatoes without chicken and noodles.

I know a woman from Connecticut who was visiting an Indiana Church dinner who nearly fainted the first time she saw it. "The concentration of starches alone nearly made me swoon," Nancy recalls.

Starches abound in this delicacy. Thick noodles drip with a chicken gravy, laced with chicken fat and corn starch and plenty of salt (to taste). In some corners, you'll find the gravy laced with chicken boullion.

Mashed potatoes are best made thick with butter, creamy with milk, and thoroughly accented with sour cream. In some corners, the taters are left in small bits in the mashing, but more often they are a smooth concoction, thicker than caramel, but definitely not "whipped," like they do in the cities.

Chicken is shredded or cubed in this tasty assemblage. These variations are not as important as the process of boiling the daylights out of the chicken. There should be no question whatsoever that the chicken is cooked.

(I've seen some places where the chicken is nearly as smooth as the mashed taters. I'm not an advocate of this style, at the same time, I confess that it makes eating the dish easier.)

Chicken and noodles are best accented by white bread spread with butter. The sweetness of the butter helps reduce the saltiness of the chicken and noodles. And a piece of folded butter bread can help serve as a dam for sopping up the last drops of chicken gravy.

Chicken and noodle dinners are common everywhere. Just last week the Methodist Church down the street had a "Chicken and Noodle Fund Raiser." Nothing but Chicken and Noodles. Crock after crock of chicken and noodles and mashed taters, on 8 foot tables lined with rolled paper table cloths . . .crocks yellow with chicken boullion, some soft with creamy sauce, some calicos of mixed of white and dark meat. Some were magnanimously chock full of generously cut breast meat and others more noodles than chicken.

A good plate of chicken and noodles is best followed by another Indiana phenom - the Sugar Cream Pie.

Sugar Cream Pie by-passes any pretext of healthy eating. But it is sooooooo good!

My wife Karen's sugar cream pie is equal parts of sugar and Half-and-Half, rich Mexican vanilla and thickened with flour. This melange is cooked to perfection over a hot stove and then poured into one of Karens' fabulous crusts. As it cools, she dashes cinnamon with a flair that she adds to everything she cooks.

That's my nomination - Chicken and Noodles on Mashed Taters with Sugar Cream Pie for dessert.

What do Chicken and Noodles say about the people of Indiana?

To my way of thinking, Hoosiers will always be known for being homespun and home-made. Chicken and Noodles are best home-made. You can't get Chicken and Noodles at The Eagle's Nest in Indianapolis or at Club Soda in Fort Wayne. You can't get Sugar Cream Pie at the Studebaker Mansion in South Bend or Joseph DeCuiz in Roanoke.

You get them at home. Or at places where people feel at home, like Church.

Chicken and Noodles also remind us of whence we come. Time was that every small homesteader and farmer had chickens. And chickens lay eggs. A little flour and an egg or two, and voila!, noodles.

Hoosiers seem to be gifted in dealing with basics like these. Though we were not the first in flight, Indiana is the birthplace of Wilbur Wright. Though we are not as well-known as Detroit, Elwood Haynes, who invented the first gasoline powered automobile, was born here. And though Benjamin Harrison is our only Hoosier president (and he was actually born in Ohio), we are the "Mother of Vice Presidents," notably Thomas "5 cent cigar" Marshall and J. Danforth "Potatoe" Quayle, with three others.

Finally, I see Chicken and Noodles with Mashed Taters as something that works well together. Hoosiers do that well. We are a state of enigmas - there are tractors in downtowns of our largest cities and collectible automobiles in the garages of our smallest towns. The annual State 4-H Fair draws thousands of white farm kids into the heart of one of the largest African-American urban communities in the Midwest. At the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (the largest single sporting event in the world), countless pints of Miller Lite are slogged by the 300,000 attenders, and yet the winner is feted with a quart of milk at the finish line.

My nomination: Chicken and Noodles with Taters. What's yours? Write it in the Comments section!

(Now, I can't tell if I'm hungry or if I'm going into a sugar swoon. :-)

Remembering Frank Means

The following article is the message from the Memorial Service conducted today, October 7, at Peoria Church, for Frank Means. Frank was a wonderful and unique individual.

I'm posting this primarily for those in the Church family who were unable to attend the service. I also hope that it may help those who didn't know Frank to see just a little bit into his wit anc character.

The message begins here:
For most of the 5th century before Christ, the noted Greek historian Herodotus collected histories and records of kingdoms and cultures from the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor through Greece and Macedonia, finally settling for the last of his days in southern Italy. It was there that he wrote The Suda, a history that became the foundation for most secular histories of the western world.

Like many histories, the roots of Herodotus’ work are found in major wars and conflicts of the era, in his case the great Persian Wars. One of the most noted historical highlights of those wars was the defeat of the massive Persian naval fleet in a battle near the Aegean island of Salamis. The imperial fleet was brought low by a collection of ships from the Greek city-states.

The Persian emperor Xerxes sent news of his defeat to his waiting generals back in Persia through one of his own most enduring legacies – a series of couriers, each stationed a day’s journey by horseback from the other. These couriers were ever diligent in their service of emperor and empire. Their unflagging sense of duty moved Herodotus to note them in his famous history with these words:

“Neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from their appointed rounds.”

As a retired mail carrier, Frank was the embodiment of Herodotus’ famous words.Today we are assembled to remember the legacy of this courier who was ever diligent in his service of home and country, of his fellow man and God.

It is no understatement that Frank’s great affection for Joleen, Marcia, and Shawn was boundless. Frank was not much for small talk until the subject of his family came up. It seemed he had a limitless tolerance for Joleen’s latest garage sale adventure or bargain hunt. Marcia and Shawn were the joys of his life, and nothing brightened Frank’s face more than to talk about his grandchildren. When you get a chance to look at the pictures of Frank with his family, you will see in his laughter the deep springs love for his family.

King David wrote these words in Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” I have often wondered what he meant by that, but I have come to this conclusion: No matter how much we love someone in this life, God’s love for each of us is immeasurable and far-surpassing our love for each other. In His time, God brings us to Himself, an act of love that causes us grief here, but precious joy in Heaven.

In serving his country, Frank was a patriot in the truest sense of the word. There are no monuments to Frank, and I don’t think he’d want one. He was at the heart of what ‘duty to country’ is all about. He was an Army regular, doing his part to serve his nation. No aspirations to heroism, Frank served humbly and faithfully.

Again, Frank’s memory calls to mind the words of St. Peter, who wrote, “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”

Frank was a true friend to his fellow man, and I count it a privilege to have been one of the many who counted Frank as a friend. You always knew where you stood with Frank. Shortly after I came to this Church as pastor, I approached Frank about a concern. He was the chairman of the trustees and I had a question about the grounds.

“I was just wondering,” I asked, “why don’t we have any flowers out around the Church sign or up here around the door?”

Frank looked me straight in the eye and said, “I don’t like flowers.”

And that was it. From that point on, it seemed that Frank and I understood each other. I learned quickly that depending on where you stood with Frank, he was either ‘solid as a rock’ or ‘stubborn as a mule.’

But isn’t that what real relationships are about? Honesty. Straightforwardness. Truth. Those of us who knew Frank as a friend, also know the truth of Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Finally, Frank leaves the legacy of a servant of God. Never one to demonstrate his religion emotionally or with a lot of words, Frank lived the admonition of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel everywhere you go, and, when necessary, use words.” Frank may not have sung the loudest in Church, but he was dependable when someone was in need. Frank didn’t preach from the pulpit, but he taught his family that God is real. Frank’s faith was not for show, but it was real, even as he prayed to God in his final weeks on earth. Frank was a baptized member and regular communicant at the Lord’s Supper. He was faithful in his attendance and invaluable in his service as trustee and jack-of-all-trades. Peoria Church is at a great loss without him.

“Neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from their appointed rounds.” This courier has finished his appointed rounds. May he rest in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Stepping Outside the Box

Karen and I started "real" dating 25 years ago this month.

Our first actual date was in August 1980, about two months after graduation from Anderson College. We went to see Fiddler on the Roof presented in a huge tent by the Nettle Creek Players, a now defunct summer stock troupe in Hagerstown, Indiana. We had sputtered with attempts to date when we were in College, but we decided to go the more inconvenient route, waiting until we lived three hours apart.

Karen is a farmer's daughter. That is the source of her personal strength and good nature. When Karen invited me to Indiana to spend a day or two with her, I was excited to finally get to the farm and spend time with her family. She said she had a very special date for us Saturday evening.

I thought we were going to a barn dance.

Nevertheless, "Fiddler" set the tone for the rest of our dating life, engagement, and wedding. (We were married under a 'chupah' - albeit in a Wesleyan Church, but the sentiment was there.)

In the September following "Fiddler", Karen came to Findlay. We decided to keep with the Jewish theme, so we went and bought all the ingredients for a traditional Jewish meal for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year.

While Karen was in Findlay that weekend, we walked a lot. The afternoon of our Rosh Hashanah dinner, my then roommate, Lon, took our picture sitting on the railing of the noble Benevolent Order of Elks Lodge in downtown Findlay. Karen was in a red polo shirt and jeans, with her ever-present Dr. Scholl's wooden soled sandals. I was in a striped polo shirt, brown trousers, and my ever-present black and white saddle oxfords.

The framed photo is still on our picture table in the front room, a happy reminder of what has been 24 happy years of marriage.

I loved those saddle shoes. I had worn various kinds of saddle shoes in high school, which was something of a localized fad. Most common were an off-white toe box with a dark navy blue saddle. I had some of those. I also had a pair with a tan suede toe box and brown leather saddle and another pair of brown leather on brown leather. But my black and whites were my favorites.

I wore them through my Anderson College years, painstakingly keeping the white parts white with that white shoe polish that has a miniature pom-pon at the end of twisted wire attached to the lid. I wore them while Karen and I were dating and engaged. I wore them on my first job, as Junior High Coordinator of Findlay Youth for Christ.

On our honeymoon in June, 1981, I had a harder problem with shoes. I took a whole suitcase just for shoes. I had my favorite running shoes (we both were runners at the time). I had my favorite walking Hush Puppies (we loved taking walks together). I had my burgundy slip-ons, for dressy occasions. I had my woven casual shoes, for comfort. I had my moccasins, for knocking around. And, of course, my saddle oxfords.

The suitcase of shoes was really less about shoes and more about my plaguing inability to make a decision and stick with it. My decision about marrying Karen was not one of those decisions, but indecision tends to be my life pattern.

It's ironic, then, that as I reminisce about my favorite old saddle shoes, I write this article about "Stepping Outside the Box." Ironic because I've made a decision about 'stepping outside the box' that's taken three months for me to work up to telling about. It's not a shocking decision. It's actually quite a simple one.

Keep in mind, I've stepped outside the box many times, often to crawl back in. Ah, yes. There was the time I stepped outside the haircut box and went with shaved sides and long on top. (What was I thinking?) There were the Vegetarian Days (as opposed to the Atkins Diet Days), the Apostolic Christian phase (contrasted with the High Church Anglican pilgrimage), the "Let's Raise Goats" years, the Settlement of Antarctica Plan (in high school), and many more.

But this box I'm stepping out of for good. It's the Shoe Box. No more shoes, unless I have to wear them. None. Nada. No more.

It all started back in July when I was dealing with a monster case of bursitis. Prescription steroids didn't work. Prescription strength Alleve didn't work. Exercises from our doctor didn't work. I had begun walking with a cane and could barely stand for more than a few minutes without my entire leg going dead.

One afternoon, in great pain, I went to my friendly Reflexologist, Nedra. After my treatment, Nedra said, in passing, "You know, going barefooted is like having reflexology all the time."

So I gave it a try. The first day the pain was lessened. The second day, the pain was gone. And it has been gone ever since.

Little by little, I began wearing shoes less and less. In mid-July, I started wearing sandals to work. A week later, I cut the straps off the back of them so I could get out of them fast. A month later I bought a pair of Birkenstock knock-offs, which have become my daily shoes. I put them on when I get to work, and I take them off ASAP after. I wear shoes to Church, but take them off for Sunday School. I don't wear them to Bible Study.

There have been many wonderful benefits to me in going barefooted these last few months that go beyond the bursitis problem.

First of all, being barefooted has gotten me walking for my health again. Originally, I wanted to "toughen" my soles. But as time has progressed, I rediscovered the benefits of walking. I now walk 2-4 miles a day barefooted over all sorts of surfaces - mostly concrete and asphalt, but also grass, gravel, dirt, and mulch. And acorns, pine cones, walnuts and buckeyes. The walking has helped me trim a few pounds (much needed), but also walking barefooted has created more sensitivity to the world around me outdoors.

Secondly, barefooted walking has strengthened my feet and legs. Karen has long maintained that I have 'prissy' feet. No more! I don't have ogre feet now, but I do have strong feet.

Third, this minor change of lifestyle has emboldened my creative thinking. I started The Country Parson blog to channel some of this creative energy. I've started working on a book that has long lain dormant in my mind and in the computer. I'm feeling sharper at work and more attuned at home.

Fourthly, barefooting has been a great conversation starter. I love talking to people. I love to hear their story. A room full of people engaged in pleasant conversation is music to my ears. It's amazing to me how a simple thing like going barefooted has gotten people talking.

Finally, I just think it's fun. Cheap, easy, a little bit ornery, fun. It's something I like doing and I like doing it for me. There's not a lot in this life I do for myself (which is both good and bad), and barefooting is something I'm doing that's not hurting anyone else and it's helping me tremendously. And in an unexplainable way, I just think it's fun.

Thing is, I am just as comfortable barefooted as I ever was in those favorite old saddle shoes. If not moreso. As much as I loved those black and whites, I'm finding that I love my own natural feet better.

(I don't know what ever became of those saddle shoes. I suspect they were part of a post-nuptial wardrobe correction, but I couldn't say for certain.)

So there. The Country Parson has stepped out of the shoe box.I just hope I haven't stepped back in by the time you read this! ;-)

Monday, September 19, 2005

For Dog and Country

Rufus was the unfortunate dog who belonged to the Daniels children somewhere in the mid-1970's. A short, black, and malodorous canine, Rufus spent most of his unhappy life with the Daniels penned around the garage, barking at friend and foe, eating cheap dog food and wondering why no one paid any attention to him.

Those were years of intense stress in our family. Mom was adjusting to life as the single parent of the four children she bore in less than five years. Emotions, when we expressed them, were usually negative and/or hostile. But mostly we didn't express them. There is a certain comfort in repressing one's feelings.

I don't mean that we were intentionally mean to Rufus. We had plenty of time for kickball and to go to Scout meetings. But we were little prepared for the time a good dog requires for nurture and personal growth. Who has time to love a dog when one is having a hard time loving one's self?

It is little wonder that when the gate was left open one morning Rufus ran hard and fast and as far as he could, never to be heard from again.

So, in 1997, when Buddy came to live with our family, my first thoughts were of Rufus. I was apprehensive, remembering Rufus' unfortunate circumstances. Buddy was everything Rufus had been at the first - cute, cuddly, happy. We have no penned in yard in Roann (and I would be hard pressed to build one), so Buddy would be safe on that score.

As Buddy grew, he fast became a family dog. Slowly, over 8 years, he became my dog. When Buddy needs a bath, he's mine. When Buddy needs a walk, he's mine. When Buddy needs to go out to 'read the mail,' he's mine. When Buddy needs a table scrap, he comes to my chair.

Buddy has become a close confidant and friend as well. There are few professions lonelier than the pastorate. Pastors know things about people that we can't tell anyone - even our wives. Pastors learn things about people from others that we can't share with others. We are the dead end on the gossip train. Pastors rarely have someone to understand their own issues and pains. We are supposed to be the strong ones at funerals, the comforting ones in the nursing homes, the healthy ones while anointing the sick, and the holy ones when administering the Church's sacred rites.

Enter Buddy. Like me, he is middle-aged (in dog years). Like me, he's pretty much content in his routine, happy with his family, satisfied with his home, and not in as good shape as he used to be. Buddy enjoys an evening walk, a good back scratch, and minding his own business. He occasionally barks inappropriately. Once in a while, he likes going out on a leash-free toot, just to see what's up in someplace new.

Being two overweight middle-aged males, Buddy and I take long walks to try and stave off the on-set of aging. I am able to share some of my confidences with Buddy. Buddy has heard about parish problems and has kept his opinion to himself. When I have a personal dilemma, Buddy offers no opinion. He just listens. When I am talking on and on about a situation I can't figure out, Buddy often brings me back to reality with a lunge at a stray cat or a quick jump at a squirrel.

The dog Rufus was around in the time of my life when adolescent confusion and family upheaveal led to neglect and emotional distance of both boy and dog. And though Rufus and I had much in common, we had no relationship.

The dog Buddy is around when life is going well. I have a wonderful family, I have plenty to eat, a great house, and the funnest job in the world. And so does Buddy. We have much in common, with the bonus of having a good relationship, too.

I sometimes wonder what happened to Rufus. I hope somehow, somewhere, he found a family who'd love him and let him know that life is best when it's shared with a good friend.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Divine Sovereignty and the Chicken Doodle

When Roger's red hen awakened this morning, she little realized the celebrity that awaited her later in the day. As the rising sun filtered through the dusty henhouse windows, the morning rumble of squawks and squeaks was beginning, as if hundreds of hens were wondering where the coffee was and which outfit was going to be worn today. A scratch here and a scratch there, a little meal here, a bug there, a few minutes to roost.

An ordinary day in the life of a red hen.

In nearby Roann, the sun was rising on the last day of the town festival. The dry grass was weary from four days of traffic. The kiddie rides lay still, resting from a late night of Tilt-A-Whirling, Scrambling, and miniature railroading. At the covered bridge, a few stalwart Christians were setting up a makeshift platform and microphones for the approaching community-wide worship service on the banks of the mighty Eel River as the rest of the town struggled out of bed. A scratch here and a scratch there, a little breakfast here, a cup of coffee there, a few minutes to wake up.

A quiet morning in the life of Roann, Indiana.

Both chicken and man witnessed the day as it progressed. The sun rose on both. The heat made both thirsty and both had plenty of water to drink. The bounty of rich farmland provided both more sustenance that either needed. In the crowded henhouse, hens preened and strutted, checking each other out, and, as chickens do ab ovo, cared little about anything else but the moment at hand. On the crowded festival streets, teens preened and strutted and neighbors checked each other out, and, as humans do ab utero, cared little about anything else but the moment at hand.

The moment for both man and beast changed when, shortly after 4 p.m., Roger stepped into the henhouse and grabbed the red hen. With the bird's head nestled in the crook of his elbow, Roger drove to town.

Upon their arrival in the center of the town, Roger and his companion made their way to the crowd that had gathered around the large wooden frame that lay at the heart of the festival. The frame gave shape to a cage of chicken wire. The floor of this giant box was a checker board of numbers, 1 to 500. The imminent action in the cage would be this hen's moment of glory.

Most of the by-standers were those who had paid a dollar to the Northfield High School Junior Class for a number corresponding to those on the cage floor. Curious children wriggled with delight, knowing what was to happen. Old farmers made comments about the hen's breed and coloration. Girls in the junior class stood appalled to think of the event about to happen.

At 4:30, the climax of the Roann Covered Bridge Festival reached its zenith. Roger dutifully brought the chicken to her cage. Faithful friend Donna lifted the lid. The crowd was agog as the red hen stepped into the limelight. The lid shut as the anticipation mounted. Whose number would . . .

. . .and it was over as soon as it started.

"Dang," said a man in soiled Carhartt coveralls. "Never seen a chicken doodle quite so fast."

"What'd you feed that thang, Roger?" yelled a woman from the back of the crowd. "Ex-Lax?!" She and those around her cackled with knowing laughter.

Faithful friend Donna barely had time to react. Paper towel in hand, she wiped the "doodle" from the board.

"Most of it's on 386!" Another assistant feverishly combed through the numbers in her stack. "Wally Cripe. Our winner is Wally Cripe!" Wally had apparently taken advantage of the "need not be present to win" clause, and wasn't present. So, in less than two minutes, the crowd disbursed. The hen was left alone in her cage.

The chicken's moment of glory came and went in simply doing what chickens do. In this case it was doodling. One supposes that she had no idea of the value she would have to Wally Cripe, earning him $100 merely by surrendering the remains of the previous morning's breakfast. It's hard to imagine that Roger could have slipped a little extra meal to her for looking for, and then targeting Number 386.

No, Roger's red hen was simply doing as God intended for her to do. Eat. Sleep. Doodle.

This is where the difference between chickens and mankind becomes most clear. Unlike chickens, most of us are discontent with the life God intends for us. We create situations out of our discontent that often lead to further discontent. In anticipation of changing the course of our discontent, we end up like the 499 people who lost a buck or two in the chicken doodle contest, rather than like Wally, who got the prize.

God gives life to every human being, days full of sunshine and provision, rain and shelter. We're made to eat and sleep, to love God and each other. This is our Sovereign's purpose for us.

May we, like Roger's red hen, find our contentment in life simply doing what God intends for us to do.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Farm Bureau Devotions

Tonight I am giving devotions for the annual meeting of the Wabash County Farm Bureau. I thought I'd share my thoughts with you.
Your friend,

He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough. (Proverbs 28:19)

Good Evening,
I am a city-boy who married a farmer’s daughter. My late father-in-law, Chester Clark, came to Indiana in the early 1940’s to work in the Chrysler at NewCastle and to make his living on the land. Chester had suffered a farm accident as a teen-ager while using a sickle to cut grain that left his left leg permanently straight. Through his high school years and a year of business college, he honed his farming skills in spite of his leg. His only regret with that leg was that it disqualified him from serving his country in World War II – but not for a lack of trying to enlist!

The reason I’m telling you about Chester is because I am a city boy who married his daughter. I was born and baptized in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Findlay, Ohio. When I was a kid, I had a paper route of 175 papers in three city blocks, including three apartment buildings. I graduated in the class of 1976 with 700 other classmates. To me, bread came pre-wrapped, bacon came pre-sliced, and hamburgs were what my Dad put on the grill during the summer months.

Then I married into a farm family. When Chester retired from the Chrysler, he could devote his entire time to farming. I began to watch the cycle of farm events that Proverbs 28:19 talks about . . . “he that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread.” Plotting and planning, bargaining with the elevator and watching the market –all this was a part of farming I never realized. Each spring Chester would plow up a huge plot near the house for my mother-in-law’s garden. Summers were filled with Chester in the field and Angie in the garden, getting ready “plenty of bread.”

For years, my in-laws’ basement was lined with rows of Ball jars filled with beans, tomatoes, corn, and other fruits of the garden. The freezer was full of meat they raised themselves (graduates of the 4-H Fair, if you will). They truly embodied the spirit of King Solomon’s wisdom.

In tilling the land, Chester gained more than just “plenty of bread.” He learned that keeping close to the earth keeps a man humble before God. His experience was that we come into the world with nothing and we are dependent on God for the very basics of life . . . the fruits of the earth for sustenance, the animals of Creation for assistance, and the God-given power of sun and rain to nurture and develop the crop. He could tell what kind of weather we’d be having by the patterns of the heavens, long before the weather channel sent up satellites. He also knew that all the herbicide and fertilizer, disking and cultivating, crop rotation and no-till don’t bring a harvest – that’s what God does.

The contrast of Chester and Angie’s life and the life of those who would follow “after vain persons” is obvious enough. Another Bible version describes “vain persons” as those who “chase fantasies.” We live in a world of get-rich-quick schemes and “ten steps to solve your problem.” We are tricked into thinking that everything can be solved within an hour of television, whether we want to be a rock star, solve a crime, or lose those love handles. We want a quick one-day workshop to put our lives in order so we can continue chasing fantasies the rest of the year.

My exposure to farm life through my wife’s family hasn’t taken the “city” out of the “boy.” I can’t drive a tractor or combine wheat. I hardly know a heifer from a steer. I rely on the Internet for the weather and I would starve to death if my diet depended on what I can grow. The “land” I till is the souls of the people of my parish.But the lessons Chester taught me through his farm have given me “plenty of bread” as well.

Keep humble before God.

Depend on God for the basics of life.

Trust in the patterns of Heaven rather than the ways of the world.

Let God bring the harvest.

May God bless you and your work now and in the year ahead.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Ice Cream Social

Is there a better meal served anywhere than in a Church basement? I've been to New York and Chicago and Beijing and many places in between. I've eaten in some pretty high-falutin' eateries.

There was one fancy place Karen and I went where the guy stands by the table with a little brush and scoop. Every time you dropped a crumb on the table, he'd step in, sweep up the crumb into his little scoop and step back from the table. I guess someone somewhere thought that was pretty fancy, but with the amount of crumbs Karen and I can generate in a meal, it got to be downright annoying.

Anyhow, last night I had the privilege of going to the West Eel River Church of the Brethren Ice Cream Social, near Silver Lake, Indiana. They made good on their promise of sloppy joes or coney dogs, chips, pie and several flavors of home-made ice cream.

The truth of the matter is that the sloppy joe and chips are side-dishes. The real meal is in the home-made pies and home-cranked ice creams. The table was spread with a variety of pies and brownies that would make your head spin. I chose the Dutch apple pie, that I think was probably about 1/5 of the whole pie. But the variety was a culinary mosaic that you only find in Church basements - peach pie, sugar cream, pecan, various apple pies, blueberry, blackberry, gooseberry, raspberry, banana cream, coconut cream, lemon meringue, and more.

The ice creams rule the evening, though. There were chocolates and vanillas, black walnut and butter pecan, fresh strawberry and lemon and cherry. Dipped right out of the freezer into large bowls provided by the Church ladies.

This raises another interesting point about Church ice cream socials. The women were in the kitchen, dishing out sandwiches and chips, pouring orange drink and coffee, and going table to table collecting used dishes for satisfied customers.

The men were manning the ice cream. These were not fancy men, who knew the nuances of sophisticated ice creameries. No, these were real men who know that good ice cream is made with heavy cream, lots of sugar, and real fruit. And, though it is more convenient to go to Dairy Queen or pick up a box of Breyer's, these men know that real ice cream takes work and tastes best right out of the freezer.

"Be sure to come back and try the butter pecan," you could hear one of them say.

"I made the black walnut - here, try a scoop," said another.

The West Eel River Church has a usual Sunday attendance of about 30 souls. It is a Church that has known better days, when farm families were large and no one worked the fields on Sunday. They have an ample sanctuary and two large fellowship rooms in the basement.

At the ice cream social, however, you would have thought it was the only Church in Silver Lake. In both fellowship rooms, every seat was full. The line stretched from the serving counter and ice cream area, all the way through the hall and up the stairs and out the door. Hundreds of folks who know the inside track on a good sloppy joe and home-cranked ice cream.

And therein lies the "social" part of the whole event. The whole place was filled the wonderful sound of human conversation. People laughing at jokes they've probably heard a hundred times. Farmers sharing ideas and war stories. Women complimenting each other on recipes and outfits. Youth in equipment dealer caps stealing glances at girls in pretty tops and jeans. Old folks reminiscing and babies playing in high chairs.

What was the cost of this culinary extravaganza? A donation. Yep. A donation. And the donation box was full. No set price for all you can eat. What a sweet deal. Better food you won't find anywhere and I have yet to be in a fancy restaurant that ever provided so pleasant an atmosphere as a Church ice cream social.

The Silver Lake Church Ice Cream Social is always held the fourth Saturday of August at the Church, located about 4 mile east of Silver Lake, Indiana, on State Road 14. Hope to see you there.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Personal Profile

Welcome to my blog :-) My name is Brian Daniels and I am, among other things, pastor of a small country Church in rural Miami County, Indiana, called Peoria Church. I have served as pastor of this great little Church since November 1999.

Among the "other things" I am a husband (for 24 years), father (for 20 years), piano player (for 34 years), writer (many years), and gardener (5 years).

I've started this blog because I believe that rural living adds a unique flavor to Christian spirituality that is diminishing in our increasingly urban culture. I also believe in small Churches. I believe that a small congregation is most ably gifted to pursue Church life as the New Testament describes it.

I hope you are encouraged in your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ through this endeavor.