Saturday, March 31, 2012

Memories of My Father 7

Memories 1
Memories 2
Memories 3
Memories 4
Memories 5
Memories 6

Now Memories 7

My father's first funeral in Lakeland went very well. I'm very thankful to God that everything worked out so well. The District Superintendent of Florida said a few words, as did Jim Wiggins from SWU, as did the President of the 563 Ordinance Company. My brother-in-law Dennis gave a good sermon with a moment to renew/begin a walk with God. My Dad's favorite singer in the Lakeland church sang.

There were about 150 people there, I believe. The fact that there is a final funeral in Indianapolis on Monday helped it not feel like the final goodbye.

Today I want to reflect a little on my father as a churchman. I missed the Wednesday evening church service in Lakeland. The thought went through my head several times that my Dad would have gone, even under these circumstances. He was incredibly faithful and felt horribly guilty if he didn't do whatever he thought his duty was.

The last time I was with him in person was at the Schenck reunion last summer before we went to Germany. He had planned to go up to Frankfort Camp Meeting from the reunion to hear his nephew Tom give his testimony. Instead he stayed longer to be with my family and others, but I know he felt a little guilty for staying. He gave us the Schenck wave outside as we left to go to the airport to go to Angie's family reunion.

Duty was a major element in my Dad's life. He always did what he believed was the right thing to do. There was no selfishness. Certainly when it came down to a choice, he would do what he thought was right no matter what his preference. He was the embodiment of what "entire sanctification" looks like, in my opinion.

It would be hard to find someone more faithful or loyal. You might disagree with him on some issue, and I'm sure many on the countless boards he served did.  I'm sure I would too today on many things. But there was no animosity. There were no enemies. If his side of a decision lost he abided by it.

My guess is that he was a bit of the letter of the law when it came to things like the Wesleyan Discipline. I grew up with that sense of reverence for the rules of my church and at one point no doubt considered them the best codification of the Bible around. Eventually I would realize that these documents were written and voted on by people like me--and usually people with a lot less training than me. I came to read it as a document produced in a historical context. I came to realize how small my denomination is in the vast scheme of things. The Discipline will always be a work in progress.

But my Dad certainly didn't look at it that way. The Discipline contained all the traditions he had grown up with as the Christian faith. My Dad was a delegate to every General Conference of the Wesleyan Church since it was formed except the last one. Most families go on vacations to the beach or some exotic spot. My Dad used all of his vacation time for Frankfort Camp Meeting, District Conferences, and General Conference every four years.

I enjoyed those trips, though. We went to places like Wichita, Kansas. On that trip we were able to take a side trip, I believe to South Dakota to see my sisters Juanita and Sharon, who were working at Brainerd Indian School. My sister Juanita would go on to be a missionary to the Philippines and would eventually marry Saturnino Garcia's son. We went on a trip there, probably my Mom's first real trip out of the country.

I spent a lot of time in the car with my parents over the years. There were the yearly trips to Frankfort Camp in Indiana from Florida. There were trips to Brooksville Camp in winter, District Conference in the summer, sometimes Hobe Sound camp. If I remember a lot of things in these posts, it's in part because of all those trips.

I think my father must have been on the church board of every church he ever attended in his adult life--Northside in Indy, Ft. Lauderdale First, Faith Wesleyan in Lakeland. He went to a board meeting in Lakeland the night before he died.

He was on the board at Frankfort Pilgrim College when it closed (he voted against closing). When it then folded into United Wesleyan College, he was on that board (not when it closed ;-). He was then on the board of Southern Wesleyan College, and I wonder if I would have ended up going there if he hadn't.

He loved those trips and those meetings at SWU. Even when he was emeritus, he felt horribly guilty if he couldn't attend the meetings. I would tell him that it was now entirely a matter of his pleasure, not his duty.

My Dad read his Bible faithfully to a fault. He read Our Daily Bread every morning. I was surprised to see that he was working through Bonhoeffer's God is in the Manger when he passed--not his usual fare.  He tithed beyond faithfulness.

He was incredibly faithful to pray. Every night we would kneel beside the bed or in the living room and pray for everyone in the family. The night before he died he was too weak to name everyone. But he still knelt and got out, "Lord, help all the children." He was very concerned these last days for a family member in a dangerous mission area. I guess after their prayer was done, he later prayed for him in bed.

My Dad's faith was simple. Faith for him was about living a certain way. Because of where he came from, I wouldn't expect it to be much different. He did the things he believed God wanted him to do and he did them with complete commitment.

As I studied and began to see following Christ more in terms of attitudes and principles, he once asked me with some concern, "What is it that you don't do?" Of course we weren't talking about murder or adultery. We were talking about the many duties of the American revivalist tradition.

But my Dad had the right attitudes and he had the right principles. He may have approached them as dos and don'ts, but he lived them with the right heart. While the Christianity of others in my tradition became an empty shell of legalistic religion, my Dad lived the rules out with a love for his neighbor.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Tribute to My Father, M. Lee Schenck

My family and I have used many adjectives this week to describe my Dad: “generous,” “selfless,” “caring,” “compassionate,” “funny,” “faithful,” “loyal,” “hard working”—these are just a few. We’ve had countless calls, emails, visits, and comments about my Dad this week and they were all very similar—what an incredible man he was, what a delight, what a neighbor. He was a godly God, an example to follow. I would say he was a man with the heart of Jesus, a man after God’s own heart. My mother would like to say thanks for the wonderful out-pouring of love since my Dad was promoted to heaven.

Some of his neighbors are here. They’ve shared with us what a delight he was and what a positive impact he had on their lives. You’ve heard tributes from his friends in the army, Southern Wesleyan University, and the Florida District. The story is always the same, from the woman who cut his hair to the cashier at Cracker Barrel, who was so sad to see him go. He made an impact anywhere he went. I’ve thought time and time again since his death that if anyone would ever see any good in me, that was what my Dad was like every day.

My Dad was indeed generous and selfless to a fault. You could hardly pay for your own dinner if you were eating with him. My sister Juanita’s husband Eddie was boasting in triumph after his visit two weeks ago that he had managed to pay for all his meals. (Of course, my wife wonders if a check will show up in Eddie’s mail in a few days)

The day he died we found a letter in his car ready to mail to my sister Sharon with a check in it to help her with her income taxes. He used to give us all blank checks when we left home for wherever in case we had an emergency. As a young man I can remember my mother saying more than once that we would never have a lot of money because my Dad gave it all away. Last year when my mother was so sick, my Dad was so concerned for her health and taking care of her that he almost forgot to eat himself.

My Dad was funny. He used to embarrass me when he would make corny jokes to waitresses and cashiers in check-out lines. After a meal, a waitress might ask if everything was okay. Then he might say something like, “Well, there is a problem,” and a troubled look might come over her face. “The food is all gone,” he might finally finish.

My Dad had a host of endearing characteristics and rituals. He had coffee every morning—and pretty much any other time of day as well, a practice I’ve personally tried to emulate. He went to McDonalds even on his final morning. There was something fitting about his heart waiting to go out of rhythm until he had finished his last cup of coffee.

He loved pens. Before I got my act together, he always used to tell me he didn’t understand how someone as educated as me didn’t carry around a pen. My Dad, on the other hand, carried a “pocket secretary” everywhere he went, with full calendar, addresses, phone numbers, notepad, and of course a pocket for Staples coupons. In other words, he carried a smart phone around with him fifty years before it was invented.

He loved watches. He loved stop watches. He took from the army his sense that if you’re on time, you’re late. He was organized. He was good with numbers. We used to race to see who could add up the individual bills at Morrison’s Cafeteria the fastest and then see if we got it right at the cashier. It made him a great District Treasurer for thirty years, a good board member for the Wesleyan Investment Foundation, and he was on the finance committee of the Southern Wesleyan University board.

He was disciplined and hard working. Even this past Sunday he wore himself out trying to help Patricia with the lunch during and after the concert. I would say my Dad was principled but not legalistic. He had a strong sense of duty and incredibly high standards for himself. He was much less demanding of others. He never stopped kneeling to pray even when his body was most exhausted at his last. I felt bad Wednesday night that I didn’t come over to the prayer meeting service because I knew my Dad would—and in times past he might have struggled with whether to go home to put on a tie.

He was at church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any other time the door was open—and he was usually one of the first ones there. While most families take their vacations to go to the beach or the mountains, my Dad’s time off was always given to camp meetings, district conferences, and General Conference every four years. A sign of his devotion to God was the fact that he didn’t watch TV on Sunday because he felt he would inevitably spend all day watching football instead of thinking about God.

When he disagreed with others, he disagreed well, I thought. He wouldn’t have been his father’s son if he didn’t have strong opinions at times, especially in his younger years. But he didn’t make enemies, and he didn’t keep enemies. He always chose unity over division, the love of Christ over the cold shoulder. He was a model for me in conflict. He was not afraid to say what he thought even in a charged room, but he didn’t attack others when he said it, and he didn’t stop talking to them after the conversation was over.

My father was forgiving. I have been very thankful to God for this last month. My sister Debbie and her family were here about a month ago and saw my Dad. About three weeks ago my sister Juanita was here with most of her family and Sharon was here with most of her family and saw my Dad. And of course my sister Patricia and her family enjoyed my Dad every week, as did those of you from this church.

About three weeks ago on a Sunday night I got a phone call from my sister Debbie to pray. My Dad suddenly got violently sick and later told my Mom he had felt like he was going to die. It was a long night for me wondering if I would get a call in the night that he had passed.

But he didn’t. He made fairly quick improvement. I made one of those gambles we make in life. Do I fly down? He seemed to be okay and we planned to come see him this weekend—my wife Angela, Tom and Sophie. My step-daughter Stefanie was able to visit him on her Spring Break.

I’m so glad that I got to talk to him and Mom these last three weeks almost every day. It is an amazing thing to be able to say that you have never once questioned your father’s love for you. Compared to other parents, his scoldings barely counted as raising his voice. If he were to pop down this morning after a cup of heavenly coffee, he would say, “Don’t worry about it Kenneth. I know you love me.”

That’s the way our father was. A verse several in the family have remembered him telling them in times of challenge is Philippians 1:6: “he who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Although death took my father before Christ returned, God certainly did both begin a good work in my Dad and God was faithful to perform that good work in him up until the day he died.

If you ever see any good in us, remember, that’s what our Dad and our husband was like every day. If you ever see one of us do something selfless or generous, think of my Dad. If you see any one of us work hard or be faithful when others took the easy route, think of my Dad. If you see any of us do an act of kindness or compassion, if you see us forgive or work for reconciliation, think of my Dad. That’s what he was like every day.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Memories of My Father 6

Memories 1
Memories 2
Memories 3
Memories 4
Memories 5
I want to say a few things about my Dad's work. He worked for General Motors for thirty years, first for Motors Insurance Corporation (MIC) and then at the end for GMAC which absorbed it. It was a pay cut from Tasty Bread at first, but it had promise of a future. My Dad excelled at whatever he put his hand to do and GM was no different. If WW2 had not come up, he had a scholarship to go to school to become a draftsman. But instead he became an insurance adjuster.

My Dad was good with numbers. We used to race when we would eat out at Morrison's Cafeteria in Fort Lauderdale to see who could add up the individual tickets they gave to each person as they came through the cafeteria line. It was a fun game to see if we came up with the same number the cashier came up with when it was time to pay.

I've mentioned that he was District Treasurer for thirty years. When I went to college, I quickly gave up keeping as finely balanced a checkbook as he kept. He was on the board of Wesleyan Investment Foundation for several years, and when he was active on the Southern Wesleyan University Board of Trustees, he was on the finance committee.

Even when he became an emeritus, he was quite keen to continue going to the SWU board meetings, in part as a sense of duty.  I wonder if it also in part was so that he didn't feel like he was becoming useless. He had great rituals. The garage has a good stock of towels, toilet paper, and plates. He loved to take that paltry coupon on paper towels to get a few cents off. And he loved Staples.

He loved pens. Although I now carry pad and pen almost everywhere I go, at one point he repeatedly would shake his head at me and say something like, "I don't understand how an educated person like you doesn't carry a pen around."

He loved watches. He always kept me in good supply. The watch he was wearing when he died had a special hand that he kept on California time where my sister Juanita lives. Of course he used the stop watch on his digital watches constantly to see how long trips took.

He carried around a "Pocket Secretary" for as long as I remember. It had all the usual accouterments of a calendar, addresses, phone numbers, a pad of paper, and of course a pocket for coupons. He always wore a suit to church as a matter of duty, and the Pocket Secretary was bound to be in his coat pocket.

I always wanted to be as organized as he was, but it's only been in the digital age that I've begun to move in that direction. You have to find your own way on these sorts of things. What works for one person doesn't always work for another.

Both in Indiana and then in Florida, my Dad spent a lot of time on the road driving from place to place as an adjuster. He used to have a Polaroid camera in the trunk of his company car to take pictures of car damage. Those company cars were nice too. We always had one nice car because of his job.

Sometimes there would be a hurricane or flooding that would take Dad to New Orleans or somewhere they needed larger numbers of adjusters to assess damage. I remember that it was always a financial treat because of the overtime. Even then, my father would not work on Sunday. I was just understood.

My Mom wondered if he might have moved up the ladder more if he had participated more in the social life of GM. My Dad obviously didn't drink and wouldn't have blended in well at a corporate party. Still, after I went off to college they were flying him up to Atlanta to work during the week and flying him home for the weekends. Sometimes my Mom would go with him.

I have only memories of having memories of the move to Florida. I know about where the hotel was on A1A where they initially put us up.  I know that someone, I think my oldest sister Patricia, got horribly sun burned on a preparatory visit before moving.

The two story house we finally moved into was in Wilton Manors and my Dad only paid 25,000 for it at the time. It's now worth probably a half a million. It initially had a wrap around screened porch but my Dad had half the porch filled in so he could have an office, I think. I remember him working well into the evening on paper work from his day.

We used to joke about the old song, "When you coming home Dad, I don't know when." As a father now, I know my Dad was incredibly faithful to make time for me. We did play catch. He did come to all my games. It was always in good fun that I joked about him not having a lot of extra time to play.

Then of course when I went off to college he would joke, "When you coming home son..."  Even last week he hinted at the line on the phone. You can't beat yourself up about these things. I knew I needed to see him soon, and we got within a week of making it happen. I'm just thankful for being able to talk with him briefly on the phone nearly every day these last three weeks. He was cheerful and optimistic, and exactly as I'll always remember him.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Memories of My Father 5

Memories 1
Memories 2
Memories 3
Memories 4

Now Memories 5

I suspect that my father was ready to settle down after he got back from the war. My mother, Helen Shepherd, knew his sister Frances from Frankfort Pilgrim College, where Mom's dad taught and my Mom was finishing up college. She went home with Frances one weekend to help with the music at a "Rally Day" at my grandfather Dorsey Schenck's church.

My mother is an excellent pianist and can play most anything by ear once she gets a sense of the tune. She could also sing although she was quite shy in those days. While she was there one Sunday for Rally Day, she saw a picture of my Dad in his military uniform and the thought crossed her mind, "I wonder if I would ever date him" (even though she was kind of seeing someone else at the time). My Dad was not yet home from Germany. Not long after returning he would ask her out and after two months of dating, asked her to marry him.
Since they didn't believe in jewelry of any kind, he gave her a cedar "hope" chest as an engagement present. Mom thinks it might have been the night he asked her to marry him that she picked up the tip he left on the table and gave it to him outside, thinking that he had forgotten his change. Obviously my mother's family did not go out to eat!

For a wedding present, Dad gave her a Kimball piano.  They were married on July 9, 1947, about 4 months after they got engaged. While they were dating and some thereafter, my Dad worked for his older brother Vernon delivering cakes early in the morning. Dad always thought of Vernon as somewhat of an entrepreneur, perhaps a gift he inherited from Dorsey.

Since my Dad would be up delivering cakes at 4am in the morning, he sometimes fell asleep on dates. After they were engaged, he would fall asleep with his head on my mom's shoulder parked out in the country somewhere, maybe by some corn field. Sounds suspicious!  But knowing how innocent my mother is, I know for certain you couldn't have sold popcorn to that event.  You might, however, have easily done some research on the sounds crickets make!

He was in Indy (I think 65 now runs over where his grandfather's house was at that time), and she was in Frankfort. She didn't have a phone so he wrote letters in between visits. When they were finally married at Frankfort First Pilgrim, they had a double wedding with some friends of my mom's.  A neighbor of my Mom suggested they might save on expenses if they went in together.

The day of the wedding, my Mom felt like they needed some more flowers.  She had no car, so she walked around to some friends whom she thought had pretty flowers in their yards and asked if she could have some. By the time she got to the wedding she was so tired it was an effort to walk down the aisle.

They drove all the way to Whiteland that night, getting there about midnight. Mom's brother Paul followed them down to Dad's house to make sure they had enough money for their honeymoon. They went on for about a week in Mississippi and Louisiana, visiting one of the places he had been during the war like Fort Polk in Jackson, MI. They went on to a Pilgrim Holiness camp meeting in Pineville, Louisiana, where they were asked to sing and did.

After they got married, they set up home in the apartment over grandpa Dorsey's store. Dad helped in the store in addition to his morning routes. After the better part of a year he started working for Tasty Bread, delivering bread in the morning. This left him exhausted at times, difficult to wake up, my mom said.

They lived there for four years. During that time Patricia and Juanita were born. Then they moved to Evanston Avenue, where Sharon was born.  My mom's brother Paul was married by then and moved there as well, not far from the old Northside Pilgrim Church, whose congregation would eventually found Trinity Wesleyan in Indianapolis.

From Evanston Avenue they moved to Crestview, where Debbie was born. Then to Preston Drive on the very north edge of Indy, just south of Carmel. What was once country is now bustling and continuous city.  Each time they moved, my uncle Paul and his wife Betty moved nearby too.

I was born while they lived on Preston Drive.  I have only the faintest memories of Preston Dr., but I remember that Dad would walk with me out to a fire hydrant at the entrance and we would have deep talks. I was only three or four, but I'm sure they were deep. I would get hair cuts in that neighborhood, although my first one was in Frankfort.

When I was still four in 1971, General Motors moved my Dad to Florida, where I would grow up.  They lived in Wilton Manors, within Fort Lauderdale, until in the year 2000 they finally moved to Lakeland to be closer to family.  Patricia's husband Dennis had pastored in Lakeland since the late 70s, after being our pastor in Fort Lauderdale for a number of years in the mid-70s.

My Dad was eternally devoted to my Mom. After her back issues and then after a really rough spell she had last summer, he sometimes spent so much time thinking of her that he forgot to eat himself. He was having occasional bouts of disorientation from time to time, and no doubt forgetting to eat didn't help.

A fond memory of my step-daughter Stefanie is last year when she and a friend surprised him and my Mom.  They showed up at the front door out of the blue in Lakeland during Spring Break. My Dad had been in a deep sleep and didn't recognize her and her boyfriend at first. He was so embarrassed after he finally put it together. Mom kept saying, "Let them in, Lee. Let them in." We all had a good laugh about it afterwards, and it remains a great memory.

My Mom has commented this week how much he waited on her. Thankfully she has regained a good deal of her physical strength from last year. And her mind is sharp as a tack.

Memories of My Father 4

Memories 1
Memories 2
Memories 3

And now Memories of My Father 4:
Before I move on, I want to go back to talk a little bit more about what I remember of my Dad's World War 2 days.  He was drafted in the Army in 1943 when he was 17 years old. He could still remember his serial number when he died. He had already graduated from Arsenal Tech High earlier that year. In later years he went to at least one reunion of Tech High and could occasionally be heard to sing the first line of its fight song: "Glory to Tech High." I don't remember him ever getting past the first line.

Because he had to help work in his Dad's store, he didn't get to participate much in after school activities. I believe he tried out for the baseball team but it was a moot point in the end. As a good Hoosier he loved basketball, but of course it wasn't nearly as much the rage when we moved to Florida in 1971.

But Dad faithfully signed me up for Wilton Manors baseball in Florida and I did a year or two in Farm League, and maybe three in Little League. He came to every game as far as I can remember. When I did track and cross country in high school, he again came to almost every meet. Faithful and loyal are definitely adjectives that have been mentioned these last 48 hours.

After he was drafted, Dad did Basic Training for three months down south in Jackson, Mississippi at Fort Polk. Then he was at Camp Livingston in Louisiana.  I remember him saying that when they went out on bivouac, they were afraid of snakes and would zipp themselves up tightly at night so snakes wouldn't crawl in with them to get warm. I remember him talking about how the trains zig-zagged around so they couldn't easily be found out and bombed.

He talked about how his Dad drove up north of Indianapolis in blizzard like conditions to bring him home around Christmas of 1943, I think. I can't remember if it was as far north as Kokomo but it was quite a drive and Dad was very thankful to his dad for it. He remembered this Christmas event as a memorable time when his Dad did something significant for him as an act of love.

Dad was in the ordinance corp. He started out in Patton's 3rd Army. Some of that first group (the 563) had a chance to go to college on a certain program at one point, and Dad was disappointed at first that he wasn't one of the ones chosen.  He had wanted to study drafting and actually had a scholarship when he was drafted. But then everyone in that college group was suddenly shipped out.

Some of his friends in that group died just after the Battle of the Bulge (this was after Dad had left the company).  They were in the back of a truck next to a river in Belgium around New Years and the driver drove too close and the truck flipped in. 12 of the men in the back drowned, in part because of the frigid waters. Dad had told this story in general, but I got the full story from Carl Petty, President of the 563 Ordinance Company, at the Lakeland funeral.

In these last years he went to many reunions of the first group he had been with. In fact, one of his closest army friends (and a jokester), Tom Mitchell, knew someone in the Kentucky legislature in the early 90's when I was at Asbury and got both him and me officially pronounced Kentucky Colonels, just like Colonel Sanders. I'd be prouder of the fact if they hadn't misspelled our name "Schneck" on the certificate.

Not long thereafter Dad was chosen to be part of a new seed company formed in the new 4th Army. I think he was a Master Sergeant at that time over an ordinance company.  He would end the war as a Sergeant Major, the highest rank of an enlisted man. He could have gone on to become an officer, but he was done at that point and wanted to get back home.

Like so many soldiers, he sent money home for his mom to spend. I think it took three weeks for the boat to make it across the Atlantic to England, probably in early 1944. They sailed from Fort Dix in New York.  I believe he had a friend there, a nurse named Patricia. Dad liked the name...

He said the boat also zig-zagged across to avoid German U-boats. He was stationed in Cheltenham when in England.

Then as I've mentioned they moved to Nancy, France, which is where I think he was when Hitler killed himself. He was there a year. Then they moved to Mannheim, going through Luxembourg.  Dad was in Mannheim when the war was finally over for good after VJ Day. They were scheduled to go to the Pacific arena when the war ended.

There's a stretch of road just south of Gainesville, Florida where you come down from a higher point down into a flat stretch of land. Dad always said it reminded him of the Plains of Westphalia in Germany. And sure enough, in our 1995 trip through that area, Mom and I saw exactly what he meant.

I regret that we never made it to Normandy on either of our trips to Paris together. The first was in 95, just after the 50th anniversary of D-Day.  The second was around 2002 with Angie and her parents. Thankfully he was spared the worst of the war.

I do remembering him feeling like he wasn't right with God when he was in the war. But he sent his tithe back home just the same knowing that he would get right with God eventually, and he didn't want to have to pay back tithe as restitution then.  I know he went to Paris on leave at least once when he was in France. He probably went to see some 1940s black and white movie, horrible sinner that he was.

One story I always found funny was he and his friends teasing French girls. In their sweetest voices they would say something like, "If you aren't the ugliest thing I've ever seen." He said they would just smile back at them, since of course they didn't understand English.

My Dad never had a knack for languages. He remembered a few French phrases, "tout de suite" (immediately) and "ça ne fait rien" (it doesn't matter). Mind you, it was horribly hard for me to track them down because of his pronunciation. Sunday after Sunday growing up he would slaughter "buenos dias" trying to greet Rev. Carlos Gonzalez, a Columbian minister who attended our church in Fort Lauderdale.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Funeral Arrangements for my Father

In case anyone has not heard the funeral arrangements for my Dad, there will be two funerals:

Friday, March 30 in Lakeland, Florida
  • at Faith Wesleyan Church
  • viewing from 10-11am
  • funeral at 11am
Monday, April 2 in Indianapolis, Indiana
  • at Eastlawn Wesleyan Church
  • viewing from 9:30-11:00am
  • funeral from 11-12:00
  • committal at Memoral Park Cemetery off Washington St. thereafter
taken by Shirley Duncan last month after church

Memories of My Father 3

Memories 1
Memories 2

Now Memories of My Father 3
My father liked to go out to eat. The cashier at Cracker Barrel today was so sad to hear of his passing. It is Tuesday, the day that meatloaf is the special.

My Dad liked a host of foods that few others seem to like. He liked liver for example. I remember him eating braunschweiger as a child, which I personally didn't mind. I had asked him on Skype from Germany recently if he thought he liked these things because his mother cooked these sorts of things for him as a child. I wondered if it was German background, since the Germans know 1000 ways to cook an intestine. He thought it was possible.

Dad liked sausage and bread.  He was almost half way through a McDonalds sausage biscuit when his heart went out of rhythm Monday. With his mom's good Dunker background no doubt, he liked breads. One of the treats was when he would make corn shell tacos, often on a Saturday for lunch.

So perhaps it was no surprise that he discovered he had diabetes at about the age of 50. Unlike so many, he stuck to a diet religiously. In fact, after his first week on an insulin pill the doctor took him off.  We were at a hotel for Brooksville Camp Meeting around 1972 when his blood sugar dropped so low that he went dizzy in the night and hit his head on the TV in the room.

I sense I am a lot like my Dad in his enjoyment of going out to eat. Don't invite me over to your house. Dad was a very friendly person as I think I am, but I suspect that deep down he was an introvert. He didn't like going over to visit people because that was pressure.

One fun thing about my Dad had to do with eating out on Sunday. It was a good old Pilgrim Holiness tradition not to "merchandize" on the Sabbath.  In other words, you didn't eat out on Sunday because it caused someone else to have to work and Nehemiah decried those who bought and sold things outside the city wall on the Sabbath.

But there was an exception--if the "ox was in the ditch," as my grandfather (I think) used to say quoting Matthew 12:11. And when you were traveling, that was an exception. I honestly think my Dad enjoyed being able to eat out on Sunday when he was traveling. There were times when they would visit our house when my wife Angie wanted to cook but I could tell my Dad preferred to go out. Why waste a legitimate opportunity to go out?

We didn't watch TV on Sunday either.  My Dad felt that if he let himself watch TV on Sunday he would watch football all day rather than worship. In my teens he would occasionally make an exception for the debut of Star Wars after Sunday evening church.

My Dad was also quite strict with the TV, especially in the early days, about my sisters not watching violence.  Of course the violence then was cowboy shows.  I guess my oldest sister Patricia would try to turn the volume down when a shoot out was coming. One favorite story is when she didn't catch a shot one time.  Being proactive, she went running to intercept Dad before he got there.  "It was in self-defense," she pleaded lest the TV get turned off.

If someone think my father strict, my grandfather was even more. In those days it was considered sinful in many Pilgrim Holiness churches even to own a TV. My grandpa may not have come to visit for a while because of a small black and white TV. Some had a philosophy of giving others a good "letting alone," no doubt following texts like 2 Thessalonians 3:14.

(Incidentally, I remember the late David Smith who taught at Frankfort Pilgrim College talking about some fellow professors showing up at his trailer having heard that he had a TV. He shewed them away by saying they'd be over to look in their homes next if he let them search his.)

I was either not yet born or not aware of my surroundings when my Dad got into some of these conflicts. He apparently was willing to bear some disapproval, although I think it did bother him. But I also know it wasn't my family's way to flaunt our "freedom" either. My mother always tried to dress my sisters appropriately when visiting my grandparents.

My Dad also took some flack for going along with the merger of the Pilgrim Holiness Church to form The Wesleyan Church. One family member told him he'd pray for his soul if he went with the merger--movement toward liberalism and a one world religion, I suppose. I don't think it sat too well with Dad.

I like to say that my father was strict but not legalistic. What I mean is that he had more rules for himself than most others, but he didn't do it for the rules sake. He did them because he thought they were what God wanted him to do. Legalism is when you like rules for their own sake.

Memories of My Father 2

continued from Memories 1
My father was an early riser. Growing up I don't remember ever beating him up in the morning. He got up, made coffee, shaved most of his years of course with a straight razor as there was no other option. In high school he always had a bowl of cereal waiting for me for my groggy morning. It's only been since I've been married that I fell into this pattern myself.

I don't know if he was always a morning person. I have wondered from time to time how the army might have shaped his habits. Early to rise, very keen to be on time. His stopwatch was one of his idiosyncrasies. He would time how long we had traveled, stopped of course for the rest park. He didn't like unplanned side trips, unlike my mother. I do this sometimes with things, imitating something I always found fun about my Dad.

In terms of Myers-Briggs personality types he was a "J" who kept things in order. He wasn't an ogre about it, which is the perfect kind of "J."  He had the benefits of orderliness without the aftertaste.  He was someone who could do taxes for some of my sisters. He was the District Treasurer for the Florida District of the Wesleyan Church for thirty years.

I remember the huge four inch thick ledger he kept on all the churches in the district by hand. Then of course in the electronic age he switched to doing the budget on the computer. I vaguely remember the year he entered all that data. He would use Quicken from that point on.

He was a "J," so I'm sure he annoyed some churches and District Superintendents who would have liked a more flexible "bank" for a treasurer. But he had a constant override. He may not want to deviate from the plan. He might not want to take that detour down Stinking Creek Road in Tennessee. But you knew he would. There might be a little grumbling to himself. "Helen, we want to get to such and such a place by nightfall."

But you knew he would. There would in fact be no stopping him from doing whatever or going wherever from that point on, even if you changed your mind and told him that you didn't want to go there any more. And usually he was glad he did deviate in the end. My son Tom reminds me of him a little in that respect.

So the cereal bowl would always be there waiting in the morning. It was common for him to make small talk with me as I ate the cereal with closed eyes, having just stepped out of the shower and dressed. Sometimes he would ask two or three times something or another, "Did you sleep well?" When I would finally say, "YES" a little louder than normal, I would then apologize. "Sorry for raising my voice."

He'd drop me off at the high school, give me a kiss on the cheek and then go off to work. It's a ritual I've repeated now with my own children. It was only in high school that he was able to do this, maybe because it began before eight. In elementary and middle school it was always Mom.

My father grew up in a strict home. I seem to recall him talking about having to sit out a square dance at School 51 in Indy because they didn't believe in dancing. I also remember him talking about being a bit embarrassed when his Dad would show up in a butcher's apron because his younger brother Maurice was in trouble again. His Dad owned a corner store more than once, although during the Depression he had to sell it and go to work himself as a butcher.

Dorsey Schenck, my father's father, was a doer, not a thinker. He was an entrepreneur and a church planter. I guess there was a little awkwardness once when my mother's father was grading some of his work toward ordination at Frankfort Pilgrim College, where my mother's father taught.  Dorsey could lift a whole engine out of a car on a pulley--of course they weren't as complex as they are now.

I remember my grandfather Dorsey letting me shoot the b-b gun he used to shoot squirrels away in his back yard on Dequincy Street. I missed the target and shot out a lamp several feet away.  He died in 1974 so I must have been about 6 or 7 at the time. After his death, my Dad's mother always called me "Boy" and I wondered if she knew my name (I was grandchild #31). Mom and Dad thought she did.  She died in 1977.

Both my Dad's parents died at the age of 75, interestingly, while my Dad made it to 87. It was his heart, in the end, that gave out. He knew he had a murmur but didn't want to risk having it fixed. My uncle Maurice had died on the operating table having a blockage opened over ten years ago, but the aorta wall was apparently weak and the surgeon punctured it at Ball State Hospital. My Dad (and Mom) had no interest in chancing any surgeries to clear blockages or fix leaky valves after that.

That funeral of my Uncle Maurice, some time around the year 2000, was one of the first times I saw my Dad helpless. There was nothing he could do for his brother. I had never really thought of him in those terms before. To me, my Dad was smart and in control. He could find his way around any city, to any destination. In any crisis he knew what to do. He knew how to use a map. He was a planner.

The first chink in my Dad's directional armor I remember was our first time in Europe. I was working on my doctorate in England in 1995 and was headed to Tübingen, Germany for two months. My parents took the opportunity to visit Paris and go to Germany with me. It was my father's first time there since the war.

He had been stationed in Nancy, France in the final days of the war, then in Mannheim, Germany, just after the war ended I believe. We did not stop at Nancy because we were on a train, but rented a car to drive around Mannheim as I recall. There wasn't much familiar, although I believe there was still an auto factory where my Dad had worked. I remember him saying that there was still a sniper in the factory when they first arrived.

I remember being amazed at the "two layer" effect of the houses in Mannheim. The first floor might have one date of construction and be in one style. The upper floors might have a post-1945 date and be in a different style. We bombed Mannheim to oblivion during the war.

I may also have seen traces of the changed situation as my father visited a quite different place than when he was there before. Last time he was here the Allies were in charge and had moral authority over the fallen land. Now it was a post-reunification miracle in the making, although it was about to have a serious economic bump before the miracle fully took off. It seemed to me that he needed to make a minor adjustment in his thinking to think of Germany as a free country that could actually be good.

We went to Munich on that trip. We also went to Berne, Switzerland, where my Dad I believe had once gone on vacation from when he was in the Army. To get there from Munich, we traveled by train through Zurich and stopped there briefly. This was all done on Eurail pass. I remember our surprise to realize that the train from Munich to Zurich passed briefly through Austria, for which we did not have a pass. Dad had to pay for three tickets for that short stint across.

I regret that he never made it to Berlin. In my first Fulbright in Tübingen he and mom came over to visit us for a while. Angie's father was also with us. We went to Munich again that time and went up to see Nuremberg with a rental car with him and mom to see where the war trials had been. We went to Dachau where the concentration camp had been.

His directional anxiety was in crisis mode that visit.  As a son who prided himself in my father's ability to find his way around any part of a city or the United States, it was noteworthy that he was uncomfortable being dependent on someone else to find his way. In 1995 he still could get his bearings pretty good. When both Angie's parents and my parents went to England and Paris with us around 2001 it was different. He was very anxious when I was not around to speak at least a little French.

I regret that they weren't able to come visit us this last time in Germany. Dad would have gladly come, but Mom's back was very bad in the Fall. I had debated flying down to see him these last two months, especially when he had an incident three weeks ago. But he recovered fairly quickly and we were coming to see them this weekend. Thankfully, I was able to talk to him on the phone almost every day these last three weeks. He was his cheerful, optimistic self.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Memories of My Father 1

One of the things that saddens me about a death is the loss of memory for those who remain. I often tried to remember the details of my father's life, but my cursed memory has forgotten much. I believe my sister Sharon did some videoing of my father's reminiscences in recent years.  But I thought I would record some of my memories of his memories, and memories of my own as well.

My Dad was born in Thorntown, Indiana on October 24, 1924 to a preacher/church planter in the Pilgrim Holiness Church, Dorsey Schenck.  His mom was Esther Elma Miller Schenck, who was of Dunker descent (we always said "DUNKERDS," but I've never seen it spelled that way). My cousin Tim recently discovered a 1930 census indicating that Dorsey's grandfather had been born in Holland and thus that my grandfather's family was Dutch.

It explained the pronunciation "SKANK." If we had been German, it surely would have been "SHANK." Ironically, I suppose my grandmother was the one who was actually German.

My Dad had shared memories of his childhood from time to time. His father's father, Samuel Schenck, died when he was only 8 of a ruptured appendix.  Actually died in the hospital that my youngest children Tom and Sophie were born in--St. Joseph's Hospital on the northwest side of Kokomo. My dad had some basic memory of his farm north of Frankfort. We actually tried to find it once but he wasn't totally sure. Both Samuel and his wife Pearl Dorsey are buried in the Hope Cemetery of the United Methodist Church out in the country north of Frankfort.

My Dad loved to visit his mother's family, I think in Camden, Indiana.  They were Dunkers who wore black suits with straps and long beards. They had black and white cars by the time I was born. His grandfather on that side was Amsy Miller and grandmother Salome Wise Miller. I remember his saying how much he and his cousins (e.g., the Mohlers) liked running around the house. I got the impression it had twists and turns that made it a child's dream.

I also got the impression that the Miller side of the family liked to play practical jokes, and it has always been my impression that the Dunkers had a wry sense of humor. One event I remembering him mentioning was how they would say, "Think fast," and throw a jar of molasses across to the other. At least on one occasion, it broke all over the place.

My Dad was a funny guy, I always thought. In my youth he would regularly embarrass me at restaurants by his comments to waitresses. "Was everything all right?" she might say.  "There is a problem," he might respond. "It's all gone." More than one waitress looked at him gravely, not getting it.

While I'm on the subject, it was almost impossible to pay for your own meal with him, let alone his. Some of my brother-in-laws became somewhat successful, but I rarely was able. When I was in school he would say, "I'll let you pay when you have a job."  But the day never came.

In fact, it was almost a fault that he could hardly accept a gift.  He would say, "Don't be too proud to accept a little help."  Generosity is certainly one of the first adjectives I think of when I think of him. He didn't have much to give, but he would give away almost everything he had, especially to his children.

He did have a strict side.  He could hardly not have had one growing up Pilgrim Holiness. I remember a story about one day in Ft. Lauderdale when he was working on A1A as an insurance adjuster for MIC (Motors Insurance Corporation, which eventually became GMAC). A man who had clearly had a little too much to drink came into the office off the street and asked my Dad for money.

"What you need is to sober up!" my Dad responded righteously.

"Thank you for those kind words," the man answered back.  It made my Dad feel awful. I don't remember if he took the man to get something to eat after that...

A Good Day for Eternity

My father woke as every day,
cheerful, come what may.
He no doubt shaved, put on his clothes
and headed out to play.
A coffee and a paper
            were the morning fare each time,
So why not on this final morn
            begin the daily rhyme?
A sip or two with mother
            before eternity,
The perfect end and beginning
            for a noble life to free.
My father was a great man,
            far greater than I’ll be.
His love I never questioned
            nor his generosity.
He always thought of others first,
            and even when he grumbled,
You knew he could not help but do
            the selfless and the humble.
His love for God you could not doubt,
            no deed was out of sync
With the life he thought that God desired
            —he didn’t have to think.
A coffee with my mother
and time to visit God.
I’ll sleep now for a moment,
            take a little nod.
Don’t be too sad, I am at rest,
I leave this world in peace.
My life both here and elsewhere,
            you know will never cease. 

The Translation Situation

I wrote this piece this morning.
We often find that different translations word things differently. Sometimes it is just a matter of style. There is no one, right way to translate from one language into another. For example, the New International Version (NIV2011) of Romans 12:2 says to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It is saying the same basic thing as the New Living Translation (NLT): “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” The one has simply worded the translation differently.

You probably already know that the Bible is a collection of books (biblia means “little books in Latin) that were originally written in other languages. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and all of the New Testament was originally written in Greek. Since these other languages often put words in a different order than English and since the meanings of words in one language do not usually correspond exactly to those of words in another language, there is almost always going to be more than one way to translate from one language to another.

However, some differences in translations have to do with disagreements over what the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic originally meant. Take the Common English Bible (CEB) of Romans 3:25: “God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice.” It differs from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), “God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement,” which differs from the English Standard Version (ESV), “God put forward as a propitiation,” which differs from the Revised Standard Version (RSV): “God put forward as an expiation.” These are not simply different wordings in English, they are different meanings based on disagreements among experts about what Paul originally meant in Romans 3:25 by one word, the Greek word hilasterion.

Still other differences between translations are based on uncertainty about what the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic was to begin with. The King James Version (KJV) of Psalm 19:4 says, “Their line is gone out through all the earth,” while the New International Version says, “their voice goes out into all the earth.” This difference is neither one of style or of interpretation but comes from the fact that some of our ancient sources of Psalm 19:4 have the Hebrew word (“line”) while others presuppose the word qôl (“voice”). Obviously someone copying the psalm very early on either accidently added or dropped an “l,” and which “reading” a translation has depends on which source the translators followed.

The following is both about the different approaches used in translation as well as the process that experts use to determine what the original text of the Bible most likely said. Most pastors and Christians in general are not expert enough to make these sorts of decisions with confidence. As with all the subjects on which we are not experts, we are reliant on those who have done our homework for us so that we can benefit from their work. Thankfully, the majority of those experts have reached the same conclusions, and if we prefer to go with the alternative, it is fairly well mapped out as well.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Psalm 8 Translation

Finished translating Psalm 8 today, truly a great and important psalm.

Psalm 8:
[To the musician leading (those playing) the Gittith, a psalm (attributed) to David]
1 YHWH, our Lord, how magnificent [is] your name in all the earth,
     [you] who put your splendor in the skies.
2 Through the mouth of boys and those nursing you arranged praise
     because of your harassers, to stop the enemy and the revenger.
3 For I will look at your skies, the works of your fingers,
     moon and stars, which you built.
4 What is humanity, that you remember it,
     and the son of a human that you pay him attention?
5 You made him a little lower than God,
     and [with] glory and honor you crowned him.
6 You made him to rule over the works of your hands;
     you put everything under his feet.
7 Sheep and cattle, all them,
     and also four legged animals of the plain.
8 Birds of the skies and fish of the sea,
     things that pass through the paths of the seas.
9 YHWH, our Lord, how magnificent [is] your name in all the earth.
Original Meaning
First, we read the psalm with a view to its original meaning using inductive Bible study methods.  This means that we listen to the psalm in its own right and only with background information implied by the psalm itself.  The headings were added later and thus cannot be used with any certainty to interpret the psalm itself inductively.

Sometimes we have good inductive reasons to conclude a heading is probably mistaken.  In any case, since they are not part of the "original manuscript" of the psalm, they are not included in what is covered by terms like "inerrant" any more than textual variants like the ending of Mark is.  The appropriate original meaning method is to read the psalm itself inductively and then see if its meaning seems to match the heading.

It is also inappropriate inductively to introduce information from elsewhere in the canon when interpreting the psalm. Each part of the Bible is incarnated truth, truth that comes within the language and usually the paradigms of its original context. As with the headings, we read the psalm inductively first and then branch out to other parts of the Bible.

Verses 4-8 are about the place of humanity in the created order.  When one considers the grandeur of the skies and things like the moon and the stars, humanity seems so small.  And yet God pays attention to us.  Indeed, we are only a little lower than God in the created order. We cannot inductively be certain if the Psalm has Genesis 1 in mind, but the passage does remind us of Genesis 1:27-28 where humanity, both male and female, created in the image of God, rules over the creation. So also here humanity, made a little lower than God, rules over the works of God's hands, cattle, birds, fish, and so forth.

Literarily, the psalm is framed by an inclusio, in which the first and last verses bracket the psalm as a clear literary unit.

Fuller Sense ("sensus plenior")
The earliest Christians heard additional truths in this psalm. We cannot be certain if they heard the title "Son of Man" in the psalm, although it is possible.  In general, one should not see more meaning in a text than is clearly indicated. Hebrews 2 does see Christ bringing the psalm to fulfillment.  Humanity was created to have glory and honor but, presumably because of Adam (it is not 100% certain that Hebrews is thinking of him), humanity does not have everything under its feet.

So Jesus as human participates in the psalm and, presumably because he is without sin, makes it possible for humanity to fulfill it in the eschaton.  These are of course not meanings the psalm originally had, but they are truths the early Christians heard in the psalm inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Although I cannot prove it, I like to think that Paul presupposes the sequence of thought in Hebrews 2.  1 Corinthians 15 assumes the Christ part of the equation.  1 Corinthians 15:20-28 blends together Psalm 110:1, which the early Christians read to be about God making Christ's enemies a footstool for his feet, with Psalm 8, where God puts everything under Jesus' feet.

For Paul, the one enemy yet to be put under Christ's feet is death.  In the final resurrection, it shall also be conquered with finality.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wesley Seminary Prayer Walk

Last night a small collection of individuals--students, faculty, staff, administrators, board members--gathered at the site where our new seminary building is already under construction and prayed for the days to come. The station where I was prayed for the students, present and future, onsite and online, in English-Spanish and whatever may come, here-there-and-maybe everywhere.

It occurred to me as we prayed what an amazing thing seems to be unfolding before our very eyes.  One thing about training ministers who are already in ministry is that they already know stuff.  This is far from some venture where the faculty and curriculum are filling up some blank slate.  The students teach each other and, often, I suspect the professors.  Imagine having a pastor of a church of a 1000 in your class!

More than that, we are coming into increasing contact with teaching churches that are already training informally but without accreditation.  What opportunities to wed the best of formal ministerial training with some of the incredible insights of teaching churches and vibrant church planting communities!  And then through in the connections to vibrant Hispanic ministries who have incredible gifts and expertise but again are not connected to accredited, formal ministerial training.

The thought occurred to me that this was "body of Christ" education.  This is not just competent and faithful professors transmitting knowledge.  This is a corporate effort, with students teaching students, churches teaching seminary, and seminary bringing formal expertise to bear. It's like riding a whirlwind!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hunger Games cometh...

My wife Angie bought us tickets to the midnight opening of Hunger Games tonight so after a short nap I find myself looking for something to do for thirty minutes.  Our youngest don't know they're about to be awoken in thirty minutes, although they had begged to go.

We read the Hunger Games series with our youngest two just before and in Germany.  I remember being very impressed with the first volume of the series, thinking it was profound enough to be more than just a good movie.  It could become the kind of classic you read in a high school literature class. I never felt that way about the Harry Potter series, although they are also quite clever, just not profound IMHO.

This has to be the first time that I've read a book before seeing the movie.  Usually, my wife and step daughters are disappointed with the movie when they do that.  I'll have to see what my experience is tonight.

There, I used up 10 minutes...

What verses/passages speak to you?

A number of verses have popped into my head recently.  They were the harmony to the melody of life, reverberations of the string life plays.  You can see they are not verses for personal edification but words of timeless wisdom that life called to mind.

1. "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Prov. 15:1).

2. "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong" (Eccl 9:11).

3. "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

4. "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25).

5. "You are not able to serve the LORD... No! We will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:19).

6. "Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (Song of Songs 2:15).

Do you have any verses like these?  Not necessarily verses of promise that get you through, but verses that when you read you think, "Yep, life's like that."

6.4 Good Samaritan

One of the best illustrations of what Jesus meant when he said to love our enemies is the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In this familiar story, a man is mugged on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both a priest and a Levite pass by him without helping. Finally, a Samaritan stops and helps the man, giving him medical attention, taking him somewhere safe, and paying for his recovery.

Jesus tells this story in the context of the question, "Who is my neighbor?" The lawyer type is apparently thinking in the same vein as Matthew 5:43: love your neighbor and hate your enemy. So he is willing to love his friends but perhaps wanting to exclude his enemies from those toward which he must show love. He sounds like he wants to be clever.  "Ah, but who is my neighbor?"

Jesus' answer is topsy-turvy.  First, he does not tell a story about someone helping a Samaritan, although in effect Jesus' answer is that Samaritans are his neighbors. But the story honors the Samaritan as the one who actually fulfills what God expects. Meanwhile, those like the lawyer--the priest and Levite--do not.

Samaritans were of course hated by many Jews at the time.  They lived in the region between Galilee, where Jesus lived, and Judea, where Jerusalem was.  While Galilee in the north had largely turned to follow the religious approach of the south in Jerusalem, Samaria remained both politically and religiously distinct. Samaria had a long history of resisting the advancement of Judea, and they had their own version of the Jewish Law that did not see the temple in Jerusalem as the legitimate temple. They had their own temple much of the time. They also tended not to worship Yahweh exclusively but to mix worship of him with other gods in the world like Zeus.

So for Jesus to make the Samaritan the good guy would have been grating, to say the least. Any lawyer of this sort would surely have found it insulting. What's even more subversive is the situation that Jesus creates. A priest or Levite would surely have wanted to avoid the mugged man for purity reasons. He would have been bloody, and contact with blood of this sort would make a person unclean, and purity was a major concern for a priest, whether they had just finished their priestly duties or not.

Some try to soften the startling nature of what Jesus is saying here by pointing out that the priest and Levite were headed away from Jerusalem. If they were working in the temple, they were done for the day. It is hard to know how significant the direction of travel is in the story. It does not change the fact that Jesus did not put a Pharisee in the story as the one who avoids the mugged man. Jesus chose two people for whom purity was a concern because of the Old Testament laws.

In other words, this is another story like the one where Jesus gets into conflict with Pharisees over his disciples picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. It is another story where he implies that people trump rules for their own sake, in this case a priestly concern for purity. Loving our neighbor or enemy takes priority over lesser laws and concerns.

Once again, we find that Jesus leaves no excuse for hating our enemy. When we have a concrete opportunity to help others in need, we'd better have a very good reason not to do it. Jesus does not show himself to be an "absolutist" in these stories.  Quite the contrary! He regularly makes exceptions to the rules, even breaks the rules, when loving others is at stake.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The soul that sinneth, it shall die.

As I wrote on my Jesus book this morning, I was reminded of some camp meeting preaching I heard as a child from Ezekiel 18:4: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die."

It's a great example of how the same words can be read differently by different people... and a good example of the focus on judgment I grew up with.  The way I heard this passage preached was, "Don't think you're going to get away with anything.  Be assured.  If you sin, you will die.  You're going to get it.  There's no escaping God.  He's going to come after you and send you to hell."

Ezekiel of course has no conception of hell, and this is not what the passage means if one pays any attention at all to the literary context of the verse.  The context is the fact that the generation that went into captivity in Babylon was not the actual generation that had sinned.  Rather, the sins of the fathers had been visited on the sons, even though the sons had cleaned up their act.  "The fathers ate sour grapes but it's our teeth that hurt" (18:2).

Not so anymore, says Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31.  But rather, the person who actually does the sinning is the one who will get punished.  The person who does the sinning, he or she will do the dying.

But we come to the words of Scripture with our own definitions and, no surprise, find meanings in the Bible that fit with what we already believe.  So those camp meeting preachers had this dictionary:

soul: the part of me that survives death
die: eternal death

Ezekiel's sixth century BC Hebrew dictionary had these entries:

soul: a living being, the whole person not a separable part of a person
die: for your body to stop living, no conception of a meaningful afterlife

This "polyvalence" of language (susceptibility to multiple meanings) allows the Spirit to speak in ways the original authors never intended... and it also allows the burrito you had for lunch to write an entertaining sermon.

6.3 Transition from Collective Guilt in OT

Continued from yesterday
... Many Christians want to trump Jesus with the Old Testament, but there are two reasons why this is inappropriate.  First, the judgment of the Old Testament falls in the category of God's action, not our orchestration. Paul says as much in the New Testament: "leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay'" (Rom. 12:19). In other words, it is not normally our business as individuals to administer judgment. [1]

The second is because the Old Testament understanding of things is sometimes incomplete without the New Testament. Indeed, even within the space of the Old Testament itself we sometimes find a development of how God operates or how Israel understands things.  For example, prior to Israel's captivity in Babylon, God is "punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me" (Deut. 5:9).

This pre-exile material has a sense of corporate guilt, such that the generation that the Babylonians destroy and take away is not actually the group of Israelites that did the sin. Thus Psalm 44:17 remarks that "All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant." Even though king Josiah is the most righteous king of Israel yet, his goodness does not counterbalance God's anger for the evil of his grandfather Manasseh (2 Kings 23:25-27).

If we find this sense of collective guilt difficult to fit with our Christian understanding of God, it is noteworthy that parts of the Old Testament itself had difficulty with it as well.  Ezekiel 18 wrestles with Israel's destruction because of its parents' sins: "The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge" (18:2).  No longer, God says, will it work this way.  Rather, from now on, "The one who sins is the one who will die" (18:4).

Christians who like the idea of God punishing all America because some group in America is doing wrong usually don't notice this passage or the similar passage in Jeremiah 31:29-30. Similarly, there is a real tension between the teaching of Jesus and anyone who would use parts of the Old Testament to support a lust for judgment on one's enemies.

What Jesus said was to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). There's no wiggling out of it. If you don't like what Jesus says here, be honest about it. Don't pretend that Jesus said something different or try to use the Old Testament to trump Jesus. Any application of Scripture you use that tries to justify hatred of some person or group of people is simply not Christian. It's something else...

[1] That of course does not mean that there is not a place for governments to work for justice in the world, although such actions of governments are fraught with problems and prone to injustice themselves.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

6.2 Loving Neighbor

What does it mean to love our neighbor? Jesus himself summed it up when he said, "do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). This is of course the Golden Rule. To love your neighbor is to do things that benefit them and not to do things that harm or hurt them.

Love is a matter of intent even more than action. It means that you actually intend others well and act accordingly. It is a matter of the heart.  Jesus says, "it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come" (Mark 7:21). And it is from the heart that truly good thoughts and actions come.

Jesus of course goes one step further. We are not only to love our friends, but our enemies as well (Matt. 5:44). No one is left. We are to love everyone, both our friends and our enemies. We will look at Matthew 5 a number of times in this chapter, but the overall point is summed up in its last paragraph (5:43-48).

You have heard to love your neighbor, but the general sense was also that we hate our enemies (Matt. 5:43). Indeed, if we are honest with ourselves, not a little of the Old Testament certainly feels hateful toward Israel's enemies. One psalmist says of the Babylonians, "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks" (Ps. 137:9). A whole collection of psalms, the "imprecatory psalms" call on God to destroy the enemies of Israel (e.g., Pss. 7, 58, 109). The prophets Nahum and Obadiah seem to rejoice in the impending doom of Assyria and Edom respectively.

Certainly these are not the only attitudes toward enemies in the Old Testament. The book of Jonah indicts the prophet Jonah for his unwillingness to abandon a prophecy like the book of Nahum. Jonah strikingly extends perhaps the core description of God in the Old Testament to the enemies of Israel: you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (Jonah 4:2). [1]

Jesus says that while they have heard it was okay to love their enemies, they must be complete as their Father in heaven is complete (Matt. 5:48). They must love not only their neighbors, but their enemies as well. Look at how God acts. He sends the precious rain that waters the earth not only to those who serve him but to the unrighteous as well (5:45). He gives the warmth and light of the sun not only on Israel, but on the Romans and other nations as well. So we are to love everyone, including our enemies.

When we are formulating a biblical theology on a topic, the New Testament provides a more complete understanding than the Old.  And we don't have to decide between the message of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament, for the New Testament is unanimous in its teaching on loving one's enemies (e.g., Rom. 12:17-21). God will take care of judgment...

[1] This description of God appears across the Old Testament. Cf. Exod. 34:6; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2)

Monday, March 19, 2012

6.1 Loving God

I didn't quite finish the Jesus chapter on Jesus' followers but wanted to keep moving rather than go for days trying to get inspired to finish it. So I move on to the next chapter, on the Sermon on the Mount and some of Jesus' miscellaneous teaching.
The three Synoptic Gospels all present a scene during the last week of Jesus' earthly mission when he is asked what the greatest commandment is.  His answer, while not unheard of at the time, has provided the cornerstone of Christian ethics for the last two thousand years.  "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt 22:37-40).

It is indeed possible to see all the teaching Jesus gave while he was on earth as the working out of these principles into everyday life. These are the two great absolutes of Christian living.  For almost any other specific guideline in the Bible, we can think of an exception, a situation where a higher principle can trump another one. But these are the highest values--love God and love neighbor. They never come into conflict with each other, and there is no situation where God would want us to make an exception to the rule.

What does it mean to love God or to love your neighbor? I proposed in the previous chapter that to follow Jesus means to submit to his will over any competing authority or interest.  Loving God with all one's being means that God's will takes precedent over family or any other human authority.

But we must be careful not to trick ourselves into thinking God's will conflicts in any way with the love of our neighbor. Justice can actually be an expression of love, when we are trying to steer our children in the right direction or when we are protecting society from someone who is dangerous. In the end, most of us are not even in a position as individuals to administer justice. But we are constantly in a position to show love to others.

The danger is when we use the command to love God as an excuse not to love our neighbor. For example, some might say that loving God means to hate homosexuals and thus that in this instance the command to love God trumps the love of our "enemy." This is nothing less than a trick of the Devil, using the idea of God's will as an excuse to get out of doing God's will, which is to love even our enemy. Jesus would have none of it.

Others have a tendency to turn the love ethic into rules.  Loving God means to follow a set of dos and don'ts and to follow them without exception. But to reduce loving God to a set of rules is to go against the very example of Jesus himself.  It was not his style to treat rules as exceptionless absolutes, but to make exceptions to general rules because loving people in concrete ways was more important than always following the rules.

The best example is probably when his disciples were picking some grain on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Some Pharisees complained to Jesus that they were breaking the Ten Commandments, working on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24). What is interesting is that Jesus doesn't deny it.  He doesn't say, "That's not working on the Sabbath."  He doesn't say, "The Sabbath is about worship, not about working."

What he says is that there is a time to make exceptions to the rules because loving people concretely often trumps the rules, in this case the Sabbath rule. The example he gives is a time when one of the high priests gave David and his fighting men some of the sacred bread from the sanctuary, something that was completely inappropriate because it belonged only to the priests (Lev. 24:9). There is no wiggling out of this conclusion because Jesus himself said it was unlawful (Mark 2:26). Jesus' point is clear: in concrete situations, loving others will sometimes take precedence over keeping rules, even when we're talking about one of the Ten Commandments!

What does it mean to love our neighbor? ...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

When a pastor should change churches...

I was thinking today about some signs, if I were pastoring, that might hint I should think about changing churches.

1. You sense that God is calling you elsewhere.
There should be at least one completely positive entry on this list.  The ideal scenario is when you have had a fruitful ministry somewhere and you sense it is time for you to move on.  Maybe there is a young leader you have been grooming to step into leadership. Maybe you are ready to retire. Maybe you sense God calling you to another ministry. Wouldn't it be great if all pastoral transitions were of this sort!

Now for the other side:
2. If most of my people have lost confidence in my leadership, and there is no clear way to get it back.
Certainly a congregation can be mistaken. Certainly there's a time to stick with it through a hard time. But there's also a time to recognize that my leadership capital is spent. It may not be my problem, or it may definitely be my problem. But to be a leader means for people to follow you, and if they're not following you, you're done.

3. When your people, including your best staff and lay leaders, are jumping ship in large numbers and those that haven’t jumped yet are looking.
Sometimes a church can benefit from certain people leaving, perennial trouble makers. Sometimes a sign of a church's health is when it sends out people to plant churches and further God's mission. But some pastors also deceive themselves about how much blame they should take over the departure. When some of your best leaders are going elsewhere, it can mean you have been stifling their gifts or taking the church in the wrong direction.

Good leaders get out of the way when those under them can do something better than them, and they facilitate the exercise of the gifts of those under them. Bad leaders can't let anyone under them be better than them. Inevitably, these subordinate leaders feel like their talents are being buried in the sand, and they go elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the level of leadership in your church sinks to your level. A less gifted person can actually be a great leader if he or she enables and gets out of the way of those under her who have greater gifts in particular areas.

3. When you have lost a clear vision for your church and can't seem to get it back.
There will almost always be transition times when you and a church are trying to figure out where to go next. But if you go too long without a clear sense of direction, the church may be in trouble if you stay. Best step out of the way and let God call someone else with a vision for the church.

Of course, there are other situations.  You can have a vision out of sync with the church's vision. Sometimes you will be right, and sometimes you will be wrong. There is a time to work around dead tissue. But there also is a time when you are the dead tissue. Wisdom is knowing the difference.

4. When the church is declining or has plateaued under your leadership, and needs a fresh perspective.
A church will have ups and downs, but you don't want it to stay in stagnant or down mode for too long.  Sometimes fresh eyes and fresh enthusiasm are needed. There's no dishonor in recognizing that your time there is up.

What you don't want to happen is for the church to go into a spiral dive on a collision course with a major crisis.  You want to leave before it's too late and your name becomes permanently associated with killing a church that may once have had great health and vitality. You want to leave before it will take a messiah to rescue it.

Have I missed anything?

Living in the World (Wes Theo Series)

With this post I finish my outline of a Wesleyan theology.

1. Faith (Introduction)
2. God
3. Creation and Alienation
4. Revelation
5. Reconciliation
6. Restoration

7.1 Spirit and Church
The Wesleyan tradition has always emphasized the role of the Spirit as the administer of God's grace in the world.  The Spirit goes before us (prevenient grace), makes us God's possession (justifying, redeeming grace), changes us to be like Christ (sanctifying, glorifying grace).  Wesley was also an Anglican, so he did not downplay the role of the Church in administering the means of grace as well. Any Wesleyan sense of what it means to live as Christians in this world must have a robust sense of the Spirit's power and the legitimacy, indeed the necessity of the Church.

7.2 Love God and Neighbor
The fundamental Christian ethic is the love ethic: love God and love neighbor.  Wesley did not see justice as contradicting these, but clearly a Wesleyan will emphasize God's love over his justice.  We demonstrate our love for God through our love of our neighbor and the two do not contradict each other.  God's laws are not for their own sake but for our benefit.

7.3 Evangelism
Evangelism has traditionally been equated with trying to get people saved and thus the "gospel" with the possibility of salvation. Biblically, this is too narrow a focus.  The good news is the whole message that Jesus has arrived as king of God's restored kingdom in this world. Salvation is part of that much larger, Christ-centered good news, but it is not the focus.

This fits well with Wesleyan theology even if Wesley himself did not foresee it. As believers, we embody the kingdom of God in the world. And some of us are specifically called as its messengers.

While individual salvation is not the focus of the good news, it is certainly an incredibly important benefit.  While many Wesleyans focus on a threshold event of conversion, it would fit just as well to focus on moving others and oneself further wherever one is on a spiritual trajectory that starts with the beginnings of God's tugging to glorification.  The narrow sense of evangelism thus aims to move a person further in their relationship with God, past conversion and into discipleship. The key to salvation is the direction one is moving and how one responds to the grace he or she has.

7.3 Faithfulness
A major emphasis of the Wesleyan tradition is the importance of faithfulness in one's continuing relationship with God after one has experienced his initial justification and forgiveness. Like any relationship, faithlessness damages and can break the relationship. God of course is not only faithful but incredibly patient and merciful, but he will not reward infidelity. At some point our relationship with God can be broken. 

7.4 Social Justice
What we have come to call "social justice" has always been a major concern of the Wesleyan tradition. In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, God is concerned with the whole person: physical, psychological, social, and economic. Wesley was part of the social climate of England that led to child labor laws and the eventual abolition of slavery. In the United States, Wesleyan revivalists were involved in the anti-slavery movement and the women's rights movement.

Today, you continue to find Wesleyans in support of women in ministry.  It is in the spirit of Wesley and Scripture to minister to those who face hardship in society. This means working to free those enslaved to addictions of all kinds, to try to move those in poverty toward self-sufficiency, to make sure that the "stranger in the land" is not oppressed. The Wesleyan tradition does not limit such ministry to an individual level but works for change in the very structures of society that perpetuate social disparity and injustice.

7.5 Creation Care
The Spirit of Wesley recognizes that the world is the Lord's and everything in it. We would be irresponsible stewards of God's creation if we supported practices that unduly pollute and destroy it. It is thus fitting with a Wesleyan theology to urge responsibility in the use of natural resources and in the waste produced by human activity.