Monday, April 7, 2014

In Memoriam


Since I live so far away from Nashville, I have not participated in the LifeWay Retiree Fellowship. I appreciate that they send me a copy of their newsletter occasionally. The newsletter that I received today devoted about 1/3 of the space for “In Memoriam” information about LifeWay retirees and spouses that died in 2013. The list contained many dear friends, but four names stood out for me.

One was a dear friend who entered Howard College (now Samford University) with me in the fall of 1962. Cliff Tharp had finished two years at a junior college in Florida and entered Howard as a math major. I had completed one year at Georgia Tech and also entered as a math/English double major.  Cliff and I became best of friends, sharing math classes and projects and often playing chess together and with our campus minister, Ben Connell.

After graduation, Cliff went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and began work on a Master of Religious Education degree. I followed him the next year, entering the same master’s program. After receiving his MRE degree, Cliff began work on his doctorate in religious education. After receiving my MRE, I switched over to theology and earned Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

Our close friendship continued. Cliff invited me to be a groomsman in his first wedding. Later, he was a groomsman in my wedding. We lived in Fuller Hall apartments that were side-by-side for six months after my wedding. With our wives, we had our first Thanksgiving dinner together; but at that meal we sensed the first sign of marital trouble. A couple of weeks later, Cliff came to visit me and spilled out the sad story that his wife had decided that she had a different sexual orientation and wanted a divorce. This was 1967, and this was virtually unheard of then. The Seminary almost dismissed Cliff because of the divorce; but he had such an exceptional record and such strong support among his faculty members, the seminary allowed him to continue in his doctoral work.

After graduation, Cliff went to work in the Research Department at the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now called “LifeWay Christian Resources.”) We stayed in occasional touch. He visited us on our church field in Indiana, and I could tell by his interest in our choir director that he was definitely interested in finding a new mate. A couple of years later, we attended his wedding at Belmont Baptist Church in Nashville.  He and Rose began a life together that spanned the years until Cliff’s death last year. He left behind a devoted wife, a loving daughter, and two precious grandchildren; but that’s not all of the story.

In August of 1977, I received a call from Cliff asking if I would be interested in writing some Sunday School lessons for adults. I was a professor at Campbell College (now University) in North Carolina, and Cliff was a curriculum design editor for Adult Life and Work Sunday School materials—the premier curriculum produced by Southern Baptists (now defunct since conservative elements took control of the entire Southern Baptist Convention). I agreed. Attending a “writers conference” was required for coordinating the whole spectrum of materials that would be written by a sizable group of writers. In a snowy January, 1978, I attended the writers conference. While there, Cliff told me confidentially that he was planning to return to his initial work area in research. His manager, Ernest Hollaway (a second name that appeared in the “In Memoriam” list), had earlier been a missionary in Japan; and by some coincidence, I had actually visited in his home in Japan in 1964 when I was on my way to ten weeks of summer mission work in Taiwan. To make a long story short, Cliff moved back to research, Ernest Holloway invited me to fill Cliff’s vacancy, and four months later I began a 25-year career at the Sunday School Board/LifeWay. Through those 25 years, Cliff and I had lunch together regularly with an informal group we called “Table A.” Another member of that lunch bunch was Wallace Carrier, who is the third name that jumped out at me in the “In Memoriam” list. Wallace was a former pastor who held a parallel editorial role for the Convention Uniform Series curriculum that Cliff and I had had with Life and Work. He was an especially kind, gentle, and affirming man.

I retired from LifeWay in 2003 in the midst of the significant changes that the conservative forces were inflicting on the former Sunday School Board. By moving to east Tennessee, we chose to separate from all the turmoil that the theological shift inflicted on the churches, the Baptist institutions, and the loyal employees of convention agencies. Cliff was still working at LifeWay in research and statistics when I retired. After his retirement, he and Rose moved to Richmond, Virginia, to be closer to their daughter and her family.

I will close with mention of the fourth name on the list—Sara Holleman. Sara was the wife of Wallace Holleman, a LifeWay employee. Sara and Wallace were good friends by our shared membership for the 25 years we were members of Immanuel Baptist Church. Sara died unexpectedly this past September, and her death was a shock to all. Our last time with her was when we visited in the Sunday School class at Immanuel Baptist Church of which Sara and Wallace were members. Sara was a wonderfully vivacious and caring friend. She had two sons, who have been close friends of our elder daughter for over 35 years. Sara’s energy and vitality were contagious; and we mourn her loss along with these other special friends who have contributed so much to our lives at various times through the years since 1962.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A TOE, A KNEE, A FOOT, AND ME


I am four weeks past knee-replacement  surgery, and I confess that I am losing some of my patience. We Americans are creatures of quick fixes, and the idea of a long and protracted recovery is not very inviting. I guess that is why, prior to surgery, the medical professionals talk so little about post-op recovery.  I read a lot pre-op, and I did a lot of pre-surgery exercise to prepare for the big event. At the time, the associated pain seemed almost beneficial, since it was the path to no pain in the future.

The pre-op pain was pretty much what I had been experiencing all along, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. I assumed that one big bang of post-surgery pain would quickly and miraculously disappear shortly after surgery. I expected pain from the surgery, and I expected pain in each therapy session. I was not expecting pain when I try to sleep in bed or when I sit in my chair with my leg propped up at home. I expected some pain when I initially began to walk and put weight on the leg with the new knee, but I wasn’t expecting pain when I turn from my back to my side in bed and try to resume sleep.

My therapists at Optimus Health Center have been the truth-tellers about post-replacement pain and recovery, but I wasn’t prepared for the length of time they are forecasting for the pain to pass away. The therapists are the ones who “put us back together again” after the removal of vital body parts. They push us to bear through the pain, but I’ve decided that we are just raising the level of pain we can endure so that the “minor” residual pain will not seem so bad. I was stupid enough to ask, “When will all this pain go away?” I wasn’t prepared for the answer, “Never, fully.”

A TOE

The big toe on my right foot has become the model for my slow recovery. Months ago I dropped something heavy (right now I can’t even remember what I dropped and when) on my toe. The pain was severe and stayed that way for quite some time. Over time, however, the sense of the pain subsided. The toenail turned black and blue, but slowly the root of the nail began to recover and signs of regrowth began to appear at the base of the black and blue nail. For months and months, I nursed that old dead toenail in hope that the newly growing nail would push away the old pain and return to a normal nail. After about half of the nail had regrown, the old nail pulled away and came off. I’m still seeing months and months of continued growth as we nurse the new nail back toward what it once was while trying to prevent the prospect of an ingrown nail. A little part of the body can claim a lot of attention to itself and can require a disproportionate amount of time to resolve the problem.

A KNEE

The toe has now been replaced by the attention demanded by my knee replacement. Occasionally the toe will cry out for a little attention, but generally the knee is shouting for attention and overwhelms the now minor problem of the toe. Since the pain associated with the knee replacement is significant, prescriptions for pain medication have become important. If you are a hairy-chested “real man,” you can get by with over-the-counter pain relievers. I’ve got plenty of hair on my chest, but I’m not ready for mere over-the-counter relief. In fact, I tried an over-the-counter remedy night before last just to see if it would get me though the night. Worst night yet! I have two levels of prescribed pain relievers. I’m beginning to think that the more powerful one might be more helpful in knocking me out for the night and helping me to have a good night’s rest—which I haven’t had yet! I’m gradually moving toward heavy aid for a night’s rest and minor aid for rehab sessions.

I have appreciated the veterans of knee replacement who have offered me encouragement to hang in there. I’ve noticed that all of them are a year or so beyond surgery, so that gives me some hope—or maybe some despair for the next eleven months. A month into recovery, I can’t see or even anticipate what tomorrow might bring. Right now I cannot see much beyond painful stretches of time at night and large doses of pain at various stages of therapy.

Well, you can see that I am in the whiny, feeling sorry for yourself stage of recovery.

A FOOT

When I went to Optimus Health Center prior to my knee replacement to scope out the world of post-operative therapy, I didn’t know what to expect. I saw a room full of people undergoing therapy and rehabilitation. In the midst of the room, I noticed one patient who especially caught my attention. He had had an amputation of one foot and was struggling to get around the rehab area. Resting the stub of one leg on a stool with rollers on it, he was struggling to get around on one leg and the stool. I hadn’t seen him again until my first therapy session this week, but this time we were going through treatment at the same time.

Have you ever noticed how sorry you feel for yourself when you face some obstacle, but how differently you feel when you encounter those who face problems and challenges greater than your own. That was my first reaction to the amputee—I’m glad my situation is not that bad. A knee replacement is far better than an amputation. As I watched this man struggle with his therapy, however, I saw a determination that I hadn’t seen among many of the Optimus clients. So many do the minimum and try to avoid the pain; but this guy and I are different and share something in common. We are pushing through the pain and striving for the very best outcome possible. I saw the determination as he strained to do his best in spite of the pain, and I suddenly found a soul mate. That’s the kind of patient I’m trying to become.

AND ME

Inspired by this friend, I’m determined to make the best of this knee replacement by committing myself to push hard for the very best outcome. That won’t happen without some pain and suffering. It won’t happen by backing off when things are painful. It won’t happen by being satisfied with mediocre results based on mediocre efforts. At 70, I’m in a lot better shape than many of my fellow septuagenarians; but that’s not my goal. My goal is to be the best I can be with whatever limitations I must address. My therapists may be the only ones who see my determination; but in the end, it’s all up to me. I’m going to be a fighter, a pusher, a striver. I’m going to conquer the pain, compensate for what I’ve lost by doing the best with what I have, and strive to be the best that I can be with all that I have within me.

PS: Last night I had my first good night of rest since my surgery after taking the strongest pain-killer I have available. If I can make it though the night, I can certainly make it through he day. But either way, I’m pushing for the best outcome.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Closest Brush with Professional Football


Currently I am posting daily on Facebook a series of old photographs under the theme “70 Days to 70.” As I approach my 70th birthday, I’m providing a retrospective on some of the highlights of my life. Most of these are brief comments, but today’s post involves a story that cannot be recorded in the short space available on Facebook. So, I am moving today’s post to my blog.

Beginning as a 6th grader in 1954, I played football for Edgewood Elementary School. The football league was sponsored by the YMCA. Players had to provide their own equipment, practiced everyday after school under the guidance of a coach, and played a series of games against other elementary schools in the southern suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama. At the end of the season, an All-Star game (“the Sun Bowl”) was played on the football field at Shades Valley High School between players chosen by the coaches. All-Stars from the schools to the east played against the All-Stars from the West. I played on the West All-Star team as a 7th and 8th grader.

The photo I have posted on Facebook today (Day 29 in the projected 70 posts) is a football card of Rebel Roy Steiner, who became my uncle when he married my mother’s youngest sister, Doris Richardson, in 1952. My cousin Margaret and I at the age of 9 were included in the wedding party. You can only imagine how a 9-year-old boy would feel to have a professional football player marry into his family.

Years later while I was in high school, I visited Rebel’s mother. Mrs. Steiner pulled out all of the old scrapbooks that she had kept recording Rebel’s career from high school days through his professional football days. It was quite a collection that disclosed a truly all around outstanding athlete. Rebel had been chosen for the all-state team in high school, but not just in football. He had been all-state in football, basketball, and baseball. He went to the University of Alabama and played football for an outstanding team there. He played offensive end with an All-American quarterback; and as I recall, this was around the time in the mid-1940’s when Alabama was a powerhouse football team and played in the Rose Bowl.

Rebel was drafted by the Chicago Bears but was called into military service and could not accept that draft. After two years in the military, he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. He played two years (1950-51) in the defensive backfield for Green Bay, the second year in excruciating pain from a knee injury. He intercepted 10 passes in his career, and one of those interceptions was a 94-yard touchdown return. The scrapbook I saw had a large picture from the New York Times showing the entire field and with a white line tracing his runback for the touchdown. I believe that was the NFL record interception return at that time. Because of the injury, Rebel retired from football. A year or so later he married my aunt.

All of this is leading up to my football experiences in 1956. At the beginning of the 1956 YMCA football season, Rebel came to visit me. He brought along the hip pads and pants that he had worn as a Green Bay Packer. He gave them to me to use as my equipment for my eighth-grade football season. I would guess that I probably weighed about 120 pounds at that point, and the equipment was mostly too large; but we made the hip pads work, and my Mom took up the shiny gold Green Bay pants so that they fit enough where I could play in them. Out on the front yard of our house, Rebel gave me a few lessons about the importance of staying low in blocking, etc. I took those back to the team the very next day and gave our lineman the lessons I had learned.

Edgewood School’s football team had a very good year that season, and my year (partially equipped in the Green Bay Packers uniform) was excellent. I was chosen again that year as an all-star to play in the Sun Bowl; and I started as right end on the All-Star team—but I was not destined for stardom.

I mentioned in an earlier Facebook post about my discovery in my 8th-grade math class that I needed eyeglasses. My near-sightedness made it difficult to read items on the chalkboard from a distance. The same impact began to affect my football playing—though it is only in retrospect that I recognized the impact of my near-sightedness. I had an increasingly hard time seeing the football clearly on pass plays, and that issue came to a climax in the All-Star game—the only game we ever played at night.

I started as an end on the All-Star team, and we were playing in a close match against the East All-Stars. Near the end of the second quarter, my team was forced into a fourth-down punting situation. As an end, my job was to go down field and cover the punt. The ball was snapped to the punter, and I went down field to cover the punt. The snap was a bad one, however; and the punter had to scoop the ball up off the ground and tried to evade the opposing rushers. He looked up and spotted me wide open down field, so he heaved the ball in my direction. I stopped and turned toward the ball. I don’t know whether it was my failing eyesight, the night-time game with artificial lighting, or the opposing player who was bearing down on me as the ball approached my outstretched hands, but the football went right through my hands and fell to the ground. An adult on the sidelines hollered out, “You couldn’t catch a ball with a bushel basket!” My coach pulled me from the game and did not put me back in the game during the second half. My All-Star career and my Green Bay Packer pants went down the drain in one flubbed play. I tried to play football the next year at Homewood Junior High School, but a pulled muscle in my back and continuing sight problems kept me from even making the starting team. So ended my football career, touched by the glory of my uncle’s Green Bay Packers uniform and smothered by the agony of defeat. It was a hard year for a 13-year-old, but I was a life-lesson for what I was to become.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A FEW THOUGHTS ON HAIR OR THE LACK THEREOF


Pick the one you like best (or add one of your own):

   1.   Too much fertilizer kills grass. Too much brain power kills head hair.

   2.   Hair loss is genetic. Don’t blame me for inheriting so much intelligence.

   3.   I have so little on top of my head because I have too much on my mind.

   4.   There’s so little hair on top of my head because there’s so much inside it.

   5.   You know what kills hair follicles on your head, don’t you? It's caused by too much brain confined in too small a space trying to escape through every little escape valve possible. I see you don’t have that problem!

   6.   Pattern baldness indicates overworked parts of the underlying brain. I see you think a lot about sex!

   7.   Scientists have discovered that bald men think about sex more often than men with lots of hair. Guess what that says about women?

   8.   If Samson’s strength was in his hair, why do you think they shave the heads of military recruits?

   9.   You are aware of the impact that long-term gravity has on you, aren’t you? As you age, gravity pulls the hair from your head down into your nose and ears.

10.   Most people come into this world with little hair. I’m planning to leave this world in the same way.

[Originally posted on Facebook on December 14, 2010.]

Flat-Bible Calvinists and John 3:16 Christians

I find it impossible to interpret the Bible without once in a while having to deal with theological presuppositions. Malachi 1:2c-3 is one of those passages where theological presuppositions matter. I generally try not to pick fights or disparage other points of views, but specific passages sometimes present viewpoints or raise issues that force us to step back and try to take a comprehensive view.
I have used “flat-Bible” to describe the theological supposition that every letter, word, verse, chapter, and book of the Bible is equally valid, accurate, true, and authoritative. In this view no room is allowed for human perspectives, misunderstandings, or short-sightedness on the part of the biblical writers. No room is made for unfolding truth, progression in revelation, or correction of earlier viewpoints by later writers. A flat Bible is all God’s. Human authors were prevented by God from interjecting any personal words, ideas, views, prejudices, or perspectives into their works.
The theological idea of a “flat Bible” is inconsistent with the Bible we now possess. If the initial writings were perfect, the perfection has been lost in the transmission of the biblical text by human hands through the generations. Thousands of textual variations exist from centuries of copying and re-copying biblical manuscripts and from translation of the original concepts into the expressions of multiple languages.
With a flat Bible some method must be found to give equal validity to every idea, concept, statement, or viewpoint found in the Bible. I’ve used “John 3:16 Christians” to heighten the tension between the concept articulated in Malachi that God “hated Esau . . . and his inheritance” with what I think is a more complete, comprehensive, and Christian view that “God so loved the world”—which would include Esau and his descendents.
I have used “Calvinists” to describe those whose reading of the Bible has led them to conclude that Malachi’s views must be harmonized with John 3:16 since both are equally valid. The Calvinist’s views (often summarized by TULIP—Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints) presuppose a flat Bible where Malachi’s words must be given equal weight to Jesus’ words. Somehow they are able to rejoice over Malachi 1:2c-3 without finding any tension in John 3:16. For me the tension is too great to construct dogma from a flat Bible.
In today’s “Thinking Aloud,” I have tried to honor the spirit of Malachi’s words and the elements of truth found in them without absolutizing them. As always, your comments and feedback are welcomed.

[Originally posted on Facebook on November 23, 2009.]

A Christmas Poem: “The Reason for the Season”

The story speaks of longing hearts, 
Of centuries of stops and starts, 
Of hopes denied, of dreams delayed, 
Awaiting Christ and His true aid. 
The story tells of Mary pure, 
Of Joseph just and yet unsure, 
Of “Jesus,” who will save from sin, 
Of “God with us,” the prophets’ end. 

The hills of Bethlehem resound 
As angel choruses abound, 
And shepherds shrink in awful fright 
Before strange visions in the night. 
“The promises indeed are true. 
The good news is announced to you. 
Go, see the child,” the angel bade, 
“The infant in a manger laid.” 

Far to the east in darkest night, 
A star of heaven adds its light 
And guides the Magi in their quest 
To find a king of promise blessed. 
Jerusalem, then Bethlehem, 
The star leads on and comes to him 
Whose humble birth belies a king. 
They worship and bring offering. 

And so we hear of Jesus’ birth, 
Of Son of God who came to earth, 
Of Word who from before all time 
Was chosen to heal humankind. 
The Christmas story has been told. 
Its message is both new and old. 
It beckons all to pause and hear 
The reasons for the season’s cheer. 

© Copyright 1999 Michael Fink 
All rights reserved 
[Originally posted on Facebook on December 25, 2009.]

The Silversmith

I don’t recall the source of this story/illustration. It obviously is an old one, but I am reminded of it each time I read Malachi 3:2-4. 
Some time ago, a few ladies met in a certain city to study the scriptures. While reading the third chapter of Malachi, they came upon a remarkable expression in the third verse: "And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver (Malachi 3:3)." 
One lady proposed to visit a silversmith, and report to them on what he said about the subject. She went accordingly, and without telling the object of her errand, begged the silversmith to tell her about the process of refining silver. 
After he had fully described it to her, she asked, "But Sir, do you sit while the work of refining is going on?" 
"Oh, yes madam," replied the silversmith; "I must sit with my eyes steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining be exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured." 
The lady at once saw the beauty, and comfort too, of the expression, "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." God sees it needful to put His children into a furnace; His eye is steadily intent on the work of purifying, and His wisdom and love are both engaged in the best manner for us. Our trials do not come at random, and He will not let us be tested beyond what we can endure. 
Before she left, the lady asked one final question, "When do you know the process is complete?" 
"Why, that is quite simple," replied the silversmith. "When I can see my own image in the silver, the refining process is finished." 

[Originally posted on Facebook on April 5, 2010.]