Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Offertory Prayer

Oh God, our help in ages past and our hope for years to come, I voice today the gratitude of this congregation, which has been blessed by Your presence, challenged by Your Great Commission, and supported by Your daily guidance in good times and in bad.

While we often struggle and are anxious about today and tomorrow, we know in our hearts that You are with us, blessing us with bounty that most people in our world cannot begin to envision, yet always comforting us by Your presence in good times and in bad.

We ask again today the question raised by the hymn writer, “What can I give to Jesus who gave His life for me?” While we are about to give our tithes and our offerings, we are reminded by the hymn writer that these tithes and offerings are but symbols of greater gifts of ourselves: our hearts, our minds, our time—each and all are aspects of offerings. May we not just put coins and bills in the offering plate, but may we offer our hearts, our minds, and our time to You in deep devotion, because without these, our monetary contributions are more like a payoff than a sincere and dedicated gift. But the vision of our gifts is not just between You, our God, and each of us. It represents a vision of a sinful and needy world that needs Your presence and Your hope. May our gifts become a channel of hope for all who stand in need  of You and of the abundant life You offer all.

In Jesus’ names we pray. Amen.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


We had a busy day, unloading a third truck of furnishing from our two previous households into the new home where we are now residing with our youngest daughter and her family. We decided to eat out for supper; and on the way back to the house, we thought we would drive through our new neighborhood. One of our concerns in the move has been to find some neighborhood children with whom our two grandchildren might connect.

As we drove by a home around the corner from our house, we saw a strange phenomenon—a young boy, who appeared to be about our grandson’s age, was scrunched up in an animal cage right between the road and the sidewalk. Although this looked strange and we thought we heard a soft cry coming from the boy, we thought, “Here’s a neighbor who appears to be about our grandson’s age, and he probably is just playing around. Maybe he will be our grandson’s first neighborhood friend.” We drove home, parked the car, and set out to walk to the caged boy and perhaps meet our grandson’s first neighbor about his age.

When we got to the caged boy, we discovered that he was indeed caged. Our grandson, Clay, undid the latch and set the boy free. Climbing out of the cage awkwardly, the boy under questioning told his story. He actually lived across the street from where he was caged. His older brother, who obviously was fed up with him (or perhaps is a regular bully) had forced him into the cage and latched it. No mention was made of parents to intervene in the brothers’ dispute. The homeowner on whose property the boy had been caged had not appeared on the scene to set him free. Other cars driving by had ignored the caged boy, probably thinking like we did that the cage was not locked and the boy could crawl out whenever he wanted to.

I don’t know how long the boy had been in the cage. I don’t know whether he had been crying out for help and no one had responded. Maybe he was embarrassed and didn’t want to call attention to his situation. Maybe he was hopeless from the regular absence of parents and the bullying of an older brother. He wasn’t very forthcoming with information, even under questioning. We did discover that the boy is a year older than our grandson and that he goes to an elite private school nearby. In his embarrassment, he didn’t reveal much more information—nothing about the abuse of his older brother, nothing about his absent parents, nothing about any stability in his life.

We set the boy free physically from the cage, but we don’t know what other “cages” imprison him. In my subsequent reflections I thought of the phrase of the old Gospel song about “a soul set free,” and I realized that it is a lot easier to set a body free than it is to set a soul free. Now the question is, “How do we become a neighbor in Jesus’ sense of neighbor?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I’ve had an iPhone for several years now, and that has been a revolutionary experience for me. My iPhone is not just a mobile phone—it is a comprehensive aid in organizing my life. Yes, I use it to make phone calls; but it also is a device through which I can send and receive electronic messages, record upcoming events, and be reminded when those events are approaching. I can store contact information about my family and friends and engage in video conversations with those same family members and friends.

Of course, I’ve discovered that the expanse of the iPhones’ utility is found in the multitude of “apps” (applications) that are available, each of which will allow you to do some particular interaction or exchange through the phone. I can check the weather locally or for some other location of interest. I can check traffic conditions, stock market activity, gasoline prices, and the best places to eat. I can read books, play games, learn foreign languages, listen to music, or view videos. My iPhone can even act as a flashlight whenever I need one. Whenever an app caught my attention, I added it to my iPhone.

As an iPhone user, I found myself reading articles about how to get the most out of my phone. One of the things I have discovered is that each application that is running on my iPhone is drawing power from the phone’s battery. The more active applications I have on my phone, the greater the drain on the phone’s battery—and the more often I have to connect my phone to an electrical outlet to recharge the phone’s battery. My phone almost needed a daily recharge.

A recent article on extending battery life caught my attention. The writer suggested that many of the apps on my iPhone were drawing battery power even though I was not using those apps regularly. The writer guided me in deciding which apps were most important to me, which apps I wanted to respond quickly, and which apps I only used occasionally and could be called up only when I needed that particular application. Following the writer’s advice, I deactivated some of apps that I did not use regularly, I turned off some of the “always on” information sources, and I even deleted some apps that had appeared appealing when I downloaded them but which I rarely used. This appraisal and pruning of apps provided a tripling of my phone’s battery life!

I think there is a life lesson in my iPhone experience. By failing to focus on the most important things in our lives, we drain a lot of our psychic energy. The lack of focus diffuses our energy and lessens our productivity. Failing to focus on the most important issues and areas of our lives allows the inconsequential to overrun the significant. We can become unproductive, frustrated, and purposeless. What inconsequential things are draining your attention, energy, and purpose away from the things that really count? Maybe it is time to turn off some “apps” in our lives and focus on the things that really count.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Prayer for Truman Day Dinner

Truman Day Dinner, The Jefferson County Democratic Party, Tennessee

Oh God, you have been our help in ages past, and you are our hope for the years to come. You have shown us what is good and have revealed what you require of us: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you, our God. May we never forget in the midst of our political squabbles, our search for political presence, our grasp for political power, that truth, justice, equality, and opportunity provide the bedrock for our nation and the best foundation for our future. Teach us, oh Lord, not to strive for personal gain, for political power, or special privilege; but guide us on a path where all we do establishes freedom, justice, and fair opportunity for all people. Guard our nation from those plutocrats who by their wealth and special privilege would disproportionally influence and control our government. Lift up ethical men and women of moral commitment to guide and lead us. Bless us all with a moral compass that will direct and shape our futures. Fill our hearts with love, compassion, hope, and aspirations for a better future; and bless this time we share together as an opportunity for rediscovering our values, reorienting our directions, and renewing our commitments. We praise you, O God, and beseech your benediction. Amen

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


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.