Observation #15

From the Schoolhouse

Kaja tucked the bear into a small student desk right next to me.  She whispered a few strange instructions to him and then waddled off on urgent business.  It was still early and the morning students had not yet entered the building.  The room was quiet except for my radio playing softly.  The bear didn’t seem to mind.

It was a little awkward at first.  The bear wasn’t a skilled conversationalist.  I tried not to stare.  He was huge, his paunch puckering up against the rim of the desk.  He seemed uncomfortable, but I figured Kaja knew what she doing when she stuck him there.

I could tell right off he wasn’t interested in Civics.  The class textbook was right there in front of him and he wasn’t showing any compulsion to dissect the intricacies of the Judicial Branch.

After about ten minutes, I was more and more impressed.  I could tell he was a deep thinker, a trait woefully absent among so many modern students.  He had an uncanny ability to focus, locking his stare upon the unseen possibilities of whatever issue he was currently dealing with.  He never once asked to use the bathroom, and he didn’t seem to require earphones or endless streams of rockabilly lyrics.

I had just decided to parcel out a little praise when Kaja came barreling back into the room.  She plopped her books on the desk beside the bear, swooped him into her arms and waltzed off into the hall.

I felt guilty that I had not at least tried to speak to him earlier while I had the chance.  I guess there’s a valuable lesson there somewhere.


From the Pulpit

We visited our last church Sunday.  Laodicea was a wealthy ancient city about 100 miles east of Ephesus where our journey began, and I suspect some of that wealth had seeped into the fabric of the church.  The Lord seems to chide them for depending too much on their money and gold and too little upon Him  “Buy some gold tested by fire,” He told them.  This city was so rich that after a devastating earthquake in the year 69, the leaders of the city merely dug into their rainy day fund and rebuilt the city with cash.

The Lord loved them (Rev. 3:19), but still castigated the church for being “lukewarm” an epithet that seemed to categorize their religious apathy and dependence upon the luxuries of life in Laodicea. He went on to say, using a rare Greek word, that He was going to “spit” or better “vomit” them from His mouth. That’s a pretty vivid and drastic measure that none us would want to experience.


From the Pew

I was so surprised Sunday when several ladies approached me with bags of home-cooked meals prepared to help Alice with her cooking duties.   There were stews and soups and a variety of delicious breads.  I can assure all of the good Samaritans that every morsel and drop was consumed with delight and thankfulness.  It meant so much to both of us that so many cared enough to anticipate this need.  It just reaffirms our belief that the Drummondtown Baptist Church is a wonderful place to serve.

Blackboard Greek

From the Schoolhouse

The SOL test was over and the kids were just chatting quietly waiting for lunch.  I was tired and a little bored.  Without saying a word, I just went to the blackboard and wrote three words in Greek.  Then I sat down.  The kids were whispering. I could hear them.  They couldn’t figure it out.  Finally, someone asked, “What language is that?”

“Greek,” I said.

A few kids came closer to the board, studying the swirls of the mysterious language. I was amazed that after three hours of writing on an English prompt they had any inquisitiveness left at all.  Still, they persisted.

“What does it mean?” asked one boy scratching his head.  The others gathered around closely, huddling like I was about to announce the final play in a hard-fought football game.

I hesitated.  I hadn’t predicted this outcome, and now I stood on the brink.  I glanced at the clock thinking it might yelp that lunch was ready.  But it didn’t.  It was just me and the boys in a tight huddle waiting breathlessly for the play.

The words were weighted with a religious message I had never intended to disclose.  It was just a random act in a moment of ennui.  I wrote three Greek words that had meaning to me.  But they were silent and secret.

Until now.  Now, they waited.  Now I hesitated.

I was like the ancient Fangshi Chinese masters who knew where the secret mushrooms grew on Mt.Penglai, the ones that bestowed eternal life to the initiated.   I had written Greek.  I knew the secret.

So, I bent low in the huddle and whispered the secret words scribbled in Greek high on the chalkboard;

God is love.

From the Pulpit

We traversed a lot of territory Sunday stopping first at the Trevi Fountain in Rome and then ambling over to Herod’s Temple.  It took 32 years to complete the Trevi Fountain which was conceived and started in 1730 by Nicola Salvi.  But it took 80 years to complete the exquisite temple complex in Jerusalem.  Neither Salvi nor Herod lived to see their prized projects.  Our text this Sunday (Mark 14) introduced us to an impoverished little widow who stood meekly in line within the Court of the Women in the temple to give her contribution to God.  The wealthy donors put their money in the trumpet shaped treasury boxes listening to the coins sing as they traveled down the chute to the box.  The little widow only had two coins, the two smallest coins in the Roman world called prutahs.  They were worthless coins, but they were all she had.  And it was her contribution that an observing Jesus took note of, summoning his disciples over to hear Him sing her praise.

From the Pews

I’m still pondering the Visitor who waltzed into the sanctuary Sunday morning.

It went something like this:  I had just started the sermon waxing eloquently about the Trevi Fountain and the ritual of tossing a few coins over the shoulder to win a romantic gift from the heavens when the Visitor strolled in.  It was a majestic entrance.  She paused for effect at the center aisle adjusting her tiara and royal multicolored scarf.  She was a squat, thick-boned African American woman whom I can only assume was a bit disoriented.  She scanned the audience looking for safe ground. Still unsure, she waddled forth with a measure of uncertainty and sat down heavily in the center right section of the sanctuary.

At this point I was confused, nonplussed over this apparent heavenly response to the coin toss I had just made at the Trevi Fountain. I had hoped for a rejuvenation of my already established romance, but now I wondered if my coins got scrambled in the mists of the Fountain and sent to the wrong celestial address–5 Golden Street ℅ New Romances instead of 7 Golden Street ℅ Continuing Romances.  As I was trying to sort this out while maintaining my pulpit composure I noticed from the corner of my eye that she was getting restless.  This, in turn, made me restless and just as I was about to have a final prayer, dismiss early and run for the hills, she rose like an ocean swell her cape fluttering in the breeze and glanced my way.  We made eye contact for one memorable second, a second forever seared into my memory, a moment in time pregnant with possibilities and then she turned and galloped toward the exit disappearing into the mists of time, forever a mystery.

The Apology

From the Schoolhouse

She approached me nervously in the middle of class, and I expected a new round of fireworks. She had tried to embarrass me in front of all the kids a few weeks ago.  Her charges were unfounded but nonetheless unleashed with a fury that belied her small stature.   Her public vitriol came out of nowhere like a bolt from the angry hand of Zeus.  I had no quarrel with her at all.  None.  And yet she had erupted and the air still seemed darkly clouded these few weeks later.  She had stopped coming to my class since the barrage, and frankly, I was happy for the respite.

And now she suddenly appeared out of the mist curling her little finger, summoning me to the hall outside the door–away from the others. I agreed and followed still befuddled about the whole incident unable to find the cause for the effect.

She was alone.  Before, the day she flung the bolt, she had gathered a small cadre of supporters who had backed her up, who had fueled the warrior within her.  Now she stood a little forlorn–alone.

Before I could say anything, she looked up at me, lips quivering, searching for some verbal key that would unlock the prison doors. And then the apology came with a sweet simplicity.  The words had a measured cadence laden with sincerity, but nonetheless difficult to release. She struggled, but she did it.  She apologized.

I immediately stuck out my hand.  We shook.  I told her I was proud of her for the courage to come and say these words.  And then with such ease, she shed the mantle of Zeus, discarded her quiver of bolts, and skipped off down the hall happy again.

From the Pulpit

I was impressed Sunday morning to learn that everyone still remembered their multiplication tables.  My sermon had quite a bit of math and I was just testing everyone’s core knowledge on the subject.  Pretty sharp group!  I still haven’t figured out how the math of the text worked itself out.  We had two fish and five loaves and 200 denarii (the cost of the meal if the disciple’s purchased it) and 5000 men standing by the lake hungry and 12 baskets of leftovers.  Now that’s some math.  I guess that’s where we’re just going to have the use the word ‘miracle’.  (Do; you believe in miracles)?

It had been quite a day for Jesus and the disciples.  They had just heard the news of John the Baptist’s beheading by Herod.  And so the Master urged them all to join Him at a “lonely place” on the other side of the Sea of Galilee to recover and grieve.  But the masses heard about it and rushed to meet them there.  So much for rest.  And then the math started.

From the Pew

As I was shaking hands before the service started I noticed Diane Sterling had a couple of grandkids sitting in little bundles beside her. (My eyes aren’t that good).  Are those kids?  I paused and tried to focus because the bundles were a bit lumpy and formless.  That’s when I was glad I had not asked her to introduce me.  Sitting snuggled up next to her were several netted bags of plastic Easter eggs.  Huge bags.  Scores of eggs.  That’s when I put it all together.  Diane had invited everyone over to her place in April for the annual Easter egg hunt and these were the eggs she had purchased for the occasion.  Special thanks to the Sterling family for hosting this event.  (You just never know what you might see in a church pew).


Thanks, Linda Nyborg for your delicious chicken dish.  It was perfect on a cold night.

The Dennys


See all of you soon.

Dr. Denny


From the Schoolhouse

Each day the ceiling drops a little, and the walls constrict incrementally.

Each day the search for meaning becomes more frantic and chaotic.

Each day, when the kids have left, and the classroom spindrift calms, I remember.

And the memories are sweet with a bitter aftertaste.  For I know, now they will never come again, and all that is left for a harried teacher is the stale crust of data, hard to chew, harder to digest.

Sometimes I let the lights flicker off, the room only lit by a distant incandescent glow from a cheap Wallmart lamp in the corner, and in that soft halo I see their faces from my early days of teaching:  Mary, James, the twins, Marco.   Their laughter, like warm hands clasped on a saunter around a summer lake, leads me into the world they claim.  The world they need.  And I go willingly for it is a place that summons me as well.  And when I arrive I am able to dream again and smell the honeysuckle that dribbles down a sultry tree trunk.

I search daily for a key.  I cannot find it.  I see the closed door, but I cannot locate the key.  And so I resign myself to huddle in the room where the ceiling drops a little, and the walls constrict incrementally.

And I am happy because I have the memories.

And I am happy because I feel their hands in mine and see the lake trail where joyous moments await.

And I am defeated because all that is left is data.

David R. Denny  Ph.D.


From the Pulpit

We gathered at the river last Sunday.  The Jordan begins as a humble stream in the far North beneath the shoulders of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains.  From there it trickles down to the Dead Sea, gaining momentum and power, the descent dramatic until it hits its nadir at 400 feet below sea level–the level of the great Dead Sea.

It was here on the banks of the little river that we witnessed history fold in upon itself–Before the river–After the river.  Jesus announced Himself to the world formally here at this time.  After cajoling John to baptize Him (John didn’t want to do it feeling inadequate for such a task), John surrendered, and when the sacrament was complete, the world trembled and was never the same.  As we proceed through the Lenten season, let’s remember this moment in time when Jesus publically announced His presence and purpose.


From the Pew


As the worship hour faded quietly into a Sunday afternoon, I noticed there were quite a few folks gathered around the piano in the front of the sanctuary.  Dale Parks was playing the piano as the choir sang “What Can I Give to Jesus?”  It was a pleasant reverie following the morning service, and I stopped gathering my possessions, preparing for my long drive home.  The arrangement called for the choir to sing the song ‘softly, as a prayer’.  I stood in a sweet trance, not disturbing the seance, letting the melody and the mood carry me.  When the choir paused for further instruction from the maestro, they saw me.

“It sounds so beautiful,” I said complimenting them.  That was all it took.  Within seconds I was snared and compelled to join.  A book surfaced from the creases of the pews, and before I could surreptitiously retreat, I was sitting in the front row singing, “Oh,–what can I give to Jesus, Who gave Himself for me? …”

I didn’t mind.  In fact, it was the perfect ending to the gathering at the river.


Board of Education

From the Schoolhouse

I went to the principal’s office on Thursday!

It brought back memories of the one time in high school I was summoned by Mr. Travis for misbehaving in Chemistry class.  He stood 5 feet four inches tall.  I was six feet six.  He weighed in at 147 and I was a lean 190.  He wasn’t much into conversation.  He let Betsy do the talking.

Betsy was the two-foot paddle hanging ceremoniously like an Indian scalp on his office wall.  This threesome–Travis, Denny, and Betsy was an unholy trinity rising from the black mist like a tragic scene from Beowulf.

“Did you call her that?” he asked bluntly, getting to the point with ultimate efficiency.

“Yes sir,” I replied.  I  had thought of lying, but that might have angered Betsy even more.

He sauntered over to Betsy and took her off the wall.  She was lacquered to perfection with a few faint blood streaks barely visible in the cracks of the board.  “Bend over.”  He said it matter of factly like he was ordering a Whopper.

I bent over and tried to think of pleasant things like ice cream and swimming on a hot day.

Wham!  Whack!  Whizzle!

I saw stars and then I saw the light. And then it was over before I could say H2O or any other chemistry formula.

(My trip to my current principal’s office was more pleasant.  I merely asked for a week off to lay tile in the bathroom.  She agreed. No Betsy).  


From the Pulpit

I was never so glad to be leaving a place as I was the day I walked away from Sardis.  It was a place of death and repugnance.  The best God could utter about them was “You are dead!”  But as often happens, dark days lead on to brighter ones and such was the case here.  The storm clouds of Sardis yielded to the pleasant vistas of Philadelphia about 26 miles to the East.  This church thrived in midst of chaos.  Living on a fault line line prone to endless earthquakes, tremors, and destruction, they nevertheless found a joy and purpose in serving God and remaining faithful.  It was here that the Lord extolled the open door that exemplified this congregation.  Endless possibilities and bright tomorrows lay just beyond the door.  This was the church of dreams, and so I can declare this is the church I most admire.  The Lord had only praise for this congregation.  This will be our church here at Drummondtown.  Each day we will step up the open door and marvel at the vistas before us.


From the Pew

They gave me their heart.  I was so touched.

It was the last one,-creme-filled with a white jacket of fairy dust that stuck to my fingers when I touched it.  I had come in late this Sunday morning so they stared at me for a second wondering where I had been. All of the Sunday school classes were gathered for this donut and coffee delight.  I sat right down and caught up on all the talk.  I didn’t eat the heart then.  They boxed it for me.  I took it home.

I wrapped the pastry heart up in a special valentine box and handed it to Alice when I got home later that day.  She hadn’t gone with me to church this Sunday.  Not feeling well.  So naturally, I took advantage of this fact and handed her the “gift.”

“Oh, is that for me?” she asked coughing gently.

“Yes.  I got you something special.”  (I blushed.  She blushed).  It was a sweet moment.

“What is it?” she asked.  (Women are so curious).

“Oh, just a little something I picked up for you at the Onley Pastry Shop.”

She gave me a hug.  (It was going so well).

I unloosed my tie.  She unloosed the ribbon about the box.  I waited for the look.

“Oh,  David,” she gushed,  “a heart pastry.  How sweet.”  I liked the unintended pun.

“I should save it for dinner.” she sighed.  “This was so thoughtful I’m going to fix you anything you want.  Just name it.”

The catfish was seasoned perfectly with a unique Creole concoction and the freshly mashed potatoes made for a wonderful meal.

*Special request of all who attended the morning donut and coffee hour at church–Please forgive me–(Please).


From the Construction Zone

Just an update.  I’ve managed to completely obliterate my bathroom, bedroom complex.  I hauled away my old vanity and sink and now I am up to my knees in dust and destruction.  As soon as I learn how to operate my new spray painter that came with a 20-page booklet with small blotchy pictures of how to set the primer to the down position, etc, I will be rolling, (well, actually spraying).


From the Emergency Room

Alice broke her foot yesterday.  She needs two months of healing time and almost no walking about.  (I should have saved some of that catfish for later).