Observations #22

David R. Denny

From the Schoolhouse

Revlon Strawberry Suede Matte Lipstick

She painted on a blank canvass.  Lacking the proper brushes, she pulled out, instead, a dangerous tube of strawberry lipstick. Holding it up to the fluorescent hall light, she stared at it muttering dark things and looking pleased.  Then she dragged her victim to a corner of the 8th grade hallway beside the keyboarding room door.  She forced him to his knees and ordered compliance.  The victim shuddered anticipating the ritual, knowing its consequences.  

“Are you ready?” she growled.

He looked up at her and nodded, his eyes half closed, his jaw set for the humiliation to come.

“Very well,” she said like a mystic in a moonlit olive grove.  “Pucker!” she ordered.

He did so grimacing, searching his soul for meaning.

The first stroke hit his lower lip leaving strawberry scorch marks like a race car on a hot track.  She stood back and mused, plotting her next stroke.  Then she attacked the top lip making multiple passes, coloring outside the lines, leaving her marks with utter disdain.

After a few more dalliances, she ordered him to stand and then taking his hand, they waltzed off to lunch with him giggling.

From the Pulpit

Nehemiah had it made.  He was the king’s most trusted administrator.  The year was somewhere near 445 B.C.Artaxerxes was the king of Persia.  Nehemiah was his cupbearer, a dangerous but elevated position.  And so Nehemiah had it made.  As long as he never sipped poisonous wine, he could live the regal life of the palace.  But then his brother came calling from Jerusalem and everything changed.  When he told Nehemiah about the burnt gates of the once majestic city and its broken down walls, his spirit broke and he wept openly.  That was when he became a visionary, a quality I hope all of us develop.  He began to look at the world differently. He saw the pain of a distant land and hurting people, and he decided to go home and rebuild the city.  

From the Pews

I stood at the pulpit Sunday and looked out over a congregation that seemed to roll endlessly on into a distant mist of sorrow and pain.  So many weeping eyes before me.  So many mourners packed shoulder to shoulder saying goodbye to Tiffany.  I’ve done many funerals in my ministry, but this one was exceptional in its intensity, in the bonds of camaraderie that seemed to lock the family, friends, and locals into one dark oasis of tragedy.

I would like to thank Rev. John Cullup for assisting me with the service.   Carl, the funeral director was also kind and helpful.  And to all of my members who shaped and guided the affairs of the service, I give you all thanks as well.

My prayers are with Mark, Ross, Brandon, Joe and JoAnn, Wendy and all the other family members who will be grieving for many days to come.  

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Observations #23

From the Schoolhouse

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It started with one pearl.
I call it a pearl; it was really just a little note of appreciation from one of my students.  She had torn a small sheet of paper from my notepad and scrawled out a simple message that said I was her favorite teacher and that she loved me. (Kids get a bit sentimental when the year crawls to the finish line).

I put the pearl on my bulletin board, stared at it for a second or two, smiled and then went on back to work.  But the next time I came to the board, there was another pearl, discreetly tacked beside the first.  This one, written by another student, claimed I was “the best teacher in the school.”  I stood somewhat in awe, like a soldier before a revered monument of the past.  I felt a tinge of nostalgia.  It had been a pleasant year with its natural ups and downs.  But it was ending forever for me.  There would be no more morning announcements to ignore, no more joy over the 20-minute lunch we teachers carve out in the middle of a harried day.  No more progress reports, calls to parents, referrals, sleeping students, lesson plans.  No more.  It was all ending and what was left?  Just this budding string of pearls on the wall.

A Persian legend says that pearls were created when a rainbow touched the earth after a storm.  Here in my humble little school room, the rainbow was touching the earth and the pearls were gathering.  

I remember flipping off the lights at the end day after staring at the few pearls and then walking out of the building with a tinge of sadness.  The next day, though, the rainbow kept sparking more pearls.  More kids wrote their thoughts and tacked them to the board.  

I have stripped my walls to the cinder blocks now.  SOL testing requires such drastic action.  I tore all the Amendments down.  I retired the Preamble poster.  I shooed the donkey and the elephant away.  

But I left the pearls.  Even state regulations have their limits.

 

From the Pulpit

We celebrated mothers last Sunday.  The text was Proverbs 31.  I have heard feminists hate this text since it seems to lock all women into a home-maker box.  But in reality, this was nothing more than an ancient Jewish poem.  Each verse, beginning with verse 10, opens with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The poem sings of virtue, strength, determination–traits that can apply to all people.  However, the context applies them to an upper-class Jewish woman who strives to achieve greatness in her little world among her children and with a supportive husband.  

   In the year 1498, a young 24-year old Michelangelo began work on a commission by the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères,.  He carved from a block of marble the mother Mary holding the slain body of her son.  When I first saw this at St. Peter’s Basilica years ago, I was stunned at how lifelike it was.  

I imagined our text as a block of marble and as I chipped away at it I gradually saw the strong woman-mother appear with virtues of love, patience, independence and determination gradually appear.  These are the very traits I see in mothers today.

From the Pews

  • A number of attendance figures emerged Sunday following the huge funeral the week before.  Some noted that the church had over 400 squeezed into the pews and spilling out of the doors onto the streets.  Others thought the count to be closer to 500 with many people merely driving on past the throng at the church to the cemetery site.  Whatever the count, it is heartwarming to know that so many people loved and cared about Tiffany and Mark.
  • It started with a few drips over the pulpit and then a few more and then, well, it poured through the roof.  The emergency disaster team of Mark Mize and Tommy Hines launched into action to save the day.  They swooped and cleaned up the water that had spilled into the first few rows of the sanctuary.  Roof repairs have been ordered and hopefully,  all will be well soon.  But special thanks to those who helped with the cleanup.

Observations #24

From the Schoolhouse

journey

When I saw it, I smiled.

No one had to say a thing.  The color spoke for itself.  It was a muted emerald.  It lay curled in my little school office mailbox.  I approached breathlessly like a hunter tracking deer in an open glade. “Can’t spook it,” I said to myself.  “It might bolt into the mist and be gone for another year.”

It had been twelve months since I had last seen it.  It lay quietly in the box staring at me, wondering. I didn’t reach for it at first.  I just stood silently before it like my Japanese friends used to do at their Shinto shrines in the Emperor’s Garden.  Then, with a trembling hand, I carefully pulled it out of the box and cradled the document in my open hand.  At first, it quivered like the Bembine Tablet of ancient Rome, filled with fake Egyptian hieroglyphics. This page too had its own strange lines all spread out over the emerald face.  I read the name on the top of the page.  It said, David Denny.  I knew it was mine and not misplaced in the wrong box.  

This illusive friend had been waiting patiently for me all year.  Now I was here, holding it tightly, feeling its heartbeat, afraid it might escape, waiting for it to whisper farewell in its mysterious language.

Twenty-five lines awaited a signature.  Twenty-five lines separated me from the door. I took the emerald checkout page with me back to my room walking in giddy steps, anxious to begin the final journey of finding signatures.  And since every journey of a 1000-miles begins with a first signature, I was anxious to begin.

Observations #25

From the Schoolhouse

I saw her from a distance as I rode the mule slowly forward.
She fluttered in the soft moonlight, her arms swaying in a cool breeze.  Every day for fifteen years I had passed beside her on my way to the school door.  Each day I had greeted her with a smile and each day she had returned the glance.  

I tied my steed to a small tree nearby and stumbled forward in the dark much like Nehemiah had done on his midnight ride through the rubble of Jerusalem. Her rutted feet projected through the hard soil.  They exuded a silent strength that had withstood all the storms and vicissitudes of life.  She stood unapologetically before me, proud, strong, inspiring.  

I had decided long ago that on my last day of school, I would take her with me.  My plan was simple and daring:  I would sneak in one night at midnight when the school was in a deep sleep, and when no one was looking I would abduct her.  It would not be pretty.  She would protest of course, but that could not be helped.  I had to have her.  

I kept the plan secret, telling no one.  Only the mule knew listening in on my midnight discourse to the wind as I plodded along the side trails to get here.  But he wouldn’t talk.  

With shovel in hand, I studied her profile wondering where the spade would strike first. I knew there would be consequences, but they could not be avoided.  Call it a criminal act if you wish.  It was not so to me.  Holding the shovel high in the air with both hands ready to plunge it into the dirt beneath her protesting arms, I made my peace with the venture hoping she would understand.

Then the spade hit the dirt.

shovel

Observations #26

From the Schoolhouse

The form was simple and straightforward.  
I created it quickly.  It said, “pIck one item in Dr. Denny’s room that you would like to take with you when school ends.  Tell why you want it and why you deserve it.”
Kids fanned out scrambling to find the best bargain.  There were dragons, a huge green fish, a Cat in the Hat stuffed doll, a big rabbit holding a welcome sign.  I had movies, books, trinkets of all descriptions, pretty wax candles with ambrosial scents, clocks, pumpkins, a Spiderman poster, a tall lamp, a brand new never used ancient cassette player in a pristine box etc.
As the kids jockeyed and pushed to find the best yard sale bargains, one tall, smart girl remained in the corner plotting.  She was one of my best students holding an A average without even trying.  She never said much, but when she did talk to me she was quick and witty with a sly smile that I loved.  We would go back and forth with our dry remarks trying to get the other to break into laughter.

While the other kids argued over the fish and the dragon, she strolled nonchalantly  up to my desk and tossed her form into the air watching it flutter onto the pile of other wish list forms like a Shenandoah leaf tumbling from a top branch into the valley.  She didn’t say anything.  She just shot me a dry grin and sashayed back to her corner.

“Did you find something you like?” I asked over the din in the room.
“Yeah,” she said laconically as if her choice meant nothing to her.
“Well, what did you choose?” I tried to avoid whatever trap she might be setting.
She smiled.  “Just read it,” she said leaning against the wall in the corner as if she was beneath a city lamp pole at midnight.  The form said simply:

Name–Samantha  Class–2B
Item desired–
Dr. Denny
Why I want this item–
He would be fun to have in high school.
Why I deserve this item:
This question is irrelevant.
I had to laugh.  I yelled across the room.  “I have a great brand new cassette player you could have if you want to swap for something practical.”

She stared thoughtfully at me like I was a twinkling trinket in a jewelry store window.  “No,  I’m quite happy with my decision.”

Three Gifts from Me to You

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Anybody do their Christmas shopping early this year?   240 days before Christmas. Never too early to start.

       It was just before Christmas and the magistrate was in a happy mood. He asked the prisoner who was in the dock, ‘What are you charged with?’
The prisoner replied, ‘Doing my Christmas shopping too early.’
‘That’s no crime’, said the magistrate. ‘Just how early were you doing this shopping?’
‘Before the shop opened’, answered the prisoner.

                       Well, I shopped early for all of you and it was a tough assignment. I mean, what do you get a church for Christmas? But after giving it some thought and sifting through all the sales I finally settled on three gifts from me to you.

  1. My first gift to you my congregation is one that is hard to wrap but I managed to stuff it down in this little box. Paul often offered this gift to his congregations. Here it is. (present the box). Doesn’t look like much. But my first gift to you is PEACE.   I want each of you to have this.   It is an elusive gift. Few people today seem to have it. It wasn’t on the Walmart shelves. I had to look elsewhere for it. Its value is immeasurable. —-*Liz Taylor’s recent auction of her jewels brought in $115 million dollars. (By the way, I didn’t see any of you there. You don’t like jewelry)? But the gift in this little box is beyond the value of trinkets and glitter. This gift can make your life worthwhile and give your life meaning and value. It’s priceless.

If you possess this gift you will adjust better to all of life’s challenges. When life is up you can rely on this gift to help you appreciate your good fortune. When life is down you can turn to this gift for sustenance and stability.

With this gift, you will sleep better at night. (and what would Michael Jackson have paid for that)? With this gift, the anxiousness that tightens your chest at night will lessen.    *I read in a magazine yesterday that nearly half of all Americans lie awake at night worrying.   This gift will greatly help with this burden. With this gift, your priorities will be adjusted and the less important things of life will flutter to the floor.

*In one of my former churches I used to visit Mrs. Beulah every Thursday. She was 99. She had this gift. If I walked into her home feeling rushed and worried about matters, it left me when I pulled up a chair and sat beside her. Life for Mrs. Beulah was now condensed to the essentials. She was at peace with the world and with herself.

The little things meant everything to her: A new bouquet of roses on the table beside her bed—a picture of her family taken decades earlier—a simple meal, a friend to talk to—the well-worn Bible that she read before she turned off the light each night. With this gift—PEACE—she had mastered the meaning of life.

So, I want to give you PEACE this morning. I want to . . . but I am afraid I can’t. It’s not mine to give. Only Jesus can give this gift. Let me read his words from John 14:27:———

So if you want this gift, you’ll have to see Jesus after the service. But be assured He will be happy to give it to you.

II.  Joy

The second gift I want to give you as a congregation appears nowhere on the periodic table of chemical elements. There are 118 elements in the chart. I’ve searched from the number 1 element Hydrogen to the 45th element Rhodium to the 81st element Thallium to the final element # 118 Ununoctium. (Say that five times) My second gift is nowhere on this list. And yet this is so essential to a happy life and a closer walk with God. And so I want to give you this gift—JOY.

With this gift, you can face any of life’s hardships and persecutions. Without this gift, you will find yourself dreading each day. The sunshine won’t cheer you and the singing of morning birds will only depress you. You must have this gift to enjoy life and to soar above the negativity of this world.

*I read a Dear Abbey column the other day. It was all about a teen-ager who had to move to a new school last in her high school years. She said, “Dear Abbey, I am a miserable child. I hated leaving my boyfriend and all the pals I’d had since first grade. I’m in my junior year and should be thinking about the prom and SAT scores. Instead, I’m crying my eyes out. This new school is awful. The kids are creeps. They treat an outsider like a leper. I’ am miserable in this rotten place. I hate you, Mom and Dad, for doing this to me. I will never forgive you as long as I live.” Signed—Boston heartache.

The Dear Abby response was pretty brutal. It’s your crummy attitude that is the problem. Lighten up a little. . . .

What does she lack? This little gift. Joy transcends the gritty issues of life.   I love James’ approach to life. He said, Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”   James had this gift.

And Paul sums it up best when he says in Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy. Paul had this gift too.

And so I want each of you, my congregation, to have this gift. However, this is not my gift to give. Only God can give this gift. I have no choice but withdraw it. I do so with profound regrets. However, if you see the Lord after the service, He will be pleased to bestow it upon you freely.

III. Love

The final gift I would like to offer you this morning is etched permanently in one of the greatest texts in all the Bible. “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

So I offer this gift of LOVE to you this morning with sincere wishes that you take it and find in it the secret to life.—(present gift).

When you possess this gift the world brightens for you. You begin to see the good in people. You hasten to cheer people on rather than cripple them or add to their misery. You love yourself, you love your neighbor, you love your wife or husband, your children, your dog. You love because you have this gift—love. If you have this gift you become a lot easier to live with. You become patient and kind. You prefer not to brag. You are not arrogant. You are not jealous.

This one gift can revolutionize a home, a marriage, a church and a nation.

This gift was demonstrated by Jesus so we would know what it looks like, feels, like acts. Like. So there would be no confusion.

When Jesus saw a woman taken in adultery about to be stoned, He offered her LOVE.

  1. When Jesus met a scholar by night he offered him this gift.
  2. When Jesus hung dying on the cross and the world mocked him and spit upon him and laughed at him he offered the world this gift. “Father forgive them, for they just don’t know what they are doing.” That’s love in action.

I want to give you this dynamic gift this morning. But I have a problem I can’t do it. It is not my gift to give. I wish I could. But I can’t. All I can do is ask you to see Jesus after the service. It is His gift to give.

Conclusion:
I came with three gifts to give to you as my congregation. I came with Peace, Joy, and Love. I regret to say I can, in reality, give you none of these. But I rejoice in this one fact. I know where to send you. I can send you to Jesus. He has them and will gladly bestow upon you this Christmas if you will but turn to Him in faith.

Observations #15

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.