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Lord's Lunatic 2: STILL the Lord's Lunatic!

"There's fish in the baptistery."

©17 Levite

original intro and index to book one

Part One

      Some of my friends thought that once I'd been at the 'wandering preacher' thing for a few years, I'd slow down a little.
      Well. Maybe I have. Maybe a little. But that's all.
      There were very few who sat through one of my... I don't like the word 'act', because I'm not acting. It's not a show, because to me, the Word is the star and I'm just the carnival barker telling people about it. And I don't think saying something like 'presentation' quite gives the true flavor of what I do... OK, like this then:
      There are very few who have sat through me doing what I do that would say that I have slowed down at all.

1. "The New Telescope"

      I've washed my dishes in Hollywood, California. On my first trip North I had to explain to Canadian customs why I needed three jumpsuits, none of which were my size, subsequent trips have been just as interesting as well. Not long ago I had to buy a new telescope, which meant I got to re-write that sermon, when somebody thought the one I had been using was an item for a church rummage sale, and sold it! And I ended up snowed in in a town in upstate New York that I'd never heard of and can never remember because I don't have the habit of checking the weather reports once I'm on the road.
      But while I was snowed in I did the dishes for a captive audience of people in the diner next to the motel. I mean, I both did the dishes sermon, and then I did the dishes for the diner, to pay for my meals, I also had forgotten to bring any extra cash and the 'plastic card reader' machine was down.

      Of all of my material, it is still the dirty dishes I get asked to do the most, followed by the Old Testament. Some of the others make an appearance once in awhile, but it seems to be the tried and true classics that pay my way more often than not.

      Not long ago, and one of the things that prompted this update about what I am and do, I had my second funeral.
      Ahhh, that sounds weird. Let me change that.
      Not long ago, I had to preach my second funeral service. I mean, I was asked to speak. Well, you know what I mean.
      The first I had done some time ago and did as a special favor to a family that really enjoyed my 'performances' as they called it. So, at their request, right in the middle of the service for their grandmother, I was called up to deliver a somewhat abbreviated 'referee' sermon.
      With the last whistle I threw the flag all the way to the back of the auditorium, then I recited the Grantland Rice poem, and lastly I reminded them there are rules to this game that they needed to live by before the Great Scorer called them to account for how they played the game, then I stalked down the aisle and retrieved my flag while the regular minister got back up and closed the service.
      Calling a football penalty within a couple of feet of the casket where the old woman lay in repose was not the highlight of my career as a.... as an anything. But, it was what the family has asked for, and the idea was to reach a couple of their distant relatives with the Gospel message in a way they'd never heard before, and in a place where they couldn't help but listen. Did it work? I have no idea. But they did hear it, oh, yes they did. It is up to them what they do with it.
      And that's the bottom line isn't it? You can listen to all the traditional sermons you want, or you can listen to a screeching maniac or you could have listened to Saint Paul, or even Jesus Himself I guess, and if you decide not to do anything with the information so presented, you have still made your choice for eternity.

      Eternity was what was on my mind when I made the rounds of several department stores and even a few websites before I found my 'new' telescope in a pawn shop. And as far as I was concerned it was a better for my purposes than the one I had because it was bigger and shinier. I didn't care whether or not you could see a dozen moons of Saturn with it or not. All I needed to be able to see was the back wall of the church.
      But since it was a 'new' used telescope, and celestial tracking mount, and a tripod that the man had to show me how to put together three times before I could do it without needing a bandage, I thought I should rewrite the sermon that it was wrapped around.
      So I did.
      And then three weeks later, after using the telescope to watch boats on the lake, I totally rewrote almost every word of it before I did it Sunday morning in Doctor Marlin's church in Cleveland, and then to preach part of his funeral the next day.

      "Good morning," I said to the congregation.
      So far, the service had been half worship and half tribute to the old man of the cloth that had recognized THAT look on my wife's face a lifetime ago and called the doctor who then later delivered our daughter. Well, it had been a lifetime ago.
      I looked out as I reached down in the over-sized duffel bag to begin the process of setting up the telescope. I smiled at my family in the second pew and, true to form, Liz, just getting ready to start seventh grade, smiled and blew me a kiss. Something she had been doing since she was old enough to do it. I smiled back and continued.
      "You know, there is a LOT of space out there. Beyond our sky and clouds. You know, where the robots fly those spaceships to beam everybody up..." right here I smile my most sheepish smile, "sorry, I'm not the world's biggest science fiction fan. But, this might help you understand. Voyager One was launched from Earth in September of 1977. Since then it has reached a speed of what the mission people say is seventeen kilometers a second. Which, according to the way I did the math, or rather, the travel program on the fancy phone my wife bought me did the math, that works out to the high side of thirty eight thousand miles an hour. It is the fastest thing ever made by man, and has been traveling for more than thirty five years, and you know what? It is just now on its way out of our solar system. I'd worked out how far it had traveled, but I think I left off a few zeros when I wrote it out, so I'll skip it."
      I pulled the legs of the tripod out.
      "Thirty five years going like, I'm sorry but the term fits, it has spent thirty five years going like a bat out of hades, and it is just leaving our neighborhood. By the way, it is only going a small fraction of the speed of light, and it takes the light of the closest star to Earth eight minutes to get to us, and about six hours to get to Voyager. Yeah, the closest star, our sun, is eight light minutes away. The next closest is Four Light Years away." I set up the tripod and reached in for the telescope.
      "So, the point is, well, we're all going to be really old when Voyager gets to the next closest star, and that is still only a small bit of all of the Universe." I stood up with the telescope and looked at them. "OK, so what?" I put the mount on the legs and fiddled with it for a second. "Our God created all of that. In an instant."
      There were a few 'amens' from the amen side of the building.
      "The universe is so big, even with the best telescopes in the world, which, by the way, this is not one of, even with the biggest and best on top of mountains or even in orbit, we haven't even seen all of it yet. It is not a stretch to say that almost every time astronomers and cosmologists point their equipment out there and look, they find something they had never seen before and sometimes, they can't explain." I bent down and tried to see through the eyepiece, well, I looked, and all I could see was a lot of blurry nothing. "But no matter how much they look, they can't see one very important part of the heavens."
      I stood up and looked at them. "Heaven." I said simply then nodded. "Our good brother, Doctor Marlin, can see it. If he could make a collect phone call right now he could tell us all about it. But, we don't need this, or his call to know what we need to know about it. It's all right here," I left the telescope and walked over to pick the up Bible that was on the pulpit and made a show of looking at it.
      "Oh, I didn't put in my bookmarks. I've got the verses but it'd take me too long to find them," this was one of the few points from the original version of the telescope sermon to have survived the rummage sale, audience participation. And this was one of the few times I broke my own rule about using exact verses, since I was having the people read the verse, I couldn't very well have them plugging through an entire chapter until they hit what I wanted.
      "Somebody from over here in the front read Job twenty six and verse seven. Chapter 26, verse seven. Now who in the back of that side has a King James, you know, what some of the older set used to call the Real Bible." There was enough laughter that there had been somebody in this congregation that objected to the newer more readable editions of the Bible. A hand went up. "Good, Psalm Nineteen verse one. I just like the way the KJV turns that phrase." I switched sides, "down front here, Colossians one, sixteen and seventeen. And in the back Romans One, Twenty."
      I gave them a minute to find Job and Colossians and talked about how there were creation myths in every ancient culture that talked about our being here as directly caused by some sort of divinity. "Not one of the ancient myths says the the universe was a tiny bit of superheated stuff that one day decided to explode. Now, who's got Psalms for us?"
      A handsome young man stood up and read in a clear voice. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork."
      The 'amen corner' answered before I could.
      "Thank you. Well done. 'sheweth his handywork'. Most of the other translations make that 'the work of his hands'. What it comes down to is, you can see the Creator in the Creation." I bent over and peered into the telescope, "Yup, you sure can! And, what do I see? Time for Job."
      The woman read the verse about the Earth hanging on nothing in a somewhat timid voice, but I repeated it for the rest of the congregation. "And that is exactly what you see. If you look at the pictures from the Hubble or the other telescopes you see a whole bunch of little bright dots, but most of what you see is... Nothing! Empty Space. If you were Out There someplace and ordered a pizza from here, the delivery charge would be," I paused so they'd get the joke, "Astro-Nomical!"
      They did.
      "Colossians." I said and looked toward the back of the other side on purpose.
      "I got it," an older man said, and he didn't stand up to read either, "For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
      "Yes, sir. Thank you. He, meaning Jesus as God, remember John one, He made it All, even that empty space and the other stuff we can't see. And HE is the glue that keeps this thing from coming apart." I moved the telescope just so and, on cue, the one leg came loose. "I think I need more glue. And, for that glue we have Romans." I nodded to that side while I put the leg back on.
      This time a man stood and read it in a natural singing voice.
      "That was great, can you read it again?"
      He did.
      I just stood there and nodded as he finished, sometimes you discover the most amazing talents and gifts completely by accident, but that is another sermon.
      "All Humanity has all seen His Creation and therefore, we as a people are without excuse," I summarized. "You don't need one of these to look at the rings of Saturn, although that is something to see, or one of those huge ones on top of the mountain in Hawaii to see some nebula or other. You just have to look at what is around you. Which is what Paul talks about in next couple of verses. You can read them at your leisure, but for now I'll just say that the Apostle doesn't say nice things about people that look, but don't see." I bent down and looked through the telescope for a second.
      "You know, even while the stars and all were given to us for signs and seasons, it was Jesus, the Son of God who was given to us for our salvation."
      Even though the 'amen corner' was probably starting to get a little hoarse, they managed a good one for that.
      And with that, I nodded to the other minister. I picked up the telescope in one hand, and the legs and bag in the other, and left out the side door.

      After all this time I am still uncomfortable staying up front and offering the invitation. I'd done it, I've been told I was pretty good at it, but I don't want them responding to me or my act. If I am not up there, I'm more comfortable that anybody that does come up is answering the call of the spirit, not the ranting of a traveling madman.

2. "Stay tuned for music, or more of us..."

      "You go live in one minute."
      The radio show had changed a little over the years. Art was still Art, and we still discussed sports with some interruptions by commercials and news and that sort of thing. But there were a couple of key differences.
      I heard the commercial end and the music intro come up with the network ID, so I took a deep breath. And...
      "This is Brother Bob, we'll be back with more right after the news and weather. Thanks for listening."
      "And we're out."
      One of those differences was that we had picked up a couple of affiliates a few years ago. One of those was a country music station who had given up on trying to have a morning show and picked up our broadcast instead of going with some national 'jabber and laugh' satellite show. The only problem was that we stayed on for an hour longer than the country station wanted. So, at nine, we said goodbye to that audience while encouraging everybody else to hang on for more of our show.
      "Three minutes."
      The other difference had evolved over the years as various athletes at different levels got themselves into legal troubles of one sort or another, and as a result ended up headlining the news instead of just being 'sports'. So we talked about it the news on the sports show, and that led to us discussing other news items once in awhile, so it became part of the show that we'd discuss a couple of the leading general interest stories, but then bring the focus back to sports.
      It worked, ours was the most popular show in the region, and with five local affiliates, the most profitable too.
      "One minute."
      Art nodded and waited for his cue, "Weather is up next, then we'll be back and Bob can explain why he thinks the expansion of gambling is a good idea." Bob grinned at me, he knew I thought the exact opposite, but such was our show.
      "You're out. Two minutes."
      I listened to the weather report and pulled up the information about the gambling bill. Even the most pro-gambling editors had given it little chance of passing the first time through the legislature, but, it was coming up for a vote, so it was in the news.
      I didn't like the idea of promoting vice for the benefit of the extra revenue into the state from taxes and fees, but I understood how a 'sin tax' was a better idea for most people than a tax on something you had no choice of buying, like food and fuel. Nobody had to put a quarter in a slot machine to get to work in the morning or to make lunch for their kids. For his part, Art didn't care either way.
      "Thirty seconds."
      I took my breath and licked my lips and teeth.
      "Thank you, Mikey for that, and you're back with Art and Bob, and we'll be talking news and sports and whatever is on your mind right after these messages."
      I heard the car commercial come on and sat back in my chair to relax for a minute and a half.

      "Art, you go in thirty. Take caller on two, Jane is from State Senator Cochran's office, it's about the gambling bill," Art nodded through the glass.
      "And we're back live and I was just told to take an important call from Jane who is on Senator Cochran's office staff. So, Ms Jane, you're on live with Bob and Art."
      "Good morning," the lady answered.
      "Welcome to the show. It's been awhile since we got to talk to you," I said remembering that she'd been on before.
      "Yes, it has been a year or two, but it's nice to be with you again."
      "Thank you, ma'am, what can we do for you."
      "Well, to be honest, I wanted to save you from embarrassing yourselves about the gambling bill."
      Art laughed for a second, "Public humiliation is not something we're worried about here, I've seen Bob speak a couple of times, and you know me and my history. Personal dignity isn't part of the picture."
      "And if you've ever gone out to lunch with Art you'd never do it again, Jane."
      "I'm sure you're both fine gentlemen, but Senate Bill 103 has been sent back to committee, it will not be coming up for a vote on the floor in this session."
      We blinked at each other, but I spoke first, "That is a bit of news, what happened?"
      "There were some serious questions about part of the regulations that had not been ruled on by the Attorney General. Once that was made known, the sponsor pulled it back. It is unlikely that it will come back out of committee any time soon."
      "And you just heard that breaking news here on the Bob and Art sports show," Art said.
      I smiled into the microphone, "Once again, we scoop the networks. So, Miss Jane, what else is going on in the state capitol that our listeners over here would be interested in."
      "There is a bill coming up for a vote to increase our oversight and inspection of the aquacultural interests involving several important fish species in lake Erie."
      "I like fish," Art said.
      "It's meat, he likes it," I explained. "But aquaculture is very important, both on the Lake and in smaller bodies of water in the state, will that bill cover them as well?"
      "Lakes and ponds in the state are already covered, since Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes, it is subject to a completely separate body of regulations. But there are fish farms as you can call them inside the territorial waters of the state and they should be open to inspection by state officials regardless of where their owners reside. And some of them are only in our waters for a very short time, in some cases, just days."
      "It looks like they would be regulated by Ohio, at least while they're here," I answered.
      "Yeah, at least they should be," Art added.
      "You would think so, but in some cases, the people running them are coming in by boat from Michigan or even Canada and they claim the pens are not permanent fixtures, or even that they just broke loose and drifted into our waters. The matter isn't as simple as just where it is at the moment."
      "Well, that's why I'm here instead of in the Senate," Art said.
      "Something for which we are all grateful," I grinned, "do you have anything else for us Miss Jane?"
      "Maybe something sports related?"
      "Well, since you are a sports show, I would like to hear how you think the schools in our area will fare in the state playoffs this year."
      "Of course, ma'am, which sport?"
      "All of them. I have grandchildren playing on several different teams."
      There was one of those rare moments of silence on our show while Art threw me one of Those looks and I couldn't do anything but return it and work quickly to cover both of us.
      "Yeah, we can do that," Art lied into the microphone, "and we'll do just that when we come back from these messages. Where do you want to begin Brother Bob? Tennis?"
      "Sure," I said as I clicked through one of the local paper's websites and found their review of a girls tennis team going into the playoffs and pointed at it for him.
      "You're clear."
      "Thank you, Miss Jane, it was nice to talk to you."
      "We've got you on here in the office, I'm looking forward to hearing what you think."
      "Do you have any sports in mind, we'll make sure we look at them."
      "Tennis is fine, my youngest granddaughter is on the JV squad, she's pretty good."
      "You've got it."
      We had two minutes to prepare, but I don't think we humiliated ourselves too badly.

      I had known that Art had been to a few of my outings. He said that he'd never laughed so hard in his life as when I implored God Almighty to wash my skillet, but he also agreed with the premise that if you're going to be a Christian, you should do something than warm a pew twice a year and write a check to the building fund once in awhile.
      Yes, he agreed with my assessment of Christianity, he just didn't think it was for him. He had done all I could ask, indeed, he had done what the Spirit asked: he had heard the message, and had made his decision. At least he had for now. He was still willing to come out and listen whenever I had a new message and was in the area, but, as yet, he just viewed it as a fine night's entertainment and a free meal if there was a dinner after the service.
      And as he was still alive, and hadn't developed a bad heart or something, it looked like he still had time to decide otherwise. And, well, you never know, do you?

3. Mrs. Overland, part FOUR, and, The Guitar

      It was almost exactly two years from my initial exposure to Mrs. Stephanie 'Stew' Overland to my second, what to call it, 'close encounter'? And then another two years to the next dose, you get the idea.

      Since my first visit, she had called, or emailed, or been in online chat with Carol to the point where she was doing all of that with her more than anybody else in our now quite large circle of friends and acquaintances. She sent birthday cards for the kids, and Christmas gifts, and she made sure we were added to their church's newsletter so we could keep up on everything, even though by the time we got the newsletter she'd already told Carol all the news. Twice. Or more.

      The second time I stayed there to do one of their services in the gym, my wife was with me, and after a full weekend of the lady, Carol had no idea what to think of Stew either: "She's either the most hyperactive housewife ever, or a total basket case."
      As to whether or not she was interested in interested in, well, actually, now, either of us as something more than just a weekend house-guest she honestly couldn't say, including having to check her cheeks for Stew's lipstick before we went into the services.
      "I got all sorts of mixed signals from her, and I think that's just her," Carol summarized and I agreed.

      Of course Art thought my being afraid of a woman was hilarious.
      "I mean, if she's really that good looking, you know, I'd just go ahead and...."
      "Yes, she is that pretty, even Carol thought so. And. No, you wouldn't," I said, "You might want to, but you wouldn't. You might have the morals of a raccoon, but, frankly, she's the boss's wife, and I know you wouldn't want to screw up a good paying weekend gig and a chance to come back next year."
      He frowned, "You know me better than I thought you did."

      The next time I was by myself because Carol had another obligation, but she told me that if I felt too uncomfortable with 'Stew' to just beg off and either spend the night in the motel, or the car, and Carol gave me permission to not feel guilty about it.
      Once again I arrived the night before I was scheduled to headline the first two nights of their revival, and once again, 'Stew' was a never-ending fount of information, iced tea, smiles, and those mixed messages she was so famous for including a hug that did more for my back than most chiropractors.
      But now, after multiple weekends with her, and knowing that she considered herself one of my wife's best friends, it was easier to... ... (I just spent five minutes trying to think of exactly the right word for it, and I've got it.
      .... But now, after multiple weekends with her, and all the rest, it was easier for me to Tolerate her.

      This last time I was there for the closing act of their revival, and only had to spend two nights with her. Well, no, I didn't actually spend either night 'with' her so to speak, but if you were within rock throwing distance of their house, you felt like she was Right There almost all the time.
      Their kids had grown a lot since that first visit, as kids tend to do, and Mr. Overland had lost a good deal of hair, but Stew looked almost exactly the same. As if even Time itself couldn't keep up with her and had given up.
      And, as always she smiled, and put her hand on mine when she poured tea, and talked faster than an auctioneer.
      And then, "You know, Bob, I really like having you stay with us, you could come back sometime when you're not speaking just to visit," she said with a smile. "Oh, and you could bring Carol too."
      "I'll mention that to her," I said, and for some reason when she closed the door to the tiny bedroom behind her and left me alone, I was sweating.

      It was my first time delivering the sermon where I did something, in addition to, or maybe besides, make a total fool of myself. And anybody who had ever taken any sort of musical training on something besides one of those big base drums they wheel around the sidelines at a college football game might say I was doing that anyway. For this one, I played one of the five songs I was reasonably competent rendering on the guitar.
      I'd been taking guitar lessons off and on for most of my life. I remember as a kid pouting when my mother drove me to my music lesson. Even though everybody in my fifth grade class thought it was the coolest thing ever that my mom wanted me to play guitar, and they wanted to do it too. That is, they did until they found out you had to learn to read music to do so.
      In high school I got pretty good, but then laid off it for a few years. Then later I got back into it for awhile. Then quit again. Now, I got back into it and kept at it with the idea for this sermon in the back of my mind. And I still knew how to read music!
      I blame my first trip to Nashville for it, but I think the idea was based on the 'hands of the master' poem and story that had to have been told at least three times from every pulpit in the country. No, I'm not a master, by any measure. But I could play a couple of songs from memory well enough to do so in public. And, if pressed, and given the sheet music, I could sight-play almost anything if somebody were accompanying me on the keyboard.

      "Good evening!" I said loudly as I strode to the stage with my guitar. "I'm here to make a joyful noise unto the Lord." And I turned on my old electrified guitar and made sure the new external wireless thing lit up.
      As this was a revival, we'd already made several joyful noises, and had eaten enough fried chicken earlier that the sound of munching could have been called one as well. But there were a couple of 'amens' anyway. So I continued by strumming my guitar a couple of times.
      The effect was exactly what I had been aiming for.

      Let me explain.
      It is a VERY dedicated guitar instructor who will help you tune your instrument to make the most hideous noise ever to come out of any musical device. And I mean a "set your own teeth on edge and make everybody else in the room recoil in horror" sound.
      It is also a very good guitar teacher who will show you how to tune it by ear back to where it is supposed to be, on the fly, while preaching, and still, attempting to play a song on it.
      Mine did.
      It would be an even bet that every dog within a half mile of the place was now either shuddering and howling or hiding under a bed.

      Some of the people were still trying to clear the eruption of awfulness that they had just heard when I began talking.
      "Well, that was a noise, I'm not sure I'd call it joyful, but there we have it. I want to play you a nice song, but it seems my guitar isn't ready. Somebody might say it was full of bad-ness instead of music, so when I go like this," I strummed it again and it sounded like somebody dropped an out of tune banjo into an empty metal garbage can from a second story window, "all I get is, That." I started to strum it again, but then quit and walked toward the pulpit.
      As usual I could see that a few in the crowd had guessed where I was going with my topic, and many were already flipping their Bibles toward the Gospels to be ready for the scripture I'd use.
      "Well, if you guessed that I was going to read from Matthew twelve or fifteen, or maybe Luke six, you're right. Because I'm going to read both of them. We'll start with Matthew, just because he's first, chapter twelve."
      I read a couple of verses, then tuned one of the strings a little and tried it, it was about halfway between the industrial accident it had started as and something that was at least passably musical.
      "I guess you could say 'by your music you will be condemned' as well. But I'm still not sure we could call that music." I turned my Bible back to Luke, 'A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.'" I spared them another full strumming and instead started tuning another string by turning the key. "Kinda like those verses that talk about how you can tell when somebody means what they say about their faith by looking at their works isn't it?"
      A few of those that give the minister non-verbal feedback were nodding thoughtfully.

      Since I'd been here several times I'd gotten to recognize some of the regulars at the services. No, I couldn't name anybody besides the ranking officers of the church that hosted the revival, or the new minister at the denominational church that let them use the gym, but I did recognize some of the ones that showed up and sat close enough to the stage that I could see their face clearly. And they were nodding.
      Some people thought that since I'd spent the last several years in radio that I was knowledgeable about music. The answer was, no. I had never been on the music side of things. Art did. He had, and still did, work music broadcasts. He knew about the classic rock and country acts, and could talk for hours about them. Me? I had some rudimentary idea that the Rolling Stones played a different sort of music than the Statler Brothers and both were different than some of the groups 'the kids' liked today. But that was about it. I had been told that there were farm animals that knew more about music than I did.
      And they were probably right.

      "Whatever is predominate in your heart, which also means your mind, whatever you focus on, whatever you think most about, will eventually come out of your mouth. And usually at the worst possible time."
      That drew an 'amen' or two.
      I strummed the now half tuned guitar. Three of the six strings were at least within the margin of error of where they were supposed to be.
      "We need to keep working at it don't we. We need to study, to work, to listen, to fellowship with others to fill ourselves with as much of the Good News and all that comes with it as we can. There is plenty out There, to take care of itself, it doesn't need our help." I kept tuning. "What's out there? Well, I mentioned Matthew fifteen. Sometime when you get a chance, read starting with fifteen fifteen. He's got a list of some of the usual suspects in there." I hit the guitar's discord one more time to underline the statement, then seriously started to get it back to where my teacher said it needed to be for what I wanted to do.
      "You don't just get your 'good treasures' as Jesus says by coming to a revival meeting on a basketball court. And you don't get it just from Sunday morning. You need Bible study on Wednesday night. If you can't make it to an organized group with coffee and cookies, you can do it on your own. You can listen to Christian radio on your way to work. Read magazines with Christ as their focus. Yes, there are Christian writers who cover baseball and hockey," I smiled broadly, "and some Christians on the radio who do the same thing." I stared at the marks we'd made on the tuning keys, most of them looked like they were there.
      "You need to fellowship in person with other Christians. Yes, Gospel radio and TV shows are wonderful things and can have profound messages in them. I've met several ministers who do television, and they're... 'mostly'... very good people and are trying to do what they believe is the Lord's work. OK, I've got to tell you about this one. He was doing a local religious show that had a somewhat questionable lead in program. He came on right behind a weekly entertainment spot that was sponsored, and often featured stuff at the local casino hotel and horse race track, and some of that was decidedly adult, we'll say. Well, you know, Christ always went to those that needed to hear His message, so did Paul. So maybe some of the other audience will leave their set on and hear the Good News. You never know."

      This was, overall, one of my shorter sermons, at least the preaching part was.
      "So now," I strummed the now nice-sounding guitar, "I think we've put enough good treasure, or at least correct tuning in it for me to try the song I'd wanted to sing earlier."
      I know for a fact others had sung "I'll fly away" better, and with more musical skill, but by halfway through the first verse the audience was with me, and the pianist had begun her accompaniment. I sang and played through another verse, and then we did the chorus an extra time. I stopped playing and waved them to a stop to a good round of applause.
      "Thank you. See, a little good effort pays off." I strummed the still well tuned guitar. "You need to make the effort, to put yourself in the places, with the people, and with the Word, for it to happen. But it can and will Happen. The Spirit, and a good guitar teacher, can work wonders in your life."
      Through some miracle the only invitation song I knew, the old standard "Just as I am" just so happened to be the one on the schedule for tonight. Well, maybe not quite a miracle as asked them if we could use it, so I started playing it and nodded to the minister. I mean really, I knew how to play the Eric Clapton song "Layla" because I'd asked my guitar teacher how to play 'rifts'. He taught me, and I learned it well, but that isn't quite an invitation hymn.
      By using a wireless guitar and mic I could walk out playing while they sang and continue my tradition of fleeing before the service was over.

      That night, before I was allowed to go to sleep, I had to prove to Stew, and her husband and the kids, that I really could play the guitar. So I did part of the solo from the Clapton song, and transitioned it into one of the others. The kids knew the camp song well and we sang it through a couple of times, then she shooed them all off to bed and I was allowed to put my guitar away and get some sleep.

4. Pictures and youth.

      It started after that first epic preaching trip that covered half the country over ten years ago. I had taken a bunch of pictures, including some at the racetrack in Nashville when I took a break from preaching and driving by driving and preaching.
      One of the elders of my home church had been put in a rehabilitation center to learn how to walk again after a hip replacement. He was a big time race car fan, to the point that he wore T-shirts with drivers and cars on them to do his therapy as inspiration. So I took a laptop and went out there to tell him about my trip and show him the pictures from the tire test.
      He had become good friends with a couple of the regular residents who lived on the long term care side of the place and asked me if I'd mind showing them the pictures and telling them about my trip.
      One thing led to another and I ended up going out there after almost every outing to show them the pictures and telling them about the trip, and then, by popular request, even doing a couple of my sermons for them.
      And now, I still do it.
      I don't mind, they seem to love it, and it provides a very meaningful anchor to remind me that no matter what I thought of what I did and where I went, in the larger scheme of things, it probably didn't matter. Or if it did, it didn't count for much, unless, the Good News got through.

      "I want to welcome our first caller to Monday Morning, the note says you think Pittsburgh is ready for the playoffs," I smiled into the microphone.
      And that was precisely what the note said, only an experienced sports broadcaster would know that it had to be talking about the Hockey playoffs because the city did not have a basketball team and no other sport was even remotely in playoff mode.
      Luckily, I was right, as the caller explained, "Yeah, all three lines are healthy and both of their goalies are having the best games of the season right now. So they're peaking at the right time."
      Art nodded, "And they need to, you can say the same thing about every team they're likely to face in the first two rounds. I mean, look at New York, they've scored more goals in the last month than they had in any month all season."
      "Don't forget Detroit," I added.
      "I'd like to," Art snorted.
      The caller was thinking the same thing, "I think Pitt is going to do all right. They're going to be seeded high enough to stay away from them for at least the first games."

      We discussed the possible brackets for the conference and which ones favored the local favorites, then we transitioned into our first commercial break.
      "So," Art said to me when we were clear, "where did you go this last weekend?"
      "Nowhere, I stayed home and helped with homework and all that."
      "Oh, sorry to hear that," he looked at his notes then grinned at me, "You mean you've saved all the vile sinners and there's nothing else for you to do?" He held up a finger, "besides me that is."
      "No, there's still plenty for me to do. In fact, Friday after we're done on the air I've got to head up to Erie, Pennsylvania. I'm going to be up there Saturday for a youth rally."
      "Which ones are you doing?" Art asked me as we got the one minute signal.
      "The Referee and the Old Testament, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon."
      "You're still doing those? How about that?"
      "Yeah, but they said most of these kids would have never heard them."
      "They're in for a treat."
      "Bob, you're on in thirty."
      I nodded and got ready.
      "Is Carol and the kids going with you?"
      "She wasn't sure yet, but I don't think so."

      Erie was just a touch too far to drive that morning and then be ready to do my thing afterwards, so they put me up at a budget motel not far from the field house where the rally would be held the next day.
      I had arrived not long after the official check in time and just went up to the room to relax and ponder the various dinner options from the available delivery menus. I decided on a couple of fairly safe Chinese dishes and settled in to watch the local news and see if they said anything new about Cleveland sports that we hadn't already covered in depth.

      "Singing," I said to the TV at one point.
      Somebody, or rather, several somebodies were singing outside.
      I opened my door and was confronted by carolers, I don't know what else to call them, standing along the railing on my floor, and the floor above, and, I suppose, the ground floor too, singing gospel songs.
      Several youth groups had checked into the motel as well, and now, with nothing to do but watch the sportscast, they were on the balcony, singing.
      The kids next door, on both sides of me for that matter, were from someplace around Toledo. They told me the bunch that had started the singing were from Pittsburgh.
      I didn't tell them who or what I was, but I walked around and listened to the singing, and drank some orange soda with a mom from "just outside Syracuse". One group from had a grand total of five kids with them. Another was just the girls from a youth group in Cleveland, the boys were in another hotel. All told here were over over a hundred teens, and maybe a third that number of escorts. As far as I could tell, mine was the only room with a single occupant in the place.
      Several of them told me that quiet time was nine, and at nine fifteen or so, the place was suddenly almost too quiet.
      But I got a good night's sleep anyway.

      I'd been to rallies, and the Christian Convention a couple of times, and every sort of revival you could name, but I'd never been to anything like this.
      You could hear the music in the parking lot, and they weren't singing 'Nearer, my God, to Thee' either. This was something with a heavy drumbeat and some serious bass guitar and when the music paused for a second I heard a woman with an operatic voice sing "I will Praise Him all my days" hitting a note that made me stop and go 'wow' under my breath. Then the music kicked in again.
      From what the lady that was supposed to, as she said it, she was going to 'lead me around by the nose and get me on stage when I was supposed to be there' and in between, she would feed me, and wipe my nose, and do whatever else I needed to keep me in line and ready to go.
      "Some fun," I grumbled.
      "That's what your wife said when I talked to her about it."
      I chuckled to myself, Carol had always known which outings to go on and which ones to skip.
      "How many kids are out there?"
      "Probably just over seven."
      "Thousand. And maybe another thousand or two chaperones and parents and whatnot."
      "Nine thousand total."
      "Well, and a couple of hundred of our staff and volunteers. But it is the young people we're focusing on."
      "I think I can do that."

      A music group from a Bible College I'd never heard of down south was on the stage when the lady guided me that way with my football and whistle. They were great, there's no other word for it, and the audience was as warmed up as any I'd ever been given.
      Oh, well.
      The presentation I did of 'the referee' was fairly standard. I didn't want to trick it up or do anything that I thought the kids would think was stupid. Well, there's a good chance that some of them thought the whole thing was stupid, but that's the way it goes. They did laugh when they should have, and when I asked the audience if cheating was a good idea when the ref was watching you they answered 'no' like they meant it. So, at least some were paying attention.

      And it was right in the middle of that sermon that I got an idea for another one.
      And it wasn't the kids that gave me the idea, most of them, at least the ones I could see, were at least sleeping with their eyes open and staring in my direction. It was the adults in the audience who were looking at their cell phones, or writing something that I was pretty sure weren't notes about my presentation. Another was doing something to his watch. They were, and here's my new title, 'busy in the pew'.
      The Grantland Rice poem left a stunned silence in the field house, then I blew my whistle and tossed my flag offstage and stalked off waving my arms for another call while a band set up their equipment and the MC announced them to slowly building applause when the audience realized I was done.

      Lunch was with the group that had been performing when I got there. The woman with the glass shattering voice had been a singer in a mainstream group who had given up private jets and stadium concerts to follow her conscience and do this.
      "I broke my accountant's heart. But he got over it," she said over fish tacos and coleslaw.

      After lunch I listened to their set from the announcer's booth, a unique point of view for a sports commentator, but it was enjoyable. Then I had to go over to the media booth and set up the screens and soundtrack for my next act.

      It rocked.

      I mean it, the Old Testament rocked.

      I have never had so much fun doing anything in my life. By the time I got to Joshua the kids were shouting the names of the books as they appeared on the screens. When I talked about the job descriptions of an Old Testament Prophet pronouncing doom on all and sundry they roared with laughter.
      "Habakkuk," they said.
      I held up my hand, "what was that?"
      "Hab ba kuk," they answered.
      "Oh, that's how you say his name," I laughed and barged ahead.

      Then I had to go back to the hotel.

      Up to that point I'd signed maybe a dozen autographs in my life.
      I signed that many just getting from my car to the stairway.
      Fortunately, once I'd hugged and signed and talked my way to my room through the group from Toledo, they let me go in my room and close the door.
      "How did it go?" Carol asked me when I called her.
      "Not bad, I think they liked it," was all I could say. Anything else would have sounded, well, stupid.

      In the morning, I hit the road, after a few hugs and a couple more autographs. But then, when I crossed back into Ohio, I was just me again.

5. Stormy weather.

      The idea from the stage at the youth rally had come to me fully formed and ready to go. I had it all, examples, props, even the general outline, the only thing I was missing was a Scripture reference.
      For some reason, that seemed important.

      I'd seen that kind of thing before. People who sat in the pew in church and did everything else. I mean it, one time a woman painted her nails during another minister's sermon. It wasn't a secret, you could smell the polish through the whole building, even over the 'mosquito control grade' perfume some of the other ladies were wearing, but she didn't seem to think anybody else noticed.
      Of course now you've got people on their phones, but that's just the latest incarnation of the coloring book as far as I'm concerned.
      'Back in the day' you had to sit and read the hymnal, or, even, the Bible, once you'd made your shopping list, and played 'squares' with whoever you were sitting next to.
      "Sixty-four," I was told with some certainty by someone who had been cleaning the church for years.
      "Really? That many."
      "Sure did, I counted them. They played sixty-four games of Tic-Tac-Toe during the sermon that morning, and they left the papers in the pew rack."
      I told her I wasn't sure I'd played that many games of it in my life.

      Back when I was a kid and attended my grandparents church, there was a man who was more than an little overweight who everybody thought was able to sleep sitting up, with his eyes open, and still be able tell at least the general idea of the sermon. To me, at least when I was about twelve, he didn't even look like he was breathing he was so still, but maybe he was just meditating about what the pastor was saying. Or he was sound asleep.

      I sat and stared at my outline and thought about that point.
      Which was worse? The one that was asleep or the one that was playing the game? I'm not sure I can answer that. Neither one has paid enough attention to know if the speaker was reciting a verse from the Bible or that nonsense monster poem from, oh, who was it? Anyway.
      It took me a couple of minutes to find the right poem. And twice as long to decide if I wanted to suddenly recite it in the middle of my spiel or open with it.
      And then I had another idea.

      I'd put a pew on the stage.
      No. I wouldn't, it was a stupid idea. But I had to do something.
      I just had no idea what.

      I also didn't have a Bible verse except for the Mary and Martha thing when the one, and right now I couldn't remember which one was busy fixing dinner for Jesus instead of listening to His teachings. And, maybe it was just me, but I was starting to get tired of hearing that one.
      There had to be another verse somewhere in scripture about somebody being busy when somebody else was speaking the Word. I just had to find it.
      But then I had to get busy and get to sleep because I had to be back on the air in the morning so my wife could get busy and fix dinner for my kids.

      "Good morning, I'm Bob and this is my good friend Art, and we're talking sports. Big news from the Big Ten, a shocker of a finish at a major tournament, and some silliness from Formula One."
      "As usual for them," Art added. "We'll be right back after these messages and the news."
      "And you're out."
      Art looked over at me, "so, how was Cleveland?"
      "Erie, the youth rally."
      "Right, right. You were doing a double header."
      "It went well, they liked it. And you should have heard the music they had."
      "Five old men and a piano?"
      "No," I said and fished in my satchel for the CD I'd bought for him, "her."
      Art looked at it, "Didn't she used to..."
      "Art, you've got the news teaser in one minute."
      "Yeah, she quit to sing gospel."
      "That's," he said and I wasn't sure if he was answering me or the producer, and then again, it didn't matter. Our computer screens started flashing a bright red bar and then a severe weather notice came up. "I got it," Art said.
      "We're breaking in, you go in Three. Two..."
      "This just in, there are severe weather alerts for most of the area beginning now and continuing until two PM with a severe thunderstorm warning for part of the area. A line of strong storms extends almost completely across the state moving east south east at twenty miles an hour. They will reach the western edge of our extended listening area within the hour and keep moving through for the rest of the morning," he nodded to me.
      I picked up where he'd left off, "These storms have a history of high winds and damaging hail up to golf ball size. No tornadoes have been reported today, but this same front produced at least two yesterday in Illinois and Indiana. Stay tuned for a full update from our storm watch weather crew after these messages."
      "Clear. Guys when we come back we'll go right to weather."
      "No problem. F1 can wait."

      Such is life in live radio.
      Most of the morning was spent tracking lightning caused power outages as a really lively storm tracked just south of us. Later there were scattered reports of a possible funnel cloud, and news about flooded roads and people stranded because they thought their car could swim.
      "And we're back. We've got the complete list of closures for schools in the Hillton and Montgomery area due to the power outage, and, unfortunately, reports of injuries and possible fatalities from storm damage," I said and took a deep breath. "Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody out there, but if you are in the area and can safely stay put until this passes, we urge you to do so."
      "That's right Brother Bob, there are downed power lines and standing water almost everywhere right now. Give the power crews and rescue personnel a chance to pick up the pieces before you go out and take a chance of needing rescuing yourself. We'll stay here and keep you up to date until it clears up."
      And we did exactly that. Most of our affiliate stations stayed with us for at least part of the time for updates well passed their scheduled time. Finally we signed off at one PM with most of the storms out of the area.

      And when I went to my office I knew exactly what verse to use for my new sermon.
      But I still didn't have something to set it apart.

      The Ephesians four verses about the various persons called to equip the saints for their life and walk would work nicely, and wouldn't be something everybody had heard used in that way before. I smiled at that part of it. The sermon was re-writing itself around that core idea.
      But I still wanted to put a pew on the stage.

      I have no idea where the church was that I was thinking of. The building was one of those great old wood frame buildings that was almost as spectacular as a European Cathedral. It was every bit of a hundred and fifty years old, and the huge, curved, high backed pews inside were probably half that, and I wouldn't be surprised if they weighed five hundred pounds each. They were made of dark hardwood and as uncomfortable as anything had ever been even with the thick foam pads that had been installed across the seats of the front three quarters of them. If one were so inclined, the whole place would make a great movie set for some sort of Gothic picture where the hero confronts a vampire in an old church.
      "Why not back here?" I asked one of the members and pointed to the bare wooden seats of the last four pews on each side.
      "They had been. When I was a kid, there were pads in all of them. But so many people sit back here they wore them out and the board said they weren't going to spend good money so they could sit halfway out to the parking lot anymore."
      I nodded, "That's an idea."
      "Now some of them bring their own pillows to sit on." He pointed to a well-worn stadium seat cushion with a team logo still visible.
      I had to laugh.

      One of those old solid wood pews would be perfect, but as the place was a registered historic site, I didn't think they'd approve of me borrowing one. And besides, I'd be laid up with a bad back and a hernia if I tried to move one.
      But most churches have a surplus of those cheap metal folding chairs that are almost as uncomfortable than those antique pews, and they're a lot more portable. I could even throw a handful in the trunk of my car just in case.
      It was worth trying out.

      As usual, it cost me several pizzas, and some fried cheese things, and a few bottles of really sweet fizzy drinks, but I had the youth group's undivided attention for exactly thirteen minutes and twenty seconds.
      They still time my sermons.
      Overall, the review was positive, it had provoked some honest laughter, and what's better, they asked some serious questions afterward.

      Our youth group may be unusual but interspersed amongst the monkeyshines and pathetic jokes they seem to get the point of the message I'm trying to convey. And occasionally, they ask a question that I have to stop and think about, or go back and rewrite half my sermon.
      And tonight was no exception, one of the girls asked me, "But how can reading the Bible be bad?"
      "Well," I had to stop and think, "did I say it was bad?"
      "No, but you said it was a distraction from our listening to the message."
      "Yes, exactly. Reading the Bible is never bad per se, but is that why you're sitting in the pew while some loser is up here yapping at you?" I asked.
      "You shouldn't be reading when you should be listening," another one answered.
      I nodded, "the Lord can speak to you while you're reading while somebody is preaching, and maybe He does. But at the time, and in this place, you are here to listen to the Word be preached. It's what Paul and the others told us to do. You can read at home, one the bus, in study hall, wherever. When you're in church, you're supposed to praise the Lord and listen to... well, whatever I just said."
      They laughed, but now I had to go back and make sure I was saying what I meant in the message.

      The next question was more the norm for them, "Do you think they're going to change the 'roughing the kicker' thing in college football?"

6. The Long Wait for "Busy in the Pew".

      I know the "Lord works in mysterious ways". In fact, I'm used to it, and I've used the verse in Deuteronomy twenty-nine that I think that idea from the old song is based on. But when it applies to me, it bugs the fire out of me.
      I had fixed the 'busy' sermon and and run through it again with the kids, then put it in my satchel, and tagged the folding chairs I wanted to take with me, and waited.

      I got two requests for my dirty dishes, and three for the Old Testament. One group wanted a 'stand there and preach' sermon, but they requested I do it on the topic of elders and deacons. So I waited.
      And high school football season started, which meant I couldn't do anything on Friday night for about three months, and I did the radio show.
      "Bob, you've got a personal call on three, he said he'd wait until the break to speak to you."
      "If it's out of town we'll take it live so he has to go," Art said.
      "Not this time," the producer said and I stared at the blinking light on line three until we got to the bottom of the hour.
      "Yes, Brother Robert, we'd like you to come back down and do our Anniversary service and dinner on a Saturday evening next month if you're available."
      I searched my memory for who and where and when it had been. The man said Kentucky, that didn't help much.
      "Oh, and we're now only non-instrumental for the regular church service on Sunday Morning. We have a keyboard that one of the girls play at night and sometimes for the Sunday School opening."
      "Oh, yes, I remember. I'll be delighted to come down, did you have anything in mind for a topic?"
      "Well, we enjoyed your sermon about the dishes last time. But we were wondering if you have anything new?"
      "As it so happens, yes I do."

      I didn't get lost this time.
      Well, not AS lost.

      It was a cool fall evening, the church windows were open, and there was a good crowd. I was grateful that the dinner was after the service because I'm not sure I could do the 'pew shuffle' that was part of the sermon with a stomach full of church pot luck food.
      Since it was Saturday night, a girl was playing the keyboard for the song service, but everything we sang was one of the old standards from the old red hymnal that was copyright from the fifties. Nineteen Fifty One in fact. Yes, I was singing from a book that was over a decade older than I am. But that's the way they did it.
      And then it was time for me to set up my chairs, two rows of four, one behind the other.

      The second time I did it for the youth group I had a brainstorm, I recruited two of them to sit in the second row with me and 'be busy'.
      I did the same thing tonight. The young man turned out to be the 'beau' of the keyboardist, he sat in the middle leaving me an empty seat on the end by the pulpit. The young woman was the niece of one of the deacons, I asked her to sit on the far end with her cell phone and ignore me and everybody else, which she seemed to be able to handle with no problem.

      I opened with a prayer, during which I moved from the pulpit to the 'pew' and sat next to my cohort, and for the first minute of the sermon I was talking to him more than the congregation. It was a trick because they did not have a wireless mic. But they did have a 'long cord' for the 'other mic' from the back of the stage. When untangled the 'long cord' was almost long enough that I could have delivered the sermon from the fellowship hall while eating pie.
      Sometimes I don't remember churches, but I do remember important things like pie. And I did remember their pies.
      "I know you've heard about Mary and Martha and how one was too busy to listen to the Lord's teaching. She was making dinner and all while her sister was sitting in there with Him and the Apostles."
      My new best friend played his part wonderfully, "Mary listened, Martha was working," he repeated when I gestured with the microphone.
      "Exactly. Martha thought she was doing the right thing by preparing the hospitality for an honored guest, which was the custom of the time. But there are more important things that tradition, and even more important than dinner. Although we all appreciate a good dinner." I nodded at him to repeat what he said half under his breath.
      "Yeah, I know I do."
      "Yes, sir. But there is a time and a place for everything. And when the Lord is in your living room talking about the Good News of Salvation and the Love of God, then that might not be the time or place," I looked around, "but, you know something?" I looked around some more, and so did he. My young lady on the other end looked like she was playing a game on her phone. "He's here in Spirit, of course, but not in the Flesh, at least not yet. Some day He will be, but, ahhh," I glanced around, "not tonight."
      The young man nodded.
      I reached up to the front row of chairs, I tapped some of my props, a couple of magazines I got at the station that I read. One was about baseball, and the other was about saltwater fishing, which I only cared about when somebody broke a world record and I mentioned it on the radio. The young man picked the fishing magazine and casually turned the pages.
      Now I looked out at the audience, "But you can be busy with other things when you are supposed to be listening to the Lord's word, even when He isn't physically present." I got up and went to the pulpit. "Did you ever make a shopping list? Or write a note to yourself about something you need to do later? Or read the newsletter, or even," I glanced at the 'pew', "a magazine that has nothing to do with church?" I looked over at my friend, "Are the tarpon biting in the Gulf?"
      "Yeah, this guy caught a nice one," he said from the page I'd marked for him.
      "Good for him. But that's not the topic of the sermon," I turned back to pulpit and my bible, "Paul writes this in Ephesians three," I said and cleared my throat to read the passage. "'I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of Godís grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lordís people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.'" I paused for a second, then glanced at the pew, chairs, on the stage. "Did you guys get that?"
      "Yeah, ahh, well, nevermind." I looked back out at the audience. "Paul says that his command to preach the Gospel of Christ to the Church was given to him by God. So, he really had no choice but to do it. Elsewhere in his letters he says that some are called to teach and others to preach. So they are under the same command right? If you answer the call, you are under the same yoke as Paul." I looked over at my pew and shrugged. "So, if the command to preach was given by God, is there any obligation to at least attempt to pay attention on the part of the congregation?"
      I didn't expect a lot of 'amens' from this sermon, and I was right.
      "In Corinthians, preaching is called 'foolishness', but it also says that doing so will save those that believe. I'm not going to deny that what I do is foolishness by any standard, but if somebody pays attention and believes, then it has all been worth it. But there we go."
      I took a deep breath and went with my last scripture. "In James we are told to not be hearers of the Word only, but doers. To DO what the Word says, you have to Hear it. To Hear it," I left it hanging in the air and went back to the pew and picked up the other magazine. There was a piece of paper in each of them so I could do what I was about to do. On each piece of paper was a couple of tic tac toe games. I made my 'x' and held it over for my partner to make his move, I made sure my gestures were somewhat theatrical to make it obvious I wasn't paying attention. After a minute or so, and after he beat me in the first game, I looked up. "Oh! I was supposed to be doing something. I'm in the pew, I guess I should be..." I looked down the pew at the girl. She wasn't paying attention at all, and I don't think she was acting.
      "I should be focused on what is being said. Otherwise, how can I judge if the speaker is preaching the Word and not some nonsense about how, oh, I don't know, say, how the morality of country music is superior to all other secular music."
      There was some nervous laughter, "No, I'm not kidding, I heard a message like that once upon a time. But if I had been playing a game with a friend I'd never have heard enough to approach the minister later and ask him if he'd lost his mind. That too is a command, to listen and test those who speak because many false prophets are in the world. Oh, that's in First John." I looked at my partner who seemed to want to say something.
      "Chapter four, verse one isn't it?" He asked me.
      "See, he was listening after all. And, yes it is." I got up, "You seem to be waiting for a conclusion. Well, I don't have one. The only thing I can say is that when you come into church, and take your seat, you have come to do certain things. The first is to Praise the Lord, the next is to participate in the Lord's Supper and to give your offering, and the other is to... ahhh," I glanced down my pew, "check out the weather for this week?"
      The girl had been told about her cue and I hoped she'd heard it.
      She did, "cooler, chance of rain Wednesday night."
      I glanced out at the audience and shrugged. Then nodded to the minister.

      That was the one downside for this sermon. I didn't have a clean exit and had to stand there next to him and sing the invitation hymn.
      Oh, well.

7. Sometimes a tent is the better option.

      Let me start this part by saying that I have been to some great places. I have met some absolutely wonderful people. I've learned more about myself, my faith, my country, and the traffic patterns on the major highways in a dozen states better than I ever thought I would.
      Overall, my travels have been a fantastic experience. And on the whole, I think I had done enough good through it to balance any and all the negative.
      And, yes, there had been a few down sides to it all. Some were funny, some were, painful, and some were just odd.

      You wouldn't believe the wrong ideas people can get about you when you roll into town in the middle of the night, unshaven since yesterday, wearing a hockey T-shirt that was too big and had mustard stains all over it, unable to correctly pronounce the name of your local contact who, for whatever reason, is not answering their phone.
      "I'm looking for Central Christian Church. I'm supposed to meet Mister Carsiggthin.... Carriganistan..." I tried to read my own writing on the note by the streetlight.
      "Yeah, I'm sure, sir. Let me see your ID." And then, "Mister Samuel, this car isn't registered to you."
      The good news from that story is that I was able to get washed up and have a snack.
      The bad news was that I did it at the police station.
      By eight in the morning I was eating a breakfast sandwich with the duty officer and waiting on Mister Carridaghisthansky, but I still can't pronounce his name, to come by and vouch for me and my cockamamie story while we waited for the auto parts store to open so I could buy a taillight.
      "If I might offer a suggestion for next time Pastor, the next time you get a loaner car to go out of state, have the dealer give you a letter of permission for your extended use of the vehicle with his contact information in it."
      I nodded, "He's done that for me before, but I guess we just forgot this time. I won't forget again. I can promise you that."
      "Thank you, Pastor."
      "You coming to the service?"

      Something else that happens is that people will assume that a woman who sings, or plays the violin, or even just happens to be sitting in the same row I'm in when I'm introduced, is my wife, or once, my mother.
      The worst time for that was when I was at a weekend event where a very sweet but hopelessly confused lady was to arrange rooms for the various guests and somehow she decided that I was married to Ms Williams who was going to sing songs from her latest gospel CD, and that the three siblings who were doing the youth sessions during the regular services were our kids.
      Unfortunately for us, there was also a major sporting event in town that weekend, and every other room was either booked or outrageously overpriced.
      Ms Williams and I agreed that the kids and their real parents could have the suite and we'd take our chances with the hospitality of the members.
      As it turned out, we ended up being housemates for the weekend anyway with an elderly couple who lived in a huge house not far from the host church building. We each had our own room, although mine was on the third floor of the house and I had to remember to not stand up as soon as I got out of the bed or I'd get a knot on my head. After the second bump I remembered to stay crouched over until I was in front of the dresser.
      But the fact that we were staying in the same house simply poured fuel to the rumor mill and I heard from reliable sources that in the upcoming weeks, all of their Sunday School classes as well as two of the sermons would be about gossip.
      It got to the point that I called Carol and let her talk to Ms Williams to squelch any rumors that might get back to her.
      Don't get me wrong. Ms Williams was a nice lady, but she just wasn't my type. For one thing, she was about twice my size, at least ten years older than me, and, she said she hated every sport her husband had ever watched.

      Another thing that I had to deal with were the digestive issues of eating on the road, at odd hours, and the various pot luck dinners, and sometimes I don't get much of a choice as to what I'm eating, or when.
      One thing I was told by a couple of other former traveling preachers that when they were on the road they had gained a lot of weight. I had just the other problem, I lost enough weight that my doctor suggested that I begin packing my own food and only eat enough at the dinner after the services to be sociable but then have my own meal later.
      I've had so many mild cases of food poisoning, and a few not so mild ones, that I've taken to avoiding certain foods that seem to contribute to an interesting drive home or me getting to see more of late night TV infomercials in a motel room than I want to.
      For example, if somebody brags about their making some tuna salad with fresh tuna, I take enough to make them nod and smile, and leave it on my plate covered with a bread crust. Other things I avoid are casseroles where I can't identify the majority of the ingredients, and things that have been (shall I put it nicely?) pawed over by a bunch of runny nosed kids.
      I also keep my drink selection down to water and unsweetened tea or coffee. Not because I like bland drinks, but because some people's idea of 'just a little sugar' is putting sweetener into the glass until there's a pile of it on the bottom. I've had my share of sweet tea in my life, and I do like it, but there's some that would substitute nicely for pancake syrup at need. And a few months ago I had a cup of coffee with 'just a little sugar' that was so sweet it gave me a headache and made me wonder when was the last time I'd seen my dentist.

      One thing that hasn't happened for awhile is me ending up sleeping in my car, I did that several times in the early days of my travels. But I have slept pretty much everywhere else since then.
      Over the last couple of years when I spoke at one or the other of the local church camps I had the choice of sleeping in a bunkhouse with some kids, or sleeping in a bunkhouse with the counselors, or sleeping in one of the old wall tents by myself, or with my wife and kids if they went. The first year I went I knew that sleeping in the kids dorm was a bad idea. As it turned out I didn't get much rest in the dorm with the counselors, some of whom weren't much older than the kids. So for the last three years, I've opted for the tent.
      I've been to other camps that had different facilities for visiting speakers, including everything from old camping trailers that had been put up on blocks, but had their on board amenities intact, to being ferried off site to a motel down the road. Which do I like more? That's hard to say, there are cases where the bathroom and mattress in an old RV that had been donated to a church camp were better than those in a third-string no-name 'color TV and A/C in every room' motel. And besides, I remember one old silver skinned trailer that had a stereo in it that could loosen your fillings for you, as demonstrated to me by the assistant camp director that had stayed in it the year before I did.
      One thing I've come to dread is the words "I'm sure somebody will put you up" when I arrive in town and something odd has happened to my housing plans. That was the one thing that contributed to my breaking my own personal vow that I'd never have a major credit card with my name on it. After I'd slept my second night on a 'pull out couch' in somebody's living room with their cat spending the night glaring at me from across the room, I altered my vow "before God and this company" that I'd apply as soon as I got home so it didn't happen again.
      Since then, I have blessed the name of the bank that issued my card, at a competitive interest rate to boot, several times. And when I get the bill, if at all possible I pay it off immediately. However bad it may be, that 'third string motel' is better than a couch in the living room with three kids and a cat that thinks I am invading its space.

      There has been a side effect to my travels that nobody except perhaps the sales manager at the station could have foreseen. It has increased the paychecks of several of our sales staff.
      Let me explain.
      It seems that everybody within about two hundred miles of our station knows that if they call the station line between five and nine on weekday mornings, either our producer or our call screener will answer it, and if they ask for me, even if we are on the air, they'll get through, and then Art will tell them that I will be more than happy to come speak for them on short notice. Including calling on Friday morning for a fill-in minister for your Palm Sunday service, which has happened twice. Once for an Easter service. Once for Memorial Day weekend with honor guard flag presentation. And once for the service before a church annual membership meeting. All called on Friday Morning!
      Once I asked who had put out the word that I was available to preach for any and every local minister who decided to come down with some mysterious ailment the Thursday evening before some major occasion. Then I revised it, they didn't know I would come speak, but they did know that the phone number they had been given for me would be answered between five and nine, weekday mornings.
      Our Producer knows more about where I've been and spoke for, and when, than I do. And on the whole, I'm cool with that. She would take the call, and write down whatever she wrote down, and then tell us that there was a caller on line three and....

      "Good morning caller, you're on with Art and Bob," one of us would say.
      "Yes, ahem, my name is Don Moore, I'm calling for the First Christian Church in (some town within a day's drive), and I was told we could reach Brother Bob at this number. Our minister is still ill and we need somebody on short notice."
      At which point Art would grin broadly and tell them I was right there, and accept whatever it was for me. That was how I ended up at the convention the first time, and that was how I got booked into working Mr. Moore's Christmas Eve candlelight service.
      "He's right here Mister Moore, and I'm sure he'd love to come down there. Now, this candlelight service, will the members be holding the candles? You wouldn't be able to see him speak, which I'm OK with. But. How does that work?"
      "We have the stage lights on for the speaker, after the song service we pause and the worship leader lights his candle from a central pillar on the alter, then he lights the candles of the ushers who go through and light the wicks of those at the end of their rows."
      Art nodded, "That sounds very nice, so then he'll speak by candlelight?"
      "No, he'll speak after the opening song, just a short message, we use the candles for the prayer portion of the service."
      "You have heard about his sermons haven't you?"
      "Yes, and he's been here before, but we just need a short Christmas sermon, no more than ten minutes. And, personally, I'd like something unusual but still on the Christmas theme."
      I reached out and put my hand on Art's arm, which was the way I told him I wanted to speak to the caller, "Thank you, Mister Moore. I'd love to come present a non-traditional Christmas message."
      Art looked at me with a grin, "Do you even know what a traditional Christmas message is?"
      "Yes, it has something to do with the college football Bowl Selection process. I'll wing it from there."
      There was silence on the phone line, so Art laughed, "He's kidding Mister Moore, hang on while we go to commercial and we'll let Brother Bob firm up the details for tomorrow night. And, we'll be right back and talk about those upcoming Bowl Games."

8. "But it's Christmas"

      I didn't leave until Saturday morning for the First Christian Church. Carol and the kids went with me, and we spent a nice leisurely couple of hours driving at breakneck speed just to stay with the flow of traffic on the Interstate. It wasn't until we got off the divided highway that I felt like I could take a full breath. Then we stopped for some fuel and snacks, and, of course, trips to the potty.
      Then it was another hour on the two lane until we got to town.
      Being Christmas Eve, parts of the town were deserted, and parts, like the strip mall we stopped at for lunch, were a madhouse. I was supposed to meet the Missus side of Mister Moore at the church at about two, from there we'd be taken to wherever we were staying for dinner and to rest and clean up, then the service was at seven.
      And, after touring the church and meeting the various functionaries for tonight's service, I got the chance to Thank God, and my bank, one more time for a smart phone and a major credit card. Within two minutes of them starting to apologize for the slight change of plans because the lady that was going to host us had been called out of town at the last minute, I had a double room at a decent motel, with breakfast provided on site, booked and paid for.
      "It's OK," I said while one of the elders was still saying something about finding us another place, "we've got someplace," and I gestured with my phone.
      He appeared to be in shock, but then in a moment, he nodded, "we can cover the bill. Sorry about that."

      I'd written something of a Christmas sermon several years ago. After I got the call about doing the candlelight service I went and, after some frantic searching that became easier once I realized I had probably written my Christmas sermon in December so I could search by date, I found it and then shortened it.
      They wanted something around ten minutes long. Just 'hitting the highlights' as it were. I took out the bulk of my message and ended up with one that came in around eight minutes.
      "Eight minutes, and never even mention a shepherd or a manger," I said looking at it. "Good."

      "Good evening," I smiled from the pulpit. And it was just me, my new sermon Bible because my old sermon Bible had suffered a catastrophic binding failure after several years of abuse and, in the middle of one of my presentations when I waved it around, Psalms had gone one way and most of the Major Prophets had gone the other way.
      "Good evening."
      "And it is a good evening because as the angel said, for this night is born unto you a Savior."
      "Amen!" Came the enthusiastic response.
      "So I'm going to skip that story that we've all heard a hundred times, and, in fact, we will be singing through it several times here in a little bit. So, I'm going to drop back and look at it a different way, starting in Genesis Three."
      Evidently they didn't expect that because there was some murmuring and I could hear a lot of pages turning.

      Most churches have impressive overhead display units with big screens, some of them are like the ones at sports stadiums, others still use projectors, but all of them are capable of showing Bible verses that can be read by most people from well back in the pews. And I seldom use any of them for anything except showing the books of the Bible when I do the Old Testament. I like having people look at the Book. And here, they did.

      "We'll pick up the action about halfway through the chapter," I took a breath, "So the Lord God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.'" I nodded and then flipped a few pages, "Turn over a few pages to chapter twelve, "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your fatherís household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." I looked up and saw most of them were still reading.
      "There we are, the core of that apple might not even had a chance to turn brown after they took a bite of it and the Lord was promising that Eve's descendant would be victorious over Satan. And then not really all that long afterward, He is telling Abram," I glanced down and checked, "yeah, he wasn't our 'Father Abraham' yet, the one through whom all the nations of the Earth would be blessed."
      There were a few more acclamations that they agreed with the statement.
      "This prophecy is repeated in chapter twenty-eight that Jacob's offspring will be the blessing. And of course, the baby that we're remembering tonight was exactly that. And in Genesis forty-nine we are told about the coming Lion of the Tribe of Judah, you can read the whole thing beginning in verse nine. The description of the man depicted in them is very similar to the picture of the Lord Jesus in Revelation. And remember, this was several hundred years, give or take, the calender is a little fuzzy at that point, before Christ's birth!"
      I paused there for a second knowing that some of them were reading the passage for the first time in their lives.
      "Yes, it is wonderful to sing about the baby in the manger, but it is that same baby, that now walks amongst the candlesticks with the double edged sword in his mouth. Without the cross and then the Empty Tomb, we'd be singing very different songs tonight wouldn't we?"
      I could see upset in some of the faces in the congregation frowning. They had wanted to hear something about drummer boys or gifts or what happened to the shepherds, and that wasn't what they'd gotten. Oh, well.
      "Too often we leave Christ in the manger for too long. Maybe some of us never let Him out of it. And I think that is a disservice to ourselves, and to those we witness to with our daily lives moreso than anything we say." I paused, and nodded toward the music leader. Then after a deep breath I prayed for those who had heard the message.... and then, silently, I prayed that they were fresh out of tar and feathers because some of them looked like I had ruined their entire holiday season.

      The rest of the song service was very traditional, right down to that drummer boy dirge.
      Later, on the way out, Mister Moore whispered to me that one of the other elders had told him that they were never going to let him find a fill in minister ever again.
      "I'm sorry."
      "No, don't be," he said, "they needed to hear that. In fact, if it were up to me, I'd have you down here once a month to stir them up a little. In fact, I'm hoping he brings it up during the board meeting."
      "Yes, sir." I said not knowing what else to say.

      The kids were fast asleep in just a few minutes, and Carol was down for the count not long afterward, leaving me to stare at a shopping channel with the sound off and ponder whether or not that was my ministry, stirring pots.

      The kids had one Christmas Morning in the motel after I went and got them some breakfast. They opened several small packages and a couple of gifts the ladies of the church had given to Carol for them for being such good sports about the whole thing.
      Then I drove home. At least on Christmas Sunday Morning the roads were all but deserted.
      Then the kids had another Christmas Morning at home with the gifts we'd left there.
      And then two more when we went and did the rounds of the grandparents.
      So, all in all, they were as spoiled as they could be. Which I guess is the point.
      And, yes, I had a couple of special things for Carol because I'd put her through it.

      And I still had a lot to think about, and part of that had nothing to do with dragging my family out on Christmas Eve to upset a whole church full of people who wanted me to talk about how much hay was in the manger.
      Early on most of my family viewed my escapades in preaching with the same sort of amusement they had shown when I started the sports gig. That it might keep me out of trouble for awhile until I got a real job. To many of them, including both of our Aunt Pennys, yes, both, Carol had one before we were married, as did I, so now we had Two Pennies (family joke, it's OK), to both of our Aunts and several others of the older generation in our families, a Real Job involved a time clock and possibly steal toed boots, not a microphone, and certainly not a milk crate full of dirty dishes.
      For example, for some time after we were married my oldest blood relative was Uncle Harry. The last time we saw my grandfather's brother was a month or so before he died. He was well over ninety and was bedridden in what he always called the Rest Home. We had a nice visit, and before we left he asked Carol if I'd been out looking for a better job. At the time, I'd been on the air for several years, and had been on the road for a couple as well. We were not on food stamps, nor did we have to screen our calls for bill collectors. But to Uncle Harry, I should be selling used cars or something he'd call a 'solid job'.

      My question for myself was, was it fair for me to drag her and the kids halfway across the state in the middle of winter, on Christmas Eve no less, just so I could offend a church full of sourpusses?

9. "Pardon my crutch" (Spanish Sermon)

      My next new sermon came to me totally unexpectedly. As did a couple of days off work, and a few new accessories that we kept around the house for several weeks.

      "I've heard you on the radio," the man said.
      "I was wondering if anybody still listened."
      "Oh, yes, you're always on in my car on the way into town," he looked over at me from the X-ray that was on the screen. "In your career covering sports, have you ever looked at any medical reports that had an picture like that in them?"
      I looked over at it and tried to focus objectively at what I was seeing, "Once in awhile. That don't look good."
      "It's not, but it could be worse."

      I had been over to the high school Monday afternoon to watch practice and get used to some of the names on this season's football squad.
      As with most high school stadiums, the press box didn't have an elevator. This one didn't even have a set of stairs that was worth talking about. What it had was an old set of stairs under the bleachers and then a metal spiral staircase that went up through a hole in the floor. I'm sure that whoever designed it had the best of intentions, either that or they were just sadistic.
      I'd been up and down out of it for years. It was never fun, and if you had anything in your hands, it could be awkward at best. Today, I had one handful of papers with me, that was it. I watched the practice and talked about some of the second-string players with one of the assistant coaches, like I always do. Then when practice was wrapping up, we packed up and left. He opened the trap door and I stepped down like I had always done.
      And, somehow, I missed the top step. But I hit the rest of them. With other parts of my body, including my right wrist, the back of my head, two ribs on my left side, and so on.

      "Your ankle is broken," the doctor tapped the screen with a lousy picture on it, "there's a chipped bone in your wrist, one of your ribs is broken but not separated, the other has a hairline crack, so we'll just let them heal if you be a good boy and stay quiet. You also have a mild concussion, and a neck strain with some torn muscles. And you've got a bunch of bruises, so you're liable to hurt worse from all of it tomorrow than you do today."
      "I've sent these images to our orthopedist, I'm pretty sure you won't need surgery on the ankle, but I'm going to ask him to review it, and the wrist too for good measure."
      "Why does my hand hurt?" I asked flexing my left hand.
      "You jammed a couple of those fingers, nothing's broken there either. You were very lucky."
      "For me, yes."

      My ankle didn't need surgery, the orthopedist said it would take just as long to heal either way. As for my wrist, he gave me the old standby "we'll see how it does".

      The good news was that my fall was the last straw for the school board. Because I was in a groggy heap at the bottom of the spiral stairs in basically the dead center under the bleachers, the ambulance crew had to negotiate the narrow stairway and catwalk with its own tight corner carrying their equipment, and then, because the paramedics suspected I had a neck injury, the fire department had to lower me over the side to the ground in a basket instead of trying to carry me down the stairs.
      I was told I was fortunate I didn't remember any of that because it was a complete circus. The team doctor and trainers had been the first ones to get to me, and had laid me out and stabilized my neck while the coach got on the phone and called almost everybody.
      The district was now taking bids to have the press box remodeled and the entrance completely redone. But I am getting ahead of myself.

      While I was laying in the ER and Carol had gone off on some errand a young orderly came into my compartment and said something in what I think was Spanish.
      All I could do was to slowly shake my head, any more movement than that made the room spin in both directions at once, and say I didn't understand him in slurred English.
      He repeated whatever he said slowly and with a broad gesture at the table along the side of my bed that had a foam cup of water on it. I hoped that's what me meant and said, "Yes, please."
      He then said something else with a smile and went out, then he came back with an identical cup full of ice water and gestured with a new straw, I nodded and he put it in the cup, then handed it to me.
      "Thank you." I said trying without any luck at all to remember what the word for that in Spanish was. And he was gone.
      "Lord, I wish I knew Spanish," I prayed looking up at the exam light.

      And my new sermon idea was born.

      Tuesday I was too sore to even know it was tomorrow and that I was still in the hospital.
      "Art's on the phone," Carol said gently.
      "Is he laughing at me?"
      "Not too much," she answered, "but you missed the show," and handed me the phone.
      I glanced at the clock, it said 'two'. It was light outside so it must have been after two in the afternoon, "Oh, sorry about that."
      "It's ok, I covered for you. I told everybody you'd gone on a bender. I just didn't say which way you bent."
      "I think I bent in ways I never have before."
      "Carol said you'll be laid up for a few days, Mary said you just broke your ankle."
      I nodded, Mary was the office manager who didn't write things down, "There is a bit more to it than a broken ankle," I hit the high points and said the doctor told me it might be best not to get in and out of a car too many times in the first week.
      "I see. You want to do a remote tomorrow? If they let you go home today, that is."
      I thought about it, "I'll try. I think the stuff is there."
      "OK, I'll let them know and we'll set it up."

      It wasn't 'today', but I did get to go home.

      The doctors hemmed and hawwed, but they finally agreed that I was just taking up bed space that somebody who had better insurance could use, so they sent me home Wednesday afternoon.

      With my right arm in a cast, my left hand partially taped and sore, and The Thing around my neck, doing the remote for the show was more work than it should have been. But I did it. And by the time it was over, I was ready for a long nap.
      Then Friday I did the same thing again. Then I turned into a vegetable for two days. Which meant a church had to get a replacement for their replacement.

      Next week, I did four remotes, but on Friday I went to the station, slowly and carefully, but even then, by the time I got home my ribs were aching and my ankle was throbbing. But I told myself I was getting better.
      Sunday I went to church, but sitting in a pew wasn't going to happen, so I sat in the wheelchair in the back.

      Then I remembered the ER and my conversation.

      "Spanish lessons?" Carol asked me handing me disk labels out of the printer.
      I nodded and picked up the CD I just burned with part one on it.
      "Oh, your new sermon, I thought you'd forget about that."
      "It was all you talked about in the hospital, I thought it was part of the concussion."
      I laughed, "It must have been, because nobody else remembers a Mexican orderly or anybody like that."

      I wasn't kidding, the nurse, the doctor, Carol, the team doctor and coach, Art, our minister, everybody said they hadn't run into anybody in the ER that only spoke Spanish, or even looked like the guy with the dark hair in a pony tail that I described.
      I thought maybe it was for the best if I let that part of the inspiration for it go and not mention it again.

      The next week I had a chance to try out my newest offering on the youth group.
      I hobbled around, and tried to not overdo anything because I was just beginning to not feel like I'd been a tackling dummy at the football practice.
      This one continued my theme of having the audience help with my sermon, which meant I had to do some homework with them, but it worked out. I even had a couple of fallback plans if my 'mise en scene' fell apart.
      As usual, 'the kids' were honest, and helpful, and seemed to appreciate my efforts. And two of them offered their services as a chance to put something they'd been learning in school into practice if it were practical.
      Now, I just had to wait until I was able to take my act back on the road.

      It didn't take long.
      The organizer for our county church association called my minister and asked if I was able to fill in because their scheduled speaker for the monthly meeting had backed out at the last minute. Of course given recent events our minister asked if he'd been injured in an accident or was ill.
      "No," they said, "he's in a bit of legal trouble and can't leave his state."
      And so I was on.

      Because it wasn't a regular church service but was an amalgam of churches from all over the area, and, if history held, several different independent churches that also shared a common interest in softball, I was able to recruit my youth group assistants to help me at the meeting.

      "Pardon my crutch," I smiled as I slowly climbed the steps to the stage of the Northland Church, "the doctor said I might be able to get rid of it next week." I paused after I got to the top of the platform, "Maybe two weeks. Then I'll have to find something else to lean on. Tonight we'll be looking at Isaiah Forty." I took a breath and read the passage in my radio voice. "They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." I nodded, and began my prayer for wisdom, and for my ankle to hold me up.
      It was the nod and prayer that were the cue to my partners in, well, not crime, but partners anyway.
      When I closed the prayer, John from the youth group, looking the part of a Latin American soccer star walked across the front and said Heaven knows what in Spanish.
      "I'm sorry, I don't speak Spanish," I said to him. He looked up at me, and said something else, then sat down on the front row. "I mean, I'd love to read this passage to him in his language so he could benefit from the Word, but I have trouble at that taco place out on the highway," I nodded and smiled as some of them laughed. We were, as they say, 'go for launch'.
      "I need the LORD to give me the Gift of speaking this man's language. I need to talk to him so that he can understand. And, so that I can understand him when he speaks to me." I held my hands imploringly toward Heaven.
      "Brother Samuel," my second helper said from the other side as she walked toward the front, "I've got these CDs here that can help you learn Spanish," she held out the prop Spanish Language disks I'd made for her. They really were the first three lessons in an online series.
      "CDs," I said, "you mean, put them in the stereo in the car and it talks to me and I talk back to it while I'm driving to work?"
      "Yes. You can learn it like that," she answered.
      I took them with obvious reluctance and thanked her. "But. See. I know that if the Good Lord wanted me to speak Spanish, He could just Give me the gift of that language, or Flemish, or Croatian or whatever, right Now! Right?"
      "Sure," she said on her way back to her seat.
      I nodded as vigorously as I dared nod, my neck still had its moments and I was supposed to sleep with The Thing on. Supposed to, anyway.
      I continued with, "But I know the LORD could simply cause the full and deep understanding of that language to be Mine! Right? He created it, He created me, He even created our soccer playing friend here, right? Or if it suited God he could just as suddenly be blessed with the full understanding of English!"
      My other helper was on the other side of the stage, "Mister Samuel, ahh," he glanced out at the congregation nervously, "my girlfriend tutored me in Spanish Class. I could ask her to work with you. I'm sure she'd like to help."
      I sagged, then looked at him, "More Spanish Lessons. Counting like on the kid's TV show and trying to remember what the word for blue is."
      "She's good at it. She helped me pass the final last year."
      I just stood there, deflated. "But I want to know it Now!"

      I knew the bit was starting to get old, so I got to the point. "God doesn't work like that does He? He could, but he usually doesn't."
      "The Lord will provide the tools for us to do His work. It may not be easy," I held up the CDs, "or fun, but if I really needed to know Spanish, the means have been provided. Yeah, I'd have to work at it, and probably sound like a complete dolt for awhile when I tried to speak it, but in the end, I would be able to deliver the Good News to our friend in his language, and the Work of the Lord would be accomplished."
      I nodded to them and shifted on my ankle slightly.
      "Did you know that on a couple of the online sites I use there are translations of at least part of Bible in about one hundred different languages, in a couple of cases it is only the Gospels right now, and maybe Acts, but they're working on it. The tools to reach all of Mankind with the Gospel of Christ are out there."
      I nodded and many of them nodded back, "And some of it is in Spanish. But you will have to work at it to use it. Yes, the Lord can instantly make you capable of speaking any and every language ever spoken by Mankind. But that isn't the way He works in our lives. But He can make you capable of learning another language, and He has already, through the work of others that have come before you, made the tools to enable you to do it."
      I had this huge grin on my face. Then in a bit of my best stage acting I made it obvious I just realized the soccer player was on the front row. I stared at him and dropped my chin onto my chest. "And that means ..." I picked up the CDs and then looked over at my partner with the girlfriend tutor, "I might need a lot of help."

10. Cable TV isn't what it used to be.

      It was seldom good news when we got called into the station manager's office. In fact, I don't think I'd ever heard good news in that room. When something good happened, like when those other stations picked our show up, he'd come down and tell us in person. Occasionally he interrupted our show to tell us good news. We only got called in to the office for bad news, especially when he called us in together as soon as our show was over.
      I turned the doorknob to the office and Art pushed the door open. Then we stood there until he waved for us to come in and sit down.
      "You boys are going to be interviewed on Today's Sports Scene. They're going to do a full segment on you."
      I glanced at Art, he had the same question on his face I did, and we both asked it at about the same time.
      "No, it's not the network morning news show, it's on, ahh, it's right here, the International American Sports Network."
      "Never heard of it," Art said.
      I took the paper the manager had in his hand and looked at it while he told us how great it was just to be asked.
      "It says they're part of the cable TV sports package in over twenty major cities, two different satellite services, and some internet TV thing, and a lot of syndication to outside stations." I read it, but I wasn't impressed.
      "See?" The manager said with a smile.
      "Their major cities include," I took a breath and started the list, "Albuquerque, Mobile, Davenport, Omaha, Toledo..."
      Art interrupted me, "Do any of those cities even have a professional sports team?"
      "Memphis does, they're on here," I handed him the list.
      Art can read, too. "Lincoln, Nebraska. Fort Wayne, Indiana. And 'extensive coverage in rural areas through satellite services'. Well. Excuse, me."
      "Baltimore is on the list, I saw it," the Manager said.
      I nodded, "I think it's the biggest town they have."
      "Whatever. They asked if one of their hosts could do a long format interview with you here, on camera, and then run it during their weekend spotlight and then show it again during the week after. And I said yes."
      Me and Art exchanged glances again, "OK, sure, when?" we asked.
      "Thursday after your show."
      We exchanged another set of looks. Art shrugged, "what are they going to want to talk about?"
      "Doing sports radio, live events, keeping up with everything, just general questions and stuff."
      "It's the 'stuff' part of that I'm worried about."
      The manager looked at me and said something that worried both me and Art, "Their producer said they'd keep the comedy bits to a minimum."

      In the hallway we stood and made sure we were alone before we discussed it.
      "I've never heard of this outfit, but I know I don't want to be on some idiot's TV show," Art said.
      "Me either, let's go check them out. It said they have some stuff on line."
      "Good idea."

      The more we watched of Today's Sports Scene, the less we liked it. Finally I called the manager and asked him if he'd watched any of their shows. Then I invited him down to our office to sit through a couple of them with us.
      It was, to put it mildly, an entertaining sports show. The lead in to one segment said it all, 'more laughs than a toilet bowl full of lawyers'.
      "I'm sorry guys, I thought they were legitimate."
      "They are, legitimately stupid," Art answered.
      "I'll call and cancel it if you want me to."
      We exchanged looks again, "No, that'd make the station look bad," I said slowly.
      "And we make it look bad enough."
      He sat there and watched the one host throw marshmallows at the other two, something of a running gag on their show.
      I tried to put a positive light on it, "Besides, it might be some good publicity for us."
      "In Memphis, Omaha, Baton Rouge..." Art muttered.

      And so we did it. We debated having a bag of marshmallows handy, but vetoed that. Instead, I stashed one big one inside a spare coffee cup next to the control board, just in case.

      The pre-production crew for the TV show was two people. One with a portable light bar and the other with a fairly good quality video camera. They came in during our show and shot some film of us in action. The host that was to interview us didn't bother to arrive until our morning show was almost over. Something that spoke volumes about how they handled their duties.

      I was relieved that the guy that showed up wasn't the one that I thought was the biggest loser of the hosting crew.
      "Hi, I'm Steve Maverick. And that's my real name."
      "Steve or Maverick?" I asked him as he shook hands with Art.
      "Both," he shook my hand as we introduced ourselves.
      We took Steve into the studio and the cameraman explained how he thought it would look best with the space we had to work with. Then we got situated and they checked the lighting and sound quality through the feed with the three handheld mics.

      "Before we start, is there anything you want to say or to know about?" Steve said.
      "Anything?" I said.
      "I'm an open book, anything at all."
      Art cleared his throat and I nodded to him, I knew what he was going to say before he said it. "Well, there is one thing. If you treat us like morons or say something stupid I'm going to throw you out of here."
      I nodded, "And I'll have a friend of mine file an injunction against you and your network from ever mentioning us on the air in any way shape or form."
      "You've seen the show," the cameraman said and laughed.
      Steve nodded as if he was expecting it, "That's happened before. I mean, not the injunction, but people seeing the show and getting the wrong impression."
      "The impression I got was that you're doing a sports show for twelve year olds," I said.
      "With behavior problems in school," Art added.
      "You've really seen the show."
      "Some of them," I answered and reached into the old coffee mug. Then I held out my closed fist to Steve.
      "Oh," he said as I dropped the marshmallow into his hand. "We have to keep it light and entertaining to keep our audience engaged."
      "Our audience is engaged and I've never thrown one of those at Art."
      "But we're making TV."
      "It's a sports show," Art said, "not monkeyshines for giggles."
      "We do cover sports," Steve was fully on the defensive now.
      "What does a sound track of people on a roller coaster have to do with a basketball game?"
      He looked at me and held up a finger, "We only did that once. Twice. I think."
      "Or a car race?"
      He winced, "OK, more. Maybe five times.... or more. A bit gets old after a while."
      "If I was watching your show wanting to know who won the Open I still wouldn't know."
      "We did give the final standings."
      Art guffawed, "A three second shot of the leaderboard before you went to commercial. I can't read that fast."
      I had to smile to say something, "And what about the extended cuts of the pretty women and, I guess I have to say it, good looking guys?"
      "Eye candy for everybody."
      Art laughed, "Better than looking at these losers," he said to me.

      We didn't know it, but the cameraman had never stopped recording after the sound check. The entire thing was on tape, and the next day, it was at their studio, and that weekend, it was on TV with only minor editing.
      As for the interview about how we do our show, it was relegated to later during their show, but it was fully available on their website.

      After that segment ran, Steve and his two cohorts had a rather lively debate themselves about whether they were sportscasters or entertainers.

      For my part, I thought our grilling of Steve over whether or not they were making a sports show was a lot more interesting than Art explaining how we screened calls.

      But the fallout had just begun.

      The following Wednesday we were back in the General Manager's office, this time, there was a fancy woman and some New York suit types in there with him.
      "This is Ms Ableworth and Mister Johnston from the Independent Entertainment Group."
      "Oh, God, they're suing us," Art said.
      "No, no, that's not it at all," Ms Ableworth said. "We're here to offer you a show."
      Mister Johnston was nodded briskly, "Once a week, for an hour, interviewing other sportscasters. Baseball writers. People like that. For broadcast on our network and then release to syndication to independent stations and other channels."
      "We're thinking about calling it 'the sports pros'."
      "And no marshmallows unless you're drinking hot chocolate."
      Me and Art exchanged another look.
      "We'll listen," I answered for both of us.

Continued in Part 2

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