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Time Out For A Fish Story.
I've been to some interesting venues in my years of doing both of my jobs.
As a sports reporter I've had to use an umbrella while in a press box covering a college football game because the roof on the enclosure barely slowed the rain down. I've had a hamburger while standing next to a pen full of calves and not far from several angry bulls at a rodeo while some professional cowboys told me about how my lunch had been in the show ring not all that long ago. And, while it isn't something to be proud of, it's something I've done and I'll probably end up doing it again, I've used my press badge to get in, or Out, of events without having to go through security or the paid ticket turnstile. One of those was when the halftime show at a basketball game came back out after the game and began an 'urban dance music' concert where the lyrics were, well, shall we just say, a bit more colorful than Art's language after his latest traffic court appearance, and the dancers on stage made most cheerleader outfits I'd seen look like novice nuns. I made it about halfway through the second song before I made a hasty exit, showing my ID to a security guard and explaining that the 'staff entrance only' was the way I'd come in.
And as a traveling preacher, things have been just as interesting.
Most of the highlights I've covered, but there were a few that just didn't fit in anywhere else.
Like the time I showed up at a church in a good sized city all ready to do a Sunday sermon for them, only to find out that for reasons I'm still not sure of, the board had, that very Tuesday night, had voted the congregation out of existence. Somebody had even taken down the sign off the front of the building. I called the two numbers I had, one of them for the church office, which was disconnected, the other for the Associate Minister.
"Yeah, sorry about that, it was kinda sudden," he explained.
The exact opposite was when I went to another city to do one night of a weekend revival at the church to find out it had been moved to the large community center nearby because on the first night they were standing room only. And the center was still set up for the city-wide girl's volleyball tournament which had a game just before and which would take the floor less than an hour after we wrapped up.
"No problem, I'm a sportscaster. Get me a lineup and I'll stay on and check out the game after the service."
And now we come to the title... about the fish in the baptistery.
Mr. Rosco, I don't know if that was his first name or last name, said they wanted their big water tank to have a more natural look to it. "You know, like real water, with living things in it."
I stood there and looked at the inch thick glass behind the pulpit that gave an underwater view of about the top third of the tank. Several large silver fish swam by in the fairly new cast concrete pond.
"They don't mind it when you use it for a baptism?" I indicated the occupants.
"Oh, no, they seem to even like it," Pastor Martin answered. "All but Harold, the turtle. After a baptism we may not see him for a day or so."
On the far end a pump driven waterfall kept the circulation up. I looked behind the curtain and watched some sort of snail crawl across the top of the steps leading down into it.
"Once in awhile we'll find some of the younger kids in here trying to play with them or make mischief, but that hasn't been as big of a problem as you'd think it could be."
"That's good, sir."
"If you find the waterfall distracting we can turn it off for an hour."
I listened to the water for a moment, and thought about the coming attraction, "No, I think it'll be fine."
They walked to the back of the auditorium and I stood there and watched some sort of catfish scoot across the bottom stair. "Fish, in the baptistery. That's one for the book," I said to myself.
And, it turned out it was.
"Good morning caller, you're on with TV Art and Brother Bob," I said with a smile.
"Yeah, guys, I saw your show again. You didn't ask that fruitcake from California why he lets his boys showboat like that."
"I'm sorry caller, but I did ask," I answered.
"Yeah, he did, but Coach Walker ignored the question," Art confirmed.
"You should have asked him until he did."
I laughed, "It's only an hour show, and his segment was only twelve minutes."
"Besides," Art chimed in, "he'd probably say they've either won or were runner up in their conference every year for the last four or five years, and have been in one of the national tournaments every year for as long as I can remember. So they can show off all they want as long as they're playing good ball."
"But still...." the caller said, then there was several seconds of dead air.
"But that's what counts, and that's probably what the University is looking at," Art said after a few seconds, "and we'll be right back after this commercial for McBride's Auto sales."
Art had had his routine for show prep for the radio show that he found almost impossible to break for TV. And truth be told, as I am in the habit of telling the truth, he didn't really try too hard to break it. He had a good working knowledge of almost every sport played in any serious way in North America, and just glanced at the articles I copied to him about whoever our guests were on this week's show.
But, as Art had been in and around the sports business for ages, and he had something that could almost be called a style to him, it worked.
Of course, me, being me, I spent hours reading and watching everything I could get my hands on before we went downtown to the TV station where, through the magic of fiber optic cables, recorded our show in New York with 'that fruitcake from California' or wherever the guest was from, and none of us had to pack an overnight bag.
And soon, it became routine. On Tuesday after our radio show we'd have lunch and discuss today's guests, then go to the studio where, after their noon news show, they swapped out a few set pieces and we recorded our show.
The format was simple, one of us would open and announce the upcoming guests, then we'd discuss whatever major developments in the larger sports world had come up over the weekend, such as when a professional team had announced their intent to move, or a well known sports personality had retired, then we'd stop for a break. In just a minute or two, the director would nod at us and we'd go to the first guest spot where somebody like the smiling face of the leading radio voice of Chicago sports would appear on our monitor and we'd spend the next few minutes discussing something of note or interest. After that one of us would have a minute or so of insightful monologue, which I always wrote out line by line while Art did his off the cuff. Then another break. Another guest, then the other one of us had their solo bit. Our final guest led into our wrap-up and a look at coming major events, and that was it. Just under fifty minutes of program to fill an hour of TV time.
The majority of our interviews were done like that, but sometimes, especially if the guest was reasonably local, they'd come to the studio and we'd do a live segment, and sometimes, we could get them on the radio too. Which made everybody happy.
After the show, we'd spend a few minutes chatting it up with the TV station's sports crew, whom we'd known for years, and then we were out of there.
One of the things we didn't find out about until later, because nobody we knew watched their morning show, was that the network producers now routed any serious sports topics that came up late in the week or over the weekend to us, so 'Today's Sports Scene' became even more of an entertainment show than it had been before. And according to the scuttlebutt we heard, the hosts of the show, including "I'm a sportscaster" Steve, loved it that way.
It was a good gig for us, and the money was nice too. So we were both wondered how long it would last.
"I know it's off topic, but I was wondering if you think Cleveland is for real this season, I mean, they're right there in the pennant race, but they've been there before and choked."
It had happened before when somebody at a church I was speaking at happened to know what my primary occupation was. And now it happened more often.
This time I was at a small church halfway between home and the city filling in for their minister who was taking his first vacation in a dozen years. I had been volunteered to lead the adult Sunday School class, with no warning or preparation at all, and instead of stumbling through some verses in John or Ephesians, I simply told them about how much I'd learned about the faith and other people through my travels than I ever thought I would. Then I opened it up for questions.
And, as is my habit, I was honest with my answer, "They're not healthy. Half their bench has been called up from Triple A and their best closer is on the DL for at least another week. I'm surprised they've done as good as they have. Now, if they can gel, and keep anybody else from pulling up lame after sliding into second, they might make a good run. But, look at the rest of the division, they're ready to go now."
Evidently it was a sore spot with the man that asked because the woman next to him looked away, then one of the others in the class nodded at him. "That's not what you wanted to hear is it? But he's right."
"I know, don't rub it in."
The second man spoke to me and jerked his thumb toward the asker, "He's had a ticket package for years."
"Cool. Even when they don't quite make the cut, they play some good games."
The sermon they'd wanted for their worship service was the Old Testament.
And I had forgotten my travel kit for that sermon.
I had a kit of some sort for every one of my sermons. Besides just the original, now well worn and almost ready to fall apart milk crate full of equally well worn from repeated washing and burning dishes and pans, I had that old duffel bag of jumpsuits. My telescope in its box. A bag full of sports gear and my referee jacket. A satchel full of signs, some hand made, some bought from stores that sold signs. And now, there was an old book bag now full of Spanish stuff. And a small satchel with a disk, a flash drive, and, if all else failed, cardboard signs with the books of the Old Testament on them.
And that old bag was sitting at home.
That had happened before. And I always managed to recover. Which was how I ended up with spare dishes, and a referee jacket that was too small to button but I could work in, and so on.
Today though, their tech guy said, "no, problem," and did some fancy cutting and pasting and in about three minutes he had the name of every book ready to project on the side screens with a scenic background that could be the Judean hills, or a travel shot from Utah, hard to say.
They laughed, they applauded, somebody even cried, well, somebody's baby cried, and they made my presenting that now very well practiced sermon a lot of fun indeed.
And then, my life got a lot weirder, suddenly much weirder, even by my standards.
"Hey! Congrats guys!" Our producer cheered for us early one morning before we went on the air.
"Thanks," I answered, "what did we do?"
"You've got a fan club."
Both of us laughed about it, we'd had a fan club of sorts for years. It had been started on one of the social websites by Art's sister when she didn't have anything else to do. We still updated stuff on it once in awhile, including which of the football games that I was doing would be carried live by the station. "Yeah, we know, it has about fifteen followers," Art answered.
"Oh, no, it's up to almost twenty now, Carol signed up both of our kids," I corrected him.
She tossed Art a large mailing envelope. "No, this is a real one, for both shows. They have T-shirts and all. Come here, I'll show you. And it says they're officially authorized by the cable network." She switched her computer screen from the show lineup and commercial schedule to a website with our pictures on it that said it was for 'fans of the sports pros'. "It says that a portion of the proceeds from the sales of the items goes to the children's burn unit at the University Medical Center in Columbus. They're serious about this."
He opened the envelope and handed me a plastic wrapped T-shirt with 'Art and Bob - the sports pros' on it. His was a different color with the same logo on it.
We checked out the website. It looked very professional for a website with our pictures on it.
"Here, there's more," she clicked through to clips from the TV show and some stuff from our radio program as well.
"Look at that," Art said and pointed, "click on that too."
It was a banner that said 'Brother Bob in Action!'.
In a couple of seconds a series of videos appeared on the page. Videos of various sermons I'd done, including the Dishes and the Old Testament. At the bottom of the page you could order stuff that said 'Lunatic for the Lord' on it.
"Well, I guess it was a public performance," I said.
"I can check with legal and see if they can do that," she said.
"No, it's OK," I said. The last thing I wanted was some fancy lawyer suing somebody over something like that when some of the money was going for a good cause.
The clips and pictures of 'Art in Action!' were of him speaking and answering questions as well. Except most of his engagements were him talking to civic groups or presenting an award to a bowler of the year at a league's annual dinner.
But that brought up something else. "Who did this?" I asked.
"Hang on, the webmaster is listed as Heartland Web Services. But the president of the club and site manager is..."
"Stephanie Overland," Art read the name first and couldn't talk for five minutes. "STEW!!!" he kept cackling.
I waited until he had laughed his way out into the hall before I said anything.
"I'll call her after the show."
Art did the radio show in his T-shirt and we took a picture to send to Stew.
Mine was still in the bag it had come in.
But before I could call the indomitable Stew, Carol was calling me, "She sent a box of stuff for me and the kids. They love it! What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I just need to call her."
"She called here when she saw the package had been delivered. She said she had to guess at their sizes since it'd been so long since she'd seen their pictures, but everything fits. She sent me a T-shirt to wear as a nightgown, and we've all got matching travel cups."
"Good," I said and sighed, "I just never expected anything like this."
"She said they've already sold over a hundred shirts and several dozen mugs. They're shipping them out from the printer almost as fast as they can make them."
I couldn't say anything.
Later I told Art the good news about the early success of our merchandising.
Art nodded and said that it had been in the contract with the network. "They get a cut, and we get a cut of their cut. It works out to something like a quarter a shirt. You, me, and the radio station. We each get a quarter. The hospital gets about a dollar per shirt."
I looked at my own shirt, still in its bag, "well. OK."
I could see Stew's smile through the phone even though it wasn't a video call. "I thought you'd be pleased. It's going to a good cause. And we have have had hundreds of views of your sermons, so your message is getting out too."
"Well, I am pleased, and that's good about the message. But," I didn't know why I was so, I don't even know what I was. It just seemed to rub me wrong in some deep, almost primeval way. I stared at the matched set of coffee mugs with Art's face and its lopsided grin on one and my almost smiling face on the other and wondered how any other good could come of it.
"I know, I should have warned you, but I had the idea all of the sudden when we first saw your show on our TV listing and I wanted to do something like this, and do it right, and make sure the money didn't all end up in some fat cat's pocket in LA or someplace. So I called the network office the next morning and told them how good of friends we've been for years and how I'd love to run the fan club for you and Mister Art."
"Well, thank you for that," once again, her energy and enthusiasm had totally deflated me. And this time, she'd done it on a long distance phone call. "I guess it's OK."
And then she talked me into signing a bunch of stuff they could auction to raise extra money for the burn unit. "And I'll get Art to sign it too," I said.
"Oh, that is SO Wonderful."
After I hung up I said something I thought I'd never say, "I think I need a drink."
Later, I went out to the 'social page' for our shows, and put a banner link up to the fan club website.
"I guess I'm in," I said as I clicked on it to make sure it worked.
Two days later I got a package in the mail with a 'Lord's Lunatic' T-shirt in it with 'Brother Bob' on the back in big letters.
"I can use this," I said to the shirt and smiled at my memories of the hyperactive lady that had arranged the whole thing. 12. "You look like Liberace."
My newest sermon was the direct offspring of a dream I had after I did a guest spot on the TV network's morning show, and, a reworking of one that I'd been toying with, and collecting props for, for about three years. They were the same topic, but done, different, well, you'll see.
That morning I did the radio show by remote, and between bits on the radio I was live on TV, tape delayed in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, on the morning sports entertainment show we had made a pastime of blasting and ended up getting our own show. The producer said I'd be live with them, and they'd ask me a few sports questions. My only requirement was that they let me answer what they asked with no shenanigans or sound effects.
"Sure, no problem," the producer said.
I have no idea what the grinning hosts who had canned spray-string to shoot at each other talked about when I wasn't on the air with them. But their first question after the initial pleasantries was serious and I had to think about the answer for a moment.
"A couple of states have passed legislation that defines the limits of responsibility and liability of professional sports organizations for head injuries, and some other delayed onset illnesses as well as a result of playing sports at that level. First of all, what sort of effect will that have on sports in those states and others as similar bills come up for votes, and, do you think the next step will be to extend that to colleges and amateur sports?"
It was a real question. And a good one.
The only preparation I had for it was the background reading I had done during a commercial break two weeks ago when the story first broke on the wires. We had discussed it, and Art read a statement from a team in one of the states that had passed the law while it was still waiting on the Governor to sign it. So I had heard about it, and I did have a few thoughts about it.
Which, if history was any guide, was more thoughts about the issue than the three of them combined.
"It is long past time that professional sporting organizations recognize that ongoing physical play, even if it appears to be harmless, carries a cumulative risk. You don't have to get punched in the face by the heavyweight champion to suffer a concussion. Even heading a soccer ball now and then can eventually lead to serious problems, even death, years down the road," I began.
In the monitor I could see Steve nodding as I spoke, the other two were just sitting there. So I continued.
"The coaches and owners of the various teams, and indeed, the league administrations are aware of this. It's been shown for years that repeated concussions, even if each individual event is minor, can lead to increased risk of strokes, dementia, and other health problems. They know this, and yet they have only recently taken the issue seriously. And I believe part of that is the settlement in the football case. All of the sudden every other sport has taken notice and realized that they may be on the hook for millions and millions of dollars. And Yes, all of this applies to Colleges and amateur leagues as well. A lot of times the game play is just as rough as in the pros, and even kids can get a concussion and, with them, the results can be even more devastating. And we haven't even talked about repetitive use injuries to knees and elbows that can cripple a player years later. That has to come up later, after we deal with the brain injury problem."
Steve indicated he wanted to say something so I paused. "So what are they going to do differently now?"
"Keep people out of games that have taken a blow to the head, maybe for the rest of the season. Change the rules, change the equipment. Put protecting the players before profits. OK, maybe hockey will be a little less exciting, maybe soccer will have to rethink how corner kicks are played, but then again, good players may not end up with a career ending injury that could otherwise have been avoided."
The one with the bleached hair shrugged, "I don't see this as good news for sports." Evidently he had hadn't been paying attention.
Then they went to their pre-commerical break patter.
During the next segment, Steve asked me about the feasibility of universities paying at least a nominal salary to players in the major sports.
My answer involved what that would mean to their scholarships and their standing as an amateur when you considered internationally like the Pan-American Games, and whether it was right for a basketball player to take a paycheck when he was already going to school for free. Wouldn't that mean that the students who were paying for their education were also paying the players twice?
"You really know this stuff," Steve told me during the next break.
"That's my job," I answered.
"Oh, yeah, I know. I..." his mouth moved for a second or two but he wasn't saying anything. Then he finished his statement. "I used to do that."
For my last segment on their show they wanted to know how we were coping with the world of TV.
"I think we're doing fine," I answered.
"But you have to have your hair and makeup done, and your wardrobe has to have changed."
"I had the sports coats I wear from my other job, and they only do enough makeup for us to keep my nose from being shiny, and they put some powder on Art's head. But I think he did buy a new jacket."
Unlike them and their show, ours was based in the real world.
That night, I dreamed that our show was on the stage in Las Vegas and Art showed up in a overly sequined jacket last seen on Porter Wagoner at the Grand Ol' Opry.
We spent hours in makeup, and then had to get dressed so as to not get stuff on our costumes or to mess up our hair. There were more lights and cameras than you'd see at a Hollywood studio. We both had huge staffs to help with our lines, and to bring us coffee. I even had a guy that warmed up my chair for me by using a hair dryer on it.
I woke up somewhere around two in the morning, over an hour before my alarm went off to get me up and moving to get to the radio station to get ready for the show. Instead of going back to sleep, I went to my study and began writing a new sermon, and digging up what I'd tried to put together and ended up stalled on ages ago.
And then, with the sermon about a third complete, I went to do the radio show, then on the way home that afternoon I hit every thrift store and resale shop I knew of.
My wife looked at me with open skepticism in her eyes when I explained what I was going to do.
"Pride and vanity and all that. When you don't recognize it. Like when I have to have a new car because somebody else got one. Or a bigger TV. Or whatever. You can see that coming. But just being, you know, conceited or, something."
"Greed?" She asked.
"Yeah, that too. But subtle. Not showy."
"OK. So what's in the box?"
"A wig," I said and held it up, "and a couple of more ties."
I went into the bedroom and tried to figure out how to put on the new outfits and still move. Yes, I had planned on wearing three complete outfits to start, and doing something of a strip tease as I went through the sermon. Ending up in my Lord's Lunatic T-shirt.
And, pants, of course.
By the time I had the topcoat on I was barely able to move, but I had an idea to make that a little easier. I'd take the lining out of it.
Then the overstuffed wig, and a hat with a feather in it, and a 'high-bling-factor' pocket watch and chain.
And I was ready.
"You look like Liberace's clone, and the Amadeus Mozart guy from that one movie, had a love child, at a circus."
I stood tall and tried to muster all the snobbery I could come up with and glanced down my nose at her, "I'll take that as a compliment. That was precisely what I was looking for."
Now I had to finish the sermon. And then figure out how to get out of the costume without needing the rescue squad. And, I had to finish rewriting the old sermon to the same theme, so I could do my central idea with either one, or most likely, both sets of props.
But first, I had to concentrate on the shows that paid for my food.
"Was the first Open the most exciting tournament for you to win when you were just, what? Twenty something? Or was it one of the others?" Art asked our guest.
"They're all different. That first one I really didn't expect to win. I'd had a bad run for it and it seemed like everybody else was finishing strong. And I always say that my favorite one to win is the next one. That's still true."
"But aren't you retired now?"
"Semi-retired. I'm planning on entering a pro-am tournament next month. I've been cleared by my doctor to play, so all I have to do is clear it with my wife."
"Care to let it slip which one?" I asked him.
"On the west coast."
"Next month, west coast. I think we can figure it out," I grinned, "Thank you so much for spending a few minutes with us."
"You heard it here first," Art said to the camera, "Back from retirement, a living legend of the sport, back in competition next month. And we'll be right back."
After the show we sat over a cup of coffee and just marveled at some of the people we'd been paid to talk to.
"I mean really, like that today. That's the kind of thing people stand in line to buy tickets for," Art said.
I nodded, "this TV thing has been a blessing like I never dreamed it would be."
"You know, I agree with you." He paused for a moment. "And I know it's going to sound odd coming from me, and I haven't had anything to drink today," he held up his right hand, "I mean it. I've been around you enough to know that good stuff happens to you. And if it weren't for you, I wouldn't have been here today. Thank you for that."
I nodded to him and said it was OK.
"No it isn't. I've been thinking about it a lot. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't even have a job, let alone be doing this."
"You had a career in radio a long time before I came along."
"And I've thrown it away twice. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Suddenly I remembered something I'd seen on his calendar. "What did the doctor say?"
"I'm not dying or anything, but he reminded me that I'm not a young man any more."
I held up my finger and tried to lighten the mood a little, "Hang on, where's Sally," I looked around the station's break room.
"The news director. They might want to break into programming with that announcement."
Art laughed and shook his head, "I know, it's not a secret, but I'm old enough to retire."
"Like..." I jerked my head back over my shoulder and he understood what I meant.
"No, not semi-retired, I mean really retire, you know, and take up woodworking or something."
"You going to?"
"Hell no. Pardon the expression. But they're going to get tired of us as some point and cancel us."
"Here or on the radio."
"Both, probably. Then, I'll see about hanging up my headphones."
Exactly one week later, Art ended up backed into a situation that almost made him hang up his headphones right then and there.
We had the lady coach of a Pittsburgh women's pro team over for both shows. She started out with us at the radio station for about the last hour and a half of that show, then we had light lunch together, and she did two segments on the TV show. One about her team and their prospects for the year, and then one with another guest remotely about the overall state of women's professional sports in the US.
After the show, she came up to us with her phone and showed us all the messages she's received.
"Oh, please, we're not on the air now. Call me Kitty, everybody I like does," she smiled.
"Kitty," I said. "We were delighted that you came over and did everything today. You were a wonderful guest. Right, Art?"
"Sure. And I think our best looking one too."
"I hadn't thought about it, but yeah. Sounds right to me." I had an idea. "We'd love it if you could come back later in the season and let us know how your team is doing, you know, before the playoffs begin."
She stood there and her eyes sparkled at the compliments, then she actually bubbled a little bit when I suggested she come back. "Oh, I'd love to."
"You could bring a couple of your players too, just to increase interest in the team," I offered.
She looked from me to Art and then back at me, "I suppose that'd be good. But I really enjoyed being here with the two of you, too."
The smile was back. "Say, we didn't have much of a lunch, come on, let me treat you guys to an early dinner."
I immediately begged off saying I had to get home and take over with the kids from my wife.
"I don't have any...." Art began but never finished.
"Wonderful, my car is out front, you pick the place and I'll drive. You tell me all about doing what you do and I'll tell you all of my secrets." She did her 'bubble' thing again.
"Well, sure. Sounds like fun."
I didn't think any more about it and waved as they pulled out of the parking lot and went one way and I went the other way.
Monday morning I showed up at the radio station on time, but Art didn't get there until later.
"Kitty brought me back to get my car."
"Brought you back?"
"I went over to Pittsburgh to see their game Saturday."
"That's nice," I said, it didn't take a relationship expert to figure out that Art's weekend had been unusual.
Art is many things, none of them being what's called a 'ladies man'. In all the years I'd worked with him, I'd never known him to have more than two dates with the same woman, not counting the two of his three ex-wives who would still talk to him without a lawyer in the room. This time around he'd been divorced for almost ten years, and had decided he was a confirmed bachelor.
That is, he was until he crossed paths with Coach Kitty.
Over the next couple of weeks, Art was less of a curmudgeon than usual. Oh, don't get me wrong. Having an attractive and interesting woman in his life didn't suddenly make him spew rose petals and break into song at the drop of a hat, but it did make his less disagreeable most of the time.
Art's routine had been that after we finished the TV show on Saturday he'd stop someplace for dinner on the way home, because, to put it simply, he had no business cooking anything more complicated than canned soup and a hot bologna sandwich, and then he was just as likely to burn the meat or the toast, or both. Now, most of the time he had an overnight bag packed in his car and when he left the station, he'd drive to Pittsburgh. Then after a weekend which included a game wherever the team was playing, he'd drive back late Sunday, and then come into work on Monday with a report on the state of women's sports in the Steel City.
And some of our callers would hammer at him for paying too much attention to one particular team.
But then when the season ended, with the team only making it to the second round of their playoffs. Coach Kitty got to spend more time in town, and became something of a special volunteer correspondent to both our of our shows when we needed the female perspective on everything from Wimbledon to high school girl's track.
And, of course, Coach Kitty knew other coaches, and university athletic directors, and a couple of Olympic athletes who made great guests on one or both shows. Which didn't hurt either.
"She doesn't want to get married. She told me to not even ask her," Art said out of the blue one day after the radio show.
"Were you going to?"
He shifted and shrugged and frowned, all at once which, to me, meant he had been planning to, but he said, "Well, I'd kinda, you know, thought maybe at some point...."
"How much did you spend on the ring?"
"I hadn't bought a ring for her," he said, then he caught my eye and knew that I knew him better than that. "I'd bought her some nice earrings to wear to the league banquet next week."
"She loved them, and she said it was OK if I wanted to give her things like that."
All I could do was to laugh.
I have to share a secret now before we get away from that and I forget it.
Six months later, they were still together, and she seemed content with the arrangement as it was every time she was in the studio. Like when she stared into her coffee cup and whispered, "I was married for a dozen years, that ended almost five years ago, and that's enough. I love Art, but I'm not sure I want to get married again. And you'd think that after three times he'd be gun shy, but he keeps saying how he'd love to be married to me."
"Would that be so bad?" I asked her as I watched for Art to come back into our Green Room, which had one wall covered with a wallpaper print of a pastoral scene with Dutch windmills in the distance, and a bay window that had a nice view of the highway on the other wall. Besides the pasture the only thing green in the room was some pillows on a nearly threadbare couch.
She looked up and half smiled at me, then glanced out the window, "I don't know. Probably not. Maybe if we're still together for our one year anniversary I'll feel different about it."
"Fair enough, and that's not that far away," I answered, then changed the subject, "so, what do you think of the women's hockey league so far?"
And that was what we were talking about when Art came in with the lineup for today's show.
"There you go, I leave you alone with a good looking woman and you talk shop," he said.
"Yes, sir." I answered. 13. "Vanity of Vanities..." and "the Other Vanity Sermon"
OK, I'll admit it, the spats I used with the costume were a little over the top. But they had a practical purpose, I didn't have to worry about tying my shoes correctly while I did my 'quick change'.
This one was a group production from the beginning. Even Coach Kitty and Art helped me and Carol as I worked out a way to transform myself from Brother Samuel to, well, as close to a clown as I ever want to get.
"No, you are a clown. I used the costume sheet for Mister Thenardier from the stage play," Coach Kitty said and showed us the pages.
"It's in French," Carol said when she recognized the language.
"I took that in school. This is where I got the idea for sewing the shirt ruffles into the lapels so you can just put it on and be done with it."
"It worked. Thank you," I said as I tried to remember everything they did to get me into it.
From the floor up, you had my untied good shoes, then the spats, trousers with brilliant gold piping up the sides held up with a woven golden belt with fake jewel studs here and there ending in a huge shiny belt buckle with some sort of royal coat of arms on it, a ruffled shirt with a vest covered with fancy stitching and flashy buttons and the jacket it was all sewed to, and a hat that was almost a crown complete with real fake feathers that sat rather precariously on top of my coal black wig. For accessories I had a large pocket watch with a gleaming chain, cuff links and collar stays that would have been more at home at a formal dinner at an embassy, and even fake glasses with a bright silver frame and their own shiny chain.
I had wanted to take the idea of "Dress To Impress" to the logical extreme. And, at least when I looked in the mirror, it was extreme and no mistake, and at least me and the people in the room with me were impressed.
Now as for the other sermon based on the same idea, it was far less dramatic, but by the time I got done, the entire front of wherever I was would need a special cleaning crew to get all of my ties out of there.
Well, maybe not a crew, just me, and about half an hour to track them all down. Not that most were hard to spot. Especially since a couple of them glowed in the dark.
No, I'm not kidding.
Over the last three or four years, whenever I was in one of those thrift stores, or a church white elephant sale, or whatever and I saw a really hideously ugly tie, or one that was at least twenty years out of style, or that lit up, or was wide enough to rent out as a portable billboard, I bought it. I had some that might make you airsick, and others that look like the wearer already had been. I had a motorcycle that had a working headlight. There was one that made of such a shiny polyester that I was worried it would glare under a spotlight. There was the Chinese looking Santa Claus holding something, I thought it was a bottle of eggnog, I'd been told it looked more like a bottle of mustard. There were the glowing ones. And on and on.
I had two garbage bags full of stuff like that. Over a hundred of the worst 'Father's Day Gifts' ever given. For my sermon, I was going to wear a select few, and distribute some of the others to whoever in the audience looked like they needed one. All in the name of 'putting on a show' as a Christian. Or, "Holy Vanity" said while trying to sound like a superhero's sidekick.
But first I previewed the Las Vegas show version, then, after much pizza and soft drinks, and more than a fair share of bad jokes, I did the ties.
When I took the stage at my home church one evening for the youth group, and certain others, there was laughter and whistles. So I stood there and soaked it up with a broad smile of my newly whitened teeth.
And then I started with the "Vanity" verse and went through the whole thing, including my striptease.
I can say one thing about the full 'love child' costume. Even with the vents they had put in under the arms and along the back, it was still the hottest thing I'd ever worn. With the ties, I only risked strangling myself, while in the Liberace thing before I started taking it off, I might pass on from heat stroke.
The next morning while I was on the radio, Carol performed her magic in the laundry room once again.
Over the years, she'd reached the master's status as a launderer. She had washed referee's jackets, funny colored jumpsuits, and everything else I'd worn or used in my presentations. One thing that totally amazed everybody who asked about it was that in all that time, and all those washings, only one costume had had a problem. My orange jumpsuit had evidently not been made to be washed, at all. The second time she laundered it, it came apart. So I replaced it with a light colored one, and she dyed it the ugliest shade of orange you've ever seen. It worked just as well as the original.
The 'kids', including a couple of kids that are older than I am, enjoyed the Vegas version, but they said the ties carried the message over better.
And that's when I had the idea of the century.
I combined the two.
Now, somebody that looked like they had escaped from a comic opera that was staged in the largest second hand movie costume warehouse in the world would be searching through my bag of ties for 'just the right thing' to look the part of a 'proper Christian', while handing rejects out to the crowd.
One good thing about the change was that it didn't require a change, of clothes, on stage that is. Which made life in the costume much easier.
The other good thing was that it took an already Way Over The Top costume, and added a Chinese Santa!
And it stayed on message. Which was more to the point.
I could do two different sermons based on One Costume. Which to me was a plus.
About a month later I got one of those calls about whether or not I had anything new.
From Mister Overland.
"And while you're at it, do you have Two New Sermons? We have a program for the first day."
OK, I couldn't turn him down. They needed a fill in for a special multi-day cross-denomination county wide assembly, at the gym, and he had been asked if he thought I would be right for it since most of the regulars had heard me on at least one occasion.
"I wanna meet her," Art said when I told him that I'd be pulling out right after Friday's show and me and Carol were driving over there. "You said there's a couple of motels in town, or I can sleep in the car, whatever, I want to meet her."
"I'll call them and see what's available," I answered.
The Overland's would not hear of an 'honored guest' like Art, and as it turned out, Coach Kitty too, staying anywhere but with them. From what I gathered as Stew went through it the third time in less than one breath, after I had talked to her husband, she had arranged for their kids to essentially move out and for Art and his fiance to take their rooms for the weekend.
There was no arguing with her, we would all stay there, and, according to Stew at least, she and Coach Kitty would be best friends by the time we left for home.
Me and Carol had the tiny guest room that I was so familiar with while Art picked the boy's room and sat his threadbare carpet bag 'carry on' overnight case on the spotless dresser.
Not only did the children's rooms look like the kids had moved out, unless you looked closely, you might not know that the Overland's had ever had children.
But, before dinner, she insisted that me and Art, and even Coach Kitty, take care of business and get it over with.
So we signed stuff for them to sell for charity on the website. And she did an interview with each of us. And she told us all about the new pages about whatever the new pages were about that were being done so there were new pages..... And she showed us the design for the commemorative book she was putting together about us and the show. And, there was something else, but it went by in such a blur of her talking and handing us stuff and showing us things that I couldn't tell you if it was a cowboy hat with one of Art's sayings around the brim or a 1951 Studebaker that somebody in town was restoring for their Labor Day parade, we saw pictures of both at about the same time.
Then a category four cyclone with winds over 131 miles an hour, causing significant structural damage to anything in their way roared through the dining room and converted it from the warehouse for everything our show fan club ever had on the charity sale pages into a dining room for the two of them, the four of us, and one of the host minister's and his wife. We all knew enough to simply get out of Stew's way and let her go. And she went.
Stew had been closer to us than Art's tattoos were to him since we'd pulled in the driveway. How she pulled off cooking dinner for eight, and have it ready precisely when we'd finished going through her dog and pony show, yes, her wares even included cups with our dogs on it and one dedicated to Coach Kitty's childhood show horse, I will never understand. But she did it. And the hot dinner rolls were fresh out of the oven and perfectly browned.
Later when there was a pause in the action Coach Kitty whispered something very telling to me.
"I'm going to find out what she's on, and if it isn't banned by the league, I'm ordering a case of it for my team for next season."
Somewhere after all of that, me and Carol were alone in the guest room when Carol sagged and sat heavily on the bed, then she leaned back.
"Are you OK?" I asked her.
"Yeah, this is the first time I think I've been able to take a breath since we got here."
"I know exactly how you feel."
"Don't tell me, she's always like that."
"No, sometimes she's hyper."
The gym had been full during the previous revivals I had preached at. Or, at least I thought it had been.
Today, for the county-wide meetings, it was Full to where the Fire Marshal might object to the attendance figure.
The pancake breakfast wasn't held in the gym, they had breakfast in the cafeteria, because there wasn't room for tables to eat pancakes at. The gym floor was covered with chairs, the folding bleachers were out, and I was told they expected it to be standing room only.
Which, for me in my 'tribute to Victorian circus clowns' costume wasn't what I wanted to hear.
It went over well enough. And the next day, I presented one that, compared to the first was tame.
But, in hindsight, it was the tamer one that raised the most eyebrows.
Or at least it raised four eyebrows, on two people. And they had a local TV show to raise them on.
I've been called out for my act before. Usually they waited, except with a couple of certain exceptions, until after the service to accuse me of everything from being a fruitcake to a full blown heretic, and, at least on one occasion, a hopeless attention-seeking Bible-waving wild man with no clear message or ministry.
Well, they might have been right about the message. Sometimes I'd forget what I was supposed to be saying right in the middle of my sermon, then remember, and have to take the scenic route back to my point. And, on a few occasions I gave up and went with whatever idea had knocked me off track and somehow brought my presentation to a reasonable conclusion and moved on.
Today I was sitting in a TV studio for an interview segment on a local morning show that reminded me a lot of some of the programs we had done with local high school and civic league coaches and star athletes. The interviewer was an older couple who had attended a couple of the events at the gym. They had a series of questions written out for me, but wouldn't let me preview them beforehand.
Carol, and Art, and Coach Kitty, sat behind a partition and made faces at me through a window.
The interview was about my unusual way of giving a sermon, and where the ideas came from, and where I came from and how I came to be doing this, and particularly, where did the last message I had delivered, originate, and how did all that mesh with how a church service was supposed to run?
I sat there and stared at the camera like I'd never seen one before and somebody had just told me it was going to capture my soul and imprison it.
"Oh, ah.... you mean...."
"Didn't Paul command services to be 'properly and orderly' instead of..." The older man said.
"The police tape and baby pacifiers for example?" The older lady finished.
"That was the second night. Yeah. I think I can explain that one....." 14. "crime scene tape" (Babes in Christ)
I blame the sermon on my having about nine ideas at one time. That, and a shopping bag of props from an outlet store. Really, what else do you do with a giant role of bright yellow and black tape and a gross of baby things besides incorporate them into your next sermon? Those and, well, some other odd bits.
To be honest, the idea was the stepchild of the original "do not disturb" sermon. But now, it was the kindergarten version.
And I began it with something totally off the wall.
I was told later that the man in the poster I held up was one of the famous bicycle racing Schleck Brothers, although I'm not totally sure which one it was, that's one of the few sports that I usually begged off and let Art run on about instead of trying to keep up with it.
"His bicycle is made of carbon fiber, the main gear the pedals are connected to is an oval instead of a circle to maximize the power stroke of his legs. The front wheel's spokes are bladed to cut wind resistance, the entire frame and handle bars were proven in a wind tunnel for the same reason. The entire bike only weighs fifteen pounds, and is capable of speeds over forty miles an hour on level ground in a sprint for well over a mile if need be."
I let that sink in for a second, then I reached behind me and pulled out something else from my shopping spree.
"Do you think these would be of any use to him?"
The set of vintage training wheels glinted in the lights. There were a few laughs.
"No. When you are ready to ride something that cost about Ten Thousand Dollars in the Tour de France, you're way beyond training wheels. And to give somebody that needs training wheels on their bike, or even somebody like me, his bicycle and expect us to ride in a world class road race would be foolish. Right?"
Those same old wise heads that always nodded at a point like that, did so again.
I took a deep breath and nodded at the couple that were interviewing me and tried to ignore both of the TV cameras. "Sometimes, the best way to make a point is by approaching it from the logical extreme, then work back to the real world."
"But didn't you go too far?"
My verses were from one of Paul's epistles and First Peter, but every example was from real life.
I had quoted Peter first. .... ... First Peter first... My first Bible reference was from First... Anyway.... "'Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation...'" I looked at the congregation. Then I reached into one of my pockets that were absolutely stuffed with rubber baby sucker things, and tossed one to a likely looking suspect. "There's a reason babies crave milk. The main reason, as far as I can remember from that long ago, is that they don't have teeth, and their taste buds don't work right yet. A piece of fried chicken isn't only useless to them, it doesn't taste very good. But once the baby grows a bit, like my daughter did, you can't keep them away from the chicken."
I tossed another pacifier to an older woman that was nodding in agreement.
"And when a baby is learning to walk, what do you do? When my youngest was just starting to walk, she was staring at her feet. Every time she'd stand up and hold our hand to walk, or was hanging on the coffee table, she'd be looking down at her feet. We had to tell her not to stare at her feet, that her feet knew where they were, but to focus on where she was going, and put one foot in front of the other. But then as soon as we said it, she'd be looking back down at her feet."
I almost fell off the stage because I was looking down at my feet. It was an unintentional demonstration of the point that worked very well. Almost too well, but I was able to continue without bruises.
"How many of us are looking at our feet instead of at where we're going? At our goal? At Jesus and those mansions he said were waiting on us?"
There were Amens from people who evidently didn't need a pacifier.
Now it was time for First Corinthians, the passage from Matthew, and the caution tape.
I shook my head at the interviewers. "I don't think so. When Christ talked about the 'little ones' he was using children as an example. As did Paul. When a child is learning to walk, you don't tell them to stay on all fours because it is safer. You hold their hand, you help them keep their balance, but once they can, then you let them walk. I don't think my daughter ever actually learned to walk. She started out running, then learned to run slower. It kept us in shape for a year. But we let her go, we didn't tell her to keep crawling."
"But some people aren't ready for the deeper teachings. Paul said that."
"Did he say they'd NEVER be ready for it? No. He said they weren't ready for it now. Maybe some were the next time he came to town. Maybe it took others a bit longer. But nowhere does any of them, him, Jesus, who was the other one? James?"
"You used First Peter in your sermon."
"That's it. Peter. They never said that we are to stay infants on milk. But to Grow."
"'I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.' That's Paul's message in First Corinthians three." Once again, I didn't mention the number of the verse. Something I still don't do most of the time. "But he goes on to talk about seeds that had been planted, that Apollos watered, and that are growing by the Power of God. If a seed remains in the ground and doesn't sprout and grow, what happens to it?" I looked out at them, and when nobody answered, I tossed a couple more pacifiers to them. "It becomes food for a chipmunk or squirrel or something, not a plant. Or in my garden, it ends up being part of next year's compost. But anyway, it never fulfills its potential as sweet corn. I've found unsprouted corn in my garden from years ago. But instead of a stalk of corn, that produced more corn, they were half rotted bits of fertilizer. That is NOT what is supposed to happen the Seed of Faith that Paul talked about."
I didn't give him a pacifier, instead, I went back to my shopping bag.
"It's in Matthew eighteen, and Mark nine, and Luke, it's seventeen, something like that. Jesus says, and this is my own personal paraphrase...." Actually, I could quote at least a couple of the verses I mentioned verbatim from the KJV, and the New International, and maybe get close to the New English or something, I'd read it that many times while I was working this one up. But it worked better to say it was my translation. At least I thought it did. "If you cause a New Believer in Christ to fall away, it'd be better for you to take a long walk on thin ice."
They laughed. But it was thoughtful laughter. In the mean time, I was reaching into my shopping bag.
"I think the contrast between something used at crime scenes and the baby things, and even the training wheels, drove the point home. That's why I closed with the Great Commission. Yes, we're supposed to go out and preach to those that do not know Christ, but once we get them into the baptistery, the work is only half done. If we leave them there and go on our way, if we let them stay there and remain babies in the faith, I think He will not be pleased with us."
"I understand that. Now. That night. I don't know."
I tied the end of the yellow tape to the first pew and started down the aisle with the roll. I knew that eventually, if I didn't recycle the tape, I'd run out. But Art had found a wholesaler that could send me bulk rolls of it, the shortest being five hundred feet long, with discounts if I ordered five or more, so I wasn't worried about it.
"So maybe I should use this to remind me not to say or do something, or even not do something, that might upset somebody that still needs one of these," I pulled out another pacifier. This one was bright pink. I offered it to a gentleman who was in his seventies, he declined it. So did his wife. "Ever, for all time, as long as I'm alive, I have to let the sleeping babies sleep." I kept walking, unrolling more of the tape, zigzagging down the aisle, and offering them the pacifier. Even a young woman with a baby asleep across her lap declined. I didn't wake up the baby either.
"So you are all growing in Christ, Learning New Things about Him, and the Father, and the Spirit. Reading the Word and applying it to your lives? Teaching Others, and going Forward instead of looking at your feet and worrying about where you are? Getting bogged down with soggy diapers and other minutia? You're working your way off the milk and looking for the meat of the word. The Fried Chicken we talked about earlier."
"Yes, sir." Somebody said.
"Was their any significance to your tearing off the tape where you did?" The man asked me. I wish I could remember his name, but I don't. I think it was something like Brownington, but I'm not sure, so I'd rather not say.
"Yes, it was. Very significant meaning."
They looked at me expecting me to offer some deep spiritual insight.
They were probably disappointed. "It meant my sermon was almost over and I had to get back to the stage and pick up my bag, and I didn't want to have to rewind that thin plastic tape to get there."
"We offer an invitation to those that are answering the call to BECOME a Babe in Christ. The Master tells us to teach them. Baptize them to make them a disciple. And then to Teach Them some more. To keep moving instead of getting your bicycle stuck in the mud. And He Will be with us, to the end of the world."
I put the training wheels and the tape in my bag and nodded to the local minister who didn't miss a beat in picking it up.
"The invitation is also open to those who wish to recommit themselves to Christ...."
I missed most of what he said because I was rolling up caution tape in the aisle on my way out of the gym. 15. "Do that one, no, not that one, the other one, for us."
It was a call to do a Grands and Grands special event. A fairly large church in Pennsylvania was hosting an assembly, they didn't even want to call it a 'Service' that invited grand parents to bring their grand children, and the other way around, to hear some music and hear a message like they'd never heard before.
"And we thought that one you did at the county revival in Indiana would be perfect."
"The pacifiers and caution tape?" I asked because the interview at the TV station had burned that into my memory.
"No, not that one, the other one. The dress up one."
"Yes, if that's what you call it. We've seen a bit of video somebody posted. We want a good message, but not a serious one."
The flier for the event listed two different Christian music acts, one with a country feel and the other more of a soft rock edge, a warm up speaker between the two who talked about 'healthy-er' living, and at the bottom, me, wearing some obscenity of a drum major's hat, with the caption "should Christians Dress To Impress?"
Except I'd almost forgotten how to put the costume on.
The basis of the sermon was the Biblical roots of what became the watered down, and usually with a politically motivated definition, "seven deadly sins". I picked four or five of the ones not usually preached about, and did some digging. I left 'lust' and 'sloth' off my list because that seemed to have been beaten to death by others, usually by some overweight preacher who dyed his hair and wore hand made Italian leather shoes. I put the related sins of greed and gluttony at the bottom of the list, but added that it was extreme greed that becomes avarice and gluttony to the point of hoarding which causes others to go without. Those too had been done by others, but I left them in play in case my text ran short.
As I had gone through the list, I'd found myself wondering if I had been engaged in some of them, perhaps without intending to be, but, you know, as an unintended consequence. Pride to the point of hubris, vanity that gives in to boasting about yourself, full on jealous envy that causes you to hurt others in some way or destroy the value of their property. It was some chilling research. And was such a serious topic I worried that that message, coming from a prancing one man side show attraction would be too much.
Then I had second thoughts. Maybe it would be enough, and the next day at the TV station, I had a chat with our makeup girl.
"I can teach you how to make yourself look like anything up to a classic mime."
"That may be a bit much."
"How about we just exaggerate your normal features. As with classic stage makeup. It won't do for a TV closeup, for for what you do.... It'll work, and you can do it yourself."
I kinda knew what she was talking about, but I wasn't sure. I said that.
"OK, here, sit down, and I'll show you."
Ten minutes later the guy in the mirror looked like Art said I looked in his nightmares.
I stood in front of them like this was the way I went to work every day. Yeah, I look just like this when I'm on the radio, I never wear a faded shirt and old jeans. Well, to be honest, I Usually wear an aging dress shirt, and sometimes I wear jeans that are about two washings away from being the ones I'd wear to cut the grass. But most of the time I try to look respectable because we often had unexpected guests show up, and they were usually in a business suit.
I didn't count on the makeup adding about ten degrees to the overall operating temperature of the costume.
"So, you tell me, should Christians dress like this to impress?" I asked them.
It was the most laughter I'd ever gotten from an opening line.
I always remember reciting the verse to the then Reverend Miller. Except that was in a different context. Mostly.
"'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.' That's Our Lord speaking, in Matthew twenty-three. In a moment he calls them a bunch of poisonous snakes! The word in Greek is the one that names the species of snake that is the most common cause of illness and death from snakebite in that part of the world. He's talking to the Pharisees, but couldn't he also be talking to us?" I gestured to the garish suit jacket and then the wig, and hat, and feather. "Or at least to me...." And then I prayed for wisdom and words, and silently added that I not suffer heat stroke before it was done.
"The Pharisees were guilty of being all show and no substance. Or even worse, all pretty and admirable outside, making long winded prayers in front of the people and making sure they didn't walk too far on the Sabbath, but inside, well, we know what was inside. They were Not doing these things for the Love of God, they wanted the common people to know how holy they were, when in reality, the poor old woman who probably couldn't even afford to put on clean clothes after her ritual bath to go to the temple was, in the Sight of God, what they were trying to be."
Of all the messages I had ever preached this way, the first half of this one was perhaps the most scripturally heavy. When I practiced, I felt like I was spending more time reading verses from my printout than I was preaching. And, yes, for this, instead of flipping back and forth in my old sermon Bible, I read them from pages stuck in it.
There was the "vanity" verse from Ecclesiastes one, which I then jumped immediately over to the section of chapter five that includes "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity." And almost without a breath I was on into Matthew six talking about the lilies of the field and King Solomon.
After a moment of discussing the wardrobes of a couple of kings, I went to my transition section, which was perhaps the most disturbing section of scripture I'd ever used.
"We go to Isaiah three where we find the Lord God about to release Judgment against Jerusalem and Judah that includes famine and plague and the prophet refers to their homeland as a 'heap of ruins'."
I stood at attention and began reading, "In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls." I needed a deep breath before I continued, "'Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of fine clothing, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding. Your men will fall by the sword, your warriors in battle. The gates of Zion will lament and mourn; destitute, she will sit on the ground.'"
I stood there in my Ziegfeld Follies reject outfit and let them digest that condemnation for a moment.
"Is it just me, or does the Lord have very little regard for what is on the outside if the Inside, what makes the Person the Person, isn't right?"
And now, my point.
"I can see from some of your faces that you've realized why I look like I'm wearing an entire Mardis Gras float. And what that has to do with the point I made in the beginning.... Should Christians, as the saying goes, 'Dress To Impress'?" I posed with my arms out, and then turned around like a runway model showing off this year's finest haute couture in Paris. "And before you ask, no, I am not going to audition to play Monsieur Thenarder in some way, way WAY off Broadway production of 'Les Mis'."
"But isn't this the same as what we do when we, oh, say, go to a job interview, go on a date, even ... come to church? We dress to present ourselves as something we're not." I smiled and tried to appear relaxed even though I was afraid I was getting so 'hot under the collar' that my fillings were about to melt out of my teeth. I took a quick sip of water from my old sports bottle, and told a story. "I remember talking to a basketball coach at a pretty good sized college who had sat in on some interviews for a head custodian of their athletic buildings. But he made the point to say that the position wasn't a 'sit in the office supervisor' but more of a 'lead worker' of a small crew. The head custodian was expected to clean the locker rooms and wax the gym floor just like the rest of them. He said that two of the interviewees came in to the room dressed in suits. Two other ones came in in work clothes. Guess who they hired?"
"Now I'm not saying don't dress decently for a job interview. We've had people come to the station for an open position looking like they'd just spent the weekend in a hunting camp in West Virginia without running water or electricity. That's just as bad, or maybe even worse. But if you present yourself as something you're not, aren't you really lying?"
I kept going while they nodded in agreement.
"So, in the same light, should Christians, say, dye their hair? Or maybe have plastic surgery to look younger?" I asked and took off the wig, and the hat it was part of. I had to fight to keep from sighing with relief at the sudden coolness that surrounded my ears. "How many preachers in their fifties and sixties, and even older, have jet black hair? Maybe they have good genes, or maybe they've decided to tell a, well, little black fib. Isn't that just another form of the same thing. This time posing as vanity?"
More water, then more undressing.
"How about maybe embellishing on a resume? Or on your taxes? Maybe you're selling a used car, or trying to impress a new friend. Again, you are pretending to be something you're not. Or you're saying that that ten year old sedan doesn't really use 'that much' oil when if you looked closely, you could see the spot in the trunk where you've been buying oil by the case and driving around with it. Isn't fudging the truth with what the ad guys call 'weasel words' whitewashing the tomb? Or in this case, an old 'hooptie'." Finally I could take the jacket off.
"We are what we are, at least in front of God. Trust me on this one, right now He can see right through your fancy shirt, and everything else, and When The Time Comes, this stuff stays here and You go to stand in front of Him." I pulled the strings on each side of the fancy pants with the piping and sparkles and stepped out of them. Now all that was left of the costume was the makeup. And, oddly enough, I only had one more major point to make.
"Now listen to me," the makeup girl said.
Don't get all sexist on me here, she really was a Makeup Girl, I don't think she was old enough to rent a car in her own name yet. But I know she could vote, I saw her at the polling place last year and introduced her to my wife, and the makeup girl said she was 'The Makeup Girl' at the TV station.
"No, Damnit," she said sharply, "I mean really listen, or you're really going to regret it."
I swallowed hard and nodded.
"Make certain you powder your face at least Five Minutes before you put the makeup on. Even do that before you get dressed. Powder, and let it set, then check for spots you missed. If you don't use the powder, you're going to have to use a scrub brush to get this stuff off. To take it off like you want to, you have to powder yourself. And wait at least twenty minutes before you try to take the makeup off. But for what you're doing, that shouldn't be a problem."
"Powder, get dressed, then makeup. And over twenty minutes." I looked in the mirror. "I'm going to write it down."
She even supplied me with the special effects makeup, and the powder.
Just to see what she was talking about, one night at home I used some of the makeup on my cheek without powder, then tried to take it off in about ten or fifteen minutes. I ended up in the shower. And later I could still see some of it in places on my very red cheek.
After that, I never forgot the powder. And to make sure I did it, I wrote her instructions on the first page of my sermon notes.
"So instead of dressing as, what?" I gestured toward the pile of clothes on the floor that looked like it might come to life at any moment and chase everybody out of the building with a giant hammer. "Whatever that is, I should present myself to the world, to other Christians, and especially to GOD as what I am."
Now was the moment of truth, and I remembered exactly what the makeup girl said to do. I had to leave a line of exposed powder around the border of my face, then to slide as many fingernails under the edge of the now dry goop and pull firmly but gently.
"Oh, and make sure you shave good before you do this, and stay away from your eyebrows with it."
I turned away from the audience as I touched my face and did it. And, lo and behold, in a moment I was holding what had been my face in my hands. And to my relief, it looked like almost all of it had all come off. Sometimes it didn't.
I turned around and for the first time that night, they could see me without bright red cheeks and highlighted eyes.
"And so when I present myself to others, I should look, maybe neat and clean, and not smelling like I've been sweating half to death for half an hour, but no more or less than what I really am. And I should live and BE something that I'm not ashamed of. Right?"
They loved it.
Then nodding to the resident minister, whom, I might add, was not dressed in a clown outfit, and, as he was gray and going bald, he didn't dye his hair either... we won't talk about his waistline, I gathered my laundry and said something about needing to see my seamstress, then slipped out the side entrance.
Back on the radio Monday morning Art was having a blast. Somebody in the audience had taken photos during my escapade and sent them to the show mailbox. If I had checked it first, he'd have seen them when I wanted him to see them. If ever.
As it was, they were now on the show fans web page, and on our social media page, and he was emailing various ones to different people, and so on. And I had to listen to him.
Now, he had seen my performance. He'd help design the costume. He had been there when the makeup girl lectured me, and walked out in the middle of it laughing, I should add. He knew what it was about and how it went. But his being on the air with it in front of him was new, and he was enjoying it.
"Go ahead caller, change the subject, Please," I begged.
"OK. This is Chuck. Ah, tell me, Bob. Do you think the Hawks can repeat at state?"
The birds Chuck was talking about were a high school that was just on the edge of our primary broadcast area. They'd had a run of decent games at the end of their season and looked good going into the playoffs.
"They're peaking at the right time Chuck. It's almost a carbon copy of what they did last year. And, to be honest, Southwest stank last week. If they're the main rival, I don't seem them having much of a problem."
Art weighed in, "That only applies if they manage to pass the eligibility inquiry on that Jones kid."
"You think he's really too old?" Chuck asked on the phone.
"Well, he's certainly a dead ringer for a guy named Johnston at Lake last year," Art answered.
"I'm not so sure," I said, "the coach from Lake said he knows that Johnston is playing in Division Two in Pennsylvania."
"Ask him to name the team," Art said.
"The state high school officials are. We should know one way or the other by next week. Thanks for the call, Chuck, and since you're up there in the middle of it, if you see anything new come out, send it to us. I'm Bob, and he's Art, and we're talking sports. We'll be back after these commercials and the weather and traffic."
"And you're clear," the voice in my headphones said.
Art clicked through another couple of the sermon pictures, then asked me a radio job related question, "Is the running back still coming in?"
"Last I heard," I answered. He was talking about Morris Danning, a local boy who had been named as a starter for a Big Ten school. He was supposed to stop by the station before he headed back to campus.
"Good, good," evidently Art was bored with the pictures. He closed the program and looked at the lineup for the rest of the radio show. "Do we have the spot for Pershing Auto?"
"It's under 'Two day sale'," I paused, "'Three day sale', one or the other."
"I see it. I'll take it this time," he clicked on the file and looked at the script and a couple of photos of vehicles that went with it to help us describe them. "Custom van, a low rider coup, classic Jag, I got it."
I glanced at the information, "I might buy that van, that'd be a lot nicer to haul the kids in than what we've got."
"You just want to ditch the minivan."
"You've got a point. Check it out after the show."
"Bob, back for teaser in ten."
"Ready," I said.
The rest of the show was a discussion about the heating up of the baseball pennant race and a quick review of the college football rankings going into their training camps. Mister Danning came in and put up with us for two segments, then he left to go back to school.
After we wrapped it up and I called Carol about the van and said I was going to go look at it.
"If it looks like a good deal, why not?" She said.
"Art volunteered to come with me and check it out."
"If anybody can spot a pile of junk, it's Art," she said knowing he could hear the conversation.
"I love you, too, Carol," he said to the phone.
"I'll give you a call when we get there."
Not only was the van very nice, the dealer was willing to drop the price if we agreed to allow him to make a commercial with me and Art, buying the thing at his place. They even gave me full book value for what I had in trade, with one provision.
"Oh, yes, sir, Mister Pershing. I'll make sure he cleans it out good," Art announced.
I stared at the floor under the back seat, "yeah, I'll do that for you."
"Excellent!" Mister Pershing said, which was echoed by the sales lady we talked to when we first got there. It was evidently his favorite word.
The next day, me and Carol and the kids, as well as Art and Coach Kitty, made no fewer than three commercials. Two for TV, and one to be posted online. And it was all "Excellent!", even when the battery died on the TV camera.
By the time it was over, Jay was asleep in the back of our new van.
It was bigger than our old van, but it had a small on board bathroom, which worked. It also had two sleeping areas, and the smallest kitchen I'd ever seen. As such, it might even actually earn its keep with those conveniences.
"So, Bob," Mister Pershing asked as I walked around the van and accepted the fact that I was now several thousand dollars in debt again, "Where you going in it first?"
My mind couldn't change gears that quickly, but Carol's could.
"He's got a speaking engagement in Michigan next weekend. We're all going."
I remembered the name of the town, "Springfield, not far from Battle Creek."
"Oh, this will be Excellent for that. And with a V-6 it won't be too bad on gas."
We left for Michigan right after the radio show on Friday. Jay had set up camp on the rear couch and had even seat belted his box of toys in next to him. Elizabeth was in the middle seat, at the dinette right behind the driver's seat, which the book said would turn around to face the dinette, but I had no idea how to make that happen. There was a kid's movie on the player they could watch, once they stopped talking that is, and Carol had more leg room than she'd ever had before, which she filled up with her carry on, and her purse, and even her laptop which she plugged into a power outlet.
"Here we go," I said as we hit the Interstate and headed toward Michigan.
The kids having their individual space made life much more agreeable for everybody, as did having all sorts of storage and a few niceties for the driver and front passenger.
"We should have bought something like this five years ago," Carol said at one stop.
All I could do was agree. 16. deaconing
Over the years since I started doing whatever it is I do, I have been honored, if that is the correct word, by being elected a deacon at our church, I'll come back to that in a minute. I have also been given an honorary degree by one Christian College and made an adopted alumni by another one.
I was given the "key to the camp" at a Christian camp in Indiana for doing a three day weekend camp and only charged them the room and board for me and my family for the duration. To us, it was worth it to let the kids run themselves ragged in a safe environment. For his part, Jay, then a very rambunctious twelve year old, owned the place, and Elizabeth, a slightly less rambunctious almost ten year old, took care of her fair share of it as well. But for Carol, she said it was a weekend off, and she appreciated it. I couldn't tell you what she'd done besides sit in the camp library with several other ladies and crochet and knit and, well, somebody said something about spinning wheels, but that may be hearsay. Over the weekend, I opened Friday night with The Referee on their soccer field with the grandstand almost full. Next I did a Kids Sermon that was a modified Dirty Dishes presentation Saturday morning, then I did the Old Testament for a full service that evening. And Sunday morning, to close the weekend, we were all "Busy in the Pews". In between I was in a couple of classes and stayed way too late one night in a 'men's group'. So I barely had time to swim a dozen laps in their pool, and I have to take Jay's word for it that they had "A REALLY GREAT PUTT GOLF" even though I did get to play part of one round with him before lunch.
Now, about my deacon-ship in the local our home church. I was elected at the annual Spring Meeting the first weekend in March. Except I was in Detroit preaching as a fill in for a minister that had had pneumonia.
I did attend a Deacon's meeting two weeks later. But then before I could do anything deacon-ish, I was on the road to a revival in Missouri.
On the radio, and and now on the TV show, I have to explain the "Twelve Meter Rule" that applies to America's Cup Sailing Yachts about every four years or so. It had taken me months to make sense of it. My Very Basic College Math just wasn't up to it. But, at the time, the radio station had an old man engineer, who was very capable of walking a blithering idiot like me through the thing, and explaining how all the fancy math applied to a boat, and how, out of that, you Could get a Catamaran with a wing instead of a sail. By the third day of math class after our radio show, I had a pretty good grasp of it, and I found out that if you are discussing high level math, Art will quickly find something else to do in another part of the building. Which is handy to know as well.
So then every so often, I would take time during the Challenger's Series of the offshore races to explain the concept, and the theory, and hopefully make enough sense that when Mr. Tanner, the eighth grade math teacher, called in with a question, I could go back through it without making too big a fool of myself.
The point being that I did have a working grasp of the eye watering equation used to judge sailboats that cost so much to build, test, sail, and then pack up and move to wherever in the world the race is, that talking about money becomes meaningless except to say, "you wouldn't believe how much is invested in the thing". But I have no idea how to do two other pieces of math, one being our taxes. I take my suitcase full of receipts, printouts, schedules, and all that to the tax guy, wish him luck and pray for him. Then, a couple of weeks later, I pay him and sign some papers. So far, it's worked.
The other bit of math I will never understand is how the former secretary of our church decides which 'elected church leader', meaning elders and deacons and so on, has missed more time in the pew on Sunday or at various functions and meetings than her own 'twelve meter yacht tax equation' allows, which means she sends you a letter saying you need to come to a board meeting and explain yourself, or let them know that you had resigned.
In my case, I agreed with her. In the first two months of being a deacon, I sat in exactly one Sunday Morning Service in our home church. Besides being in Missouri, I had been to Nashville again (they actually were willing to invite me back), I got lost in Kentucky again, something I seemed to make a habit of doing, and at the exact moment our church's Easter service was beginning, I was sitting in traffic on I-80 somewhere north of State College, PA, watching snow blow across the road for the second day in a row, trying to get home for Easter from preaching a Good Friday evening candle light service in Scranton. The TV weather man said it was a 'ten year storm'. In two days I'd covered about a hundred and twenty miles and spent one night in one motel, and then another in the lounge at a truck stop. Really. I missed our Easter service because I had preached, and then been snowed in, in Scranton. How many people can actually say that?
I had made one board meeting, but missed other two regular monthly meetings, one of which was NOT due to being on the road preaching. Well, I was on the road, but I was on the road with a TV crew doing a special about the Cleveland baseball team. And I had just plain forgot about a "Deacon's Workshop" where a couple of the Elders and the senior Minister offered training and instruction for us. Besides, it started at seven PM and was over just before ten PM. It would have made it real tough to be at the radio station around four and on the air, bright, cheerful, and informative, at five the next morning.
A couple of months later when I got home from a long road trip to Mobile, Alabama, where I preached on Friday, covered a race at the speedway, spent three hours talking SEC football with two old brothers who thought on the Eighth Day God Created Bear Bryant, and generally getting up to speed on sports in the south, and then I preached again Sunday, I found Two Letters from the former church secretary.
At some point in the past, the board wanted to rename the position, but the elderly lady that had invented the job and still occupied it, pointed out that in the Church Charter, the OTHER paid position in the building was called The Church Secretary, and it outlined her duties. And while she was at it, she pointed out that the pronoun used on the legal document was feminine.
Evidently the board members at the time were smart enough to play dumb and let her continue in the job until she decided it was time to quit. Then they revisited the language in the charter, updated it, refiled it with the state when it was due, and then began a search for a new Person to fill the Other Paid Position.
And yet, the now retired lady retained her oversight of the Elders and Deacons, and Sunday School Superintendent, and a few others to make sure they toed the line with their attendance.
Evidently I didn't even know where the line was, let alone when I was supposed to stand on it.
I missed the next board meeting because I was working. The president of the board agreed that being on live a national cable TV sports show (a Real sports show on a Real sports network! not the idiots) discussing how the 'new media' on the Internet had made radio shows like ours better instead of killing them off, was an excused absence. Which was nice.
A month later I managed to make it to the meeting and I tried to resign. I really did. But they wouldn't let me.
"Brother Bob, we're going to make you stay right where you are and do what you do, as a member of this board, as long as you keep using the youth group to test your new sermons on."
"The kids actually like it," one of the others added.
What could I say? I tried to be humble and modest and smiled and nodded, and probably ended up looking like some sort of fun-dummy or other. And that was it.
The word I got later was that the former secretary wasn't happy, but she really couldn't do anything about it other than send me more letters. Which she did, like clockwork, about every other month.
One of the other deacons stopped me one night after I had run a half baked idea about a half baked cake past the youth group and some of the others who enjoyed the entertainment of watching me get lost in my material and, at least tonight anyway, end up with cake on my face. "Bob, I don't know how you do it. Where do these ideas come from?"
I looked at the pan of cake, "This one came from a diner in Louisville."
He laughed until his eyes side hurt.
I had been to the convention a couple more times as well. Actually, they finally admitted they only called speakers on average of once every three years.
"So I'm below average," I said. When the lady acted like she was going to object I said, "I'm really OK with being called every four years, or even less often."
The last time I was there they asked that I do "The Three Ring Circus Clown suit sermon, With the ties" (the paralegal woman said I probably shouldn't use the full name of the internationally famous touring show here)
Needless to say, driving around with a half baked cake in a box wouldn't work very well. And on the road, coming across a place to half bake a cake, and risking the ire of some church's kitchen lady wasn't worth it. But, while looking at my cake box, I had another idea. And this one was actually based on Scripture instead of dessert at a diner!
And I got to reuse the cake box.
That had happened a lot over the years.
Sometimes the sermon I had spent a lot of time, or in one case, over a month working on, died on the vine. Once I gave up halfway through a trial run with the youth group and we just all went to the fellowship hall and played ping-pong while waiting on the pizzas I'd paid for to be delivered.
Usually I'd get through it, they'd tell me it was as bad as I thought it was, and I'd put away whatever props I had, save the notes, and maybe never touch it again. Sometimes I'd mine part of an idea from a failed outing and rework it and have another, failure, and then try again.
Sometimes a bad one just needed a bit of work to turn into a, less bad one. And occasionally, it'd end up being a good one. 17. "God in a Box"
One of the items in my home church's junk room was a medium sized wooden and cardboard box. According to those that know this kind of thing, it had begun life as a model of the Ark of the Covenant for a VBS. Then later, for some sort of youth production, it became a stand in for Noah's Ark. Now, I evicted a random collection of plastic animals that had been stored in it, taped the door shut and found the missing and slightly sad looking Cherubim, and gave it a fresh coat of gold-ish spray paint. The super hero action figure now dressed up as Noah got to sit on the shelf next to his homeless zoo.
This now un-lost Ark would never be mistaken for the one used in that classic action adventure movie about the archaeologist, but, for what I needed, it'd serve.
Now I had to turn a cake box into a phylactery, or what the guy at the bookstore said was really called a Tefillin. "Your word is really only found in Matthew in some of the Greek texts. But that's what everybody that's not Jewish calls them because it made it into the King James Bible."
"Well, heck, now I've learned something," I answered him.
"Sorry to ruin your whole day."
Have you ever made a flat screen TV that will light up from some old cardboard and a couple of spare flashlights, and a big sheet of plastic? Neither had I, but with some help from of couple of the youth group guys, I did it, and it looked enough like what it was supposed to be to serve my purpose. And it had the advantage of being light enough for me to move around on stage, and it wouldn't shatter if it fell off a chair. As I proved during rehearsal.
"What other sort of box is God in?" I asked the junk room.
We walked to the kitchen for a cold drink and as one of my helpers opened the fridge that had a never ending supply of every unhealthy soft drink ever bottled or canned, I had another idea. Then later, at the TV studio no less, I had another idea and all I had to do was stop by the religious store in town to get what I needed.
And now I had another use for that folding luggage cart I had in the back of the van. And I needed it.
The youth group loved it.
"What happened to the cake?" One of them asked afterwards.
"You ate it last time."
Now I just needed somebody to call and say, "Got anything new?" before I forgot how to do it.
"And now, here with a cartload of junk and a message from God's Word... Brother Bob, the Lord's Lunatic!"
He wasn't kidding. I pulled my luggage cart full of all kinds of stuff up the center aisle and stopped just below the twin stairs that went up to the stage. Then undid the elastic cord that kept all that junk ON the cart.
"Good morning," I began.
I picked up the Ark of the Covenant and walked up onto the stage and put it on one of the spare chairs I'd asked for them to have up there for me. I introduced it and stepped back reverently. "Well, if this were the real item, this morning's sermon would be a lot shorter," then I turned face them.
"Second Samuel Six," I said dramatically as I opened my Bible, then I began reading quickly until I got to the part I wanted, "...'Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.'" I stopped and looked up. "They've got a marching band playing, and everybody is dancing, and an ox trips and this guy tries to keep the box from falling off the cart, and he pays for his good deed with his life."
I looked at my Ark and backed up another step. "God was in the box, or maybe On the box on the Mercy Seat.... And He said don't touch it. And he meant it," I nodded sharply, "and if you keep reading on, you see that King David got the message. It says he was afraid of the Lord, and that he changed his plans for the box. He didn't want it at his place, so he drafted some guy with a funny name to babysit it."
My first major point was here, and I wanted to make it clearly.
"So, if the Real True Creator God is in That Box, and you don't want that box to sit in your living room, what box Do you want in your house?"
There was some audible responses from the audience.
"Fortunately for us, and for him as well, King David later changes his mind and the Ark moves into the Holy City. And we move on as well," I walked down to the cart and got my next box. "Some of you have one of these boxes in your living room instead of an Ark of the Covenant." I hit the switch on the side and my 'TV' lit up with some inane drawing on the screen that could have been a commercial.
Well, it could have been.
"Yeah. Instead of being the Earthly Presence of God Almighty in the Temple, this box is the presence of all sorts of stuff in our living rooms. It speaks to us, and gives us ideas, and holds our undivided attention for far too long at a time on certain days." I sat it on another chair and stared at the unchanging image of what I was told was a dog doing a trick. Then I noticed that one of its flashlights was flickering. "This one is out of another 'second' book. Second Timothy Four", I waited while I heard pages turning, "Second Timothy is right before Titus," I said helpfully to some laughter. "I like the way the old King James has it: 'For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." I ended my recital and looked at my TV with its slightly glowing image. "...'shall turn unto fables'" I repeated, "How much of what is on that thing is a fable?"
Not being one to let a good question hang in the air, I walked off the stage to retrieve my next box. This one was the biggest of all of them, and after its use on stage, the one into which most of the others fit.
"That Living Room False God has a counterpart in the kitchen. And, all too often, they work together." I patted my stomach, then picked up the big one, leaving a smaller brightly wrapped box on the bottom, and a plastic shopping bag with another one hanging from the handle of the cart.
I sat the silver box on another chair and opened the door. Inside was part of a printed poster of what was supposed to be a well stocked home refrigerator. And there it was. Upside down of course. So I turned the box over and opened it again. "Ahhh, that's better."
When I was finished, I'd undo the poster and put the other boxes inside each other, and then put them all in the fridge. It was almost like I'd planned it that way.
"How often when the TV is on do we go to the kitchen and stand in front of this one and stare at the offerings? Almost like it is an idol offering us food instead of the food being offered to idols like in First Corinthians Eight, and in the Old Testament in Books of Moses in Exodus 34 and then in Numbers.... oh, Numbers 25, where the Jews ate with the people of Moab things which had been sacrificed to their gods." I just stood there for a second, "That didn't work out so well as you could imagine."
I talked about all the bad ideas that the Living Room Idol tells us to do with the Kitchen Idol as I slowly walked back to my cart to get another box.
"...'as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.' That was Paul, in Athens, from Acts 17." I bent down and picked up a brightly wrapped present. "And here's our 'unknown god of the day'."
Somebody had given my wife a roll of wrapping paper. Maybe it was a joke, maybe they gave it to her because somebody had given it to them and they didn't want to throw it away. In any case, the pattern on the paper was a hideous mess of green and orange and several other colors all swirled together with some sort of random figures and shapes thrown in. We could never decide what holiday or occasion you'd use it for, so we left it in the closet, for years. Well, now it had a purpose.
I lifted the lid on the box and looked in. "Yup, that's what's in there. An unknown god. But we'll leave this one in the box for now." I headed back to the stage.
"Some of us have other false gods in other sorts of boxes. A few months ago out east, I talked to a man who absolutely worshiped a professional basketball team. I mean it, I asked him what he'd do if that team moved to Seattle to replace the team that had left there. He got mad at me, then said he'd move to Seattle and find another job there." I shrugged. "Your god in a box may be different. Or, like those Greeks in Athens, you may not know exactly what it is. But whatever it is, it Isn't the One True God. As we see in Second Kings Seventeen, the Jews knew better, but even their kings and priests changed their practices and went down the wrong road." I stopped at the pulpit and flipped to the next bookmark and found my place, "'They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, "Do not do as they do."' The chapter goes into very granular, and sometimes gory detail about what they did wrong, like sacrificing children. They practiced divination, they allowed foreigners to bring in their idols from wherever they were from, and they even made their own. Bringing back the golden calf images that had got them into trouble years ago."
I paused and looked at my TV, now the flickering light had gone out, "Some people just never learn."
Time to work into my last point, and my last box, or rather, set of boxes.
I'd left the station and stopped by the religious supply store in town. They were reputed to have everything, and, at least so far, he had lived up to the claim.
"Yeah, I've got them. They're not fancy or high quality, they're not plastic like some are, but they're also not three hundred dollars. Most Jews will get theirs from their Rabbi or have them made special for the Bar Mitzvah. I call these 'emergency teffilin', in case you leave town without yours or something. But for what you want, they'll be fine." He went down an aisle that proclaimed "Jewish Supplies, reformed and orthodox" on a hand painted sign. Then he came back with a package.
"Yes, sir," I said looking at the two small boxes in a clear plastic case with some leather straps.
The guy at the store explained that the one the Jews wore on their head was different than the one on the arm which had a cord that looked like it was a mile long that wrapped all the way around their arm dozens of times until it ended up encircling their hand until they almost couldn't move their fingers. So now I had the boxes, and knew which was which, and the cords to put them on with, but I had to supply my own script, which I said I could do.
And since Christ had mentioned some of them making theirs bigger during His day, I wanted another one that was so over-sized as to be hilarious, hence the return of my cake box. I'd even worked on it with the correct Hebrew letter and appropriate straps so I could tie it to my forehead and have it stay there, although doing so made walking hazardous as it partially blocked my vision. A fact that I worked into my closing.
All three boxes were in bag, with their bindings read to go. And while I'll never get the traditional knots and wrappings right, I could manage it well enough that they didn't fall off, and, more important to me, I didn't cut off the circulation in my left arm.
As for my 'special' one to wear on my head, the bindings for it were in no way traditional as it was attached to an elastic band so I could get it on quickly, and without ending up tangled up in my own ropes, which I then looped around me.
According to my research, the text in the boxes was supposed to be hand written on consecrated parchment. Well, this is me, and I don't know any Rabbinical Scribes, so the strips of paper in my tefillin boxes was printed by a laser printer on typing paper, then cut to fit in the smaller ones.
You're also supposed to be silent while putting them on. Oh, well. At least I am always standing when I do it.
"You've probably seen images of Orthodox Jews of various types wearing these." I held up the two smaller boxes with their lettering and bindings. "They're called tefillah , although the King James makes it out to be a phylactery. Together they are the Tefillin. One of the most obvious signs of an observant Jew. And have been since before the time of Christ." I stopped on my way to the stage. "You're supposed to start with the one on the left arm, near the heart, and bind it something like this." I accomplished it while holding the other one in my right hand no less, "Then, before you do the full wrapping, to put the one on your head," which I did, sort of, "then to recite the prayer, which have no idea how to say, while finishing the wrapping down to your hand, this way, then that way, and, oh, I've gotten off track here." I looked at my hand, something was wrong, but I had no idea what, and no time to sort it out.
"Now I'm supposed to say this prayer 'Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to put on tefillin.' Which I just said, except that wasn't in the right language. And I'm not supposed to say anything else, but this is Show and Tell, so I'll tell you while I'm showing you."
I put the one on my head, and kinda did the straps, then began to finish wrapping the one on my arm. Then I picked up the bag with my special one in it, and went back up on the stage.
"The text on the papers inside the tefillin are from what we call the Books of Moses, and includes the famous line from Deuteronomy, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,' among others."
I made sure the boxes would stay on me for the duration while I moved the sermon on, "We're most familiar with them as the bad example from near the end of Christ's public ministry when he hammered on the religious leaders of the day, 'Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long', from Matthew 23. Elsewhere He says if you are doing religious things for the approval and admiration of men, you already have your reward."
I opened up my bag and took out the largest 'phylactery' in the state. "This might be a little larger than the ones those guys were wearing, but.... Well, here goes." I slipped the elestic band over my head so the smaller one with the other box on my forehead would just catch the dent in the bottom of the huge one and hold it up. It worked well enough that I could still see.
"Maybe you're not wearing a cake box on your head to prove how holy you are, or how devoted to God you are, but maybe you are doing something else so that others will see, or maybe to distract from something else, or whatever. It has come between you and your relationship with Him. Which means that has become your idol. Your god, is a Box."
I walked over and picked up the present. It wasn't hard to find as the stage lights in the place made the world's ugliest wrapping paper glow.
"Ahh, yes, our Unknown God," I lifted the lid a crack and peeked in. "He's still in there," I looked up, "Do you want to know what the worst of the false gods that come in boxes is?" They noded and some said they did. "It's worse than the TV, worse than the fridge, even worse than walking around with a cake box tied to your head. You sure you want to see?"
The charming people in the front row nodded somewhat hesitantly, but they nodded. So did the ones on the other side when I looked at theem.
"OK, here it is." I pulled the lid off with a flourish and glanced in to make sure it was still there and in one piece, then I held the box so they could all see inside it and walked across the front of the auditorium holding it out like that. "The worst false god in a box is the one that looks back at you every morning from the bathroom mirror."
And the Amen Corner went "Amen".
After that I put the lid back on the present and went through how the invitation wasn't just for those who needed to come to Him for the first time, but those who wanted to recommit themselves to living more for him and less for that guy in the mirror.
And then I cued the pastor to come up and begin the decision hymn while I took the boxes I had handy and pulled my cart out.
There were a couple of people that said later that while they didn't go forward to make a public re-dedication, they did decide to start to getting idols they'd not thought about until then out of their lives, including, evidently, an antique car, they prayed for the strength to make the changes they knew they needed to make.
Hearing that almost made walking around with a cake box on my head worthwhile. 18. And we close with: The Coffee Cup Example
It was in a meeting in Pittsburgh with some reps from the cable company, our producer, and some guy in a shiny suit from one of our sponsors, and people like that, where I got backed into a debate with one of the guys I'd been warned about.
His name, believe it or not, was Teddy. Art said he was an athiest, but then again, Art says that everybody who doesn't immediately profess some sort of religion is an athiest. To me, from what I remember being told about the outside distribution manager for the company, he was more of an agnostic working from a secular humanist playbook. In any case, he sat and glared at me through most of the meeting where we discussed the new season, a slight change of format, and adding one more show per week, the new one would look at the weekend ahead and review the 'best bets' for exciting TV viewing.
Then as we wrapped up, he made a comment about his wanting to make sure I didn't mention God at all and pointed out that I seemed to make at least a couple of references to a Higher Power on every show.
Ms Ableworth was now the Vice President of Programming. She shook her head, "The surveys indicate that most of the target audience enjoy some religious references as long as it doesn't go overboard."
"There are other outlets that will not accept his talking about a Christian God."
The VP shook her head again, something I'd noticed that she did a lot. "Do you have any indication that any overseas channels are even interested in this program?"
"It's included in the American Sports Package. That package has been purchased by the UAE for their English channel."
"Then let them bleep him."
Teddy saw me laughing under my breath, "You think that's funny?"
Art nodded, "So do I. He's the last person in the world I expected to end up being bleeped."
Ms Ableworth turned to me, "Teddy has asked me several questions about you and what you do on the side, I told him he should just ask you, if it's OK with you."
"Sure. Fire away."
Teddy sat there for a moment, then with some encouragement from some of the others in the room, he shrugged and asked me something off the wall, "Your act is to take stuff, and use it as examples for a sermon, right? So use, that cup and answer me this, if Christians are saved, then why go to church every week?"
I could tell he was trying to put me on the spot, but, oh well, I picked up the nearly empty coffee cup. "It's cold. My coffee is cold. How can it be made hot again?"
"It's your example," he said, and I noticed that the VP was listening intently.
"I'm OK with that," I put the cup down. "It's cold. Just plain cold coffee with a little bit of creamer in it. Just sitting there next to another cup of cold coffee..."
"Mine's empty," Art corrected me.
"OK, even better. Sitting there next to an empty cup, how can it ever become hot again?" I gestured to a couple of other cups, "Can they help it get hot? No. It has to do something, or somebody has to do something to it. Add some fresh hot coffee, or put it in the microwave, or something to, effectively, recharge it. That's why Paul said not to neglect the assembly of believers in, I think it's in, Galatians, maybe Hebrews, I'd have to look it up to make sure I'm right about which book it is." I took a sip of my coffee. "It's still cold."
Ms Ableworth nodded, "I like that."
"Cold coffee?" Art asked her.
"No, his spur of the moment example."
Teddy wasn't done.
"OK, Mr. Lunatic. Answer me this. Your Bible says that the 'Prayer of a righteous man availeth much', and it also says 'there is none righteous, no not one', explain that contradiction."
"We do the best we can do with what we've got, and let the Lord do the rest."
I'm not sure, but I think that was the only standing ovation I've ever gotten in my life.
On the way back home, Art looked over at me from the passenger seat of the van and said, "OK, Bob. You've got my attention. Tell me something about Jesus I haven't heard nineteen times before."
I thought about it for just over a mile by those green signs along the highway.
"You know Art, you're mentioned in Acts. Well, not you by name, but, when the King says to Paul at his trial: 'You've almost persuaded me to be a Christian...."
"I remember that," then he followed up with, "What happened to the King?"
"We don't know."
Art was fairly silent the rest of the way home. He said he was thinking.
I smiled at a memory, "Occupational hazard, I'm sure." And then, while I drove, I prayed. You never know, do you?
End- Lord's Lunatic 2
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