Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Preparing for the Spray Booth

In spite of the cold weather, I've not been completely inactive regarding Clark's guitar. There's actually a lot of work that needs to be done to get it ready for the finish to be applied.

But before that there was some other work to be done. See, when something goes out with your name on it, you get pickier about what you can live with. There were two things that happened that I wasn't happy with. The B/W/B purfling under the rosewood binding at the horn of the cutaway wasn't completely straight--it was kind of wavy. This purfling is being made to bend in a way it really doesn't want to; think of trying to bend a board, not along its width but along its edge, and that's what is happening. To help this bend the purfling strip is dipped in water, but on this tight edge the water caused the purfling to ripple some. So I chiseled out about an inch of this area and patched it with another piece. You now have to look hard to see the repair.

So don't look hard.

The big deal, however, was with the binding adjacent to the top cutaway. In sanding this area smooth and flush--well, I just went too far, and there was hardly any binding left in one small section. It didn't look that bad, but the more I though about it, the more I just couldn't live with it.

And I was thinking about it in the darkness of early morning; that's when you really know you can't live with it.

So I got up, ordered some more binding, then went out and removed the binding/purfling on that side. Used an iron to loosen the glue and a chisel to (carefully!) remove the rosewood binding.

When the binding came in it had to be bent, using the old blowtorch and pipe method. Fortunately the new binding and purfling went on fine, and I was much more careful in sanding it flush this time.

Next the whole guitar gets sanded. I started with 100 grit, then moved to 150, finishing with 220 for the back and sides, 320 for the top. For the neck and headstock I'm going to use an oil finish, which needs a finer sanding, so I continue to 400 and then 600 grit paper, which is practically polishing the wood.

There are invariably going to be little gaps between the binding and the top, back and sides, and these need to be filled, otherwise the finish will simply sink into these areas and a smooth, level surface will be impossible. To fill these gaps I use some medium viscosity cyanoacrylate (super glue), which fills the gaps, and a razor blade to level the glue. A quick squirt of accelerator hardens the glue and it can immediately be leveled flush to the surface, first with the razor, and then a little sanding. The gaps practically disappear. I probably treated about 10-12 of these type of spots.

The final step before spraying the finish is to fill the pores and seal the wood. Some woods, like rosewood and the zebrawood we are using, have large pores that need to be filled for the same reason as the gaps needed filling, so that the finish doesn't just sink down into the holes. Then the wood needs to be sealed so that the finish isn't just absorbed into the wood but will sit on top of it. This is usually done with a thin coat of shellac.

I'm using a product called Z-Poxy, which is a slow-drying epoxy originally designed for auto bodies.

The reason I like Z-Poxy is because it both fills the pores and seals the wood, combining two steps into one. I like to use it on the top because, although spruce is a closed-pore wood, it still needs sealing and the Z-Poxy gives the wood a slight amber tone that really pops the grain--especially the bear claw figure.

First I have to mask off the neck and headstock:

Then measure to find the exact bridge location and mask that off as well. The bridge has to be glued on, and you want bare wood for a good bond. The area I mask off is a little undersized since I don't want any bare wood peeking out from under the bridge.

Now I'm ready for the epoxy. Wearing latex gloves because you don't want this stuff on your skin, I mix up a just little, because it goes a long way. I start on the back and use a flexible spatula to spread it across the grain, working it into the pores.

And it comes out looking like this, which is a pretty good preview of what it's going to look like under a finish:
Holding it by the neck I spread it on the sides and end at the top. Now it gets hung up for an overnight dry:
The next day I have to sand the epoxy level. Since this first coat is relatively thick, I hit the high spots with 220 grit sandpaper before moving to 320 and finishing at 400. I'm looking to achieve a uniform dullness; since the epoxy dries shiny, any low spots appear shiny, and that's how I know I still have work to do.

On the top there's one shiny spot that just won't go away; on closer inspection it is clear that the spruce has gotten dinged and this is actually a fairly deep depression. I sand the epoxy level everywhere but here and hope that the next coat will fill this depression.

So, yeah, the entire guitar gets another coat of Z-Poxy, and hung overnight.

When I come back, the pores are filled nicely, and just working with 400 grit paper I quickly achieve a uniform dullness.

Except for that darn ding on the top. So I switch to 220 and sand down to bare wood. Before sanding more I try an old trick. I heat up a soldering iron, place a wet and folded paper towel on the spot and touch the soldering iron to the paper towel. The resulting steam will swell the wood fibers. A lot of scratches and dings will just disappear with this method, but not this one.

So I have no choice but to sand the whole top down to bare wood and then sand the ding away. Since the top only needs to be sealed, one coat will do. So I do that, and sand it level the next day. Finally, I mix some more Z-Poxy and thin it with denatured alcohol, and use a paper towel to apply this to the entire guitar. When the alcohol dries it leaves a final very thin layer of epoxy which is very smooth.
I've got a call in to my buddy Mike, who owns Mike's Auto Body in Thurmont, to reserve some time in his spray booth. In the mean time I'll go ahead and work on the bridge.


The Baylor women did what the men could quite pull off--beat Duke. Down 8 with five minutes to go, they went on a 13-2 run to close out the game 51-48 and go to the Final Four for the second time in five years. (They won the championship in 2005.)

No one is going to be the UConn women this year; no one has even come close. But if anyone can do it, a team like Baylor with a 6'8" center would be the one.

The men's game was tightly contested the whole time. At one point in the second half I thought, "We're a better team than Duke." I still believe that. If we played ten times, we'd win six--but it would be close.

But at the end we gave up too many offensive rebounds and Duke hit some big 3-pointers, and that was it. But the men didn't even make the tournament last year, and no one saw this coming at the beginning of the year.

Next year they will be even better, but they won't be able to sneak up on anyone.

Go Baylor Women!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Elite Eight x 2

Baylor Men: 72, St. Mary's 49
They face Duke tomorrow to go to the Final Four. I can't believe I'm talking about Baylor playing to go to the Final Four.

Baylor Women: 77, Tennessee (yes, Tennessee!) 62. They advance to the Elite Eight to play...wait for it...Duke.

Are you serious? Baylor vs. Duke for the Final Four in both men's and women's hoops? Who writes this stuff?

Sic'em Bears!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Big Story

If you were to ask most Christians, at least of the evangelical stripe, to tell the story of the Bible i.e. the story that the Bible is telling, I believe that most would struggle. I know, because I have asked. If forced, they will come up with something along the lines of this: "God made man perfect, but we sinned and so God had to send his son into the world to die on the cross for our sins. If you believe in Jesus, you will go to heaven when you die. The end."

And that skips over a lot of territory between Genesis 3 and the New Testament. A lot of biblical data is left out in order to make this story work, but that's exactly what is done: whole sections of the Bible are virtually ignored or, at best, read as deep background for the New Testament, for that's the only way to make that story work. Now, I'm not saying that the story is wrong, just that it's not big enough. There has to be a story that includes all the data.

I think there is.

Yesterday we had a memorial service for a really great guy, Terry Whitmarsh. I anticipated that there would be no shortage of people who would talk about Terry and what a great husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, father-in-law, friend, co-worker, church member and Christian Terry was (and I wasn't wrong. It was great.), so I decided to spend most of my time reminding everyone about the Big Story of the Bible, for we all are characters in that story, and it is where our hope lies.

I'm posting my message, properly edited in respect for Terry, because we need to know the story, the whole story, the Big Story, not just the little part of it that concerns an individual.

So here goes:

A memorial service for a Christian is a unique event, strange in its own way to those who do not share our faith and our understanding of how everything will turn out.

Paul tells the Thessalonians concerning their loved ones that had died that he did not want them to grieve as others do who have no hope. Grieve, yes, for separation, even for a time, is sad. We miss each other.

But hope tempers the sadness, and gives occasion for celebration, for laughter, even, and for an abiding peace in our hearts.

Not everyone has this hope, he says, and death leaves them wondering, hoping but with no firm foundation for that hope.

It is not so for you, Paul says. You have hope, and that hope has a firm foundation, a foundation rooted in God’s unique vision for this world, his plan that he will most assuredly carry out, that he has already begun carrying out, the beginning of which is marked out by the resurrection of Jesus, the first fruits of the resurrection.

It is the biblical vision of this plan that gives us hope, and we must be clear what that vision is, for it is bigger and bolder than I believe most people understand it to be.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

So that we are not uninformed, let me share briefly that vision.

It begins with Creation. Genesis gives us a vision of that creation, a world created out of chaos, where the chaos was tamed, and the spirit of God hovered. The waters were contained, plants and trees emerged, fish in the seas, birds in the air, and animals, livestock, creepy crawly things, wild and wonderful animals.

And at the center of it all, created in the image of God, infused with the very breath of God, are humans. Created to take care of all this creation, to nurture it, to be stewards of it all.

And God looked at it, and saw that it was very good, and he rested.

Then sin entered the world. Humans weren’t content to be created in the image of God, but wanted to be God-like. Not content to live in this creation, humans wanted to live where God lived. Not content with knowing God, they wanted to have the knowledge of God, God’s kind of knowledge, and the divine prerogative to judge between that which is good and that which is evil.

Between that which deserves to live, and that which deserves to die.

And so violence entered the world as brother began to kill brother, and as other brothers began to avenge their brothers’ deaths, and the cycle of violence got worse and worse.

And instead of being content to take care of the earth, they began to exploit the earth, seeing it, not as something that God created for Himself, but as something created solely for their pleasure and their benefit.

So that all creation—plants, animals, humans—suffer. Paul in Romans 8 talks about all creation groaning, awaiting its renewal.

And that is the vision. The vision is of a renewed earth. An earth set to rights. Eden rebooted. That’s what he is driving toward. A world without violence. A world in which people take care of each other, and if someone lacks anything, those who have will generously share.

A world where everything and everybody is in their proper place, and God is in his—as the ruler and King over his dominion.

This renewed creation Jesus called the Kingdom of God, and it is the thing that he pursued relentlessly. It is the thing that he died for.

And his death was the victory over sin and death, over corruption and decay, over violence and false peace.

His resurrection was a visible demonstration of the victory, and he will come again to complete the victory of sin and death that began at the cross.

“But what of the dead?” the Thessalonians wondered. They were afraid that the dead would miss out on all of this.

See, the common belief was that the dead were gathered in a place called Sheol, not a place of punishment, but not exactly a fun place either. Later developments led to the idea of a place of punishment for the unrighteous and a place of reward for the righteous. But once you were in either place, you were there.

But what of these, the Thessalonians wondered, who by faith lived for the Kingdom, and yet died before experiencing it? That didn’t seem fair.

Not to worry, Paul says. In 4:14 and following he says,

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Now this passage has been much misunderstood and much abused, and needs some clarification. In the Roman world when the emperor would come to visit a city or town, as he approached a messenger would go ahead of him and announce his imminent arrival. A trumpet would sound and the messenger would announce good news, that Caesar, the son of God, was at hand, and would bring peace and just rule into their lives.

And the people of the town would not sit on their hands and wait for Caesar to arrive, but would go out of the city to meet him, and with great fanfare would escort him back into the town.

Paul is co-opting this language for the True King. And he is telling the Thessalonians that those who have died are not going to miss this, but will actually lead the way as they meet Christ in his return to earth. They will meet him in the air and escort him to the world where he will reign forever and ever.

He is the true son of God. Of his reign there will be no end. His coming is the true good news, and his peace is a true peace, his justice a true justice. And he is coming again to be with us forever.

So renewal of the world is included in John’s vision in Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new."

Revelation 21:1-5

Both Paul and John are recalling Isaiah 25, where he writes:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 25:6-9

Death’s warrant has been signed and in that instant when Jesus returns, death will give up his sword and keys. Death will be swallowed up once and for all!

And we will all be changed. God has always intended the people he created to have bodies. We can imagine being us without bodies; we imagine flitting here and there, living like we do now in our heads. But we are meant for better. The great Creator's highest creation is mankind, the perfect blending of body and soul. But now these bodies are shot through with dehumanizing sin. It's in our bones. It's killing us.

These mortal bodies must be changed because they won't work in God's eternal kingdom. They can't breathe there. They can't move there. They can't last there. The beauty there is too bright for these eyes, the fragrances too intoxicating for these noses, the feasts too sumptuous for these taste buds, the hymns too musical for these voices, the sounds too delicate and thundering for these ears, the leaves, stones, friends, and Savior too holy to touch with these hands.

And God will be with us. As in Paul’s explanation to the Thessalonians, as in John’s vision in Revelation, and as in one of the names that Jesus was given, Immanuel, God Is With Us, so shall God be with us. The biblical vision is of the gap between heaven and earth being closed so that where we are, so also shall God be; and where God is, so also shall we be.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Quigley Is Such an...Butthead

Did I mention that I recorded the the Maryland/Michigan St. game and started watching about an hour after the actual start? So the game actually ended an hour or so before I watched the cruel end.

So I go upstairs, still mad at the unfairness of the basketball gods, and this email is waiting for me from Quigs:

I gave up tv for lent so I really don't know any of the scores in NCAA tournament and I promised not to pick on the O's, but if Maryland would lose on some outrageous last miniute shot where like nobody from the Terps even gets a hand in the shooters face, then your basketball season would end around the same time your baseball season ended, I know this sounds cruel, but it is really not likely to happen because the ACC is the best conference in basketball and the Terps can't lose.
I'm not sure but did the Mountaineers win?

I just laughed and said to myself, "What an (biblical name for a donkey)."

Then I read it to Pam and she laughed too.

So I just replied with the first thing that came in my head: "You're a real (biblical name for a donkey), you know that?"

Before I sent it I thought to myself, "You know, he's probably going to think that he made me mad. I wouldn't want that."

And then, my evil side coming out because of my anger at the basketball gods, I thought, "Good," and hit send.

Had to go to church, and when I came home, this was waiting for me:

ouch sorry.

Oh, a little squirming going on, huh?

So I replied:

Yeah, see, when the Phillies got beat by the Yankees in the World Series, I had all these really funny, clever things I was going to say to you, but I thought, “No, I know what it feels like to lose a Series, and I feel the pain he’s experiencing right now, so I’m not going to pile on. Why, I’ll even pray for my friend Tim, and ask that the Spirit of Comfort, the Holy Ghost, might descend upon him and be a balm for his wounds. Why, my good friend Tim would appreciate that.”

But it’s ok, I understand, you’re from Philly, where being an (biblical name for a donkey) has been raised to an art form, and besides that, you’re Catholic and everything. I have to have compassion on those from a lower station in life. I understand that it’s just physically, emotionally, and spiritually impossible for you to have compassion on a brother who is hurting from a heartbreaking loss, so it’s all good.

Oh, like heck, it’s on, Big Boy!

You’re freaking hilarious.
But it’s still on.

And he responded:

Dude i was out of line - I'm really sorry.

Heh-heh. Guilt always works with Catholics.
I let him off the hook. He's still an (biblical name for a donkey).
But that's why I like him.

The Basketball Gods are a Cruel and Fickle Lot

The NCAA tournament always has some great games won on last-second shots. Thursday, especially, was full of overtime games and last-second wins. Exciting stuff.

Except when you're on the short end.

Maryland was down the entire game against Michigan St. yesterday. They could never get closer than seven, and a lot of the game they were losing by double digits. I can usually tell when it's not going to be Maryland's day, and yesterday was one of those. Michigan St. hitting all manner of shots. Open 3's, contested, 3's, tough shots in the lane, all seemed to go in. And when they didn't go in, they went to a Michigan St. player. And nothing came easy for the Terps. Every shot seemed a struggle, every made basket contested. Nope, didn't seem to be our day.

With 2 minutes left, the Terps were down by nine, and it was over. Everyone knew it.

And then it happened. Steals. Baskets. A three-point play. A three-point basket. 10 unanswered points. A lead with less than a minute to go. Unbelievable.

Then Michigan St. scored to go back up by one. Of course. So we'd have to hit a game-winning shot with time running out. A team only gets so many of those a season, and we used ours up against Georgia Tech a few weeks before, an unbelievable rainbow three with under a second to go.

So, now way.

Way. Vasquez hits the shot. I'm standing up, yelling at the T.V. as Michigan St. rushes down the court, "Don't let him shoot, don't let him shoot."

Less than a second, he shoots. Nothing but net and a dagger in the heart.

Now I'm mad. I'm yelling. Kobi runs from the room. It's not pretty.

I'm not mad at Maryland, I'm not mad at the Michigan St. kid who hit the shot, I'm not mad at anyone.

I'm just mad. It's not fair. Better to lose by nine than to lose this way.

The basketball gods are not fair.

But I can't anger them. Baylor is in the Sweet Sixteen, and play an overachieving team in St. Mary's, so they have a good chance to reach the Elite Eight. Where they will probably play Duke for the chance to go to the Final Four. And nothing would make the season more complete than for Baylor to go to the Final Four by beating Duke.

But first they have to beat St. Mary's. No tempting the fates here.

Because the basketball gods are cruel and fickle.

So I go to make a sacrifice to the basketball gods and try to win their favor.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hallmarkinizating Scripture

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13.

This is one of those calendar Scriptures. You know, the little daily flip calendars with pretty pictures and a different Scripture each day which inspire us to face our day with courage, optimism, and a go-get-‘em attitude. I doubt there is a daily Scripture calendar anywhere that doesn’t include this verse.

It’s one of our favs.

But we have to be careful whenever we pull a verse out of its context, because then it can mean almost whatever we need it to mean. Not that we do this intentionally, but it’s a danger that is present whenever verses are used individually as captions for pictures, calendars, even daily devotionals. Or as illustrations for sermon points. Yeah, as much as I dislike the Hallmarkinization of Scripture, pastors are among the most egregious of offenders in this regard.

I’m not talking about proof-texting here; that’s a more overt form of what I’m talking about, where you have a point to make and so you go looking for a verse to make that point, regardless of whether the Scriptures as a whole support the point or not. No, this is more subtle, less conscious. It’s when we find a Scripture standing all alone, and we take it to mean something that may very well be true and valuable, but it’s not the point that the writer was trying to make when he wrote the verse.

Take this verse, for instance. On our best days we use it to encourage us to achieve mighty things for Christ, to have faith to move mountains, or to be sure during difficult days that brighter days are ahead. On our not-so-good days we use it to mean that Christ will give us the strength to pursue and achieve our greatest goals and wildest dreams—a better job, a promotion and raise, health, wealth, and the American Dream. I can do all things!

Well, sometimes “all” doesn’t necessarily mean “all”.

In the section in which this verse is included, Paul is writing to the Philippians about their concern for him when he was in a difficult spot. First of all, he’s writing from prison, but before that he has experienced poverty and hunger as a result of the Gospel. Now, anybody in prison wants to get out. Anybody who is hungry wants to be full, anybody who is poor wants, if not wealth, at least some measure of financial stability and security. As this verse is often interpreted, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me means that Christ will give me the strength to get out of prison, or to achieve financial stability, or get to the point where the issue with the next meal is what to eat rather than if you’re going to eat. Or that Christ will at the very least give me the strength to endure prison, to endure hunger, to endure poverty until brighter days come.

But that’s not what Paul is saying. It must first be noted that Paul in a sense chose these situations for himself. He knew that in pursuing the Gospel that he would face strong opposition from those who had the power to arrest him. That in choosing to follow Christ’s he would not only have to give up any worldly dreams of wealth but that he would probably end up poor, not knowing where his next meal would come from or when it would come.

And there might have been a time when that bothered him, when he worried about being in prison or worried about being poor and hungry. There might have been a time when, finding himself hungry, all he could think about was food. Or finding himself in prison all he could think about was getting out. After all, he was called to be an emissary of the Gospel to the Gentiles—that meant he had to go to the Gentiles, and he couldn’t go anywhere when he’s stuck in prison.

But not anymore. These things are no longer an issue for him. He’s moved beyond merely enduring hard times; he’s learned that he is actually all right during hard times. Here’s what he says: I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

“I’m all right with this. I’m so all right with this that I can choose it if need be. And it is Christ who gives me the strength to be all right with this.”

This is what Paul is saying. I just don’t know that it will fit on a Hallmark card. Or that anyone would buy it if it did.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March Kinda Madness

I like basketball, and I like the NCAA tournament. But I don't go Mad in March. I don't usually fill out a bracket. Bracketology holds no interest for me. I'll watch to see who won and who lost, but I won't watch a game unless I have a rooting interest.

Which usually just means the Maryland Terps. But this year I'll be keeping an eye on two teams.

Baylor University, which gave me a degree in return for lots of my dad's money, is in the tournament, which doesn't happen that often. Almost never. But they are actually a #3 seed in the South Regional, opening against Sam Houston St., a 14-seed. If they get past Sam Houston, which they should, they will play the winner of Notre Dame/Old Dominion for the chance to go to the Sweet Sixteen. That will definitely be a first.

The University of Maryland, which gave my daughter a degree in return for lots of my money, is a #4 seed in the Midwest Regional, which will be played in Spokane, Washington.

Seriously, this is a college basketball tournament; didn't the organizers ever have to take a geography class? Spokane, Washington, Midwest?

Anyway, the Terps have a tougher road to the Sweet Sixteen. If they get by #13 Houston, they'll face the winner of Michigan St./New Mexico St. Michigan St. was in the National Championship game last year and is always tough, so "Go New Mexico St!"

Although I don't really want to play a team that's good enough to be Michigan St.

Time to fire up the DVR.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pammy's Day

The church recognized Pam's birthday, which was yesterday, during both worship services. There was birthday cake, and some nice presents, and Betsy Devilbiss gave a nice tribute detailing Pam's many volunteer efforts in the church, the state convention, and the community.

Ricky Kelly made this video montage from pictures I scanned for him.

Man, where does time go?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Another Word

Got another letter from Austin today, in an envelope addressed to us in Pam's handwriting.

So I knew immediately that he had received our letters, which he confirmed in his letter.  We've included some self-addressed stamped envelopes to make it easier on him.

Ariella, apparently, is not writing letters as much as books, but that's OK.  They are pretty tight.

But if he spends all his time reading letters he won't have much time to write them.

That's OK too, though.  We're to support him, not the other way around.  So we'll keep writing, knowing how much it helps him to get through the toughest parts of basic training at Parris Island.


We finally got a letter from Austin yesterday, written on Saturday.  He sounds really good, and is really enjoying it.

Yes, enjoying it.  He writes that within the first couple of days he realized that he "could handle this."

He likes the martial arts training.  And marching, or drill, is "like an art form."

He is in Company A of the 1st Battalion.  First of the first of the Marines.  Don't think they aren't going to play that up?  Think again.  Austin writes that he is part of an infamous--I'm going to have to explain what that word really means--battalion and an "Epic" company.  Well, he wanted to be a Marine because "they are the best," so he might as well go all the way with that thinking.

It does seem that they have higher expectations for this company.  Instead of the usual platoon of 80 recruits and three drill instructors, his platoon has only 37 recruits and five drill instructors.  Austin says that are constantly watched and constantly corrected.

You think?

The only thing he said that sucks is missing mom and dad and his girlfriend.

I'm OK with that too.

As of Saturday he hadn't t received any of the many letters that we've written to him.  I've heard that the mail system down there is cumbersome and takes letters longer to get to a recruit than in the regular mail system.

But I also think the Marines may be holding the letters on purpose.  Part of helping the recruits detach from all things home and attach one another.  But we'll keep writing; he'll get them eventually.

Anyway, Momma is happy now.  She finally heard from her boy.

And when Momma is happy, Papa's life is soooooooooooooo much easier.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to Tell a Disciple

Last week I was at another meeting of pastors held by Dr. David Lee, Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

I get a free lunch. Hard to pass that up.

The topic of discussion was discipleship, and at one point the discussion turned to how we measure discipleship growth both in our churches and in the individuals in our churches. 

I stayed silent, because I have no idea how to measure discipleship in a person or in an organization. I’ve thought a lot about it, I’ve read a lot about it, I’ve researched what other churches have done, and at the end of it all, I remain clueless. And it really aggravated me.

And as I sat there listening to these other guys talk about what they did at their churches, I just grew more and more agitated, because I was hearing the same answers that I’ve heard before countless times, answers that leave me cold and unimpressed. Sure, these are good things to measure—the number of people attending discipleship classes, the number of people who have a daily quiet time, the number of people attending small groups, etc.—and they might tell you something, they might tell me how well I’m publicizing the programs of the church or something, and they might, maybe, kinda sorta tell me something about a person’s spiritual growth, but I don’t know. Maybe these things just tell me how much time a person has on their hands for activities such as these.

I know that part of what bothered me was the modern fixation on measuring everything and basing our evaluations on these metrics. That’s all right in a lot of areas, because a lot of areas are suited for metrical evaluation. But a lot of areas aren’t, and discipleship and spirituality just don’t lend themselves to easy measurement.

Part of what bothered me was the continual mistake that churches make of using activity as a measurement of effectiveness. Activity—or rather, the lack of it—can indicate ineffectiveness. For instance, a person who never practices the piano is most assuredly not going to be a very good piano player. But a person who practices an hour a day still may not be a very good piano player. They may be no good at all, either because they have no musical aptitude and/or fine motor skills, or because their practice is just an hour of fooling around without any clear goals or focus. As the saying goes, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. So in the same way, a person who never engages in any activity for spiritual growth is not going to grow, but activity in religious-type things is no guarantee of growth. I have known any number of people who have gone to Sunday School all their lives and taken any number of discipleship classes who are no more mature now than they were when they were young. Maybe less so, because they think that they are mature just because they’ve done all this stuff.

Right now a lot of college football players are taking part in the NFL Combine, where they will be measured in how fast they can run 40 yards, how high they can jump, how long they can jump, how many times they can bench press 225 pounds. Every year some guy will come in and blow all the scouts away with impressive metrics, and someone will draft them very high and pay them millions of dollars, and they will not pan out as a good professional player. Then when you go back and look at their college career, you see that they were good, but not really all that great. 

And here’s the thing: what matters is how well a guy plays football. I’ve never seen an NFL player bench press 225 pounds during an NFL game. I’ve never seen them perform the high jump or the long jump. I’ve only seen NFL players playing football. Being strong, running fast, jumping high, all this matters—but only if a guy really knows how to play football and plays hard.

Pro scouts call this “eyes on the field.” In other words, they have learned what a good football player looks like by watching him play football, not run a forty-yard dash in controlled conditions.

I sat silent through most of the meeting, but I finally had to say something. I’ll tell you what I said, and then I’ll tell you what else I wish I had said but didn’t think about it until later.
What I said: “Being a disciple is about loving God and loving people, and I don’t know how to measure that. Here’s what I know: I have been married to my wife for almost 29 years, and I love her to death. I can’t measure that love, and neither can you, but if you watch me long enough you’ll know that I love my wife and have a pretty good idea of how much I love her. And the same is true with Christians: hang around with a person long enough, and you’ll know if they love God and if they love people, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much, and all this other stuff is pretty much a bunch of junk.”

I had to pay for my own lunch after that. (Just kidding.)

What I wish I had said: “We’re followers of Jesus. He is our Master, he is our example to follow, right? So, how did Jesus measure discipleship?”

How would you answer that? I’m not sure that he had any metrics (as we know metric), but I’ll tell you this: he knew a disciple when he saw one.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Day

Several weeks ago I was invited by Dr. David Lee, Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, to participate in a group of pastors exploring ways to more deeply and more inclusively involve African-American pastors and their congregations in the life of BCM/D.  These pastors are already a part of BCM/D—one in fact is the current president of the convention and another is a past president--but apparently there was a feeling among some that BCM/D did not fully understand the needs of historically Black congregations.
Some background is perhaps in order here.  Although the BCM/D is actually older than the Southern Baptist Convention, it became associated with the national convention soon after its founding in 1845, when the SBC split from the larger national Baptist convention, what eventually became the present day American Baptist Convention.  The issue which caused the southern church to leave was, as you might imagine, over slavery.  The convention had ruled that slave owners could not be appointed missionaries, and so the southern Baptists left and formed their own convention.
Just as the SBC was on the wrong side of the slavery issue in the 19th century, it was also on the wrong side of the civil rights movement in the 20th century, and it was only in 1995 that the SBC addressed its complicity in American racism, passing a resolution apologizing to African-Americans “for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime.” 
A few years ago Dr. Lee made it a point throughout the state convention to be more intentional about working with African-American congregations that are part of the convention.  You would be hard-pressed to find an SBC state convention south of the Mason-Dixon line that is more progressive in race relations.
Yet we have far to go, and that is why Dr. Lee formed this group of Anglo- and African-American pastors.  I already knew some of the other pastors, both black and white, but I have enjoyed making some new friends as well.  More than anything, we are learning from each other.  For instance, when a Black congregation gets Southern Baptist literature and all the faces in the photographs are white, its natural for them to wonder if they really are wanted in the convention.  While that may seem simple to many whites, it is actually quite profound.  Even more seriously, in June the Southern Baptist Convention formed an ad hoc study committee called the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, not one of the members was African American.  When this was pointed out, a single Black man was added.  In our meetings there was frustration expressed at the exclusion, frustration that they had to be the ones to even notice the lack of racial diversity, and frustration at the perceived tokenism.
In our meetings there has been a great deal of honesty and transparency.  You can hear the hurt expressed, as well as the fear.  Yet, there has been a lot of hope expressed also, as well as a sense that what we are doing is not only unprecedented but vitally important.
The group has adopted the name “A New Day”, and we are exploring ways to rid ourselves of the ignorance and the fear that has characterized race relations and threatens efforts at reconciliation.  One of the things that has been discussed is having traditionally White congregations partner with traditionally Black congregations for ministry, missions activities, worship and fellowship.  A pastor in Southeast D.C.  has invited me to come to his neighborhood and his church and see the kinds of ministry they are doing.
One of the things that we are going to be tackling is the way poverty and racism interact in our country.  Poverty is more pervasive in our country than most people think, but it is the fear of poverty, or more precisely the fear of becoming poor, that is most pervasive.  While financial planners recommend that a household have the equivalent of six months of income in savings, most households live paycheck to paycheck, which means that homelessness for some people is literally one pink slip away.  It is this fear that causes people to resent people of other races or ethnic groups who are perceived as “taking our (the race or ethnicity to which one belongs) jobs away.”
I am excited to be part of this “New Day” group, and very hopeful that we can make some significant headway in understanding and dealing with some significant issues in our communities and our nation.  This truly is Kingdom work, and I believe it please our Father.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Loud Silence

Well, Austin has been at Parris Island for over a week now everywhere I go people who know ask me if I have heard from him.

My answer: I don't want to hear from him.  Not right now, anyway.  It's too early for him to have written us a letter; we don't even have his mailing address yet.  And he's not allowed any phone calls, so a phone call from Austin right now would only be bad news, like he's gotten injured or something.

The first communication we'll get is a simple postcard in which he will have filled in his company and platoon information so that we can begin sending him letters. 

Other than that, nothing.

And that's the weird part.  In this day and age of instant communication via email, IM, cell phones and text messages, we'll be reduced to snail mail.  We are used to hearing from our kids quite often; to be incommunicado with one of them is strange.

Especially when you want to know how things are going and what he's doing.  Believe me, there have been times in the recent past when ignorance was bliss, and I just as soon not know what Austin was doing, because I had a pretty good idea what he was doing, didn't like it but couldn't stop it.

That's not the case now.  The best I can do is look at the Training Matrix on the Marine Corp website, which tells some of the activities they will be doing each day--like today they are doing Combat Conditioning i.e. getting their butts kicked via pushups, crunches, weight lifting, etc.; learning different punches during martial arts training; and classroom instruction on the customs and courtesies of the Marines--but you really want to know more, and specifically how he's doing in each.

So this is one of the hard things.

Pam is really missing him.  I'm not missing him as much as I just wish I knew what was going on.