I've never heard more beautiful music in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. The orchestra, choir, and congregation were led by Rev. Andy Bumpus in a most reverent and meaningful worship experience. I've been singing in church since I was a Sunbeam, and I've been blessed to know many dedicated music ministers, but I can honestly say that Andy is the most talented of them all. He writes music; he arranges musical scores for both choir and orchestra; he's a soloist with the civic chorale; he is a brilliant conductor; he plays a variety of instruments at the professional level; and he has taught novices to play instruments so that they could participate in worship. The really amazing thing, though, is that he's so humble that many people in our own church do not realize the depth and quality of his talents. His concern is to be faithful with his spiritual gifts, not to be the center of attention. As churches continue to blur the line between worship and entertainment, Andy is an example of humility to all of us. If possible, his wife Betsy serves even further under the radar. She's in the background providing food for socials and funerals, folding clothes for tornado victims, sending messages of encouragement, singing in the choir and even filling in on the saxophone when needed.
As beautiful as last Sunday's service was, it was also quite sad since it was the last time that Andy will lead worship for us. He and Betsy have joyfully given of themselves to our congregation for 7 years, and they will be sorely missed. His position may be filled, but they will never be replaced.
I was in New Orleans a few months back and saw a man literally standing on his soapbox preaching loudly into a microphone to a largely uninterested stream of pedestrians. Bourbon Street has no shortage of street performers vying for the attention of the crowds, and this guy was definitely losing the competition. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity or question his motives in what he was doing. Like telemarketing, it must achieve the desired effect sometimes or people wouldn't do it. About a block away a group of around fifteen young musicians was serenading a packed crowd with a fabulous blending all kinds of instruments. Their skill and dedication were admirable, and much appreciated by those of us who stopped and listened. I couldn't help but wonder which performance was more pleasing to God. The Bible tells us that life is made up of things that are clean, things that are unclean, and things that are holy. I think it is possible that offering up a gift of talent that has been honed into its highest expression might just fall into the holy category. Screaming judgment at strangers doesn’t strike me as quite so appealing.
C. S. Lewis describes humans as amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits we belong to the eternal world and as animals we inhabit time. It’s a creative structure that requires us to be in a constant state of rebalancing. Fortunately, God made it pleasant for us to tend to our physical needs. It feels good to eat when we’re hungry or sleep when we’re tired. Of course when these basic functions get out of balance, the result is misery – just ask anyone with eating issues or insomnia. Being out of balance spiritually can cause even more distress. In Romans 5, we read that our spiritual condition is a trait of our human condition and that God solved the problem of humanity with humanity --- through the Incarnation. Our free will affects our spiritual state and physical state in much the same way, but God offers rescue. We are not so much cowering before a harsh judge as receiving a father’s warm welcome into restoration and balance. Grace. It really is amazing.
No, not the Atlanta one. This Fulton County is "the top of Ohio" as the tee shirts proudly display and the trip was a birthday gift for my 50th last November from my friend Lin Veasey. Even I think it's a bit odd that someone would give this gift without ever hearing the recipient mention an interest in such an event, but in fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of attending the Alabama State Fair with my grandfather. I've been looking forward to the trip for months and it exceeded all my high hopes of reliving a time long gone. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Pa taking a pass from heaven to join me in the adventure.
Where to start? Of course there is the food. I set aside my generally healthy eating habits and seized the fried moment. For the record, fried cheese curd is surprisingly delicious. I spent hours happily browsing the judged exhibits of canned goods, quilts, artwork, flowers, and livestock. In case you didn't know, baby goats are just about the cutest thing going. From the grandstand I watched harness racing and farm boys driving tractors really fast. It seems that everyone in town had a volunteer role in making the fair a success.
The most memorable event, though, was something I had never seen before at a fair. Each year, every couple in the county that has been married for at least 50 years is honored at a reception. The longest married couple is seated in the place of honor up front, and they actually get crowns! This year the prize marriage had been in place since 1943. The tent was packed with golden anniversary couples including Lin's delightful parents, John and Eunice. This wasn't John's only recognition as he also took home the top division horseshoes championship trophy for the 4th consecutive year.
It was refreshing to be reminded of how much can be accomplished by a community that works together. While attending St. James Lutheran Church with Lin's family, I listened to the epistle reading which included a familiar passage from Romans 13, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law...You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love expressed through friendship is truly one of the great blessings of life.
I saw him in the Dallas airport while waiting to board my flight to Portland, OR. He looked like one of my college students with his somewhat rumpled, thoughtfully mismatched clothes and his baseball cap on backwards. I filed him under "too much energy" and returned to Caleb's Crossing, a book about a missionary working with Native Americans in Massachusetts. He was the last person to board the plane where he took his assigned seat right next to me. He cheerfully introduced himself as "Christian" and thus began a three hour church service in the air. He had just graduated from college with a degree in psychology and had taken a job with no salary working as a missionary to Native Americans in Oklahoma. I commented on the appropriateness of his name, and he said that when he was young he hated it and refused to answer to anything but "Opie." We shared our experiences of faith and the questions and ideas that we have about God. At one point he spontaneously broke into a prayer over me. Before we disembarked he gave me two CDs. One contained a sermon delivered by Heidi Baker, a pentecostal missionary to Africa and the other was a collection of rap music with Christian lyrics. I can honestly say that it's unlikely that I would have ever come across either of those things without a chance encounter with a Christian on a journey. I was captivated by Mrs. Baker's account of God's miracles among the orphans that she cares for in Mozambique. As for the rap, well, I'm still learning to appreciate that.
We all know that there are no atheists in foxholes. I was on vacation when I saw the church sign with the updated ruling. Maybe it's just that wars don't seem to involve foxholes anymore, or maybe this church felt the original version was too subtle so they decided to amp it up a bit. Oddly enough, the sign actually could be read as an advertisement for atheism. Think about it. It's like saying, "There are no boys in my club" or "There are no seeds in that watermelon." If one is a boy or a seed, then there's no need to worry about finding oneself in the aforementioned club or watermelon since the rule forbids them being there. So, if I want to say out of Hell, and who doesn't, then I should be an atheist since there are none of them in Hell. Right? Of course, this church meant no such thing, but I made a note of the sign to use in class the next time I teach existential and universal quantifiers. (Sorry, I fell out of church lady mode into math professor mode there for a minute. I was about to draw a Venn diagram!)
Actually, this church has an attitude that is very similar to that of an atheist. The church boldly assumes the role of God in pronouncing its verdict. The atheist boldly proclaims the certainty that God does not exist. The church should know better.
The Bible is very clear about where judgement and vengence belong. It also describes the temperament we should have in approaching God, and the mindset we should adopt in our relations with others. I would run from a church with such blatant disregard for these central teachings. Maybe I'm overreacting and the church just thought it was an attention getter. Maybe they didn't know if "foxholes" was one word or two. But I think the Christianity that we reflect is noticed, and we should humble ourselves before God as a preface to any announcement that we decide to proclaim to the world.
WEDNESDAY’S LIST . . . of beans ’n greens ’n other things:
DON’T TELL me I’ve nothing to do.
From the window of my barn I see Ozzie coming through the hedgerow from next door. I like Ozzie a lot, but I’m not sure he feels the same. Efforts to pet and feed over the years have been a flop at best.
What Ozzie likes to do is hunt. I mean really hunt.
You see, Ozzie is a brindle, bob-tailed, three-legged cat and he loves to feed on whatever he can find in the hedgerow across my back yard, including field mice and squirrels.
Ozzie is flat out deadly, too.
Since losing his right front leg to a tumor a couple of years back, he has taught himself a new way to hunt. He keeps stalking to a minimum. But with the patience of Job, he settles down and waits for a meal to come within striking distance.
When the meal does, it’s “Wham” and Ozzie heads for the dinner table.
He’s a wonder to watch ...
IT IS A typical day at the Smith Estate. I am out in my barn kicked back in what I call “Archie’s Recliner.” I am reading a book, listening to Merle Haggard on the stereo, and watching TV (how’s that for multi-tasking, huh?) The blonde is out and about.
The phone rings. It is from the blonde. She is at Sears in the Quintard Mall ...
“Sweetheart, I’m at Sears looking at vacuum cleaners. I can get a small one to go with a regular one. What do you think I should do?”
Recovering from the shock of her asking my permission for anything, I agree to the double dip and then make a mistake with “What’s going on, you asking my permission?”
From the other end, there is a happy laugh with:
“It’d be different if it were shoes and a dress.”
I managed a quiet goodbye (without choking), hung up, and went back to singing along with Merle. It seemed fitting he was in the middle of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Here And Drink” at the time.
JOE ESTEP deserves a standing ovation. Joe runs the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame and, this past Saturday night, put together another classic.
Held at the “new” Oxford Civic Center, the 2013 induction played to a near packed house.
Outstanding Joe, outstanding.
FOR THOSE asking, the Peach Man’s tomatoes are a week away, but Ken Easterling will be at Regions in Oxford on Friday morning at 6 with another load of Chilton County peaches.
If no sell-out in Oxford he heads for the Anniston post office along about 8 . . . but don’t bet he gets there.
IF YOU’RE lining up at the Walmart deli at Lenlock, I hope you get lucky and a young lady by the name of Vanesa Durham waits on you. She did for me a few days back and while I’ve had an unpleasant moment or two there, Vanesa left me feeling pretty good.
Walmart could use more like her.
BIRTHDAYS: June 12 – Annette Vice; June 14 – Sage Snow; June 15 – Twins Brettnie and Dakota Smith; June 17 – Aiden Lloyd; 11; June 18 – Don Beabout.
And Jeff Jones, June 17. A member of a vanishing breed (The Great Generation), Jeff drove a “weasel” jeep ashore at Normandy, June 6, 1944.
QUOTABLE: “My doctor tells me I should start slowing it down - but there are more old drunks than there are old doctors so let's all have another round.”
Thanks for visiting ...
George Smith may be reached at 256-239-5286 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.