Sunday, February 28, 2010

Profile - A Little Church in NW D.C. PART THREE

In the summer of 1966 the denominational conference to which the little church belonged had a camp meeting outside Frostburg, MD. The first week was a youth camp and the second week was an all-church camp - I think I have the sequence right. Anyway it was two weeks. An older couple from the church drove me to Frostburg. It was hot. Since the car didn't have air conditioning we rode with the windows down. The wife put her right arm through the sleeve of a shirt so that it wouldn't get sunburned while resting on the car door during the ride. 

I don't recall discussing the camp with either of my parents, though I must of done so with my Mom. In essence I decided I was going and that was it. On the other hand, thinking back, the folks at the little church must have done some behind the scenes work for me - otherwise how could I have gone? I didn't have any money to speak of. I didn't pay anything to go. I did agree to work at the soda fountain in the conference center during the two weeks, but that would hardly pay for two week's of camp meeting. 

(By this time I was either living at my Mom's or I decided to live with her upon my return from camp. My return ride was via a widowed Dad who had kids at the camp and who belonged to a church in Silver Spring. Since my Mom lived in Rockville he gave me a ride to her house on his way back to Silver Spring from Frostburg.)

Camp was great. Being around other teenagers was neat. The services were exciting. During the regular camp meeting week I sang in the choir and loved it. Pastor Valentine from Baltimore led the choir and generated excitement in everything he did. I still recall some of the songs we sang: It Took A Miracle, The Song of the Soul Set Free, A New Name In Glory, Wonderful Grace of Jesus - oh how we sang those songs! I was in heaven.

Sometimes the other kids talked to me about things I didn't understand. Once I was asked my opinion about whether women should "bob" their hair. I didn't have a clue. Then one morning, following a night at which I'd been at the altar for quite sometime with people praying around me, the other kids wanted to know if I'd been sanctified or baptized with the Holy Spirit. I didn't know what they were talking about. I did try to understand - but wasn't sure what was going on with me or what they were talking about. I suppose I was the first teenager from outside the denomination to have attended the camp in a while.

If you are reading this with a critical attitude give it a break. You see, the story here is that these kids accepted me, they invited me into their lives. These adults were kind to me - a kid who needed kindness. That camp meeting gave me something that I had never experienced - and it is only as I write this now, almost 44 years later, that I see it ever so clearly - that camp meeting introduced me to joy. 

Singing in that choir, having wholesome fun with other teenagers, being around adults who were kind - I felt safe...and I experienced joy. This joy is more than emotion, it is the joy of which C.S. Lewis speaks, a joy found in beauty, a joy found in a window of time, a joy found in a vision, and a joy found in others. Joy penetrates our heavens in many ways - it first penetrated my heavens in a camp meeting in Frostburg, MD in 1966.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Profile - A Little Church in NW D.C. PART TWO

As I mentioned in my last post, the pastor of this little church was Walter Veasel. Walter and his wife had, I think, three children and lived on the other side of Baltimore. He was a school teacher. As an adult reflecting back on Walter, I wonder how he managed to be a husband, a father, a school teacher, and pastor a church that was easily over an hour from home - probably 1 1/2 hours. It's hard to imagine that Walter was in the ministry for himself. It must have been hard for Mrs. Veasel and the kids too - all that traveling, no other children in the church, long Sundays.

Years later I met Walter in Baltimore. He had since assumed the pastorate of a church in the Baltimore area whose meeting house had been destroyed by a hurricane - and thanks to insurance and Federal disaster aid a brand new facility had been constructed - I was happy for Walter.

I wasn't at the little church in N.W. D.C. for very long, for after my conversion tension between my Dad and I was such that I moved back to my Mom's in Maryland and I attended a sister church in Silver Spring. But for the time I was at the little church the people did the best they could and I'll always be thankful for that and be thankful for those long trips Walter Veasel made every Wednesday night and every Sunday to serve a little congregation that could give him nothing material in return for his long hours of travel, ministry, and preparation. 

I've seen others like Walter in my life. Men and women who do things that don't make material or temporal sense. Men and women who do things for which there is no apparent "return on their investment". I'm reminded of the woman who poured out precious ointment on the feet of Jesus, it didn't make sense to the disciples, they termed it a waste. 

Who knows where I might be if not for Walter? Suppose he hadn't been there and there had been no church? Of course we don't know the answers to questions like that, but we do know that God put Walter there, and that Walter was there when I came, and that he drove me home that first Wednesday night. I don't recall a thing that Walter said - but I remember that Pastor Walter Veasel was there - and I think that says a lot.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Profile - A Little Church in NW D.C. PART ONE

Howard Wall's church (see previous post on Howard) was in Seat Pleasant, MD, too far for me to travel. I did visit Howard one weekend and attended his church, which was Southern Baptist - some of my best friends are Southern Baptist, no kidding. They had a visiting preacher that Sunday and his message was from Matthew 23. I recall Howard commenting about the fact the preacher used the RVS, which meant nothing to me at the time. 

I visited the local Presbyterian Church in Georgetown by going to speak to an associate pastor. He gave me a booklet which explained the church year, church symbols, vestments, and the like. I'd only been reading the Bible for a few weeks, but when I realized that he didn't know where the Lord's Prayer was, and I did, well that sealed the deal - I thought the Lord's Prayer was probably more important than vestments and symbols.

I visited a Baptist Church in Georgetown, it was a communion Sunday. The folks were gracious and invited me to take communion - I guess that was my first communion come to think of it. They were all elderly, which was neither here or there to me in terms of age, but it was all rather subdued.

There was a cashier at the Food Mart who invited me to her church. I first went on a Wednesday night. I must have taken the bus, or maybe I rode with her, I can't remember. After the prayer meeting the pastor, Walter Veasel, drove me to the apartment I shared with my Dad on Wisconsin Ave. I returned on Sunday.

It was a little church, and other than the pastor's children I was the only one under 30, and I'm not sure there were many under 40. I guess there weren't more than 40 people on a good Sunday. They were old time Pentecostal - of course I didn't know what being Pentecostal meant anymore than I would have known what being a Seventh Day Adventist meant. I knew about the Washington Senators and NY Yankees, and I knew who in my old neighborhood were Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and Methodists, and I knew that my classmate Donny Rothburg was Jewish, but beyond that Pentecostals were like a hockey team to me - I'd never seen ice hockey and didn't know the rules.

The excitement was great on Sundays, the exuberance intoxicating, and the praying...well I'd never heard praying like that - not that I'd ever heard much praying. The people were serious. More importantly, they welcomed me as best they knew how. 

I often think back to that little church when I read the latest and greatest ways to reach youth. That church didn't have a youth program. It didn't have good music. It didn't have anyone my age. But those people welcomed me as best they knew how and I came back. We make things too complicated. 

To be continued...

Profile - Howard Wall

You wouldn't be reading this if it were not for Howard Wall (speaking in the natural). Of course you would not be reading this if it were not for a number of other people as well, but I'm going to begin with Howard.

When I was in the 10th grade and attending Western High School in Washington, D.C. I worked at the Food Mart,  a grocery store at 31st & M streets in Georgetown. I worked after school and on Saturday, stocking shelves, bagging groceries, and carrying orders home for folks who lived in walking distance from the store.

It was early 1966 when Howard came on board as our new produce manager. He was around 5'8", thin, with coal black hair slicked back, and heavy rimed black glasses with thick lenses. Howard was an American Indian.

I took my breaks in the area where Howard prepped his produce, for that was also the area in which our cases of dry goods were stored in preparation for stocking. I'd sit on a box, eat my snack, read the paper, and chat with Howard, who was probably around 50 years old. 

(I recall the first time I tried yogurt during one of my breaks. I couldn't understand why anyone would eat the stuff - it was so bitter! Then I discovered that the fruit was on the bottom.)

I don't recall Howard and I talking about anything in particular during those early days of getting acquainted. He wasn't a sports fan, which I was, so that wasn't a common interest. I guess we just talked - maybe about heads of lettuce or radishes or maybe even kumquats. Have you ever had a conversation about kumquats? 

What I do distinctly remember is finishing my break one day and getting ready to go through the stainless steel double doors that separated the back of the store from the public area when Howard asked me a question: "Bob, are you a Christian?"

"Sure," I replied. After all I was an American, I had been christened in the Presbyterian Church, therefore I was a Christian. That makes sense to you, doesn't it?

Howard's question, however, led me to begin reading the Bible and asking Howard questions. He loaned me some books to read, among them Billy Graham's World Aflame, nothing like a little drama to get one's attention. 

What strikes me as I reflect back to Howard is that he was never pushy - he was, as we say today, relational. And get this, he was significantly older than me and he was relational. I wonder where we get the thinking that older folks and younger folks can't relate? He was interested in me and so he could talk with me and listen to me - not rocket science is it?

I wonder what the timing of Howard's question looked like on his end? Why did he decide to pop the question at that particular time? Had he been thinking about it for a while? Had he started to ask the question at other times only to draw back at the last moment?

Howard and I both left the Food Mart later that year. Howard moved to Colorado and I lost track of him. I left because I didn't feel my initiative was appreciated. But during our remaining time together Howard and I  talked about Jesus and during the weeks following Howard's question I came to know Jesus. 

I don't know if the Food Mart is still at 31st and M streets, but I do know that one day I'll catch up with Howard and thank him for asking me the most important question anyone could ever ask, and I'll thank him for being my friend. 


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Is Already Ours

When my brothers and I were kids the middle brother, Bill, had a watch that he forgot he had. I don’t recall when he got the watch or when he lost the watch, but I can tell you when the watch reappeared. It reappeared the day he bought the watch from Jim, the youngest of us three brothers. Now if this doesn’t make sense to you just hang-in here for a few more sentences.

While it has never been fully explained, Jim came into possession of Bill’s watch after Bill lost it, or misplaced it, or did something else to banish the watch from memory; it’s an example of “out of sight out of mind”. How long Jim had the watch is anyone’s guess, once again, it has never been fully explained.

One day Jim asked Bill if he’d like to buy a watch, Bill said “yes” and the deal was done. Shortly thereafter Jim, not being able to contain himself, informed Bill that Bill had purchased his own watch.

A few mornings ago I said to an unemployed young man (the population of young men increases as my age increases) that his identity is not in whether he has a job or not but that it is in Christ, Christ is our identity; our occupation is not our identity. At the end of the day the young man sought me out and said, “I’m 41 years old and no one has ever told me that Christ is my identity, thank you.”

I gave the young man what he already had – he saw it as something new, I saw it as something old in the sense of ageless. John writes in his first letter that he is writing in order that his readers might know that they have eternal life, 1 John 5:13. John was affirming what his readers already had as a result of their belief in Jesus.

There are those who sell people what they already have, and then there are those who affirm what people already have. If in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Colossians 2:3, we can be confident and competent in affirming Christ in our brothers and sisters; and in affirming our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Holding His Hand

Recently I was walking with my four-year old grandson when he said, "Grandpa, hold my hand, I don't want to get lost."

In that instant I thought of all the years I've known Jesus and that if I come to the end of this life and haven't learned to hold His hand, to trust Him - well, what will have been the point of it all? What is the point of learning, reading, speaking, doing. listening - if I haven't come to know what it is to simply hold His hand so I don't get lost? 

I had an image in that instant of a desk filled with things representing the many years of my Christian life;.the things I've learned, the things I've said and done. All of those things were swept off the desk and what was left was me holding the hand of Jesus, for all of the "things" mean nothing if I haven't learned to hold His hand in trust.  

My grandson had distilled the essence of the Christian life - holding the hand of Jesus so we don't get lost.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Friend I Don't Deserve

Yesterday I stopped and saw a friend whom I haven't seen in a few years. She is one of those people who you know you don't deserve in your life. During the course of our time together she said in essence, "You know, I love your writing but I don't understand a lot of it. I like it when you tell stories. For instance, I loved your Wisteria piece, you need to do more of that.

At the behest of my friend Michael Daily I launched my first blog on Thursday - though I haven't told folks about it yet - so is that really a launch? Anyway, my intent is to use that first blog, Mind on Fire, to focus on Biblical thinking, Biblical theology, literature, culture critique...well, you get the idea. But what about my friends like Debby who suffer through much of what I write? I don't think mixing things up in a blog is a smart thing, too confusing, though there could be occasional overlap. Anyway, as I pondered Debby's comments and encouragement I decided - just do another blog. So here we go!

I'm calling this Kaleidoscope because with each twist of the wrist there is a new pattern of colored glass and  a new display of light for the imagination to play with and the senses to experience.

I mentioned that I hadn't seen Debby in a few years. I first met Debby around 20 years ago, we worked in the same industry - property management. Then Vickie and I moved away and were gone for six or seven years, and upon our return to Richmond Debby and I reconnected - in fact, we were working for the same company - more than that, I was Debby's boss. She was excited about me coming to work for the company she was with and I was looking forward to working with her. About two years later Debby left the company. 

While it would be inappropriate in a public forum to describe the dynamics that led to her leaving (and who ever really knows the whole story in a thing like this?) the important thing for this "post" is that I had a lot to do with it. Actually, the most important thing for this post is that I could have done better regarding Debby.

And so yesterday, after we had a sweet time of catching up and the time drew near for me to go I said, "Before I go, I've come here for a selfish reason. I want to ask you to forgive me for the way our business relationship ended," or words to that effect. 

She replied, "You've already been forgiven. I've already forgiven you. I know that the way you were during that time was not the Bob Withers that I know and love...and I've told people that."

I said, "I need to hear the words."

And Debby my friend replied, "I forgive you."

Do you see what I mean when I talk about having friends who you know you don't deserve?