“This Is The One Thing That I Know”

Chillin' in the back seat...
Chillin’ in the back seat…

An exchange from last night’s car ride home between Meg and I:

“What do you want to listen to, Meg?”

“I want to hear ‘This is the one thing that I know’!”


“‘This is the one thing that I know’!”

“You mean, this song?”


It took me a few seconds for me to understand what Meg was saying, and then translate those words into a song I knew (“Liquid,” by Jars of Clay).  It frequently takes me awhile to grasp her requests for songs, but I picked up on this one somewhat quickly.  I had to ask Brooke about this later and she said they hadn’t listened to that song recently.  To our knowledge, the last time Meg heard it was when we were playing it just prior to the Good Friday service at church, when we last played it.  And that was March 29th.

It isn’t the first time something like this has happened.  I’m reminded of another song she wanted to sing a month or two ago when we were in Hannibal, “Forever Reign” (though she recited the first few lines as “You are dead, you are dead, you are nothing to me…”  For the record, those aren’t the correct lyrics.).

Meg’s pretty good at remembering random things from a long time ago, especially things you didn’t think she was paying attention to.  Thankfully, she appears to grasp music better than other details, which hopefully means she will be at least as good as I am at just “picking up” a song and playing it.  We’ll just have to make sure she focuses on sight-reading a bit more than I did.

At the same time, if you ask her what she did at school that say, all she’ll tell you is “I don’t know.”  Clearly she knows, but for some reason, doesn’t want to tell you.  We’re working on this, too.

Still, at times like last night, I have to wonder how her little mind is working…

On Ending ‘The Connection’ at WHUMC

These remarks were delivered by me as part of a “testimonial” during our regular church service today.  I thought it appropriate to post them here, as well.  I’ll probably write more on the subject eventually, but for right now, just know that our regular Sunday morning church service, The Connection, will be ending next week as we consolidate the two regular church services into a single one, beginning officially in January.  We have some details to work out on what this service will look like, but in short, what we’ve been doing at Webster Hills for the last few years will cease to be after next Sunday.

Brooke and I moved to St. Louis after graduating college in 2005 so I could start graduate school at Saint Louis University.  We were both active in the Wesley Foundation at Truman State University and wanted to continue in the Methodist church after moving.  We had a few criteria in the kind of church we were looking for, but above all else, we sought a church that had not only a worship service geared toward more “contemporary” music and liturgy, but specifically a service that did not occur at the same time as Sunday School.  Of the churches in the southern half of St. Louis, the only option we found was Webster Hills UMC.  While this was the initial reason to attend, we found the congregation to be warm and inviting, the music to be similar to what we knew from our days at the Wesley House, and the opportunities to participate and contribute to the overall mission of the church to be plentiful.

For the next several years, our experience with the band, service, and church as a whole evolved to encompass not only participating in the music, but the altar design, management of the media system, and more.  In short, just about everything that goes on before and after this service, we have had our hands on at some point or another.  Ultimately, we were involved in leading the band on an interim basis between our previous worship director, Yanela Sheets, and Ryan Gibbs, a period that also saw a re-envisioning of the service and this space, including the introduction of more comfortable chairs, carpets, the crosses, and other facets that has hopefully made this space and worship service more inviting to the regular congregants and newcomers alike.

To say that this service has meant a great deal to my family would be an understatement.  Between 2005 and 2010, we put ourselves into what evolved into The Connection, and The Connection and its congregants became a part of us.  However, in 2010, we moved to Iowa after I completed my graduate work, yet our new church home never felt quite the same.  Webster Hills was still where we belonged.  And as fate would have it, the opportunity arose to return to St. Louis in late-2011, and thankfully, there was still The Connection, with open arms for any and all who wished to participate.

I keep using the term “participate” because Brooke and I feel that one of the great strengths of this service, over just about any we have ever attended, is that everyone can contribute in their own way, everyone can come as they are, and everyone is welcome.  In some ways, it’s the embodiment of Jesus’ most profound teachings: all people are welcome at the table, all they have to do is take that step forward and accept it.

As many of you know, this service will be ending next Sunday.  While it disappoints me greatly, at the same time, I trust that the spirit this service has embodied will continue to thrive, just in another form, at another place, at another time.  The opportunities to contribute toward the body and soul of this church are still plentiful, and as the sun sets on The Connection, something new is on the horizon, something that can and will do great things.

It’s been said that the night is darkest just before the dawn.  Apparently, that phrase comes from the English theologian, Thomas Fuller, though honestly, I know it from Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight.”  Regardless, it’s a phrase that comes to mind in thinking about endings like this one, and the potential beginnings yet to come.  Brooke and I have always sought to contribute as best as we can, using whatever talents we have available to us.  The Connection afforded us that possibility, and we are eternally grateful for it.  Though this service will be ending soon, we will look upon it fondly as some small thing we could do, together, to help bring others closer to Christ.

History is Written by the Victors


I have a confession to make:  I’ve been reading a book.  Yes, it’s true.

Right around Palm Sunday, I read/heard some interviews with Bart Ehrman, a religious scholar out of the University of North Carolina.  He was talking about his most recent book, “Did Jesus Exist?”  Hearing the interview reminded me that I actually own another book by Ehrman, “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew.”  I picked it up a few years ago after seeing the interview above (on another book…”Misquoting Jesus“) on The Daily Show.  I actually tried reading it back in 2006, but one thing led to another and I stopped.  What can I say…

Regardless, I picked it back up again and am about halfway through.  Part of what intrigued me about Ehrman’s books, in general, is that they are not only discussing the content of the Bible and other historical documents, but also the context in which they came into existence, how and when they were discovered, and how accurate their translations were.  I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of the idea that the Bible should be taken literally, and books like these make it clear that there was quite a bit of politics involved in which books made it in and which ones didn’t.

This book, specifically, is talking about different, early forms of Christianity that were “snuffed out” by what he terms the “proto-orthodox” church.  That is to say, the earliest version of what we have today.  He points to the Gnostics, the Ebionites and the Marcionites (thus far) as examples of competing views on how Christianity should be viewed.  The nature of Christ, Himself.  How much the Old Testament (and Judaism) should figure in to what eventually becomes “Christianity.”

Reading through it, two things come to mind:

1). The Early Christians didn’t know everything, either.  Barnabus, for example, traveled with Paul and shows up in Acts and a few Epistles.  He wrote a document, “Epistle to the Hebrews,” that suggests that Jewish Law (e.g. Leviticus, the Ten Commandments, etc.) was not meant to be taken literally and that things like “don’t eat pork” really meant “don’t eat like a pig.”  This guy knew and traveled with Paul and even he disputed the meaning of ancient texts…and he was around at the time of the writing of many of our “ancient texts.”  And these discussions between Paul and Barnabus (and others) were going on while they were writing what got into our Bible.

2). It’s easy to look at “Christianity” as a mish-mash of different belief systems today when you look at Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptists, and so on and so forth.  Each one has their own “quirks,” traditions, hierarchies, et cetera.  And there are definitely individuals within each group that thinks that they have it “right” and that they are “saved” and the others are not.  Strangely enough, it seems like this is the way it has been since the beginning.  The only difference is that one group (the one inspired by the writings of Paul) won out 2000 years ago and effectively stamped out the others.

Crazy to think about what that would mean if the same thing happened today, eh?

Regardless, it’s a pretty fascinating book, and brings up many interesting ideas that help out in my various discussions.  We’ve been reading through the Gospels in our small group, so the things this book presents really gives me a different perspective than what the others in the group are bringing to the table.  At the very least, it certainly highlights the fact that the Bible is an important document to many, but as with anything historically-based, it’s shaped by those who came out on top.

“I was in the prison, and you visited me…”

Brooke and Meg were out of town this past weekend, so I attended church alone.  We had a guest pastor in church, as our regular pastor was out of town.  Her name was Pastor Arnette Pint, and she was the first Associate Pastor for Shueyville UMC back in the late-90s.  Since that time, she has gone on to a few positions, but her most recent one is serving a congregation called Women at the Well, that she started at the Mitchellville, IA Women’s Correctional Facility, so she had some very interesting perspectives.

Pastor Arnette described a variety of statistics and anecdotal stories to help illustrate what she does and why it’s important.  First, she told us that this is a relatively new concept, having a church within a prison.  This is different than having churches visit prisons, as you end up getting a variety of groups coming through and not staying – no sense of permanence.  The United Methodist Church in Iowa felt the need to appoint a pastor specifically to this prison, as the system apparently works well in other states where it’s been implemented.  Pastor Arnette relayed a story of the pastor (whose name I can’t find) that started this movement and, effectively, “wrote the book” on doing this sort of thing.  He had been ministering to the men of a prison in South Dakota and he got the sense that they wanted an actual, regular, church service.  Something permanent.  Something they could depend on.  After he started a weekly service, the numbers of attendees grew, and their outlooks after prison improved.

The part of the story that hit me was that, supposedly, one inmate thanked him for starting the service, lamenting the endless parade of churches and groups coming through to preach to them.  The inmate said “We was tired of gettin’ saved.”  It was an interesting point to make, as these churches that were coming to the prison somehow felt as though, because they were prisoners, they must obviously not be Christians.  Because they were in prison, they obviously needed “saving.”

With this framework in mind, Pastor Arnette went through some statistics, saying that 60% of inmate in her prison have been diagnosed with a mental illness, though that number is surely higher.  Most of those diagnoses happened outside the prison system, as the ones that occur once you’re in the system can be difficult to interpret.  There are 600 women in the prison, while 30 years ago, in the same building, there were only 40-something women there.  It’s a crowded place, and there’s one psychologist to manage all of them.  They communicate over the internet with a psychiatrist in order to get any medications approved.  Pastor Arnette also said that, while the statistics aren’t solid on this, she thinks it’s somewhere between 80% and 90% of these women that have been abused in some fashion during their lives, and the majority of them have struggled with addiction at some time.  For many of them, addiction is the reason they are in prison at all.  She said that, while they have counselors at the prison to help the psychologist in their day-to-day routine, these counselors, more often than not, are prison guards that have ranked up high enough to get off the floor.

The United Methodist Church in Iowa also started a program to help provide clothing for women that are leaving prison.  Apparently, the State of Iowa doesn’t provide you with a change of clothes for your bus ride home, so there are women riding from Des Moines to all points of the State in their prison uniform.  Hardly the “right foot” to get started on.  So, the Methodist Church started collecting clothes from women across the state, asking them to donate their lightly-used clothes so that these women have something to start fresh with.  The church provides a set of casual clothes, as well as a set of clothes nice enough for “that first job interview.”  Certainly a nice gesture.

One of her larger points was with regards to the cost of building and operating prisons.  She pointed out that almost $180 million has been approved by the State of Iowa to help refurbish this current prison, as well as build another prison in the state (and that’s just to build, not to operate).  That’s $180+ million to help deal with all these women that have been coming in (remember, 40 women increased to 600 in this one building over 30 years, largely due to influx of methamphetamine and harsher drug laws).  She suggested that, maybe, that $180+ million would have been better spent on helping these women before they got into prison, by providing greater access to abuse and addiction counselors, or to even see a mental health professional.

At a time when state funding for mental health is declining drastically, our spending on new prison facilities is increasing.  “How does this make sense,” she asks.

The last point I’ll leave with you are some interesting statistics on recidivism (as in, the likelihood someone within the prison will come back to the prison one or more times).  The rate in Iowa is 60%, which is comparable to other states.  According to her, in studies that have looked into programs like hers, with churches that are actually based within a prison, the recidivism rate drops to 15% for those individuals.  If those individuals leave the prison and find a church home (as in, one they attend regularly, as opposed to “just visiting”), the rate drops to 2%.

It was an excellent sermon, and an eye-opening testament to what goes on in the prison system.  Thankfully, my family isn’t known for their prison stints, so I can’t say I have any experience with what it’s like to “go through the system.”  I hope I never do, but if anyone I know has to go through it, I hope they have someone like Pastor Arnette and a program like hers to help them see it through.

A Change of Pace

I participated in our church’s cantata this past weekend.  I was asked awhile back to play along in some capacity, whether it was guitar or percussion, and I opted for the latter after finally listening to the recording on the way back from Thanksgiving.  I’m particularly glad for this because the guy that ended up playing guitar had to deal with songs in terrible keys – drums don’t tend to play chords, so I was all good.  The choir held practices on Wednesdays in December, which were difficult for me to attend due to Brooke’s ever changing work schedule and the need to keep Meg on some semblance of a sleep schedule.  Therefore, I went this past Wednesday, practiced with the group this past Saturday, and then performed the cantata on Sunday.  When we actually performed the thing Sunday morning, I still hadn’t actually played the first two songs.  Par for the course.

Regardless, it turned out surprisingly well.  I used my djembe, congas and bongos, which fit pretty well with the piano lead, and guitar and synthesizer accompaniment.  I fit into the background, but still added to the experience in my own way.  I also got quite a few compliments following the two services we performed it in.  Overall, the choir did a great job and the music was very well received.

The whole thing brought up some memories, though.  For the last 10 years or so, my musical experience has centered around praise bands.  This would involve your typical “rock band”-style musical system, with a few vocalists, electric/acoustic guitars, bass guitar, maybe a piano and some drums.  There would be a leader, but that leader would also be playing an instrument, so for the most part, the band would be a, theoretically, cohesive group that didn’t really need a prototypical director to run it.  Many times, it became an “organic” experience and evolved as we performed each song.

This group at the cantata, however, needed a prototypical director.  And it’s been awhile since I’ve needed to follow one.

Generally, I was trying to follow the piano player, as she was the lead instrumentalist, but she was trying to follow the director, who was mostly directing the choir.  The piano, however, wasn’t really oriented toward the director, so while the piano player was keeping time as best she could, she couldn’t easily look over and see what the director was doing.  And the director was doing her best to fight timing between the piano and the choir, with all their individual singing and speaking parts.

It very much reminded me of playing in the pit orchestra back in high school.  And in a good way.

There is something indescribable about that kind of experience.  The feeling of playing a part in a production.  Not necessarily an up-front acting gig or anything, but still participating.  Some of my fondest memories of high school go back to playing in the pit orchestra for the likes of “West Side Story,” “Brigadoon” and “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.”  We had weekly practices, eventually leading to daily practices that went relatively late into the night (a school night…so…”late” meaning 9:00…) all culminating in the set of scheduled performances.  People would get all “psyched up” and go through their various traditions and rituals that have been passed down from performers of yesteryear.  We, being in the orchestra, all wore black so we wouldn’t stand out in front of the actors.

In many ways, it was an almost magical experience to go through.  When those songs came together, you could really get shivers down your spine.  Again, we’re talking about a group of 50 people or so taking on different jobs to pull together a singular vision.  In some ways, it’s like a football game.  Each player gets their own part to play, but they all have to work in concert to make a truly awesome play.  The same goes for a musical.  You may have 15 people playing different instruments, then another 20 or so up on stage, some singing, some dancing, and then a whole host of other people backstage pulling the rest of the show together, sight unseen.  When it works, it really works.  And you are astounded every time you do it, as one wrong note, or one wrong line, or one misplaced prop can shatter the whole thing.

To be fair, being in a church cantata, while fun, isn’t the same.  We practiced quite a bit more for musicals, production took months, they had to hold try-outs, and so on.  However I got the same kind of feeling playing along yesterday.  A feeling of playing along with a large group again, not necessarily out front, but in the background playing my part.  It was cool to simply be there and have a good time.  Strangely less stressful than playing with a smaller group on a typical Sunday.

I guess it was just good to play my instrument(s) as part of a larger whole again.  It doesn’t happen often enough anymore.

The Science of Speaking Out

Ira Flatow had a group of climate scientists on his show, NPR’s Science Friday, this past week discussing the “fine line” that many scientists find themselves walking.  Philosophically, there are many in the scientific community that believe they should present the facts and allow the public to interpret them.  These scientists frequently just want to stay out of that realm of discourse, allowing the public (and, therefore, politicians) to decide how their data is used and what the best course of action is.  Largely, this is how it’s always been.  Early astronomers could tell what they knew, but had to wait for their ideas to be accepted by their respective communities.

This particular group of climate scientists, however, is getting together to move beyond the borders they have typically held themselves to, instead choosing to speak out with what they know and actually make policy recommendations based on their information.  Largely, this group adheres to what the great Carl Sagan once said:

“People are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.”

That is to say, these scientists are tired of presenting facts time and time again only to have them ignored and have other people’s opinions matter more than proven factual data.  To the scientific community, there is no question regarding the fact that global warming is occurring and that humans contribute to it.  In a separate (but related) issue, to the scientific community, there is no question regarding the fact that evolution is occurring and that natural selection is the most likely mechanism.  There is no question that frozen embryos are kept in that state for years and end up “dying” in a liquid nitrogen freezer when they could have been used for stem cell research rather than being discarded in a biohazard bag and incinerated.  Yet politicians, for some reason, are able to ignore these facts in their decisions of what is taught in our schools and what energy policies should be enacted and how important research could be conducted.

After listening for awhile, an individual called in and asked a question that intrigued me, and it’s one that I haven’t really considered up until now: why is it that members of Congress, and politicians in general, feel the need to question facts of science, yet do not pose the same questions toward religious beliefs?  Let us assume that all politicians turn their magnifying glass toward all information that comes across their desks (hah!).  Shouldn’t that magnifying glass analyze all information the same way, equally?  Shouldn’t they ask, “Well, this group of people used rigorous experimental techniques and verified their findings, and this other group didn’t.  Which should we believe?”

I mentioned this concept to Brooke and her attitude was, generally speaking, “That’s Just How It Is.”  This is true, but it still irks me.  I realize that this is how religious beliefs have always been.  There has always been a large enough group of individuals that are so adamant about their beliefs that, no matter what facts you give them, they will not shift policy to match.  The most recent issue of childhood vaccinations and the misconceptions about them comes to mind.  I’m not sure if this is a failing of critical thinking skills or education in general, but it’s been such a pervasive problem throughout history that I have to wonder.  Frequently, it takes at least one generation to change minds about these things, and in some cases, many generations.  I’m just afraid that, on many of these issues, we don’t have that long.

Case in point: the Catholic Church condemned Galileo‘s heretical thinking about the Earth revolving around the Sun as “vehement suspicion of heresy.”  He died in 1642 and he couldn’t be buried with his family because of it (to be fair, the Church moved his remains to their rightful place almost 100 years later).  However, the Catholic Church waited over a century before accepting heliocentrism, and until 1965 to revoke its condemnation of Galileo himself.

Scientists are getting a little annoyed with that kind of treatment.  Granted, the world moves faster today and ideas are disseminated and accepted much faster, yet Natural Selection has been a concept for over 150 years and there are still people that use the phrase “but it’s just a Theory.”  It shouldn’t take over 150 years, let alone 300 years, for ideas to be accepted when those ideas are revolutionary to our understanding of our place in the universe, and it really shouldn’t take that long for governments to make policies that use legitimate scientific data to actually preserve our place in that universe by preventing our extinction from it.  In 300 years, without any change in policy, we won’t have California or Florida anymore.  It will be too late.


We went to church yesterday and, I must say, the sermon wasn’t very impressive.  But more generally speaking, I haven’t really been impressed by a sermon in quite awhile.

I got to thinking about this while the sermon was going on, and while I was trying to follow what she was saying.  Specifically, the pastor was talking about Creation, referring to the scripture readings from the beginning of Genesis (“In the beginning…”-type stuff).  Now, she got to talking about dirt, how the ground can give you things and how you can “play” with/in dirt, etc.  I was hoping she would then move into how this is important for farmers in the area, or people at home with their gardens.  How the earth provides food that we need, and how satisfying it can be to use the earth at our disposal to be productive.

But she didn’t go there.  Instead, she moved past that and made it to how, essentially, we need to read the Bible (i.e. “The Word”) and glean everything from it.  She also repeatedly referred to “visions” she had (hopefully she meant “dream,” ’cause otherwise, I think she needs to adjust her meds accordingly) that provided analogs of Heaven, with people praising God in His Creation.

Basically, she re-tread the same steps countless pastors of mine have tread in the past.  And these are things I’ve been exposed to practically every Sunday for 28 years.

Now, I realize that there is a time and a place for such talk.  “Seeker churches,” for example, where you have a proportion of individuals that have not been attending church for as long as me and they are hearing these things for the first time in their lives.  And I also realize that, at any church, there will be folks that walk through the door and need to hear some of these things as an introduction to the Christian faith.  Likewise, children in church need to hear it at some point, too (but there’s this thing called “Sunday School” where a lot of that can be addressed, and frequently is).

But seriously, it feels like Brooke and I have been attending churches on various levels for the last 5-10 years (and separately before that), hearing sermons in a variety of contexts, and the vast majority of them tread the same ground as has been done before.  And the most serious problem for me is that “the same ground” is losing relevance quickly.  The things being discussed in most of these sermons are the things I heard discussed when I was in elementary school.  Are they still important?  Sure.  But so is poverty.  So is on-going war.  So is strife in third-world countries.  So is crime.  So are natural disasters.  These are all things that are relevant in today’s world, that apply to everyone, and that need to be addressed in the church setting.

I’m not talking “poverty” in the sense of “poor people” like discussed in the Bible.  I’m talking about specifics.  About people in Asia and Africa that live on less than I make in 2 min, let alone all the people in the United States that don’t make a livable wage and can’t afford to feed their families.  I’m not talking “war” in the sense of battles waged in the Bible, but the specifics of Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst other places in the world.  I’m not talking “disasters” in the sense of a Great Flood, but in the specifics of Hurricane Katrina, tornadoes, flooding and a Gulf oil spill.  And, moreover, I’m not talking about pastors devoting a sentence, or a mere mention to these issues, but rather about devoting the entirety of their sermon on such things.

To me, it represents a form of intellectual laziness.  A given pastor can sit at their desk, read a book or two, and effectively repeat most of those tenets on a Sunday morning in their sermon.  Books written that are designed to “transcend time” and talk generally about issues that affect a great many people in the world, but still don’t talk about today.

I think it takes quite a bit more thought and analysis to “find God” in the situations of the present, in the aforementioned poverty, wars, and crimes.  It requires a lot more bravery on their part to discuss complicated issues that we are exposed to on a daily basis, including abortion and homosexuality.  For some reason, these issues are popular to talk about outside of church, but once you are within the doors, they are ignored to avoid offending congregation members.

That is, I argue, what people today need to be hearing.  Not what God did 2000+ years ago, but what He’s doing today.

Collecting Data

So, I am still maintaining the Webster Hills UMC website, which will hopefully undergo a redesign in the upcoming months (depending on whether I get the “go ahead,” and when they decide what system they want to use…but that’s another story). Within the last few months, I instituted use of Google Analytics in order to help track where the web traffic was coming from, what search queries led people to the site, and generally which pages on the site visitors were viewing.

I instituted the same system on this website as well. We were running a similar bit of software to do the same thing, but the Google system is quite a bit more powerful and, as it’s built into Google, it’s very easy for me to access anywhere and look at who is visiting Linsenbardt.net.

Google Analytics tells me a variety of things, such as:

  • 57% of visitors use Firefox; 22% use IE; and 16% use Chrome
  • 26% use cable internet; 16% use DSL; and the remainder use other things (T1, OC3, etc.)
  • 86% of visitors are “returning,” and 14% are “new” to the site.
  • Most visitors are from Missouri (and now Iowa).  Wisconsin, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are the next in line for visitors to the site.

I find the “keywords” to be amongst the most interesting data, however.  The top keyword used to find the site is “andy linsenbardt,” followed by various others, including “brooke and andy” (which, by the way, is crazy that searching for “brooke and andy” on Google takes you to our site…as if we’re the only ones on the internet?!).

The keyword that prompted me to write this post in the first place, however, was “lee strobel drop denomination.”  Sure enough, if you search for that phrase, you find a blog posting I wrote way back in 2005 as the sixth down the page.  Apparently, in one of his books, Lee Strobel suggested that it’s alright for churches to drop the denomination from their name (e.g. rather than “Webster Hills United Methodist Church,” call it “Webster Hills Community Church”).  Incidentally, if you search for “Lee Strobel is an Idiot” on Google, my blog post comes in at #10.  Not bad!

On a side-note, I’m starting to get a bit bored with the WordPress theme we’ve been using. It’s really only been up for a few months (September?), but with the newly announced WordPress 3.0 upgrade, I figure I may make a few changes. Could take a bit – depends on how motivated I am!


So, typically at church on Sunday mornings, the scripture lesson will precede the sermon. Today, the lesson was:

4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you  were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Now, reading through that lesson, one would have to ask themselves, “hmmm…how’s Pastor Scott going to discuss abortion?”

He didn’t talk about it at all.  Didn’t come up once.

In fact, Scott talked about having purpose in your life (the sermon title was “Motivation for Life”).  He specifically discussed how the prophet Jeremiah was around 16 years old when God talked to him, and even at that young age, he had meaning in his life and was motivated to continue along the path put forth in front of him.  The verse talked about how Jeremiah, specifically, was called to preach God’s Word to the masses.

So, I sat there thinking: “how could two so drastically different messages come from the same verse?”  What Scott talked about was a motivation, a purpose, for all our lives and how we can do good with them.  Instead, there are other voices that stop after the word “apart” midway through the 5th verse.  These voices disregard the context in which the words were written, inserting their own meaning.

I realize we live in a world of soundbytes now, when a politician’s words can be cut and cropped to make it sound like they said something when they really didn’t.  Largely, I think this occurs because people are generally lazy and don’t care to listen to the full series of phrases, let alone the entirety of a single Bible verse.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that all of the world’s religions are guilty of the same mistakes…

…but I’d like to think we were smart enough now to know better than to accept the easy answer.

The Loss of a Friend

Colette Anderson, our long-time family friend from St. Andrew’s in Columbia, was the kind of person that I only knew peripherally growing up, but around the time I hit college, it seemed like she and my Mom became really close. I can remember back to Freshman year when I’d go out to my car after church and find a case of Mountain Dew in the back seat, or I’d shake her husband, Chuck’s, hand after playing drums for the service, ending up with a $20 bill in return. They were both great people that I am happy to have known, and I am certainly changed by their influence and generosity.

Both Chuck and Colette actively attended St. Andrew’s Saturday Evening Service, one we started over a decade ago focused on contemporary music. They both appreciated my contributions to the service in playing drums (and later guitar), and of course, supported all of the other people that came through the service over the years, always coming up after the service to thank us for the work we had done (even when we screwed up royally…which happened on many an occasion…). In many ways, they were “honorary members” of the band, frequently joining us for dinner after church or at our various social gatherings.

Chuck passed away, unexpectedly, on December 21, 2002. I don’t think Colette ever fully recovered from the loss, but did her best to move on and devote more of herself to her family (including new grandchildren) and her “church family.” Earlier this year, however, she was diagnosed with cancer and lost her battle with it this past Wednesday, December 16th. I made the trip to Columbia for the memorial service, held yesterday.

I guess I felt it necessary to make particular note here of the way both of their memorial services were held. Rather than focusing on their lives and the things they had done, these services were designed in celebration of what they stood for and how we can all better ourselves by looking at their examples. For both services, I was honored to participate in playing drums, along with others playing guitar, piano, and singing. Colette chose the songs for Chuck’s memorial service, and was able to choose many of the same ones for her own service. She was sure to pick upbeat, yet meaningful, music to set the tone that she wanted: not to dwell on the loss of her, but as a reminder of the life she led and how we can incorporate her ideals into our own lives.

She would tell us how Chuck frequently hummed “Come, Now Is The Time To Worship” on the way home from church anytime we’d play it. Colette chose that song to be played at his service, and also wanted it played at hers. It was an inspiring experience to play that song just the way we’d always done it (fast and loud!), and once the clapping started during the tune, many of us cried. It may be the best we’d ever done it. “Trading My Sorrows” was another one the family requested, and even though we had only played it together as a group once before (some of us had never played it before that day), it turned out perfectly.

It was probably the best memorial service I’d ever gone to, and I hope mine is similar someday (preferably a long time from now, of course). Colette and Chuck will certainly be missed, but their inspiration and legacy will live on for years to come.