Saturday, February 28, 2009


The closing scene of the film "Dr. Zhivago" is one of the saddest scenes in movie history. Dr. Zhivago's brother is talking to the poet's daughter, Tanya, who never knew her famous father, about her mother: She became "a nameless number that was afterwards misplaced and soon forgotten."

Forgotten. Soon forgotten. The last line is more hopeful. As Tanya leaves the huge dam where they work, her boyfriend shouts how good she is with the balalaika. A balalaika her father gave her mother before she was born is on her shoulder. Dr. Zhivago's brother says, "she has the gift."

Poetry is a gift, as is music. These God gives us to KEEP US FROM FEELING "FORGOTTEN."not feel "forgotten."


Friday, February 27, 2009

Give the seed time to germinate

If you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday

These words of the prophet Isaiah (58:10) speaks to the care humanity should shower upon those less fortunate. Such deeds of kindness are not to "convert" but to introduce to them the change Christ can make in their lives. Too few missionaries and preachers don't give the planted seed time to germinate.

Our first years in Taiwan taught us many things. Some took longer to learn than others. Churches generally baptized their new believers at Easter or Christmas. I thought that strange until I realize it was a custom going back a long way even in the Holy Land. I helped our Chinese pastor baptize 55 new believers one Easter. They had spent the months, some a year, germinating. Learning what they had experienced in Christ. Growing to appreciate what being a Christian meant and how important the church was becoming in their lives.

We expect the Christian churches to have spiritual influence on the community. But if the newly converted are not grounded, but rushed to membership, our influence is far less than it should be. Building cannot be built on poorly produced foundations. No one, especially God Almighty, wants anemic Christians that evolve into what the world calls hypocrites.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An Abundant Life is a Choice

Thur., Feb. 26 Living An Abundant Life Is A Choice

Choose the life God offers so that you and your descendants may live a real, full life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The growth of humans is both gentle and tender, especially at the beginning. Physical growth is a subtle translation from infant, to child to near-adult to maturity. What we call a life-span is just a day-to-day experience of growing. Life is learning, working, resting and becoming more than we dreamed possible.

The spiritual life should develop the same way – weekly worship, scripture reading, memorize a verse a week, spend quite time for fellowship with God on a regular basis. Share your life with others in an encouraging way. The Spirit (which enables the "spiritual life") is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ and a gift from a loving God.

A full life is a journey of faith, selflessness, and love, moment by moment.

Grant to us Lord a growing, expanding faith, so our graduation day we can say "It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus." A-men

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Believing in God's Grace and Mercy

"Remember, man is dust, and unto dust shall return." Ashes are a symbol of repentance, not a sacrament, and are to remind us spiritually of our blessings, help develop in us a spirit of humility and of service to the One who made us and called us to be His.

Some segments of the Christian faith and tradition follow daily scripture readings and prayer during what has come to be called the Lenten Journey. Ash Wednesday (today, Feb. 25), the beginning of that journey to Palm Sunday and Calvary's cross. Daily devotions and prayer during this period can make the Resurrection Sunday (Easter, April 12) more personal and meaningful.

The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21. Making the Lenten season one of doing penitence does not fit the New Testament life and teachings of Jesus. Repentance does. Penitence is something done to make things "right," only REPENTANCE toward God can do that.

Psalm 51: 1 "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions."

Henri J.M, Nouwen's prayer: "Lord, cleanse me of my heard-heartedness. Help me embrace your infinite mercy and love in my life." A-men.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Praying Clay & The Potter's Hands

You do not have because you do not ask. So wrote the author of the Letter from James (4:2) in the New Testament. Ask your Heavenly Father, and your needs (not wants) shall be given to you; seek the Father, and you shall find Him; knock on God's front door in confessing (even pleading) prayer, and the Father's door, ear and heart shall be opened to you. It is a proven fact that every one who asks, receives; and he who seeks, find; and to him who knocks, the very God of creation and life shall be opened to you (Matthew's Gospel 7:7,8, as I read it). Pray, as you ought with faith, and not lose heart over the ups and downs of the average day. Valleys can be deep, but God's grace and concern goes far deeper. The Potter's hands never leave the clay until He is finished with it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

God Receives My Prayer

Nothing on earth sustains the soul like time spent in prayer. Time alone where none can intrude though many are the devices that try to make me put it off. There is always something else to do, when pray time comes around. In the morning, too sleepy, or hurried, in the evening, to tired. Even when the praise and prayer get started it is often difficult to stay on topic. We lightly say to friends, "You are on my prayer list." Do we write it down? Do we mean it enough to write it down and pray specifically as we said we would? If we pray as we have been taught by the Lord Jesus, leave the matter at his feet, expect answers. No verbal, or even instant answers, but wait upon the Lord and he will meet your need, not your want. We need reminding that God is not a good luck charm and prayer is not just memorized phrases. Have this mind in you that was in our Lord Jesus Christ.

When I prayed to God, whose righteousness alone sustains me, He has made room for me in my distress. He has been gracious to listen to my prayer. I am amazed as God says to me: How long will you love what is worthless? How long will your aim be deception?

O Lord, many wonder if there is any good? They forget to praise you every morning and evening. God has put gladness in my heart. In peace I will rest the night for Thou alone, O Lord, makes me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4 as I see it.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Finding a Good Book Title

When looking to write a book, of all the problems and headaches involved none is more pronounced than finding a great title. When I wrote my book on the life and work of Lao She, I should have left his name off the title. No one can pronounce it and the rest of the title would have caught the eye of the buyer better. "China's Master Storyteller," was all I needed.

Another problem is that all the best titles have been used. Of the billions of books, whether written on clay tablets, papyrus, or paper, in thousands of languages, there are no great book titles left. This includes the thousands of languages, down through the ages, with great titles, many lost, but they once existed. I would not want to steal even a Sanskrit title.

After writing magazine articles for years and newspaper opinion pieces and a few books that never made anybody's best-seller list, I wanted to try again. But not until I could find a good unused title.

I saw an ad for a book whose title would be right for my musings on the Bible's Holy Land. Aaron David Miller beat me to the punch with his book, "The Much Too Promised Land." Even his sub-title, "America's Elusive Search For Arab-Israeli Peace," would be good enough for me. I would have to rearrange some words because I'm writing about the Holy Promised Land as it was when flowing with milk and honey.

Something like, "A Pilgrim's Elusive Search for Truth in Israel's History," might be good, but it's too long. A long title demands a longer book than I have in mind. (I'm only writing on what is between Genesis and Revelation.)

"Teaching a Hippo to Dance," as far as I know, has not been used as a book title. There are several problems with this title. I went to my high school prom, but no one dared stumble with me and my non-nibble feet. And I have not been tempted in public since then. Another problem is dancing hippos are rare in the streets of Jerusalem, and have little to do with my book's theme once we get past Noah and the Great Flood.

"Tried by War" looked to be a good title since the Old Testament is filled with war. And every side of those wars were trying. The first killing resulted from different opinions of worshipping God. And it has only gotten worse throughout the ages right up to this enlightened 21st century. The Apostle Paul urged the Christians to put on their armor; to fight the good fight.

"Tried by War" stuck me as a possible book title. Then I noticed that Penguin published James M. McPherson's "Tried by War." Jay Winik in the Boston Globe said this book is destined to become a classic. Wow, I almost wrote a classic.

"The Gods That Failed," by Elliot and Atkinson, looked good. Their book is all about people's unfortunate faith in money markets and how we got into this economic mess. My book would be about how Israel's God was victorious against Baal, Astherah, Artemis, the gods of Moab, Egypt and Beelzebub. The wicked gods of Sodom and Gomorrah didn't know what hit them. He didn't spare the golden calf, his servant Aaron built.

When I saw the book, "The Book of Dead Philosophers," by Simon Critchley, I remembered all the people that thought the Bible was dull and dead. (With daily doses of Bible reading church members would know this is not true.) That was when I had the title I needed. Just call it: "The Book of Dead Prophets." I could go a long way with all the stories in the Old Testament book of Hezekiah.

The Fifth century Greek playwright Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound (not a bad title) wrote, "Time, as he grows old, teaches many lessons." Time is teaching me to move on beyond book titles and get the book written. Time teaches many lessons, but it never slows down for any of us "writers."


Britt Towery, humorist and writer lives in San Angelo. His journal is posted almost daily at www.towerytales.blogspot.


Monday, February 16, 2009

The Very Unique Studs Terkel

Everybody was Somebody to Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel died last Halloween day (October 31, 2008). The author-radio host-actor-activist and symbol of Chicago was asked once what his epitaph would be. "My epitaph will be 'Curiosity did not kill this cat.'"

At a recent memorial to Studs Terkel, André Schiffrin, Stud's editor and publisher, said "Terkel the intellectual," raised popular oral history to an importance and respectability.

Louis Studs Terkel was born May 16, 1912. He often said he came in when the Titanic went out."

Terkel's books include such best-sellers as Hard Times (1970), Working (1974), Race (1992), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Good War" (1985; Studs insisted on quotation marks be on this title). Early on as a disc jockey, he was a lover of jazz, and "hillbilly" folk songs by Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie, and the Weavers. The first book he authored, Giants of Jazz (1957), celebrates black music.

I became aware of him only in recent years. He is one person I would like to have known and had visits, mainly to listen. He was a forerunner is what is called Oral Histories. He interviewed the rich and famous, but to him, his most meaningful interview-conservations were with the ordinary men and women we never hear about. He was on the Chicago station WFMT for 45 years.

Many have written that "the human drama was his great theme. Conversation was his vocation and avocation." He sought out the lives, dreams and ideals from "nobodies." Terkel looked down on none of them. They were "somebodies" to him.

His radio program "Studs' Place," which was set in a tavern, is said to be his best work. What he did best was talk and listen. that large numbers of people discovered what Terkel did best--talk and listen. His were not interviews. They were conversations. He was interested in the topics and people. He had the great art of listening down pat.

His FBI file was huge. He said he never saw a protest leaflet, he would not sign. The 1950s McCarthy hearings led to the loss of his television career. The era of gossip as truth.

"Studs is a character," said Scott Craig, the producer of a 1989 documentary titled, simply, "Studs." "But that doesn't make him a caricature. He's been famous around here for so long that people take him for granted, like he's some sort of landmark. One of the things I discovered in making this documentary is that Studs is now a lot more famous, and well known, outside of Chicago than he is here."

His radio career ended in 1998 with its traditional sign-off: "Take it easy, but take it."

After numerous surgeries and approaching finally an "old age," he said: "Remember those old Ivory soap commercials, 'Ivory Soap, 99.44 percent pure '? Well, I am 99.44 percent dead."

According to Wikipedia Internet Encyclopedia (always double-check them) Studs Terkel was born to a Russian Jewish tailor, Samuel Terkel, and Anna Finkelin in New York City, New York. They move to Chicago when he was a boy. Elder Terkel and his wife ran a boarding house where he met people from everywhere. All types of people gathered there, in and out, the young and old and it is no wonder Studs interest in people began there.

Studs had a law degree but never practiced. He married Ida Goldberg in 1939 and was the guiding light for sixty years. After her death, he published "Will The Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger For A Faith."

I recently read that book and one of the conversations Studs had was with Father Leonard Dubi, a Catholic priest in a southwestern suburb of Chicago.

Here is how the priest expressed life and death to Studs and all of us: "I like the image of the caterpillar for life, death, transition. The caterpillar is this creature who crawls around on the ground or up in trees and eats leaves. At a certain point it spins a silken cocoon. If you look at that, you'd think it was dead. It hangs there in the cocoon. After a certain amount of time, instead of dying, it's being transformed. It opens up that cocoon and out of it comes the butterfly that can now soar. Instead of eating leaves, it can drink nectar. I think that death is that process when we are transformed from one state into another. I find that it's a simple image, but it touches something deep in me."

I've always been a fanatic on history, believing it should be studied from the ground up, not just dates, kings and wars. It should be taught and shared as personal as possible. Today there is a real urgency in preserving history, and there is no better way in which Studs Terkel did it. There is so much to pass on. That is something all of us need to do.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What is it in "worship" you don't get?

Where has the decorum in worship gone?

During church worship, friend Wu Pu-yi, is not a fan of choruses led by snare drums and drum majors. If Bro. Wu goes into a church auditorium and sees drums and big boom box speakers, he will run out as fast as he can. He will not stop running until he is out of ear-shot of the "worship."

The pastor of a contemporary church, The Right Rev. J. Frank Sneedboro, B.A., B.D., M.A., etc., once tried to explain today's church songs to Ralli. He told him it was an effort to reach the young people. Today's youth is different from the days of the Indian preacher Choctaw Bill. A lot of youngsters don't have a good time unless the music demands ear-plugs. They like these so-called concerts where the more noise the better. So when they get to church they want to carry on with that "high" they got on the night before.

Old friend Alex Kane (a self-made Bible scholar) tried to explain to his cousin Wu that according to the Bible, the apostles all held contemporary services. The only traditional kind they had was in an orthodox Jewish Tabernacle. Not too many of those were built after Joshua took over for Moses. That old desert tabernacle was all Moses knew for worship. Joshua and his descendents spent more time on the battle field than in worship.

Even after the Israelites got a temple, they kept on fighting until only the tribe of Judah was left. "Their offspring," Kane tells me, "opened the first synagogue when they got back to Jerusalem" (they spent 70 years as refugees in Babylon).

As fast as ole Wu Pu-yi runs, I can outrun him when trying to avoid the "7 Up" song services: hold up your hands and sing a ditty-chorus seven times. Sometimes it is called "7-1I" taking seven lines and singing them 11 times. I spoke in the chapel of Howard Payne University some time back and I was not sure there would be a stage to stand on when the youths finished their stomping version of "special music."

I don't encourage the reading of blogs (except my own) but one caught my attention is titled: "Why Churches with Pipe Organs Will Soon Be Condos." The writer's proposal is pipe organs are old fashioned. A church must move with the times, and removing the organ is a start. Can you imagine what Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" would sound like on a guitar and snare drum?

I don't know what universe this guy has been living in, but apparently he enjoys upsetting the older set who go to worship. I am all for innovation and creative new approaches in sharing the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. Music has probably brought more people to a personal faith in Christ than all the preachers of the ages. Real music has inspired the faith for centuries. Today's lite-gospel-diddies are too shallow to grow our faith.

I asked Nancy Cheng, a young author in Shanghai, what got her interested in the church and the Christian message. Cheng, whose novels have been made into films, told me she was walking along the street one Sunday morning and the music coming from the Muen Church just grabbed her. She had never been in a church before, but paused to go in and listen to the choir and service. She said she had no idea what the man was talking about, but she was moved by the music. She eventually believed.

This blogger writes: "Most churches that have pipe organs are old, in possibly redeveloping areas where trendy condos just might take root."

Well, "trendy" is not a part of the Ten Commandments and not mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters five, six and seven. The Church of Christ denomination uses no organs or pianos or drums. They can sing harmony without instruments. Their churches have no fear of becoming condos.

Wu Pu-yi likes old time religion and organs. I agree with him on pipe organs. They help drown out my own bad hymn-singing, better than the mandolins.

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