Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mr. Roboto

I just finished attending a 5th grade band concert.  5th grade band instructors are amazing people.  I would assume that many 5th grade band instructors must have the patience of Mother Theresa, the love for music like Mozart, and perhaps the auditory system of a rattle snake.  It is a good thing that these 5th grade band concerts are held in late January…as opposed to the Minnesota goose season…otherwise someone might get hurt! I remember my own first encounter with a band instrument.

The year was 1983…and this might have been THE defining moment in my music career.  Mrs. Shoemate, the elementary music teacher, came into my 3rd grade classroom and announced that the Wadena Elementary School would be hosting a school wide talent show, and that each class would have an opportunity to “tryout.”  My friend Jeremy and I knew that this was our moment.  Just as in the story of Esther…I had been placed into this school…this grade…this classroom…for just such a time as this.  Jeremy and I approached the audition with a reasonable amount of experience on our side.  We both had worn out our cassette tapes of Michael Jackson’s Beat It…and since “video” had already “killed the radio star,” we watched Michael flash that white glove in the air as he moon walked across the stage and lit his hair on fire with a flaming Pepsi sign.  Jeremy and I knew that we, too, could be stars. 

With many of our friends playing the piano…dancing…or singing…we decided to go with something a little more cutting edge.  Thus, it was decided to perform a drum feature to Mr. Roboto, by Styx.  Mrs. Shoemate had given us free reign to anything in her music office.  So on the day of the audition, we climbed to the top of the wall of shelving and pulled down two tom drums buried beneath a myriad of tambourines, bells, sticks, bongos, triangles, ukuleles, guitars, and one electric piano.   

Mrs. Shoemate did a remarkable job hiding her excitement as Jeremy and I walked into the classroom …carrying these two dusty drums. I can only imagine how pleased she must have been to rediscover these hidden gems that had probably been thought lost.  The serious look on her face betrayed her great anticipation of the raw talent that she soon expected to encounter.

“Where did you find those?” she asked.

“On the top shelf…under a bunch of old instruments and junk.”

“What did you do with all of the stuff on top?”

“We left it out on your desk and on the floor…we wanted you t be able to put it away and organize it better this time…then, maybe these drums won’t get lost under the rubble again!”


“Don’t mention it.”  Jeremy and I were always doing helpful things like that for our teachers.

Jeremy and I pressed play on our “boombox” and the portable tape player came to life with the mystical intro to Mr. Roboto… “Domo arigato misuta Robotto”....With one hand in a white glove…we pounded on the drums…BOOM BA BOOM BOOM BA BOOM…

Rhythm is not as important as style…enthusiasm…and white gloves.

Mrs. Shoemate was awestruck! So as not to show favoritism toward us…she stopped us just before the third, “Secret, secret, I’ve got a secret.” When you encounter raw talent…you don’t even need to hear the whole song…sometimes…not even the first verse.

To keep the rest of the class from feeling badly or less talented about their own comparative performances…Mrs. Shoemate shielded her eyes with her hands, rubbed her temples and pretended to have a headache. 

“Thank you boys…that will be enough”

Jeremy and I were not chosen for the talent show…Mrs. Shoemate must have really wanted to boost some of the other students’ confidence.

In 7th grade, I prospected into another opportunity to express my talents.  I tried out for the Jr. High band.  My performance quickly brought Mr. Lindlief to tears. My 7th grade band career lasted for one day.  I tried to gently express to Mr. Lindlief that I didn’t want my raw talent to be a distraction from the rest of the band…so I thought it best to allow him to lead the band at their “own” speed and skill level.  Mr. Lindlief, attempted to hide his disappointment, but I could see right through that big fake smile and pretend sigh of relief.

By the grace of God, I have learned to play the guitar…without bringing people to tears any longer…perhaps just an occasional cringe.  I think that the church is a bit like a band.  When we choose to follow Christ…we are given an instrument.  It is a gift…graciously given…we do not deserve it…but God gives it anyway. 

We are not given the gift, just to have it or hang it on our walls…we are given the gift to play it.  How silly would it be for a member in the band…to sit there with their clarinet, or tuba, or flute, or what have you…and not play it.  That wouldn’t make sense.  Yet sometimes I think we are afraid to begin playing our gift.  We are afraid that we are not “good enough” to play with the band yet, but that is not up to us. 

Every year the Little Falls Community Schools host a Massed Band Concert.  It is at this concert that every band…from 5th grade up to Seniors in High School, combine to play a song.  It doesn’t matter if you are new with your instrument…or have been playing it for 6 years…you play together…each one using their own “gift.”

I think it is time…for the church…to begin using our instruments.  Though each of our instruments are different…we are called to play the same song…together…the song of the Gospel of Christ.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Atop of our kitchen cabinets, there sits, roughly, a dozen pieces of pottery, including vases, bowls, platters, tea cups and a tea pot.  There were a number of years where my wife, Sarah, would go to the annual Little Falls Arts and Craft Fair.  Each time that she went, she would purchase some pottery pieces from one vendor in particular.  Peter Potter, (yes…believe it or not that is his real name…kind of like Dave “Clutter” on the traffic report…or Sonny Day with the weather).  He is very good at what he does and is considered quite the craftsman.

I tried “throwing” a pot in Jr. High…I misunderstood my art teachers instructions…she seemed rather upset. Apparently throwing a pot means something different to artists…what was the big deal…there were already plenty of holes in the old plaster walls.  As a consequence, I was required to clean the gray clay off of the wall…and the side of her face.  She probably laughs about it now…at least I hope she does.

These purchased pieces of particularly perfect Peter Potter pottery perched on top of our kitchen cabinetry, seldom ever get used.  The rare occasions, when they do get put to good use, usually occur when my sister comes to visit and pulls them down to help serve the potatoes and stuffing at Easter.  Otherwise…they are primarily for decoration…but they look nice!

About twelve years ago, Sarah surprised me by ordering a shotgun for me as a Christmas gift.  I had been salivating over this Brazilian made side by side coach gun for years! Hunting is by far one of my top 100 hobbies and I could not wait to use it. The firearm was on back order and didn’t arrive until spring.  The following fall I took it out nearly every weekend and chased grouse around the woods…and managed to kill a few trees.

Finally, one Saturday morning, as I readied myself to pound the brush for birds…I placed my bomber hat on my head, slid into my hunting coat and vest…and stood facing the mirror and did my best Elmer Fudd impersonation…she said, “You have been doing a lot of hunting.”

“Yes! I have…I love using my new shotgun!”

“Well…I guess I didn’t realize that when I gave you the shotgun…that you would actually be “using” it…I thought you just “wanted” it.”

“Why else would I “want” it?”

“I don’t know…my dad has all kinds of guns that he never shoots.”

In Romans 12, we find the Apostle Paul list some “gifts” that are given by the Holy Spirit, gifts such as; leadership, encouragement, mercy, giving and more.  Not only does Paul “list” the gifts…he says that we are to “use” the gifts, "...if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

What the Holy Spirit gives to believers, ought to be used...and not just to set on the shelf to collect dust.  

I am thankful for people, like my sister, who help us to use what would otherwise collect dust.

What should you be using?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Cast Iron

A few weeks ago, I seasoned some new cast iron frying pans.  Sarah had received them for her birthday about 6 months ago and they have been moved from place to place around the house, so as to keep them “out of the way.”  You know how it is, when the family room is full of toys?  You can’t walk through the room without stepping on a Lego with a bare foot and screaming a soprano, “Owie, owie, owie…I have been impaled by a miniature building block!” Thus, in order to get things “out of the way,” you cram all of the toys into the hall closet.  There…now it is out of the way…until you need to open the closet…then suddenly…there is a vast array of items that become “in the way.”

These pans became “in the way,” next to my bed for a couple of month, until I had stubbed all 10 toes evenly…then it was time to get them OUT of the way.  Before I could put them away…where they belonged…they needed to be seasoned…so that they could be used.

I turned to Youtube.  I began searching for a video of how to season cast iron pans.  After being distracted, John Crist videos, top NFL plays, and guitar playing techniques…I found Martha Stewart demonstrating how to season a cast iron pan.  

I followed Martha’s instructions…heated the oven…greased the pans…inside and out.  I placed the pans into the oven and set the timer.  A short time later the house was filled with a haze and what Sarah was insisting as a “toxic odor.”  Apparently, we should have invested in some respirators before beginning this project.  If I ever make my own Youtube video of how to season cast iron pans…I will include this small detail. 

We suffered though the evening…and even the overnight hours…and thankfully STILL woke up…although our voices were hoarse and scratchy.  The suffering odor lingered for a couple of days…and even longer when we would use either the oven…or the pans.

Today I am happy to say that our suffering is over…at least in regards to the frying pans.
The Bible is filled with stories of suffering…especially in the New Testament.  In fact, you can find an expression of suffering…and a call to follow suit in every New Testament book!

In 1 Peter 4, we find this expressed clearly.  Here, Peter says that we are to “Serve” the Lord…by taking on the same mindset of Christ.  Serving the Lord is difficult.  In fact, the original Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for serving is the same word that would be used to refer to “cultivating” the ground as a farmer would.  It is work…and with that work…is hardship…suffering.  We are to serve the Lord…by suffering the way that Christ suffered.  That doesn’t exactly sound like my “Best life now!” It sounds difficult.  However, when we suffer for the cause of Christ…we can be confident in this...we must be doing something right if Satan sees us worthy to persecute.  Thus…I will proclaim the name of Jesus…even in the midst of suffering.  Then, I can say confidently…my best life is yet to come!  With Him forever!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Skipping Stones

I stepped into my son’s room this past May, and I observed a stone sitting on his dresser. A week later, the stone was still there.  In fact, the stone remained on his dresser until June, when I finally asked him, “What is the deal with this rock on your dresser?”

“I found it…I have been saving it.”

“Where did you find it?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Really!? What are you saving it for?

“I have been saving it to take it up to the cabin…so I can skip it.”

Our trip to northern Minnesota was in early August.  Before we left, I was sweeping though the house, turning off all of the lights that had been left on.  As I came to his room to turn off his light, I saw his stone.  I picked it up and slid it into my pocket…and then we left.

“Did you remember your stone?” I asked, as we began driving.

“Oh, man!...No I forgot it!”

“Well good thing for you…I remembered!” I must be an amazing father…or perhaps just as simple minded as he.

He planned on skipping the stone on the first really calm evening of our week’s vacation at the cabin. It was perhaps the second evening of the week that appeared to meet all of the criteria.

After saving a stone like this for so long…and for such a specific purpose, it only seemed reasonable to record it.  We pulled out the iPhone to forever embed this pivotal moment of a 12 year old boy’s journey to…more boyhood.  After a brief introduction as to where the stone was found…how long it had been saved…and the current intention of skipping the “perfect” rock…the time came.  My son wound up…launched the stone…which skipped once…twice…and flipped…and sunk 10 feet away.  Game over.

That was anticlimactic.

Two days later I was braving the water as I slowly edged into the water deeper and deeper.  I am not the “dash and splash” kind of guy. I torturously inch in…step by step…allowing the icy water to painfully cut into my tender white flesh.  The cold water was just reaching my navel when I looked down to see a stone near my feet.  I couldn’t reach down to pick it up with my hands…that would get my chest and arms miserably wet.  Instead, I reached and grasped the stone with my foot…I happen to have exceptional toe dexterity.  I pulled the stone out of the water…and wouldn’t you know…it was the same stone that my son had saved for all of those months…and failed to skip successfully. 

“Isaac! I found your stone!”

“Seriously!? How did you do that?”

“Either I am amazing or just lucky”

“I am going to go with lucky.”

“Fair enough”

During the Jewish New Year…Rosh Hashanah…there is a tradition.  This tradition includes taking some time to solemnly reflect on the previous year.  It is intended that this reflection will reveal areas in your life where you fell short…messed up…sinned.  Upon the completion of the reflection…a person would stand next to a body of water…bend over…pick up a stone…and throw the stone out as far as they could into the water.  This would symbolize the “new mercy” that was offered by God.  It reflected their desire to be different for the upcoming year. 

How often have we wanted to take our mistakes and launch them into the sea…to never deal with them again…only to find that somehow they come back…still plaguing us.  We think we have rid ourselves of sins only to find them once again, sitting in our hand, needing to be thrown out again.  It’s the story of our lives…like a hamster on an exercise wheel.  Is it hopeless?


Two comforts come to mind.  Hebrews 8:12 says, “God will forgive us of our sins…and remember them no more,” and Revelation 21:4, “God will wipe away every tear from our eyes…and there will be no more death and dying, crying or pain…the old way has passed away…and the new has come.”

On the final night of our vacation, we tried again.  Again, this one was recorded as well.  This next attempt was a glorious success.  The stone flew from his hand and glided across the surface of the water, coming to rest some fifty plus feet away…there was no way I would find this stone again.
As you begin this New Year…may you find a time to reflect.  May you come to see your own transgressions…and repent as necessary.  Yet, may you also come to see that Jesus has atoned for our sins…and he has cast them out so far…that not even he remembers them.