In conclusion, I have this recommendation: everyone needs to visit Walt Disney World at least once in his/her lifetime. It is a totally unique place: forty square miles of technologically advanced, highly entertaining, ecologically responsible, Earth friendly, environmentally safe, family friendly, unforgettable experiences. I am glad I was able to share the experience with my beloved family. When’s the next trip, kids?
In the annals of history, the last fifty years will be noted as a tumultuous time in politics and society. A half century ago in the political world, disagreements were common, but civility toward one’s political adversary was still evident. In society, gender identification was a fairly easy task with little room for controversy. Marriage vows were still taken somewhat seriously, and although there were sprinkles of divorces here and there, marriage between a man and a woman was still the modus operandi for most up and coming young adults. Students were able to bicycle to school and make it through an entire day without hearing a single gunshot or fearing for their lives, and teachers could teach, knowing that their authority over their classrooms was absolute. Even in the religious church world, one could drive down a street and instantly recognize the various denominations by the signs displayed in front of each church…”Southern Baptist,” “First Presbyterian,” St. Paul’s Catholic,” and yes, even “West Side United Pentecostal Church” to name a few examples.
But, as in society where we witnessed an upheaval of social constraints all under the guise of independence, the same phenomenon affected the church world also, and churches and pastors began to chaff under the authoritarian control of a central organization. In my experience with pentecostal churches, I can remember ministers saying that they did not want to have someone “up yonder” telling us folks “down here” what to do. The result of all this upheaval was the creation of independent local churches unaccountable for any of their actions and with only the thinnest of connections to any national organization. Where once there were church boards who worked with district boards who worked with national boards to insure a conformity and unity of spirit throughout the brotherhood, pastors assumed control of the local assemblies with no oversight from any organization and unaccountable for church finances or spiritual direction.
Over the last fifty years, my wife and I have lived in several states and attended many pentecostal churches…and to me, “pentecostal” means the organization with the nomenclature “United Pentecostal Church, International.” In those early years when we visited a new church, the new assembly was readily recognizable as a pentecostal church by the spirit prevalent in the service, the message the minister delivered, and the actions and dress of the members. The music was always the readily recognizable songs of Zion which had been sung for decades.
But no more. The UPC has embraced contemporary church programs with the enthusiasm of a dog with a fresh bone, and as a result services have become concerts of musical entertainment and sermons designed to excite rather than inspire. Churches are embarrassed to put the word “Pentecostal” in their names, choosing silly generic monikers like “The Happy Place.” For a true Christian to live the proper life today, he/she will have to be determined to live it on his/her own; there will be little help from the church.
The latest bright idea to come down the pentecostal pike is an idea which has been in most other denominations for years…the elimination of Sunday night services. There was a time when the Sunday morning service was primarily for the regular worshipper and the evening service more evangelical, but the coin has flipped in the last few years with the morning service being the one geared to visitors and the evening service for the old regulars. Now the evening service is gone, so a major source of spiritual food has been taken away from the faithful member.
I find it interesting that when a church decides to eliminate the night service, it is made clear to the members, “That doesn’t mean you should reduce your tithing and offerings.” Translation: “We are reducing our spiritual services to you by 33%, but we still want our full pay.”
At our church Sunday night service was cancelled under the guise of “House to House,” or “H2H” for an acronym. Using the scripture in the New Testament which referred to the early church going from house to house to worship, that’s what we were supposed to do. Apparently, the fact that the early church had no building in which to worship while we have a beautiful edifice apparently had no bearing on the decision. The underlying instruction was that there would be no central church service; we were supposed to go have our own service at somebody’s house instead.
The problem is, you see, my wife and I are in a group which in today’s church is largely ignored…the senior citizen crowd. I will always remember sitting next to two up-and-coming, go-get-them pastors and hearing one say to the other, “Everything in our church is geared to the 18-25 year old. That’s where you get church growth.” The problem with that is the senior group constitutes probably the most faithful tithes-givers and most faithful attendees, and yet our preferences are largely ignored. We have enjoyed Sunday night service for fifty-plus years for the spiritual strength it gives us, and getting together in a small group on Sunday night and re-hashing the morning sermon hardly takes the place of a full-blown church experience.
But there has been a positive outcome to this terrible dilemma. Although I have not run across one senior person in our church who is in favor of “H2H,” we who have been relegated to insignificance have decided to meet on our own…at a much more convenient assembly point than one’s homes. After all, at a home, someone has to be the host...serve snacks, lead the service, and clean the house. We have chosen our assembly point to be none other than Denny’s Restaurant…yes, America’s Diner. Rather than “H2H” we have dubbed our party “HDH"...i.e...“Home to Denny’s to Home.”
It was a natural decision, since on Friday mornings for the last seven years or so, a bunch of us old church guys have been meeting at Denny’s to fellowship and talk about God, guns, and butter. It has been a tremendous boost to a sense of camaraderie amongst the brethren, and it is one item on my weekly schedule I do not miss unless absolutely necessary. I love those men; they build my faith.
So now, about 6:00 p.m. every Sunday, three to five couples gather at our HDH and enjoy a solid two hours of seriousness, laughter, jokes, jabs, prayer, and discussion.
We have a cross section of faithful members who attend our HDH:
We have a cross section of faithful members who attend our HDH:
(Please note: at this point the following names have been changed to protect the innocent…and maybe some of the guilty…from any repercussions, vindictiveness, or outright jealousy which those who know better may toss our way.)
· Adolf…Probably the most faithful man in existence to our church who is also so conservative he’s ready to go to war every time he hears a drum. Can identify the weapon (and probably has one) the feds used to shoot Bonnie and Clyde. He likes to gamble and then claim, “It ain’t in the Bible!”
· Maria…His lovely wife who has never raised her voice since she was in the fourth grade and she got a “B” on a test when she was expecting an “A.” “A soft answer turneth away wrath” says the scriptures…and also makes her husband toe the line.
· Marvin…comes to breakfast and HDH armed with snake oil, air cleaners, beneficiary forms, and pens. Never say “OK” to him…you will have bought something. It’s also good if you know sign language.
· Gertie…his wife…amazingly outspoken and opinionated. It is clear that she must be brilliant, because I agree with everything she says…almost. She’s been known to split a dinner with a stranger in order to save a dollar.
· Bobo…Has read far more than his capacity to retain. Has had more profound truths revealed to him than Moses and Abraham combined. Truly an apostle of doctrine…we’re just not sure which doctrine yet. Listens closely to a still, small voice…who usually does the driving.
· Wanda…The afore-mentioned still, small voice. Queen of her chicken house in which her rooster steps quietly. Has a tendency to walk up to you and say, “You need someone to lance that? Call my office.”
· John…Built like a tank and just as difficult to crack. Last seen smiling on January 14, 2002. Solid, dependable, and predictable…I would want him next to me in a firefight.
· Louise…John’s far more active other half. Must have a heart of gold, because if you tell her a sad story, you get free rides to church for life. Want to go shopping?…give her a call. The taxi will be on its way.
There are others who occasionally wander in to our circle, but these are the faithful participants. Each in his/her own way contribute to the friendship and brotherhood which we all feel for each other. Each has a story to tell and has a track record of church faithfulness and adherence to church principles and standards which the shallow, converted-to-the-beat-of-a-deafening-drum contemporary “Christian” will never understand. I am proud to be in the group.
(By the way…my name is Alfred.)
There was an interesting story in the news a few days ago concerning a woman from one of the Scandinavian countries of Europe who recently visited New York City. On one particular day while visiting friends in the city, she and her colleagues decided to pop into a local restaurant for lunch. The Scandinavian visitor was also pushing a baby carriage holding her sleeping baby. As the party entered the restaurant, the woman parked her baby outside the entrance and left her there as they entered the building.
In short order, someone noticed the unattended child and called police, who promptly tracked down the errant mother and arrested her on child endangerment grounds. The mother did not understand the gravity of the situation and offered in her defense that in her country it was not uncommon on pleasant days for parents to leave small children in carriers on the outside of business establishments while shopping. The fact that in New York City such an act would constitute a grave danger for the child was incomprehensible to a mother who came from a country where crime is rare, and guns are seldom seen.
Flashback to the 1950s: When I was a child, Mom would haul us children along with her while she did her shopping, and it was not uncommon for her to leave us kids in the car while she bounced from store to store. We were welcome to accompany her, but we looked at shopping as boring and preferred to sit in the car and play games….and we sat in a car with the doors unlocked and the windows down.
As a teenager attending school and heavily involved in the dating game and Friday night activities, I attempted to impress the girls by driving an older 1954 Mercury. In those days cars had small vent windows on each front door that could be opened while driving to let in fresh air (no AC back then.) Each vent window had a latch so that it could be secured when parked. The latch on my left door vent was broken, which meant that anyone could swing open the vent window, reach in, and open the door. That was no problem anyway because I never locked my car. For the four years I owned that car, it was never locked…and it never occurred to me to be concerned.
In my eighteen years of living at home until I married and moved away, I do not ever remember my parents’ home being locked. I don’t even remember seeing a key to a door of the home. The concept of danger from human predators was not considered; perhaps we were all naïve. My dad had as "home defense" an old 22 caliber rifle that was up somewhere in a closet, but it was mainly used to take care of any varmints that invaded our chicken house and the occasional possibly-rabid dog.
As Shirley and I embarked on our lives together, we graduated to cars, apartments, and houses which could be locked, but even then, locking up our goods was considered more of “just a good idea” rather that preventive measures against perceived threats from the outside. Over the years we traveled around the United States blithely unaware and unconcerned about any nearby danger. In 1966 she and I were caught in the wee hours of the morning at 2:00 a.m. miles away from our hotel in Paris, France, when the subway abruptly shut down. We walked down dark, narrow streets and back alleys to get to our hotel, never considering the possibility of harm befalling us. We were young, and it was an adventure. Flying to Europe and returning was a matter of purchasing a ticket, walking to the plane, and boarding. No security.
In the early 1970s I was a fledgling real estate salesman in Wyoming. I was a home listing machine and could get a home seller's signature on the dotted line. I was astounded to see how many homes I listed for sale when, at the time of listing, I would ask the homeowner for a set of keys for the lock box, and he would reply, “We don’t have any.” Neighbors were real neighbors and there was no need for keys; the area was secure. During this time my brother-in-law and I were avid hunters. We had an old Jeep four-wheel drive pickup (Read my blog: "Hunting in a Jeep.") There was a rifle rack in the back window, and there we hung our rifles...whether it was hunting season or not. That Jeep could not be locked, either.
In this new year of 2018, my family’s home is now protected with sensors, radar, and video, all of which I can access at any time, anywhere from my cell phone. Lights are always on outside the house at night so that a clear view is afforded. The National Rifle Association has convinced me and millions of other nervous Americans that I need “home defense” weapons. The answers to guns in the NRA’s mind is, naturally, more guns. Not only that, but with the fear of harm at every human encounter, it is now legal to carry a weapon on your person, so I am now dutifully equipped with a Concealed Handgun License and a .380 semi-automatic. But strangely enough, I don’t feel any safer.
My automobiles are equipped with theft deterrents and alarms, along with dash cams with video capabilities which automatically begin filming if anyone gets near the cars. Even at that, my cars are not at the cutting edge of technology. Theft deterrent systems can now notify you if suspicious sorts get around your car or home and can even warn them away with a growly voice if they’re getting too close.
It is now illegal to leave your small children unattended in an automobile…even with the doors locked and windows up. Of course, here in Texas, that scenario of windows up creates a dangerous situation anyway due to rapid heating of the car’s interior, so what may start out as a simple misdemeanor infraction could escalate to a felonious child endangerment charge rapidly.
From the businesses and residences of years ago with little concern for locked doors, we now have homes which monitor the exterior and interior with video and electronics constantly and businesses which are heavily fortified and monitored with cameras in every corner. Employees work behind cages and bulletproof glass, and police can be summoned with just the push of a button. As this was being written, the Super Bowl in Minnesota was only one day away, and I was struck while watching the evening news by the extent of the security safeguards that were being undertaken for this annual event. Millions of dollars and thousands of hours of manpower were expended to protect the spectators from…two…three...perhaps four people who may have wished to do harm to the event. The first aircraft hijacking in 1974 changed the air transportation industry and forced it to spend in the ensuing years billions of dollars on security…the expense of which has all been passed down for you and me, the travelers, to pay.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is a consortium of the top 34 industrialized countries in the world. Each year for the past thirty years or so, it has polled citizens of each country and rated their “happiness.” Yes, there really is a published “happiness index” which reflects the measure of contentment in each country. (Google "happiness index.") In 2007 the United States ranked third out of the group, but in 2017 the U.S. slipped to seventeenth. Mass shootings and fears of terrorism have created feelings of unease in the American populace, and each terrible act drives Americans to do the only thing they know to do to further safety…buy more guns. It is a never-ending circle.
Unfortunately, our society is not just suffering from a threat of personal harm, but the social pot is also continually being stirred by strident voices pitting race against race, Republican against Democrat, male against female, urban against rural, young against old. Somehow, we have forgotten that democracy is built on compromise and consensus. I am not against President Donald Trump; many of the social and governmental stances he proposes I agree with, but his personal actions reflect the attitude of the general citizenry…uncompromising, abrasive, rude, and, yes, perhaps dangerous.
What does our country need to return to the days of relative harmony? We can say our country needs to return to God and Christianity, but even the Scriptures themselves state that in the last days “evil men shall wax worse and worse, deceiving many, and being deceived.” Perhaps the best we can hope for is that we will be able create as much peace and tranquility within our own circle of family and friends as possible, and in doing so, survive the social hurricane we are experiencing at this time.
By Bob Downing
“ and ten” the Scriptures do say
Are the years of our lives; we then “fly away.” *
An endless time…through the eyes of the young…
Becomes hauntingly brief when life’s song is near sung.
The horizons once faced are now memories long past.
The victories and triumphs so cherished did not last.
The failures, the heartaches, the losses, and schemes
Of a life poorly spent bring nights’ tortured dreams.
The curtains of our minds in the dark of the night
Draw open to reveal a troubling sight…
Unlimited youth with its promise and fun
Has vanished away like the dew in the sun.
The desires, the passions, the zest for the day
Are like snowflakes that fall and soon melt away.
The finish, once distant, looms alarmingly near
And the memories of life become ever so dear.
The goals, once assumed, are now elusively caught,
And the expression of love becomes merely a thought.
Deeds once accomplished with hardly a strain
Are now deeds but dreamed and seldom without pain.
But continue we must, and through effort and strength
The days of our lives may be increased in length.*
With happiness and love and good deeds to lend
“ and ten” could be when we begin.