What Others Are Saying:

Steve Case, through his emersion into the story, reminds us that the presence of the divine surrounds us continually and he teaches us how to tap into that presence.

 - Mary Beth Howe, Author:A Baptist Among Jews

Friday
Jan032014

Stuffing The Tree Up

 

First let me say this first opening paragraph is a JOKE...and exaggeration....hyperbole for the purpose of making a point. Okay?  I want to kidnap the president and CEO of Pillsbury and set them free only when they can get two dozen cookies out of a single role of dough. I don’t think it’s possible. Also as a note to Mr Ben and Mr Jerry, we have two very different ideas about what is considered a "serving."  AND whomever builds artificial Christmas trees is a ninja or origami.  How does a 7 foot tree grow? It came out of the box it MUST be able to go back in, right?

Needless to say I’ve spent some time lately trying to repackage our Christmas tree. There was much swearing and duct tape.

 I had a great deal of trouble finding my Christmas spirit this year. I work for a church. I’m  familiar with the lessons. I listened to the music....new stuff as well as classic. I sang along with my favorite James Taylor Christmas CD. I watched Christmas special. I could not find my Christmas spirit. I kept waiting for that “Lights Please?” moment when the little kid with the blanket would come out onto the stage, make his meaningful speech and then say, “and that’s what Christmas is all about, Steve.”

 My family has had some health problems this year. Also unemployment seems to be rampant in our house. I spent a lot of time faking it. Like a Christmas version of Dexter. (By the way, thank you Netflix for taking off Dexter just when I discovered it and was nearly through watching season 1.)

 So I spent some time in my garage binding up the Christmas tree. The box is long gone. I now slide the pieces into lawn garbage bangs and then bind them with duct tape. Then  get my son to muscle them up into the attic. 

 It was kind of therapeutic. I just wanted to be rid of it. For the first time that I can remember, taking the ornaments off the tree was better than putting them on. It wasn’t like I was yanking the tiny little ceramic angles off the branch and hurling them against the wall. I placed all the ornaments gently on the table where they were later carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed in the box till next year.  Putting Christmas away was good for me this year.  No, I'm not saying I'm shoving God up into my attic or shoving Jesus into the tomb.  I'm saying I'm putting away "Christmas"...not putting away Christmas. (Not of typo. Some of you caught that.) I’m not looking at Happy New Year as the end of the Holiday. I’m looking at it as the beginning of the new year.

I have a friend who tells me the pendulum can only swing so far one way before it as to come back. I think the pendulum is stuck. It has to swing back. So the decorations are put away. My house looks normal again. Let’s move on, shall we? Forward and forward. 

 I heard an amazing interview recently with Bobby McFerrin who said he prays the Psalms every morning as part of his own spiritual discipline. I’m going to try that this year. I love the psalms. Ask any of my students. We almost always start with the Psalms. There are a few, written most likely by David that talk about coming out of a cave or looking up and seeing the light at the top of the deep hole. Psalm 18 and 124.  Then we hit Psalm 144.  Psalm 145 through 150 are happy and joyous. I feel like I’m pushing my way through 144 and breaking into 145 will be like the football players bursting through the paper hoop the cheerleaders made. 

 

Psalm 144

God is the tallest building.

I’m standing on the roof looking over the city.

God supports me

Lifts me high

Keeps me from falling.

From here those that come after me are ants.

They cannot hurt me

From here I can throw things down and they will scatter.

What are we to you, God?

Were just a bunch of screw-ups. 

Why do you love us like children.

We must be such a disappointment.

I’m going to write a song for God

Paint a picture

Write a poem

Play my guitar

Some never heard or seen before

Something new.

I am not like them, God.

I will be the kind of person you want me to be.

Then my life will be good.

I will have a happy family.

Good grades.

Friends who respect me and support me.

You are God.

You are the only one.

Those that understand this simple idea

Will receive all you have to give to them.

 Amen and Amen.

 

So here we go. Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given unto you.  Fake it till you make it. Start the cheering....

Wednesday
Jan012014

INPUT

It seems I can no longer sleep-in. This is a great disappointment to me. I used to be good at it.  I attended a News Year Eve party last night. Got home and to bed and I still woke up at 6:00.  (Haven’t slept past 7 in years.)  So I am up early on the first day of the new year. It is dark outside. I stepped out on my back porch. It smells like rain thought none is forecast.  Yes, I live in Florida. I can step out on my back porch in my shorts and T-shirt in January. I eat your jealousy like my breakfast cereal. 

 Diving home last night was sureal. There were lots of places setting off fireworks. They were exploding on both sides of the highway.  I'm not a big "night-driver" but I do like driving in the rain and snow storms. I haven’t had to do the latter in quite a few years.  I like storms and thunder and lightning. (Yes, you can make a Frankenstein’s joke if you want to.)  I like the beach although I am not a great swimmer. Im more of the sinker type. I like the ocean cause it’s a great place to pray.  Then again the last time I lay on the beach a group of environmentalists tried to roll me back into the surf.  Nice kids. I’m sure the meant well.

 This morning when I woke up I had an email in my mail box.  Amazon offers a “Deal of the day”.  One or two items, dirt cheap, for twenty-four hours.  This morning it was a surfing magazine subscriptions for 5.00.

 There’s an old quote from Ray Bradbury (yes the writer mentioned in THAT song). 

 “If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed quickly, to trap them before they escape.”

 I have about ten bucks left on an Amazon gift card I received for Christmas.  I think I’m going to use it and purchase a few magazine subscriptions, Perhaps Surfing and Skateboarding. (Nah, that’s two similar.)  Surfing and Popular Science.  I’ll think about it. I have twenty-four hours.

 Too many of you tell me you don’t think you aren’t creative or you can’t write or you get writer’s block.  You stare at the blank page and never know what to write. 

The secret is INPUT. 

Read, watch, and Listen.  You may say, “Steve, I listen to music all the time.” and I say, “Yeah but is it the same stuff over and over? “  Explore new ideas, new experiences, new thoughts.  Then go back and read classics like Huckleberry Finn or The Adventures of Christopher Synn.  (LOVE both of those myself.)  Read some Shakespeare and then read some Batman comics.  Read Winnie the Pooh and then read a magazine on architecture.  Listen to Santana and the Opera. Listen to the soundtrack from Oh Brother Where Art Thou and then some Sid Vicious. I love going to Park Ave CDs and checking out what the folks who work there reccommend. 

 I think God gave us this world as an amusement park.  Imagine going to a gigantic amusement park and riding the log ride over and over and never getting close to a roller coaster or merry-go-round.  Sound wrong? Yet, that’s how we sometimes choose to live our lives.  

 It is a NEW year.  Trying something NEW. You will be amazed what it does to your creativity.

Wednesday
Nov132013

Wawa (warm cookies)

I’ve been getting my gasoline at Wawa lately.  I find myself driving by other gas stations in favor of Wawa. This is for several reason.  First I’m impressed by any marketing genius who can make a go of a business called Wawa.  They have cheap gas, clean restrooms, courteous staff, cookies, coffee and I’ve actually seen people cleaning the fountain-drink dispensers.  A few weeks ago I had my first sub from Wawa. Some sort of chipotle popcorn chicken number that was quite tasty. 

 Wawa is fairly new to Florida.  Up-north there are places where Wawa and another gas/convenient store called Sheetz have a rivalry going.  Sort of like Krispy Kreme verses Dunkin or FSU vs UF or Steelers vs Browns.  I will give it to Sheetz on the grab-and-go coffee and sweet tea. If Wawa ever comes out with their own brand of coffee in a can I will probably move in.

 I was filling my tank the other day and spotted a sign that said, “All lattes any size 1.99.”  I never had a Wawa latte so i thought I would give it a shot. If you have never been to a Wawa here’s how it works. You walk in and step up to a touch screen. You tap food or drink, then you tap what kind you want, hot or cold, large or small, extra expresso or whipped cream etc.  The machine prints you a receipt with a number and when they call your number you grab your food and go.

 So I’m in my local Wawa. It is seven o’clock AM on a cool Sunday morning. 

I touch LARGE,

and REGULAR

and ICE

and NO WHIPPED CREAM

and was tempted to touch EXTRA EXPRESSO but I did not. 

I touched the FINISHED button and think I am done.  Nope. There on the screen is one amazing question. 

  “Would you like a warm chocolate chip cookie with that?

 I don’t know a whole lot of people who would answer “No” to that question. I don’t care what the THAT in the question is.  Maybe you just bought a high powered circular saw at Home Depot...if the next question is “Would you like a warm chocolate chip cookie with that?”  Most people would say “Yes”. 

 I would love to try this at church.  Here’s your bulletin. Would you like a warm chocolate chip cookie with that?  Yes. Yes, I would.

 Here...take and eat this. It is my body which was broken for you. Take and drink this. It is my blood which was shed for you.  Would you like a warm chocolate chip cookie with that?  

 Having a good day? Having a bad day?  God says, “I want to make it just a little better. Would you like a warm chocolate chip cookie with that?”  Yes, God. Yes I would.”

 Leaders of foreign countries could sit down with each other and discuss how to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  “Here’s our proposal for disarmament.  Would you like a warm chocolate chip cookie with that?”

 Warm chocolate chip cookies are like God’s love. You can’t offer one in anger or hate. You can be a vindictive judgmental and damning creator and still say, “Here’s the life I want for you....would you like a warm chocolate chip cookie with that?”

 Warm Chocolate Chip cookies = God’s unconditional love.  Yes, I would like some please. Yes, I could really use it.  My week has been a bad week. My school work has been stressing me out. The world seems like it’s ready to rip itself apart.  Yes, I would like a warm chocolate chip cookie. (Cookie=God’s love.)

 God is love. Love is God. It says so in the Bible.   It frightens me how many people have a view of God as carrying around his big bucket of lightning bolts.  What if we saw a God with a kiss-the-cook apron and a plate of cookies?  

 GOD: “Here is a life.  It’s yours. You can do ANYTHING you want to with it. It’s entirely your call....would you like a warm chocolate chip cookie with that?”

Thursday
Nov072013

Safewater

 Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors.  I read Huckleberry Finn in my senior year in high school because it was required.  My English teacher told us it had been banned in schools in many areas of the country. I asked what other books has been banned and my teacher gave me a copy of Twain’s Letters from the Earth.  Thus began a life-long love of Twain’s work.  Letter’s from the Earth and Captain Stormfield are two of my favorite works. Ever.

 Twain’s real name was Sam Clemens.  Most of you know this.  When the riverboats would float down the Mississippi river it was one man’s job to drop a weight into the water and measure the depth. He would call out the depth to the boat pilot.

“marrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk-twaaaaaaaaaaaaain”

was a river-boating term. It was the spot where safe water became dangerous water and dangerous water became safe. Anything less than mark-twain was going to be hazardous. Anything more than mark-twain was safe sailing. It is strange to hear a man’s name used as a term isn’t it? If you didn’t know what the words meant, what would your name mean?)

 I want to live at the spot where dangerous becomes safe and safe becomes dangerous.  Safewater = having a discussion in the youth room about events I clipped from the news.  Dangerous water is probably setting off a dry-ice bomb in the church parking lot.

 You can live beneath mark-twain, don’t get me wrong but eventually it could get you in trouble. You can live above mark-twain but I think eventually it becomes boring.  There are times for both. If you are one of the college readers then right now is a time in your life to live above mark-twain. Study hard. Get the degree. Do what you have to do. Graduation (high school AND college) is, for some, that moment of crossing over the mark-twain line. The secret is having the experienced boatman calling out the depths and letting you know when you may be in over your head.

 I’ve been trying to think where Jesus lived.  To the pharisees he was in dangerous water...all the time. He let the disciples sail into dangerous waters on purpose just to make a point.  Maybe the God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is the one calling out the depths to us. Letting us know when it’s safe to put on more speed and when we need to pull back and pay more attention to the river in front of us.  Then it becomes up to us to listen.

Sometimes we run aground.

Sometimes we end up on the rocks.

Sometimes we can put our feet up and and enjoy the view as we travel.

But that makes me the boat-pilot. I may run aground due to my inexperience but if I don’t learn from it....if i don’t listen the next time...I could get stuck. I might lose my captain’s license. 

 Mr Twain learned to live his name. He seemed to on the border quite often.  If I ever got the nerve to get a tattoo I would get “mark-twain” the term but then I’d spend so much time explaining what I really meant.

 Sometimes being Christian is about living at mark-twain. It certainly took us into some dangerous places on mission trips. Sometimes it can be dangerous just talking about what you believe outside of the church walls.  I never want our faith.  Those are safewater.  What we do might be dangerous. Stepping outside of ANY comfort zone is dangerous. But with experience...which comes with failure...and guidance which comes from listening to the God/Jesus/Holy Spirit we will get where we are going.

 Listen.

 “Marrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk Twaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain.”

 What are you sailing into?

Tuesday
Oct292013

Who?

  Take a look at the picture. If you are a Dr Who fan you already know these guys.

 

                         

This is one of the publicity shots for a special episode of Dr Who in which all five doctors appeared. (Quickly for those who don’t watch...Dr Who is a science fiction television show about a time-traveler who can go anywhere in time or space. It’s been on the air since l963. Part of the reason it lasted so long is that the BBC occasionally recasts the doctor with a new actor. All of the actors in the photo are playing the same character.  Go it?  Okay, let’s mush on.)

 The special episode in which all five doctors appeared was called The Five Doctors. (Go figure).  The actor on the far left was not the original actor to play the role. Actor William Hartnell was too old and frail to resume the role so they found someone new.

The guy in the light jacket was the fifth doctor. It was his season in which all five doctors appeared.   

 So let’s talk about the guy in the hat.  Tom Baker was the 4th Doctor.  He was “my doctor” as they say in fandom.  He was the doctor the first time I became aware of the series. I wandered into the wrong room at a Cleveland comic book convention. Now, here’s the thing....Tom Baker is not in the picture.

 Tom Baker the actor declined to participate in the five doctors special episode. This was before the days of photoshop.  The other actors are posing with the wax figure from Madam Tussaud’s museum.

 There is a verse from 1st Corinthians. Just before the whole “love is patient love is kind” thing. 

 

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV) 

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all  knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 

3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

 I’m not begrudging Tom Baker’s lack of participation. He was an actor wanting to move on.  He wasn’t big on going back to a role he had just left.  He has since come back to work on the Dr Who audio series that I dearly love. 

 I also really like this picture. I love how the other actors are really selling the idea of a reunion.  I love that the moment after this picture was taken they wall walked away and left the 4th Doctor standing there all by himself.

 We must learn to be genuine again. I think we are born being ourselves. Childhood is an amazing time. Children are unapologetically honest with the world. Then we go to school and we are told to be something else. We are told behave THIS way or THAT way or you can’t be part of OUR group. We go to college graduate and join a world where corporate drone-ism is rewarded.  Inovation is considered to be boat-rocking.

 You  want to be cool?  Wear THIS?  

 Do THAT because everybody else is.

 We do things the way they always have been done. Why? Because we’ve always done them that way.

 It’s strange to me how much importance we put on the opinion of people we didn’t really like in the first place.  Love gives us permission to be genuine. 

 Be yourself.  Just think of how much time you’re going to have to spend with you.

 Live as though the words Genuine Article were tattooed on your forearm for all the world to see. You couldn’t be fake.  

 Live genuine.