Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Preach the Gospel . . . (and if you must, use words.)

Forty of us descended upon Camp Katrina the last week of October from five different states. We all preached the gospel.

The 12 and 14 years olds crawled into an attic to blow in insulation. The 70-something guy installed a shower door. About fifteen of us dug a 200 foot long ditch to connect two mobile homes to the sewer main. A few middle-aged women cleaned filth and bugs out of a worn-out trailer home. Others hung and “mudded” drywall, mowed the lawn, rewired electrical boxes. Some held their tongues when the third building inspector didn’t agree with the second building inspector who didn’t agree with the first building inspector, and they had to re-do the work for the third time.

Camp Katrina is located on the Gulf of Mexico and took the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Waveland and the surrounding communities are on a small section of land wedged between the Gulf and St. Louis Bay. A “tropical depression” is truly a depression – the weight of the atmosphere literally pushes the water down under the storm. When you push water down, it has to come up somewhere – and in Waveland, the waters rose in St. Louis Bay first, then rose in the Gulf and came crashing together in the middle of Waveland. The water stood at between 20 and 30 feet for as long as fourteen hours.

We noticed a lot of dead trees with the tops broken off about 20 to 30 feet up. We were told these trees were underwater, which stabilized the base of the trees, and what was still above water snapped off at the water line.

The devastation of the land was overwhelming, but the human suffering continues. Most of the businesses in the area have never reopened. There are concrete slabs or posts standing on overgrown lots with For Sale signs everywhere. There are no jobs. Their homes are destroyed. And many of them have been cheated out of their money to rebuild their lives by unscrupulous con men posing as contractors.

We met Dave and Cheryl. They paid to have their home raised and restored. The home was raised, 13 feet instead of the required 8 feet, and the contractor disappeared. No steps. No walls. No electricity, no water, no sewer, and now no money. They have been sleeping outdoors on a twin mattress under their home. The volunteers erected stairs so Dave and Cheryl could get into their home. Dave and Cheryl joined us for the shrimp boil that we had on Thursday night, and I saw Cheryl without her coat for the first time. She was as malnourished as anyone I have ever seen, including my trips overseas.

What would you expect from Cheryl? Bitterness? Anger? Despair? You might expect these, but she didn’t show any of them. She was a joy, always welcoming and smiling. She told us how she had been reading her Bible every day, and spending a lot of time praying. And praise God, she only had one beer yesterday! But she went out and bought Halloween candy for the volunteers. Cheryl, who has absolutely nothing, spent money buying candy for us. Amazing!

I could tell you story upon story. Nancy, who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Catherine, who waved her arm at the road next to her house and flatly said that all those people had died in the storm.

I could tell you so many more stories. But perhaps you should consider coming to Waveland someday, and hearing them yourself.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dancing With Your Spouse

My wife, Mary, and I started taking ballroom dance lessons a few months before my son, Peter’s wedding in October 2006. We enjoyed the lessons, had fun learning together and we have continued taking some lessons. We have also learned that dancing with your wife and living with your wife have some remarkable similarities.

We often read in the Bible that the man is the head and most teaching emphasizes that the wife must submit to the husband. In reality, the Bible teaches that the man must submit, too, but that’s another topic. So what have we learned in our dance classes?

First of all, dancing with someone takes a lot of work. Neither of us had a lot of experience dancing, but we had to start somewhere. They didn’t exactly paint big letters R and L on our shoes, but we sure spent a lot of time looking at our feet. We would learn some basic dance step, then practice it a million times, until we were adequate, then they would teach us a new dance step, and it felt like we were starting all over again! But we kept at it.

As happens when dancing with a partner, there are times I make a mistake, there are times when Mary makes a mistake, and there are times when we both mess up. But, oh, it so much fun when we both get it right and can actually dance well for a few minutes.

Then one night, Mr. Otero explained to us that when the man makes a mistake, it is the man's fault. And when the woman makes a mistake, it is the man's fault. This didn't seem fair to me, but the man is responsible to properly lead the woman, and not allow her to make mistakes.

We also learned the proper way to start a dance. It’s not the caveman move, where the guy drags a woman where he wants her and starts dancing. The man asks the woman – the man is taking the initiative, but giving the woman the choice. Assuming she gives her consent, the man then escorts the woman to the floor, and the dancers get into position to dance. But the man is not allowed to begin dancing until the woman is ready, which she signifies by putting her left hand on the man’s right arm. Then the man has permission from her to start. And off you go!

The man is then expected to lead. If he wants the woman to spin around, he has to give her a signal, such as lifting her arm, which tells her what he would like her to do. If he wants to change direction, or perform some other turn, he is always communicating what he wants to her. The woman is expected to follow. I’m told that is not always the easiest thing to do. (Remember that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in heels!) It is especially difficult for the woman if the man is not giving a strong lead, communicating well or in a timely fashion what it is he would like the woman to do. Often the man is surprised that they actually completed the last move, and has not thought ahead far enough to know WHAT he wants to do next.

But over time, with lots of coaching, our dancing has improved significantly. We’re not great dancers, and never will be, but we have a solid foundation and enough confidence in our dancing together that we will actually dance in public!
So, do I even need to explain the correlations to marriage? Good communication, thinking ahead, mutual respect, willingness to accept blame, getting better over time. The most important thing we have found is that the more we practice, the better we get. The better we get, the more we enjoy it, and the more time we spend together dancing.

P.S. A couple weeks ago, we took a special group class with Tony Dovolani, who has been on the popular Dancing with the Stars television program. He basically taught us how to move our hips: it was good. But there was one comment he made that caught my attention. He asked, “When you are dancing, who is leading?” In unison, we all obediently said “The man leads.” Tony said, “No, that’s not right!” We were all stunned – we’ve always been told the man leads. Then Tony went on and said, “When you dance together, the man does not lead, the music does.”
The more I think about that the more I like this idea. Jesus is the song that rises up in my heart, but he is not just for me. He is the one that Mary and I both must stay in step with – together.

Special thanks to our dancing instructors: Miss Kooper, Mr. Woods, Mr. Otero, and Miss Linn of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Wales, WI.

Pictures from Peter and Liesl’s wedding, the catalyst for our dance mania, can be found at

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tajikistan Visit - March 2008

Jim & Debi McLain traveled with Mary and I to Dushanbe, Tajikistan in March 2008. Here is some of what we saw and did.

Monday, February 25, 2008

When I Was Jesus

The flash of Judas’ eyes. Healings. John, my beloved disciple, standing next to my mother, Mary. The calming of the storm. The confused look on Mary’s face in the garden. The realization of the truth overwhelming Thomas’s doubt. I saw it all – with my own eyes. You see, I used to be Jesus.

Now before you ring the psychiatric department, let me explain. I was active in a very large church with a vision to present the gospel to our community during the Easter season, so we regularly produced rather elaborate Easter productions. Since I was tall, dark and bearded, with some acting experience, I was chosen to play Jesus.

I realized that this was a great privilege, and threw myself into studying the Gospels and other literature to properly portray Jesus. As an actor, along with just learning lines and blocking, I tried as best I could to “become” Jesus to properly portray him to the audience. Little did I realize, then, what a lasting influence being Jesus would have on my life.

Of course, there are the many fond memories, since working on a major production brings people very close together. Imagine a room full of fifty adult men all trying to put on Queen-sized, control-top pantyhose for the first-time (my wife’s idea – it was much less messy than full leg make-up.) Or the rehearsal where I, as Jesus, was a few seconds late for my resurrection appearance. Our pastor, the narrator, adlibbed “and as they were gathered together Jesus came and appeared among them saying . . . ‘Sorry I’m late, boys!’” Then there was the rehearsal of the calming of the storm when Peter fell out of the boat. And who would have guessed that an off-stage romance would lead to Mary Magdalene marrying Judas!

But this past Good Friday, as a small group of believers gathered to remember our Lord’s passion, a flood of strong, significant memories nearly overwhelmed me. And I realized that I had a unique perspective of the Lord’s Passion Week. These are some of the things I remember from when I was Jesus.

As I broke the bread and passed the cup, I realized that I would never again see these twelve men before I died. They were talking among themselves, some laughing, some quiet, but oh how I longed to make eye contact with each one of them as they took the bread and wine. Some did, but others were too busy to notice me. Oh, how that burned in my soul! And those with whom I did make eye contact, didn’t seem to understand.
Judas was sitting just to my left. He was smiling, talking and enjoying the food like all the others. Until I handed him the bread. He was smiling as I handed it to him, but his smile faded, and as he rose his eyes flashed and his smile had turned to a sneer. The utter contempt that he felt for me at that moment was written clearly on his face. When he ran from the room, I wondered if there was anything else that I could have done for Judas. But it was too late now, there was no turning back. The grand scheme had been set in motion.

During Christ’s crucifixion, the nails were driven not through the palms of His hands, as is typically depicted. Bearing the full weight of His body, the nail would have ripped though His flesh and He would have fallen from the cross. Rather, the nails were driven through what we call the wrist. You can feel the depression on either side, in the center of your wrist, just below the heel of your hand. By driving the nails here, the bone and ligaments would be strong enough to hold the weight of the human body indefinitely. This small depression also happens to be directly over the ulnar nerve to the hand. As the nail drove through and destroyed the nerve, the white hot pain would shoot at least to the elbow, often as far as the shoulder.
As I hung on the cross, even in the pain, I saw those who had gathered. So many were jeering and taunting. But I sought out and locked onto the familiar faces, two weeping women to my left. Further back, I spotted John – he was here with me! And he had his arm around my mother, Mary. I could hardly look at her, the horror and agony on her face – I felt such shame. I was bloodied, undressed, helpless. Why did she have to see me like this?

My breathing became more labored as I tired. Each breath I had to push up with my legs to pull the air into my lungs. The mind becomes very active, many thoughts flash by as death approaches. And there was the realization that I was alone, so alone. My Father had abandoned me! The weight, the pain, the shame were mine alone. And my Father had left. Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabacthani! Why? Why have you forsaken me? I need you more than ever now!

Father, look at them – they have no idea what they are doing. Forgive them.

Into your hands I commit my spirit! The victory is won! And I hung my head in death. The silence pressed upon me. It was as if no one were breathing in this whole great room. I could hear the weeping, the wailing of the women as they took my body down from the cross and carried me to my grave.

I saw Mary walk slowly, hesitantly toward the tomb where they had laid her Lord. She had been crying. I stepped out where she could see me, but she didn’t recognize me. She fell at my feet confused, despondent. She looked at me with tear filled eyes and asked if I knew where they had taken the body. I just smiled. And I felt that wonderful expectancy when a loved one is about to open a special gift that you know they are going to love. That moment of tension, wanting to prolong it just a bit longer in anticipation of knowing the joy that was about to come. I simply said her name, “Mary!” The shock, the surprise as she looked at me again, but this time she saw! She knew me!

Thomas would not believe unless he saw me with his own eyes and was able to touch my wounds. So I came and stood before him and held out my hands to him. In an instant, I watched as he recognized me, and I saw the confusion followed by the fear. Then he fell prostrate before me. I was filled with joy because this was right – this was exactly what Thomas needed.

Jesus is watching you. He is studying you, hoping you will notice Him. He wants you to see Him, to respond to him, to see you understand who he is and adore him. May you see Jesus. May your eyes be opened to Him more and more each day.