Sunday, January 22, 2012


            The sky is blue. The water is inviting. The drinks are cold. The people are as warm as you remember.
            The television ads are Jamaican me crazy.
            A year ago I was preparing for my third trip to the island. Each time I traveled with high school students and their other chaperones, and we offered our muscle to help churches improve their facilities. We also worshiped in those churches (which included dancing in the aisles), visited orphanages, and most fun of all, took the puppets (including my own Joey Manzoni) to schools and churches.
            We saw a side of Jamaica that most tourists don’t. However, we also saw the side advertised on television. Except our cold drinks were some Ting different.
            On my first visit in 2003, I even climbed Dunn’s River Falls in Ochos Rios. To get an idea of how unlikely this is, Google it and see tourists climbing through the rushing water. Try to picture me there. It’s true. I have photographs and video to prove it, and this written account, adapted for my blog:
            I looked up warily at the 600 foot waterfall. Though our Jamaican guide jumped nimbly over the wet rocks, I doubted I would do as well. Following our guide’s directions, our group of 14 American teenagers and their chaperones each grasped the hand of the person before and behind and began to climb through the chilly rushing water.
            The guides had combined our group with a few others. This was especially troubling for one of our girls, who found herself following a portly stranger in a Speedo.
After a few minutes in the waterfall, our boys pranced as sure-footedly as the leader, but I continued to struggle. As I ascended, I grew wetter and colder, while the rocks seemed steeper and more slippery. Our human chain had long ago disintegrated, but my friend Vicky gripped my left hand, and my student Becky clutched my right. In some places they almost carried me up the cascade. With their strong support, the situation became less frightening, and I experienced the thrill of reaching the top.
Pondering this milestone, I’ve concluded that what I face daily feels more threatening than slippery rocks in a waterfall. So I’m thankful for five different Psalms—37, 66, 73, 94, and 121—which tell how God keeps his child’s feet from slipping while climbing through the difficulties and dangers of life. My favorite includes this verse:
When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O Lord, supported me. Psalm 94:18, NIV
If I had been on the NIV translation committee, I would have used "screamed" instead of "said," and added multiple exclamation points after "slipping." Maybe we need a Bible paraphrase for overly emotional people who experience life more intensely. But I digress.
Thanks to Vicky and Becky, I cherish a tangible memory of what God’s supporting love feels like. I thank God for his love that keeps me from crashing on the rocks and for the friends he’s given to share the climb.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Are you smarter than a WCA student?

             I got so busy tweaking my midterm exams that I neglected my blog. So I decided to share some actual exam questions with you. And if some actual students see the questions, it's no big deal. There are hundreds more where these came from.

From my Old Testament Tour 2 exam:

_____ 1.  A Hebrew word that means “kinsman-redeemer” or “close relative” is
A) hesed
B) ga’al
C) shophetim
D) torah

_____ 2.  In Ruth 2:12, God is pictured as:
A) a burning bush
B) an angry judge
C) a mother bird
D) a shepherd

_____ 3. A Hebrew word that is translated “judges” is
A) hesed.
B) melech.
C) shophetim.
D) torah.

_____ 4. Fat King Eglon of Moab was killed by
A) Samson.
B) Shamgar the Philly Killer.
C) Ehud “Lefty” Ben Gera.
D) Deborah.

_____ 5. Gideon defeated
A) Ammonites.
B) Mennonites.
C) Midianites.
D) Termites.

From my English exam, a question on The Giver by Lois Lowry.

_____ 1. In the Community, this is how a couple gets children:
         A. Birthmothers produce three children in three years.
         B. Children are created in test tubes.
         C. After three years of marriage, a couple may apply to receive children.
         D. Your biology teacher will explain.

And a question about fiction terminology:

“Though the rest of us had finished eating thirty minutes earlier, Fred revisited the all-you-can-eat-buffet for the ninth time, and returned to our table balancing plates laden with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, pork chops, meatloaf, hot wings, and a diet Pepsi.”
Is this an example of direct exposition or indirect revelation?

From my Old Testament Tour 1 exam:

_____ 1. If Israel obeyed God’s laws, they would
A. live happily ever after.
B. live long and prosper.
C. have a nice day.

_____ 2. According to Dr. Laura, Israel became a free nation when
A. they received the Ten Commandments.
B. they entered the Promised Land.
C. they escaped slavery in Egypt.

From my Cults & World Religions exam:

1. Muhammad spread Islam by
a. giving alms to the poor.
b. conquering or killing his opponents.
c. teaching the Qur’an to seekers.
d. posting teachings on his blog.

2. What do Wiccans believe about salvation?
    a. It is earned by animal and/or human sacrifice to Satan.
   b. It is earned by good works and white magick.
   c. Since there is no sin, there is no need of salvation.

3. Characterize Brigham Young’s attitude toward African Americans.
a. Loving
b. Racist
c. Tolerant

Are you smarter than a WCA student? Send me your answers and I’ll tell you your grade. Exams start Wednesday.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bold Approach

            I can explain the flashback.
            As a child I had eagerly watched The Wizard of Oz whenever it played on television. Not only that, I had read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the rest of the books in the Oz series by original author L. Frank Baum and also the ones by Ruth Plumly Thompson. (There’s nothing like Wikipedia to jog the aging memory. It even provides pictures of the original covers, making me warm and fuzzy with a nostalgia overdose.)
            Not only that, I wanted to live in Oz. I wanted to be Dorothy. In my mind I was Dorothy. If you doubt my obsession, contact my sister Taffy, the quilt maker. ( A couple of years ago she presented me with a quilt featuring scenes from the movie:  Dorothy walks down the yellow brick road, arms linked with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. Ruby slippers and striped stockings stick out from beneath a house. The green-faced witch gazes into her crystal ball. You get the idea. And the back of the quilt is a field of poppies, the magic poppies that made Dorothy and the Lion sleep.
            I was thrilled to receive the quilt. (I would share a photo if I only had a brain.) My inner child would gladly return to Oz in the time it takes to click my heels together.
            The Wizard of Oz was my gateway drug into speculative fiction. Oz made is possible for me to subsequently inhabit Middle Earth, the Alpha Quadrant of Star Trek, the Whorl of Firebird by Kathy Tyers, and some random planets a long time ago in a galaxy far away.
            But that’s a blog for another day. I wanted to tell you about the flashback.
            One Sunday in the Watsontown Baptist Church, I was belting out a Charles Wesley hymn, and sang these lines: 
“Bold I approach th’eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ, my own.”
            Suddenly, without leaving the pew, I was back in Oz. I saw Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion quaking as they approached a smoking and flashing image of the Great and Powerful Oz on his throne. The wizard was revealed to be a sham who couldn’t grant any of their requests.               
             I continued singing.
            Wesley probably had Hebrews 4:16 in mind when he wrote his hymn. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (NKJV). I sure had it in mind as I sang it.
            Many believers—and I include myself on occasion—tiptoe nervously to God’s throne like Dorothy and her friends, but God’s Word urges us to approach boldly. Many believers—guilty again—doubt God’s desire or ability to help them, but the Apostle Paul insists God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV).
            In fiction, Dorothy experienced disappointment when she realized the wizard was a fraud. In real life, believers experience satisfaction when they approach the eternal throne and remember that God is their powerful, forgiving, loving father.