Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Hole in the Church ...
on Layton

On Layton, near Justus Corners, is a lovely little church. Lovely might be a bit of hyperbole, although well-meaning in intent, for she has fallen into disrepair. 

Slatted shutters, some askew, all rotting, cover her windows against light and weather. Roaming critters might find easy access through a few hidey holes. Weeds encircle the structure, blossoming in the rain gutters and climbing some walls to engulf her. Large field stones beside the front steps have hiccupped out of place with the long winters. The white exterior has turned to dirty gray. The front door lock is the only shiny new part of her wardrobe, but even this slide bolt couldn't hold off looters as a limp kick might cause its collapse. 

Worst of all is the roof. The shingles jut and curl, disintegrate and rise, as if they would like to take
flight. But the ultimate slap in her face and her final humiliation are the holes in her roof, gaping and completing her progressive disintegration. A large pine tree landed on her in a storm last year. She stands hurt and forlorn, taking on rain and snow. But even in her aloneness, she sits humbly, waiting to welcome someone within her walls.

She is the Primitive Baptist Church of Justus, organized in 1835. Evidently, there are still a few members: 3, according to one of the families who once belonged. They no longer meet on Sundays, or any day for that matter. The bolt lock stays secure. Her simplicity and stature veil memories of covered dishes, picnics on the lawn, hymn sings, weddings, community friends, and a vibrant family life.

The one-room school house across the street, in use at the same time as the church beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, was demolished just this year. Perhaps the fate of the little church is sealed, for she stands still and alone, one of the last vestiges of our village life in Justus. The older generation dies, the younger moves to Houston or Memphis, and the voices of happiness and love that once filled the place are muffled and finally silenced.

I like to give the little church a good look every time I drive by or a nod or a thought about her days of singing and joy. She enjoys the recognition. Good to know she hasn't been forgotten.

Although it's only a quarter mile down the road from my home, it wasn't the church I grew up in. We weren't Primitive Baptists. Our church, a half mile in the opposite direction on Layton, was "American" Baptist ... whatever that meant and whatever the differences were between the two churches, I couldn't tell you. But some of my best friends went to the Primitive Baptist, and they were sterling family people. This little church bred them well.

Why, ever, in this miniscule community, would we have two Baptist churches and no other denominations? I wonder if perhaps doctrine or theology or practice differed just enough between them in the mid 1800s to warrant two Baptist churches.

And that reminds me of the hole in the church. Could a difference in doctrine or practice be a hole? The hole in the roof of the Primitive Baptist is glaringly offensive, driving me metaphorically to the "hole" in today's greater Church. For some people, perhaps the "hole" in today's Christian Church began with differences in doctrine and theology. Perhaps the "hole" in Church for some people is what they consider to be the hypocrisy of those who attend or maybe it's what they consider to be the irrelevance of the church's message to the world in which they live. Or perhaps the "hole" in the Church for them is their opinion of church goers as judgemental or narrow. No doubt about it - the Church has "holes."

But, when it comes to holes, let's keep the focus: God.

God, the Creator, knows with whom and what He has to deal. He made us! He had a plan for us. He loves us in our messiness and divisions and hypocrisy and judgmentalism and humanness ... I mean, really, who else would? And the plan was for His own Son Jesus to take the punishment for all those things we do and have done that cause us to fall so short of His standards. I deserve no mercy, no grace, but God took that "hole" in my soul and did a miracle of healing ... with the blood of Jesus.

God, the Lover of our souls, the One who will never leave or forsake, the Forgiver, Accepter, Completer of our lives ... our HOLE HEALER.

Don't let the holes you see in the church keep you from God.

I am ...
Grateful for the reminder of a humble church on Layton 
with a hole in its roof.

To view a YouTube video of the beautiful interior of the Primitive Baptist Church in Justus during its heyday, please go to

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Simple Joys

Some days overflow with simple joys. 

Mornings usually begin the same way here on Layton.

Pajamas askew, hair disheveled, slippers shuffling, I maneuver down the steps from the upstairs bedroom and head directly to the front window in the living room. The point is to open the curtains and get the big picture window view of what the world looks like on Layton today. Is the sun beaming? Is there fog on the mountain or rain in the valley? Will the state of the weather predict the course of the day?

Unfailingly, this is the routine. Throw open the curtains on the world's stage, breathe deeply, scope out the day's prospects, and pray for the courage and strength to see it through.

One day this week, my usual routine took a lovely turn. Pulling back the curtains didn't present me with only a view of Frankie's garage across the street. The day's opening curtain call proved as exciting as a Broadway musical in its first thrilling notes.

On the stage of my front lawn, stood a buck, his antlers held high, majestic and peaceful. Sensing my presence and staring back at me, he froze, and so did I. Our eyes met, but he remained motionless. I searched the area for the rest of his family. No other deer in sight, only this magnificent creature. Shortly, he grew bored with me, but he never ran. He stuck his head into the nearby vegetation for another bite of his morning meal, and then he strolled calmly away into the woods, leaving me breathless at the window.

How can a day not begin with gratefulness when it starts with such beauty?

Some days, God just keeps those simple joys flowing.

With the spectacle of a front yard buck on my mind, I went about my morning activity: coffee on, feed the cat, dress. But a steady buzzing drew my attention. Was one of the neighbors mowing already? Or was someone using their electric clippers to trim bushes? Was there something wrong in the basement? My directional hearing is not the best. The buzz seemed to encompass the house like a giant mosquito, and it was incessant. The sound drew me to the back porch where it became obvious the noise came from overhead.

Incredibly, an aerial circus claimed the skies. A small plane dove, twisted, and spun high above my house. I pulled up a yard chair in the driveway, and, head back, I enjoyed the show. The pilot was wild with enthusiasm. He'd climb straight up, turn with his nose to the earth, and spin down until I thought he would join me for morning coffee. Back up he rose to a horizontal flight pattern, and he spun like the Salt and Pepper ride my grandsons love at Knoebel's. What an acrobatic show, right here in my backyard on Layton!

God fills our lives daily with simple joys. Our heads may be full of worries and busyness that block our sight, but God asks us to change focus and "Give thanks in everything." He reminds us to live eyes and ears wide to the blessings around us and to give thanks for each one. No matter what difficulties and hardships we face, there are always things for which we can be thankful. Our lives abound with blessings, awaiting our recognition and appreciation.

The marvelous thing about thankfulness is that it opens the door to joy. Joy rushes in naturally right behind thanksgiving, and contentment with our life situations has its foot in the door.

Eyes and ears wide. Can you see many things for which you can give thanks? I'm working on making it a habit. Want to join me?

Enjoying plenty of Simple Joys here ... 
On Layton.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What can you learn in a school without computers, the core curriculum, and an anti-bullying policy?

What can someone learn in a school without computers, the core curriculum and an anti-bullying policy?


At least that was my conclusion as I considered the question recently. 2016 marks the fiftieth
anniversary of my high school graduation.


I can't believe it either.

The old gang is meeting on a monthly basis to prepare for a big 50th party this summer. So remembrances of our country school those five decades ago are being dragged out of memory mothballs, shaken out, and hung up to laugh about.

Our alma mater, Scott School, in the country hollow called Montdale was a one story,  rectangular building with a single hallway down its center, spilling off into classrooms on either side. In 1953 the class of '66 started kindergarten at one end of the building, and each year we worked our way up the hallway, classroom to classroom, until thirteen years later when we reached the other end of the building where an exit door marked the way into the great beyond.

We should have been overcome with fear and intimidation on June 6, 1966, when we left our school for the last time. After all, President Kennedy had been assassinated when we were in ninth grade. The Vietnam War broiled and escalated daily, and within a year or two a lottery draft would call more boys across the world. The South rumbled with civil rights marches, and in two years Dr. King would be shot. The '60s seethed anxiety, cultural change, and social upheaval, and we were stepping right into the thick of it. But in June, 1966, we were eighteen, cocooned, and clueless.
Scott High School, Class of 1966, 36 Graduates
Principal William Gilvary at the podium.
Chairman of the school board, John Ychkowski, awarding diplomas.

In the midst of a complex world of national and international turmoil,  our school was simple:

  • We didn't have computers, cell phones, printers, or video games. I guess most hadn't been invented. Our valued possession in '66 might have been our transistor radios. If you needed to call home, you had to ask Francis, the school secretary, to use the office phone. 
  •  We didn't have a cafeteria or a library. We took bag lunches every day and ate at our desks. The locker room was in the basement, and one classroom also hid in the scary down-under, accessible over boards laid on the basement's dirt floor.
  • We didn't have football, soccer, track, or cross country.
  • We didn't have well-paid teachers. When I started teaching in 1970, my starting salary was $7,000, so who knows what our teachers were paid in the '50s-60s.
  • We didn't have a science lab, but Miss Santacroce and Mr. Vail did their best with a few beakers and a flip chart of plants.
  • We didn't have new textbooks. In fact, the list of users on the inside front covers of our books extended back a decade or so. 
  • We didn't have creative teaching supplies and resources, like posters. 
  • What we lacked makes a dismal and negative list, but that's just part of the story. Despite the frugality and the "it was different in my day" attitude, none of the "didn't have's," none of the world tension, seemed to bother my classmates. In fact, the thirty-six of us were a happy bunch. After all ...

  • We had Donnie. A victim of polio, the scrourge of childhood in the '50s, Donnie had a large
    hump on his back that prevented him from standing straight. In fact, he couldn't stand on his own at all. He used crutches throughout our school years, dragging his deformed foot that was far beyond normal size. But he kept up with us in every activity, even our five day trip to Washington DC. He smiled continuously. The boys included him in every event, even as a stat keeper at basketball games. In all our school years I don't remember any teacher lecturing us on how to treat Donnie or reprimanding us for bullying him. He was our friend. The whole class showed up at the funeral when Donnie died the year after graduation, his entire life encompassed in that little country school. Donnie taught us that people in that big outside world would be different from us, but they were one with us.

  • We had Rosemarie. A newcomer to the school in tenth grade, Rosemarie quickly became my
    best friend. Although my classmates had been together
    for many years, they immediately included the new girl with her marvelous sense of humor and happy disposition. A foster child at Stillmeadow, a home for many foster children, Rosemarie didn't tell us the story of  her family or how she came to foster care. But even at the age of fifteen, she showed us how to make the best of things. Rosemarie left Scott for Penn State, main campus. From her we learned how to laugh in the face of adversity and how to work hard to reverse our futures.

  • We had Patti with her syrupy Southern accent. Her parents moved to
    Pennsylvania from North Carolina to work at a local Bible camp. Patti carried her Bible to school every day. Every one in the class came from a church-going family, the Catholics attending Corpus Christi and the Protestants attending Mt. Bethel in Justus or the United Methodist church in Montdale. But Patti's commitment to Jesus missed us. She wasn't just an attender. She would read her Bible in study halls or at lunch. It would be about ten years after high school when I would begin a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship which eluded me in high school, despite my upbringing. No one ever ridiculed Patti. She was part of our group. She earned our respect through her diligent academic work and her faithful love for God. She was rewarded as class valedictorian. From Patti we learned about commitment to God and the courage to live it in front of other people.

    • We had Evelyn and Billy. 
      Their high school romance began early - about ninth grade. Neither
      of them even looked at or dated any one else through school. Truly, their eyes were only for each other. A month after we graduated in July of '66, they were married. This summer they will celebrate both our 50th reunion and their 50th wedding anniversary. Many of us in the class faced divorce through the years, but Billy and Evelyn plodded on, fighting cancer, building a business, rearing three children. From Bill and Evelyn we learned the importance of faithfulness and commitment in relationships.

    Our class produced company owners, a nurse practioner, several teachers, sales managers, leaders in large area companies, a pastor, several professors, an academic doctor, an airline stewardess, hairdressers, bankers, a massage therapist, a bevy of marvelous mothers and fathers, and an entire class of responsible, hard-working people of character who raised families, paid taxes, and helped to form the backbone of America.

    In a recent letter Patti wrote to me, "Considering all the things we didn't have, I think we got a pretty good education. It surely isn't about how much money is spent or how much technology is available per student that determines the quality of education."

    In hindsight and from the vantage point of a Christian, I can see God's fingerprints all over our thirteen years in the Scott School. God blessed us in our early, formative years with friendships, adults who loved us, and a safe environment. God's special blessing to the class of '66 of a protected place to grow and loving relationships gave us a bedrock start on life. None of us fell through the cracks. His watchcare has followed us these fifty years whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. And now we get to look back on those blessings and give thanks.

    What can you learn in a school without computers, the core curriculum, and an anti-bullying policy?

    Plenty, my friends. Plenty.

    Monday, April 4, 2016

    How to Hear Your Past

    It is possible. You can hear your past ... sometimes. I suppose circumstances have to be right, but they were right for me last week on Easter morning. My past literally sang.

    Let me give you some background.

    The focus of Easter for our family has always been church. On Easter my family had an established routine that continued faithfully for about thirty years - from the time I was an infant through my own child-rearing years.

    Mt. Bethel Baptist Church on Layton
    The church we attended was Mt. Bethel Baptist Church. Located only a quarter mile down the road from our home on Layton, it was the family place of worship  from 1950 to about 1980. Both sets of grandparents raised my mother and father in the church, too,.taking our history with the church back to the 1930s. That's a family association with Mt. Bethel of about fifty years.

    But the church is much older than our family. Its history begins in the mid 1800s. Generations of farmers, miners, and laborers up here on the mountain have called Mt. Bethel, "House of God on the Mountain," their church. It's certainly old enough to have the ghosts of past congregants roaming about. In fact, as a child I mortally feared going into the church basement alone, a feeling solidified the time I encountered a black snake slithering through the old stone wall in the basement.

    Mt. Bethel grew us. Our mothers and fathers carried us, shoved us, and pulled us there from the crib roll class, to pre-school, to youth group until we walked the old burgundy and black carpet down the center aisle of the sanctuary to marry our sweethearts, and later to bring our own babies to the crib roll class. Carol, Jackie, Lynda, Sybil, Karen, and I were neighbors, schoolmates, and church chums. We came of age together. One Sunday night our small youth group was appointed to conduct the evening service. But our idols, the Beatles, were in America for their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show that night. We raced through the entire service, abbreviating the readings and songs (one verse only of the hymns ... a cutting edge change of protocol), so we could get home to see the show. Our folks never let us forget it. Mt. Bethel was family.

    Grandpa and Nana Jones
    Grandpa Jones lived about six houses away from us on Layton. As church maintenance man, he would walk several times a week from his home to the church to do his chores. I'd see him pass the front window and run out to say hello. He didn't have a car in the 1950-60s, so he walked everywhere, to his sister's in Blakely and to Scranton. On Sunday mornings he was the first one to get to church because he rang the bell, a large iron one in the steeple, connected to a long rope in the church's vestibule. Every week as we entered, there was Grandpa, arms extended above his head, pulling with all his might so that bell could be heard all over the top of this mountain and throughout Justus.

    And when we worshipped, we always sat in the same pew. It wasn't assigned. We hadn't paid for it. It was simply the Jones pew on the left as we entered the sanctuary, second row from the rear. Grandpa Jones always sat on the end of the pew by the center aisle, convenient for fixing the thermostat, shoveling the front stoop or whatever. Next to him sat Nana Jones whom I can never picture in church without a hat, I liked sitting next to her. Then mom, one or both of my sisters and dad sat on the far end of the pew, a bookend to his father with all us Joneses in between.

    The Jones pew could sing! Grandpa, a miner who emigrated from North Wales in the 1920s, stood about five feet-five inches with a powerful tenor voice, groomed in the best Welsh tradition in the pubs and chapels of the old country. I can still see his white wisp of hair, round wire-rimmed glasses, and well-worn suit and silk tie which, as a child, I enjoyed stroking as I sucked my thumb during church. His powerful tenor belied his size, and his voice, easily identifiable in a room full of strong singers, would have made any Gamanfa Ganu proud.

    At the other end of the pew, Dad could belt a hymn out with the same power as his father, and Mom, in the middle, had a famous soprano range, at least it was famous in Mt. Bethel. She could hit the high notes, and it sounded great.

    On the right side of the church sat the Evans and Morcom families, also in their designated pews.
    Dad, furthest left in rear, and Janet, second row in the middle, are the
    only two still living from our Mt. Bethel family in the middle of
    the 20th century. Mom is first on right. Albert Morcom, Jim Carpenter, and
    Jack Evans are in that order, last row, from right.
    Both Jack Evans and Albert Morcom maintained an equally high volume although without the pitch perfect voices of the Jones family, so the Joneses said. Jack's trump card was his wife Janet who sang alto. She carried all of us in the church who couldn't hit the high notes with my mother. Mom and Janet had been singing duets since they were teens. Left side versus right side of the church, a singing competition raged every Sunday morning. Our post-church dinner conversations usually alluded to the volume or key of the morning's hymns.

    The climax of our singing year at church was Easter. "He Lives, He Lives! Christ Jesus Lives Today!" could be heard at Justus Corners, followed by a more mellow "In the Garden." We managed a rather vociferous "And He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own." But the piece de resistance was "The Old Rugged Cross." Every man, woman, and child in the place sang it with gusto and sincerity.

    Easter morning, 1959, Jo Ann and Sally
    The singing began at about 6:00 am every Easter morning. Sunrise service was standard protocol, followed by a full breakfast of pancakes and eggs in the back of the church. Jim Carpenter was usually the cook extraordinaire and supervisor in the kitchen. Jim, our cigar smoking Sunday School teacher, always had the kids' attention as he was a master of stealing noses.

     After breakfast we children would be eager to get home and find our Easter baskets. Mom would hurry us into our new dresses with matching hats, white gloves, and shiny shoes. Dad would present us with a small corsage, and off we'd go to church again to sing those same precious songs we'd sung at 6:00 am, but that was just rehearsal. At the 10:00 am service we were warmed up, tuned up, and ready to raise the rafters.

    And so it went, year after year. Eventually, I left the little church down the road. People change. Life moves on. Although I left Mt. Bethel in the 1980s, in recent years I've been back to buy Welsh cookies or to attend funerals. There have been quite a few, both cookies and funerals: Grandpa and Nana Jones, my friends Carol, Karen, Sybil, and Lynda, Jack Evans, Jim Carpenter, Albert Morcom, and the rest, right and left sides of the center aisle. A few years ago Mom's funeral was at Mt. Bethel even though she had been living the retired life in Myrtle Beach for the past thirty years. At the funeral we played a tape of her and Dad singing the old hymns together. The iron bell in the steeple belfry has been silent for a long time.

    But the little church down Layton hasn't left me.

    Last week I passed Mt. Bethel's outdoor bulletin board: "Sunrise Service 6:30 a.m. Easter Morning. Breakfast afterwards." That's all it took.

    By 6:25 a.m. on Easter morning, I entered the front doors of Mt. Bethel and noted the absence of the dangling belfry rope ... and the absence of Grandpa Jones. This time my attendance wasn't for a funeral; it was for a resurrection, and Jesus had called me home to remember the power and beauty of His sacrificial love. I took my assigned seat, left side, second pew from the rear. About thirty people eventually filtered in, but I only knew two in the entire congregation. And then we started to sing ... the same old hymns I'd been raised on all those Easter mornings ago. But a strange thing happened.

    I heard Grandpa's strong tenor as we launched into "He Lives." I heard Mom's soprano hitting the high notes none of us could reach, Jack's toneless gusto, Albert's volume, and Dad's harmonization with Mom. The church resounded with their voices. I heard them all, just as if it were 1960 with the place alit and abuzz with people I loved on our most precious holiday.

    My friends, you can hear your past, and sometimes ...  it will sing to you.

    Saturday, March 12, 2016

    Live to the Beauty in You.

    Florida in mid-winter jars the senses.
    Charlotte Harbor at sunset.

    A trip from the Northeast to Florida in February will leave you reeling, for Florida has not tucked its growth away for a season of rest. It breathes life and color.

    Florida rushed at me last week like a 3D, multi-colored, psychedelic production of light, sounds, and smells. The gray of our Pennsylvania winter faded fast in the Florida sunshine. Frankly, breathless and aghast might describe a Northerner's reaction to its teeming life, movement, and fluctuating blues and greens.

    I went to Florida to visit friends and soak up the sun's warmth. That happened, but, mostly, I saw God and His hand in and on creation.
    I saw Him ...

    In rooty mangrove forests, consuming the beaches, providing cover and food for an array of beach critters and plants.

    The Gulf of Mexico
    In Charlotte Harbor, Sarasota Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico, glistening, shimmering, sparkling, massive, ever dancing beneath the sun, a circumference of original life.

    In brown and white pelicans, majestic scions of the skies; ibis, skittering like chickens through the sand; great blue herons, stately, tall before the sea; snowy egrets, tropical snow against the green of mangrove and blue of sea; osprey, searching hawk-like for their next dinner; gulls, noisily littering the sky.

    In the crabs, scurrying among the mangrove and burrowing in the sand; in the dolphin, elusive divers on the horizon, and the sheepshead, striped and wiggling on a fisherman's line.
    Brown and white pelicans on parade

    In the hibiscus, flashing their red, yellow, and orange faces about the landscape; in the royal palm, stately, erect at their hundred foot vantage.

    In shells, like our northern snowflakes, each an individual with its own characteristics ... whelks, conch, augur, cockles, pens, barnacles, a plethora of form, shape, texture.

    Florida in February is a tribute to the imagination, creativity, and beauty of God. Each of His creations, existing to the beauty God placed within it. 

    John Eldridge wrote, "We need beauty; that's clear enough from the fact that God has filled the world with it ... We need to drink in beauty wherever we can get it ... These are all gifts to us from God's generous heart" (Waking the Dead).

    The imagination, creativity, and beauty displayed in God's creations are intrinsic to them. They do not struggle to live beautiful. They do not drive to achieve that beauty. They simply are beautiful because God made them that way, and everything God makes is good (1 Timothy 4:4).

    "I see beauty in YOU, too," He whispers. "I made you and I saved you from the self that has soiled your living. I live through Christ, My Son, in you. Live to that beauty." The sea, the pelicans, the whelk, the palm, and the dolphin live to the beauty they've been given. "Live to the beauty you are," God reminds us.

    Live to Christ in us. Be what He made us to be - Beauty.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2016

    Feisty Shrimp and Missing Mushrooms ... Happy Chinese New Year!

    The year of the monkey wiggled in on Monday, February 8th, signaling the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar and Chinese New Year! Xiannian kuaile! (Pronounced sshin-nyen kwhy-ler). Happy New Year, Mandarin style!
    Donna, Bryan, and I in China
    on Chinese New Year.

    Celebrating the new year in China is as easy as pulling your chair up to the table. It's all about eating with family and friends. "Hot pot" is the usual fare of the season. It reminds me of fondue, only trickier. The hot pot, or a boiling pot of water, sits on a portable burner and dominates the center of the table. The table must be circular as it's an equal opportunity conversation setting. Nothing goes better with hot pot than relationships.

    The universal rule is "you don't eat hot pot with people you don't like." That could have something to do with the double dipping and lavish exchange of saliva that takes place in the group pot. Everyone cooks and eats out of that one bubbling mix. Nothing spells unity like hot pot.

    Bowls of just about anything surround the hot pot: mussels, greenery (of every shade and texture), chicken feet, rice noodles, oysters, squid, eel, fish balls, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, and shrimp, all raw and fresh from the street market. Since my city in China is a coastal city, hot pot is always heavy in seafood. Shrimp are usually the most difficult to control on the table. Everything is "directly from the sea this afternoon" fresh, and the shrimp, alive and kicking, make a feisty delicacy.

    During one new year's hot pot I attended, the shrimp took to jumping out of the boiling water on to the table whenever they were thrown in. Cooking them seemed almost barbaric, especially when they slapped you in the face in their attempts to escape. The chop sticks would start clicking and dunking around the table, and the shrimp never had a chance.

    Once you throw your tofu into the pot, the next problem is finding it. Perhaps it sinks under a sea of bok choy and buries itself beneath the rice noodles. The natural impulse is to do a little "chopstick washing," swishing your chopsticks about in the broth to find your tofu. I tried that approach at first, but it appeared that rather than wash my chopsticks in the mutual eating pot, it was easier to just take whatever floated to the top and was handy. After all, you're among friends. Your fish ball is my fish ball.

    Eastern culture values time around the table. Talking, eating, cooking, enjoying each other's company for several hours. These are the joys of the East. No rush. Another cup of tea. This is the essence of a Chinese New Year celebration.

    The Eastern culture of Jesus' day was much the same. In fact, the Hebrews would even recline around their tables, allowing for hours of relaxed talking and sharing. Although hot pot was probably not on the menu, there were mutual dipping dishes, and with all those fishermen friends, Jesus probably ate plenty of fish. And He loved to share a meal with anyone - short tax collectors who sat in trees, good friends just off their boats, big crowds, tax collectors, wedding guests, families. Meal times were for relationship building. Dinners were a place to meet God.

    How are meal times at your house? Hurried? Pressured? Eat and run? TV dinners or boxed mac and cheese? Mobile phones dominating the attention of everyone at the table?


    Cook together around a gurgling pot. Laugh about missing mushrooms and feisty shrimp. Engage in a chop stick battle over the last noodle. Get to know each other a little better.

    A hot pot dinner reminds me of one of those times God talked about for teaching our children the command to love Him with all our hearts, souls, and strength. He said to impress this command on the children when we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down or get up, or ...

    when we have family hot pot night!

    Happy Chinese New Year!

    Friday, January 29, 2016

    The Fall of '53 on Layton . . .

    In the fall of '53 a technology revolution was sweeping the country ... technology that would change and reflect American culture forever: Television. Between September and November that fall over forty television channels began operation in cities across the United States.

    Justus, our country village on a mountain in Pennsylvania, has never been on the cutting edge of technology ... or anything else for that matter, but here on Layton that fall of '53, our family was on the cusp of national communication development. We owned a television ...  probably one of the first families on Layton to move the over sized electronic device with a lilliputian screen into the corner of our living room.

    With its black and white pictures, it housed a wild assortment of tubes in a marvelous array of shapes, sizes, and colors. And my Dad was tube and television savvy ... thanks to the US Army and anthracite.

    After World War II and his discharge from the army in '45, Dad returned to his parents' home in Justus and took up the family occupation - coal mining. His father and Uncle Joe, trained in the mines of north Wales, brought their skills and manpower to our local valley mines. A relative found Dad a job at the breaker in Olyphant. From the war front in Italy to the coal mines in northeastern Pennsylvania, it was a bleak and black decade for Dad.

    He knew before a year was up that coal would not be his future. To his credit, he took the coal car by its hitch and sought out a better way of life. The post World War II economy in the US was beginning to sing, and innovations and inventions were changing American life. Dad jumped off the breaker and took advantage of his army training in communications by pursuing a burgeoning career field that did not involve dodging enemies or groveling underground in mines ... television engineering. In the late forties and early fifties it was THE place to be for a young vet with Morse Code in his head and electricity in his blood ... even if he lived on a mountain in the country on a road called Layton.

    Television had a bit of a rough start. Poor Philo Farnsworth produced the first electronic television picture in 1927 and, by rights, he should have been hailed as the inventor of television, but he was scooped by RCA in a patent battle. Because RCA's David Sarnoff successfully marketed the invention, he became known as the father of television. The old "squeaky wheel" got the credit and the attention. Philo died in obscurity although with a label like Philo he'd have to choose a power name to make it in modern TV. It wasn't until the 1939 World's Fair, when RCA unveiled their new NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza in New York, that network television was introduced.

    But television's commercial success and growth languished when the US entered WW II as the work force was shipped overseas, and personnel were scarce.. But in 1947 with the war behind them and an army of young veterans back in the US, television exploded. Dad rode the wave.

    He took his post-war bride, Annette, and enrolled in the American Television Institute of Technology (ATIT) in Chicago. They loaded up the Plymouth and began the grueling drive across route 6 in Pennsylvania, through Ohio and Indiana to Illinois and a one room walk-up apartment on the south side of the Windy City.

    Founded by Dr. Lee DeForest, inventor of the vacuum tube, and U.A. Sanabria, developer of the first televison station, ATIT was home for the country's cutting edge training in television theory, manufacturing, operation, and development..

    Dad studied all aspects of electronics and television technology while Mom put her nursing education to work at Woodlawn Hospital. We went back to Chicago many years later to locate the apartment, the school, and the hospital. The hospital had been leveled, and an empty plot marked its former location. Boarded and broken windows, metal gates on store fronts, and litter under the "EL" (elevated train) indicated that the apartment building had slipped into the slums. And the school ... well, televisions had come a long way from vacuum tubes.

    During the four years they lived near Lake Michigan, Dad finished his education, and in 1949 the young couple had their first baby, a girl. Dad was able to leave Chicago with a Bachelor of Science degree in television engineering. One coal miner had made a significant move to better his life. The young family headed home to the hills of Pennsylvania. Dad would find a job with one of the first radio stations in Scranton, WGBI, and later with one of its first television stations, WDAU (later WYOU), owned by Madge Megargee.
    The television engineer and the baby boomer in a Chicago park,

    So the family took up residence on Layton with an elephant of a television in the living room and a job in radio. The baby girl, one of the vanguard of boomers born from 1946-49, began her early years under the tutelage of infant television broadcasting with shows like Kukla, Fran and Ollie and Howdy Doody. Television provided the illusion of Hollywood. It would take almost two decades before the magic of those early years would be shattered for the boomers and for one little girl in particular..

    In the fall of '53, the Chicago-born, four-year-old boarded the school bus on Layton for the first time
    1953 - the baby boomer begins the journey.
    with other boomer children. Television and the boomers would come of age together. The bus's five mile journey over the hills to school each day was just a start. The longer journey was only beginning ...
     in the fall of '53.

    Resource: The Archive of American Television,, Accessed January 27, 2016.