Little Pitchers Have Big Ears by Virginia Hughes

Eavesdropping on two older sisters was my best early listening practice. It was easy to listen when they didn’t want me to hear secrets, plans or anything to do with boys. I had to control my breathing in the next room and knew they sensed me if they said, “Little pitchers have big ears,” which meant they knew I was listening. The conversation would then become guarded, boring and possibly turn to them passing notes back and forth. While my sisters were an endless stream of top notch information, listening to my parents or other adult conversation was disquieting at times. I was piecing together bits of information and incorrectly filling in the blanks, my senses deceiving me, listening determinedly to connect the dots.

In second grade I was listening to our elderly downstairs boarder, Maxine, visiting with two friends when the topic turned to tornadoes. They were trying to outdo each other with what they’d heard about an upcoming storm. One of them said our little town of Frankfort, Indiana, would be blown off the map; so, I asked my family what it might mean. My siblings shrugged, and Mother said, “It sounds like someone thinks Frankfort may be gone forever, but where did you hear such a crazy thing? Are you listening at Maxine’s door again?” I didn’t admit it, but proceeded to have a series of nightmares, tears and beg for a bright nightlight before I confessed I was very sorry to have listened in on Maxine’s conversation with her friends. All sympathy ceased, and I was promptly told it served me right for being impolite and nosy.

Then at 12, I was reading under the dining room table one afternoon avoiding the front room guests, still within earshot in the odd chance the conversation turned colorful. A guest sighed and announced, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It seemed to be out of the blue, her statement, but it may have been connected to earlier ideas too boring for a twelve-year-old to hang onto. The declaration, however, intrigued me. “Nothing new under the sun.” Well, I instantly knew she was wrong and could prove it in many ways.  I’d peeked into the robin’s nest in the magnolia tree and watched the new hatchlings. We were told to leave it alone, that the mother bird would bite us and peck our eyes out. It seemed possible. I hadn’t touched the babies, but I had looked at them many times. The guest stating that nothing was new under the sun received some “Amen sisters,” from everyone. Nearly everyone. No one corrected her.

Surely my father wouldn’t stand for such foolishness. I studied him to see why he had allowed the statement to hang there unchallenged. He didn’t let us get away with wild statements like that for anything. I crawled to a different spot in the dining room and observed him. Glasses in front pocket, he was sitting way back in the easy chair, miles away, quite possibly about to fall asleep. I would seek him later in his study and we would fix this. Later I knocked on his door. When he saw it was me he asked if I was helping Mother as I should be. I knew he was trying to distract me from bothering him.  “Dad, you know how Mrs. Willen said there was nothing new under the sun?” He looked over his glasses, “Oh, did she now?” I explained how he was sitting there at the time and the adults all agreed and how it is not true. Dad answered, “And you should read the Bible a lot more and yap a lot less, as the entirety of human kind and the authors of the Scriptures are older and wiser than yourself.” Dad pushed his Bible toward me where he had turned to Ecclesiastes one verse nine. “Don’t just read the one verse either; read the whole book. Of course, I didn’t understand it on anything but the most literal of levels. It was a sad and confusing thing a bit like riding a merry go round at my age. Dad quizzed me about what I learned. I thought the writer grumpy and disregarding the wealth of information stored there, could not agree with “Nothing new under the sun.”

Every day is new. The baby birds are new. “Virginia, I told you to leave those birds alone!” My mother scolded me from two rooms away. “That mother bird is going to peck your eyes out!” I didn’t dare accuse Mom of eavesdropping on me. I continued with my argument for Dad, “Plus at breakfast I saved another box top. Only seven more and I’ll have a NEW Sally Skater Finger Ding Doll from Post Cereal. I really like the Betty Ballerina doll, but Mother says her tutu is immodest and we don’t dance.” Dad began to laugh, “Oh, if only the wise teacher, who is perhaps King Solomon, had access to a box top cereal doll from the Post Company. That would have surely delighted him beyond measure, and changed the plot lines of Ecclesiastes,” He took off his glasses and blew his nose, laughing and laughing. He began his dismissive finger wave, palm down and fingers scooting me forward in the air from where he sat at his desk. It was his gesture to leave the study. He cleared his throat and stated, “Now listen, you’re a child. Everything is new to you. The writer here is someone who has experienced much more. Just trust me that the teacher’s sentiments will be more understood as you grow older. Keep reading.” He kept laughing and teasing me about wise King Solomon and Post Cereal box top dolls nearly every time he saw me for a few days. When the Finger Ding doll came in the mail months later he laughed again. He often told me it was a good thing I brought a little humor to the table as I was a most vexing child.

Recently, I prayed, “Dear Lord, I have nothing to say. I am so tired of myself saying the same things. Asking for the same things, chewing and chewing on the same things. I am so bored with myself; how bored must you be with me? I am going to listen now. I want to hear your voice. I need to hear your voice.” I promptly fell asleep until the next morning. I tried the prayer again while awake and alone; all conditions set for quiet time. I found myself staring into space, Scripture verse written twice on the page to hold my attention. The page was covered with doodles and a grocery list begun on the side. While driving, I prayed again to hear his voice. In short order I was complaining aloud about things I have no control over such as drivers making dangerous lane changes and ubiquitous road construction.

As I begin to write about listening, I realize I am weak, but his Word is strong. I hope to learn to do better as I explore the idea. I wonder if I have ever listened. Truly listened to God even one time. Ever? Or if I’ve been in a cosmic argument stirring doubt and fear punctuated by the occasional seed of hope around and around my whole life. It isn’t just being still, though that’s a start. It isn’t just being quiet, though that’s a start. We learn to not speak, but that isn’t listening, it’s waiting for one’s turn. So, I will walk with the promises I read in his Word. I will sing truths. I will practice listening in active worship. I will walk in his world, listening to the waves, wind, bird calls and the thunder. I won’t listen because I’m told to but choose to listen because I want to hang onto his every word. I want to be a little pitcher with big ears listening, listening for his still, small voice.

Wandering: 1968/2018 by Wil Triggs

There’s so much I don’t get about 1968, but then, there are plenty of things I don’t get about 2018 either. What I really grapple with is how to fit social discord and sin with the place of the church in the world.

Last fall, we went with Pat and Lin Fallon to see Ken Burns and Lynn Novick talk about their PBS Vietnam documentary before it aired. The Auditorium Theater had equal parts anti-war folks and those who fought in the war—and both groups expressed appreciation for each other. 

That would not have happened back in 1968. The two segments covering that year were called “Things Fall Apart” and “The Veneer of Civilization.” Those titles seemed to perfectly describe what a chaotic year that was. And the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., just a few days ago, brought me back to that time.

I remember it. Sort of. I was alive, but a little kid—so little in fact, that racial injustice and our involvement in a war on the other side of the world really didn’t mean anything to me. I just wanted to play with my friends.

But swirling all around us was, well, 1968. The war. Assassinations. The Democratic Convention. As strange as it seemed to me as a child, it must have been truly bizarre for adults—so much change on so many levels all at once.

Vietnam was far away, but issues of race were as close as the block where I played and lived.

As a white boy, I didn’t feel privileged. In fact, in my neighborhood, I was the minority. My friends identified themselves as Japanese, Black, Chinese, Filipino, Mixed, Mexican. I can’t think of a single friend who was white and stayed in our community. None of us seemed to be ethnically in a majority position when it came to the classroom or the playground.

I loved to visit Demetrius, whose mother would come home from work and make cookies and pour glasses of chocolate milk for us. After watching the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., on television, I ran a few doors down to Demetrius’s home. I wanted to shake off the sadness and play. The mother, who usually looked happy and beautiful as she happily offered homemade snacks, opened the door, tears streaming down her face. She was stricken and could barely talk. “The children can’t play today,” she said. “I’m sorry,” I said. I felt stupid even trying.

It wasn’t until I went to my evangelical Christian college that I experienced a truly white majority living situation. Where were the other ethnic groups? Many of the students who were not white had come from countries overseas. 

While onstage with Russell Moore at a conference this week, John Perkins said, “You are serving God absolutely when you love like God. …There is one way to get rid of sin and that’s the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.”

We can’t fix everything, but we can show our own love and point people to the King of Love, the one who shed his blood for us all.

Just a few weeks ago, we invited Lonnie to our Easter services this year—part of our “Each One, Bringing One” outreach. She is an African American woman we’ve gotten to know at the grocery store. Lorraine and I go there on Saturday mornings and split an omelet before our weekly grocery shopping.

Lonnie’s job was to cook the breakfast orders. We began to visit with her week after week. She got to know us so well that when she saw us walk in, she started our order before we placed it. At Christmas, we gave her our traditional gift to friends—chocolate ice cream sauce. When we gave her the sauce, she pulled out her cell phone and showed us photos of her newborn granddaughter.

So when we gave her the Easter invitation, we were hopeful. But she said right away that she had to work. We told her about College Church and she said, “Oh yeah, I know that church.”

We told her to visit. And if she ever visits, Lorraine said, “you dress up that granddaughter of yours and bring her with you and show her off to us.” We told her where she could find us when she visits.

And inviting her, even though she didn’t come, has meant that we pray for her more consistently than we did before. Join us in praying for Lonnie.

Maybe in the days ahead, we’ll see her on a Sunday morning when she doesn’t have to work.

At the same conference where John Perkins spoke, Russell Moore said, “Sometimes we say ‘If only we could have multi-ethnic churches.’ The church is multi-ethnic. The church is headed right now by a middle-eastern homeless man.”

I need help. I don’t really get this.

Let’s ask God to guide us to truly serve him by loving others like God loves us.

March Madness by Pat Cirrincione

The month of March begins like it does every season--snow storms and then days that just hint of spring. The sun is shining, you put on your walking shoes, and out the door you go to enjoy the few hours of sunshine before the next blizzard comes along. And with this month comes the crazy college basketball games and the ending of the college wrestling season. March is just loaded with madness, but none seems as mad as the few weeks Jesus spent preaching, healing and praying right before the Crucifixion.

Today, the magnitude of the crowd that followed Jesus would have placed him in the realm of super stardom. Wherever he preached, crowds went to listen. Many more came to be healed or asked for family members to be healed. And Jesus did it all. He healed the sick, he fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a few pieces of fish, he raised people from the dead. In short, he was becoming Jesus Christ Superstar.

Yet Jesus needed respite from the crush of those who wanted to touch him, but did not really want to believe, truly believe, in what he said about “being the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). I image that the true hearts of the crowd had to sadden Him. Even his own apostles did not truly comprehend how great the person was they were hanging out with. Soon it would be too late. Soon Jesus enemies would have their way. Yet the time had not come.

In the meantime, many Jewish people had witnessed what Jesus did and believed in him. On the other hand, the Pharisees gathered to plot Jesus’ death. After all, it would be easier “that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50).

So, began Jesus’ last week on earth. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Can you see it? The throngs of people who came out to meet Him? Waving branches of palm trees and singing “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13) The people were praising God for giving them a king, a national leader who would restore their nation to its former glory. Imagine the excitement in the air.

Alas, devotion based on curiosity and popularity fades quickly, particularly when people don’t really listen to what you are saying. They want the easy solution to their problems. Sound familiar? Don’t we still do that today? The people in Jerusalem, like us, would not believe, despite the evidence, that the Messiah was in their midst! How easy it was for them to be manipulated by the religious leaders of their day. Again, how this must have saddened our Lord to know that “every branch in me that does not bear fruit His Father takes away.” (John 15:1) If the people could not abide in Christ and bear fruit, they could do nothing, and their branches would wither. Would you have understood this at the time?

The True Vine knew what was coming, and in his final days warned us about the world’s hatred, promised the Holy Spirit and instructed his followers to pray in his Then Jesus prayed—for himself, his disciples and future believers (that’s us). All this in the few days He had left before He was betrayed, questioned, denied and dragged before Pilate, only to be led away and crucified.

Jesus died on that that cross, to give his life for us. Do you get it? Do you get the madness that can drive people to kill the Messiah, the Son of God, their Savior, upon a tree? To hang upon it, nailed to it, stripped of all dignity for you? Do you see it? When you look at the empty cross in church, devoid of Jesus’ body, can you imagine the scene of that tree with Christ's body hanging from it, dying for you?

Think about the madness of that Passover season of long ago. It wasn’t cheers for a favorite basketball team, but the frenzy of a crowd gone mad calling to crucify Jesus. When March madness comes along each year, remind yourself to not be a part of the frenzy that happened so long ago, and instead remember the power of the cross for salvation.