On Pens and Ink

On Pens and Ink

Psalm 139: 23-4: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

I don’t know how you feel about pens. I think they’re great. I even started a pen collection years ago. At its zenith, I had a Mont Blanc ballpoint which someone gave to me and a Parker cartridge pen I used in college. I had gone on to look at Waterman models from the 1930’s but gave up on my collection when I figured out pens, like weddings and boats, could be a money pit.

I didn’t always have such a good relationship with pens. We were exposed to writing using the Zaner-Bloser method, which used the ugliest pen on record. The business end was supposedly designed to fit young fingers while the other tapered to a point which had what looked like a small onion dome on it. Whoever designed this instrument of potential mayhem had never been around an elementary aged boy. When it came time for penmanship, we boys tried to stab our compadres with the sharp end. The pain served to keep our minds on how terribly awful our efforts at writing were. I was an “A” student otherwise, but for five years, my practice papers came back with “C’s” on them and the admonition, “Work on legibility, Danny. I know you can do it.”

It’s a good thing we didn’t have much access to the ballpoint pens of the era. A friend took one of his fathers and showed it to me at recess. Somehow we got the pen to leak all over us, ruining our shirts and incurring the wrath of our mothers.

I couldn’t write the way my elementary school wanted me to. I suffered through it and was happy to go to intermediate school where there was no talk of penmanship. I promptly abandoned cursive and resorted to printing, like every boy I knew. There was no talk of our doing this beforehand: we just did it.

About this time my father came home with a typewriter and I hunted and pecked my way through high school and college. In graduate school, I found I had to hand write my masters essay. We had a practice test, and I got the test back with this on it: “Nice work, Mr. Verner, but please work on legibility.”

I learned to type when my school acquired computers and we were required to take a course in programming using Basic, which couldn’t program enough to get anyone out of bed. But I could type.

About this time, I figured out the ballpoints had improved greatly. And ever better, businesses gave them away for publicity. My favorite pen is one given out by our mechanic, which seems to last forever and has a little squishy doughnut looking thing on the end that can be used for texting. With it, I could send messages at half the speed of a ten-year-old.

I generally have two pens on my person. Someone asked me why, and I said, “In case one fails?”

“Has that ever happened?” they asked.

“No, but it could.”

It seems to me that we are like the ballpoint pens in my experience. We start out messing up all over the place, but the God comes into our lives, and everything we do is improved if we follow God’s will. Because of his love and goodness to us, we grow in our spiritual qualities and are able to better to what God wants us to. Praise God for taking us as we are, loving us and making us into creatures that are even better than a 1936 Waterman. Amen.






Patched but Neat and Clean

Patched, but Neat and Clean

Psalm 51: 7: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to follow a dress code, whether for a school or a business or organization. I’ve had plenty of experience with these, starting with elementary school and continuing through high school. The college I went to didn’t care what we wore as long as we were decent, and I don’t want to describe some of the outlandish outfits my fellow students wore. One fellow from Wyoming dressed as Davy Crockett. I don’t know why, but he went on to start a million-dollar internet business. I tended to favor sweat suits, with occasional lapses for a shirt and tie for special occasions.

My high school probably had the toughest code. The boys were forbidden to have “beards, mustaches and other eccentricities,” the last being the elastic provision of the code to take care of every continency. The girls couldn’t wear slacks, and their skirts or dresses had to be knee-length. Violators would be sent home to change, and they couldn’t come back until they did. We had a boy move from the West Coast my junior year, and he was a die-hard surfer dude who dressed the part even though we don’t have waves like the left coast. He wore “surfer shirts,” which looked a lot like tee shirts to me. The rules required that shirts have collars, so when Mike showed up wearing his surfer attire, he was sent home. He was happy to be there, and stayed until the school threatened him with suspension, which made little sense since he was home already. Anyhow, he came back, wearing another surfer shirt. Lather, rinse, repeat. I think he went through this about four times before his parents gave up and put him into a private school without a dress code. I assumed he continued to hang ten there, and lost track of him. He wasn’t stupid or willful: he was trying to live his dream, and the school stood in the way.

Another code provision that I remember was one from my elementary days. The code for our working-class school read, “Clothes may be patched, but should be neat and clean.” My mom took care of this, so I was always neat and clean and sometimes patched. That was all right with me.

I got to thinking that, spiritually, we present ourselves of God torn and broken by our sin. Through His grace, he patches us so we can remain in his presence, and we become neat and clean. The hymn goes, “Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,” and that describes us in our state of grace. Thank God for healing, for sanctification and for our hope through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Out Here on My Own



Solitary Figure 2

Colossians 1:16: For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

I don’t know how much writing you do, but I suspect that you must do some, from emails to shopping lists to cards. I do more than my share, and I’ve noticed something that might be of help to you if you ever do any kind of writing at all.

There are certain techniques that help to keep the writing flowing. One is to write every day at the same time, if you can, and in the same place. Your brain somehow associates the time and the place with writing, and so the words come more easily.

Something else that works for me (and different writers have different techniques) is to write half of my daily allotment of 1000 words and then stop and take a break. This allows my subconscious to come up with a way though the rest of the allotment. Sometimes I’ll stop at 500 words and have no idea what happens next. But after my break, I have at least one idea about how to continue, and sometimes more.

God created us in a wonderful manner so that we can accomplish something while something else is going on. Praise God for being the creator, for allowing us to be co-creators in so many ways and for showing us a way out where there doesn’t seem to be one, especially a way out of sin, which God accomplished by sacrificing his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Small Signs

small signs
1 Kings 19:12: And after the earthquake came a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire there was a still small voice.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about how many emotions we can convey with our faces. You’re in luck, because I can tell you that we can show about 20 emotions, They are happiness, sadness, fearfulness, anger, surprise, disgust, happy surprise, happy disgust, sad fear, sad anger, sad surprise, sad disgust, fearful anger, fearful surprise, fearful disgust, angry surprise, angry disgust, surprised disgust, hatred, and awe. I’d bet you’d never thought of some of these combinations, much less how they’re expressed.
So-called “micro expressions” are also part of the realm of facial and other expressions. We’ve all used them: they’re brief expressions, usually facial, which give anywhere from a hint to a good idea to what the person using the expression is thinking or feeling. A widely used and easily read example occurs when someone rolls their eyes. If it’s just part of a roll, it’s a micro expression, although the shorter version is rarely used by teenagers since they want their feelings fully understood.
My favorite micro expression is the “eyebrow flash,” which involves raising both eyebrows and then turning them quickly to their rest position. People using these may also smile, and generally no words are spoken but the message gets across. This expression is used after we’ve greeted someone at church or work for the first time. If we come across them again soon, we don’t repeat our entire greeting. Instead, the people involved use an eyebrow flash to indicate that they are still glad to see the person and that they have already completely greeted them. For homework, you can see if you can think of other micro expressions and maybe be aware of when they’re being used.
I was also thinking of micro expressions in the Bible, those small signs that God uses to convey messages. The birth of Christ is one example. In this experience, an obscure peasant girl gave birth to a baby. At the same time, the birth was attended by angels singing to shepherds and giving them the good news. In this case, God used the still small voice of the birth to convey a start to His message for the world and also the glory of the heavenly host to announce it.
We all have small signs that God gives us, and it is important that we be alert to them. At the same time, we experience the grandeur and glory of God in a way that is hard to miss. With both, we need to respond to what God is trying to tell us. Praise God for small and large signs, for this season of the year, for the birth of His Son, and for his sacrifice on the cross which gave us new life, now and forever. Amen.

Back to the House


House of the Lord

Psalm 23:6: I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I don’t know what your family did for vacation when you were young, whether it involved the sea shore or the mountains or something else. I had a student once who wrote a story about a family spending their Christmas vacation in a hotel. I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing, so I said, “You have to change that. It’s not realistic. Families don’t spend Christmas in a hotel.”

She said quietly, “Mine does.”

Our “vacations” involved visiting relatives, some of whom lived in the mountains, so it wasn’t a total wash. Since both my parents were from large families, there were endless rounds of visiting cousins and uncles and aunts as we endured countless hours of a grown-up conversations.

Our favorite place to visit was where we stayed at my maternal grandmother’s house, which lay across a gravel road from some railroad tracks. We walked the tracks (don’t try this at home, kids), gathered up candy thrown from train crews and reveled in the sight of something so large and so powerful. Behind the house was a sizable creek with a length of cable dangling from a tree growing from one bank, ideal for playing Tarzan or Errol Flynn. My grandmother owned a cow which she kept in a barn whose loft was filled with bales of hay. We climbed to the loft and made forts out of the hay, using dirt clods as “ammunition” for our pretend battles. And I loved working the pump to bring my grandmother cool, fresh water from the well. To this day, if anyone needs to have a pump primed, I’m your man.

On one visit when I was about ten, I noticed how my younger relatives referred to returning to my grandmother’s home. They said, “Let’s go back to the house.” I thought it odd they didn’t call it “our house” or “our home” or “where we live,” but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the expression. Calling it “the house” was reminder of the place where we sat in front of a coal-burning stove during our time there at Christmas and listened to our elders talk, where we ate sumptuous Southern meals at that time prepared by the women of the family, and where we snuggled under warm hand-sewn quilts when it was time to go to sleep.

I think it was no accident that Jesus spoke of his “Father’s house” as the place that faithful will live out their eternal lives. There we will sing praise to God without having had a rehearsal, eat from a glorious Messianic feast, be in the presence of all the believers we have known and more, and bask in in the warm love and experience the bountiful grace of our heavenly Father.

Praise God for our houses on this earth, which give us shelter and encourage community, and praise be to the Father for our eternal home in a world without end. Amen.

Red Letter Days

Red Letter Days


2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the phrase, “red letter days.” I think I first heard it in fourth grade during our study of Virginia history when we learned that the year 1619 was a “red letter year” (which was made up of “red letter days,” I suppose) because in that year single women were brought to the colony to provide wives for all the single settlers. It works out better that way. The colonists also established the first local elected governing body, the House of Burgesses, which was also the first such form of governance in North or South America. The third “red letter” event when Dutch traders imported 20 enslaved people from West Africa. The They were, strictly speaking, “indentured servants” who had to work off the payment of their passage for a specified length of time, usually seven to ten years. However, colonists realized that the “indentures” were there against their will and very few of them spoke English, and so the system of slavery began. I would venture to say that 1619 was not exactly a red-letter year for those poor souls.
We as individuals, families and friends also observe red letter days, those days of great import and unique happenings such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and the passing of loved ones. We also see new jobs or houses or cars as important, while we mark round of holidays every year. I would venture to say that the most important red-letter day comes when we assemble in our places of worship on Sundays and other holidays to affirm that God is God and that he has created the universe and everything in it, and especially ourselves. Praise God for creating and saving us, for creating the universe and all that is in it, and for creating time even though God is beyond time in order that we might celebrate all God’s good gifts to us, and especially the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ his Son, who gave to us the gift of salvation by dying on the cross and being resurrected at Easter, the most important red letter day in all of time. Amen.

Old School

Old Gas Pump

James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
I don’t know how long most of you have been driving, but I’ve been behind the wheel for 55 years, and I think that’s more or less typical among us. My total doesn’t include the time I spent aboard a tractor on my parents’ farm.
I was put into mind those early days of driving when we stopped for gas the other day at Cornwell’s station south of town. I looked for the slot to put my credit card into, but there wasn’t one. As I stood there trying to figure out how anyone could pay there, a woman called from the station office, “You have to pay first!”
This took me back to those early days of driving when I had to go into the station. I always paid with cash since my one credit card was for emergencies. And it wasn’t that difficult to pay with cash since gas at the time cost $.20 a gallon. (About this same time, my dad found it for $.17, but who knows how far he had to drive to find that price. He was always, uh, thrifty.) I recall running down the tank near empty and then scrounging for change under the seat and in the glove compartment and finding enough to buy a gallon so I could get home. Once I got there, we had a hand-pumped tank since we qualified for gas through Southern States, so I didn’t have to hitch-hike home.
The point of all this is that, as much as we change (and not always for the better), and as much as the world around us doesn’t stay the same, God is the great constant both now and through eternity. We can depend on God to guide us, to direct everything we do, to provide for our needs and to pick us up when we fall. The greatest of the great constants we know about God is His eternal love for us, love so great that he was willing to sacrifice his son on the cross so that we might continue to experience his love and his presence forever. Praise God for being constant, for being present, and for becoming the sacrificial Lamb so that we might continue to live and breath and have our being in Him in this world and beyond. Amen.