Serving Breakfast

Each semester for at least as long as anyone will admit remembering, the Cowley College division of Student Affairs has sponsored a free, late-night breakfast during finals week. Employees from different groups come over and join the fine folks of Great Western Dining to serve French toast, sausage and eggs, sweet rolls and biscuits and such. Along with that, other volunteers pass out napkins, help clear tables and dispense drinks. Most everything includes a healthy dose of good-natured teasing and friendly banter with students. Last night was the most recent installment of the tradition.

Well before the opening hour of ten o’clock, students start gathering outside the cafeteria doors. A few duck in between the arrivals of teachers and other volunteers, but they are politely chased out at nine-forty-five. Otherwise, the cafeteria would be half full before it was even time to start. By starting time, there’s a line of students outside the doors that fills the sidewalk and spills out into the street. A whole bunch of young adults ready for lots of carbs, a bit of protein and the opportunity to unwind a bit in the middle of the grind of finals.

Tossed in with that is the chance to see their teachers, dorm managers, recruiters, admissions workers, supervisors, coaches and administrators doing stuff they don’t usually see them doing. And in different wardrobe than the usual. Well, at least for some.

The dress code is basically a half-step above pajama party. Well, maybe a full step above. For most of the employees. Being the clothes freak that I am, I decked out in jeans, pullover and running shoes. I’ll admit that some folks were even more comfortably dressed. Kindness and consideration forbid that I divulge specific details but I will say a few folks might well sleep in what they were wearing. In all honesty, there’s probably more jealousy than judgment in that observation.

There was another tinge of jealousy in the evening. When I saw the media coordinator come in with an elf hat, I wished I’d thought to bring in a Santa stocking cap. Santa himself showed up about thirty minutes after the doors opened. With a happy baritone of “ho, ho, ho’s” he shuffled around passing out little peppermint candy canes.

I’ll have to say that the Adkins program or Weight Watchers or something is really working for that dude! He was as slim as the grade margin for a low effort student. I guess supervising a miniature labor force is becoming more taxing in these times…

Regardless of effort, the students got to see a good number of College employees in a different role and in a different light: teachers ladling out food, executives drawing and serving fountain drinks, and the prez passing out napkins. And, in what might be an even better benefit, we got to see each other in a different light, too. It helps balance out the picture when we step away from the usual in a good, deliberate way.

Although it was certainly not on the same level, the evening reminded me of Jesus with a towel around his waist, kneeling at the feet of his own disciples. Kind of makes a powerful statement about servant leadership, don’t you think?

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, education, Higher Education, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Mice and Men*… and Me!

It seemed like a pretty simple plan, really. I would use Luke’s (Chapter 2, verses 25-35) account of Simeon’s prophecy to Mary and Joseph for my sermon Sunday morning. Following that, I would sing John Michael Talbot’s “Go in Peace/Canticle of Simeon.” It’s a powerful prophecy, a poignant story and a beautiful song.

Usually, my sermons flow pretty well. I have studied, thought, prayed and reflected, sketched out the main points and prayed some more. For some reason, this one felt discombobulated from the very beginning. Actually, for some reason, I didn’t start with the beginning. I started in the bottom half of the sermon and then came back to the beginning. All those points I’d sketched out started sliding around on the page. Instead of going from A-Z, I started at M, moved back up to A, staggered my way from D to L to G to T… It got worse…

People who never go to sleep were starting to nod off. Maybe the sanctuary was too warm. Maybe someone had slipped “E-Z-Sleep” into the treats at the welcome table. Or maybe, horror of horrors, the sermon was boring. Yikes!

Even I was relieved when it was over. “At least,” I thought, “now I can sing this beautiful song.

So, I walked down from the pulpit, opened my case, pulled out the guitar, lifted up the strap and placed it around my neck. Then I stepped over to where I’d be front and center and started to strum the first chord. That’s when I realized I’d forgotten to bring in my smart phone with the lyrics stored on it.

In retrospect, maybe I should have just made my way through the lyrics I remembered and fake the rest. I didn’t have the nerve so I announced my plight to the congregation and hurried out to the parking lot. That’s where I discovered I had forgotten to even bring my smart phone, the one with the lyrics stored on it.

Back into the church, back up to the front of the congregation. There, with a very sheepish look and perceptibly red face, I announced that I needed to borrow a smart phone. One of the younger teens offered me hers. The screen was locked. She unlocked it. Then I couldn’t access the internet. She accessed it. I touched the right spot and spoke quietly, “John Michael Talbot, lyrics, Go in Peace.” Lyrics came up. I set the phone on a stool, got my guitar again and started to strum the opening chord. Then I realized I couldn’t read the lyrics; the stool was too low. I enlarged the lyrics, then finally started the song.

In spite of everything, the song went pretty well. I got the right notes in the right order and correctly read the words to the chorus and the first verse. I was starting to feel like maybe this whole fiasco would finally work out. Then the screen went black.

I tapped it and the words came back up on the screen.

I was halfway through the second verse when the screen went black again. I didn’t want to interrupt the song so I sang the words as best I remembered them. And, of course, faked the rest. I managed to make them rhyme and they sounded like they fit the song, at least so far as I can remember.

One thing I can clearly remember is that we all had a few good laughs at my unintended but memorable display of human frailty. My dad would really have enjoyed the story; he called me “the absent-minded professor” from the time I was ten years old. It appears that I am still earning the moniker and I reckon we all need a little gentle reminder from time to time that we are not infallible. A bit of humiliation now and again isn’t always a bad thing.

Especially when it’s shared with folks who can laugh at you and with you at the same time. And still love you later.

*From Robert Burns’ Spring Plowing: “The best laid plans of mice and men, gang aft agly [often go awry].”

H. Arnett

Posted in Spiritual Contemplation, Humor, Christian Devotions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Higher Learning

She comes in, young, thin, black
and with a type of visually obvious handicap
that seems not to interfere with running
but probably had her teased and mocked
every damn day of her life.

Somewhere along the way
she learned to use anger
as a shield,
as a weapon,
as a tool,
but has yet to learn
to recognize the ways
it can work against her.

Her rudeness and demands
did not turn the hands
that hold the power
to give or deny what she wants:
to fly home a day before finals end.
The waiting would make her have to spend
almost double the price of the ticket
to take her the thousand miles back home
from southern Kansas to Florida
for the Christmas break.

She tells me that she’s not made of money
and if she has to stay later
I will have to pay her way back to Orlando.
I assure her that of all those times
when she could find a way to make anger
a means of intimidation
this is not one of those situations.
She leaves even angrier than she came.

A few hours pass.

Even though she said she could not keep
the appointment she had made,
she still shows up in early afternoon
but without the attitude she’d used earlier.

In this unexpected calm,
I talk to her about choices,
take her back to the beginning of this situation
and ask her what different ones she could have made
that might have moved her closer—instead of farther away—
to her desired goals of getting back home and saving money.

She gives me a funny look at first
but then I see a flicker of understanding
play across her face.
We trace the choices and talk about alternate ones.
She apologizes for her anger and rudeness—
to me and then to the secretary.
She learns that whether or not
there is a Santa Claus,
there are people willing to help her
if she also learns that courteous and direct diplomacy
can sometimes work better than intimidation and manipulation.

Just before I change the form,
I ask her what it was
that made her decide to come back
and talk with me.

And she says simply,
“I took a walk.”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, education, Higher Education, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Foundations of Friendship

Mark Twain reportedly wrote many years ago, “The man who does not read good books has little advantage over him who cannot read.” If I’m off a word or two, please forgive me and understand that the mistake is utterly without malice aforethought. The thought still rings true in our electronic and data-driven age but I’d like to offer a parallel amended version: “People who do not take time to be with friends have little advantage over those who have no friends.”

Now I admit a general deficiency in the making time for folks category. But I am working on it. In the past two weeks, I’ve had the privilege of private visits in our home with four different people. In each case, we created the gifts of unhurried conversation. Sitting on the couches in our living room, with no TV and with cell phones set aside, we sat and talked.

We swapped stories from years ago, talked about growing up, discussed music, exchanged quips and witticisms. We even discussed politics and religion. No insults, no anger, no exaggerated reactions and no name calling. At least two things happened in each of those conversations: 1) We enjoyed ourselves and each other and 2) we got to know one other better.

Much of what we pretend is “visiting” these days is in reality little more than shared entertainment or mutual diversion. I enjoy watching movies and football games at least as much as the next person and possibly more than most people. Watching those things with friends or family can create pleasant (or painful) shared memories.

But if we really want to know each other, build and strengthen relationships that transcend circumstance and situation, meaningful conversation is an essential foundation.

I’m sure that the disciples of The Carpenter enjoyed watching those miracles and listening to those mountainside sermons. They probably loved sharing and re-sharing that story about seeing Jesus strolling along off-stern across the waves. But even with the Son of God, my guess is that it was the long trods across stony paths and the hours of uninterrupted conversation that grew those relationships of faith and bound them together in a way that changed the world.

A world that could still use the good changes formed and forged by good friends.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday School at the Community Church

We form something of a circle
at the south end of the room,
a dozen souls or so on soft seats,
metal folding chairs,
and the piano bench.

Contemplating the Sustaining Presence of God,
we share stories of tough times,
and how we’ve made it through
what seemed like more than enough testing
and how we’ve been shaped
by the Potter’s Hand.

Our ages stand from eight to eighty
and yet we see
that we all have been touched by loss.
The boy sitting sprawled across his father’s lap
talks about missing his grandma
and the grandmother sitting in front of the window
still feels guilty about the way she feels
her intended consideration may have contributed
to her elderly mother’s gracious passing.

We sort through as best we can
our own attempts at understanding,
knowing that our landings
often fall a bit short of the guiding light.
And even though we might often feel
that we are considerably less than conquerors,
we still know that there is no power,
trouble, hardship, persecution or affliction
that can separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

In this brief sharing of tears and stories,
we know that we are already brought closer
to one another
and I am thinking that our church
and the larger world should spend
less time separated by easy markers
and more time seeing that pain and comfort
transcend generations
and most other self-imposed separations
that we use to keep from seeing and knowing
one another.

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Death & Dying, Family, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Day to Remember

On the First of December
in the Year of Nineteen-Seventy
in Graves County, Kentucky,
where December’s dawning
usually means heavy frost
or even warnings of storm and ice,
its coming came so nicely
that I did the morning milking
wearing tee shirt and jeans.

And as I carried the last heavy pails
of fresh Jersey milk from the shed
to the cooling tank at Jack Harrison’s place,
I remember looking around
at the frostless grass
and the tall bare oaks
silhouetted against a rising sun
and thinking,
“I will remember this day
for the rest of my life.”

And so far, God be thanked,
I have.

And whether the weather today
brings sunshine and unseasonably high temperatures
or a chilling wind that aches bare skin
and the bone that bears its weight,
I hope that this morning finds you
with warm memories of days gone by,
rugged hope for things to come,
and the guiding blessing of God’s own hand
granting you your daily bread,
faith, hope and love,
grace for you and those who sin against you.

May we all be led beside still waters
and away from all temptation,
delivered from every evil,
blessed with peace and wisdom,
grateful for every good and perfect gift,

and even for those that fall a bit short of that
yet are still part of this good day that the Lord has made.


H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Frustrations of Limitation

I knew we had a leak somewhere inside the wall framing the control end of the shower/tub in our small bathroom. For the last several months, during or right after either of us took a shower, a trickle of water would sometimes appear on the floor where the tub joined the wall. Since I also knew that the steel pipe connecting the faucet to the control valve was about three-eighths of an inch shorter than it should be, I figured that was the culprit. After those months of procrastination, I finally decided to tear into a search-and-repair mission last night.

The plumbing is contained in a partition wall that separates the shower from the commode area. From the commode side, I cut out a fifteen-inch-square of drywall right behind the faucet control, certain I’d find evidence of the leak. Nope.

Dropping lower on the wall, I cut out an additional fifteen-inch section. No indication of a leak. Because of the way I’d framed the wall, I still couldn’t get a clear look at the floor area inside the wall and tub housing. So I cut out another section. More framing blocking the view. So… yeah… another section stopping just above the tile floor edging.

I could see some dark streaks of water stain on the plywood subfloor but no hint of where the water came from. About that time, Randa returned to the scene of the crime and suggested I turn on the shower and see what happened.

So, I opened up the faucet to full speed and turned on the shower. And then we both saw what happened.

There was an immediate drip of water coming down the supply line that runs up from the faucet control to the showerhead. More accurately, there was a sudden stream of water coming down the line. Figuring that was pretty solid evidence there was a bad connection at the copper ell, I cut out a fifteen-by-fifteen section of drywall right behind the shower joint.

The joint was completed housed inside the framing, inaccessible from the back.

Up to this point, I’d managed to curb my frustration. The idea that I was going to have to tear off tile from the shower side to access the joint sort of pushed me right up to the edge of External Demonstration of Internal Irritation. I stood there for a moment, one foot on the small ladder stool and the other on the toilet seat, contemplating a variety of immature and non-productive manifestations. Much to everyone’s surprise, I chose instead to calm myself and decided to turn the shower on again and see what I could see.

What I saw, and felt my reaching a finger up inside the wooden housing, made me suspicious that instead of a bad connection between the supply line and the ell, it might be that the threaded showerhead connection was the problem. I removed the showerhead and was right surprised at how easily I could remove the threaded connector. Hmmm…

I cleaned off the threads, put on several wraps of joint sealing tape and re-installed the pipe and showerhead. Turned the shower back on and let it run for ten minutes. Not one drop of water coming down inside the wall.

If I’d known from the start, I could have fixed the problem in less than five minutes instead of an hour and without making a single cut into the wall. It just didn’t seem likely at all that the small trickle of water on the floor by the tub was caused by a leak over six feet up above the floor.

Sometimes we are the cause of our own limitations. Sometimes, we gain knowledge by a process that seems terribly wasteful and aggravating. And in all of those cases, have the opportunity to increase our stamina, self-control and empathy. Oftentimes, I think, we marvel that others are so slow to find solutions and forget how often we blundered our own way into wisdom.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Humor, Remodeling/Construction, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments