Saturday, January 21, 2017

Born to Be Saved

We are each born knowing everything we need to know how to do in order to obey God. His children are born in his image. As babies, we are born already knowing how to love in the most immediate and instinctive way. We are born loving ourselves. If we need something, we demand that the little person we love above all gets what he or she wants. Love for ourselves is instinctive. So when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to treat others as we want to be treated, we already know how to do that.
Love is not something beyond our understanding because first we loved ourselves. We need only attempt to love that which is outside ourselves the way God intended for us to do and God gives us the spiritual strength to go with it to make selfless love possible. Despite all our other flaws that may be overlaid upon our character, love is still there. The Golden Rule activates the love we already know how to give and turns it outward. It even feels right to tear down the flimsy walls built by sin and love someone besides ourselves. We do this because we are designed to love, not just ourselves, but everyone and everything else.
God's plan was a brilliant plan and as it turns out, a person has to work very hard to escape the inevitable attraction of being good. It feels so right to be good. The Ebenezer Scrooge story resonates with us because we all have been something of an angry sinner at one time or another and we have or may soon discover how wonderful and how right it feels to surrender our anger and hate and to drag out the love that God buried deep inside us at the very beginning and to give it some exercise.
How cool is that?

© 2017 by Tom King

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fallen Warriors: Leroy J. Leiske

Leroy J. Leiske
I've recently lost several mentors from my early Christian experience - some to retirement and some have passed away. Leroy J. Leiske was one of those mentors. When I knew him he was President of Southwestern Union College during my freshman year at the college. I'm not sure how, but he knew my name by the end of the first week of classes. He knew everybody's name and we had some 600 kids or so.

We'd seen Elder Leiske with his sleeves rolled up all over campus that summer personally planting decorative shrubs and hedges, pouring concrete and generally sprucing up the campus. So our first chapel service, he got up front and described some of the improvements they'd been making in the campus. Then he told us that he believed that one of the key missions of Adventist colleges was to help create strong new Adventist families. In order to fulfill that mission, Elder Leiske explained that he had created new places on campus that were more secluded and that if we would stop by his office he would show us a map of where those places were. This brought down the house.

Elder Leiske was the only college president I ever saw who could get a standing ovation from students just for walking out on stage at a chapel service. The students thoroughly loved him. I wasn't aware at the time that he was coming off an attempt to completely integrate the Southern Union which got him canned after just 13 months.

In his tenure at SUC as development director and president, he built the college up, more than doubled the number of students, built new facilities and put the school on a solid financial foundation. We had new students every year, many of them conspicuously black. I'm sure he ruffled some serious feathers and I heard some negative comments about him, but people learned not to talk bad about Elder Leiske in front of students.

One of my favorite stories about Elder Leiske was this one, (click link) which demonstrated the challenges faced by Uncle Leroy as some of us called him, in coping with Keene culture. Leiske's drive and determination led to some interesting situations to say the least, but the man was fearless! He moved on from Keene to another Union presidency and ran Pacific Press for several years before "retiring" to Keene. My wife and I ran a day care center there in Keene and we had his grandson with us. Elder Leiske dropped by to pick him up often and I was always glad to see him.

From Elder Leiske I learned optimism and how to have a sense of humor in crisis.
He was a lovely man and will be missed.

© 2016 by Tom King

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My First Mentor Retires

Add caption
My Dad took a flyer when I was four leaving Mom with three little ones to care for and without visible means of support. Until I was in my teens, my male role models tended to be fictional ones from books. Through a series of providences, however, I wound up newly baptized and granted a summer job at Lone Star Camp as a $10 a week trash collector, janitor and shovel operator. God had his hand in it.

The camp director that summer was a lanky theology student and outdoorsman named Sam Miller. Sam was a revelation. I'd joined the church because God argued me into a corner where I had to give Him a chance despite my own misgivings. I'd grown up in a church town where, as Sam later told me, "Adventists are like manure. Spread 'em out over a space and the do a lot of good, but pile 'em up in one place and pretty soon it begins to stink!"

The first leader God sent to educate me was Sam. Most of what I've come to know about working with young people, I learned from Sam that first couple of summers. He taught me to be a lifeguard and put me on track to become a Water Safety Instructor Trainer for the Red Cross and eventually the camp's waterfront director.

Old Sam (we called him that because he seemed so much older than the rest of us for some reason) had an easy-going way with young hormonally-charged staff members. It is a tribute to Sam that no children were either drowned or created during the summer's he herded our motley crew. He once led our whole staff in hijacking a Six Flags war canoe and altering its course. We learned to ski, built pyramids, skied on canoe paddles and raided the kitchen. We also knew where the line was with Sam and we pretty much didn't cross it - at least not any farther than we could safely draw back for the most part. 

I learned how to lead by example rather than by bullying. I learned that a soft answer does turn away wrath and I learned that a leader is a human being too. Old Sam is retiring and I'm sure he will be missed by everyone he works with.  I'm also sure that some of our "leaders" never quite understood Sam either. I put leaders in quotes because those are the kind of leaders that Sam taught me not to become like.

For more stories about Sam check out my personal weblog about him. I hate to seek a good man go, but I'm pretty sure Old Sam will still be around making a difference in the lives of young people for a long time yet.

© 2016 by Tom King

Friday, November 25, 2016

Church Unity - A Time for the Men of God to Lead the Way

John the Baptist - Troublemaker
It is a tough time to have opinions here at the end of the world. It seems that you can't believe anything without 40 or 50 people doing a Youtube video that says you're crazy or malicious or even downright evil. I looked up "Seventh Day Adventist" this morning and the ones that were against us outnumbered the ones for us by far better than 2 to 1 against.

Many of these videos were by former pastors or independent pastors attacking the church for one perceived sin or another. I've been critical of a few moves by church leaders in the past in my own blogs and comments, so I can't righteously cast the first stone.

The Psalmist (133) says, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" There are preachers among us who say this means we should all sit down and shut up and do what the church leadership tells us to do no matter what. But while Scripture praises the beauty of unity among God's people, it also bids God's servants to tell the truth for "The Truth shall set you free." Just as many of us interpret that to mean we should speak out loudly and firmly against what we believe are the sins of those who claim to be of the body of Christ.

Myself, I have come to believe that the church can have differences of opinion and still remain unified in loving service to Christ. Sadly, not everyone believe that works. There are those who believe that all must believe exactly the same things across the board or be purged from the church.

If you look at the history of the Adventist church however, you'll find that we've always had differences of opinion; sometimes strident disagreements as a matter of fact. Despite these, the church still stands. There has always been disagreement in the church over doctrine and details of Christian life - women's ordination, drums in the church, the sanctuary, righteousness by faith and the Shut Door vs. the Open Door doctrines to name a few.  We've always worked it out.

Before Christ came the first time, the children of God had descended into nitpicking and to the development of rigid interpretations of laws and customs related to everything from how far you could walk on the Sabbath to whether or not there would be life after death for anyone. There were Pharisees and Saducees duking it out in loud debates within the Sanhedrin and the synagogues.

Today we have offshoot ministries, lapsed Adventists and angry fundamentalists blasting us and sniping at each other on the Internet. We even had a prominent SDA evangelist recently banned from holding an evangelist series in a North American Conference because he was considered too polarizing to be allowed to hold an evangelistic series in that Conference.

As the signs more than ever point toward Christ's soon coming, the spirit of dissent and disunity spreads among human beings like a pestilence. More than ever before, people are divided on every possible point of belief, whether it be on politics, religion, custom, tradition and even on subjects as basic as diet and sex.

It is time for the men of God to arise and stand together; to unite and lead our families to heaven. It is time we put away the kinds of nit-picking, strivings about fine points of theology. Jesus sliced through the tangled web of human practices heaped upon the Law of God, reducing all the law and prophets to two principles. Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. "Upon these," Jesus said, "Hang all the law and the prophets."

The simplicity of the Gospel is what will bring us unity. Religious bullying and condemnation are the devils tools and must be laid down by the Children of God. We may disagree. We may engage in discussions over out differences, but they must not divide us. Angels will not stand at the gates of heaven to kick out those who guessed wrong on the Feast Days or the Sanctuary Doctrine. God will judge. We must not for by the same standard by which we judge others, we ourselves will be judged.

Me, I hope God will go easy on me, so I try to keep my judging of others to a bare minimum and focus on Christ, the power and source of our salvation.

© 2016 by Tom King

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Camping Genius: The Monkey Bridge

Ambitious Monkey Bridge (not recommended for a first time out)

If you're going to work with Pathfinders, you've got to know how to build a monkey bridge. You may think it's a useless skill, but I've built two or three of them over my career. One was over a deep gully at a treatment center for emotionally disturbed kids. It was part of our obstacle course. The kids helped me build it and keep it up. It expanded our nature trail significantly. They loved to cross the gully after a rain when there was water in the creek below.

It's a basic Pathfinder thing. Here's how to build one.  It's easier to build one over the ground than over a creek or gully. Start out with a simple practice one before you try to build one over a gap. You can string the support ropes while standing on ground. Over a creek, you have to work your way across while standing on the ropes. It's a lot trickier. For detailed instructions, the Boy Scouts

  • 3 strands 5/8" to 3/4" rope - each the length of the span plus 1/3 to 1/2 the gap extra for tie-offs 
  • 3/8" to 1/2" support ropes
  • 2 pair of 5/8" to 3/4" anchor ropes - 15 to 20' long
  • 6 heavy 3 foot long steel spikes
  • 50 feet of 1/4" lashing cord
  • 3 pound sledge hammer or 20 pound sledge - your choice
  • 6 - 8' landscape timbers for the sheer legs. 
  • 2 - 3' squares of thick fabric
Basic Directions:
  1. Measure the distance you need to span. Twenty-four feet is a good beginner's span with kids.
    Anything much longer can be dangerous, especially if the lashings aren't secure as they are likely to be with kids. Lay out the foot rope
  2. Set up two teams. One group starts out building the sheer legs (the big wooden A's in the picture).  The other bunch should drive in the anchors. 
  3. When putting together the sheer legs, put some kind of thick fabric between the legs to protect the foot rope from friction against the sheer legs.  
  4. Drive 3 anchors about 2 feet apart and 8 feet or so from the sheer legs. Some experts drive the three in a line as shown in the drawing. Drive the stakes into the ground angled away from the sheer legs. Drive them deep. They'll have to take a lot of strain.
  5. Lash the sheer legs together as shown in the picture and raise them on both ends. To make them more secure dig holes for the legs to secure them. 
  6. Tie anchor ropes to the outside stakes and tie them between the anchors and the tops of the sheer legs. Use a clove hitch with a keeper half hitch to keep them from slipping. You can also use a round turn and two half hitches to secure topes to the sheer legs.
  7. Run the foot rope between the legs of the sheer legs over the top of the fabric between the sheer legs. Tie the ends of the foot ropes to the center stakes at either end. I've used a stick or pole as a lever, taking one turn of the handle in the foot rope between the sheer legs and the anchor. Once the foot rope is in place, you can take half turns in the rope with your stick and then lash the end of the handle to keep the foot rope tight. The foot rope will take most of the weight so it needs to be tight. The top ropes will provide extra support. 
  8. Next thing is to tie the handropes between the tops of the sheer legs so that you have two handrails that will be shoulder height above the foot rope. The bridgeway will be shaped like a  "V". Again use a clove hitch which you can pull tight and secure and then tie an overhand knot as keeper
  9. Now begin tying the support ropes between the handrails and the foot rope. I use clove hitches and lengths of rope long enough to make four passes. Start tying the ropes from one end. If you run out of rope start a new length by overlapping the first knot. I use clove hitches because they make a nice longer knot to step on. The first time you can tie the support ropes standing on the ground. For fun try doing it as though you were working over a height. It's tricky, but challenging for the kids and that's what you want.
  10. When you're done, check all the knots, make adjustments as necessary, put away your tools and let the kids try it out. 
Here's a simple X-frame version

You can find details on the knots and safety recommendations by following the links below. The Scouts have some really good material on building a monkey bridge. Once you've mastered it, you can hang one anywhere.  At camp we once hung one over an inlet of the lake. If you fell, you made a big splash. How cool is that?

If you've never built one with your kids you owe it to yourself to do it.

Detailed References:
  1. Double-A-Frame-Monkey-Bridge
  2. Single X frame Monkey Bridge
  3. Monkey Bridge - Boys Life Article 
  4. Handbook of Scout Engineering (PDF download)
  5. A Survivalist's Guide to Rope Bridges

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Seeds of Change

Deborah - ordained of God
Since the big "high level" GC meeting on October 6, I've been getting a confusing flood of "updates" from the GC and the North American Division seeking to clarify what actually happened at the meeting. According to the Adventist Review, "...officers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted on Oct. 6 for a document detailing actions to be taken in response to certain entities of the world church that are not in compliance with an action voted on by more than 2,000 representatives of the 19.5 million-member denomination at its most recent General Conference Session held in San Antonio, Texas from July 2-11, 2015."

The San Antonio vote, despite many efforts to either explain or obscure what happened in San Antonio, was not a vote to end women's ordination. It was a vote about who has the power to decide whether or not to ordain women. The vote took back power from the divisions ceded to them at a 1903 general conference where power was decentralized away from the church - a move Ellen White, who attended the conference, approved. Rather than voting down women's ordination - a tricky proposition given that opinions on the subject are sharply divided among SDA theologians and previous study committees that have found no objection to ordination of women - the GC in 2015 merely got itself made "the Decider."

Ultimately the issue comes down to who ways whether we can ordain women as pastors or not. GC says, that's us. The divisions, at least some of them, beg to differ. Over here in the Washington Conference and in both West Coast divisions, sentiment has come down rather firmly on the side of women's ordination. Women have been ordained pretty widely in this and other divisions, particularly in the North American Division. Now the GC says they can't do that. Heretofore, such decisions were firmly in the hands of the division and local conferences. Now it's not.

Daniel Jackson, NAD president keeps reassuring us that nothing is wrong and that we all need to be unified and that everything is okay. Obviously everything is not okay, especially if the GC forces division and conference leaders out of office and demotes or removes women pastor's already installed. A guy I knew back in college, Randy Roberts, who pastors the LaSierra College church, recently made an impassioned pro-women's ordination speech at a meeting of concerned division leaders. His motion at that particular conference probably seemed "rebellious" to come folk. It was not. It mostly reaffirmed the shared beliefs of an apparent majority of pastors in the division.

With all of the controversy over this issue, NAD staff probably need to keep looking for less inflammatory words than "rebellion" to describe the resolve on the part of some conferences to ordain who they please. 

Two things trouble me.  First the words "high-level" to describe the October 6 GC committee that decided how to handle the non-compliant divisions. I've never found the authoritarian approach to religious organization to be good for the church. To be honest, I think the headship doctrine of strict levels of authority based upon church rank and gender are not very representative of the structure of the relationship God seeks to have with his people. It's Calvinist in its origins and unprecedented in Adventist theology prior to Samuel Bacchiochi's return from earning advanced theology degrees in Vatican schools. This is not to say old Sam turned Catholic on us, but his writings took a turn for the more restrictive in many ways. I lost more than one friend that left the church after reading Bacchiochi, looking for a path to God that was a little more arduous than the then prevalent 'righteousness by faith" path.

The second thing that troubles me is the seeming intent by some in our GC leadership to return Adventism to "the way it was".  I remember how the church once was when I was a child. It was authoritarian, legalistic and more than a bit grim and it nearly scared me away. I fortunately met Christ thanks to an HMS Richards Sr. protoge' who taught us about righteousness by faith. I met Christ as He is - a loving God whose love awakens in us love and obedience and who saves us by his Grace. That was a new version of Christ in my church. Prior to that, evangelists just hammered us about our clothes, our diet and our behavior as though somehow we could grit our teeth and that would get us through to Paradise. Combined with vivid pictures of the last days and the time of trouble, that formed the old time Adventism of the day, I had a completely wrong picture of God and kept me more out of the church than in.

In a recent speech, Ted Wilson called for members to "“... lay aside our personal opinions for the good of the body of Christ, and that we will, together, march forward to the kingdom of God." The calls for submission have become almost daily lately as the GC seeks to enforce its will on "noncompliant" Adventist believers.  I think this is a bad thing. I am not good at marching. I'm more of a wanderer. Sheep are like that. We need a shepherd, not a drill-master.

The thing that has made our church strong over the decades is a willingness to look at Scripture as our spiritual source. We also have the prophetic gift to help us form our belief system. We've got 28 fundamental beliefs and membership in the church requires we adhere to those. God only gave us ten, so I think we've probably got those covered. A difference of opinion over a relatively unimportant point of doctrine should probably not be characterized as a rebellion.

Progressive revelation has played an important role in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Ellen White commented that ""There are mines of truth yet to be discovered by the earnest seeker."  She believed that capital "T" Truth was an advancing truth. We can clearly see this with respect to the issue of monogamous marriage which was tolerated in ancient times, but became a clearly accepted doctrine by Christ's time. Slavery, which was accepted as a fixture of life, even into New Testament times, is clearly not something God approves of.  In Scripture were the seeds of the end of slavery.

The Biblical roots of our Constitution, injected into that document the seeds of the end of slavery in the United States. We learn slowly, we human beings do, but God has promises in Isaiah 54:13 that he will be our teacher and our children's teacher. The reason that slavery, polygamy, stoning, the divine right of kings and other ideas became repugnant to us is because the seed of that repugnance is buried in the pages of Scripture, planted there in Eden, watered at Sinai and grown to fruition on the tree on Calvary.

Because we are a people who believe in "Thus saith the Lord" some would have it that there must always be one firm and exact way of looking at things and no other. Had our forefathers adopted that attitude, we'd all still be Catholics. The great reformers like Luther, Zwingli, Wesley and Calvin mined great truths from Scripture. Some of them they got right. Some they got wrong. Others they overlooked altogether to be discovered later by other searchers.

Our responsibility as a church is to be God's Earthly MASH unit. We are the front-line aid station for a wounded and suffering world. Our job is to take in the lost and sick and injured, not to focus on ways to exclude and marginalize others. Adventism has been able to absorb debate over issues over the years. Within the church you'll find everything from feast day keeping legalism to vegetarians waiting for the coming of the Lord to people with more liberal ideas about love and forgiveness and Grace.

The point of unity for the Christian church is, of course, Christ. Are we going to turn the focus away from Christ over whether or not to pay women pastors the same as we pay men, which is a lot of it if you really want to get right down to it?

I really liked the Norwegian church's response to the GC vote on ordination. All their male ministers turned in their ordination credentials and the conference's pastors, male and female, instantly became equal as commissioned pastors. It was a courageous act on the part of the men and it left the GC without any real leg to stand on since the GC staked the issue on ordination and not on whether women should be silent in church.

Ellen White, in responding to an earlier church crisis counseled strongly that the church's leadership should not attempt to exercise what she called "kingly power".  It would do our leaders well to remember that. In the meantime, whatever I believe I am not in rebellion against my church nor will I leave it. As Morris Venden once pointed out, you can't change the church from outside the church.

Men do have a leadership role which I believe is a God-given trait that goes with being men. That said, remember what God did when men wouldn't step up and do the job. Deborah led the Israelite armies when Barak proved too chicken to go on his own. God even used a woman to knock off the enemy general.  A couple of men turned down the prophetic gift prior to Ellen White's taking it up.  So female leadership is not unheard of in the Bible.

Perhaps we should call what the pastors of Norway did and the men like Randy Roberts who are risking their careers over the issue, not "rebellion", but "resistance".  We are a fellowship after all and not a dictatorship. Seeking change is not rebellion. No one I know wants to break up the church. The truth will set you free and, as a whole string of dictators over the centuries have learned, you cannot rule a free people. The chain of command in the Christian church is short.  There's you and then there's God. That's pretty much it for the chain.

While we might disagree with our leaders on issues of conscience, as I have in the past, that does not mean I will leave the church in any way other than feet first in a pine box. As one church deacon told one of our church's self-declared "leaders" when he tried to move a Filipino family out of "his" pew, "Brothers, nobody owns a pew in this church. They all belong to God!" My church belongs to Jesus. He lets anybody be in it that wants to be in it and lets anyone out who wants to be out. The only one we need to absolutely obey is God and even He, as perfect as He is, is pretty good about forgiving us when we mess up. Perhaps in return, we should go easy on our leaders and our leaders should go a little easier on those they are responsible for. After all, like us, they're only human.

© 2016 by Tom King

Saturday, September 17, 2016

God Gets My Attention

God's Teaching Tools?
The thing is, I used to have trouble not paying attention. I'd get busy with all the stuff you have to do to maintain a family, keep the lights on and food on the table and lose track of time so that God gets left out a lot. I still do that sometimes, I am ashamed to admit. The morning worship gets skipped a few days running. Life overwhelms us and I lose focus. Even now after 45 years as a Christian, it's still much too easy to drift.

In the event that I do, God who has a sense of humor as well as a powerful desire to make sure I do pay attention. He has a way of showing at those moments with some sort of attention-getting event. It always happens when I get too comfortable. My first experience with what I think of as "the hammer of God" happened back in the early 90s. It was a hot summer. I was working out of doors with kids doing sports-related things. I come from a long line of sweaty people. Allergens were everywhere. I was doing anti-histamines like a speed freak does meth and definitely not drinking nearly enough water to compensate for the concomitant dehydration.

The first hint that something was going very badly was a sharp stabbing pain to the gut. I went through the usual useless attempts to stop the pain. You guys know what those are, so I won't go through all that. Finally, in serious pain, I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital. As an indicator of pain, this was a biggie. My wife was suddenly very worried because I NEVER give up the driver's seat willingly and she doesn't like to drive. She hurriedly bundled me into the car and we were on the road. I don't know what happened to our kids that night. I never saw her call anyone to come stay with them. I never asked, which is also an indicator of my level of pain as we had two boys and a little girl who could hold her own with them back at home and there were things in our house that could be broken which are expensive to replace. I didn't care at that point. The house could have been reduced to a pile of rubble in my absence. I didn't care.

By the time we got to the Cleburne hospital someone had apparently inserted a knife into my lower abdomen and was twisting it slowly now and then , just to remind me that it was still there. We arrive at the chateau de' Cleburne ER. They had this comical sense of humor with regard to parking. Parking for drive-up patients was down hill in the lower parking lot. To get to the ER required you to scale a formidable set of stairs or hobble up an even more formidable circuitous ramp. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act made them tear that ramp out and install and even longer one with flat places every so often where one might lie down to die without fear of rolling all the way back down to the bottom of the ramp.

Hobbling up that long ramp with a dagger in your lower intestines did not look like a whole lot of fun, let me tell you, so I opted for the stairs. Halfway up I decided the ramp might not be such a bad thing, but I was already committed. By now I was doing this Frankenstein-like shuffle step, periodically bending over, then taking a step accompanied by a deep groan, then a bend-over-stomach-clutch, then up again and moan. I looked like a scene from Zombie Attack III. I think I was wearing a ragged t-shirt I had been sleeping in. Moaning I staggered into the ER and stumbled up to the desk. The charge nurse didn't blink, apparently used to zombies walking into her ER.

If you have ever been to the emergency room, you know the drill. A grumpy nurse with a steely eye, an unsympathetic scowl, brandishing a pen asks you to sign in. She then hands you a clipboard and banishes you to the waiting room where you wait patiently with 20 or 30 other suffering humans for up to 8 hours or so. Then, when you reach the point where you don't think you can take it anymore, they send you to a little curtained off area and you wait another hour or two for the doctor to breeze through and pronounce judgment upon your condition. I was asked to rate my level of "discomfort", that was the term the charge nurse used, on a scale of one to ten. I gave it a 35. She was not amused.

Interesting Fact 1: When you do not amuse the charge nurse you move backward in the queue. By this point, I was in no condition to wait patiently for 4 hours for some doctor to come in, scratch his head and then go away to order some tests to be conducted by radiology in a couple of hours or so.

I'm a logical guy. I looked around and evaluated my fellow sufferers there in the waiting room and could see that no one else was suffering like me. A few were dripping blood or nursing an ice pack or throwing up into a little bag that Nurse Ratchet had provided, but I was pretty sure no one else had been stabbed with an invisible knife.

So, putting my great brain feverishly to work, I came up with a plan to get myself moved up in the queue. I had a little help as my invisible tormentor chose that moment to give the knife another sharp twist. I screamed. The reaction was all I could have hoped for. Nurse Ratchet raised her head from whatever romance novel she'd been reading and looked at me. Encouraged, I let loose with another scream; one I'm sure would have got me an "8", even from the Russian judges. 

Interesting Fact 2:  Screaming like a dying wildebeest on the Serengeti upsets the decorum of the ER waiting room. Squealing like a pig being slaughtered (what I call stage 2 screaming) moves you almost immediately to the top of the "next" list. The charge nurse punched a button somewhere and in moments I was loaded on a gurney and wheeled off to a barracks-like room where they put people who are going to die, but are not actually bleeding on the ER floor from a gunshot wound. 

By now I was screaming pretty much nonstop. I was doing a lot of praying of the "Please God make it stop variety." And here's where my religion got tested. Given the location of my pain and the intensity of it and also due to the fact that I was weeping, crying like a girl and remembering some words I used to use before I was a Christian, the nurse had already diagnosed my ailment - accurately as it turned out. She also chastised me for using uncouth words. I was alone on a gurney in an empty room full of gurneys mind you, but she felt a powerful need to correct my language for some reason.

Miserable as I was, and as out of my head with pain as I was, it worked. I grumbled a little at being admonished by this sanctimonious poor excuse for a Florence Nightingale. Here she is being all morally superior, I'd just like to see how she'd handle this much pain. Still, she did get my attention. I girded up my loins (all too literally) and I stopped cursing. I stopped in part because she made me feel guilty, me being an Adventist Christian and all, and in part because I was desperately hoping for some morphine for what my nurse guessed was a kidney stone. Shaking her head she muttered, "Men are such babies," on her way out the door.

Interesting Fact 3:  Even women, whom I believe routinely exaggerate the pain levels they experience in childbirth, say that passing a kidney stone is worse. This is obviously true. Women will willingly get pregnant again. Men will not willingly pass a kidney stone again. My urologist told me to drink lots of water to prevent the formation of stones. Since that day, I swill fluids like an Abrams Main Battle Tank swills diesel fuel. I now plan my travels through life so as to never be more than 3 minutes from a restroom. I WILL use the ladies room in a pinch. Waiting is not an option.

Interesting Fact 4:  Morphine does NOT kill the pain. The best it does is make it so you don't scream so loudly and you can resist the urge to use colorful sailor-words. Using colorful sailor-words is what got me my first dose of morphine. I did not intend for this to happen. The nurse, being a woman of delicate sensibilities and a powerful reluctance to issue narcotics to persons in pain, at first attempted to shame me into silence. It was, however, too late for that. I had just discovered that screaming like a girl made things happen.

I am not disparaging girls here. I describe my screaming that way because of the pitch of the scream, not anything gender-related or stereotypical weakness-wise. I can be as paternalistic as all git-out, but that is not it. What I found out by diligent experimentation that day was that a high-pitched shriek works better for getting attention than a deep-throated manly roar. Manly screaming apparently means to nurses that you are being tough and riding it out and therefore need no attention. When you no longer care about preserving the illusion of manliness and start shrieking like an over-heated teapot, some sort of internal switch gets tripped and someone trundles down the hall to wherever the doctor is taking a nap, wakes him up, and gets an authorization for some pain-killer. After another 30 minutes of this distinctly unmasculine behavior on my part and a call from admin three floors up, the doc gets up. Unable to sleep anyway, with all that unmanly noise emanating from corpse-storage where they'd left me, the doc, bleary eyed from being on the tail end of a 48 hour shift, comes wandering in, has a quick zombie-to-zombie consultation and sends me to radiology.

There they confirm that what I have is a kidney stone. They also apparently confirm the inadequacy of my company insurance and pump me full of morphine and wait for the stone to pass. Before it does, my insurance balks and they send me home with a plastic strainer and instructions to pee through that till the stone comes out.

Stone is something of a misnomer in my case. When it finally made a distinctly uncomfortable appearance in the strainer, even I, who had lived through the stone's passage through my more delicate tubules, blanched a little. The thing was the size of a goat-head. If you live in East Texas, you know what a goat-head is. It's an evil looking spiked seed from a pernicious weed that stabs you in the foot and cripples you for a couple of days at a time. This stone, like a goat-head, had horrible little barbs all over it. They analyzed it at the urologist's, told me to drink lots of water and sent me home.

The second one was bad and sent me to the ER, but I passed that one too. They gave me some potent pain killers which I used sparingly in case I needed them later. I later had a procedure where they tried to blow the stones up with sound waves. The first time they tried it I'd already passed it by the time they got around to doing the procedure and they let me go. The second time they tried it they had more success. For a while I was passing gravel. Then things got more interesting.

Since the first two kidney "boulders" and the lithotrypsy (the one with the sound waves), I've passed six more, including five kidney stones in one year - without another hospital visit. I passed the last five standing on my own two feet at home. I carefully nursed my supply of Hydrocodone and managed to make that one prescription last through the next year. I collected the pesky little rocks I passed that year in a little medicine bottle if you ever want to see them.  I take out the bottle once in a while, shake it so it rattles, and then drink a 20 ounce glass of water.

My attention was captured to say the least. God has a way of reminding you that you are still alive. My struggle with kidney stones, in an odd sort of way, reminded me that what we are doing with our lives is important. Going through that ordeal taught me how wonderful it is to feel good. Sore feet don't matter anymore. A tired back, aching muscles, the odd headache. Those are just reminders that we are still alive and we can still feel pain.

But it's not just physical pain I'm talking about. Life throws us a curve ever once in a while and beans us on the back of the head. We learn that we can survive whatever the devil throws at us (and believe me there is the stench of sulfur about a kidney stone, the death of a child, the loss of a home or job let me tell you). We may reach a point where we can pass a kidney stone or a life trial and remain standing up like a man and do it without screaming, wailing or gnashing of teeth. Sadly, it usually takes us a lot of repetition to reach that point, but reach it we do if we submit to God's training program.

God always finds a way to get our attention when we get sloppy and slack.
He toughens us through trial, makes us strong through adversity, makes us compassionate and willing to bear up under whatever falls upon us. Will God need to get my attention again? At 62, I feel like a tired old war horse sometimes and wonder whether God is done with me yet. I hope so, but probably not.

And it'll probably hurt. At this point I'm all out of pain pills, so I'll just have to stand through it till it's over. I've been through the training and God's a pretty good drill sergeant. I 'spect I can take it.

© by Tom King