Most of us learn to preach by imitation and we imitate what we admire. When I was in seminary, the preacher I most admired wrote his sermons in a black, 6 b 9 notebook -- so I bought a 6 by 9 notebook.
Moreover, I noticed that when he was ready to turn a page, he made a dramatic gesture toward heaven and while everyone was looking up, he flipped the page. I practiced that maneuver too.
On August 11, 1991, after 37 years of devoutly offering burnt offerings to heaven, I smoked my pipe for the last time, quitting, as they say, cold duck. I had taken up pipe smoking because I thought it denoted a kindly, reflective, manly person such as I considered myself to be.
Last year a billboard emblazoned the conviction that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. Surely, by now, every father has figured that out although, given human weaknesses, it is not always possible. Certainly love is a big subject. For the rationalists, Dante, reflecting Aristotle, declares in the lst line of The Divine Comedy that love makes the world go around. For the romantics, King Arthur by way of Camelot insists that the way to handle a woman is to love her, love her, love her.
Even though I am a world-class expert on women, I sometimes find them hard to understand. For example, I had been dating Margaret exclusively for about a year and a half, and I thought it was probably safe to put my arm around the back of her chair at a movie. I was what we called in those days "a fast worker."
To a flat-lander who has lived in the Mississippi Delta and on the Great Plains, Pittsburgh is a big challenge because of all the hills. This fact has led me to recognize that it is a serious mistake for a man to marry chiefly for beauty and brains. Brawn ought to be a major consideration. I now think the ideal woman is at least 6 feet tall, weighs about 290 and bench presses 400 pounds.
It is all very well for the Bible to command us in one place to be urgent (2 Timothy 4:2) and in another to do all things decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). The problem is the Bible does not tell us which commandment applies to which situation. Thus, some Christians -- like the Methodists -- are regularly more urgent than decent and some -- like the Presbyterians -- are regularly more decent than urgent.
Declining membership is a major problem for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and doubtless will remain so until our leaders figure out why persons decline to be members. Quite naturally, various groups of Presbyterians blame these problems on those who do not share their primary interests: The church is too liberal or too conservative; there is too much or too little social action; too many or too few prayer meetings; too much or too little liturgy, and so on and on.
Two hundred years ago frontier religious revivals were made necessary by the scarcity of preachers and the great distances between people in America west of the Alleghenies.
First held in the open, these events were later held in large tents and then in roofed, but opensided, rough-hewn buildings called tabernacles. With three preaching services every day, the common feature of tents and tabernacles was a floor covered with sawdust.
Embarrassing my wife, Margaret, is not -- I swear -- the goal of my life, but if embarrassing her were my purpose I could happily retire, having succeeded beyond my wildest expectations many times over. For example, on our last wedding anniversary (romantic devil that I am) I thought I should take her out for an experience in elegant dining. Her choice -- Mexican food -- was a bit of a sacrifice because while Margaret likes spicy food, it doesn't agree with me.