“But even if he does not [save us from the fire], we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:18 (NIV)
Tomorrow is Independence Day here in the States. Wendy and I will be celebrating from the lake. Fireworks are legal here in the state of Missouri and it is always a night of loud and bright celebration as people light fireworks off of the end of their docks and over the cove. It’s a lot of fun right up to the time you’re ready to sleep.
I’ve lived my entire life in a nation where freedoms of speech and religion are protected and where life and liberty are held sacred. Despite this fact, I’ve observed along my life journey that there are subtle forms of social, political, religious, and cultural pressure to conform. I find it fascinating that I came of age at a time when religious conservatives wanted to dictate their particular morals and standards on the nation. Now, I find that it’s the other side who appear to want to demand wholesale adherence to a host of social, cultural, and political beliefs they hold sacred.
These examples notwithstanding, I have always found it a bit hard to fully understand or appreciate the predicament that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego find themselves in today’s chapter. They are exiles in a foreign land. They are minorities holding a very different set of beliefs than their captors. They have likely had to learn to live among society and culture that was very foreign to them while trying to maintain a sense of their identity and faith.
King Nebuchadnezzar’s demand that all bow down to the statue he had erected was somewhat of a common practice in that ancient culture. It was a litmus test of obedience. Interestingly, as I read some commentary on today’s chapter, I found that scholars are split on whether the Hebrew trio would have been breaking the Law of Moses if they had chosen to bow down. This makes it an even more fascinating episode for me. If it wasn’t a black and white matter of religious law, but a gray area of their personal conscience before God, then their refusal to bow become even more meaningful.
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my own personal beliefs. Where’s the line(s) that my conscience and my faith would not allow me to cross? I even find myself silently asking “For what am I willing to sacrifice my life?” On one hand, this feels like an overly dramatic and exaggerated question given the fact that I live in a land of freedom and I don’t anticipate ever having to face such a trial. On the other hand, I am fully aware that around the world people are facing this very real question on a daily basis. There continue to be dictators, tyrants, and regimes perfectly willing to execute those unwilling to bow to their political, cultural, social, and/or religious demands.
For what am I willing to sacrifice my life?
Today, I find myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for those men and women from every culture, ethnicity, religion, and political persuasion who sacrificed their lives across the centuries that I might walk my entire life journey on this earth without seriously having to answer that question.
The past few weeks Wendy and I have been getting videos of our grandson, Milo, that Taylor has been sending from their home in Scotland. Milo is almost a year old and the videos reveal that young Milo has hit the stage of development in which he “imitates” what his parents do. When we had a FaceTime conversation a week or so ago I had some fun making up distinct little laugh noises and coughs and then was overjoyed to watch and listen as Milo smiled and tried to imitate them. It was a fun game, and it warmed my heart.
In today’s chapter Paul makes a very simple and direct request of the believers in Corinth: “Imitate me.” Not just a game of mimicking voice or gesture, Paul was inviting his friends in Corinth to imitate his way of life, his actions, his words, his hard work, his way of treating others.
It’s such a simple command, and yet it is such a bold statement. In the quiet this morning I have been trying to imagine telling a fledgling believer to imitate me. Yes, okay, I have developed some good habits and disciplines in life, but I can also immediately bring to mind things I wouldn’t want anyone imitating. I confess to having an overdeveloped sense of shame, but I’m still intimidated by the thought of telling someone, “Just watch me and do what I do.”
As I meditate on it, I’ve come to think that perhaps this is actually a good exercise. I picture myself telling a young person “Imitate me.” What would I be afraid of them seeing, hearing and repeating? What thoughts, words, actions, and habits would have me quickly adding an addendum and making caveats to the imitation command? “Well, wait a minute. Don’t imitate that part. If you catch me doing this, just ignore me, please. Only imitate what you saw me doing earlier when everyone was looking.” It seems a pretty good methodology for revealing those areas of my life where I still have significant growth and improvement potential.
The kids and Milo are coming home in a few days. Milo will be with us through the holidays. This morning I’m reminded that children watch their parents and their grandparents. They listen. They observe. They take it all in. Then they imitate. Not just the silly FaceTime game of mocking a laugh or a cough. Our children and grandchildren observe and imitate our very lives.
My desire is for my life to be a good example to imitate.
It has been a while since I’ve posted anything but my chapter-a-day. Forgive me. I’m feeling good just to get that done most days. Nevertheless, I’m well overdue to, at the very least, post a brief synopsis of all the events of autumn.
Summer ended and our fall began with what has become an annual adult weekend at the lake with the VLs and JPs. It’s so much fun with this crew and there is never a dull moment when the six of us get together, which we did again a few weeks later with dinner in Ankeny for JP’s birthday.
A quick update on the girls. Madison continues living and working in Columbia, South Carolina as an area sales and training coordinator for Laura Geller cosmetics. She loves it there and we don’t foresee getting her back to the midwest without an act of God. She’ll also be home for a week at the holidays, which we’re ecstatic about. She and her boyfriend, Garrett, made quite a turn as “The Incredibles” for Halloween this year.
Taylor, Clayton and Milo moved to Edinburgh, Scotland early this fall. Clayton is finishing up his Doctorate from the University there. Taylor was hired part-time by Storii, a fabulous company helping senior care centers tell, and utilize, the stories of their residents who are struggling with dementia. They’ve had a busy few months with travels to Sweden, Denmark, London and the Scottish highlands. Thankfully they will be home for a few weeks in December for the holidays, and we can’t wait to have them here.
Sadly, the kids weren’t the only ones we had to say good-bye to this fall. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, left for Mazatlan, Mexico where she is attending Discipleship Training School with YWAM (Youth With a Mission).
We also bid farewell to our dear friends Kevin and Linda as they moved to Palm Springs, California. While the snowbirds promise to come back and spend summer in Iowa, it was hard to watch them pack up all their belongings and head west (though we are headed there to visit them soon!). I was also glad I was able to enjoy Kevin’s turn as host of the Pella Opera House’s first-ever Scotch and Cigar night. Almost 50 men attended, and Kevin did a fabulous job.
Farewell lunch with Suzanna. We’re so much fun, our server wanted to get in on the photo!
Scotch & Cigar night at Pella Opera House. Greeted by a piper.
Kevin hosting Scotch tasting.
I have been kept busy in leadership of my company including a major rebranding from C Wenger Group to Intelligentics. There will be more responsibility transferred my way with the start of 2019. I’m excited to see where it all leads.
Wendy and I stepped down completely from leadership in our community theatre after nearly a decade and a half. We’re taking an indefinite hiatus from community theatre with all the other things going on in life. That said, Wendy was honored by Union Street Players for her years of service by being inducted to their Walk of Fame during the group’s annual Awards Night on October 6th. Here’s a little clip I put together of some of my fave photos of Wendy over the years at USP. I’ve also, for posterity sake, posted a video of my introduction and her acceptance speech.
We were scheduled to be part of an independent production of Freud’s Last Session in October at Central College with our friends Kevin and Linda. We were forced to pull the plug on the production at the last-minute because of unforeseen and ultimately insurmountable scheduling obstacles placed in our way. It’s a long story both sad and frustrating. Not only for us, but also for the Central theatre students and professors who were looking forward to being involved in the show and with whom we were excited to work on the production. We are discussing an attempt to resurrect the project next year.
Pella Opera House Gala
Autumn at the lake with Kev n Beck.
Or Pella. It’s a regional thing.
Me and the ladies, out for Chad’s birthday.
Chocolate always makes her smile. Celebrating Chad’s birthday at Malo.
You know what fall means? Vikings football!! SKOL!
The fall included some annual events such as a fall weekend at the lake with our friends, Kev and Beck. Fall means you’ll find Wendy and me in purple and gold every Sunday afternoon cheering on the Vikings. We also enjoyed the annual fundraising gala for the Pella Opera House. And then there was an evening out with the VLs and JPs to celebrate Chad’s birthday. A wonderful dinner at Malo and nightcap in Des Moines.
Our support of Pella Historical Society included a couple of new experiences this fall. Wendy and I once again found ourselves portraying our town’s founding couple, H.P. and Maria Scholte, in a cemetery walk. There were a number of costumed actors stationed around the local cemetery portraying historic individuals from our town’s past. As visitors approached we delivered a short monologue. It was a cold, blustery fall day, but at least the sun was shining to provide a little warmth.
Just this past weekend I had the honor of being Master of Ceremonies for the annual Tulip Queen Announcement Party. Twelve young ladies were finalists in the annual festivities that select a Tulip Queen and four members of the Tulip Court who will preside at Pella’s annual Tulip Time festival in May. As M.C. I spent Friday evening and Saturday morning in rehearsals, then got to join the candidates at a special luncheon on Saturday. At the Saturday evening event I introduced and interviewed all of the candidates before a packed audience in the high school auditorium. Each candidate did a three-minute presentation and were interviewed by a panel of over 30 judges representing a diverse cross-section of our community. It was a tough decision as all twelve of the young ladies were exceptional and would have been great representatives of the best our community has to offer. Then I got to make the big announcement at the end of the evening. It was a lot of fun, and I’ve already been asked to M.C. next year’s event, so I guess I did okay.
Wendy and I have also been focusing on getting some projects done around the house this fall. We finally completed a DIY project that’s been in the works for a couple of years. We made a console table out of old dock wood from the lake to sit behind the couch downstairs in the Pub. We also designed a sign for the pub and actually had one made by the local sign company.
A house full of Vander Harts.
No one starves at a Vander Hart gathering.
With the world progressing at breakneck speed, it’s nice to know some things never change 😉
The Vander Hart name lives on!
Wendy and I also enjoyed playing host to her mom’s family this past weekend. The Vander Hart clan descended on us Sunday afternoon. There were 20+ of them for a potluck lunch and hanging out. Wendy’s cousin, Ethan, and his wife, Kim, recently gave birth to the only Vander Hart male to carry the family name into the next generation, so it was fun to meet him and celebrate.
Of course, then there’s the regular activities of both physical and spiritual exercise. I’m more involved than ever as a teaching leader. Wendy and I were asked to present at a fall retreat on our experience with the enneagram, which prompted another opportunity coming up in December. Wendy has been faithfully doing yoga and I continue to show up at CrossFit.
Wow. Writing this post reminds me just how busy we’ve been. But, life is good and we are blessed. Next week the holidays begin, and Wendy and I both have hearts full of gratitude ready to give Thanks.
Therefore this is what the Lord says about the people of Anathoth who are threatening to kill you, saying, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands” Jeremiah 11:21 (NIV)
I have been intrigued to observe what has transpired in our culture over recent years with regard to our freedom of speech. I’ve watched the proliferation of social media in which every individual has a megaphone with which to broadcast their thoughts, opinions, and little kitty pictures to anyone who will listen. I think most of us have had an experience in which what could and should be a forum for discovery, appreciation, connection, conversation, and discussion quickly erodes into a quagmire of anger, disrespect, slander and anonymous trolls hiding behind usernames spewing hatred. And of course we are all now well aware that there are those with ill motives seeking to stir up dissension and chaos for political reasons.
At the same time, I’ve observed that our educational institutions are increasingly willing to suppress the free expression of thoughts and opinions from faculty and guest lecturers when those thoughts and opinions are unpopular or offend the listener. There are students who seek to be sheltered from any words, thoughts, or ideas that contradict or challenge their own world view. In recent years, those who hold unpopular opinions receive death threats, are physically attacked, or are simply dis-invited from speaking.
One one hand anyone can say anything they want (and do). On the other hand anyone who holds an unpopular opinion is unwelcome and silenced. Fascinating.
Free expression and conflict over words, thoughts, opinions, and ideas have always been part of the human experience. Examples abound, such as the prophet Jeremiah.
In today’s chapter the ancient prophet Jeremiah is made aware of a plot to kill him. The source of the threat comes from the town of Anathoth which was located a few miles north of Jerusalem. What’s fascinating to discover is that Anathoth is Jeremiah’s hometown. It is also a town that was given to the descendants of Aaron who were the priests in the ancient religious system of the Hebrews. Only a descendant of Aaron could be a priest. In other words, those who were seeking to silence Jeremiah and plotting to kill him were his own people from a town dedicated to leaders of the Temple.
I’m reminded this morning of Jesus’ observation that “a prophet is without honor in his own home town.” Jesus said this right after his own neighbors in Nazareth sought to throw Him off a cliff. He could very well have been thinking about Jeremiah when He said it. It was descendants of the crew who sought to kill Jeremiah who would plot Jesus’ death, as well.
I’m also reminded that history gives us many examples in various disciplines of individuals branded heretics in their day who were revealed over time to be right. Only now in retrospect do we regard them as heroes of history. These “heretics” often suffered terribly in their day for saying things that were unpopular, politically incorrect, or by challenging the prevailing world-view. Jeremiah is just one of them.
As I do each morning, I will publish this blog post and share it on Facebook. A few people will read it. Of those who do I hope there are one or two who appreciate the post. There may be some who get pissed off simply by seeing that idiot Tom and his stupid religious posts in their feed. I’m well aware that the vast majority of people will simply ignore it. C’est la vie.
I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to express what I’m thinking about on my daily spiritual journey and to put it out there where, instantly, anyone on the planet with an internet connection can read it. Through all of human history it is only in the past 20 years or so that this was possible.
And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”Ezekiel 21:7 (NIV)
The prophets had to have been a strange lot. They were prone to do strange things and act out obscure (what we would, today, call “performance art”) productions in public places. Their personal lives were often metaphors for the messy spiritual condition of the culture. Their steady stream of public messages were not known for their tact or their propriety.
Take today’s chapter, for example. God tells Ezekiel to stand out in the public square and groan. Not just a little “I think the cream cheese on that bagel didn’t agree with me” groan. GROAN like your beloved mother just died. GROAN like a husband who just found out his wife was sleeping with his best friend. GROAN like you feel a hideous creature ready to burst out of your insides as in the movie Alien. Make a public spectacle of yourself so that people will circle around you in wonder and mothers shoo their young children away from you in fear.
Then, when people start asking Zeke what’s wrong, God tells him to say, “When I tell you YOU’RE GOING TO PEE YOUR PANTS!”
While I’m not sure they would make the most enjoyable dinner guests, there are times when I find the old prophets really refreshing. They remind me that, while there is a time for propriety, there are also times in life for saying things in a way that would make your Aunt Nita blush and shrink back in shame. There are moments for communication that smacks of brash, in-your-face impropriety.
Of course, wisdom is required in choosing the right moments. The key part is knowing when to speak and when to keep silent.
The pre-battle speech is an icon of literature, stage and film. From Shakespeare’s Henry V admonishing his band of brothers on the field of Agincourt to William Wallace admonishing his Scottish army to Knute Rockne encouraging his boys to “win one for the Gipper.” Most of us have experienced the mental preparation and psyche up before we are to participate in a big event.
Performance on stage is no different. Weeks of preparation on Ah, Wilderness!, hours of tedious rehearsal, and the combined efforts of a small army of cast and crew culminate this week in just four performances. Every stage troupe has their own unique pre-curtain rituals. Some are very ritualistic and others are more loose. It’s been fun for me to enjoy being part of the pre-show ritual with the Theatre Central cast this week.
Each actor is given his or her “call” time by the Stage Manager(s). This is the time you are required to arrive and begin the make-up process. For Ah, Wilderness!, some of the ladies have more time consuming hair preparations for that 1906 coiffure, so their call is earlier than most of the cast. My call has been one hour before curtain, so I have arrived at the Kruidenier Theatre Center on the campus of Central College about 6:30 each night. Hair and make-up is the first order of business.
I start with wetting down and plastering my hair with goop to get that slicked back look. Then apply make-up. The harsh, bright stage lights tend to wash out natural complexion, so stage make-up helps to balance this out. Foundation, eye-liner, rouge, highlights and wrinkle lines are applied and then powdered. Yes, I do this myself. Most stage veterans learn the process and take responsibility for their own basic stage make-up. It’s generally only when more complex make-up techniques are required that a make-up artist is brought in. The hair and make-up time is also a social time. Actors do this together, music is generally playing and there’s a lot of good natured joking and jovial conversation going on.
It’s during this period that Stage Managers also remind actors to “check props.” It is ultimately the actors responsibility to make sure the items you need on stage are where they are supposed to be. Once in make-up, I put on the iPod ear buds. Since college my requisite pre-show psych up has begun with the Talking Head’s Psycho Killerfollowed by Burning Down the House a ritual I picked up from my roommate and senior theatre classmate, Kirk Anderson and one that I’ve never altered. Even thespians have their superstitious rituals. With music cranked and adrenaline beginning to pump through my veins, I check to make sure that cigars, handkerchiefs, newspapers, reading glasses, and hat are all where they need to be on stage and back stage.
It’s now about 30-40 minutes before curtain. I head to the studio theatre next to make-up alley where I begin to stretch and continue to let the Talking Head’s pump me up. Pretty soon the rest of the cast wander in along with Stage Manager(s) and Director, Ann Wilkinson. The cast forms a circle and we go through a series of physical and vocal warm ups. Soft stretches and tongue twisters are primary as we get our bodies loose and our mouths ready for reciting our lines. Here are a few we’ve done this week (try saying each 4-5 times in rapid succession):
Unique New York
Bears eat beets on Battlestar Galactica
A box of biscuits. A box of mixed biscuits. A biscuit mixer.
As I mentioned earlier, each stage troupe has their own unique rituals. Ann Wilkinson enjoys an exercise of “singing the theatre alive” which is based on a tribe in Africa who each year gather to “sing the forest alive” by chanting/singing the same phrase over and over and over for an entire week. We divide into groups and perform the chant (phonetically: Ah-mah-ee-boo-oh-ee-ay) in a round with each group choosing a different physical action to complement their vocals.
We then will get our pre-show speech in a quick word of encouragement from the Director and/or Stage Managers along with the occasional instructions or reminders before being dismissed to get into costume. I go into the Costume Room and pull my costume from its place on the rack and head to the locker room to change with the other actors. By the time the costume is on the Stage Managers are generally calling for “places” and it’s time to head through the back stage entrance to take our places for the start of the show.
It’s been an enjoyable run. We’ve had good audiences and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the exceptional young people and profs at Central. Thanks to everyone at Central for their cooperation and support. Thanks to family and friends who have come out to see the show. Tonight is the final performance and the curtain will close another production. There is always a bittersweet feeling with closing night. While I’m ready to have my evenings and weekends back, there is a sense of loss as I think of the fun and camaraderie I’ve enjoyed in the past weeks.
Next up for Wendy and me is another production of The Dominie’s Wife for the Pella Opera House during Pella’s Tulip Time. It will be Wendy’s third production of the show and my second. We’ll begin production meetings next week. Stay tuned!