Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Meaningful Words and a Hurtful Tongue

I wish I could invent a way to tie a string to the words I say so that if I say sometime stupid, hurtful, or offensive, I could just pull them back in before anyone hears.

Have you ever felt that way?  If I could invent it, I bet you'd buy it.  I bet I’d become so rich that I could buy out Warren Buffet.

The other day, I was sitting in a class on Sunday morning at church when one of those moments came around.  A friend of mine was sharing a lengthy comment on the subject we were discussing when all at once a horn began to sound outside.  It kept going off and my friend continued to share for several more seconds before some of the guys jumped up to see what the noise was all about.  It didn’t seem to be much of anything important, so everyone came back to their seats.  Someone was commenting on how it was under control, but I said:

“I thought it was just someone trying to get (my friend) to stop talking.”

Folks laughed.  My friend seemed to not be overly bothered.  But, immediately I wished I had not spoken.  I wished that I had the ability to reel the words right back in.

Words are powerful things.  Words have consequences.  Words can change things…for good or ill.  Think Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.  Think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech.  Think Hitler in pre-WWII Germany.  Good or ill.

Words matter.

That event from Sunday reminded me of a story from my days in the youth group as a teen in Muncie.  I can’t remember if I was a junior or senior at the time, but I was regarded as a leader among the teens.  I knew that, but often my insecurities took control and I tried to be funny to win the other teens’ approval through their laughter.  Usually, those attempts at humor were harmless…although I suspect they were likely quite obnoxious too.  However, there was one time when I said something so horrible that I still cringe when I think about it today.

I’m going to share it with you now.

It was “Monday Night Fellowship.”  That was our youth group’s weekly teen event.  It was held at a different family’s home each time we met, but I don’t recall where we were that particular week.  We all loved those nights together!  We had so much fun playing games, singing songs, and learning from our youth minister’s devotionals.  I have so many memories from those days!  Wow.

Monday Night Fellowship was also the one event where we could bring friends and be assured that they would have a good time.  It was an outreach event for our group.  It was not uncommon for new kids to show up on any given Monday.

On the night of my big mouth, Kristi had brought a friend, a girl from her school.  In general, I remember that she was very friendly, and out-going, and sort of cute.  However, she had one rather prominent feature that was overtly apparent to everyone in the room.  Fortunately almost everyone had the good sense to keep their mouths shut and their thoughts to themselves.  Almost everyone. 
Everyone but me.

During the devotional, our youth minister, Neil was sharing a message…I don’t recall the overall gist, but in the message we were asked to say something encouraging about someone else in the room.

“Look around the room,” he said.  “Share something encouraging about someone.”

Enter me…and my personal insecurities blanketed in a need to be funny.

I looked around.  I spotted the cute, out-going, visiting girl with the prominent feature, and with impeccable timing, I said:  “She has a big nose!”

Looking back, I just don’t understand how I could say something like that.  Why would I put the need to be funny so far ahead of any sense of common decency?  Was it some twisted, adolescent attempt at flirting?  I am still ashamed to this very moment.

The room went dead silent for what seemed like eons, but was probably only about long enough for Neil to connect his brain to his mouth and say:  “THAT WAS UNCALLED FOR!  I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANYTHING LIKE THAT FROM YOU EVER AGAIN!”

My shame was immediate and deserved and I withdrew into myself for the rest of the evening out of humiliation.  I can’t recall if I ever apologized.  I sure hope I did, but that wouldn’t have made the girl’s pain and embarrassment any less.

But, here’s the thing.  I never saw that girl again.  That, maybe is the worst thing about this.  My words severed the potential of relationships between that girl and our group and our church.  Perhaps we could have been great friends, but my words spoiled it all.  Who knows what lasting effects that event has had?  Who knows what the downstream consequences have been?

Words are powerful things.  Words matter.

In the Bible, in the book of James, the writer says:  “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”  James 1:26
I wonder how often our religious words have a similar effect on folks as my thoughtless words had on that girl so many years ago?

Obviously, from the story I told at the outset of this article, I have not yet mastered my mouth.  Unfortunately, I still have a tendency to want the approval of others that can be found in their laughter, and that need comes out occasionally in a rather sharp, sarcastic manner.  I am a work in progress, but my highest goal these days is to use my words in meaningful ways.  To help and not to harm.  To build up and not to tear down.

I like to think that I follow that positive course much more than I used to.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Ephesians 4:29

I was thinking about the story of my hurtful words tonight while perusing the vast amount of words bantered around on Facebook.  This person hates that public figure.  That person is standing up against that terrible social wrong.  There’s another vulgar joke.  Again, there is another hateful rant against this group or that group.  Many of the words are strong, but how many are truly meaningful and meant to build up rather than to tear down?  How many are meant to show love to one another?  You be the judge.

If I had the chance today to stand in humility before that girl from so many years ago, I would tell her how sorry I truly am.  May I NEVER again have the need to apologize like that to anyone.

Words have power.  Your words matter.  Be meaningful, helpful, and encouraging to someone WITH YOUR WORDS every chance you get.  You can make a positive difference in someone’s life.

The world can be moved with strong, loving, meaningful words; yours and mine.  Be mindful of your power.

Your humbled blogger,


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Muncie Boyhood-Mom's Lost Years & Potato Soup

In one of my earliest “Muncie Boyhood” posts, I shared the story of my brother’s suicide.  He was twenty-six at the time.  I was seven.  My mom was forty-seven…four years younger than I am right now.  While my memories of him are somewhat sketchy, my recollections of the years in the aftermath of his death are more clearly defined.  I often say that my mom went to bed in 1969 and got up again in 1980.

Of course, I exaggerate a bit…but, really only a bit.  The emotional toll of her loss was devastating, and I was left in the wake to pretty much do as I wanted.  Depression settled over her life and she took advantage of the medical profession’s use of anti-depressants to dull the edge of the pain.  With only minor exceptions, she became a recluse to her bedroom, spending day after day reclining in her nightgown; listening to the odd mix of WMDH Country Music and her police scanner, and smoking.  Later, she added a phone extension and a television.  It was not unusual to walk into a cacophony of those sources of noise all blaring at one time.

Dad couldn’t take it and moved to another room to sleep.

She did find the inner strength to get up long enough to take a few trips: California, South Dakota, and an occasional trip “up to the Lakes” near Wolcottville.  Christmas was big enough to get her going…making her ham, macaroni & cheese, and Jello salad.  Otherwise, most of her days and nights were spent on the full-size bed that occupied the northeast corner of our little two-bedroom house.

When I got big enough to fend for myself, Swanson TV Dinners became a regular evening meal for me.  Later, I became very fond of Campbell’s Chunky Sirloin Burger Soup.  One can + four slices of Roman Meal Bread was a fine supper.  Other times, I heated up the skillet with a quarter inch of Crisco in the bottom to fry myself some Pete’s Pride Pork Fritters.  Slather on some mustard and you have another of my meals.  I was even known to chow down on a large can of Freshlike Whole Kernel Corn for dinner; heated up with about a quarter stick of butter, salt, and pepper.  Mm Mmmmm.

Not to be too hard on Mom.  I loved her, and she had so much pain to work through.  During those years, she did have three distinct meals that came in a big pot.  They were prepared at least once per year, and each provided at least a week’s worth of leftovers:  Vegetable Soup, Chili, and Potato Soup.  They were all excellent!  But…  Ahhhhhh, the Potato Soup!

The Potato Soup has become a staple of our family.  Mom did it from memory and taste.  No recipe.  And, we all loved it!  The ingredients were basic:  milk, potatoes, onions, “ripplies” plus butter, salt, and pepper.  But, the magic is in the right balance and the careful cooking.  You have to watch it close or the milk will scorch in the bottom.  Thankfully, Mom taught my wife the magic of the mix and she now does it just as well as Mom did! 

(In case you are wondering, “ripplies” are little dough chunks that are cooked into the soup.  Mom always called them riplets, but Dad renamed them ripplies, and that’s what we all called them from then on to this day.)

Mom told me that the potato soup had its roots in more humble circumstances.  When she was a small girl, she had six siblings and they lived on a farm.  Money was often very tight, and grandma sometimes didn’t have much food on hand to feed those hungry mouths.  She said that the potato soup that we all loved so much started out as a pot of water with a couple of potatoes.  I’m sure glad it evolved from there.

The good news is that my mother did eventually pick herself up out of that decade-long depression and resume her life.  Some of the habits from those lost years carried over, but for the most part she got up and around again.  She got out and about, started hanging with old friends, and regained a spark that had seemed to be gone for so long.  As I write this, I’m wondering what was the real difference? and it is hard to nail down.  Perhaps, it is just something as simple as she began to clean herself up and dress in daytime clothes again.  Or, maybe she got that sharpness back in her tongue.

Nope.  She never lost that.

I think maybe it was a combination of things.  How she dressed.  Her getting out of that bedroom and going places.  Her interest in her friends again.  At any rate, I’m glad to report that she emerged from the devastation of my brother’s death a strong woman on the other side, and I enjoyed another twenty-three years with her in my life...sharp tongue and all.

This month, she would have turned ninety-one.  She passed away in December 2003.  I wrote the following poem a few months later to express my heart in missing her:

Visions of Mom

By Mike DeCamp


Visions of Mom flow through my mind
Memories of home, all mixed and combined 

If I entered her kitchen by the open back door,
I’d often be fed and come back for more 

Big bubbling pots of potato soup
Big wacky cakes with an ice cream scoop 

Then, out in back we’d go for a rest
Sippin’ tea in the shade with mom at her best 

We’d laugh, we’d joke, we’d argue and fuss
In the end, we’d smile, ‘cause that’s just us 

Now, she’s moved on, and these memories I love
I can take comfort from knowing she’s happy above

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Welcome to a Heart of Song

The following is a message and prayer that I shared with my church this morning.  While this message was specifically for this congregation, I think the deeper message is important for anyone who claims Christ as Lord.
January 6, 2013

1.        Good morning everyone!  It is great to be together on this fine morning to worship our Lord.

2.       Please fill out an attendance card.  If you are visiting with us, we welcome you wholeheartedly, and there is a special card for you in the slots on the pews or chairs in front of you.  Also, if you are here for the first time, please stop by the Welcome Center for more information and a tasty gift.

3.       Brothers and sisters, I have some special thoughts to share with you this morning as we begin our worship.  It has been so encouraging and inspiring to witness the young people who have been baptized of late.  Three out of the last four weeks, we have been able to enjoy the reunion of young souls with their creator.  Isn’t that a marvelous thing?  Isn’t it both inspiring and encouraging to us?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could witness those reunions every week?  Perhaps even every day?  It can be done, you know.  I have been in churches where that has happened.  But, for us to do it, it will take some intentional changes on each of our parts.  We will have to do some things differently, and we will each have to make some personal decisions to change.  I want to share now about one of those steps or changes that we can make…a change we could even make this morning…that will put us on that road.

4.       A few weeks ago, Ray Carter shared with me that his girlfriend, Melissa had been brought to tears by Craig Hill and I.  It was in a good way.  She was inspired.  The thing was, all Craig and I had done was to briefly look at one another, smile, and sing to one another during our worship time.  She was sitting way up top and we were way down there, but she saw it and it inspired her.  YOU SEE, THE WAY WE SING CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON THOSE AROUND US!  You can make a difference in someone else’s life by how you give your heart to your praise!

5.       Last year, my daughter brought me a book home from Harding University called Pilgrim Heart by Darryl Tippens.  There is a passage in the chapter on singing that I want to share. Chapter 12, Singing: The Way to Heaven’s Door.

In her highly original autobiography, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott tells the story of how she came to faith.  In a period of despair, when she spent long, lonely days in a fog of alcohol, speed, and cocaine, spiraling towards destruction, something utterly unexpected occurred.  During this dark time she visited a flea market in Marin City, California; and there she passed by a small, sad, ramshackle church from which she heard the most remarkable music.  She called it “glorious noise.”  At the time, Lamott was hostile to Christianity.  She could not bear to hear a sermon, but the music drew her in, and she returned for more in the following weeks. The singing, she said,

was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart.  There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food.  Something inside me that was stiff and rotting would feel soft and tender.  Somehow the singing wore down all the boundaries and distinctions that kept me so isolated.  Sitting there, standing with them to sing, sometimes so shaky and sick that I felt like I might tip over, I felt bigger than myself, like I was being taken care of, tricked into coming back to life.

One Sunday in April, 1984, Lamott attended the church again.  She stayed for the sermon that day, which she found unimpressive, but the music was mesmerizing:

The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape.  It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling—and it washed over me.

According to Lamott, “it was the music that pulled me in and split me wide open.”  That day she decided she would become a Christian.

·         Primary passage taken from:  Pilgrim Heart—The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life by Darryl Tippens.  Leafwood Publishers.  Copyright 2006

·         Anne Lamott passages used by Pilgrim Heart taken from:  Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott.  (New York: Pantheon, 1999)

You see, by singing from the INSIDE out, we can touch people’s hearts.  We can help them be inspired to make changes that otherwise they would ignore.  The heartfelt joining of our voices in praise to God can break through the hardened casings of a troubled person’s soul.

6.       I have some challenges for you to consider.  When was the last time YOUR singing was of such heart-level intensity that it could make a difference in someone’s life?

a.       Young people—Teens—Young Adults:  Lead us with your enthusiasm!  Sing out!  Sing strong!

b.      Older folks—Folks who have been here 30, 40, 50 years or more—You are our anchors in the faith.  Show us how a lifetime of faithful service can overflow into a joyful heart of praise!

c.       Those of you in between—Throw off the inhibitions, those fears that are keeping your mouth quiet!  Throw off the distractions!  Throw off the lukewarm blanket of comfortable religion!  And give your heart to God in song!  If nothing else, make a joyful noise!

A Congregational Prayer—Adapted from Psalm 51

Please consider and pray along with these words.  At the end, I will say “and the church said.”  If at that point you are moved to commit to the sentiments of this prayer, then I want you to say a resounding “AMEN” out loud, together, as a congregation.

Have mercy on us, oh God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out our transgressions.  Wash away all our failings and cleanse us from our sin.

For we know our transgressions, and our sins are always in front of us.  Against you we have sinned and done evil in your sight; so you would be right and justified in a calling us guilty.

It seems like we have been sinful all of our lives, from the time we were very little, but still you have desired our faithfulness from our earliest days.  You have taught us spiritual wisdom from our birth.

Cleanse us and we will be clean; wash us and we will be whiter than snow.

Father, let us hear joy and gladness; let our crushed hopes be turned to joyful expectations.

Hide your face from our sins, and blot out our failures.

Create in us a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us.  Do not give up on us, but infuse your Spirit within us.

Restore to us the joy of your salvation!  Grant us a willing spirit to keep us going!

Then, we will teach the world of your ways, so that sinners…your prodigal children…will turn back to you.

Do not let us be responsible for anyone’s spiritual death, oh God, dear God our Savior, but let our tongues sing of your righteousness. 

Open our lips, Lord, and our mouths will declare your praise!  You do not delight in mere money, or we would be satisfied with weekly giving.  You do not take pleasure in our outward, physical gifts.  But our true gift to you is our broken pride, Lord.  It is our broken and humble heart, dear God, that you truly love.

May it please you to prosper Southeastern, to build up the spiritual walls of this congregation.

Then, you will delight in our true sacrifices, our acts of spiritual righteousness, in our offerings given from the heart, and ultimately the souls that we will present at your altar.

In Jesus name,

And the church said:  AMEN!

And now, let us SING!  Let us sing to make a difference!