Monday, June 25, 2012

All I really need to know I learned in Dot Beck’s Kindergarten

Dot Beck’s Kindergarten was the first place I felt smart.

As an example, Mrs. Beck’s husband Cecil would come by the school from time to time. One day he asked my class, “Does anyone know what year it is?”

I wasn’t sure, but I raised my hand and offered, “1971.”

“That’s exactly right, Michael,” he said. (He called me “Michael” instead of “Mike.”) It felt good to be exactly right.


At Dot Beck’s we had some kind of musical program in the spring. It took place in Harding’s American Heritage auditorium, and it was a big deal.

Mrs. Beck asked us if there were any special songs we wanted to sing. Well, I didn’t even have to think about it. My favorite TV show was Daniel Boone, so I told Mrs. Beck I’d like to sing the song from Daniel Boone, and she said, “Why sure.” So, with the help of my sister Cindy, I tape-recorded the song and gave the tape to Mrs. Beck, and she learned the whole thing on her guitar. And I was supposed to sing the song from “Daniel Boone was a man, yes a big man. With an eye like an eagle and as tall as a mountain was he …” right to the very end by myself. Solo. But I was super-nervous about it, so I got Mrs. Beck to recruit my best friend Scott to sing a duet.

On the day of the show, Scott and I stood on stage and sang (mostly him) the Daniel Boone theme song which was followed by rowdy applause from all the parents and families attending. (Of course, everyone got rowdy applause.) And after the show, my brother came up to me and said, “You picked your nose through the whole song,” and I said, “Really?” because I hadn’t even realized it.

And just the idea that I could choose my own song and wear a coonskin cap and even pick my nose if I wanted to and that I had the complete support and approval of Mrs. Beck in all of this … well, that felt pretty empowering to a 6-year-old.


On another spring day we had an Easter egg hunt in Harding Park, and I didn’t find a single egg. Not a one. And one of the teachers took me back out and pointed me in the right direction and, what do you know, there was an egg right there.

Sometimes you just need someone to point you in the right direction.


I only remember getting in trouble once.

We were given a white sheet of paper and some black paint and instructed to “draw a picture.” So 2 or 3 of us decided to try our hand at abstract art and just painted the whole thing black. Solid black. Messy black. And our teacher for that day (not Mrs. Beck) wasn’t too keen on this, so I quickly drew another more conventional piece.

My teacher ended up hanging my second drawing on the wall (which you can see it in the picture above – Stick Man Standing by Flower under Banner).


Sometimes I decided to wear a “cape” to school. I think it was an homage to Superman, but maybe it was just my dashing side coming out. My cape, by the way, was a towel fastened around my neck with a safety pin. And all the teachers just nodded and smiled and acted like it was perfectly fine.

Which, of course, it was.


Thank you, Mrs. Beck.


Monday, June 18, 2012

A little c


little c,

what begins with C?

Camel on the ceiling.


~ Dr. Seuss's ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book!


The church of Christ.

The Church of Christ.

Is there a difference?

To some people, yes.

Growing up in the Allen home, this was the kind of thing we talked about at the dinner table. Occasionally. We discussed why there should be a small “c” at the beginning of church of Christ.

Dad would explain it to us (in a much better and more articulate way than you will see here). He’d say something like this … the little c shows that we are the church described in the New Testament. “The church.” Like the group we see in Romans 16:16 … “Salute one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.” (Okay, don’t get distracted here. We’re not focusing on the kissing part.) A capital C indicates that we are a denomination like the Methodists, and we do not want to be a denomination like the Methodists.

We used this same kind of reasoning in conversations with acquaintances. For example, someone might ask us, “Where do you go to church?” and we’d reply, “We go to the College church.” We wouldn’t say, “We attend the College Church of Christ,” because that sounded too denominational.

This lingo was pretty common among other family and friends. If they came from a small town or a city with only one CofC, they might say, “We are members of the church in Rose Bud,” letting us know, in CofC code, that they were a part of “the church” and not some other denomination.

We soon noticed that outsiders didn’t get it. They’d quickly jump into a conversation, like someone doing a cannonball off a diving board, and say, “Oh, we’re Catholic” or “We go to the First Baptist Church.”

“First Baptist?” I would think. “Really? And where does the name ‘First Baptist’ ever appear in the Bible?”

I carried these attitudes around for many years, knowing that I was a part of the church that dated back to 33 A.D. and that other people were not. That the little c was an important part of displaying this.

Then I met a girl named Cheryl who I would date and greet with a holy kiss and one day marry. And I noticed that she capitalized ALL of her church c’s!

I asked her about it.

“What are you talking about?” she said. “I’ve never even heard about this stuff before.”


We [were] taught not to capitalize “church” in “church of Christ,” and to this day I know that someone’s the real thing if they leave the c small.

~ Susan Campbell in Dating Jesus.

Monday, June 4, 2012

O, Thou Fount

I’m a sucker for a good story.

Not so much a sermon or a lesson. You know, like when a preacher says, “Here are 5 reasons you should be a servant, and each of my points begins with a letter from the word S-E-R-V-E.”

If I’m being honest, that doesn’t really do it for me.

But if someone tells me a story that grabs my heart … something about changing a life or increasing hope. Well then …

Sign me up.

Here’s a story like that … one of my favorites from Susan Campbell’s book Dating Jesus.


On a trip to Haiti …

Susan:  "… in an open-air hospital, I am speaking fractured Kreyòl to a beautiful woman with sores oozing down her back. Scattered around her are thirty or so beds filled with thirty or so women who are dying of AIDS.

I have studiously tried to learn the language (not a dialect, a language) and I use it whenever I can. So far, children appear to understand me, adults not so much. I know my accent is indecipherable to them, and I imagine I am not using proper tenses—or even proper words. I act out a lot of what I am trying to say, and I have long since given up worrying about looking silly.

We have been told that these women need touch, that the stigma surrounding AIDS in Haiti is even worse than was the stigma surrounding AIDS in America. We have been given plastic bags filled with fingernail polish as an entrée. Even though these women will soon die, they still care about their appearance, we are told. I don’t question anything anymore. The woman in front of me is so covered in sores she looks like she’s been turned inside out. If she wants lavender nail polish, so be it.

She chooses mauve—a color I like—and I am carefully covering her thick yellow nails with it. I only rarely paint my own nails, so I am not very good at this. Plus, my hands are shaking too much to be accurate.

When I miss a spot, she points to it without comment. And I go back over it with the tiny brush. And then, without warning, my hands stop shaking and I am overcome. No one prepared me for this, and I am, like any good journalist, supposed to be a dispassionate observer, but you cannot go to Haiti and not pick up a starving baby, and here I am holding the hand of a woman who won’t see Christmas, and all those books [about Haiti] mean precisely nothing …

… But who am I? I am only a visitor, and it seems rude to cry, so instead I start humming the beautiful hymn “O, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” In any other circumstance, I cannot hear—much less sing—this song without crying, but not this time. This time it has the effect of a balm.

The woman looks up in surprise, smiles, and starts singing the song in Kreyòl. I stop humming and start singing in English, and after three verses, we are smiling and laughing and I am not missing any more spots on her thick nails."


Mike:  What is it about “O, Thou Fount of Every Blessing?” I’ve got to tell you, it strikes a chord deep inside of me. I have 3 versions of it that I listen to* … and one newly found YouTube video.

How about you … what hymns connect to your heart?

* Audio versions I like include music by Chris Rice
Jordan Lavik, and Paul Cardall.