Monthly Archives: October 2012

Photos, Humor and Captions

I am adding a new category to my blog.   This category will post a photo. Then I request a humorous caption from readers for the photo.  My suggestion is posted below each photo.  Please insert your suggested captions in the box— “Leave a comment.”  Then I will insert them for everyone to see.

I Hate Getting Marji’s Honey-Do List!

Anchors Away

Well………the credit card bounced on the cruise.

I am your news man anchor tonight. Details at 11.

I’ve looked all over this chain and can’t find any way out. Is there a particular “link” to this problem. Please help me…..I have fallen and I can’t get out. AM I MISSING SOMETHING HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Marji – “If this is the only way to keep you at home, well…so be it!!”





“Borrowing Outhouses! A Halloween Rite of Passage”

The Yarmouth School Still Stands — My Memorial to Halloween

Family stories and traditions create a sense of continuity between generations.  Many family stories fall into the oblivion of the forgotten after two or three generations.  No one bothers to tell them or to write them.  I become melancholy when I realize that my stories or my father’s stories will be forgotten.  I can’t remember a single story that my grandfather told, if he told any.  Is it selfish to preserve your history? I think not.  Memories are one of the few things that lingers following one’s life.

One of my best memories unites three generations of Watkins. It centers on the unique “horsing around” performed on Halloween in Yarmouth, Iowa in years long ago.  These customs are long since dead.  Yarmouth was where I went to school from kindergarten to the 9th grade.  It was also where my father and mother went to grade and high school.

The idea was that high school students would roam the countryside looking for farm machinery, animals, and outhouses to “borrow” and haul to town on wagons to display on the grounds of the high school.  The result was the parking lot of the high school full of plows, corn-pickers, goats, cows, sheep, outhouses, and wagons.  I was always surprised the high school principal was never kidnapped and tied to the flagpole.

Three generations of “Robert Watkins” Robert Elmer, Robert Jr., and Robert Buryl

My grandfather Watkins looked old as long as I can remember. His greatest claim to fame was his reputation for yelling demeaning comments at the basketball referees when things were not going well for the home team.  The Yarmouth teams suffered many a technical foul because of his abusive comments.  Now and again, the referees ejected him from the gym.  Robert E. Watkins always created a hometown spirit among the fans.  He grew more and more slumped and loud with each year.  He was bald except for a band of hair from ear lobe to ear lobe around the back of his head.  Seldom did I see him wearing anything other than carpenter style overalls—the ones that had white and gray stripes with straps over the shoulders to keep them from falling down.

As a young child, I always went to the elevator when I was in town to get money from him for an ice cream cone.  That was always one of the certainties of my life.  He always had a dime for an ice cream cone.  He would pull a huge leather coin bag out of his pocket.  It had a drawstring. (I have this bag in my lock box.  It is one my esteemed possessions.)  He would ever so slowly untie it.  Then he would stick a couple of his long dangling fingers in the bag and I could hear the coins tumble under his touch.  After an eternity, he would pull out a dime and hand it to me.  His smile was gentle and filled with love.  I would glide from the elevator, the recipient of a fortune.

My father had two brothers, Major and Charles.  The three earned a dubious reputation as young boys.  I know they were the harmless thugs of the community.

But to hear the stories from Dad, I pictured them as competitors for Bonnie and Clyde.  No doubt their mischievous nature came directly down the bloodline from Robert Senior although I know little about his childhood.

Halloween was the night the high school students were free to pull their gags.  They called it “Halloweening.”  The county sheriff and his deputies tried to keep the pranks under control, but that was nearly impossible with kids all over the county involved in similar mischief.  Most of the time no one or nothing was hurt and it brought a laugh the next day except from some of the grouchy old farmers who had to collect their misplaced property.  There were exceptions like the night one of the kids “borrowed” a lamb from my grandfather’s herd and it ran off the third story of flat roof of the high school.

As a rule, kids quit this practice when they left high school. Our family was a bit different.  Neither my Grandpa, nor my dad, gave up this childish practice.  So, finally, at age 12, I convinced them to allow the youngest Watkins male to tag along.  We would park down the road from selected farms and then sneak, flashlights in hand, to a selected farmhouse to find something to haul or pull to town.  Grandpa and Dad told me that sometimes the farmers would actually shoot at you for the mischief.  I was super cautious and watched for any twig in my path.  Then when we found our target, we would push the pickup by hand to the property and load the article we wanted.

After several stops we had one stinking outhouse on our wagon and a few small geese that we were able to catch without too much racket.  We corralled the geese in the back of the pickup inside the outhouse.  We took all the back roads to avoid the sheriff.  Just as we were approaching Yarmouth with our caravan of junk, the sheriff had set up an observation point behind a large barn.  He was soon behind us with his red lights flashing.  He made us get out of the pickup.  He acted pretty tough and actually frisked Dad and Grandpa.  He asked them the obvious question, “What the hell are you guys up to now?”  Dad and Grandpa didn’t have to answer.  He then said, “You know if you old men would just stay home, I could handle the kids…now get this junk back to where you found it.”  And, that was my initiation into the adult life of the Watkins’ family.

Scamming Your Kids–1995

Just how many times can you actually scam your adult children?  Such a historic moments is easy for a father to remember. The year was 1991.  My sons, Steven and David, were converging at Dave’s house for a weekend of golf and relaxation.  Unbeknown to them, I had a devious plan in mind that was finally coming together.  The scam had been in the making for over a year and I was ready to spring the trap.

Steve, Dave, Robert Jr. Watkins, and Bob

David lived in a one of the historic homes in Louisville, KY.  Although the house was small, he had converted a four-season porch at the back of the house into a small pottery studio that included a wheel, a work table for wedging the clay, a sink, a kiln, and a few shelves for drying his production.  I had not visited the new residence, and David was anxious to show his new studio.  Dave was the only one at home when I arrived.  That was exactly the way I had dreamed of this happening. I had hoped to play the gag on my potter sons, one at a time.

David showed me through the house but quickly passed to the studio.  He had been hard at work throwing some rather elaborate pots with spouts and lids that required a good bit of technique and practice.  I noticed bags of clay in one corner and a wet pot was still on the wheel. David had definitely been working earlier that morning. I had seen his work in college studios and art shows, but it was obvious he had improved his technique.

As I looked around, I commented, “You know the more I look at this, I think I could throw a pot.  It can’t be that hard.  Why don’t you throw a pot and let me watch? I really think I can do that.”

Dave said, “You are so funny Dad. People can’t even center the clay without a lot of hands on instruction.  Nobody just sits down and throws a pot. Maybe we should start more elementary by finger pinching a pot.  That’s how we start with our elementary school students.”  I cringed a forced frown from his intentional putdown, but inside I was smiling more and more.

“Center the clay, what do you mean?”  I asked.

“That’s the process of getting clay balanced in the center of the pot so you can lift it into a balanced vessel.  Centering is imperative to have all the walls of the pot the same thickness.”  Dave answered.

“Well, I think I can do this and would like to give it a try.”  I replied.

He smirked with doubt and said, “Then go ahead, this should be fun?”

Most kids imagine that their parents are always in control of situations, so they rally at the sight of a possible stumble.  My kids start foaming at the mouth when they see a gotcha moment.  It is really a parent/child competitive moment.  Dave saw this chance to laugh as his Dad struggled with the frustration of trying to handle a pile of unmanageable dough.

Dave said, “Well at least let me walk you through the steps.  I will throw a pot and then you can give it a try.”

So, Dave sat down with the intention of at least giving his Dad some hope of understanding the “in’s and out’s” of a simple pot.  I listened carefully and asked for clarification as the lesson continued.  Dave chided, “Why don’t I center a ball of clay for you?  That way maybe you can at least get something started on this first go around.”

I said gently, “No, I think I’ll give it a shot.  It looks pretty simple to me.”

I took my place at the wheel and picked out a piece of wedged clay that Dave had in a plastic bag.  From there it became a bit funny, the prof pulled up a chair thinking he would need to help me with hand placement.  But I quickly centered the clay and began to raise the pot into a nice cylinder, added a lip, and backed away to admire my pot.  David surveyed my pot.  He couldn’t believe his eyes and didn’t know what to say.  As he struggled to respond, his ego popped out and he said, “Man, I didn’t know I was such a good teacher.”

Just about then Steven arrived.  I had asked Dave to let me go through the same process with Steve.  The response was just about the same as I created my second pot.  It was then I broke the news.  “Look guys!  I admit I have been taking pottery classes for the last two years.  I was so proud.  The kids laughed and looked at each other in disbelief of how I had kept this secret for such a long time.

Better yet, they later said, “Dad, we can’t believe it that you would go to this effort to learn what is such a big part of our lives.

Steve, Bob, and Dave–Watkins Pottery

Photos, Humor and Captions

I am adding a new category to my blog.   This category will post a photo. Then I request a humorous caption from readers for the photo.  An example is posted below.  Please insert your captions in the box— “Leave a comment.”


” I Have Sinned”


Ministerial “Calling” and Exploring the Job Market–1971

The “seeking a change” bug had bitten me; I was 22, a seminary graduate from what was arguably the best university in the South, an ordained minister, and ready to accept a full-time opportunity in a larger church in a small town or suburbia.  I longed for a bigger challenge and a larger salary. Working two jobs, teaching and preaching, frustrated me since I felt I was doing neither well.  The Green Ridge Church had patiently nurtured us through three years of seminary, and we spent a year following seminary consolidating the work, particularly with our beloved youth group.  Not a single person from that congregation had graduated from college, but we planted that idea in their minds as we traveled widely and exposed the group to places outside the confines of Logan County.  Of the thirteen, two men and one woman became ministers.  Women clergy were very rare in those days.  One became a doctor. The others chose school administration, banking, and farming.  They confirmed the importance of youth ministry in our minds.  Forty years later, I still follow their lives.

Presbyterian ministers talk a lot about “calling.”  It is the spiritual side of a job search. I respond to two types of calling.  The first is an internal call whereby I sense an internal pull or heart-felt attraction toward a certain job opportunity.  I can’t produce an audio recording of God’s voice.  But, I definitely sense God speaking to me.  There is no scientific explanation for such “a small, silent voice,” but I find it reasonable to categorize it as a religious or spiritual experience that can only be traced to an eternal power bigger than myself that somehow exists both inside and beyond me.  Theologians say God is omnipresent—able to be present everywhere at the same time.  I would also coin another term—“omni-interested.”  God is interested in a personal relationship with everyone.  Before I was ten, I sensed the interest of God in forming a friendship with me. I slowly learned I could speak to God and often sense an answer either through reading scripture, moments of silence, and being instructed by preaching and teaching.  It is difficult for me to describe how I hear God.  It is easy to define the action of talking to God.  I just start telling God about my reasons to be happy or sad, my problems and plans, my sins and my spiritual victories, and I feel an invisible listening ear.

The other side of the friendship—God’s initiative and inaudible voice directed to me is more complex to explain.  God doesn’t use sound waves to speak to me.  God doesn’t have a voice that depends on how well my ears discern sounds.  Instead, God’s “voice” travels on a spiritual plane that is pure mystery.  It is heard because of a special sensitivity given to the created by the creator.  Sometimes, I hear God when I am not attentive to God.  God spoke to me before I realized God spoke to anyone.  In fact, God spoke to me before I knew God really existed.  God initiated our communication.  I believe that God uses my mind and my feelings to speak to me.  My mind perceives some “voice” that comes from an internal “spiritual” me.  I can only say that God has put an invisible something that acts as an interpretation station that translates God’s communication to me in a way that I can hear it.  The Bible says it is God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  Jesus put it this way, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever–the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  John 14:15-17

I have on several occasions felt God’s confirmation that I should follow a specific career path or job opportunity.  Sometimes, it is a direct pull to a particular ministry or a passive peace with a decision I am about to make.

The second understanding of calling comes from the outside in; it involved a local church “calling” a candidate to serve as their minister.  In this case, churches enter into a prayerful search for a minister.  This involves reading dossiers, talking to friends about ministers that might be willing to consider a move to a new church, and visiting churches to listen to a minister to assess their preaching style and effectiveness.  The ministry is actually a vocation that requires many skills and talents, only refined with experience and practice. But churches with only one staff person concentrate on the effectiveness of preaching as the primary characteristic in selecting a minister.

I spoke to a former college professor about finding a larger church. I wanted to move to town or city close enough to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee to continue my doctoral studies.  He explained he was serving as an interim minister in a Camden, TN church during their search for a new minister.  He felt my interest and background might be a good match for the church.  The congregation was a healthy blend of rural and small town.  They had a lawyer, teachers, farmers, a doctor, factory workers, government employees and a conglomeration of other walks of life.  He said, “I will put a bug in some of the right people’s ears.”  I wondered just how such a promise would play out and how long that might take.

One glance out the east kitchen window toward the cornfield now reduced to stubble from the last harvest and then up toward the darkly clouded skies indicated that we might have snow falling before dark.  It entered my mind that the congregation at church the next day would probably be smaller than usual.  However, most of the folks would always make a strong effort to arrive even if the roads were slightly slick.  Just then the phone rang and a rather strong high-pitched female voice asked, “Is this Rev. Watkins?”

“Yes, this is he, how may I help you?”

“This is Jane Jones, my husband and I are members of the Camden Cumberland Presbyterian Church and we are wondering if it would be convenient for us to visit your church tomorrow morning.  My husband is a member of the search committee and Dr. Trinity mentioned you had an interest in considering our church.”

My body suddenly felt a slight burst of adrenaline as I thought about the proper response.  “I guess you know there is a possibility of snow for tomorrow.”

She replied, “Yes, but my husband is on the road daily and he’s use to driving in most kinds of weather. We would really like to come with our three children. We will drop in for worship and then leave as inconspicuously as possible.  Is that okay?

“Yes, that is fine with us.”

She added, “Would it be possible to meet and have lunch with you following church?”

I replied, “We should be able to do that, let me call you back with a suggestion of where and when after I have talked to my wife.”

By then, Virginia had gotten the drift of the conversation and was smiling as I hung up. I repeated the conversation.

The snow never materialized and I arrived more nervous than usual to church.  I was not that happy about my sermon for the day, so I wondered if this possibility of a new place of service would result in anything more than a classroom for the future.  They arrived and given the “evil” eye by many of the congregation.  Some of our people asked them if they were new in the area.  And, the Jones’s said, “No, we are just passing through, saw the church, and decided to worship since we only had to wait about an hour for your service to begin.”

That little lie never got off the runway, one elder later said: “You know I knew they were probably scoping you out.  Nobody just drops into our little church out in the middle of nowhere.”

So during lunch at the Red Barn south of Russellville, we made plans to visit the Camden church to meet with the entire congregation and a “trial” sermon.  That language really turned me off; it implied that we would be under the eye of a judge and a jury.  And, in retrospect, that is what happened.  On the other hand, we were just as curious as to whether the congregation and the town would meet our expectations.  Would they have vision and an innovative openness?  Would they have reasonable expectations but be non-judgmental?  Would there be a balance of children, young adults, and older people?  How open would they be for us to continue our educations?  Could they pay us a livable salary?  What kind of housing would they offer?  Was the church basically conservative or liberal theologically?  Would Virginia be able to find a teaching job in such a small town?  We prepared two lists: one included questions that we could ask and the other questions we would answer simply by observation.

The weeks passed slowly before the appointed day of the first visit to what become our new home.  And, then, on a Saturday morning we jumped in our Volkswagen Square-back for a three-day visit to West Tennessee to see what could become our community and church.

Camden Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Theology–The Jesus “Twist”–Inclusive and Exclusive

Have you heard of the “Jesus Twist?”  It isn’t a Jewish dance. It is a metaphor I use to describe Jesus’ only recorded teaching in his home  synagogue in Nazareth. From its beginning, the theology of Jesus proclaimed a new religious direction. And, it was so revolutionary that it nearly got him killed. But, first let me set the stage for these reflections.

I  visited Egypt, Jordan and Israel in late August and early September, 2012.  We were fortunate to exit Egypt a few days before the September 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi,Libya and concurrent riots in Cairo.  Then we spent eight incredible days in Israel.  One favorite stop was Nazareth, the city where Jesus spent most of his childhood and youth.  It was a small village of 400 in the time of Jesus.  Today, it is a huge city with a population of 200,000 that is 80% Muslim. But, in the days of Jesus, everyone would have been Jewish and religious practice was rigid and strictly enforced.

The YMCA has recreated a “Living History Experience” in Nazareth where pilgrims and tourists can step back in time and see life as it was in the time of Jesus.  We walked right by a shepherd family tending their flocks, observed a robust carpenter hacking out a few primitive tools, and entered a synagogue similar to the one in which Jesus delivered his famous reading from Isaiah 61.


To get a glimpse of the “new twist,” we must venture back to the 8th Century B. C. and the prophet Isaiah to find the old “twist.” Isaiah wrote, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—” (Isaiah 61:1-6}

The big change that Jesus introduced from the Old Testament understanding of this dance is wrapped around the idea of whom can dance at this “People of God” party. Jesus gently reminds listeners in his interpretation of Isaiah 61 that non-Jews are also recipients of the love of God.  And, this inclusiveness set the crowd into a frightening lynch party.  Let’s follow the events as recorded in Luke 4:16-30.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

1“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town,and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

This is one of the major turning points in scripture. Jesus reminds the listeners that the love of God is also extended to the non-Jews. He recalls that according to the prophets, God’s love was extended to the non-Jews, namely Zarephath and Naaman, in the times of Elijah and Elisha. As a consequence of this reminder, the Jews of the Nazareth synogague got very angry and aggressive.

But, Jesus takes a small side step and walked away unharmed.  As far as we know, he never returned to Nazareth again.

This new view of the inclusiveness of God’s love explained in the synagogue of Nazareth become the “Twist” that later emerges into a full-blown dance of God’s grace at calvary that anyone can attend. We could call it the “Whosoever Will Twist.”  “Whosoever will may come!”

In our age of political correctness, we should remember that Jesus was both inclusive and exclusive.  In the above passage he clearly defines salvation as God’s inclusive gift to everyone willing to receive it.

On the other hand, Jesus is quite frank that there is only one way to salvation.  Many do not like this exclusive position, but his clarity on the point has to be taken seriously.

John 14:1-13 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

This passage, if taken literally as recorded from the teaching of Jesus, soundly blasts into pieces the syncretism or pluralism taught by many liberal theologians.  It makes the blending of conflicting religious principles into one unified theology impossible.  In this case, Jesus argues that he is the only way to true understanding of God.  The validity of the argument rests on his claim that he is both human and divine.  And, he substantiates his position by reminding his disciples that his person and actions are singular.  Since Jesus is the only divine son of God, his death the only sacrifice adequate for the forgiveness of all sin, and his resurrection the only example and proof of eternal life; other religions are secondary and incomplete.  It should be noted that a denial of syncretism or pluralism is not equal to intolerance.  It is possible to be fully tolerant of different religions without affirming them as truth.

While I respect the position of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and others; for me, the Jesus “Twist” is the best dance in town.

There is song from the 1960’s by Sydney Carter that reflects my image of the “Jesus Twist.”

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

I danced for the scribe & the pharisee
But they would not dance & they wouldn’t follow me
I danced for fishermen, for James & John
They came with me & the Dance went on:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

I danced on the Sabbath & I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame!
They whipped & they stripped & they hung me high
And they left me there on a cross to die!

Dance then!

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body & they thought I’d gone
But I am the Dance & I still go on!

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the Life that’ll never, never die!
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in Me –
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

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Photos, Humor and Captions

I am adding a new category to my blog.   This category will post a photo. Then I request a humorous caption from readers for the photo.  An example is posted below.  Please insert your captions in the box— “Leave a comment.”

“Teepee or not Teepee”

“What the Shell Is Coming Over the Horizon”

“Who Peepeed Outside My Teepee”