Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Time to Remember

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day observed throughout Christendom as the beginning of a season that will bring us, in six weeks, to the betrayal, arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. We call the season Lent. It is the time of penitence and self-restraint that follows Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day when some Christians enjoy a wild last pig out before they must give up their favorite foods, habits and sins.

The so-called “high” churches—Catholics of various sorts and Episcopalians—have observed Ash Wednesday almost since the Year One. My background is “low” church, but in my lifetime Lent has become more intentionally observed in Presbyterian and other Protestant churches, to the benefit, we hope, of our faith and discipleship.

So this evening Betty and I will join a goodly number of our fellow believers in walking down the aisle of the Spanish Fort Presbyterian Church to have the sign of the cross traced on our foreheads with ashes as the mark of our sorrow for sin. Now that I sit in the back pew it’s a longer walk than it used to be, but that will give me more time to remember that, yes, even though I was respectably sober on Fat Tuesday, I too am a sinner.

~ Bert Johnston, author of Parson Campbell's Breakthrough

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mardi Gras

A lot of the cat people are stirring in Mobile and Baldwin County, Alabama, just now. With just three days to go, Mardi Gras is in full swing. Parades and masked balls compete with one another for time and space, and the street department in Mobile is busy sweeping up overlooked beads and moon pies, thrown from the parade floats to crowds vying to catch them.

These are not my kind of cat people. They are more playful and stay up later at night, and what they drink is not always milk.

For most of my life I’ve lived far away from Washington, Pennsylvania, where I was born, but a trace of the inhibitions bred into me in that Calvinist stronghold still lingers. I enjoy Mardi Gras, but as a watcher, not a participant, and I watch from a safe distance. Mardi Gras brings out the crowds, and the only place I’ve ever enjoyed crowds is in church.

So I participate in Mardi Gras from the comfort of my easy chair. I watch the parades on television. I don’t catch any beads or moon pies, but that’s all right. North of the salt line, where I came from, we didn’t live in expectation of such largess.

~ Bert Johnston, Author of Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cat People

When I admit I’m a cat person, I’m saying more than that I’m a lover of cats. If that’s what I mean, I’d have to say also that I’m a dog person. The late Eugene Walter, a too-little-known writer whom Mobile shared for many years with Paris and Rome, used to describe himself as a cat and monkey person, by which he meant he was a free spirit. Not what I’d say about myself, though I wish I could.

Walter was a party person who could throw a memorable bash in a Roman palazzo when he was in the chips or in his small apartment with peanut butter and an assortment of fresh bakery bread when he was broke. Sorry, but that isn’t me.

I’m a cat person in the sense that, like Walter, I believe people have more than nine lives--that every seven years or so we shed a skin and start a new one. Not so for many folks, but true for me.

Elton Trueblood, a popular Quaker author of another era, wrote that we live our lives in chapters. Soon after I retired, I wrote my memoirs, strictly for family circulation, titled Lines in Pleasant Places. There are fourteen chapters, each with a different setting. I enjoyed each chapter as I lived it, and the life I’m living now would require a fifteenth chapter.

Now that I’ve moved to the back pew, I’ve gone from writing sermons (and memoirs) to writing novels. A new chapter, another life. How that came about is a story for another blog, but the point for today is that I’m sort of like my own cat, Walter Mitty. Every now and then he moves to a different chair.

~ Bert Johnston, author of Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Never on Sunday

For some time now I’ve been itching to get into this blog business. Well, not exactly itching because I know it’s going to take some serious thinking on my part to make it interesting and keep it going. But you’ll understand what I mean. Blogging is the big conversation arena of the early twenty-first century. Whether it’s just a fad or here to stay isn’t of great importance to me. What matters is that it’s where a growing number of folks do their talking these days, and I want in on the conversation.

I guess if I’m going to butt in I should introduce myself, so my short bio is that I’m a retired Presbyterian minister living with my wife Betty in Spanish Fort, Alabama – a long way from West Virginia, where we first met, and from Kentucky, where we raised our three sons.

Don’t be put off by the fact that I’m a retired preacher. "Retired" means I don’t preach any more, and I don’t plan to come out of retirement on this blog. These days I’m writing mostly for entertainment – my entertainment, first of all, and maybe yours. Expect to hear from me at least once or twice a week, but never on Sunday. (Remember, I don’t work on Sundays anymore.) And let me hear from you.

~ Bert Johnston, Author of Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough