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Church Pecking Order

by Jamie Buckingham

Michele Buckingham, my daughter-in- law, had her first book published. It's called Help! I'm a Pastor's Wife (Creation House).

Although listed as "editor," Michele spent months rewriting the 30 stories submitted by wives of some of America's best-known pastors. In her foreword she tells of chatting with a couple of friends in a swanky cafe outside Washington, D.C., and telling them she was writing a book by and about pastors' wives.

One of the women remarked, "What's it about? How to throw the perfect tea party?" I guess a lot of people think that's what pastors' wives do—play the piano at church and pour tea at the monthly social.

In other words, they rank pretty low in kingdom pecking order. I've not had much experience with pastors' wives. (My own wife has seen to that.) But I have had a great deal of experience with pastors.

Most of us have suspected that, despite their diligent efforts to conceal it, pastors are people just like us. Granted, a lot of them seem to go out of their way to convince us otherwise. But if we dragged them out of their Cadillacs, took off their collars, snatched away their microphones and forbid them to use words such as "brethren," "yonder" and "eschatology," we would discover they're just like the rest of us. Plain old people.

The reason most pastors look and act differently from ordinary folks is they were taught—mostly by other pastors—that there is a certain pecking order in kingdom strata. Obviously, pastors who drive Cadillacs are higher in grade than pastors who drive pickup trucks.

And the man who drives a BMW or (sigh!) a Mercedes, ranks even higher. Ultimate status is achieved when the pastor and his wife drive color-matched Jaguars. In the words of Sambo, he's the "grandest tiger in all the jungle"—especially if he polishes his fingernails. Kingdom ranking has been around since James and John.

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Honor to Whom Honor...

by Jamie Buckingham

My old friend Frank Gray, small-town Episcopal priest with whom I used to sit over a cup of coffee and crack jokes about pompous bishops, has just been elected to the establishment.

He's just become the bishop of Northern Indiana. I wrote him a condolence letter. I know how he feels. Earlier this year, without asking for it (or even buying it), I was awarded an honorary doctor's degree by Oral Roberts University (ORU).. After all these years of making fun of people who are honorary doctors, I are now one.

When the letter came from the university I went into shock for three days, "I told you not to poke fun at people with honorary degrees," my wife, Jackie, said. What if I get out to Tulsa for graduation and find that folks such as Kenneth Copeland, Robert Tilton or Lester Surmall are getting degrees, too?

The last time I attended an ORU graduation Jesse Jackson was the commencement speaker. What if they invited Pat Robertson this time? Surely a loving and merciful God would overlook the fact I had made fun of ill these folks in the past. Surety He would not drop me in the midst of such company and have me "doctored!' at the same time. But He did.

"It's not the degree," I told Jackie. "Secretly I've always wanted to be called Dr. Buckingham. I'm tired of being called 'Jamie.' Rodney Dangerfield ain't the only one who don't get no respect." "Then what's the problem?" "What if it's a DD? Nothing could be worse than having a Doctorate of Divinity." "With or without walnuts?" Jackie quipped. I didn't think that was funny. All I could think of was: There was a young preacher named Tweedle, Who refused to accept his degree. It's bad enough being Tweedle,

Without being Tweedle, DD. But God tempered justice with mercy: I'm not a DD. I'm a Doctor of Humane Letters. "Now, that's not so bad," Jackie said after the ceremony. "You see, God just doesn't want you poking fun at all those people out there who have honorary degrees. He defused your bomb by honoring you."

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Deliver Us From Sock-Gobblers

by Jamie Buckingham

After years of theological debate, I have finally discerned we have a sock-gobbler in our washing machine. In short, my machine is possessed of a demon. My wife disagrees. She does not believe a washing machine can have a demon.

I, on the other hand, believe a washing machine can have anything it wants to have. "If there really is a sock-gobbler," Jackie asked, "why does he eat only one sock out of a pair? If one sock fills him, why doesn't he eat the spare sock on his next visit?" I had no answer. I only know he is there.

To prove it, I have 17 unmatched socks in my sock drawer—widowed victims of the sock-gobbler. And that's just this year's count. Each year about this time, I go through my drawer and throw away the singles.

Last year, I put 13 of them in the trash can. This year set a new record. I keep my unmatched singles in the bottom drawer of my dresser hoping their mates will somehow reappear. It never happens. Each year I reluctantly round them up and drop them in the waste basket in my bedroom.

Expensive racquetball socks, formal blacks, blues, greens, grays, fuzzies—all were favorites, but without mates, they're useless. I've considered forming a club: Socks Without Partners. At first I thought it was Jackie's careless washing procedures. "The reason my socks don't come out even is you don't put them in even!"

I howled when my most expensive and favorite pair of socks became a single. "Not so," she argued. "I gathered them two by two. Believe me, Noah didn't do a more complete job. I took two pairs from your shoes under the bed, a pair of wet ones out of your boots, a stiff pair from the ceiling of the closet where you had kicked them when you came in from racquetball, a mud-caked pair from under the front seat of your pickup, a moldy pair from under the dryer...."

"Aha!" I screamed. "I bet the rest of the mates are under the washing machine." However, my search turned up nothing but a bucketful of lint, three green pennies, two rusty washers, a 12-year-old skate key and a flea collar from our cat that died last year.

"Inside this washer is a little trapdoor that pulls in one sock from each pair and holds them captive. Somewhere in this machine is a secret treasure chest of unmated socks."

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Against All Odds

by Jamie Buckingham

Our other four children seemed normal. Their grades were above average; they had good health; they got along fine with their playmates.

Tim was different, however. In many areas he excelled. He could run faster, stay underwater longer and climb trees higher than all the others. He was remarkably coordinated with amazing reflexes and a deep instinct for doing the right thing. He made friends with every kid in the neighborhood—especially those who were handicapped or had problems. And animals. He could talk to them. When they talked back, he understood.

But he couldn't read. By the time he completed his first year in school we knew something was wrong. We had enrolled him in a Christian school where he repeated first grade. It was a disaster. He was no further along than when he was in kindergarten. We had him tested by the school psychologist. Although he had a high IQ, the tests indicated he had certain learning disabilities which hindered him in reading and writing.

He gave us a term which we've lived with ever since: dyslexia. It's a Latin word which means "can't read." We put him under a reading specialist, had him tutored, sent him to expensive clinics, even put him in corrective glasses for a year. We enrolled him in a class where he spent agonizing hours putting pegs in holes, walking balance beams and crawling under ropes stretched low to the ground.

We finally took him to a Kathryn Kuhlman healing service. Nothing seemed to be working. We put him back in public school but the teachers did not seem to be able to do much with him. A dear friend arranged to have him leave school for a few hours each day so she could tutor him privately, but progress was slow.

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The Challenge of Excellence

by Jamie Buckingham

Psychologist Carl Rogers once said, "The older I grow the more I understand those things most private to us are also those things most universal."

Inside each of us is a little person, stretching, striving, looking at the impossible and saying, 'I can do that. '' I recently reread Margaret Craven's novel, I Heard the Owl Call Mv Name. It's a haunting story of a young, dying priest who finds the meaning of life when he is sent by his wise bishop to minister to a tribe of vanishing Indians in the Pacific Northwest.

When I finished I lay back on my bed, closed my eyes and said, "I can write like that. I know I can." It was the beauty of the writing—as much as the message—which captivated me. This deep admiration for craftsmanship stirs up all the slumbering gifts in me, priming my soul to achieve.

As a boy I used to attend the street dances in the mountains of western North Carolina. Watching the flashing feet, swirling skirts, taps rat-a-tatting on the pavement as the mountain doggers kicked their heels to bluegrass music—I knew I could do it, too. But my feet were chained by a legalistic theology.

All I was allowed to do was stand on the curb and watch as the dancers did "the single shuffle," "the earl," and "the chicken." Now the chains are off. I recently purchased a bluegrass music record featuring "The Battle of New Orleans."

A local cobbler has added jingle taps to an old pair of shoes and I've ordered a book called Mountain Clogging—You Can Do It. Just you wait. It's time to dance. It's been inside me all along, that drive to create with excellence. It's part of the image of the Creator himself.

I doubt if Oliver Wendell Holmes had clogging in mind when he challenged himself to "build thee more stately mansions, 0 my soul." But the theme is the same. Some build their stately mansions in the science lab, others in the kitchen, some in the animal breeding pens and some at the keyboard.

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All Things Change

by Jamie Buckingham

Pasted on the mirror in the bathroom of our little vacation cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina is a Latin phrase: Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in Wis. "All things are changing, and we are changing with them."

My dad, who built the cabin many years ago, had taught Latin and English before going into business. Words, he felt, were designed by God to reveal truth. This was one of the truths he wanted his children to grasp. The last time I was there the leaves had fallen from the trees. The mountains were bleak. Life had gone into hibernation.

I opened the house, swept the brown leaves off the front porch, and put out the rocking chairs. It was for habit's sake, for winter was in the air and it was too cold to sit and rock. I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. "All things are changing ... indeed."

A London psychiatrist once asked: "Do you know why people get drunk on New Year's Eve?" The answer—which sounds quite British: "Because clocks are round." It's the bored who get drunk—and take drugs. The fact the hour hand has returned to midnight and the year is starling over is more than some can take.

It's sameness—not change—which drives people to drink. But self-imposed change, the kind which leads to growth, not decay .... ah, that calls for a different strength.

I think of my dad, who, on his 80th birthday, decided to grow a mustache. "All my life," he told me, "I've wondered how I would look in a mustache. When I was a young man teaching Latin and English only the 'riff-raff' wore facial hair. Later, as a businessman in a small southern town, it was considered improper to have a mustache, beard or even sideburns. Besides, your mother said she could never kiss a man with a mustache. Now today I am 80. I'm going to grow a mustache."

I felt like shouting. He wore it almost five years and shaved it off. "It just isn't me," he said. Not all are as flexible. A few years ago, my wife, Jackie, and I visited the large denominational church I once pastored. It had been 10 years since we'd left town and that summer we arranged our vacation travel to be there on a Sunday morning.

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