Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jane Hartman: The Beauty of Music

When a Lincoln Land Community College student asked musician and teacher Jane Hartman to play the Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah,” she said, “I’ve never played ‘Hallelujah’ before, but let’s do it in a Mozart style.”

Her fingers flick over the keys, high tones flipping around and twisting back on themselves. Its pure, pristine quality flirts with our ears.
           “Let’s try Beethoven.”
Her hands pound the low chords, the high chords responding. It’s a dramatic, harsh sound resounding against the walls and echoing through the room.
“If I were to do it in Debussy—“
The song sounds distorted, the wistful, dreamlike notes quickly moving up and down.
“How about a tango?”
Jane Hartman, leader of the Jane Hartman Trio and teacher at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, continues on and on, displaying her quick, instinctive knowledge of the piano.
The most common question asked of Hartman is: Why music? Hartman says, “Growing up, music was so much of my family’s atmosphere. It was like the wallpaper on the wall that you didn’t notice—you just heard stuff. My dad had a [country-western] band, and his buddies would come over on Sunday afternoons.”
One thing changed Hartman’s entire life. “I got a piano. My grandma was moving from the farmhouse to someplace in town, and they couldn’t take the upright piano. I was in kindergarten. She had probably 20 grandkids, and she gave that piano to me.”
Growing up in Divernon, Hartman had trouble finding a piano teacher. “There was a wait list for the teacher that my mother wanted to put me with. The wait list was a year. We were on our way out of church that day and my mom said to the new pastor, ‘I couldn’t get a teacher for Janie; she’s on a wait list.’ The pastor said, ‘Well, my wife will take her,’ and the rest is history.” At her first lesson, her mother said to the teacher, “Don’t mess with her ear, I think she’s got a good one.”
Hartman is still in contact with her piano teacher. “Her daughter married one of the fellas that runs the Abraham Lincoln Museum, so she comes to town frequently,” she says.
The oldest of nine children, Hartman sums up her chaotic childhood in one word: “pandelirium.” “There was no bathroom. There was an outhouse. We were so little, my mother was afraid we’d fall in, so she put a potty-chair on the porch, and that’s where we went. We were just toddlers, you know. But the next house we moved to had a bathroom, but only two bedrooms.” With only two bedrooms, her parents and a baby slept in one, and the six remaining children (three had already moved out) slept in the other.
In talking about her musical career, Hartman comments on stage fright. “I still get stage fright. Always. I just suck it up. There’s nothing to do with it. Sometimes it can make me too shaky to play well, but sometimes it’s helpful.”
Hartman says she’s never really had a complete bomb of a performance. “I’ve had times when I don’t think I’ve played very well. I used to practice all day, but now I don’t. I teach all the time.”
The hardest piece for Hartman to play is “Winter Wind” by Chopin. Upon being asked to play a snippet from it, she blushes. “Oh no, let’s see. Let’s do another Chopin: ‘Fantaisie-Impromptu.’”
Again, she hammers away at the piano, the notes gliding and retracting. The simplicity and confusion shock the classroom full of students into smiles and awe.
When she’s playing, Hartman tries not to think about anything. “If I think about things like supper or grocery lists or class, it encroaches in your mind. You have to just throw it all away. A lot of it is muscle memory. If you have to worry about the notes, then you’re probably not ready to play it out in public. Most of piano music is memorized. If I started on a new piece, I don’t know how long it would take. Usually memory just happens. I was thinking you would have to do hours and hours of daily practice. Maybe four hours a day minimum to be able to really learn new material like that.”
Hartman says becoming a piano expert is time consuming. “To become a musical expert on anything, you have to have thousands of hours of practice. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
Beethoven is a favorite of Hartman. “You could feel [his] emotional state as you listen to [him]. You know if he’s having a good day or a bad day.” She continues, “Here he is, he’s been dead a couple hundred years. He’s still talking to us through those black dots on the page. It’s kind of a miracle.”
Hartman thinks deeper about the origins and beauty of music. “Music was used to build up and edify humanity. It brings us into a calmer state in a way. It brings us into a ‘Be Still and Know that I Am God’ state.’”
Hartman switches gears and discusses her teaching at LLCC since 1984. “I had a rough spell for a couple years when students weren’t attending. At that time, there was no precedent set for students having to attend. If students were consistently missing class, it was very difficult to teach, because you couldn’t continue on with your process to systematically teach anything.”
She says students tend to veer toward the guitar now more than the piano. “A lot of students don’t want to take the time to learn it, which takes years. Maybe it’s just not as popular with younger kids.”
Jane Hartman takes a deep breath, reflecting on one last piece of herself to offer to the classroom of students. “Find the truth for yourself and follow it. Seek some sort of transcendence. Seek something higher and better than just what you can see and touch. That’s where the truth really does lie.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cord of Four Strands

She sits on the edge of the bed, picking at the frays on her fingernails. Waiting.
He stands by the door, holding the cool handle, tapping his eyelids against his eyes. Crying.
She picks at her fingernails. They’re bleeding.
He grips the handle harder. It’s going to break.
She peeks up from underneath her guilty, black eyelashes. He turns his body so he can feel her eyes moving over his strong, unmoving shoulders. He flicks his eyes to her yellow hair, but refuses to catch it. Refuses to look her in the soul.
He knows she can see his warm, slippery tears dripping down his cheek. Into his mouth. The salty taste licking at his tongue and onto his slick cheeks.
She bites her tongue, gripping her fingers into the soft comforter, into the mattress, pushing to the ground. Her legs tighten, she bites harder. Her mouth starts swimming in bitter wine, the bitter taste.
It’s betrayal.
She can taste his blood, his pain, his ignorance.
“How could you do this to me?” It sounds cold and stale. The air grabs at the words and slaps its hands together, crushing them like a fly. It’s gone. It’s silent. She swallows blood.
“I hate myself.” Flat.
Her throat pushes the words out. It’s what she must say.
“I love you.” A mother falls on her knees. Watches the piercing of her son. A daughter slaps her hand to her mouth. Watches the train plow over her father. A husband screams in pain. Watches the dead body of his wife at the bottom of the tub.
She clenches her teeth, tears dripping down her face, forcing something out of her pores. Pushing from within for whatever will escape her. Get it out.
“I’m sorry.” Empty.
He opens the door, and instinct grabs him by the neck and twists his eyes. They lock on hers. Milliseconds tick and tick and tick. She catches his pain. He catches her emptiness.
He shuts the door, walks back to her. The crisp air pushing at his legs. He must. He must.
She moves over on the bed, makes room for him to sit on the crinkled comforter that she sinks her fingernails into.
“We’ll fix this,” he tells her.
“I don’t want to,” she tells him.
“We’ll fix this,” he says.
She clenches her mouth shut and imagines the other one. The other one’s blue eyes, his yellow hair, his white teeth, his strong arms, his tender touch, his sweet whispers into her electric ears, she sighs.
She opens her eyes to his brown eyes, his brown hair, his crooked teeth, his gentle hands, his determined jaw, she sighs.
He waits. His eyes clouding, her fingers bloody, his abs clenching, her throat aching, their space invaded.
She unleashes her hands from the bed and sets one on his firm lap, the other on hers.
He breathes, feels the air cooling, feels the space emptying, feels the other one draining from her body.
She lays her head on his soft shoulder, his long hair brushing her cheek. She smells his scent, nothing describable, just him.
Breathing it in, whimpering, “We’ll fix this.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Cereal

     It wasn’t the flashlight.
     It wasn’t the sticky, coral lipstick.
     It wasn’t even this journal.
     It was that rotten cereal.

               “Have you ever wondered what it’s like to kiss a boy?” I stare at her, my eyes scanning her face from her deep brown eyes to her full amber lips.
               “Well, of course I’ve thought about it. I know a girl who has, you know,” she smirks as she lifts her elbow to turn the page of the magazine.
               I adjust the flashlight to the next page, and we stare at a long, lean body with a black and white hat flowing on her head.
               “You’re lying,” I say, “I bet it was just an orange. And I tried that once, it’s gross. Probably nothing like the real thing, you know.”
               “Oh, I know she did. She told me, Rosie.”
               “Just because she told you doesn’t mean she did it, stupid.”
               “Nuh-uh,” I start to drone.
               The door kicks open and we flick our heads around, the flashlight reflecting our faces.
               “If you girls can’t keep it down, then Scarlet, you’re going back to your room.”
               “But, mom!” we cry out in unison.
               She holds one hand on her hip, one hand on the door.
               “Fine,” we agree, our soft voices turning with us as we look back at the magazine.
               “You’re gonna get us in trouble,” I say.
               “No, you are,” Scarlet says.
               Glaring at her with piercing eyes, I turn off the flashlight and put up the magazine, standing up.
               “I’m going to bed.”
               Scarlet stares up at me from the floor, “How old are you, Rosie? Five?”
               My mouth frowns and she’s really starting to get on my nerves.
               “No! I’m six,” I say as I purse my lips in frustration, “And I’m tired,” I say as my eyelids lay heavy on my eyes.
               “I’m going back to my room,” she says.
               My stomach sinks and I become depressed. I don’t want her to leave, but I don’t want her to stay. I climb into my bed as my eyelids shut and I can’t force them open again.
               And I let her leave me.

               “Almost done…” Scarlet says.
               “Can I see yet?”
               “I said almost!”
               “Hurry up!”
               “If you don’t hold still—“
               “Scarlet! I wanna see it!”
               She spins me around and I stare at my reflection. Blue pastel eyelids, screaming pink cheeks, and sticky, coral lipstick that glues my lips together. I smile, and my two front teeth have coral colored smears.
               “I love it!” I say jittering in excitement, “Let me do you now!” I stand up and grab the makeup bag.
               “Rosie, no. I can do my own,” Scarlet raises her eyebrows as her mouth puckers up.
               “But you did mine,” I start.
               “I’m pretty sure I’m old enough to be able to do my own makeup.”
               “Well, I could’ve done mine by myself!”
               “Oh, yeah? I’d love to see you do your own makeup.”
               My mouth shivers and a lump of chalk starts swiveling through my stomach and up to my throat. My mouth dries and my lips frown uncontrollably.
               “You’re really going to cry because you can’t do your own makeup?”
               “I can!” I scream.
               “No you can’t!” she screams back.
               “Yes… I… can!” I scream as I push forward and grab a handful of her hair, whipping her head back around and throwing her at the bed.
               She screams a piercing, girlish scream, and regains her balance, tottering on the edge of the bed.
               “No you can’t!” she digs her fingernails into my back and drags them up to my shoulder. The stinging pain takes a few seconds to register and my back starts to spark a fire in me.
               “I bet you can’t do your own either!” I yell.
               I lunge at her, and the door slams open.
               “Rose! Get off of her!” my father screams.
               He pulls me off my sister and grabs my wrist, firm and tight.
               His thick eyebrows furrow in frustration and he says through clenched teeth, “You have some explaining to do.”
               “But she fingernailed me!” I whine.
               “I don’t care,” he says.
               I look behind my shoulder as he leads me out of her room, and she sits on the edge of the bed, grinning from cheek to cheek.
               This time we were pulled apart.
               I didn’t care.

               A knock brushes my door open, and I glance up.
               “Hey Rosie,” Scarlet says.
               “What’s up?”
               “Nothing. I didn’t know if you wanted to come with me to the football game tonight. It’s one of the last games of the season. School spirit,” she lifts up her jazz hands, trying her hardest to persuade me.
               “I’m good,” I look back down at my journal.
               “Come on,” she shifts, “for me?”
               “Why would I go for you?”
               “Rosie! Just come. I’ll buy you some cotton candy and maybe we’ll find you a hot date to sit next to.”
               “They don’t even have cotton candy for one, and for two, I don’t want a hot date.”
               “I’ll be waiting for you in the car,” she smiles, her thumbs up as she backtracks out of my doorway. She stops and turns back around. “And what is that god-awful smell?”
               I reach over to my bedside table as I grab a scrap piece of paper, marking my place in my journal. “It’s that rotten cereal,” I say, pointing to the congealed milk on the bedside table.
               “Good God, Rosie. Take that to the kitchen. That’s gonna be the death of me, I swear. Yuck,” she goes on and on, pinching her nose and heads for the stairs.
               Grabbing my jacket, and leaving the cereal, I catch up with her at the bottom of the stairs.
               “What were you reading, anyways?” she asks me.
               “Just memories. I used to write in my journal all the time. You… you were mean. You were a real—“
               “Yeah, yeah, I know. I wasn’t always mean though, Rosie,” Scarlet says, walking us to the car.
               “Uhhh, yeah, from what I can gather, you really were.”
               “Look! I’m taking you in my car to a football game,” she says.
               “That I don’t want to go to,” I finish, opening the car door.
               “Well, I love you, my little Rosie,” she turns her head and smiles.
               “Love you, too…” I moan.
               My phone buzzes in my pocket as Scarlet revs up the car.
               “Hello, Mrs. Yung,” I say.
               “Ah, yes. Rose, can you come watch children for me? I have date tonight with Jo.”
               “Yes!” I practically yell into the phone, opening the car door and hopping out.
               “Okay, thank you, be here ‘round seven?”
               “Yes, Mrs. Yung, I’ll be there.”
               I hang up the phone and look back at Scarlet, a frown making her eyes appear cold and dark.
               “I have to babysit. Have fun at your game!”
               I run back into the house as she slowly drives away.
               And I let her leave me.

               I take off my jacket and lay down, savoring my hour or so before I have to walk over to babysit Mrs. Yung’s kids. I look at the bowl of rotten cereal, the milk stale and thick, and I can’t get the smell out of my nose.  I open my journal back up, too lazy to move, ready to silently battle the sour smell.
               Memories cascade over me as I flip page after page. It seems like I only wrote about when we fought. Every entry makes me miss her and hate her at the same time.
               I finally start to near the end of the journal when the pages turn white. I stopped writing about six years ago.
               I hear shuffling in the house and a soft whimper. I sit up and the house is completely silent. Then out of the nowhere the whimper doubles over and cries out in agonizing pain. Break-backing, gut-twisting, vomit-inducing pain-of-all-pains. My heart beats hard below my chest, and I jump out of bed, my journal falling on the floor. I run for my mother.
               I reach the edge of my room as my father runs up the stairs, dry tears filling his eyes and pouring down his cheeks. Enough to fill buckets.
               “Something terrible has happened,” he manages to say.
               “What?” I feel my chest moving up and down, my toes curl into the ground and I dig my fingers into my thighs, “Is it Scarlet?”
               His eyes pour out harder. Enough to fill oceans.
               “Car accident,” is all he can say.
               “Is she okay?” I ask as hard as I can.
               His eyes pour out harder. Enough to fill my heart.
               My knees collapse underneath me and I fall to the ground, eyes empty, heart empty, veins empty, everything.
               This was the last time we were pulled apart.

               I stared at my white ceiling day after day. I stared at the vent above my head. I stared at the rounded light. I stared at the shadows that appeared at night as cars drove by. Day after day my mother would come in and shake her head and she walked on to her bedroom. No, she isn’t awake. No, she isn’t awake. No she isn’t awake. Yet.
               Three days passed by slowly, and I swear I could tell you the exact pattern of squiggles in my ceiling. At the end of the third day, my father paced outside my door. His eyes danced with glory and he looked alive, the bags under his eyes starting to lighten. There was a phone against his cheek, and he shouted, “She’s awake! They said she’s awake!”
               I jump out of bed, my muscles unhappy with me, and run after him. Not worried about my hair, my makeup, my clothes, nothing.
               We run to the car, speed to the hospital, and find her there, my mother standing next to her, holding her hand. Her white hospital gown is bright and she is slowly breathing, eyes barely creaked open. Her hands rest palm up on each armrest. Peaceful.
               “I’m alive,” she breathes, and we all laugh nervously.
               And I never let anyone pull us apart again.
               I lay in my bed, Scarlet by my side. She licks a purple Popsicle, looking down at me and my journal. I flip open to the white page, and I write:
      We were pulled apart all the time, but I never thought it’d be for good.
      Something caused it.
                              It wasn’t the flashlight.
                              It wasn’t the sticky, coral lipstick.
                              It wasn’t even this journal.
                              It was that rotten cereal.
                              But that rotten cereal brought us back together again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Classmates Interviewing Classmates: Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson, 19 years old, attends Lincoln Land Community College and is interviewed by fellow classmate, Rebekah Sack. He discusses employment, film, music, love, religion, and his favorites.
Rebekah Sack: So, you don’t have a job, right?
Eric Anderson: It’s called “lazy person who doesn’t want to get a job.”
Sack: Why don’t you want a job?
Eric: I mean, I want a job, I just get tired.
Sack: Have you ever had a job before?
Eric: Yeah, I use to work at Smokey Bones. I was just a busboy trying my best to be friendly in a place where everyone who wasn't my age scarred me with their mediocrity. 
Sack: Why did you quit?
Eric: I left because I felt I had to. There  were small things that had gradually piled up. I felt constantly overwhelmed and exhausted. 
Sack: Do you have any career goals?
Eric: There’s so many, I wish I could live like four lives. I’ve always wanted to be a director or screenwriter.

Sack: How much money do you spend on movies?
Eric: Uhh, 80 dollars a month. Maybe. I rent them, but I can stream them online, too.
Sack: Who pays for it?                                       
Eric: My uncle. He’s really big into it. Me and him watch movies all the time, so he pretty much just pays for everything. Puts, like, hundreds of dollars [in my video store account] so I can just walk in there and get whatever I want. He’ll go in and say, “Here’s a hundred dollars, put it on his video rental account.”
Sack: Have you ever written a movie criticism?
Eric:  I can do tons of them if I wanted to, because I’m really harsh on people.
Sack: What’s the worst movie ever made?
Eric: Can I do so bad it’s funny?
Sack: Yes.
Eric: “Birdemic." There is not one redeeming thing in the whole film. Terrible acting, horrendous production and quality, lazy direction, bad sets, and just misstep after misstep. In a way, it's also what makes it well worth watching. I mean, wow, it's horrible, but get a group of friends and you have one of the best comedies right at your fingertips.
Sack: Are you more of an action movie kind of guy?
Eric: No, I’m more mystery. I like to let the characters develop, like, naturally. I don’t like it to be forced on me. Don’t watch any “Transformers” movie, because it’s crap. All the characters are stereotypes. It’s like—here’s the black guy; let him get his one line in.
Sack: What would be your cast if you made a movie?
Eric: Nowadays? Definitely Leonardo DiCaprio.
Sack: Why?
Eric: He just seems so damn genuine in every role he takes. He is so believable and sympathetic while being entirely deplorable altogether. It's something only the greats can reach.
Sack: Anyone else?
Eric: Kate Winslet, I really like her.
Sack: Why Winslet?
Eric: What primarily draws me to these people is when they're genuine and what I'm seeing is real. Something clicks like a spark to a flame and everything seems right.
Sack: Who would not be on your cast?
Eric: Ryan Reynolds. He’s awful… at everything.
Sack: Girl wise?
Eric: Hmm, Halle Berry. She was alright in “X-Men” and then “Catwoman” came out and I was like, noooope.

Sack: So, you sing, play drums, and guitar?
Eric: Yes.
Sack: What singer would you compare yourself to?
Eric: I like to do my own thing, but my influences are Husker Du, the Pixies, Nirvana.
Sack: Do you have any siblings?
Eric: I have an older brother, Michael, he’s pretty cool. He’s been rapping since he was 12. I used to bring over an acoustic guitar and we’d rap and stuff with it.
Sack: Did you YouTube that?
Eric: No, I never have. He’s been on YouTube a few times; he does all kinds of crazy things.
Sack: Do you think Michael got you interested in music?
Eric: Maybe a little. He used to play Michael Jackson and stuff all the time when I was growing up. Could do the moonwalk and everything.
Sack: Does it run in the family?
Eric: My grandmother told me that my great-grandfather used to be a blues musician.

Sack: Have you ever had a girlfriend?
Eric: No… pretty much. I’ve met a lot that have liked me, but I’ve never had one.
Sack: So, you’re hard to get?
Eric: Yep. Really.
Sack: So, what, they just aren’t good enough for you?
Eric: No, I just don’t want to. It’s just something I won’t be interested in for a while.
Sack: So are you one of those people who waits until 30 or 40 to get married?
Eric: Yeah, definitely. I want to travel a lot in my 20’s, so I really don't want a family anytime soon.
Sack: Beauty or brains?
Eric: If I’m attracted to someone’s personality, then I love the way they look, absolutely.
Sack: Okay, so let’s say I’ve got your perfect girl here, but she hates movies. What’s the verdict?
Eric: I’ve met a few girls like that before. To be honest, it kind of turns me off.
Sack: Who’s your dream girl?
Eric: Natalie Portman.
Sack: Why?
Eric: She's smart, cultured, down to earth, and relatable while being passionate about something so dearly. Probably just the elegance; something about a woman actually having class, especially today. A lot of people like to act as though they're just objects, so it's refreshing to see someone set standards. 

Sack: So, you’re an atheist?
Eric: Yes. Like, if you’re a Catholic or a Muslim I have a lesser opinion of you.
Sack: Why?
Eric: I can understand if it’s a family thing, but by the time you reach, like, into your teens or 20’s and you haven’t realized that that’s something that isn’t real—it’s like believing in Santa Claus.
Sack: How?
Eric: Because there’s no basis and fact. It’s just stories handed down from our ancestors. In all honesty, it’s kind of BS.
Sack: Do you have a set of beliefs?
Eric: Yeah, I’m Pantheist.
Sack: What is that?
Eric: You don’t believe in a God, you believe in nature. It’s like as soon as you die, your body decomposes and becomes part of the Earth. It’s like, you’re the Earth basically. I really like it.
Sack: How did the world start then?
Eric: Big Bang. I mean I’m no physicist, but it’s way more believable than a God going poof!
Sack: How so?
Eric: Because if you believe that there’s a random guy up in the clouds who snaps his fingers and makes a guy out of nowhere, then you’ve gotta be crazy. Everything happens from the smallest of organisms and every single thing evolves.
Sack: How come there are still smaller organisms?
Eric: Because they’re different characteristics of the same species.
Sack: But apes became humans?
Eric: No, see that’s a common misconception. Apes didn’t become humans; they’re just a common ancestor.
Sack: What is the common ancestor?
Eric: I don’t know how I’m going to explain this. I don’t have a giant book in front of me.

Fav. Subject: English; I like stories
Fav. College Teacher: Greg Murray
Fav. Books: “The Great Gatsby,” “A Clockwork Orange”
Fav. Director: Stanley Kubrick
Fav. Actor: Marlon Brando
Fav. Color: Blue; it’s mysterious
Fav. Artist: Francis Black of the Pixies; Kurt Cobain
Fav. Movies: “Pulp Fiction,” “Shadow of a
Doubt,” “Dr. Strangelove”
Fav. Restaurant: Mom’s cooking, specifically roasted lamb
Fav. Movie of 2012: “Argo”  and “Moonrise Kingdom”
Fav. Song Lyric: Pink Floyd’s “Time;” “No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
Fav. Memory: Riding “Jaws” with Grandpa at Disneyworld

Last Notes
Sack: In a nutshell, how would you describe yourself?
Eric: On the verge of explosion.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Sneak Peek into the Mind of a Pastor

Written by: Rebekah H. Sack
Edited by: Bethany J. Sack
Have you ever wanted to sit down and have all your questions about life answered? Well, I finally sat down with Pastor Wray A. Offermann, senior pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church. He tells the story of his childhood and his becoming a pastor. He addresses issues such as human nature, the spirituality of our nation, and the chaos that erupts without God in it. He answers frequently asked questions about the Lutheran denomination including common topics like heaven, homosexuality and divorce.
God and Childhood
I was born in 1945. My dad was a farmer, and my mom grew up in a rural setting. Both of them were very bright people but had only an 8th grade education. My mom always used to say that she got the highest score on an 8th grade test and certainly could have gone on to high school had they not lived 16 miles away. Her dad felt that she was well prepared for life, so she didn’t go.
Hard work, being a part of our local congregation, and going to church at Holy Cross Lutheran Church every Sunday were the strong values in our family.  Part of our farm today belongs to the state of IL, and it’s under what’s called the “Fults Prairie Nature Preserve.” That was land that I farmed as a kid.
I had a profound sense of God’s amazing world of nature. I watched the predictability of seasons and yet some of the unpredictability of weather patterns. Farmers are extremely weather dependent, which opens their minds to see that we have to depend on God.
Because of our closeness to the world of nature, we understood that we didn’t control all things in life.
By worldly standards, we were not highly successful, but we never lacked for core things in life. We recognized that having material things did not make life rich.
When I went to college for the first time, I had running hot water and a shower every day. We didn’t have indoor plumbing or a thermostat on the wall at home. Simple little things to this day, like when I can get up and put my feet on the carpet in the bedroom feel luxurious.
Religion was very openly discussed. When it was a drought time, we prayed to God for rain. We recognized, almost daily, our dependence on God.
Becoming a Pastor
I was at Southern Illinois University. I was part of a little bible study group. We had a vicar who led our student ministry. I was so captivated by how much fun it was to be around people who loved God and the insight of this vicar.
I was unsettled about where my life was going. There was restlessness in my life. One day, this vicar called me into his office and said, “Wray, you ever thought about going into the ministry?” I said, “Oh, a time or two, but I’ve not given it a serious thought.” He said, “I just think I need to tell you that you really need to think about that.
I finally made a deal with God. I said, “I don’t know if this is what you want me to do, but I am willing to give you opportunity to lead me. If this is not what you want, I’m gonna ask you to put up the stop sign. Put up a road block.”
A road block would be that I’d apply for the school and I wouldn’t get in, or I wouldn’t get my financial backing, or my mom and dad would say “that’s a crazy idea.” The exact opposite happened. That red stop sign never rose.
There were little affirmations from seminary professors. My first sermon, I had to preach to the camera with no notes. This professor said to me, “You have some uncommon gifts. You have one of the most pleasant countenances when you speak that I’ve ever seen.”
I can’t think of one day in the last thirty years when I thought, “I wish I could be doing something else.” I feel honored and so overwhelmingly blessed to be able to do what I do.
God and Country
I was between many topics of discussion in our home. The spread of communism and the fall of Hungary were big things. The division of Germany after World War II was a huge heartache. It caused us to not take freedom for granted.
The possibility of war, even on our soil, was real. The respect for the loss of life, and not taking peace and freedom for granted was very real. My dad would say, “It could happen. We could have bomb craters in our fields. Don’t think it couldn’t happen.”
God hates war. It is the result of anger and bitterness, but God works in the midst of broken nations.  
After World War II, our nation experienced one of the greatest surges of Christian zeal and vigor. Churches grew. America was determined at that point not to lose its spiritual foundations. They recognized the blessing that had been given to us when they saw what could happen in other nations, like Germany, where they lost their spiritual zeal. That allowed a horrible, Godless perspective.
The USA has not totally lost its spiritual zeal, but it troubles me greatly that people in places of power have forgotten the lessons that we had to learn. All of the sudden that level of conversation and awareness of our dependence in God is no longer in place. It sets the table for a Godless spirit to take over. When a godless spirit takes over, horrible things always result.
There is a huge movement in America to try to eradicate God completely. Atheistic minds are hard at work to export their agenda. They aren’t satisfied to say, “I live in a free country, and I don’t have to believe in God if I don’t want to.” They want to put pressure on, and they believe that people who do believe in God are horribly misguided and that religion is the opiate of the people— it’s a crutch that they lean on and it keeps them from seeing reality.
God and Humanity
Science has an attitude that if you have God in your mindset, you’re at a disadvantage. The greatest discoveries came from people who were very in-tune with God and His design and complexities. To be able to say that there is order in our universe of such clarity and complexity and that it all came about by pure chance—it’s terribly intellectually dishonest.
Man has a selfish nature. It keeps people from God. It’s the primary thing. If people can take God out of conscious thought, then there are no rules—or I make up my own. What we don’t understand is that when I make up my own rules, I create an advantage for myself. When God totally withdraws, chaos erupts.
Look at the people who have chosen to disregard God’s rules. How are those homes and families doing today? Everywhere you look where there is no sense of God, life boils down to utter chaos.
I doubted God. You think about the impossible questions— If God really rules, why is there all this evil in the world; why do bad things happen to good people? The one key ingredient that most people miss is that they believe man’s nature is naturally good. Reality is, the nature of human beings is flawed.
If there is ever a reason to believe in God you cannot have an orderly universe without something from the outside. Things never move from chaos to order without outside intervention.
Christian people are still sinners. Christians should know better, but they have the same flawed nature. If your reason for rejecting God is because the people in your life are less than perfect, such as your parents getting a divorce, I would turn it around and say that’s why we all need God.
God has left us with an amazing witness to who He is and what He has done for us in the scriptures. Treasure the Bible. It’s a love letter that God wrote to humanity to help us see His heart and to know what He’s done. He is very much in the game with us today, even though we can’t see Him.
FAQ’s Explained
Q: How do you get to heaven?
You get to heaven in this way: Whoever calls on the name of the Lord Jesus with a humble heart and asks for His forgiveness in life will be saved. The Bible calls it believing. Knowing, honoring, accepting and trusting who Jesus is and what He did for me- He died for my sins—is the only way to heaven. It is the way to heaven, and it is a very simple way to heaven.
Q: If I go to heaven and someone I love isn’t there, will I be upset that that person isn’t there?
The way I reason through this is that we will so honor God for the correctness of His judgment. We will be able to see that He did everything in His power to try to reach that person. If they refused Him, they get what they deserve and we will so rejoice in God’s fairness and justice. When you’re in a class, and say you got a well-deserved A on your test, while someone over here slapped it together the night before and got a C-. You wouldn’t say “awe, that poor kid, I feel so bad for him.” You’d say, “You know what? He got what he deserved.” We will so rejoice in how fair and gracious God is. I’m not even sure that we will be aware of that, but I know we will not feel sadness.
Q: How do we know God created the universe?
Look at the intricacies of our world. The further North you go, the growing season is shorter. Plants have to grow faster and animals have to have their young earlier. The breeding season of elk in the high Rockies comes in September so that elk calves are born earlier. This enables them to survive the following winter. Here, deer’s breeding season is in November, so they’re born in late April. That’s plenty of time that by winter, they’re plenty strong to survive. How could anybody look at all that amazing order and not think, “Something thought that through?” If we were 80 million miles from the sun, we’d burn up. If we were 100 million miles away, we’d freeze up. We’re 90 million miles from the sun, and we go right to the edge of what we can survive. If that wasn’t carefully thought through, we’d all die, but God put us just in the right place.
Q: Is the Bible credible?
The bible is credible because it explains with greater clarity and accuracy the reality of human nature and the universe. It answers questions about how we all intuitively know that there’s something beyond this life. It gives us clear answers of what that is and how to get there.
Q: Why Lutheran?
The Lutheran religion is the right denomination to be a part of, because we have spent a great deal of energy studying the scriptures, trying to understand God’s will, and historically, we have been very devoted to the truth and clarity. The result of that is our theology is very defensible to the point where we understand why Baptists, for example, believe in adult immersion in baptism. If you look historically, you can see how that got started. It got started as a reaction against the Roman Catholic Church. They wanted to separate themselves from the Catholic Church, so they said, “we’re gonna do baptism differently.” It was driven not by a study of the scriptures, because the scriptures don’t direct you there, but from a desire to separate them from the Catholic Church.
Q: Why do Lutherans baptize babies and sprinkle water over their heads?
Lutherans allow the baptism of babies and also the sprinkling of water on the head, because of the concept of the birth analogy in John 3. It explains so many things. When I was born, I didn’t choose to be born, I received life as a gift. When I am born again, it doesn’t rest upon my choosing or my understanding or my figuring it all out—I receive spiritual life as a gift. The power of baptism is not in the amount of water. I always say it’s like if you write a check, whether that check is written on a ten foot long billboard or a scrap of paper, the power is in the promise of the signature. The power of baptism is a promise from God. I have a hard time limiting baptism to adults or educated children. Matthew 28 says you baptize them and teach them. I am totally comfortable with that.
Q: What is “speaking in tongues?”
Speaking in tongues is explained in the Bible as an uttering of sounds and languages that people around you may not understand. In 1 Corinthians 12-14, it is described in great detail. It is the least of the gifts that God gives, but it exists today. My observation is that it is God’s gift to people who really struggle to accept God’s grace; they need not only the promise of the scriptures, but God’s additional sign that this is real. There are many churches today, like Foursquare church, who in their theology, say, “If you’re a true believer, you should speak in tongues,” which is a clear violation of 1 Corinthians 12. God has never given me this gift. The person I love most in all the world has had this gift unexpectedly come to her. At a moment in her life when she just needed that touch of Jesus, He provided it.
Q: Is homosexuality a sin? Are homosexuals born this way? Do they go to hell?
Homosexuality is a sin; we know that. Are they born that way? Sure, to some degree. We know there are people who are born with a propensity to alcoholism. Do we say to the alcoholic, “well that’s just how you were born; drink up?” No. We say, “that’s the area you’re going to have to fight against.” The argument that “maybe I was made that way, therefore I should live that out” is an utterly ludicrous argument. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the pieces don’t fit. Can a person born with the inclination to be gay marry someone and be attracted to a person of the opposite sex? Absolutely. Can a person who is inclined to alcoholism live a sober life? Absolutely.
 I have had vicious attacks in written letters, unsigned, from people in St Paul’s saying, “why don’t you get off the homosexual agenda? God loves everyone and it’s a new day.” Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 are so crisp on homosexuality. It doesn’t mean that anybody that ever had a homosexual relationship is automatically going to hell. But if they adopt this as a lifestyle, yet they know it’s wrong, then they forfeit their salvation.
Q: Is abortion okay? What if the child is the result of rape?
Life begins at conception. Once the egg and sperm combine, the rest is all a matter of development and growth. It is wrong to take a life no matter the time or circumstances of that life. The child is utterly innocent. Why would this newborn life be sacrificed because of the circumstances of the parents? Even if rape was done, horrible as that is, would that justify snuffing out the life of that little child? It is entirely selfish.
Q: What about suicide?
God knows when I’m gonna die. He’s laid that out in His book before I took my first breath. If I say, “God I don’t like your decision, so I’m gonna trump your decision,” I have assassinated God’s leadership in my life and I’m God. Most of the time, suicide is driven by the desire for revenge. Do they go to hell? The fact that they are in the frame of mind to commit suicide says they aren’t trusting God. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
I’ve buried a gal who was driven by anger. She said, “I’m callin’ you to tell you I’m gonna go to the garage.” She went to the garage. Fired up the car. All of the sudden, she realized, “this probably isn’t smart. I don’t want to die tonight.” She decided to go back to the house. Made it to the steps of the house and collapsed. And died. She was in a bad state of mind, but I think she had a change of heart. So, I do not believe that every suicidal person is condemned. I do believe that every suicide is against God’s plan.
Q: When is divorce okay? What if the couple has simply fallen out of love?
Malachi 2 says that divorce is always wrong. What God has joined together, man should not separate. Biblically, the establishment of a marriage was based on recognition of a lifelong commitment that was made binding by sexual intimacy. Jesus says that anyone who divorces his wife except for unfaithfulness commits adultery. If someone has been unfaithful, they have “married” someone else. In this sense, when one is unfaithful, divorce has already happened. The only other exception is found in 1 Corinthians 7. It says that if a believing spouse has an unbelieving partner who wants to leave, then in such a situation, the believing spouse is not bound. If the unbelieving partner agrees to still live with you, you should not divorce him.
Abuse is not one. There comes a time when we can say the destructiveness of this marriage is so great that it’s the lesser of two evils. That’s a very dangerous place to be and you really have to think about that.
You say, “I just don’t love him anymore?” I say, start. I am not always in love with my wife, precious as she is, but I still do loving things for her, even when she’s mad. Even if I’m mad at her, I’ll probably still send her flowers because I made a decision to love her. I have fallen out of love with my wife 100 times, but that also means I’ve fallen in love with her 100 times. The very things that make a loving relationship happen—which are deeds of kindness, gentleness, goodness—if you do those things, the feelings of being in love will return, every time.
Carolyn and I used to do marriage encounter weekends. You’d see couples come in, and they’d be sitting five feet apart on Friday night, grumbling under their breath. We’d have them write to each other in ten different areas over the weekend. By Sunday, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Right feelings always follow right decisions.
Q: Is it wrong to drink alcohol? What about doing drugs such as marijuana?
To be high on marijuana—who’s to say where the line is—or to be drunk on whiskey is sinful before God. I would tell my kids, you can’t do drugs because in our land it’s illegal. We are asked by God to live by the laws of the land. We never know who’s gonna become addicted; it can be a slippery slope. There are many scriptural passages which talk about how wine gladdens the heart. It was understood to be a gift from God that can be a joy, but drunkenness is wrong. Would I mount the pulpit and preach against smoking marijuana if it was legal? Probably not. But I would warn about how it can consume people and how it enslaves them.
Q: Are ghosts real? Are they demons?
The bible does not talk about ghosts other than in the book of Samuel where witches tried to conjure up a prophet that had died. Here is my candid Offermann theology, and this is not totally biblically grounded. Most of the time, Satan uses imitations to try to capture your fascination with his world. Are there demons in the world? Yes. I read a book once called Unchained, and it would describe gatherings of people in the clearings of woods. They called down Satan’s presence, and they would claim to actually see Satan in human form. Now, I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I don’t really want to know.
Final Q: When will you retire?
I don’t know how to stop speaking God’s truth to a confused world.