James Calvin Schaap

James Calvin Schaap (jschaap@dordt.edu) is a writer and professor of English at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.

Articles by this author:

  • Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

    —Hebrews 12:1

  • I remember my very first attack of goosebumps. I was thirteen, maybe, one raspy voice in a middle-school choir festival a half century ago in a small town in Wisconsin, dozens of kids drawn from regional schools. The music that did it was J. S. Bach—“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” For almost fifty years I’ve not been able to hear that piece without being zapped back into that pimply choir because I was seized so chillingly—heart, soul, mind, and strength—by the beauty of that moment.

  • A slightly misspelled sign at the rear of the sanctuary of Lao Unity Church, Sioux City, Iowa, encourages worshipers to remove their hats during worship. If you ask Keo Phommarath, one of Lao Unity’s two pastors, about the sign, he’ll take you back to Laos, homeland of most of the congregation, explaining that the Asian people who visit the church will understand the gesture.

  • If the truth be known, Pastor Tim had majored in art as a college sophomore. He’d dropped it after a spring break mission trip to Honduras, enthused instead by the idea of preaching the gospel because, for the first time in his life, he’d seen real need. Art, he’d come to think, was at best a leisure-time activity—like sports, something people with money and time could indulge in. He was pretty sure it didn’t have a place on the front lines of the Kingdom.

  • They’d gathered in the pastor’s study early on that unforgettable morning because Tony Addamlee claimed she faced a horrendous three days at work and absolutely could not meet at night until at least next week, no matter how urgent. Morrie Tresshield said he was up to his ears grading papers and had trouble enough making the regularly scheduled meetings of the Liturgy Committee, much less some hastily called get-together to put out fires that didn’t exist in the first place—or shouldn’t have existed, he added.

  • We’re janitors—my husband and I and our kids. There are times when I get tired of having to do it. But we need the money. And we do it together, our family.

    I’ll admit that our being janitors makes me a bit hesitant to throw my lot in with those who’d love to stage Aida in our sanctuary, if you know what I mean. Extravaganzas—and Lattimore Park is good at extravaganzas—make janitors work overtime.

  • Tracy Leonard was planning not to take communion that Sunday, but not a soul in Bethel Church knew it, not even her husband. This is the path her determination had taken. The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace—the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ broken and spilled all over the earth for the sin of humankind, hers included.

  • Anne Francis drove alone to church last Sunday night, the car silent in light traffic, Frank sitting back home in front of some scandalous segment of 60 Minutes.

    “How long has it been,” he had said, “six weeks now, maybe?”

    She knew what he was thinking because she was thinking it too.

    “I know it’ll be a prayer service tonight,” he told her. “I can feel it in my bones, Annie. I’m just not up for sharing tonight, so I’m sitting this one out.”

  • With a month to go before the day to end all days; with little left to plan but some finishing touches on the gourmet lunch Crissy had finally decided on (after rejecting her mother’s advice to keep it simple); with what seemed an entire year of intensive research and development on weddings behind both of them; with Crissy’s crumpled Kleenex still sitting on the table, wet with tears shed voluminously about whether she’d picked the perfect colors—Anne Blanchard, mother of the bride-to-be, grabbed a bottle of wine from the cupboard abo

  • Professor Farnsworth is, well, fascinating. I think the reason she's not married is that she's already joined at the heart to Jonathan Edwards, William Bradford, Anne Hutchinson, and most of American Puritan history. She's a kick. She really is. When she starts in on one of the Puritan leaders, she gets in a zone, and it doesn't seem to matter whether there's anybody in the chairs in front of her. When that second hand sweeps past 11:00 a.m., something in her goes into gear and pushes through the class like a minesweeper.

  • “We’ve not found anything, Mom.”

    That’s what Ellen told her. Jan might have felt hopeful if the words weren’t always packaged in a deadbeat tone that carried too much finality, and Jan knew—aren’t mothers supposed to know?—that Ellen wasn’t really looking.

    So Jan had tried once again, last night, Christmas Eve. “Have you found a suitable church?”

  • Pastor Dobbins’s questions about Betty Andress began the Sunday morning he looked at the choir and didn’t see her. It’s not that she was the glue that held the harmony. She was a fairly substantial alto, but she was far from the star. From the front of the church, he checked the praise team—no Betty. Just behind the piano sat the drama people, but she wasn’t there either. His eyes swept through the sanctuary. Let’s see, he asked himself, where do the Andresses normally sit?

  • When Carl Westenberg drove up to the church on Friday afternoon, he deliberately backed his truck up onto the sidewalk that led to what was once the west entrance. He told his wife he’d backed it in because he wanted everybody to see the bumper sticker his grandkids had picked up for him for his birthday—“I’d rather be fishin’,” it said, but he wouldn’t have dared to say it aloud because the work was being done for such a good cause.

  • When I read the note, I went perfectly blank. I thought about what it said for every moment of the afternoon, even though I finished the mid-semester meetings without anyone suspecting a thing. I went about my work as if I hadn't read what I had. I kept it all in. I told myself that I'd call her immediately when I got home.

    My daughter is pregnant—my daughter the lawyer, my daughter the lawyer who is not married.

  • Bo Meredith could have made commercials for Skippy peanut butter. He was the penultimate darling little boy—round face, apple cheeks, floppy red hair, and a glorious Lone Ranger's mask of rusty freckles ear to ear. Terry, his mother, the daughter of a Lutheran preacher from Indiana, had been coming to Fort Anderson Church off and on for six months. Bo's father wasn't a believer, she'd said, and from her sketchy descriptions, Pastor Jack had developed the sense that the marriage wasn't in great shape.

  • Heidi and Professor Snyder come to discover new meaning in the Resurrection

    [Heidi, a college student, comes to the office of her academic advisor, Dr. Snyder, to get one final signature to complete her registration. They are good friends.]

    Heidi: I've got my registration finished, Professor Snyder. It's done correctly. I know what I want— the courses, I mean, [arrogantly] I don't care what you say, I don't care what the registrar says, I don't care what anybody says—I know what I want to take.

  • What Pastor Reg realized one night after a worship committee meeting was that nobody read the Gazette's Saturday religion page as devotedly as Christians. At least the members of the committee seemed to know everything everyone else was doing.

    Beth Olson said the Lutherans were showing the new Billy Graham film up on the side of the church and urging everyone to bring lawn chairs—homemade pie, coffee, and punch would be served. No offerings. "Wouldn't that be great?" she said. "Why didn't we think of that?"

  • That I wholeheartedly agree with Missy Simpson's lecture about over-sentimentalizing Christmas, that I laud her annual efforts on our church's nativity pageant, and that I know no one more determined to put Spring Arbor Church on the map—none of that alters the fact that Missy Simpson is not my favorite human being.

    So I understand why my daughter was owly when I picked her up from church a few nights ago. She had to listen to the lecture. I heard it too, rehearsal having gone about ten minutes late.

  • It would be hard to overstate the enthusiasm Meredith Cleghorn brought to an idea everyone thought novel and promising, an idea Meredith herself had come up with—an idea she thought would put Bethel Church on the map for once. On good days, Meredith wanted to believe that stodgy Bethel was the turtle of the old fable, the rest of the upstart evangelical churches around them a pack of speedster rabbits.

  • It began when Cletis Moermon died quite unexpectedly of a heart attack. He had not been a I member of Faith Church but had stopped in for | worship often enough—always in his satin joggers. For Cletis, church was just one stop along the way on a Sunday morning constitutional that, on sunny mornings, took him out of the guarded confines of the Oak Glen subdivision he'd created.

  • November, 1994

    Dear Harry,

    I read, quite sympathetically, your editorial in Reformed Worship 34 (December, 1994) this week—sympathetically because I know the heart that created it longs to be gracious and inclusive, not to hurt. There is nothing unrighteous about such goals.

  • Romy Geerlings put his feet up on the hassock and picked up the remote before he said a word about what Rosalee had just told him, quite casually, a moment before. He took an audible breath, meant itself as a reply, and then asked simply, no spin at all, "Church tonight?"

    "Ascension Day," she said, her back to him, piling the newspapers and magazines on the shelf beside the TV. It was unlike her to say it that way, as if it were a mandate.

  • That it happened when it did, no one could have guessed. Who'd expect a worship war midsummer—the time when things aren't really rolling along in church with much steam? That it would happen, however, could have been predicted by anyone with even a little bit of foresight. The "praise and worship" brouhaha had been fomenting for almost two years, and all that energy finally blew the cork off the unsettled peace otherwise registered on the faces of the Prince of Peace Fellowship worship committee.

  • What happened at the Delaney Street Church is so remarkably fascinating and yet unsettling that it's impossible to understand the phenomenon without a summary of the initial events. Please, allow me.

    Pastor Smithson is a fine man. If humility is the first of virtues, one could call him a saint. He's neither a showman nor a shaman. And believe me, he doesn't enjoy controversy.

  • It was lucky Conroy was in his office. Otherwise Jamie Laarman might have spilled it all to the secretary. That's how badly he needed to unload his frustration.

    "He's not coming back in," Laarman told his principal. "I've had it with the jerk. He's pushed me over the line, and he's gone."

    Conroy swung his chair away from the computer screen and stood. "Shut the door," he said. 'And who's got your kids?"

  • I don't care what anybody says, I'm not writing another sermon for church this Sunday. The sad truth is, nobody in my congregation heard a word of the last one.

    I've been holding forth from a pulpit for so many years I've lost track of time— I could be 80 or 90 or 150 years old, for all I know. What I do know is that after a worship service like I had Sunday last, I feel most all of Methuselah's 900 years.

  • My husband and I have been church youth leaders for almost eight years—maybe that's longer than people should.

    It's not that I don't love the job. There are times when we're coming home in our van and the whole vehicle bounces with the life of the kids in the back, singing and laughing and teasing. At moments like that I know there's nowhere I'd rather be. Sometimes the kids say some really moving things to Tom and me too—things that make us think we're being what we should be, people they can trust.

  • Shandra Wanamaker: I don't care what my father says about this whole mess. In my mind nothing would have happened if any other pianist played that music. The fact is, lots of people can't stand the way Jennifer dresses.

    Jack Elsons: As elders, we had no choice. People are so scared about this New Age stuff that even a scent of it in our church is enough to start a whole round of witchcraft trials. If we did nothing, the whole place would have gone up in smoke. We had no choice.

  • Juxtaposition

    It's quiet in there now. There's a crack in the curtain, and when I looked inside, I saw all of those kids sitting there on the edge of their chairs, just like I thought they would. That's not to say I wasn't worried. I prayed a lot...

    But I'm getting ahead of myself.

  • Members of the Worship Committee couldn't bring themselves to get really angry at Betty Simmons for providing "lunch." They had determined long ago that elaborate goodies at every meeting was a tradition that had expired with gender-based Bible studies—the Men's Society vs. The Martha Society (and why was it never called Women's Society?). Everyone agreed that in a culture already cholesterol-sensitive, there would, henceforth, be no more late lunches—nothing but coffee, or, preferably, apple juice.

  • Ann-Marie really wished she hadn't noticed.

    Right after Pastor Barry started the morning service on Sunday, he brought up seven kids who'd gone to a retreat at Holiday Mountain, had them each recount some weekend highlight, then asked them to sing a verse of the theme song. Since it's not every day that teenagers sing with such gusto, the moment thrilled the congregation.

  • Pastor Kirk really knows how to pack 'em in.

    I mean like where does it say in the Bible that church has to be boring? People act as if somewhere in Leviticus or something it says that they've got to tiptoe to the temple dressed in sackcloth and ashes. You know what I'm saying—long faces, dead silence. But then what about David? I mean you read about David dancing it up so wild his wife got steamed!

  • Confessions of a wedding soloist

    The great feminist revolution notwithstanding, weddings remain the sole province of women. I know. I've watched weddings stealthily for years—hidden behind great palm fronds, tucked furtively into the shadows cast by huge pipe organs, or concealed in an out-of-the-way corner of a choir loft.

  • By some ancient arrangement, the entire town of Turtle Lake knew that in the event of a blizzard—October through April—First Church would always have services, no matter what the size of the drifts. The church's central location, people claimed, would allow the hardy and fervent from all congregations to plow through the banks to sanctuary at this one house of worship.

  • You just see once if this don't beat all.

    My Virg just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got himself elected VP of the consistory, and ever since that day, the things that washed up our way—well, you just wouldn't believe.

  • Kids and Kooks

    Children's services can bring out the worst in people…and the best in God

    When the Rev. Allen Spender left church that night and took a country road out of town, he was thinking that while not every church had a steeple anymore, every congregation had a bozo.

  • Last Saturday night, when his wife, Maureen asked the Lord for sunshine during the youth retreat, Paul Berg was uncomfortable. He was pretty sure the Lord didn't want to be hassled with your and my little hangnails. He didn't say a word about it, but neither did he sit and sip his coffee as he usually did once the kids got up and the dust settled. Instead, the minute the amen passed Maureen's lip Paul started clearing the table.

  • Calling

    Not even the Bible's best could win congregational support.

    When Pastor Rog left Springvale Church, there was no weeping or gnashing of teeth. Not that he and the members of Springvale didn't get along. Pastor Rog was easy to like—and he followed the rules. He wore the right clothes and sent his kids to the right school. He frequently attended local society functions—often enough anyway to keep up a presence for the church in the city. And his wife had a respectable part-time job at a local nursing home.

  • By special request, Tyrone Mitchell, seven years old and a member of the Brookside Assembly of God in town, visited First Church last Sunday to bring them a ministry in music. Just like the pros, he took along his own hand-held microphone—one of those big ones with the round, red ball on the end. He took along his own cassette player too—a tiny unit that miraculously held a six-piece country-western band. And when he stood up in front, he put on a Norman Rockwell smile beneath his bush of dark black hair and bright happy eyes.

  • In Good Order

    Once upon a time in a land not so far away, a church named Rivervale met to conduct worship every Sunday in a very nice sanctuary. Always their service followed a pleasant style, tastefully created by a liturgically sensitive Committee on Music and Worship. Rivervale members were of one mind in claiming that at their church everything was done in the best possible order. When the event I am about to relate took place, both Rivervale pastors were absent.

  • Fratting, IL (AP) Officials of Fratting's First Covenant Church are assessing the damage today after a midnight bombing ravaged the massive fellowship hall of Covenant's five-year-old church building. Left undamaged by the powerful blast were the sanctuary itself, located directly west of the fellowship hall, and the education wing, located in the basement.

  • Whenever he went out, Rev. Meersinkwore a beret-that was the problem.Oh, it wasn't the beret really, Marlenethought. The beret was merely asymbol of Meersink's inability to outgrowthe sixties: he always had to be different.

    When it came to music, for example, Meersink wasn't content with the books in the pews. He kept running off new hymns and handing them out with the bulletin, giving the impression that he'd spent hours treasure-hunting through a hundred flashy books from Texas, looking for some new ditty that would bring on a revival single-handedly.

  • Every Sunday morning of Wilbur Faber's youth, his parents took him and his sisters to church three-quarters of an hour—to the minute—before the janitor rang the bell at five minutes of.

  • Sunday Brunch

    “So, on a scale of one to five, what's my Sunday dinner rate, Mr. Eminent Critic?” Sandy said, leaning back in her chair.

    “Three-and-a-half stars. Maybe an anemic four,” Pete said, one eyebrow cocked, while spreading what Sandy considered too much margarine on the last piece of coffee cake.

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