Category Archives: stories

haiku contest winners

this was the email sent out friday morning at school announcing our haiku contest winners… names deleted to protect the innocent.


My distinguished panel of judges and I wrestled with many entries and almost came to blows in our struggle to choose the top three haiku – here are the results!

In Third Place, Xxxx Xxxxxxxxx wins the lightly used Continental Airlines Barf Bag for:

Like puppy dog tail wagging
June, July, August

In Second Place, Xxxxxxx Xxxxxx wins Nunzilla for the following submission:

Awakening minds
Butterflies’ wings emerging
An Aha moment

And finally, the First Place Winner of the snarky office door hangers, Xxxxx Xxxxxxxx submitted:

Will someone teach boys
To pull up their sagging pants
No peep shows at school

Honorable Mentions abound (as will Mardi Gras beads):

Xxxxxxxxx Xxxxxx sent:
Darn, It is Monday
WhY am I here? Oh that’s right
I Get paid Friday

Xxxxx Xxxx says:
That Crow woman canÂ
clean and jerk three hundred pounds!
sixty pounds, five lifts

Xxxxxxx Xxxxxx opined:
I wonder today
at the students’ attitudes
and ask, “what went wrong?”

Xxxx Xxxxxxxxx also sez:
Apathy abounds,
Stealing moments on cell phones,
Ignorance remains.

Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxx ventures:
Hazardous meeting
The blowhard passes me by
I feign diffidence

and finally, for managing to sneak in the name of our first female Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry, Xxx Xxxxxx declared:

What is in a name?
Edna St Vincent Millay
Poetry? Oh yes!

(Nancy Boyd wouldn’t have worked quite as well in that one, would it, Jay?)

Thanks to everyone who participated – it truly was fun to wade through the submissions and hard to pick the top ones!

last hurrah (or hurl) of gross youth ministry games

after the post about the greatest camp picture ever, i’ve gotten several hundred hits on that one story. it’s spurred numerous conversations about games designed to make kids puke at youth group and most discussions include note-taking on good ideas for future gross games.

but i’ll never forget the last time i played a gross food game during youth group.

travis and i had been out earlier that week having lunch together when we realized we’d never been to the huge asian supermarket over by sharonville. after a tasty meal, we hit the store and were blown away by gross possibilities presented in the form of snacks and prepared foods comprised of creatures we thought to be inedible.

the most intriguing of these items?

jellyfish-2.jpgprepared, shredded jellyfish with a spice packet. it looked exactly like cooked ramen noodles and the spice packet looked like capsicum pepper oil.

highly pleased with my find, that week at youth group i set out to find someone willing to give this sea-creature nastiness a try.

teenagers are easy and most can be bought for a very low price. in this case, cherry cordial offered to eat the jellyfish in exchange for a CD of some sort.

80 high schoolers gathered around to watch me tear the package open, take a whiff (whew! NASTY!), dump it into a bowl and offer him the spice packet (he declined, and wisely so, i think).

and we all held our collective breath as he took the first bite and chewed. and chewed. and chewed.

now, one rule of youth ministry “games” is that they must be quick. 80 kids who DON’T get to play MUST be entertained SOMEHOW. either all the jellyfish needed to be eaten, he needed to puke, or he needed to spit it out, and refuse to eat another bite. if one of these things doesn’t happen early, the chewing chewing chewing gets… old. boring. unentertaining.

and he chewed. and his face was scrunched and it was obviously nasty tasting. but he kept trying, and interest started to wane.

i began to pick on him and made my first mistake of the night: “c’mon, cordial! how bad could that stuff actually be? get going, fool!”

and he chewed, still on the first bite.

and i went over, teased him a bit more and then made my second mistake: i took one strand of the jellyfish and made a production out of putting it into my mouth.

and i chewed. and chewed. and wanted to puke. and quickly spit the salty, rubbery, foul-tasting treat out to much laughter and gagging noises from the crowd.

i handed cherry the CD, apologized to him for the jellyfish, and never played another gross food game during youth group again.

it was elementary physics

we were young. 23 years old. we had been married a year and were moving from cincinnati to washington d.c. we lived in a third floor apartment in an old house (damn, that place was hot!) and had packed for days.

when i rented the u-haul and the tow-hitch for the car, i was wiped out. lise was famished.

but our friends – oh, they were the best friends in the world.

they showed up on moving day and as a collective, single-minded unit informed us that they, not us – THEY were going to pack the truck for us. we were so grateful and we stood by in the apartment while they climbed all those twisting, winding, creaky old stairs, grabbed another load, and took it down to the truck. they were the awesomest friends ever for packing the truck for us.

we went down, closed up the truck, put the lock on, hitched our hideous ’81 datsun 310gx to the back, and had a tearful goodbye. our friends hugged us hard, cried, & promised to keep in touch. we thanked them profusely for making our day so much easier before we began the 550 mile trek to d.c. and swore we’d never forget what they meant to us.

our friends left. we got in the truck. we looked at each other with the kind of love that only newlyweds have for one another. we held hands, wiped away the last of the tears, and fired up the truck.

i lightly depressed the gas pedal to pull out when the most horrendous sound i’ve ever heard crunched into my ears from behind.

me: wtf?
lise: sounded like the truck.
me: i barely touched the gas!
lise: sounded like a wall fell somewhere.
me: we better check this out before we go.

we unlocked the padlock, flipped the handle, and pushed up on the door.

it was stuck. wedged. jammed. superglue of the gods held that door shut tight.

our friends, whom we loved, had truly packed the truck. and no one gave a second thought to placement of any items. they were just… chucked and tossed wherever they could find.

it was elementary physics. sadly, none of my friends were physicists.

it was a fey day when she said hey! gray!

gray-day.jpgi recently received a rather rude comment from an individual regarding the picture at right. more specifically, my hair coloring. or even more specifically, my lack of it.

the comment came on facebook where this unnamed individual had the unmitigated gall to say, “Uh….Scott….did you dye your hair BLONDE???!?!?!?!” and my response was along the lines of, “why are you picking on me? it’s gray – don’t be a meanie!”

i’ve had gray in my hair since the tender age of 16 when a quarter-size patch appeared near my hairline. it’s not a big deal, really.

but i’ll never forget the day ten or so years ago when i almost bought the farm because of gray hair.

lise and i were out together for the day. we were living in maryland and had driven up to lancaster, pennsylvania to drive around, get some lunch, shop amish, and enjoy the time with each other. it was approaching evening with the orange sun setting fire to the ground in the direction we’re heading. i was driving down the narrow road, shared with amish horse-and-buggy types in both directions, when, out of nowhere, lise swings her arm over and whacks me square in the chest, exclaiming, “Oh My Gosh!!!”

well, i about drove into a ditch, taking a couple bonnet-capped mennonites with us.

“what on earth’s going on?!? why are you hitting me and scaring me? What? WHAT??”

“you’ve got a gray hair in your beard!”

“WHA??? you almost get us KILLED because of a gray hair in my BEARD??”

we’ve laughed every time the story has been told in the intervening years, but at that point i was ready to open the passenger side door and leave her with electricity-less ones. thankfully her response was redeeming and to the point: “well, i still love you, even if you are old and gray.”

and indeed, that gray hair mated with others and their ilk have spread throughout my facial hair.

it’s not a big deal. really.

catholic church musical chairs

st-simon.jpgwhen i was in middle school my family went to catholic church every sunday.

it was lame no matter how “cool” they tried to make it (the “guitar service” at st. theresa’s comes to mind…) and it always seemed to take forever – but i always loved staying overnight at my best friend’s house on saturdays – besides the fact that we had a great time being silly and staying up all night, ken’s family went to St. Simon’s church – NOTORIOUS for the 15 minute sunday morning mass!

wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, drop your dollar in the hat, dominus vobiscum, sit, kneel, stand, greet your neighbor, “body of christ” “amen,” Christianos ad leones, “great sermon, father!” *ken’s dad starts car up* back to the house you go.

surely our motivations were wrong, but doggone it – it’s middle school, dude! long live st. simon’s 15 minute mass!!

catholic school church service shenanigans

nunzilla.jpgone painful aspect of having been subjected to catholic school education was the weekly grade-level church service we had to go to.

my school, st. antoninus, didn’t have a lot of good choices of priests at this point in my catholic school career. the old one was father hagedorn – he was probably 107 years old, shook uncontrollably, smacked his lips a lot, and paused too long and too often. father mick was no better – he was probably 21, a little too chummy with the guys and waaay too physical with the girls – we didn’t care for him and it was obvious that he was either on the lam or made too hasty a decision to enter the priesthood.

my best friends and i did our best to keep it as low key as possible but still eke some fun out of the experience. we sit together each week against better judgement but up to this point we’ve not gotten into too much trouble.

catholic church, in and of itself, has always been a boring thing for me. too pious, too organy, too… churchy, i guess. and when we had to go with our grade each week, oh, sheer torture! what’s worse: being in CLASS or being in CHURCH – haha, it’s a hard choice!

so picture this: four 14 year old guys: ken. brian. tony. scott. it’s spring. thursday morning. eighth grade church. front row. bored. hyms. father hagedorn. jesus hanging on the cross. robes. solemnity. holy water. communion. sit. stand. kneel. stand. sit.

and when the next hymn started up, my friend tony had apparently had enough.

we’re singing this hymn and this garbled noise starts coming from my left. it sounded like… a cat stuck in a washer? no. a record being played backwards! YES! that’s it!!

i and my other friends look at tony and he has his hymnal turned UPSIDE DOWN and is singing… backwards.

i’m not sure who started laughing first, but it was SO FUNNY. oh, we tried so hard to stop, but there was no place for the laughter to go. we grabbed our faces, nudged tony, laughed and hoped no one noticed. then, since we couldn’t stop, we started singing backwards, too. and laughed even harder.

we were lucky – no one came over and smacked us or told us to stop. we managed to get ourselves together enough that we got through the service and back to class in one piece. short bursts of laughter still plagued us during the day, but we were ok.

and then. at the end of the day. the very end of the day… we came back into our homerooms and sitting on our desks? THREE DETENTIONS EACH. signed by the director of catholic education for our school. he had been sitting in one of the wings of the church, hidden, and had seen everything.

and church, my friends, was NOT where we were to be goofing off and screwing around!

was it worth it? oh, when you can still laugh almost to the point of tears 26 years later – it’s definitely worth it.

rock star

give-blood-promotional-sign.jpgi’ll admit it.

the first time i ever gave blood was to get out of work for a little while. i was 18 and working for a department store when an announcement was made that anyone who gave blood at the bloodmobile that afternoon would get an hour off with pay. after giving, there were cookies and pop! omg! an hour off AND cookies AND pop!!! WOO-HOO!!!!

so i gave. and continued to give, long after the benefit of an hour off expired. it was helping someone, didn’t take much time, and hey – cookies and pop!

so i finally went to the NW FL Blood Center last week to give. nice folks. free t-shirts. free pop. free little debbies. there was a lot of attention given and you felt like a minor celebrity.

and then yesterday i get a call.

“mr. rust, this is _______ at the NWFLBC and i wanted to call and talk to you about donating again.”
“so soon?” i asked.
“well, you donated whole blood last week, and of course you have to wait 8 weeks between those donations, but mr. rust, your platelet count (insert long explanation of how rustypants’ count is THREE TIMES the normal count)!!”
“uhh… wow. should i be worried?”
“oh, no! this is great! you can give platelets every three days!!!”
“hey, cool,” i said, blind to what was coming next.
“platelets are crucial for cancer patients, leukemia patients, and others who have blood diseases! and because of their short shelf-life, we’re in constant need of people like you who have extremely elevated levels in their blood. think about all the people you will be helping – your one donation will probably help three people! (insert continued unnecessary encouragement on the importance of donating)”

i felt like a rock star. no lie. i was being courted with facts, t-shirts, candy, drinks, bring a dvd to watch if you want, we’ll sign you up to win a new car, your platelets are so sexy, mr. rust, i wish i could be the technician who centrifuges your blood, everyone should be so lucky to have your platelet count, would you sign my shirt, let me stroke your arteries…

“ok. sign me up.”
“umm.” now i’m confused.
“it will take up to two hours to complete when can you come in?”

and then the sun rose. the lightbulb turned on. the cold water of realization hit.

they will never stop calling now, will they? i’ll be their rock star until my platelets rebel and stop kicking it so hard. then, and only then, will my star fall. and i’ll just be another has-been. a washout.

hey! helping others! cookies! pop! it’ll be worth it.

library police

library-cops.jpgi was once shushed by the librarian at the gallaudet university library for being too loud.


when i asked if that wasn’t a bit like a blind kid getting scolded for sticking his tongue out at another blind kid, i was warned & shushed again.


dang, the library police at those libraries for the deaf are tough!

tongues twister

tongue.jpg“… i have a prayer language,” he said, almost hesitatingly, as though i might suddenly storm out of the restaurant.

“oh, cool,” i said.

“i’ve had it since i was younger. i’ve never had any kind of public pronouncement or anything, it’s something done in private, during my personal prayer time.”

“Oh, well that’s Scriptural.” and it’s true.

despite my background in non-charismatic churches, i have no problem with tongues and prayer languages that are exhibited in a Scriptural manner and context. why? um. well, it’s Scriptural, duh! now, having said all that, i have never been so moved by the Spirit to speak in tongues or prophecy, or any other type of Spirit-motivated manifestation of messages from God.

but the conversation i had with my new friend greg the other day brought back a rather amusing conversation had several years ago during bible college.

several of us were sitting around talking about the fruits of the spirit – my college was not a big tongues kind of place – if i remember correctly they believe that speaking in tongues ceased a couple generations after the apostles. i must’ve been sleeping during that class.

but there we were, talking away, and one of the guys was from the church of god movement – a charismatic / pentecostal / full gospel denomination that, if this dude represented all we knew about them, then the representation would be rather frightening – he began telling us how, when he was a young boy in the CoG church, they would “help the Spirit along” with certain phrases.

and we genuinely didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.

“certain ‘phrases’ – what does that mean?”

“well, if we were at a revival or something and we weren’t speaking in tongues, we were taught that after a while we should start saying the phrase ‘my knee, my toe’ over and over, slowly at first, then faster, ‘mykneemytoemykneemytoemykneemytoe’ until the Spirit finally kicked in.”

“kicked in,” i said, “like a lawn mower or something?” i had begun to visualize the Spirit waiting for the gas to meet the spark and then saying, “ok! here i come! you got the right combination at last!”

“well, kind of. it seemed to produce the right atmosphere for the Spirit to come.”

and the rest of us didn’t know what to say. so we said nothing, sitting in awkward silence until class started.

later, two of us were recounting this conversation with one of our professors. he said the phrases varied and the one he heard the most was “see my tie, tie my tie” – again, starting off slowly, increasing in speed until miraculously you were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and suddenly you’re speaking in genuine tongue-like fashion.

that kind of “priming the pump” completely takes away from everything the bible says about this type of spiritual gift – there’s no magic incantation or phrase or hokus pocus that will suddenly motivate the Spirit like this.

but when greg talked about tongues as a private prayer language, there is evidence of this in Scripture. to be certain, we could argue (and many have) until we’re blue in the face on the question of whether speaking in tongues genuinely exists in the present or not, but the bottom line is that the focus needs to be on the giver of the gift, not the recipient – working yourself into a babbling lather with ‘conducive’ phrases gives no glory to God.

gosh. i have no pithy one-liner with which to end this post.

summer camp retrospective, pt. I

ballbag.jpgcabin three had a rowdy reputation that year. the leaders were losing sleep and patience. the guys were up at all hours, they were hip, cool, and impervious to the body’s need for sleep. these were some cool guys and it was a challenge to connect with them in a meaningful way.

i was the camp pastor that year and was teaching each morning, then teaching / preaching each night. i loved camp. it was awesome getting my own kids out of their element for a week, but it was great getting to know the other 70+ teenagers who were there as well. teaching has always been one of my favorite things.

but this group of guys – they were almost too cool.

so the first two days have come and gone. we’re on day three and these dudes were being cool with me and all, but i really wanted to connect with them and just hang and talk. figuring out how – what could we possibly have in common?

on the way back to my cabin that night, the ruckus was loud as ever coming from cabin three.

i stick my head in. their leader sees me and runs for the door – relief!

and there are twelve guys standing in a semi-circle – one is obviously the leader while another standing in a squat position opposite him about 15 feet away, is obviously subjected to some horrible camp ritual. how can i tell? he’s in his boxers and a look of impending pain and agony is on his face.

“dudes, what’s going on? can i play?” i ask.
*loud cheers from the peanut gallery*
“you want to play nutball??” comes the incredulous reply.
“hmm. nutball. never heard of it. sure, how do you play?”
*cool dudes look at me with suspicion, wondering if i’m going to break up their game or if i’m sincere. what they don’t know is: i’m up for just about anything*
“we take this… ball… we made from rocks wrapped in a sock, and have 2 teams. first team up picks a guy who pulls his boxers down just a couple inches, opens the fly and squats. the other team has a pitcher who takes the ball and whips it at the other guys’… er, nuts… and if he makes it into the open fly it’s a point – if he hits the guys nuts… that’s another point!”
*more cheers from the teams*

it was at this point that a dawning admiration and horror struck me. i had just volunteered to have a sock filled with rocks hurled at my exposed ballbag. on purpose.

“whoa! sounds cool – who’s winning so far? how high do you play to?” and other questions were asked in an effort to stall what seemed inevitable – i was going to get hurt in the name of making a connection with these guys. and it was hilarious hearing them talk all excited about this absolutely insane game of pain, hearing who had their privates whacked already, who had scored the most points, how you didn’t HAVE to hit their nuts but could actually bounce it off the opponents stomach and have it land in the hole of his fly (but what fun is that?), and the sheer awe of having The Camp Pastor want to play.

i realized that i was vested in this and might as well get it over with as quickly as possible. i talked a bit more and then it struck me.

boxers. you have to wear boxers. i didn’t have any boxers with me. and none of these guys had boxers that would fit.

disappointed groans came from all the guys as they realized i was not going to be able to play. i stuck around for a few more innings of the game, wincing in pain at each point scored, cheering as loud as i could, and then excused myself.

and those guys spent the rest of the week treating me like one of their own, connected, all because of a willingness to take part in their pain game.

all just a part of camp leadership.