Middle School Lock-In Learnings


I was a chaperone at the middle school lock-in at church last Friday.  Whew.

That night, I discovered a couple of things that I didn’t know before.

1) Middle school boys are interesting.

They don’t wear coats, even at night in January.  For the most part, they also don’t wear long pants.  One boy did bring a coat but he tucked it, and it was large, into the front of his sweat pants.  He walked around like that for hours.

They throw footballs in the building, even after you ask them not to.  One balanced a half-full can of Coke, slanted, on an antique table in the church lobby.

I asked, “Does that still have soda in it?”

He responded, “Yes.  It wouldn’t work if it didn’t.”  Duh.

I’ll have to say, he didn’t spill a drop.

When given popcorn, you can follow them anywhere because they leave a trial.  It’s like Hansel and Gretel.  I wondered if any went into their mouths.  Which could explain why they each had room in their bellies for 10+ iHOP pancakes.

They will dribble a basketball or hang on a rim for hours if given the opportunity.

They do not know how to talk to girls, but they do know how to hit them.

2)  Middle school girls are determined.

We went to an arcade from 10 PM until midnight.  There, multiple girls found the game with the robotic clasper.  You put two coins in and with a joystick guide the robotic hand that is inside a glass box.  The goal is to place the hand in the exact right position, press a button to drop it down, and hope it grabs a nifty prize you can take home to put on your already cluttered dresser.  The problem is that the clasper rarely works.  It drops down, pinches together, and generally brings up air.

In this glass box, there were only rolls of tickets, the ones you win to claim more prizes.  On her first try, one girl scored a roll of 500 tickets.  She turned them in for more coins.  She then returned to the game to fish for more tickets.  If the clasper happened to grab another roll, she returned to claim more coins so she could return to try to get more tickets.

It was like she was spinning around in circles.

Insert coins

Win a few tickets

Get more coins

Insert coins

Win a few tickets

Get more coins

What was the point?  Where was this going?  What was the end goal?

I stand perplexed.

At least the boys were using their time to do productive things like blow up dinosaurs that were attacking earth in a vicious sort of way.  If, by chance, a real dino attack occurs, the First Pres. youth group is going to be instrumental in saving our planet.

3)  My brother-in-law can sleep standing up.

4)  You can fit 30 middle school kids under a desk.

Because our church is old, playing Sardines, where one person hides and if you find them, you join them, is quite an adventure.  Our church elevator has a stop at Basement 1 and Basement 2 if that gives you any idea of the depths of spookiness.

Dodging in and out of Basement 2 closets and mechanical rooms at 2 AM is freaky!

One kid hid under the Youth Director’s office desk.  When the last kid found them, there were 30 packed underneath.  They’d been there for quite some time.

Perhaps my greatest discovery?

5)  I don’t like people at 4 AM.


Giggling with God

First pres

Last week in church we got the giggles – three of us – Michelle, Stephanie and me.  Someone up front struck the funny bone, and we got tickled.  This is not an uncommon occurrence for our family.  It is genetic; we got it from my mother.

Funerals and weddings were the worst with her.

At one matrimonial service the pianist was also the organist.  The problem was that the organ and piano were on opposite side of the church.  This musician also had a very noisy dress.  When she walked, it swooshed.  Four times during the service she paraded in front of the lectern, in front of the huge flower arrangement, and in front of the bride and groom, to change instruments.

Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh – swoosh – swoosh

It was the loudest piece of clothing I’d ever heard.  The more she swooshed, the more we snickered.

At a distant cousins wedding I became tickled when the Kimball organ was turned on.  Boom da da boom da da boom boom boom…

It was just like walking through the mall.  After the beat began, the “organist” began tapping out the melody of Here Comes the Bride.

Boom da da boom da da boom – here comes the bride, all dressed in white, sweetly serene in the soft glowing light… (bet you didn’t know the third line, huh?)

As if that wasn’t enough, I had overheard my parents trying to recall the mother of the bride – “I’m not sure I know her.  What does she look like?” my dad asked my grandmother.

“She’s blonde, medium build…”


“You know, she has one green eye and one brown one.”

“Oh, yes!” Something about her description resonated.

As if the ongoing syncopation wasn’t enough, when the bride’s mother headed down the aisle, I caught a glance of her multi-colored irises.  I was done.

These days I find two different eyes sort of cool, intriguing.  In my adolescence, it just got me tickled.  I’d never seen that before.

My grandmother glared at me like I’d stood up nude on the pew.  That made my mom snicker, and then it was all over.

I left the church for the remainder of the service.  Grandmother Tanner expressed her dismay the minute she was released from the ceremony (as if I didn’t already know she was made).

The giggles can be brought about by something very small.  One Sunday I might break out with the Korean verse of the hymn printed at the bottom of the page.  One of us might turn to the wrong hymn and the innocent bystander belts out a wrong word or two before they realize the joke.  A couple of Sundays there was a stench in the pew – it smelled like a dead animal.  As various family members began sniffing around and looking at each other as if to say, “Is it you?,” the laughter began.

When DJ was an infant, we took her to the 7 PM Christmas Eve service.  When the soloist hit the high note in O Holy Night, our baby screamed out seemingly trying to match the operatic singer.  It ruined the moment which I felt bad about.  But I laughed until we finally just went home.

Once it starts, it is difficult to control.

Last week, to control my silliness, I grabbed the bible and began reading the Psalms.  They are not funny… at all.  I scowled at the kids who looked at me like I was Benedict Arnold.

Sometimes I worry that God gets a little annoyed at our Sunday morning antics.  But then I figure He saw the same thing we did.  He’s probably laughing along with us.

Sunday Post 153: Dumb Miss Brayboy

My daughters have incredible role models – folks surrounding them who make them laugh and love life. Those who they respect. Those who through their actions show them how to live the kind of life Lisa and I would want them to live.

There is Mrs. Balentine, the former cheerleading coach, who still takes DJ to lunch on occasion. And Profe – the Spanish professor who she loves to death but who also just gave her an 18 on her pop quiz (she’s a great student, she’ll pull it up). She didn’t argue with him, said it was pointless. She also didn’t get mad at him, because of respect.

Michelle has Betty Anne Doorman, the same Sunday School teacher who taught her mother in 5th grade. And her best friend’s mom who thinks she hung the moon.

Steph has Mrs. Bond and Aunt Sallie who dote on her endlessly.

When I was a kid, I lived at church. My dad was a minister – and we LIVED in that building. Mr. Lundy was my 5th grade Sunday School teacher, and I distinctly remember climbing under the table during the lesson and tying his shoes together. At the time I thought he didn’t know I was doing it – now I know better.

And Miss Patty taught us in high school. She was a bit older than my mother and one week wore her leotard and grass skirt to class. She’d been taking Jazzercise with the other ladies in the Baptist church gym, and she wanted us to see her moves. Talk about motivation to attend! You never knew what she was going to do.

Mrs. Brayboy was one of my favorite high school teachers – typing. I called her DMB – for Dumb Miss Brayboy. Another, much cooler, guy in class called her that one day, and she sent him to the office.

“Why does Danny get to call you that and not get in trouble?,” he protested.

“Because I like him,” she explained.

To her credit, he was an ass – always.

If we’d each pour a little bit of ourselves into the next generation, it’s amazing what we’d get in return – both individually and as a society.

I can’t do this on my own. Others are investing in my kids with everything they’ve got. One day, they’ll look back and realize that these selfless folks made them who they are. They’ll be a beautiful concoction of their mother and their father and Mrs. Balentine and Aunt Sallie and Betty Ann Doorman – and no doubt will have a small piece of Brayboy in their blood as well. Because she, is a piece of me.

Sunday Post 137: The Rock Stars

On Sunday nights, I work with the 4th and 5th graders at church.  We call ourselves the “Rock Stars.”  I’ve been hanging out with them for a couple of years now, and it’s pretty fun.

I think what I enjoy the most is seeing them on Sunday mornings or even away from church.  It feels good for them to come up to me and toss me a high-five.  Makes me feel like I’m making a difference.

Our lesson last week was on the Parable of the Talents.  In the story, a master gives his three servants coins while he goes away on a long trip.  When he returns, he asks the guys what they did with the money he left in their care.

The first and second servants actually doubled the money they were given with strong investment strategies.  Conversely, the third buried his coin and came back to his master with the same thing he started with.

I think one of the primary reasons folks don’t share their talents is because they don’t really have the confidence to know what they’re good at.  Or, they work to be humble, thus not admiting where they excel.

At times, I’ve heard my kids imply that they’re stupid or untalented.  It bugs the heck out of me.

After reading the story, I gathered the kids around for a game of Pictionary on the dry erase board.  I had written down talents and they had to draw them and have their friends guess what they were.

Strategically, I worked not to have talents that were easy to see – like a great voice or strong athletic skill.  Instead I stressed gifts that that receive less attention and noteritity – like an ability to show compassion or strong listening skills or the gift of being a friend.

My hope is they’ll stop comparing themselves to the most beautiful girl in class or the most athletic boy on the soccer field.  Instead, I want them to see that whatever talent they’ve been given is important and worthy of recognition.  I want them to be able to verbalize what they’re good at and be proud of their gifts even if they aren’t the ones that society seems to laud the most.

I believe God gave us all abilities and that if we’re not using them to make the world a better place we’re squandering.  And that’s a lousy and lazy thing to do.


Sunday Post 135: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

It seems like yesterday that I sang in Youth choir at my home church.  You didn’t have a have a great voice to participate, everyone got to go on the end of year choir trip – usually to Florida, and that was our goal.

All sixty or seventy of us would pile into a Snyder Memorial Baptist Church bus and head down I-95.  The air conditioner typically broke at South of the Border, two hours into our 20 hour round trip.  Whew, the smells we endured in that vehicle.

Mr. Haynes was our director, he seemed old at the time.  He was probably younger than than I am now.  Dang.

His son, John, was one of my best buds.

We’d stop in small churches in South Carolina and Georgia to perform, our khaki pants and navy polos spotty from our massive trips to the all you can eat Pizza Inn buffets.  How they made money with a bus full of high school boys is beyond me.  I swear Frankie Farve could eat 25 slices of thin crust pepperoni.

At the time, I didn’t see that I was getting anything out of the whole experience except a ride on Space Mountain and a chance to sit beside (and flirt with) a couple of really cute girls for a very long time.  But now I realize it was so much more.

One of the most valuable pieces I took from that experience is a love for old hymns.  Today when our organist cues one up, my entire being fills with the spirit.  Occasionally it even tops the sermon (sorry Ed).

This is one of my favorites:



Danny’s Book:  Laughter, Tears and Braids


Is this working?


Michelle has been working on memorizing the Catechism for a year now.   It’s about a dry as an IRS instruction booklet.

Fifty years or so ago, when education was predicated on the number of dates you could regurgitate back on a test, a church member left thousands of dollars in an endowment with the idea that every 4th grader who memorized the answers to the sixty catechism questions would receive $50.  It’s rote memorization.  And, it’s like pulling teeth.

DJ attacked it aggressively, motivated to be the best and motivated by the cash.  Stephanie screamed, yelled, cried and through a pencil in my direction one day to express her lack of enthusiasm for memorizing her lessons.

“Don’t you want to be recognized at church with your friends?  Don’t you want the $50?”


My most compliant child had become my arch-Catechism nemesis.

“You will learn about God!” I demanded.  “You will love Jeeesus!   Don’t let Beelzebub steal your soul!  Memorize child.  Mem-or-ize!”

Now it’s Michelle’s turn.  She’s a mix between her sisters.  I don’t get an enthusiastic embrace for this project, but her head isn’t spinning in an exorcistic sort of way.

I pondered not making her complete the task.  When DJ heard me say that to another 4th grade parent at church, she freaked out.

“Mom made me learn it!  You’re no fair.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah – and your Uncle Dash got the biggest piece of cake at Christmas in 1972.  Your granddad still hasn’t made it up to me.  Life is just not fair.”

I’m just not sure that this well-intended process still works.  Is my kid really growing in her faith by memorizing this 37 page document?  Is my screaming and yelling and punishing my kids encouraging a love of God or driving them away from organized religion.

I guess no one thing is going to make or break them; but dag gone it, this is a painful process for the Tanner family.

Sunday Post 128: My New Muslim Friends

Tonight several elders from my church were invited to spend the evening with a Turkish Muslim community.  WOW!

I’m so ignorant of other religions.  I’m so unexposed to others who are different from me.

This particular faith community strives to invite outsiders into their family to talk.  They share their beliefs, they share their struggles and, they share their food!

I think what struck me the most about this group was their explanation of Ramadan.  Before tonight, I couldn’t have told you the difference between Ramadan and the Ramada Inn.  I assumed it was about fasting, but it is so much more than that.  Fasting from sun up to sun down is representative of so many things:

  • It builds an appreciation for all that we take for granted – our food and clean water for starters
  • The 30 day period is a time to work to cleanse yourself, not only fasting but working on fixing the other things in life that you participate in that you shouldn’t – like gossiping or using foul language
  • It is also a time of service.  This Muslim community uses Ramadan to do for others… Beautiful!

If I were walking around with a grumbling belly, it’s doubtful I’d be thinking about what I could do for someone else.  I’d be concentrating on what time the sun was going down.

This community stops five times a day to pray.  Now, often I pray throughout the day when it strikes me.  But I can’t imagine the discipline it must take to stop what you’re doing, get down on your knees and go through a conscious process to put God first FIVE times a day.  And by the way, they also have personal conversations with God in between the five officials.

I don’t necessarily believe everything I heard tonight, but there seemed to be many more commonalities than differences in what we believe.

What if we took more time to invite folks of other faiths into our own churches?  Not to change their mind, but to foster understanding.  What if we spent less time criticising other religions and more time learning about them?  What if one of my best friends, one that I ate dinner with on a regular basis, was Muslim?  Think that might help with world peace?

Less judging, more understanding.

One of the guys said that they didn’t believe in working to change other people’s minds about their beliefs.  Instead, he said that they worked to show their faith through their actions.  Their hope is that others will see God through them.  No preaching necessary.

I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.

The Dreaded Church Pictorial Directory


We just had our family picture made for the church’s new pictorial directory.  A number of older churches make these.  My parents still have the one with all of the family pictures from 1970!  I’m a cute little booger, and believe it or not, I’m wearing a bow tie.

I wanted to participate and have our family’s pic sandwiched between the Tabors and the Taylors, just like the last two times we’ve done this.   In 2006, Lisa was square in the middle.  Just not the same this time around.

olan1As much as I enjoy thumbing through the old one and seeing how goofy everybody looked eight or 16 years ago, I would rather have toenail fungus than to go through the process.

I warned the girls, “I AM NOT buying any of the pictures tonight.  We do not need a six shot montage of our family with a fake wagon wheel in the background.”

I do, however, always feel guilty not to purchase something.  I know that’s how the photographers make their living.

This time was painful.  The slick salesman in the hot pink shirt met us in the lobby after running 35 minutes behind schedule.  His thick gold bracelet let me know he meant business.  He was planning to make some money tonight.

olan4He started warming us up from the moment we caught eyes.

“I like your bow tie.  You always worn those?”

He then asked each of the girls their age and birthday month.  Seems like everybody in his family has the same birthday as everyone in our family.  It was truly ironic.

He escorted us back to the portable studio which had been set up in our church Gathering Hall.  He quickly began with the cheesy nicknames.

“We’re gonna get the Big Man (that was me: the guy in charge, the decision maker, one with a lot of money to spend) to sit in the middle.  Come on over here Dad, sit on this stool.”

He proceeded to have me straddle another shorter stool and tossed Michelle uncomfortably close between my legs.

olan5“Now darlin’ you get up on this block,” he instructed Stephanie as he set down a piece of wood that made her six inches taller than she really is.

He slid DJ in behind Michelle.

“Big Man, tilt your head a little bit to the center.  Now chin up a tad.  Hold your shoulders up – that’s too much, bring them down a hair.  Drop your nose a half-inch and look toward the door with your right eye only.”

“You’re looking a little posed there.  Juuuuust relax.”

How in the hell can I relax when my children are breathing all in my space and my head is contorted like I’m starring in Cirque du Soleil?

At one point he got the idea that he was going to take three consecutive pictures.  Later I found out he thought they’d look great in a triple matted frame.  He had all three girls lay their heads on my shoulders, one peeking out from behind.  He took a shot.  He then had them move closer to my face for the second picture.  By this time, DJ was digging her fingernail into my back as if to say “get us out of here or I’m going to hurt you.”  When it was time for the third picture, he had them all turn toward me and then he said, “strangle him!”

The kids looked at him to gain clarity on this rather odd instruction.

“Seriously, strangle your dad!  It’ll be fun!”

For everybody but Big Man.

Olan3He then took us to the table where he loaded our photos onto a computer from the camera.

He got very, very serious and looked behind himself to see if anyone else was near.  One of my friends was at a table across the room going through the same pain I was.  My new buddy leaned in and motioned me to do the same.

As our heads got closer, he quietly gave me the news, “Big Man, I can’t do this for everyone, but in addition to the church discount, I’m going to give you an additional 25% off anything you buy today.  Got it.”

It was like being the millionth customer at the Food Lion or something.  I had won the jackpot!  Why me?  Why was I so special?  Why did I get that incredible deal and all of my fellow church members not?  Something smelled a little fishy to me.

“You know, we went to Hawaii last year.  My mother-in-law had a photographer come to our house and take some great family pictures while we were there.  I just don’t see me buying anymore right now.”

“The disk of all of these pictures is normally $200, I can get it to you – let’s see,” he did some math, “for 82.99!  Then you can print the pictures and frame them as you like.”

“Nah.  I’m not buying anything.”

I could see the desperation in his eyes.

“How about the proofs.  You’d get the one with the girls choking you.”

You could fulfill that dream for me?  “How much?”

“$20.  Plus taxes, shipping and handling.”

“How much is that?”

“Let’s see,” more math, “All in, $36.35.”

“Damn.  Is Olan Mills gonna bring them to my house himself?”

This time I leaned in and whispered, “Does that include BM’s special 25% off that no one else gets?”


“You got a deal!”  Now you can go buy more jewelry.

“I’ll be praying for you buddy.”

All the way to the bank I’m sure.

Sunday Post 109: “What a Fool Believes”

It’s no longer a devastating pain.  It doesn’t burn to the soul.  It can’t physically take me to the floor in anguish like it did 3 years or even 18 months ago.  But February is my foe.  I guess I’ll battle with him every year for the rest of my life.

He’s cold.

Mid month he’s promoting love, and I don’t have that kind anymore.

From the 14th on, I can replay, day by day, the scenes from three years ago – the weeks before she died.

It starts out OK – just an extension of his cousin January.  But then “What a Fool Believes” comes on the radio, and I start singing like I’m Michael McDonald.

She’d laugh at that every single time – rolling those eyes.  “You do love that song don’t ya’ baby?,” her question would just add fuel.  I know I  have her attention now, I ham it up even more.

He came from somewhere back in her long ago

The sentimental fool don’t see

Trying hard to recreate what has yet to be created

Once in her life

I used to sing in laughter.  Now it’s through tears.

This year I made it until the 10th before I felt the hole.  No weeping at church until last week.  There is a circle of emotional instability that hangs in my core at this time of year.  It’s bigger than an egg but smaller than a baseball, right above my stomach.  I can take a deep breath, I can swallow and hold it down – most of the time.

Only one week and it’ll be over.

I hate you February.  I hate your guts.

Sunday Post 97: The First Noel

Those of you who attend church on Christmas Eve know the feeling.  The choir gets in position, all decked out in their deep red robes.  Half of the members are pretty dang old, but boy can they sing.

There are Christmas trees in the front of the sanctuary, the lights a bit brighter on this particular night.  There are members of folks’ families you haven’t seen for years, and they all look better than they did the last time you saw them.

It’s not about your new dress that day or the bow tie you pulled out.  And the kids are on their best behavior realizing a trip from Santa Claus is too close to take chances.

When the organ starts, you immediately recognize the song –

The first Noel, the angels did say – was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.

It sends a little chill down my spine each and every time.

The girls and I got into Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol again this year.  In mid-October, we began singing that very song.  As many times as I’ve heard it, and as many times as I’ve sung it – about 600 last year during rehearsals and performances, it still moves me.  It brings a peace to my soul.  It makes me think that everyone in the room, and really everyone in my town and country, are all on the same page.  No, we don’t all believe the same thing – we don’t all agree on politics, but each December, we stop.  We are respectful and thoughtful; we are thankful.

For me, that feeling lasts longer than the one Sunday our choir director decides to work it into the service.  For me, it starts in mid October – at the first rehearsal, with the first note.

I think everyone needs to be in a Christmas play.  I also think we should work to put aside our differences in November and January and perhaps in July too.

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