The late Jamie Buckingham was a Pentecostal/charismatic pastor in Florida. He founded The Tabernacle Church in Orlando, Florida, and wrote many books and articles about the Christian faith. What distinguished him from many others, IMHO, was his sense of humor and down-to-earth approach to his faith. He didn't go into flights of rhetorical fancy, and always admitted he was as much a sinner as the next man. He lived his faith with simplicity and directness, and made many friends in the process.
I never met Rev. Buckingham, but I read several of his books in South Africa. They helped me "stay on the straight and narrow" (at least some of the time) during some very difficult years, and I've kept a few of them in my library ever since. Along with other books and experiences, they taught me that faith isn't something you believe; it's something you do. Long before I became a pastor myself, I began to say, in so many words, "Don't tell me what you believe. Show me. Let me see your faith in action in the way you live, and I'll be able to tell you what - if anything - you really believe, without needing to hear you say it." That remains a guiding principle in my life to this day, and Jamie Buckingham was one of those who helped to put it there.
Among his many works, he wrote "The Last Word" column for Charisma magazine for many years before his untimely death from cancer in 1992. They were thought-provoking, entertaining, and often very funny. Some were published in book form under the same title in 1978.
Forty-two years after its publication and twenty-eight years after his death, the book remains popular enough that it's still in print, in very inexpensive editions. I recommend it. Here's the opening story from that book, to illustrate the sort of man he was.
Things That Go Squish in the Night
One of the advantages of living in the country is the quietness.
One of the disadvantages is having to fool with the water system.
I used to complain, when we had our house in the subdivision, about the cost and taste of Florida water. But now, after having moved out into the country—and becoming an expert on wells, pumps, aerators, pressure tanks and water softeners—I’m not so sure I wasn’t better off when all I did was turn on the faucet and pay the bill.
Our particular system works from a deep, constantly flowing well. The same well serves the house, sprinkling system and air conditioning/heating units. After flowing through all the contraptions in a pump house in the back yard, the water finally arrives at where we live. The majority of this is drunk, flushed, spilled or used for washing. The rest is piped through the heating units and out through a drainpipe into a pond in the pasture.
To give the system a certain romance, the mad plumber installed a number of secret valves. If these are not opened and closed at critical times the water overflows into the yard, or backs up into the bathrooms, where it does exciting things.
One of these secret valves is connected to the drainpipe going from the heating units to the pond. It is located in the back yard at the edge of the pasture under the barbed wire fence. In case I want to divert this ever-running stream, and use it to wash the car, I only have to turn the valve and open a spigot.
There is one major problem. The cut-off valve which diverts the water from pond to spigot is located in a concrete block which is sunk about ten inches in the ground. To turn the valve, you have to stick your hand down that hole.
The other night, after having told my fourteen-year-old daughter to hurry up and get her shower, I went to bed. Jackie was already asleep when I heard this strange gurgling in the heating unit at the end of the hall. I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to reopen the valve after I washed the car that afternoon. That meant the water was either getting ready to overflow out of the heating units into the house, or it was flooding the back yard. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my flashlight, and raced down the stairs to the back door.
The back yard was flooded. Sloshing through the icy water in my bare feet, getting my pajamas wet up to my knees, I dashed to the pump house where I cut off all water to the house. Then I headed out across the pitch black yard, feeling my way between the pines and palmetto patches, to the edge of the pasture where the underground valve is located.
Kneeling in the cold mud beside the sunken valve, I foolishly forgot to look down the hole with my flashlight before putting my hand in there. When I put my hand in the hole I felt something move. Something slimy.
I withdrew my hand at great speed and, at the same time, leaped high off the ground from my kneeling position. Unfortunately, I had forgotten I was directly beneath the barbed wire fence. The result was disastrous.
When I became a Christian, I lost most of my old vocabulary. This robs me of the necessary safety valve to handle such emergencies. So, instead of cursing, I threw my flashlight. Unfortunately, it landed in the middle of the pond—leaving me in total darkness.
Ripping myself loose from the barbed wire, I staggered backwards away from the fence. In the process, I stepped in doggie-do. Hopping around in the high grass, I ran a thorny briar between my big toe and the toe right next door—in a place where nothing harsher than a washcloth had been in thirty years.
That which I lost I suddenly found—and a torrent of expletives issued forth, waking everyone in the house. Lights were flashing on all over the place as I went crashing through the shrubs, my pajamas ripped half-off, my back and neck bleeding, roaring back to the house in order to blame someone.
I had stopped to wash my foot off in the flooded back yard when I heard my daughter shouting from upstairs, “Hey, I’m all soaped up and there’s no water in the shower.”
Although I was back in control with the choice of words, I didn’t seem to be able to control the volume. Thus I informed her, with a roar which could have been heard a mile away, that there was plenty of water down where I was and if she was unhappy she ought to join me.
Jackie finally came down the stairs in her bathrobe and we got the valve shut and the water turned back on. We never did find out what that slithery thing was in the hole.
For years I have been teaching that while the American church applauds accomplishment as the mark of success, God is more interested in what we become along the way than whether we arrive.
I am not sure what I became that night. But one thing is certain. I have not yet arrived.
Not only am I out a brand new three-battery flashlight, but I ruined a perfectly good pair of pajamas and had to undergo three weeks of laughing, humiliating ridicule from my children who couldn’t let me forget it was mom who had to come down and twist all the valves and then lead me back up the stairs to the safety of my bed.
Fortunately, no one else knows. You see, we live in the country where things are quiet.
Jamie Buckingham is remembered in a website dedicated to his life and work. You'll find many more of his books listed there, as well as more of his "Last Word" columns, including a number of them not included in the book. (One of them, titled "Deliver Us from Sock-Gobblers", describes his allegedly demon-possessed clothes drier that used to eat his socks. It's great fun, and for those of us who possess a significant collection of odd socks, it rings all too true!)