Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Yes, this was the scariest costume I could think of... me in a Tux!


Have a Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


“Vampires, mummies and the Holy Ghost,
these are the things that terrify me the most!
No aliens, psychopaths or MTV hosts scare me like
vampires, mummies and the Holy Ghost!”
(Jimmy Buffett, “Fruitcakes” album, 1994)

Yes, Halloween is approaching and scary things abound. No, I’m not talking about “things that go bump in the night”, but the thinking of some well-meaning Christians about Halloween festivities. This has been an issue with me since I was a senior in high school, when I challenged my “pastor-with-a-PhD” about how we should celebrate the occasion. Yes, it was once a pagan festival – as was Christmas, Easter and most of the holidays we recognize today – but that has nothing to do with how we celebrate today.

I faced the issue again last week at my church’s 28th annual “Fall Festival”, a huge event put on by the church for the children of our community. Through this event we see 200-300 faces who don’t attend our church, mostly children! The festival is designed to be a safe experience for the children and help them feel comfortable in our church.

“But you can’t call it a Halloween Party”, somebody once instructed them, and they adhere to that like holy writ. Yet at this “Fall Festival” we still decorate with pumpkins and orange and black crepe paper, play games, give away candy and have a costume contest.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… whatever!

“And no scary costumes,” came the second commandment. To be fair, I have heard that concern expressed many times before. “We don’t want to glorify evil and death.” Actually, the scariest Halloween Party I have ever attended was at a small rural church where – oddly – most of the men came dressed as women and several of the women came dressed as men!

What’s’ up with that?

I grew up a fan of monsters: from Lon Chaney’s “Phantom of the Opera” to Mel Brookes’ “Young Frankenstein”. As a child I actually read Mary Shelley and Brahm Stoker and Victor Hugo. I collected comic books like “Swamp Thing”, “Dracula” and “Vampirella”, and often wondered why Dracula always wore a tux and cape while Vampirella only wore a red “slingshot” bikini.

Not that I minded!

In fact, the monster stories I read were no more frightening than “Little Red Riding Hood” (an innocent child in peril, a wolf eating her sweet, ol’ grandma, and a lumberjack saving the day by killing the wolf with his axe) or Hansel & Gretel (two disobedient children held hostage by an old crone, fattened up with candy with the intent of being eaten). And don’t get me started on the Brothers Grimm – try reading the original version of “The Little Mermaid”… before Disney sanitized it!

Yet I believe I survived my childhood fairly unscathed by all this “glorification of evil and death”. I knew they were not real. I never lost a night of sleep worrying that some monster might get me; there was nothing living under my bed or in my closet.

But as the Church, as people who care, we need to stop for a moment and ask ourselves, “What is scary to children today?”
  • Our nation is fighting a horrible war (is there any other kind?) in Iraq and we are daily assaulted with news of casualties and devastation.

  • Our President and presidential hopefuls constantly remind us of the terror attacks of 9-11 and speak openly of the possibility of more to come.

  • Al Gore is telling us we are killing our planet and that “global warming” is causing cataclysmic changes to our earth.

  • Southern California is on fire, with literally hundreds of thousands of acres scorched, hundreds of homes destroyed, and ½ million people displaced.

  • States in the southeast are suffering from severe drought and have been warned that the water sources in some communities will dry up in 90 days.

  • In Memphis a person is murdered almost every day, children carry guns to school, and street gangs are a very real and present threat.
So tell me again why I can’t dress up like a vampire?

No matter how horrible we might think their costume choices are, in many cases these are tame by comparison to the reality in which our children live. At least at Halloween they are permitted and encouraged to exercise their imaginations, to momentarily replace their very real fears with a different reality – a less frightening reality, a fantasy world that their minds can handle – all in the safety of a church fellowship hall.

And we should encourage that. Perhaps if more of us exercised our imaginations, the world would be a better, safer place… for our children, for us all.

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” --Henry David Thoreau

Monday, October 22, 2007

C'mon, people!!!

It caught my eye, a teaser article on AOL. Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, PA, sells the world's largest hamburger, weighing in at 123 pounds! It can be yours for only $379. In their defense, only 80 pounds of that is meat.

Whew! I was worried there for a minute!

While I am pretty sure a single person is not going to sit down at Denny's BBP and eat all 123 pounds at one meal, there are several who have taken up the challenge laid down at Big Foot Lodge in Memphis. Small by comparison, the appropriately-named "Sasquatch" (pictured above) is a mere four pounds of beef. Eat it and all the "fixin's" (as we say in Memphis) in less than 60 minutes and it's free.

Imagine the savings! But take my advice: put that $19.99 you saved into a medical savings account. You'll thank me for it later!

At least the Heart Attack Grill in Phoenix, AZ, is honest about what they sell. Their motto is "A taste worth dying for". Their web site boasts of burgers with names ranging from "Single By-Pass" on up to "Quadruple By-Pass". For example, the "Triple By-Pass" is made up of three 1/2 pound meat patties, six slices of bacon, three chunks of cheese, three eggs, and tons of condiments. They also offer a side of "Flatliner Fries" which are smothered in mozzarella cheese and beef gravy! And just so you "get it", the waitresses are dressed up like nurses!

Okay, "naughty nurses", but you get the point.

The Heart Attack Grill web site also proudly promotes "beer and cigarettes" and their ground-breaking medical text, "The Heart Attack Grill Diet: Eat, Drink & Smoke Your Way to Better Health."

Don't get me wrong. I am not a vegetarian. I love my Back Yard Burger. But I have a rule of thumb that has served me well these 40+ years of life: Never eat anything bigger than your head!

Again, you'll thank me for it some day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


“Fools’ names and fools’ faces are always seen in public places.” I don’t know who said it, maybe Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln – they seem to get credit for everything. Anyway, I found it hidden in the recesses of my childhood memories.

This is my first blog… I am not sure why I am doing this. Am I about to become another fool’s name in a public place? Or do I really believe I have something to contribute to the great cacophony the internet has become?

I have thought about this, and have decided I am probably posting this blog to fulfill some ego need that is not touched by my weekly appearance in the Asbury pulpit.

But perhaps I do have something to contribute. You see, I am not your typical United Methodist pastor. While other pastors get up early in the morning and decide which necktie to wear, or debate necktie versus clergy collar, I am sorting through my closet to find just the right “Aloha” shirt. (My bishop frowns.) While other pastors debate incarnational theology, I have happily reduced the totality of scripture down to three concepts:
1) In the beginning, there was God.
2) God loves the creation so much that he sacrificed his only Son, Jesus, as the means of saving us from the consequences of our sin.
3) In the end, God wins.

At the risk of damaging its reputation, I confess I am a graduate of the Claremont School of Theology (M.Div., class of 1989, I think). The school is located in a small, sleepy town in sunny southern California. Having grown up in rural western Kentucky, I wanted to see how “the other half” lived. Actually, I wanted to see if all the women in southern California looked like the women on “CHiPs”.

They don’t.

The school was steeped in deep thought. I was privileged to study under some great theologians (I’m not a name-dropper, so don’t ask). But despite receiving the free and free-ing gift of the Gospel many years before, I was still pretty uptight. Rigid. Christianity was still all about laws and duty. Sin.

It was at Claremont that I was introduced to the writings of Matthew Fox – the theologian, not the hunky doctor-star of TV’s “Lost”. Then a Catholic monk, Fox was the primary exponent of Creation Spirituality. He wrote of “musical, mystical bears”, and “Original Blessing” instead of original sin. It was life-changing. Theology didn’t have to be stuffy. Church could be fun.

From there I moved on to the great “conky-tonk” theologian Jimmy Buffett and the island lifestyle, which is not easy to pull off in Memphis. Thanks to Sirius Radio, I work to the rhythm of “Radio Margaritaville”. And whenever I start to feel “beach withdrawal” I visit “Hollister & Co.” at the mall to get a glimpse of Huntingdon Beach, broadcast live each day from the pier.

[Deep sigh.]

And what about the effectiveness of such a ministry? To be honest, it has taken my congregation a little time to get used to me. On the wall outside my office is a long row of elder statesmen in suit-and-tie frowning down on me. But my ministry was validated not long ago when one of my elderly members told me he had been a [member of another denomination] his entire life, but never knew that God loved him until he came to the Methodist church.


So here I sit, sipping on a margarita and putting my name out in a public place -- and when I figure out how to post photos, I’ll put my face out there too!

I invite you to return to “Banana Winds” often, but don’t expect to find deep thoughts here. And don’t look here for those saccharine-sweet “pass-this-on-to-ten-people-you-love” junk e-mails that fill my mailbox either.

I plan to keep “Banana Winds” light-hearted… to share God’s original blessing with all… to celebrate the “abundant life” Jesus promised… and to occasionally shake a few bananas from the trees!