Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where is Margaritaville?


While studying religion at Lambuth College, I wrote a paper entitled, “Santa Is Alive And Well On Planet Earth’. It was a fairly comprehensive work comparing and contrasting Santa and Satan. Before you scoff, think about it: they share the same letters in their names; they both wear red; and they are both mythological figures used by adults to scare children into being good. One delivers good gifts to those who are “nice”, the other delivers eternal punishment to those who are naughty. I thought it was clever.

Dr. Davenport did not. He gave me an “F”. Or, rather, I earned an “F”.

So it is with some trepidation that I launch into this musing. Yet, lest some are misled, I feel the need to clarify just where Margaritaville is for me. If you recall from my last posting, I implied that I go to Margaritaville to overcome the stresses in my life. Because of what I believe to be the wide-spread misunderstanding of the music and life of Jimmy Buffett, some people might have the wrong impression. Wherever it is, Margaritaville is not found at the bottom of a tequila bottle!

That would be a worm!

The “official” definition of Margaritaville (courtesy of Jimmy) is: “A state of mind found wherever one desires, known for its frozen concoctions, cheeseburgers, and frequently misplaced shakers of salt”.

Several years ago I went in search of Margaritaville. I almost found it in Cancun, where the ocean is a beautiful turquoise blue, and the white sandy beaches are pristine (and some of them are topless!). But the poverty in the local economy outside of the tourist area troubled me; Margaritaville has to be guilt-free.

I looked for it in Gulf Shores, Alabama, what one person called “the Red-Neck Riviera”. It was Spring Break, but falling so early in the year, the Gulf Coast was still frigid. There were no wild “MTV Spring Break” parties; in fact, we only saw three college girls sitting on the beach… bundled in hooded sweatshirts and blankets to keep warm. They had come to the beach for Spring Break and they were determined to be there!

I looked for Margaritaville in Hawaii, where the elders of the community are referred to as “Uncle” and the younger men are all called “Cousin”. But the spirit of Aloha is being replaced by capitalism, trash dropped by careless tourists (a polite way of saying “A**holes”) floats in the water, and there are too many damned ABC Stores. And again, life outside the tourist area is not as romantic as along the beaches. Native Hawaiians struggle to maintain their culture as tourism encroaches and forces them into ghettos and even off their own islands.

I looked for it in Key West… and almost found it there. While the cost of living (and regular hurricanes) makes life difficult for local residents, most of them choose to live there anyway. The weather can’t be beat. And Key West provides a welcoming setting for a wide diversity of people – from bikers to gays and lesbians to cross-dressers to Hemingway look-a-likes. And the nightly sunset celebration down at Mallory Square makes life fun every night of the week. I just wish we had found a better beach.

Having trouble finding Margaritaville in tropical locations, I looked for it at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? A couple years ago Jimmy and the Coral Reefers played at the Pond in Anaheim (now the Honda Center), where the Anaheim Ducks play hockey. It happened to fall during Spring Break, so off we went. Unfortunately, many “Parrotheads” chose to arrive when the parking lot opened at noon, and by concert time were sloppy drunk. One guy shouted throughout the concert, “Play ‘Son of a Son of a Son of a…’…whoohoo!” A couple sitting in front of us were smoking (a huge no-no in California), and when another couple asked them to put it out, a fight broke out. I also found two people having sex in the men’s room – thank God for those disposable paper seat covers! I decided that wasn’t what I was looking for either.

So I asked myself, “Just what are you looking for?” My mind pointed me to the book of Revelation, to the description of the new heaven and new earth in chapter 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
I realized then that what I have been looking for is an earthly manifestation of Heaven. And since we don’t have a definite description of Heaven from scripture, why can’t Heaven be white sandy beaches under a warm summer sun, with the soothing rhythm of the steel drum drifting through the air?

Sure beats floating on clouds and playing a harp for all eternity!

The good news is that unlike Heaven, one doesn’t have to die to get to Margaritaville. As Jimmy himself has tried to tell us, Margaritaville is a “state of mind”. So now, instead of searching for it in other locations, I try to live out the spirit of Margaritaville. I make hospitality my calling, and all who come in peace are welcome. When I wear my Hawaiian-print shirts to Annual Conference, it is not about a mid-life crisis, but a quiet call for us to move beyond the coat-and-tie “business as usual”. We need to embrace a different vision, in which people matter more than politics, in which ministry matters more than protecting our turf.

Karen and I have also tried to create a physical manifestation of Margaritaville at our parsonage – a warm, comfortable place; a welcoming place of peace for all people; a hospitable place, where one might even get a frozen concoction and a cheeseburger. A recent guest at our house looked at the tropical d├ęcor and proclaimed, “Why, you don’t ever have to go away on vacation!”

That’s my Margaritaville.

And as Jesus tried to teach us, Heaven breaks through every now and then… whenever two or three gather together… even in a place like Margaritaville.

And someday, I hope, even in my church!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stress


A co-worker recently dropped the following "test" into my mail box. Apparently, she thought I was either in denial or hiding my stress levels and thought this "test" could shake me from my condition.

Or perhaps she felt I wasn't stressed enough and she was using the page to prompt me on things about which I should be worried.

After a year-and-a-half of working together, she apparently doesn't know me too well!

You can take the test below (purportedly from the Dartmouth Institute for Better Health) and decide for yourself. My comments will continue afterwards.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


STRESS LEVEL
Read each stress-related event at the left. If you have experienced that event within the last twelve months, circle the corresponding number at the right. Add the numbers you circled to find your stress level score.

Serious injury or illness - 6
Alcohol, drug or emotional problem - 6
Marriage - 4
Death of a close friend - 4
Trouble with neighbors or friends - 2
Beginning or ending of school or training program - 2
Loss of job, retirement - 2
Selling or buying of a home - 4
Change of jobs, promotion - 2
Trouble with boss - 2
Death of a spouse or immediate family member - 10
Divorce - 8
Reconciliation or separation - 6
Seriouis illness or injury of family member - 4
Family arguments - 4
Child's entering or leaving home - 4
Moving of relative into the household - 2
Move to a new residence - 2
TOTAL: _____

If your stress level score is:
Less than 10 - You have a low stress level and your life has been stable in most areas for the past twelve months.
10-15 - You have a moderate stress level and there has been a lot of change in your life this past year.
16 or more - You have a high stress level and there have been major adjustments in your life this past year.

_____*_____*_____*_____*_____*_____*_____*_____

After taking the test, I scored a TOTAL of ZERO! ... which means I am either completely stress-free, completely in denial, or have passed on to the "church triumphant" unaware!

Frankly, I don't like tests like these. For one, you can't quantify "stress". For instance, I have known people to go through divorce with a stress level of 4 (on a scale of 1-10) and others who curl up in a ball with a stress level that is off the chart.

Likewise, tests like these are not comprehensive. the co-worker who passed it on to me wanted to add the stresser, "Are you caught up in the rush of the Christmas season?" Again, no, I am not.

But ask me what my stress level was last week when a funeral interrupted an already-short work-week. Ask me what my stress level was on Wednesday as I drove through blinding rain on the way to my mother's house for Thanksgiving. Ask me what my stress level is as I approach Charge Conference this weekend.

Okay, that last one is not too high.

Perhaps some people need a test like this to remind them that we live in a stress-filled world. But honestly, who wouldn't recognize the presence of "stress" if they lost a job... or a spouse... You see my point?

What would be more helpful would be a list of "things to do" to help relieve such stresses.
And how do I handle the stress?

Look for me in Margaritaville!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Merry Christmas!!!





Let me be the first to wish you all a very merry Christmas!

Unfortunately, I'm probably not the first -- and it is only November 17th.

Yes, earlier this week I traveled out to the mall and, to my great dismay, there sat Santa, already on his throne at center court, waiting for children to sit on his lap and pose for a photograph!

Then again today, as I went to my favorite Back Yard Burger for lunch, I discovered that elves had been hard at work overnight transforming the restaurant into a "winter wonderland".

I chuckle a little knowing that Elvis Presley Enterprises has been advertising for a couple weeks now: "Santa Claus is coming to town, but first he's stopping at Graceland"... on November 23rd. Oops!

As a Christian pastor, I love celebrating the birth of our Savior, telling the old familiar story of the very pregnant Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem to be registered; finding no room in the inn they were forced to sleep in a stable, where Mary delivered; and the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and laying in a manger. I love the visitations of the shepherds and the wisemen -- and the annual pageants depicting these with children dressed in bathrobes using grandpa's cane for a shepherd's crook.

Yet we all know that what most are celebrating this early in the season is so obviously not the birth of Jesus. In fact, the only thing the two celebrations have in common is the name, "Christmas".

And I have nothing against celebrating this commercialized version of Christmas. I love the decorations and the presents and the parties. I love hearing Nat King Cole sing about "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire", and Eartha Kitt enticing "Santa Baby", and even the oddly successful combination of Bing Crosby and David Bowie sing about "The Little Drummer Boy". And don't forget the Grinch -- the original cartoon version, not the Jim Carey live-action recreation. Why do they insist on messing with perfection?

But c'mon folks! We're still more than five weeks away from the big day! Let's pace ourselves!

It seems that each year, the commercial celebration of Christmas begins earlier and earlier. No longer is the day-after-Thanksgiving such a big deal. We've been humming the muzak version of "White Christmas" for weeks by then! In fact, a week before Halloween, many stores were holding sales on Halloween costumes and candy to make room to sell Christmas decorations.

Maybe there is an up-side to this though. After so many weeks of sugar plum fairies, "Jingle Bells" and the madness in the marketplace, perhaps folks will be ready for a "Silent Night". And perhaps some small child sitting on a department-store-Santa's lap will look up at the fat man in the red suit and ask, "What's this all about anyway?"

And hopefully someone standing nearby will be able to tell that child about the child born in a stable in the city of David, a savior... who is Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chili Cook-Off

Here's one passed along to me by a church member. It's too funny to pass up! Of course, it is supposed to be true (aren't they all) -- you be the judge.

The story comes from a Chili Cook-Off at San Antonio City Park. Frank, a visitor from Springfield, IL, recounts how he was selected to be Judge #3 at the Chili Cook-Off: "Recently, I was honored to be selected as as judge at a chili cook-off. The original person called in sick at the last moment and I happened to be standing there at the judge's table, asking for directions to the Coors Light truck, when the all came in. I was assured by the other two judges (native Texans) that the chili wouldn't be all that spicy; and, besides, they told me I could have free beer during the tasting, so I accepted and became Judge #3."

Here are the score card notes from the event:

Chili #1 - MIKE'S MANIAC MONSTER CHILI
Judge #1 - A little too heavy on the tomato. Amusing kick.
Judge #2 - Nice, smooth tomato flavor. Very mild.
Judge #3 (Frank) - Holy crap, what the hell is this stuff? You could remove dried paint from your driveway. Took me two beers to put the flames out. I hope that's the worst one. These Texans are crazy.

Chili #2 - AUSTIN'S AFTERBURNER CHILI
Judge #1 - Smokey, with a hint of pork. Slight jalapeno tang.
Judge #2 - Exciting BBQ flavor, needs more peppers to be taken seriously.
Judge #3 - Keep this out of reach of children. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to taste besides pain. I had to wave off two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver. They had to rush in more beer when they saw the look on my face.

Chili #3 - FRED'S FAMOUS BURN DOWN THE BARN CHILI
Judge #1 - Excellent firehouse chili. Great kick.
Judge #2 - A bit salty, good use of peppers.
Judge #3 - Call the EPA -I've located a uranium spill. My nose feels like I have been snorting Drano. Everyone knows the routine by now. Get me more beer before I ignite. Barmaid pounded me on the back, now my backbone is in the front part of my chest. I'm getting shit-faced from all of the beer.

Chili #4 - BUBBA'S BLACK MAGIC
Judge #1 - Black bean chili with almost no spice. Disappointing.
Judge #2 - Hint of lime in the black beans. Good side dish for fish or other mild foods, not much of a chili.
Judge #3 - I felt something scraping across my tongue, but was unable to taste it. Is it possible to burn out taste buds? Sally, the beer maid, was standing behind me with fresh refills. This 300-lb. woman is starting to look HOT... just like this nuclear waste I am eating! Is chili an aphrodisiac?

Chili #5 - LISA'S LEGAL LIP REMOVER
Judge #1 - Meaty, strong chili. Cayenne peppers freshly ground, adding considerable kick. Very impressive.
Judge #2 - Chili using shredded beef, could use more tomato. Must admit the cayenne peppers make a strong statement.
Judge #3 - My ears are ringing, sweat is pouring off my forehead, and I can no longer focus my eyes. I farted, and four people behind me needed paramedics. The contestant seemed offended when I told her that her chili had given me brain damage. Sally saved my tongue from bleeding by pouring beer directly on it from the pitcher. I wonder if I'm burning my lips off. It really ticks me off that the other judges asked me to stop screaming. Screw them!

Chilli #6 - VERA'S VERY VEGETARIAN VARIETY
Judge #1 - Thin yet bold vegetarian variety chili. Good balance of spices and peppers.
Judge #2 - The best yet. Aggressive use of peppers, onions, garlic. Superb.
Judge #3 - My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous, sulfuric flames. I crapped on myslef when I farted, and I'm worried it will eat through the chair. No one seems inclinded to stand behind me except that Sally. Can't feel my lips anymore. I need to wipe my butt with a snow cone.

Chili #7 - SUSAN'S SCREAMING SENSATION CHILI
Judge #1 - A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned peppers.
Judge #2 - Ho hum tastes as if the chef literally threw in a can of chili peppers at the last moment. **I should note that I am worried about Judge #3. He appears to be in distress as he is cursing uncontrollably.
Judge #3 - You could put a grenade in my mouth, pull the pin, and I wouldn't feel a thing. I've lost sight in one eye, and the world sounds like it is made of rushing water. My shirt is covered with chili, which slid unnoticed out of my mouth. My pants are full of lava to match my shirt. At least during the autopsy, they'll know what killed me. I've decided to stop breathing -- it's too painful. Screw it: I'm not getting any oxygen anyway. If I need air, I'll just suck it through the 4-inch hole in my stomach.

Chili #8 - BIG TOM'S TOENAIL CURLING CHILI
Judge #1 - The perfect ending, this is a nice blend chili. Not too bold but spicy enough to declare its existence.
Judge #2 - This final entry is a good, balanced chili. Neither mild nor hot. SOrry to see that most of it was lost when Judge #3 farted, passed out, fell over and pulled the chili pot down on top of himself. Not sure if he's going to make it. Poor feller, wonder how he'd have reacted to really hot chili?
Judge #3 - No report.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Gullible


gul'li-ble. A small furry rodent that dwells in coastal tree stumps in New Guinea and feasts on low flying sea birds.

No, really. Look it up!

Now if you believe that, you'll really enjoy the following tidbits, passed generously around the internet... so you know they must be true!

• When Gerber first started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as here in the USA--with the cute baby on the label. Later they found out that in Africa companies routinely put pictures on the label of what is inside since most people can not read.

• When Coca-Cola first shipped to China, they named the product something that when pronounced sounded like "Coca-Cola." The only problem was that the characters used meant "Bite The Wax Tadpole." They later changed to a set of characters that mean "Happiness In The Mouth."

• When Pepsi started marketing its products in China a few years back, they translated their slogan, "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" pretty literally. The slogan in Chinese really meant, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave."

• Coors put its slogan, "Turn It Loose," into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer From Diarrhea."

• The Chevy Nova never sold well in Spanish speaking countries. "No Va" means "It Does Not Go" in Spanish.

Of course, none of these is true. Yet, they have been used as sermon illustrations on several occasions -- apparently it is more important for a sermon illustration to be funny than it is to be true.

Whenever I run across a sermon illustration that appears too good to be true, I check it out. Did Abraham Lincoln really do that? Did Mark Twain/Vince Lombardi/Ben Franklin really say that? Is Madeline Murray O'Hare still trying to remove religious programming from the airwaves?

If I can't confirm it, I either look for something else or admit, "I don't know if he really said this, but..." A good place to start is at http://www.snopes.com/. They research urban legends and try to get to the truth of the matter.

Or is that just an urban legend?

My point is simple -- especially to my fellow pastors out there:

Don't be a small furry rodent...