Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I had a dream

It was weird.

I normally don’t dream at night.

Or maybe I just don’t remember them. The jury is still out.

Anyway, Friday night I had a dream. It seemed to last all night.

I was preaching. I think it was at my church, although as the dream unfolded it became obvious it wasn’t.

It felt like a Benny Hinn revival. The air was charged with excitement. There was a fat, older couple anxiously waiting their turn to sing their testimony. There were others milling around in the chancel area – deacons???

But I’m United Methodist!

The sermon was about Mary Magdalene. I think.

As I usually do, I provided manuscripts for those in the congregation who are hard of hearing. But as I began to preach, the congregation came alive. Shouting and clapping, they rose to their feet. I strayed from the printed manuscript, and the congregation responded even more.

The Spirit took charge. I threw away my notes, reared back and let ‘er rip!

Almost immediately, a young man came forward and gave his life to the Lord. Four men stepped forward, prayed with him, laid hands on him, and escorted him away. Hands in the congregation went up in testimony!

The older couple stepped up to sing.

But I was still preaching!

Then a woman climbed up on the altar table – apparently she thought she was Mary Magdalene. She writhed around in the throes of repentance as four men lifted the top off the altar and paraded her around the room. The congregation cheered!

The older couple stepped up to sing again.

But I was not done yet!

I told a funny story. The congregation roared! Then my wife appeared behind me. Was she in the choir? Or did she have a special seat of honor as the First Lady? I don’t know. She said she had told me that joke. We bantered back and forth. The congregation loved it!

The older couple stepped up to sing again.

Then something in my brain told me it was time to end the sermon – time to end the dream and wake up.

I distinctly remember the ending: I told the crowd that Mary Magdalene got married. “She found the right man and it turned her life around.”

Did I really say that?

In my dream, apparently, yes.

I wonder what it all means?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We Still Don't Get It!

We watched it over and over again on the news telecasts – during what was to be for the outgoing President Bush a celebratory “victory lap” around the Middle East, a reporter threw his shoes at our President. The man was quickly detained (not quick enough, some complained) and hauled off.

The "Talking Heads" have been having a field day with this one. The pro-Bush faction have loudly denounced the “attack” with threats like, “That wouldn’t have happened in one of Saddam Hussein’s press conferences!” and “Isn’t he lucky WE have given him the ‘freedom’ to express himself in such a way?”

The anti-Bush side has pointed to the large crowds of Iraqi supporters of the shoe-thrower marching in the streets, denouncing the way the U.S. has destroyed their country in the name of freedom and democracy. The infrastructure has been destroyed, the threat of roadside bombs is a daily fear, Iraqi children suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder, and U.S. Marines are still kicking down doors in the middle of the night searching for "terrorists". The Iraqi Body Count project estimates between 89,369 – 97,568 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war began in Spring 2003.

And don’t say, “Freedom isn’t free!” or I’ll throw my shoe at you!

President Bush joked off the “attack”, trying to save face and exit his presidency gracefully.

But First Lady Laura Bush is not laughing: “As a wife, I saw it as an assault, and that's what it was," she told USA TODAY during an interview at the White House on Thursday. "So I didn't laugh it off."

But it wasn’t intended to be an assault. It was an INSULT – an insult of the highest degree.

Yes, the shoes were thrown… hard… and in the general direction of the President’s head. And, OUCH!, that would hurt… probably leave a red mark! Laura might have to kiss George’s boo-boo when he gets home.

But the shoes didn’t contain bombs; I've seen more "lethal" shoes on the feet of a 10-year-old boy! in fact, nothing exploded but the American press... about the "attack" on the President.

It’s time we in America get a clue. The reason Iraqis are rallying in the streets today for the “attacker” is because they understand the insult and the depth of the insult, and because they agree.

You see, the shoe is worn on the lowest part of the body, the part that touches the dirt and filth of their streets. Thus, for a Middle Easterner, it is a great insult to be hit by another’s shoe.

Apparently the Middle East is no place for a shoe fetishist!

A comparable insult in our American culture might be to throw dog-poop at the President… or even one’s own poop! Ewww!

For some reason, images of Martin Luther doing battle with the Devil come to mind.

No, the stain on the wall was not from his ink well, as the sanitized version of the story goes.

The incident should not be laughed off, as the President tried to do. Like him or not, the ultimate representative of the United States of America has been gravely insulted. But rather than demanding a penalty against the would-be “attacker”, the President should, instead, demand a public apology from the protester, to be aired around the world on television.

That is, unless President Bush knows that he deserved it… that the Iraqi invasion was justified by intentionally falsified U.S. intelligence… and only for the sake of killing Saddam Hussein… which, of course, without proper justification would be in violation of international law…

If that is true, then the President deserved the shoe!
[Note to my readers: This posting should in no way be construed as encouragement or instruction to anyone wishing to protest the policies of our President in a similar manner. ... Did I say that okay? ... No! Don't tase me, man!]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hard Times

Sunday’s Commercial Appeal newspaper featured a story about the effect of the recession on churches in the Memphis area. The reporter interviewed Rev. Steve Stone of Heartsong (UMC), who claimed his church’s offerings have declined 20 percent since September.

Pastor Greg Diaz of Nueva Direccion, a Hispanic congregation on Winchester, says his church’s offerings are down 42%, explaining that most of his congregation work in the local construction industry. For his congregation, it is a simple reality: no jobs, no money to give.

Pastor Frank Thomas of Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church claims his church’s offerings are down only 3.5% for the year. He claims he saw this recession coming, although he didn’t say what he has done to prepare his church for it.

Cutbacks are going to have to be made, they all agreed.

I agree too, although no one asked me.

Cutbacks should be made. It is regrettable when we have to consider laying off church staff or making ministry cuts. But it is also regrettable when a major company is forced to lay off 1,500 employees… or ask for salary concessions… or cut benefits.

It sucks, but sometimes it is necessary.

More interesting than the article, however, were the responses from readers. Most of them immediately blamed financial short-falls on the “huge” salaries paid to pastors.

One person wrote: “With the way the economy is now, I don't see how any minister can honestly expect their members to sustain the wealthy lifestyle of mega church preachers.”

…as if we are all mega-church preachers!

In defense of the mega-church preachers, I would simply point out that Fortune 500 CEOs are paid multi-million dollar salaries, baseball player receive multi-million dollar contracts – so why is it so out of line for a pastor responsible for a 30,000 member church to receive a six-figure income?

And, yes, that’s the last time I will defend mega-church preachers.

While I suspect there are some pastors who seek to gain as much as they can, this is not always the case. Not to “toot my own horn”, but when I took my current assignment, I negotiated the salary down – realizing that a church this size could not afford to continue to pay what they were paying. Then last year I insisted on no raises for the church staff (pastor included). This year, with prices rising and fuel costs approaching $4 per gallon, the Staff-Parish Relations Committee insisted on a simple “cost of living” increase.

I dare say, few of us are getting rich.

Another CA reader wrote: “What churches ought to be doing in these times (and I have seen no evidence of that), instead of feathering their own nests, is increasing their support of community outreach, like food banks (which are suffering), or other programs for the people who can't afford the fancy cars and homes ministers have been enjoying at their ‘flocks' expense.”

While this sounds good in the heat of an argument, I suspect the person who wrote it isn’t really aware of what most churches do. The reality is that many churches do take care of their poorer members, as well as others in the community who only darken the doorstep of a church when they need to ask for financial assistance. Many churches operate soup kitchens, food pantries, clothes closets, etc. – most of which is given freely to those with need.

To the credit of my church, they have almost always had a fund to assist people with financial needs. A couple years ago we opened a food pantry for emergency food needs. We regularly participate in soup kitchens at other churches. And we recently applied to join the Angelfood Ministry Network, which would provide food for participants at a much-reduced cost.

But churches rely upon donations by church members in order to operate food banks and other programs for the poor. Our assistance fund is replenished by donations from church members. Our food pantry is restocked by church members. The food we take to other soup kitchens is all donated by church members.

In the end, this recession boils down to faith. Rev. Stone is right when he asks his congregation, “Do you really have less money today or are you afraid of having less in the future?” And when we horde what we have, important ministries suffer.

History has demonstrated that recessions don’t last forever. So the message the Church should be proclaiming during these hard times is “Love your neighbor”. In very practical ways. Those who have resources should share generously with those who do not… so that we will all survive to celebrate another day…

…even if that means giving your money to a church…

…the right church.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Annunciation

(John William Waterhouse, 1914)

"The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." (Luke 1: 26-28)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Told You So

This will be short and sweet… because it’s not nice to gloat.

But I told you so.

In a blog on June 12th I wrote that the sale of Anheuser-Busch to InBev was not a good idea.

In another blog on July 14th I again wrote that I thought it was a bad idea.

Apparently no one reads my blog.

In yesterday’s USAToday came the announcement that now that InBev has control over Anheuser-Busch, they will begin laying off 1,400 workers in North America – mostly from the St. Louis area – most by the end of the year.

Coincidence? I think not.

You can argue that it is in response to the economy – everyone is laying off employees.

You can argue that A-B was already planning to jettison 1,000 employees this summer in an attempt to shore up their stock and ward off the InBev takeover. A-B’s plan was to offer voluntary early retirement incentives. InBev, on the other hand, is simply taking a sickle to the workforce.

The move will cut the number of A-B salaried workers by 25% and save InBev $1.5 billion by 2011.

I saw it coming, and I’m just an humble preacher. A-B should have also, had they done their research.

As for InBev’s other promise – to not close any of A-B’s North American breweries – that is only if they don’t ever have to pay any extra taxes on them. Look for an A-B brewery near you to close soon.

I told you so.

Sometimes I hate being right. [Sigh.]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Changing the Law

I went to seminary in California. It was an intentional change of setting for me, taking me away from my west Kentucky childhood home, enlarging my world view.

To be honest, I was hoping to find the state populated with buxom, blonde 20-year-old women in hot pants and roller skates, like I had seen on “Chips” and “Three’s Company”. But my first trip to the grocery store crushed those hopes – elderly women in hair curlers and fuzzy house slippers pushing their shopping carts slowly down the middle of the aisles, just like at home.

But there was one difference I immediately noticed: every grocery store and even the local K-mart sold wine. It wasn’t necessarily good wine – I could buy a 4-liter jug of E&J Gallo for $3.99 – but it was wine.

Fast forward 20+ years: There is currently a move afoot to change the liquor laws in the state of Tennessee to allow grocery stores, warehouse stores/clubs, and outlet stores to sell wine.

[The present law states that wine and liquor may only be sold by a licensed liquor retailer.]

Proponents of changing the law promise it would bring as much as $18 million into state coffers through taxes and licensing fees.

I am surprised that the law wasn’t immediately changed!

In addition, they argue that 33 states already allow this, making Tennessee appear “backward”.

And we sure don’t want to appear “backward”, do we?

Let me first say that I support government attempts to limit access to alcohol by minors. I support the legal drinking age of 21, and the legally drunk standard of .08%. I support the requirement for everyone to show ID for purchase of alcohol…

…although in Tennessee that is only required for purchase of beer. Figure that one out!

The Associated Press recently reported that between 1999-2005, 157 college-age people drank themselves to death. Of these, 83 were under the legal age.

During that same time period, incidents of alcohol poisoning doubled. There is apparently a ritual in some circles of drinking 21 shots of liquor to celebrate one’s 21st birthday. Many of those found dead of alcohol poisoning showed blood alcohol levels of .40 and higher, five times the legal limit.

This should never happen.

Alcohol is an adult beverage – it should be appreciated, but never abused. One should never drink alcohol with the intention of “getting drunk”, or treat it as a party game. And because of it’s unique properties, if one knows s/he has a problem with alcohol consumption (“know when to say when”), that person should avoid drinking alcohol.

The Bible says that God gave us wine that “gladdens the hearts of men” (Psalm 104:15). But it also warns multiple times against drunkenness.

Which brings us to the alcohol laws in Tennessee, which are a mixed bag of prohibition-minded restrictions that somehow made it through the state legislature. For example…
--liquor stores can only sell wine, hard liquor and beers which contain more than 8% alcohol. They cannot sell Budweiser – that is sold at grocery stores. They cannot even sell liquor- & wine-related paraphernalia – glasses, ice, or even corkscrews!
--liquor store owners can only own one shop, and all employees must be specially trained and registered with the state.
--liquor stores cannot be located near schools and churches, and they cannot be open on Sundays.
--liquor stores cannot do anything that would cause people to “congregate” in their establishment (i.e., no wine tastings).

I lift these up as a few of the sticking points for the new legislation. If the legislature allows for the sale of wine at grocery stores, will these same rules apply to the grocery stores? Or will the legislature loosen these restrictions on liquor stores? One way or the other, the playing field will have to be leveled.

And doesn’t the dubious “promise” of $18 million in tax revenues suggest a significant increase in wine sales? Which necessarily leads to a significant increase in wine consumption? Which may lead to a significant increase in alcohol-related deaths?

Perhaps I have become a wine snob since my days of the $4 jug of Gallo, but I appreciate a good bottle of wine. It can make or break a nice dinner. I suspect the persons who just wants to throw a couple bottles of vino into their grocery cart at Wal-Mart don’t share my appreciation and should probably just stick to their Bud Light.

And, for me, there’s nothing like the thrill of walking into a local wine merchant’s shop (think “Kirby Wines”, not “Quik-mart Liquors”) and browse through the racks of wines from around the world. It momentarily transports me to a small, romantic village in Italy, or to the musty wine cellar of a great castle.

I suspect this wouldn’t happen at Kroger.

So, I say let’s just leave things are they are.

For more information about teaching responsible drinking to your kids, go to www.brad21.org.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Lambuth Meeting

What we were hoping to see:

What we saw:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why the Happiness?

Beach Volleyball superstar Keri Walsh is leaping for joy because:

a) she is still thrilled about winning her second Olympic Gold medal this summer in Beijing

b) she and Misty May-Treynor were recently declared the 2008 Glamour Women of the Year in an awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall

c) she and Nichole Branagh just won the 2008 Swatch FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in Dubai

d) she is still excited about meeting Bro. Dave this summer at Long Beach

e) she just announced that she is pregnant

f) she just found out that Women's Beach Volleyball uniforms will be skimpier next year

Answer: All of the above... well, with the exception of F! [sigh]

...and maybe D. [deeper sigh]

In an interview yesterday, Keri told Billy Bush of "Access Hollywood": "I'm chubby, I'm pregnant, and it's awesome!" (Check out the "baby bump" in the photo above...?)

Keri believes the blessed event took place in Beijing after her gold medal performance on court.

Wow! Two gold medals on the same day!

Congrats to Keri Walsh and Casey Jennings. May this be the start of a new beach volleyball dynasty!

By the way, what's up with holdng a beach volleyball championship in Dubai??? They don't even let their women show their ankles in public!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Say it Ain't So!

In a press release from South Bend today, Notre Dame’s Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick announced that they will be retaining the services of Charlie Weis for the coming year.

In the understatement-of-the-year, Swarbrick writes, “Though this past season fell short of the expectations that all of us have for our football program…”

After four seasons, Weis has amassed a 28-21 record – which is still considered a winning record – but that comes only as a result of his first two seasons, in which the Irish went 9-3 and 10-3… or a total of 19-6.

Let’s see… that means the last two seasons have totaled 9-15… or NOT a winning record! Other coaches in recent history have been fired for much less. (see blog of November 12.)

What, does Charlie have blackmail photos of someone?

Or is it because Notre Dame can’t afford to buy out the remaining 6 years of Charlie’s ill-conceived $60 million contract?

Swarbrick continues: “…I am confident that Charlie has a strong foundation in place for future success and that the best course of action is to move forward under his leadership.”

Am I missing something? It has been said time and again that Weis is recruiting top players from across the nation. But that first season for Weis was largely the result of a team with which he had absolutely no part in recruiting. And since then, they have not been “moving forward”.

So it sounds like a coaching problem to me.

In a press conference prior to the 38-3 drubbing by USC last weekend, Weis said, “We’ve got a decent team.” Talk about lowering expectations! Last month he said they were "pretty good!"

Notre Dame fans don't want a "decent" team. There are a lot of "decent" teams out there. But "decent" teams don't get national television contracts... and "decent" teams don't pay their coaches 7-figure salaries! So after four years under Weis' leadership, I (and many others) demand to know why the Irish aren’t GREAT! Why are they still only “decent”?

Swarbrick concludes his statement with words of hope: “We are examining every aspect of the program and will make changes wherever we think they are needed.”

Well, Jack, I know you’re new at this job, but let me tell you – changes are needed at the top! And if not the coach, maybe the athletic director needs to go.

I’m just thankful we don’t have these problems in the church!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And now for something completely different...

*(Not original to "Banana Winds".)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Vampires Revisited

We went to see "Twilight" yesterday. The theater was packed, second weekend after release.

I'm not a movie critic... but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night!... and being an "old guy", my review is probably hoplessly out of touch.

It was just so... 90210!

I mean, really, a foster family of "good" vampires stuck repeating high school year after year? I know vampires are not supposed to grow older, but at some point, Edward Cullen should have told his vampire foster dad, "Pop, 160 years as a high school junior is enough! If I have to read 'Tale of Two Cities' one more time, I am going to bite the english teacher!"

And what is wrong with a 17-year-old girl that she would even want to kiss a 160-year-old man? who was cold to the touch? and who was just plain creepy?

... even moreso than your typical 17-year-old, hormone-enraged, teenage boy?

For those of you who have not yet seen the movie, I won't give away the ending -- I hate it when people do that -- but think "sequel".

Anyway, as I watched this teen thriller, it struck me: my last post on vampires was completely chauvenistic. When I asked which was the greatest vampire of all time, I limited it to only male vampires.

That was wrong. I apologize.

So let me ask again, this time showing pics of some of the greatest female vampires:

I grew up with Vampirella. She was featured in comic books, achieving almost superhero status. I never understood the costume though. Why did all the male vampires wear tuxedos and capes, but she got stuck for all eternity in a slingshot bikini and knee-boots?

Not that I minded.

Then there was Elvira, "mistress of the dark" and late-night TV host.

At least I think she was a vampire.

Another vampire eternally stuck in a questionable costume was Akasha, from the movie "Queen of the Damned". Although the movie was not critically acclaimed, Aaliyah filled out the role -- and the costume -- superbly!

At this point, some of you may be thinking, "Perhaps it was less chauvenistic when he just left out the female vampires!"

Too late! Moving along!

There were a lot of female vampires in "Bordello of Blood", including Angie Everhart.

And then there's Kate Beckinsale in "Underworld".

I never watched the movie, so I'm not sure she was a vampire, but the costume made her worth including in the list.

Back to "Twilight". Although I didn't "get" the movie, I have decided to elevate Ashley Greene to the top of my Favorite Vampires list.

She didn't get nearly enough screen time, but as Alice Cullen, she was Cute. Playful. Spunky. I was just starting to think, "Wow! She could bite my neck any time!" About that moment, she lept across the screen and literally twisted the head off the bad vampire!

Now that's a real woman!

Even without a slingshot bikini!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, My A**!


According to yesterday’s L.A. Times, battle lines have been drawn at two elementary schools in Claremont, California.

Yes, that’s where I earned my theological degree.

The town, not the elementary school.

The battle rages on over the [politically] correct observance of Thanksgiving by two kindergarten classes.

For the past 40 years, a kindergarten class from Condit Elementary and a kindergarten class from Mountain View Elementary have taken turns dressing as Pilgrims and Native Americans, and they share a Thanksgiving meal together.


This year, however, a small group of parents – led by four college professors/parents from area colleges (UC-Riverside, Spitzer, Univ. of Redlands, Riverside CC), protested the tradition, saying the costumes were “dehumanizing” to Native Americans… and to Pilgrims! They compared the annual ritual to dressing the children up as slaves and slave owners, or Jews and Nazis. “There is nothing to be served by dressing up as a racist stereotype,” said one parent.

And as most angry mobs will do, they took their complaint to the School Board.

Give me a break!

As I remember from my own kindergarten days, the Native Americans and Pilgrims were friends. The Native Americans helped the Pilgrims survive that first, harsh winter in the new land and in gratitude they all came together for a great feast.

I know that’s not completely historically accurate, but it’s the mythology of our nation. Isn't it possible that the Europeans and the Native Americans peacefully co-existed for at least a brief time around 1620-21? Isn't it possible that the smallpox plague that wiped out many of the Native Americans was simply an unintended and unfortunate consequence of two cultures colliding? Isn't it possible that that the pilgrims signed peace treaties with several native tribes in those early years in good faith? I choose to believe so.

As you might imagine, a school board as sophisticated as the one that runs the Claremont Unified Schools would quickly dismiss such a petty, baseless complaint, right?

Nope. Absent the presence of real Pilgrims and ignoring the testimonies of some REAL Native Americans who said the tradition did not bother them, the School Board ruled that the traditional feast could go on, but the construction paper costumes would not be permitted!

Believe it or not, the School Superintendent had actually received harassing phone calls and even death threats over the issue!

So the big day came. In a bold act of defiance, some parents who didn’t see what the big deal was sent their kids to school in the traditional construction paper costumes anyway. School officials did not make the children remove the costumes.

That’s when the real protests erupted.

[I’m not making this stuff up. Go to the LA Times web site and read it for yourself!]

Now here’s where it gets good. Anti-costume parents stormed the school in protest… okay, maybe just six or seven showed up. But from across the street they shouted and brandished signs that read, “Don’t Celebrate Genocide!”
Did I mention this was two kindergarten classes taking part in a Thanksgiving meal?

Some pro-costume parents also showed up in counter-protest. Wearing construction paper costumes themselves, they set up a table and served refreshments.

I love it!

To make a short story long, despite the refreshments, the rhetoric between the “antis” and the “pros” got so heated at one point that the school principal called in the local police, who quickly arrived at the scene and put both groups in separate “time out” corners, thus defusing what could have been an ugly incident.

Okay, an uglier incident.

Now, I wish I had some Horatio Caine-style pithy comment with which to wrap this all up, but, to be honest, I can’t top this stuff. It’s surreal!

So from our home to yours, have a Happy [politically correct] Thanksgiving celebration.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vampires Abound!

So I hear there’s this new vampire movie out… “Twilight”. It made $70 million in the first weekend of release… mostly paid by teenage girls looking for an eternal hickey from Edward Cullen (portrayed by Robert Pattinson).

I haven’t seen the movie yet, so don’t spoil it for me. But as I understand it, this family of vampires lives in Seattle and they are able to function even in the daytime because the sun never shines there!

“Last month in Seattle, 24 people fell off their bicycles and drown.”


[Actually, I borrowed that joke from Oregon…where it regularly happens!]

Growing up, I cut my teeth on vampires (pardon the pun). I had read Bram Stoker’s vampire classic “Dracula” by the time I was 12. It did no lasting damage. [Shut up!] I never had bad dreams. There were no monsters living under my bed or in my closet...

...because there was no room for them there; too much junk!

Anyway, this sudden resurgence in vampires on the silver screen makes me ask: “Who do you think was the best vampire?” Here are some photos to prompt your memory:

Yeah, I know. That last one is Charlie Weis. He may not be a vampire, but he's sure sucking the life out of Notre Dame!

And, yes, Tom Cruise’s “Lestat” didn’t make the cut. Sorry. Get over it.

Since you can’t leave messages on my blog (someone posted a link to a virus, so I disabled that feature), let me tell you who the best vampire of all times was.

Yep, it’s Barnabas Collins, of the soap opera “Dark Shadows”. It aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971. It started as just a regular soap opera, but in a surprise move to boost ratings [hell, what could it hurt!], the writers introduced a vampire – and it worked!

And here’s why I pick Barnabas Collins as the best vamp: “Dark Shadows” was a crappy little low-budget b/w soap opera (filmed live) in which the “castle” walls shook when a door was closed, where microphone booms often dropped down into the picture – and yet through it all, Jonathan Frid was able to stay in character and not swallow his fake fangs!

As a child, I would lay on my Grandma’s living room floor and watch “Dark Shadows”, no more scared than today when I watch “Old Christine”!

Now, that’s scary!!!

So now there is a new generation of vampires on the big screen. I wish you long life and... happy hunting!
Now, would somebody PLEASE bite Charlie Weis already!?!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bill Collectors

Since we moved here 2 ½ years ago, we have been regularly harassed by bill collectors.

No, we’re fine.

They are looking for Ann Algood. We don’t know who she is – if she previously held our phone number, or if she is just using it when she fills out credit applications.

Last year we received a call from a Blockbuster store. Ann Algood had a past-due video. When I asked where the store was located, he gave me the name of a small town east of Knoxville, TN.

Normally the collection agency will leave a message on our answering machine asking Ann Algood to return their call. If the same company calls back several times, we eventually call them and explain that this is not her number. They are usually polite and apologize for disturbing us.

More recently, the calls have been automated messages. “By law,” the message says, “we must inform you that this call is in regard to a debt collection.” But without saying who they are calling for, they leave a toll free number and ask for the courtesy of a return call.

Now, who’s going to do that?

When I returned the call... to an operator in a third world country... [Ain't technology grand?], he believed me without verification when I told him he had the wrong number. He apologized and promised to remove our number from his calling sheet.

Now, you might ask, why don’t we just change our phone number?

First, it’s a hassle. We would have to deal with the telephone company [bleh!], then contact all of our friends, family members and church members regarding the change. The telephone directory would be wrong for the rest of the year, as would the conference journal. Nope, just too much hassle.

Second, who’s to say we won’t get a worse problem?

And third, I’m hoping one day Ann Algood will call and ask, “Have I received any calls?”

While I’m on the topic, we have also received phone calls from bill collection agencies asking, “Do you know your neighbor, Mr. [Jones] at [address across the street]? Would you mind going over and asking him to call us?”

No, I am not going to do your job.

All this makes me wonder about the effectiveness of bill collection agencies. Do they ever collect past due bills? Whatever happened to the knee-breaking thugs?

And if there are no knee-breaking thugs out there anymore, why do I work so hard to pay my bills on time?

It seems that I could purchase anything I want and never have to pay for it simply by providing phony information on the credit application. Apparently, no one checks.

What’s more, I could probably even get away with providing correct information – just deny being “Mr. Garrett” when they call to collect.

No wonder our economy is in such a mess!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Events That Define a Generation

Throughout history, there have been events identified by historians as “events that define a generation”: the assassinations of President Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963) and Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4, 1968), the murder of John Lennon (Dec. 8, 1980), the Challenger Explosion (Jan. 28, 1986), the massacre at Columbine High School (April 20, 1999), the terrorist attacks on 9-11 (2001).

For some it was “the day the music died”, a reference in Don McLean’s “American Pie” (the song, not the movie) to the death of Buddy Holly (Feb. 3, 1959).

But a largely-overlooked watershed event in the modern era is the tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana, that took place 30 years ago today, when religious leader Jim Jones ordered 900 of his devotees to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid in a mass suicide.

Some who resisted were shot to death; and Jones himself apparently shot himself in the head.

I was fifteen at the time. It made an impression.

The Guyana tragedy warned my generation of the dangers of blindly following a leader… any leader… especially a religious leader.

Look at his story: Born in 1931, Jim Jones was a student of Stalin, Marx, Gandhi and Hitler. Jones aligned himself with the American Communist Party (during the time of the McCarthy hearings) and was bent on establishing a utopian society. He discovered that, due to the gullible nature of religious people, the church would be the easiest path to achieving his goal.

He would later repudiate Christianity, the Bible, and even God.

To our embarrassment, the first to give Jones a pulpit was a Southern Methodist superintendent in Indianapolis.

To our further embarrassment, Jones left Methodism when he was not allowed to integrate his congregation.

He amassed a following by welcoming all people to his “Peoples Temple”. He cast his vision for a perfect society during the turbulent 60s. He faked healings. And he ruled with an iron fist.

In the mid-60s, in the face of persecution (some allegedly of his own making), Jones moved the Peoples Temple to Redwood, California. He ingratiated himself with the political power structure, being able to turn out hundreds of his followers wherever needed – pickets, protests, elections, etc.

They did what they were told.

But Jones already had his eye on Guyana, said to be one of the safest places on the earth in the (likely) event of a nuclear holocaust; his ideal society would survive to repopulate the planet.
Hundreds followed him. The devotees did whatever he asked… despite his often-times manic rants, despite the frequent beatings of “sinners” in worship services, despite the reality that he was taking his congregation hundreds of miles away from home – into the middle of a jungle in a foreign country.

Once Jonestown was established, Jones maintained control despite his own drug-induced fog, constantly warning his followers that the American government was about to attack and kill them; they would take the children and make them “Fascists”, he warned. He frequently staged phony raids and “practiced” mass suicides.

And the people went along.

Until that fateful day in November 1978. California Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in response to concerns expressed by family members of the Peoples Temple. Ryan, his press entourage, and 15 members who wanted to defect were shot to death at the Port Kaituma airstrip as they attempted to leave.

The next morning, 909 bodies were found at Jonestown. Dead.

Today, I find it difficult to “follow” anyone. It’s a trust issue.

In high school there were teachers and Bible Study leaders who wanted my allegiance. One summer we were taken for a weekend retreat at Kay Aurthur’s “Christian Boot Camp”. My best friend at the time opted out of his first year of college to return there for a full year of indoctrination. The friendship ended.

Throughout my ministry, district superintendents have wanted to “shape my career” – for a price. “All this can be yours if you just fall down and worship me.” I have resisted.

And I realize today that I find it difficult to make real demands on my congregation. I don’t demand weekly attendance like some preachers do. I don’t demand a rigid set of beliefs like some preachers do. I encourage tithing but don’t demand it like some preachers do. I don’t even demand loyalty like some preachers do; I regularly share my pulpit and happily collaborate with former pastors on weddings and funerals.

In short, I don’t want to be the next Jim Jones.

Like Jim Jones, I, too, dream of an integrated church… and I have one. I yearn for a perfect society… still working on that.

But all of this has to come about through thinking people coming together of their own free will. It can’t be brought about through coercion, deception, or fear.

And it can’t be brought about through a solitary, charismatic leader. History has proved mere human beings can’t handle that kind of power… and shouldn’t be given it.

In memory of those who died in Guyana – November 18, 1978.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On "Fine" and "Pretty Good"


It’s a strange word. Depending on one’s context and inflection while saying this four-letter-word, it can take on different meanings.

When discussing a magnificent wine or a delicious cut of steak, “fine” can mean “superlative”.

“Fine” can also be used in reference to the thickness of something like a thread, or “There’s a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.” (a Buffett-ism)

Said in anger, “fine” can also mean, “We’re done talking about this now.”

And when my wife asks me, “How do I look?”, I had better make sure that my inflection on “fine” suggests “foxy”… because “fine” can also be (inappropriately) used to mean “satisfactory”.

As in, “Is that what you are wearing?... no, no, it looks fine.”

A similar remark is “pretty good”.

Let me quote Charlie Weis, head coach of Notre Dame Football, about this year’s team: “I’m confident that the program is going where we all want it to go. That’s as honest as I can be. Because I think we have pretty good players. When you have pretty good players, you have a chance to be pretty good.”

In other words, they’re “fine”.

Fine? Now in his fourth year as Head Coach, Weiss has led the Irish to a pitiful 5-4 record, playing a notably weak schedule.

So they beat Michigan! This year, who hasn’t?

And why are they even playing San Diego State???

While this year’s record is better than 2007’s 3-9 finish, it is not up to par for what is expected at Notre Dame.

When Bob Davie replaced the aging Lou Holtz, he was given five years to produce. He took the team to three bowl games – lost all three – and held an overall winning 35-25 record. But in 2001, the worst of the five seasons, the team went 5-6 and Davie was fired.

Ty Willingham, Notre Dame’s first African-American coach, was only given three years. In 2002 he was selected Coach of the Year for leading the Irish to a 10-3 record. His overall record was 21-16 with two bowl losses. But in 2004, in a move that is still a mystery, despite a 6-5 record, the University fired Willingham.

Charlie Weis was supposed to be the golden boy of the NFL offensive line, having helped lead the New England Patriots to three Superbowls. Notre Dame lured him away with a 6-year contract said to be worth $2 million per year. During 2005, with (Willingham recruits) Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija leading the way, Notre Dame posted a 9-2 record and went to the Fiesta Bowl (which they lost to Ohio State).

Oddly, however, before that first season was even finished, Weis was offered a 10-year contract, estimated to be worth $30-40 million. The next year went well, finishing at 10-2 and a loss in the Sugar Bowl to LSU.

But in 2007, the team fell apart, posting the worst record ever in Notre Dame history, an abysmal 3-9. They were ranked last in offense... which, again, was supposed to be Weis' area of expertise.

And this year, at 5-4 (so far), Weis says, “We have pretty good players.”

They ought to be, Coach. You recruited them! This is your team now. You can’t blame Ty Willingham anymore. These are your boys!

Back before Halloween I called out that Great Pumpkin in Knoxville, and said he should start packing his bags if he lost to South Carolina. Well, SC whooped Tennessee “real bad!” and the next day the University bought out Coach Fulmer’s contract.

So now I’m calling out the "Fat Boy" up in South Bend. If you don’t beat Navy this weekend, you might want to start mailing out résumés.

Remember, I said it here first.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Lament

I know the scriptures.

I know the Old Testament holds us responsible for our neighbor as well as for the sojourner in our midst.

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Jesus repeated this in the New Testament near the end of his ministry (Matthew 26:11).

Jesus also taught, “Blessed are you who are poor…” (Luke 6:20). He taught that the greatest commandment is to love God and to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. (Matthew 22:37) And he divided the sheep and the goats based on our response to the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:31-46)

And here’s one that really hurts: “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30)

Yes, I know the scriptures. And I don’t know anywhere that Jesus let’s us “off the hook”.

What set off this writing was a telephone call this afternoon from a woman seeking financial assistance. In the past, this church has been pretty good at fielding requests for emergency needs, as money has been available. We also house a food pantry.

But I checked our records. The woman who called today has been calling us regularly since 2003. It appears her need is not an “emergency”, but a habit. And she is not alone.

As the one who usually deals with those who come to this church seeking assistance, I have grown discouraged. The need is great in our community – I know that. And our resources are diminishing – I know that. In general, I think we do pretty good for a church our size.

But there are some – like the woman who called today – who make me want to close up our hand and not give to anyone.

I know my experience is not unique: I have been given phony names; phony addresses; phony stories. I have been told I am not a Christian when I turn down a request. I have been cursed at for not doing more. I have been promised to be repaid “just as soon as I get my check on Friday”.

Apparently none of them has a church of their own.

Nor are they interested. I grew so jaded at one point that I started offering $10 to people if they would just come to worship on Sunday morning.


So far no one has taken me up on that offer.

I know money is not the answer. The more we give away, the more requests we receive. If I had $1 million, I would need $2 million. I have noticed that if I help one person, I will receive ten more calls within the next 24 hours.

So many seem to see the Church as a one-way ATM machine: withdrawal all you want without ever making a deposit. One woman grew angry with me, demanding that I pay her utility bill because, “You’re the church. You’re supposed to help people.”

So what are we to do, in this day when resources are diminishing and needs are increasing?

We could fire the church staff and cut out our other programs and redirect our modest budget totally to taking care of the poor in our neighborhood – food pantry, soup kitchen, shelter, clothes closet, payment of utility bills and rent. That would last about six months before those resources would dry up. Then what?

As my one-time Sr. Pastor and mentor, Dr. Jerry Carr, once reminded me, “If we are all poor, then how can we help the poor?”

Perhaps Jesus did not let us “off the hook” so that we would always struggle with the problem of poverty. If he had just said, “Give ‘til it hurts”, or even, “Give ‘til it helps”, we could find occasional comfort in knowing that we have arrived at that point and can now stop.

But if “the poor will be with us always”, then we can never stop.

The good news is that as we give generously, “God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” (Deuteronomy 15:10)

Or, as Jesus promised, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:34, 40)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

That's What It's All About


It’s what separated Senator Obama from Senator McCain.

Over the last week the pundits have tried to explain how the President-elect won the Oval Office.

They say he inspired African-Americans and young people to vote.

They say his campaign utilized contemporary technology – like Facebook and MySpace, and text messaging.

They say he raised – and spent – more money than any candidate ever has before.

They say he used his grassroots “community organizer” skills to mobilize thousands of volunteers across America to carry the message of his campaign.

But what they fail to understand is what Barack Obama did for America.

He gave us hope...

hope that things will be different.

hope that the days of self-serving government are over.

hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

Now, I don’t believe for a minute that he will be able to fulfill all of his campaign promises. No president has. The country is $11 trillion dollars in debt. We are still at war. We are still dependent on foreign oil. We are entering a recession.

But Obama gave us hope

…that maybe he sees the world differently.

…that maybe he cares about more than himself and his big-money cronies.

…that maybe he will at least try to make a difference.


The election results are less than a week old; in fact, some ballots have not yet been counted. But already, that radio loud-mouth Rush Limbaugh is blaming the current recession on Obama – who will not be sworn in to office until January 2009. FOX television’s Sean Hannity has labeled Obama’s selection of chief-of-staff as “one of the hardest left-wing radicals on the left”. The Old Guard of the GOP is already strategizing to reclaim the White house in 2012.

Which makes me ask, “What have they got against hope?”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After

The elections are over now.

And all the people said: “Amen.”

The good news is that when I awoke this morning, the sun was up, birds were chirping, and (as far as I could tell) the earth was still rotating on its axis. The world did not come to an end, as some had predicted.

So now I want to take a moment and talk to you about Patriotism.

Early in the Presidential campaign, much was made over the fact that Senator Barack Obama did not wear an American flag lapel pin. Although an elected Senator from the great state of Illinois and the Democratic Party's candidate for President, he was accused by some of being unpatriotic for that small oversight.

I will ignore the irony of that accusation.

But I have noticed, especially around my neighborhood, that apparently one must display the Stars and Stripes on national holidays to demonstrate one's patriotisim – even if you don’t know the first thing about the proper display of our flag.

Governor Sarah Palin made her patriotism clear during the Vice Presidential debate, wearing a HUGE rhinestone flag pin on her lapel!

She must be VERY patriotic!

But if this is our criterion for gauging patriotism, then let me ask you: Is this patriotic?

Or how about this?

What about this?

No, patriotism is not just about what one wears.

Or even what one has tattooed on his face!

Patriotism is an attitude. That is, by our words and by our actions, we indicate to others that we love our country.

Not that other countries aren’t nice too. We should never lift ourselves up simply by putting others down. But for a variety of reasons, we love the United States of America.

Thus, it is patriotic to obey the laws of our country. It is patriotic to pay taxes. And it is patriotic to vote.

In fact, one of the greatest things about the USA is our democratic elections. We are changing the political leadership of our nation across the board without riots, without bloodshed, without a military coup. We should be very proud of what we have accomplished today.


So the votes have been counted. The winners have been announced. Concession speeches have been offered, and victory celebrations have commenced.

But now the hard work of patriotism begins.

Some of you may be unhappy because your candidates didn’t win. Some of you may have bought into the negative tone of the political campaign season and now dread and/or fear the coming years under a new President, new Congress, new City Council. Some of you may be grumbling – sour grapes – despite the definitive outcome of the elections.

But now the hard work of patriotism begins.

As participants in this great democracy, we agree to abide by the outcome of the elections, the expressed will of the majority. If it doesn’t work out, our Constitution assures us there will eventually be another election.

So now, whether our candidates won or lost, it is time to stop regurgitating the vitriol that was so carelessly flung about during the campaigns. It’s time to step up and show the world just how patriotic we are – how much we love our country.

The challenges for the new government are huge – the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, growing unemployment and two lingering wars… just to name a few.

There will be detractors. Some will cry out for quick fixes to age-old problems. Some will wrangle for ways to maintain power and wealth. Some will begin immediately to undermine the new government and set the stage for the next election. I suspect we will again see the bumper stickers, “Don’t blame me, I voted for…”

But what is needed more than anything at this juncture in our history is for all Americans to demonstrate their patriotism by rallying around this new government. It’s time to stop tearing one another down and look for ways in which we can work together to build us all up.

That’s patriotism.