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".)