Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Derby Time!

Saturday marks the 135th running of The Kentucky Derby, the first jewel in the Triple Crown. Time to dig out the big hats and brush up on the words to "My Old Kentucky Home"!

My Old Kentucky Home
words and music by Stephen C. Foster

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
'Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn-top's ripe and the meadow's in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day.

The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright;
By 'n' by Hard Times comes a-knocking at the door,
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.

Weep no more my lady
Oh! weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the Old Kentucky Home far away.

They hunt no more for the possum and the coon,
On meadow, the hill and the shore,
They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
On the bench by the old cabin door.

The day goes by like a shadow o'er the heart,
With sorrow, where all was delight,
The time has come when the people have to part,
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.


The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
Wherever the people may go;
A few more days, and the trouble all will end,
In the field where the sugar-canes grow;

A few more days for to tote the weary load,
No matter, 'twill never be light;
A few more days till we totter on the road,
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.

Derby officials drew post positions for the 20 3-year-old thoroughbred entered in the 1 1/4 mile race, the first of the Triple Crown. "I Want Revenge" at #13 seems to be the favorite. But in horse racing, as in life, it's not over until it's over!

Since it uncharacteristic of me to post two sports blogs in a row, let me get right to the point: how many sporting events have their own special drink?

No, Budweiser doesn't count.

In addition to horse racing, the Kentucky Derby is famous for the Mint Julep. Nearly 120,000 are served at Churchill Downs over the 2-day Derby festival. That would be 10,000 bottles of Early Times Mint Julep (Ready-to-serve) Cocktail mix, 1,000 lbs. fresh mint and 60,000 lbs. crushed ice!

So, as you get ready to watch Saturday's race, you should gather and prepare the necessary ingredients. Follow the recipe below (from Early Times Bourbon) and enjoy the race!

2 Cups sugar
2 Cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Crushed ice
Early Times Kentucky Whisky
Silver Julep Cups

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight.

Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon of the mint-infused syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's That Time of the Year!

It’s that special time of the year – the sports fan’s delight – when nearly every sport is in play.

Basketball is winding down, baseball is starting up. Tennis, golf, NASCAR, soccer. The Kentucky Derby is this weekend! Even football has begun spring training. Yep. you can pretty much see it all!

But most exciting of all is Hockey!

While I hate cold weather, I love hockey! I have since playing with the neighborhood kids on our backyard ice rink in Michigan. Perhaps it’s the speed of the game. Perhaps it’s the graceful skating.

Maybe it’s the occasional brawl. I mean, what other sport actually allows the players to throw off the gloves and go at it?!?

I was naturally a Red Wings fan back then in Michigan.

But since 1993, I have adopted a new team – the Anaheim Mighty Ducks!

Yes, I know, they are just the “Anaheim Ducks” now.

I hate that shortening of the name.

And I hate their new logo.

And the new team colors.

And the fact that they changed the name of “The Pond” to “The Honda Center”.

No more announcing, “The Ducks are at the Pond!” Now it’s just another corporate sponsorship. Sigh.

By the way, I'm still looking for a corporate sponsor for my church... Any takers?

I became a Ducks fan in 1993 when the Walt Disney Company decided to spin off a professional hockey team from a Disney children’s movie that netted them $51 million the year before.

Thank you, Emilio Estevez.

I loved the cartoonish Duck logo, the quirky purple and teal colors, and simply the fact that Disney did it!

All the changes came in 2005 when Disney sold the team. The new owners wanted a more serious image. The colors were picked by owner Henry Samueli’s wife, Susan. Black and gold are supposedly her favorite colors.

Anyway, for a team only 15 years old, they have done quite well for themselves. They have made the playoffs seven times, been Western Conference champs twice, and won the Stanley Cup in 2007!

We happened to be at Angel Stadium the night they brought the Stanley Cup across the 57-freeway to show the Anaheim fans.

Which brings us to this year. The Ducks had a mediocre year (42-33-7). They squeezed into the Western Conference Quarterfinals as the 8th team, scheduled to face-off with the San Jose Sharks, the #1 team… the team with the best record in the league (53-18-11). The writing was on the wall.

But the Mighty Ducks rallied and in six games sent the San Jose Sharks home. Game 4 was a 4-0 blow-out!

Way to go, Mighty Ducks!

Next up: the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Who, by the way, have not significantly altered their team logo or colors since I was a kid!

The Ducks and the Red Wings have been the winningest teams of the past five years, spoilers for each others' quest for the Cup.

You can be assured I’ll be on the edge of my seat!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Weekend Warrior Update 04/26/09

Okay, the weekend is over, and I know that all four of you who read my blog are just dying to know: did he meet his deadline? Is the bathroom project finished?

You may recall from prevous posts that Karen's parents are coming to visit.

Quite interesting, they have traveled from "sea to shining sea" in a 1931 Model A (slant-windshield / blind-back)! Before leaving home, they dipped their tires into the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, they dipped their tires into the Gulf of Mexico, and later into the Atlantic Ocean at North Carolina.They are finally headed our way after a brief stopover in Chicago -- where they probably dipped their tires in Lake Michigan as well!

Curent ETA: sometime on Wednesday.

So the bathroom project became urgent, after a 6-month haitus. And it all came down to this weekend.

And a beautiful weekend it was. The sun was shining, the temperature soared into the 80s, but with a nice breeze that kept off the heat. it was tempting to just sit outside after a long winter and soak up the rays.

But there was that d*** bathroom project!

The flowers in our yard are in bloom! This is just one of several azalea bushes in our yard, already starting to fade...

And we have some very prolific rose bushes that have started their first of several blooms...

Even the squirrels could not resist the beautiful weather...

But they probably didn't have a bathroom upstairs left undone.

Oh, to be a squirrel... no responsibilities... just forage for nuts, chase one another around trees, and dodge cars!

Anyway, Inquiring Minds want to know... is the bathroom finished? Are we ready for company?

You bet!

There is more to be done -- cosmetic stuff -- but the room IS fully functional now.

And quite attractive, if I do say so myself!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Weekend Warrior Update 4/23/09

The Bathroom project is finally at the "coming together" stage and it is going well. Yesterday I started bringing in key pieces to make the room useable once again. Barring any unforeseen or unfortunate situation, the bathroom should be fully functional (although not finished) this weekend.

Of course, that is not to say that there haven't been little glitches. For instance, yesterday I bought a high-end vanity cabinet with lots of drawer space, but the drawers interfere with the plumbing. I'm not really sure who designed this particular cabinet, or for what unique plumbing configuration, but I'll have to make yet another trip to Home Depot.

To return the cabinet.

It's replacement will probably come from Lowe's.

Then there is the tile work. I finished that on Sunday. I Iooked it over carefully to make sure I didn't miss aything -- so many little tile pieces, my eyes start to blur. I asked Karen to inspect it too.

It passed.

Here's a detail I'm paticularly pleased with.

But on Monday, as I was grouting the tile, I discovered that the very last piece -- over in the corner -- was missing. That's been taken care of.

Then, last night as I was installing the ceramic fixtures, I made another discovery.

Yes, there is supposed to be something there to the left. That has been taken care of as well.

This evening I'll seal the tile, then install the commode & sink.

Did I mention I hate plumbing???

Pray for me.

So here's the latest photo...

No, the tape is merely marking the location, not holding down the commode!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Weekend Warrior Update 4/20/09

As mentioned previously, I spend a lot of my spare time fixing up the parsonages in which we live. We believe one should leave the parsonage better than we found it -- and in some cases that has been easy to do!

The current project, as reported in my March 9th blog, is the upstairs bathroom. Back in October I tore out everything -- down to the studs and floor joists. It sat idle for several months, but since March I have made a more serious effort to finish the job. The picture here is most recent.

But now the pressure is on. The in-laws are coming to visit, and we need the extra bathroom.

When will they arrive?

That's the problem.

A week ago, I thought their ETA was the weekend of May 2nd. Then last week my wife told me it will probably be the weekend of April 25th. Last night they called and said they might be here as early as Wednesday! This morning the ETA changed to Monday, April 27th.


By the way, never invite those TV home improvement folks into your home. I've discovered there is no way they can do what they do in just a weekend!

Unless they cut corners, which you will regret later.

So here is my schedule for the week. If I can stick to the schedule, the bathroom will be fully functional -- although probably not completed -- by Saturday:

--Monday: Grout tile

--Tuesday-Thursday: Watch grout dry. Install ceramic shower soap dish/shelves. Purchase sink & cabinet, and necessary plumbing parts to install sink and commode.

--Thursday night: Apply sealer to tile grout.

--Friday: Caulk around tub. Install commode, shower fixtures, sink, medicine cabinet, light fixture.

--Saturday: Whatever did not get finished...

I'll keep you posted this week on the progress. Pray for us that alll goes according to plan!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Girls Gone Wild!

The Monroe County (FL) commission is currently considering designating a portion of Higgs Beach in Key West as a nude beach. Needless to say this has caused a stir.

Key West is probably one of only a few rare pockets in America where almost anything goes. Homosexuals are welcome, as are cross-dressers, transgendered persons and even free-range chickens. In fact, the city has officially adopted the “One Human Family” pledge:

“All people should receive equal rights, dignity and respect; and lives that are free from prejudice, discrimination, harassment or violence.”

I love that about Key West. I wish Memphis could embrace that philosophy.

Fat chance.

But apparently in Key West, drag queens are one thing. Public nudity is something else.

The “pro” faction says it will attract more “European” tourists. And Europeans are used to nudity. Just look at their art.

And European tourists want nude beaches. Or so they say.

And I suspect there may be other tourists – think the Spring Break college crowd – who also fantasize about wandering onto a beach full of voluptuous naked women toasting their buns in the island sun.

But let’s take a reality check for a moment. Right where you are, take a look around the room: which one of your co-workers would you want to see naked on a tropical beach?

If your workplace is anything like mine, you will be in therapy for several months to get that image out of your mind.

The truth is, people who go to nude beaches are not actresses or super-models or even hard-bodied college girls offering tequila shots out of their navels. They are middle-aged international tourists with sagging breasts and alligator-skin who simply enjoy the freedom of clothing-optional.

And picking sand out of their most private crevices.

I know of which I speak. During a vacation to Cancun several years ago, I accidentally wandered onto a topless beach.

Yes, it really was an accident.

My wife was with me.

But with a couple exceptions – and I must say they were exceptional – there was nothing to get excited about. The beach was mostly populated with over-50 international tourists who really should have kept it covered.

On a vacation to Key West a couple years later, the hotel we stayed at had a “clothing optional” deck. Looking at the other guests, I decided to not go up there.

I have nothing against nudity. Adam and Eve were originally created naked “and were not ashamed”. And my image of Heaven – and I believe this is Biblical – is a clothing-optional tropical beach.

But in Heaven we will have perfect bodies.

And that will be something to write home about.

Until then, there are just some things I don’t need to see.

No. Really. Keep it covered, grandma!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"There be pirates!"

Pirates have long captured the imagination of many a young lad, thanks to Errol Flynn movies, Robert Lewis Stevenson’s book “Treasure Island”, and Disney’s adventure ride “Pirates of the Caribbean”, which they later spun off into a movie franchise for the benefit of future young pirates.

Piracy hit it’s peak in the early 1700s as privateers and buccaneers headquartered in Tortuga and Port Royal attacked British, French and Spanish ships, which were hauling gold bullion and coin plundered from the new world.

It was a romantic age, with tall-masted sailing ships out on the open sea, and tales of traveling to exotic ports and buried treasure. Pirate captains wearing long coats and plumed tri-cornered hats achieved larger- than-life status – Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) and Henry Morgan, just to name a few.

Sorry, Jack Sparrow is only a character in a movie.

For the most part, piracy as an institution died in the 18th century, relegated to the world of fantasy and entertainment. But in recent years, it has made a resurgency – not in bawdy ports like Port Royal, but in Somolia.

That’s in Africa.

"Talk Like a Pirate Day" is going to sound different this year!

Why Somolia? The current Somolian government came into power in 2004, after overthrowing an Islamic regime. But they are constantly distracted by Islamic insurgencies and have been unable to secure Mogadishu, the capital city, or most of the northern regions of the country. Thus, poverty and lawlessness reign.

And so do the pirates.

Most of these modern day privateers are teenagers, struggling to survive, recruited off the streets by pirate captains who never leave shore.

Not a peg-leg or eye patch among them.

They launch small teams out in speed boats, armed with heavy-duty modern artillery. They attack the slow, unarmed shipping vessels that pass through the Gulf of Aden.

That’s hardly sporting.

It’s like shooting moose from a helicopter.

And unlike the days of old, these ships carry no gold bullion. In fact, they hold little that the pirates want. Instead, the pirates hold the crew and cargo hostage until someone pays a ransom.

And suddenly the pirate’s life doesn’t look quite so romantic. There are no tall sailing ships, no cannon, no cutlasses, no parrots. And no one is singing, “Yo ho, yo ho, the pirate’s life for me…”

Disney will probably never design a ride called “Pirates of Somolia”.

So far this year there have been 77 pirate attacks; 285 crew members are currently being held hostage by pirates.

Last week, the French navy rescued one crew. On Sunday, U.S. Navy SEAL sharpshooters rescued an American captain after a week-long stand-off between two Navy destroyers and four pirates in a covered lifeboat.

President Obama hopes the world community will come together, not to invade Somolia, but to help stabilize that country, so piracy will no longer be necessary for survival. But he is also stepping up pressure to reduce the number of successful pirate attacks.

And he has demonstrated he is not afraid to pull the trigger.

The question has often been raised, but not answered: “Why aren’t these shipping vessels armed?”

Good question. Seems a few cannon would be in order here.

Friday, April 10, 2009


On Monday night, I received one of those calls most pastors dread. It came just after 11 p.m. A church member had died.

She had been in and out of the hospital for months, each trip taking it’s toll. Monday her lungs filled with fluids, her breathing became labored and eventually stopped.

I sat in the small hospital room with the body, the grieving husband and their daughter and son-in-law, awaiting the arrival of a physician to officially pronounce the obvious.

Around 12:30 a.m., the conversation grew interesting.

The daughter and her husband had admitted earlier that they have moved on beyond the faith of their childhood and now consider themselves practitioners of the Hindu faith. She followed that announcement quickly with, “We believe there is not just one truth, but many.”

I have heard that line before, but usually from Wiccans – that Wal-Mart of religions that encourages adherents to believe anything or everything. Choose what you like, discard the rest. It seems strangely attractive to disenchanted Christians.

The son-in-law added his wisdom to that of his wife: “And we don’t want to force any one particular religion upon our son. We will expose him to all of them and then when he gets older, we’ll let him decide what is right for him.”

Again, I have heard this too many times.

Keep in mind, this is all happening after midnight, which may explain my free tongue. I pushed him: “Are you going to take that same approach to his education? Don’t force math on him, just expose him to all the numbers and let him eventually decided what 2 + 2 equals?”

The son-in-law looked confused. So the daughter spoke up again. “Well, yes, if we put him in Montessori School!”

I let it pass. After all, we were grieving the loss of her mother, not debating world religions.

Later, the daughter spoke up again: “What am I going to tell my son?” They had a 3-year-old, a reportedly intelligent child, the long-awaited apple of his mother’s eye. Remembering her previous faith proclamation, I quipped, “I could tell you from a Christian perspective.” Nervous chuckles all around. And the conversation moved on to other things.

But she was serious. She asked again. “No, really, how am I going to explain this to my son?”

So I offered her the Christian perspective. Her mother had been a woman of faith – the Christian faith. Baptized as an infant, she professed her faith in the saving grace of Jesus Christ at age 10, and had clung to this faith through all the ups and downs of her life, including these last difficult months. “I would tell the boy Grandma is in heaven with Jesus, where there is no more sickness, no more tears; she has been made whole again.”

But then I turned it back to her: “What does your Hindu faith teach?”

“Reincarnation,” she said timidly.

“So, what has Grandma been reincarnated as?” I asked. “Or has she achieved enlightenment and gone on?”

The daughter admitted, “We’ll never know.”

Realizing I would have several more opportunities with this family, I decided to let her think about these things for a while.

Just days away from the Easter celebration, I grieve for this young couple… and all those who do not accept the promises of the Christian scriptures – promises of forgiveness of sins, promises of eternal life in the Kingdom of God, promises of assurance.

Now, I'm never slow to confess that in too many cases we Christians have chased many young people away from the faith with our legalisms and judgments. A lot of the “Do this / Don’t do that” that one hears in the hallowed hallways of our churches is unnecessary, counter-productive, and lacking in grace.

Of this we should all repent.

So I don’t judge these young people for seeking a different path. But I grieve for them. They have chosen to grasp in the darkness of the unknown, clinging to the writings of human teachers, rather than choosing to receive the assurance of eternal life through Jesus Christ, embracing the Truths spoken by the Son of God.

These are the Truths that will see one through the difficult times – when health fails, when tragedy strikes, when Death comes a knockin’.

And so this Sunday we proclaim with joyful hearts, “He is risen! Hallelujah!”

It’s a message of hope… of assurance… for all people… for all times.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Friendship. What is it?

Recently, an old friend from college made contact and wants to get re-acquainted. We were close in college. He was in my wedding. But we haven’t spoken in almost 20 years.

And right before that, someone claiming to have been in 9th grade with me made contact. I don’t remember him at all.

To say the least, this is awkward.

I’m not the best at maintaining friendships, as many of you might know.

When I left high school, I shook the dust from my sandals. I never expected to see any of my fellow students again – and for the most part, I haven’t. I have been to one high school reunion – got suckered into attending our 20th – and regret it.

After the obligatory, “So, what are you doing now?” questions, I realized we had nothing in common… other than the date on our diplomas.

And I’ve never returned for a college reunion. A few college acquaintances are fellow clergy, so they have become colleagues, but I wouldn’t call them “friends”. We don’t “hang out”. A few have casually offered, “Let’s do lunch.” But they don’t really mean it. “I’ll have my girl call your girl…” Yeah, right.

I swap Christmas cards with a former roommate from seminary, and maintain irregular contact with a couple members of a former church.

And among the clergy of my conference I have not forged strong alliances. Early in my ministry, I asked to be part of a certain “covenant group” and was told there wasn’t room for me. Others seem to have agendas I do not support. So even at the Annual Conference, where my church membership technically resides, I remain a loner. And I’m okay with that.

You see, in my world, the pecking order goes something like this:
1) Wife
2) Church
3) Friends
4) Family

For the most part, I live in the present. My “friend” is the one I spend the most time with, the one I break bread with, the one I socialize with. I don’t dwell on the past – or past relationships.

The reality is, I do church work 8-12 hours per day. It is my calling, to which I devote most of my time. And, most days, I enjoy it. I relate well to the people present with me. And as a rule, I am fairly transparent in relationships – take me as I am or don’t take me at all.

But as an itinerant preacher, I have learned to not set roots. When my time is up, I walk away. Usually I have no regrets.

So it is difficult for me to maintain friendships with people from the past, or with people who live far, far away.

And now an old friend from college has located me, thanks to the internet. We have gotten past the “So, what are you doing now?” stage. But now what? He lives in another state. We will probably never see each other face to face. We will never share a beer. We’ll never have the opportunity to “hang out”. I can’t borrow his lawn mower, or even 50 bucks.

When I received his email, the first thought that came to mind was a scene from “The Big Chill”, my favorite Fall movie. It’s about a group of people who were friends in college and now (several years later) have gather for the funeral of one of their own. There is a brief monologue by the character Nick, played by William Hurt:

“… a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don't know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It's not surprising our friendship could survive that. It's only out there in the real world that it gets tough.”

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Palm Sunday

"Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Salaries & Perks

Mike Anderson, head coach of Missouri basketball, was mentioned as a possible replacement for John Calipari at University of Memphis. Georgia had also come a’courtin’. Just the suggestion of losing Anderson made Missouri’s bottom pucker and they gave him a 7-year extension to his contract, coming to a modest $1.6 per year, or $2.2 million with incentives.

I’m happy for him. He got a raise and didn’t even have to ask!

Actually, I’m jealous. I wish they’d mentioned my name!

But get this… In today’s issue of the Memphis Commercial Appeal it was reported that John Calipari’s salary package as head coach of his “dream job” will be only $400,000 (base salary).

That seems fair enough.

We wish you well, Coach.

But as they say in the TV infomercials, “But wait! There’s more.” There will also be marketing, broadcast and endorsement contracts, bringing his first season paycheck to a whopping $3.7 million!

Holy seven-figures, Batman!

And we’re not done yet!

Cal will get two “late model, quality automobiles” plus mileage, membership at the country club of his choice plus dues and initiation fees, 20 lower-level season tickets to UK basketball home games plus eight for each home football game, hundreds of thousands in incentives, and if he is fired “without cause”, he still gets $3 million per year!

Now, we all love Cal and hope the best for him at UK. But, as a colleague recently asked, is he really worth all that???

This is probably the last you’ll hear from me about Coach Cal, UK or basketball in general. That’s not my thing. I’ve been following the drama, not the sport.

But this salary / perks thing disturbs me.

I discovered a few years ago that the lowest paid professional basketball player – the guy who sits the bench every game – gets paid more than the President of the United States. We definitely have our priorities way out of whack!

In the United Methodist Church, itinerancy and the “guaranteed appointment” have been the UM way since Mr. Wesley. As a result, the church pays me a modest salary. I have a business expense fund and a household / utilities allowance (to help defray some taxes). And I live in a church-provided parsonage (but have to pay taxes on a “fair rental value”). All that rolled together still leaves me in the five-digit range.

In good years, I get an annual “cost of living” increase.

But there is no free country club membership. There are no endorsement contracts, no cars. There aren’t even any incentive or retention bonuses.

And, because of our appointive system, if another church wants me (or the bishop decides to move me), there’s not even an opportunity for this church to offer me more money or perks to stay.

We’re not supposed to be in it for the money, some will argue.

But I never took a vow of poverty either.

For this reason – and many others – some want to do away with the itinerancy and the guaranteed appointment. How would that affect the church?

Let’s dream a little. If we do away with itinerancy and the guaranteed appointment, then maybe our churches could take the UK approach to pastor’s salaries. Set the base salary at, say, $30,000. Perhaps throw in the perk of a free health-club membership, which will help keep insurance costs lower. If the church grows by 10%, the pastor gets an additional $20,000; perhaps more for conversions and baptisms. If s/he is an exceptional preacher, maybe another $20,000. If s/he excels at pastoral care, maybe a car. The limit is only our creativity in negotiating our contracts.

And if another church wants her/him, let the real negotiations begin!

I support the itinerancy and guaranteed appointments; they serve an important function in a denomination with so many small churches.

Unfortunately, as our system stands now, there are more dis-incentives than incentives for pastors. We get the same low salary no matter how effective (or ineffective) we are. There are few opportunities to grow our salaries without moving to a new church – but then again, the highest salary in the conference is only around $120,000. And there are virtually no outside opportunities for additional income (marketing, endorsements, broadcast contracts) since we are expected to put in 60-80 hours per week for the church.

And our church members are comfortable with that.

“When I was working, I never made what we’re paying you,” one church member told me a few years ago. That may be true, Mr. Blue-Collar Worker.

But did you ever make what you are paying your basketball coach?