Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BYB Revisted

I'm in a foul mood today -- no particular reason, "it was too much tequila, or not quite enough" -- so I have decided to vent a little. If you don't want to hear it, feel free to log off now.

You may remember from a previouis post about my love-hate relationship with Backyard Burger. (See "A Dark Day in Memphis", May 12, 2008.) Wthout notice, back in May 2008 the new ownership group changed the menu, and I boycotted.

I don't know if it was my addiction to BYB or the call of Christ to forgive, but after about six months of trying to find other places to eat lunch, I decided to give BYB another chance. I resigned myself to the fact I would not be able to get some of my favorites, and resumed a sporadic visit - no where near as regular as I had been.

I am not convinced that the company is still using 100% black angus beef for their burgers anymore, and I still hate their french fries (although they have returned the original seasoned fries to the menu). And occasionally they try to charge me extra for a 2 oz. tub of Ranch Dressing, which really pisses me off!

But yesterday took the cake. I ordered a "Loaded Baked Potato". According to BYB's web site, it is supposed to look like this:

What I received looked like this...

I tried to contact the company through its web site, but the "comments" section would not allow me to send the photo... and words just don't do it justice.

It may be time for another boycott...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

End of Summer

While strolling through the local mall last week, I came to the sudden and heart-breaking realization that summer is over.

Yes, I know. It is only July 26th. Summer officially began only a little over a month ago.

I should have seen it coming, what with all the “Summer Clearance Sales” of recent weeks. But last week, my purchase options were limited to heavier-weight sweaters and sweatshirts, all in the drab colors of fall.

Next month, Christmas displays. Sigh.

So, in case you are like me and weren’t able to get off the mainland this summer, here are three books that will transport you across the ocean to the warm, tropical climes of your dreams.

The first two are written by J. Maarten Troost, a freelance writer who has appeared in distinguished journals like Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Post. He met his live-in girlfriend (later to become his wife) Sylvia, in grad-school while they were both studying international relations.

It was Sylvia’s first job that instigated Troost’s first book, “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” (Broadway Books, 2004). Given possible careers in Sarajevo, Tanzania and Rawanda, Sylvia opted for a job as the country director for the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific – Kiribati office.

If you don’t know where that is, look it up on a map.

I had to.

Troost describes it as “a notch above the equator and five thousand miles from anywhere”.

Tarawa is the capitol of the country, which is comprised of 33 atolls scattered over an ocean area about the size of the United States.

Troost writes of his two-year journey with a unique sense of humor – recounting his experiences getting to know the native peoples and their customs, stifling heat, deadly bacteria, toxic waters and fish – all eased a little by his discovery of the native elixir “Kava”.

Maarten and Sylvia return to Washington D.C., but having been out of “civilization” for so long, they quickly look for another trip. Thus, Troost’s second book, “Getting Stoned with Savages” (Broadway Books, 2006). This time the setting is the small island of Vanuatu.

Remember “Survivor:Vanuatu”?

This time Troost devotes himself more completely to the kava, and goes in search of real-life cannibals. When Sylvia becomes pregnant, they move to Fiji – almost like getting two books in one!

Now, if you are reluctant to read books with such provocative titles – and won’t give in to a brown-paper book cover – consider reading Ann Vanderhoof’s “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” (Broadway Books, 2004). Ann was a successful magazine editor. Her husband, Steve, worked in the magazine’s art department. They lived in Toronto.

Then, during one typically frigid Canadian February, they hatched a plan: buy a larger boat and sail from Toronto to Trinidad.

The trip took two years. It took them seven to prepare – getting their house in order (literally), saving up enough money, learning to sail, etc.

But what an adventure. From the frigid waters of the northeast to the warm azure waters of the Caribbean. Ann documents the journey in a warm, captivating prose – the challenges of sailing, the dangers of tropical storms, the battle against cockroaches, meeting new and interesting people along the way – throwing in authentic tropical recipes after each chapter.

It made me sad when they made the decision to return to Toronto.

Definitely not a happy ending!

So if you are stuck on the mainland as summer runs out, consider taking a vacation in your mind – spend some time in Kirawa or Vanuatu or Fiji with the Troosts, or sail down to the Caribbean with the Vanderhoofs.

It’ll be the best summer vacation – and the cheapest – you’ve ever taken!

Monday, July 20, 2009

How do you top that?

Last year at Asbury UMC, we did the impossible by attracting 162 children to our Vacation Bible School. (Read all about it in my blog from July 1, 2008.)

So the question on everyone’s mind this year was, “How do you top that?”

Some members were thinking: ‘If we don’t get at least 162 children this year, we will have failed.’ Perhaps even one pastor was also thinking that.

Other members were thinking: ‘If we get more than 162 children this year, I will quit!’

Yes, I know some were praying against me!

As in 2008, this year we found ourselves without a Children’s Director just months before VBS should have begun. But again like last year, I assured the congregation, “God will provide.” Sure enough, one of our members felt the nudge and stepped up. Others rallied around to help.

In addition, we were blessed to receive sets and props from another church – we had shared our stuff with them last year. That's called "connectionalism".

You will recall that last year the local Community Center provided about 100 of our children. I personally went to the Community Center and invited the director to bring the Day Program children again this year. But the Community Center has a new director, who felt the need to consult with his supervisor before committing. Her answer was, “No”.

A major disappointment. But we were committed to making it happen anyway.

We mailed out flyers to the neighborhood. We staked out signs on the corner. A member personally called every child who attended last year. We set a registration deadline for June 15th.

And we waited. And we prayed.

By that date we only had 13 children registered. Again, I know some wanted less this year, but not that many less. That’s only about 4 children per class. We had worked hard preparing. I was beginning to see long faces.

Time for the preacher to put a happy spin on it…

Sigh… What can I say? I was disappointed.

But when we opened the doors this morning for the first of four days of VBS, 45 children showed up!


And we know of at least six others who registered but did not make the first day! And we’re expecting some to bring friends tomorrow!

And the volunteers are thrilled! We have enough children to do everything we want to do, but we are not overwhelmed.

It’s going to be a good week!

God is good!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Another Icon Passes

Walter Leland Cronkite
November 4, 1916 - July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite was an icon of my generation. During his illustrious career with CBS News (1950-1981), Cronkite was the one who told us about the Cuban Missle Crisis, the assisination of President Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and the Watergate scandal.
Just to name a few.
And despite Archie Bunker labeling him "Pinko Cronkite", when Walter Cronkite said, "And that's the way it is..." at the end of each broadcast, you knew that's the way it really was. For more than two decades, Cronkite polled as "the most trusted man in America."
Indeed, he was married to Betsey Maxwell Cronkite for nearly 65 years, ending with her death in 2005.
Cronkite is survived by three children and four grandchildren.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Flee to the Mountains!

Since I was on vacation last Sunday, I was able to attend worship at another UM Church. What I found there, while not surprising, was discouraging.

It is not relevant that the church was in California. I’m pretty sure what I observed there happened in churches all across the nation last Sunday. Methodist or not.

It was July 5th, the day after Independence Day, a time when many Christians forget what the worship of God is really about and demand a “Red, White and Blue” All-American spectacular instead. In effect, on this particular Sunday of the year these Christians / patriots ask us to set aside key commandments of God. Remember these?

#1 – “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

#2 – “You shall not make for yourself an idol… You shall not bow down to them or worship them…”

#4 – “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.”

And each year, we pastors have to make a decision.

I decided to take vacation.

In my place, and at my request, a colleague preached a fierce sermon based on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who (in the book of Daniel) refused to bow down and worship the golden idol of the king. Thanks, Jerome!

In college I worked at a church located in an Air Force town in middle Tennessee. The church was a tall-steeple “First Church”. The pastor was an up-and-comer. And July 4th fell on Sunday that year.

The service began with the choir singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a military color guard marched down the center aisle in full regalia with U.S. and military flags. The congregation was then asked to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag. The usual patriotic “hymns” were sung.

The guest speaker was a four-star general. Not a chaplain, mind you. A real general! He spoke of all the great men of history and the sacrifices they made… but never once mentioned Jesus Christ!

By the end of the service, I was sick.

Fast forward 27 years. Sunday, July 5th. This time I’m in California.

Upon entering the sanctuary, I saw this:

And my mind rushed to the words of Jesus:

“So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” (Matthew 24:15-21)

The congregation sang “Faith of our Fathers” and “America”. The choir performed a painfully long medley called “Americana”, arranged by the choir director.

The pastor of the church also wisely chose to take vacation, so the Lay Leader stepped up to the challenge of preaching on July 5th. Which was fine with me. He’s an old friend from a former church; I was looking forward to his message.

He started off good, with a personal anecdote in which a boy had once told him: “I didn’t know that men believed in God.” He promised to tell us about two of the founding fathers who did believe in God… Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. A clever approach, I thought to myself.

He proceeded to offer a very interesting history of the two men, their lives, their writings, their friendship.

But not so much about their faith.

As he was wrapping up, I thought he was finally going to get around to proclaiming the gospel when he declared: “Greater love has no one than this, ‘that one lay down his life for his friends.’ Jesus laid down his life for you and me, His friends…”

Good so far. Keep going…

But then he strayed: “Since that time many others in many lands have given their lives for our freedoms.”


Now, for those patriots reading this and wondering what’s wrong with that, let me tell you what’s wrong with that. While I respect the men and women who have sacrificed their lives to defend our nation and our liberties, the sacrifice of our soldiers can in no way be equated with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And the end result – the temporal freedoms of a nation vs. eternal salvation for sinners – is also beyond comparison.

The lay leader drove the final nail into the coffin they called ‘worship’ that morning with the following words: “At his last 4th of July celebration John Adams proposed a toast to the United States of America. I leave you with his words: ‘Independence Forever!’”

Someone involved in planning worship tried to save the morning with the closing hymn, “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations”. But as I left the church that morning I wondered what some of those present thought that story might be.


Next year, July 4th falls on Sunday.

I’m going to flee.

Not to the mountains… brrrr!

Probably to Cancun.

P.S. – I want my readers to know I am not unpatriotic. I am proud to be an American.

Several years ago I did some family history research. My family has been in America for ten generations. I am an American in every sense of the word. I love my country. I vote. I pay taxes. I get angry when I see so-called patriots flying the American flag in a disrespectful manner (like this>>>).

I participate in the democratic process. I support the elected President of the United States – whether he is a former pot-smoking, draft-dodging philanderer, or a former cocaine-sniffing son of privilege with a questionable military service record, or a brilliant but young African-American community organizer with a funny-sounding name.

After worship last Sunday we went to Angel Stadium for an afternoon of baseball – I participated in the great American pastime. I ate barbecue. I drank beer… American beer! And in that setting, I had no problem standing and removing my cap for the “National Anthem”. I even sang along with the crowd in the 7th inning as they sang “God Bless America”.

But my true allegiance belongs to God – my Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; who sacrificed his only Son, Jesus, as the atonement for my sins, thus providing for my salvation… and not just for me alone but for all who would believe.

And that’s the story we are supposed to tell from the pulpit on Sunday mornings … even on July 4th!

Especially on July 4th!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Things That Do Not Suck...

A Sunday afternoon game at Angels Stadium...

...and the Angels won!

The view from the top of the beach house at Emerald Bay (just north of Laguna)...

...and the fact that we spent four days there!

A late night at the "Magic Castle" in Hollywood...

...a truly "magical" evening!

A special Thank You to Karen's family (Dad, Mom, sister, bro-in-law, nephew & niece) for making all this both possible and fun!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Going on to Perfection

I am not perfect.

There. I said it. Sorry to disappoint you.

But I was born with a guilty conscience.

So I never did too much bad stuff growing up. I knew that if I did – whether I got caught or not – I would feel terrible about it for weeks.

Add to that an overlay of Christian morality – with a little “fear of God” thrown in for fun – and you’ve got a pretty clear picture of how my mind works.

For example, a couple years ago I found a $20 bill lying on the ground next to the ATM at my bank. Someone obviously dropped it accidentally. It was not mine. So I took it inside to a bank teller.

What should I do? I asked her.

“Consider it your lucky day!” she replied.

So I pocketed the bill. But I worried about the person who lost it -- $20 is a lot of money for some people.

And I always check my change when I make a purchase. If the cashier has given me too much change, I let him know.

Last week at a Chick-fil-a, the cashier handed me what he thought was my 20 cents change. But I found two dimes stuck together – he gave me a dime too much.

I gave it back.

He didn’t know what to do.

For the past week I’ve been trying to get new glasses. My current prescription was more than three years old, so I figured it was about time. Well, to make a long story short, something was not right. I tried the prescription they prepared for me – and thought I would go blind.

So I asked them to try again. I needed the new glasses quickly, so, since it was dragging on, I told them to not do the anti-glare coating – which would have taken seven days. That resulted in a $68 refund.

But that pair was no better, so I asked for a complete refund. When I read the receipt, it was for the original amount. The manager had credited me with $68 too much. I pointed this out to him, but I think at that point he felt it was worth it just to get rid of me.

So, yes, I am an honest kind of guy.

Which brings me to last night. The creative team of “Banana Winds” joined the crew of “Baseball is Life” at Hooter’s for Trivia Night.

We did well in the first half, coming up with a score that put us in second place. But I noticed that my accounting of our score at the half-way point was a few points less than what the announcer read out.

No big deal, I thought. The second round is always tougher and we’ll get blown out of the water anyway, so it won’t matter.

Sure enough, in the second round I blew a 9-point question. I was ready to pack it up and go home. But we stayed to the end. And to our surprise, the announcer declared us the winner! A $50 Hooters Gift Certificate was ours!

Along with bragging rights, of course!

But wait, I thought. That doesn’t make sense. We missed the final bonus question, a 20-point question. Once again, the announcer’s total did not match my own accounting.

We celebrated our victory and promised to return to defend our title. An inebriated soul from another table staggered over to “con… con… congratulate (urp!)” us. He wasn’t sure how we had won either.

But then, I’m not sure he was sure he knew his own name!

I left the bar with a strange feeling that something was not right.

And we will never know the truth. Sigh.

Curse you, guilty conscience! Now you know why I drink!