Monday, August 31, 2009

Touched By An Angel

Yesterday we took 10 children and 5 adults to St. John’s UMC in midtown to see their production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. I have seen “Joseph” twice – once in the fellowship hall of a small church in San Diego and once at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis.

The small-church production was hilarious – they did the whole show with a cast of about 15 – the 12 “sons” of Jacob, wearing union suits and cowboy boots, would dash off-stage to change costumes and return (carrying the scenery with them) as other characters. It was simple, but completely enjoyable.

The Orpheum production, a traveling Broadway show (not the one with Donny Osmond!), was as spectacular as the San Diego show was simple: fabulous sets, fabulous costuming, fabulous talent.

I knew St. John’s UMC has lot of talent – they have a choir that rivals the Memphis Symphony Chorus, and there are a lot of other artistic people among the congregation. And at $15 per ticket, I had high expectations.

So we took the kids.

Now, since there might be some St. John’s folks who still read my blog – the former pastor had linked to “Banana Winds” on his own blog and I picked up some readership there – I will try to be as nice as I can be here.

It was a good “effort”. But had I not been familiar with the production (in addition to the Biblical story) I would have been completely confused.

Most of the problem was technical. The opening solo by the narrator was completely lost because her microphone was not working. Two of my favorite musical numbers – “One More Angel in Heaven” and “Those Canaan Days” – were also lost because the soloists were not miked and the floor mikes did not pick them up.

Other problems should have been ironed out in rehearsal. In the Elvis / Pharaoh scene, the narrator and Pharaoh didn’t seem to be clear on who’s turn it was to sing. (And in Memphis, that scene should have “rocked”!)

But, as I said, it was a good effort, and I hope they will learn from this experience and try again.

But the performance itself is not what this blog is about. Among my group was a 5-year-old whom I will call “K”. When her family arrived at Asbury about a year ago, “K” immediately latched on to me. In her eyes, I am a rock star.

I used to assure folks that God has a sense of humor: when I was in Jr. High School I used to pray to God for a girlfriend; in college, when I became a youth director, I was suddenly beset with Jr. High-aged “girlfriends”. It seems that God is still laughing, because my current following is the 4-6 year-old crowd!

At the performance of “Joseph”, “K” first sat with her mother. But she couldn’t see much of the stage because of the tall man sitting in front of her. Eventually she gave up and laid her head on her mother’s lap.

After intermission, “K” decided to come across the aisle and sit between Karen and me. Being on the end of the aisle, the view was much better.

After a short time, “K” complained that she was cold; the temperature level of the air conditioner was apparently set by the actors and we were in the direct path of the Polar Express. I wrapped my arm around her and we continued to watch the show.

Then I noticed Her head starting to nod. Bob… bob… bob… So I gently pushed her head toward my shoulder, indicating it was okay to lean against me. “K” sweetly folded her hands under her cheek, leaned into my chest, and promptly went to sleep.

Some of you with children of your own may take moments like this for granted; shame on you. Others may be screaming, “What about ‘Safe Sanctuary’ policies?”; shame on you, too.

For me, it was a sacred moment. I didn’t move – even through the standing ovation – wanting that moment to last as long as possible.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Evangelist of the Millennium"

[Disclaimer: Okay, I probably will be struck by lightning for this one. If you are reading this, you also might want to back away from your computer screen a little bit. The staff and mangement take no responsibility for "Acts of God".]

The staff at Banana Winds would like to present the first ever Banana Winds award for "Evangelist of the Millennium" to evangelist Freddie Gage of the Freddie Gage Evangelistic Association of Euless, Texas.

Gage is a recovering drug addict who has spent more than 40 years proclaiming the gospel. He has founded a camp for struggling youth, and a Christian psychotherapy ministry for struggling ministers. He has written 13 books (one a religious best-seller) and has a long list of honors and awards, including this endorsement from Dr. John Bisagno, pastor emeritus of the 22,000 member Houston First Baptist Church: "Without question Freddie Gage is second only to Billy Graham in winning men to Christ in the Southern Baptist Convention."


But what garners the Banana Winds coveted "Evangelist of the Millennium" award is his famous album:

Needless to say, I was disappointed to discover this is just a sermon, not music.

BTW, the vinyl version is no longer available, but you can order a video version through his website, complete with an introduction by Dr. Jerry Fallwell.

Wait. He's dead too!

Now that's funny!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Give Me a Break!

They're at it again!

Yes, the news media.

Or should I say the hype media...

Three "news" stories caused a serious blip on my radar this week, and I've just got to rant!

First, a report by someone with too much time on his hands says that 90% of the paper money in your wallet contains "trace amounts" of cocaine on it!


How many one dollar bills am I going to have to sniff to get high??? (For more "trace cocaine"-related news, check out my May 26, 2009 rant, "Fed Up!")

According to this report, so many people roll up a dollar bill and use it to snort coke that, as the money is processed through bank counting machines later, traces of the coke are transferred to other bills.

I suppose the point of the story is that as the economy continues to flounder, we can expect to see more people with green smears on the tips of their noses!

Give me a break!

And then there's the report about flip flops.

Reporters from the New York Daily News' Department of Obvious Information has "discovered" that if one walks around a city like New York in flip flops, one will pick up all kinds of dreaded germs and bacteria on your flip flops: staph germs, fecal bacteria, e.coli... just to name a few. In fact, the Daily News found more than 18,000 different germs on a pair of flip flops worn around the city for four days.

Well, DU-U-U-U-UH!!!

Every knows that most city streets are covered with everything from bird droppings to dog poo to human urine. So, yes, if you walk there, you will pick up some of that on your flip flops.

I don't use public restrooms for the same reason!

Yes, they admit, it is only a potential problem if you have an open sore on your foot and a weakened immune system. Or if you are prone to licking the soles of your sandals. But still...

I believe this pseudo-scientific report is really just someone's vendetta against flip flops. Why, for instance, isn't the same true for, say, tennis shoes? or cowboy boots? Or those cutsey little sandals that fashionable women wear?

Do these shoes somehow magically repel germs?

I don't think so.

And what about those who choose to go barefoot? Better than flip flops???

Give me a break!

And finally, a report just out says that samples of fish caught in American streams contain "varying levels of mercury".

They probably also contained trace amounts of cocaine, because, you know, when people snort cocaine, they usually wear their fish-flops!

When pushed for more information, it turns out that only 25% of the sample exceeded the EPA's recommendations for what they consider to be a safe level. So, in reality, 75% of the fish caught were perfectly safe to eat.

What really makes this report laughable is that we already know fish contain mercury. The EPA has been telling us that for years. The large fish, my favorites (shark, swordfish, tuna) contain more mercury than the small fish (sardines, anchovies). We already know that.

So give me a break!

And pass the lemon, please...

I mean, c'mon, cut me open and you'll find "varying levels of mercury" in my body too!

Which may explain this blog!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Better Late Than Never

Okay, I know this is a month late, but it is worth reading. Write it on your calendar for next year.

You’ll thank me for it later.

According to Jacqueline Whitmore, July is National Cellphone Courtesy Month!

I know, I know, before you get out the party hats and streamers, you’ll probably want to know who Jacqueline Whitmore is.

Or maybe not.

According to her own web site, Jacqueline is “one of the nation’s foremost experts on etiquette and protocol”.

And she has declared July to be National Cellphone Courtesy Month, “to encourage the increasingly mindful corps of cell phone users to be more respectful of their surroundings by using simple cell phone etiquette principles."

As it is spoken, thus shall it be!

And it’s about damn time!

When I was a child, telephone courtesy was taught in public schools. Simple rules, made easier because we only had one telephone.

A large rotary dial model that was attached to the wall in the kitchen, necessarily tethered to the wall by three feet of curly wire.

Today, cellular phones are small enough to fit in a pocket, and are often forgotten about until the phone rings… in the middle of a worship service, meeting, or even a funeral.

OMG! If you’re going to carry it, turn it off!

And I am sick and tired of all these people who feel they absolutely MUST answer their cell phones and carry on a full-length conversation wherever they happen to be. I overheard one guy making large financial transactions over his cell phone standing in the middle of an aisle at Wal-Mart!

So I say “Thank God for Jacqueline Whitmore. It’s about time someone made the effort to correct this techno-problem that is currently out of control.

So here are Jacqueline’s top 13 rules. There are probably more, but at least this is a start.

1. Be all there. When you're in a meeting, performance, courtroom or other busy area, let calls go to voicemail to avoid a disruption. In some instances, turning your phone off may be the best solution.

2. Keep it private. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid discussing private or confidential information in public. You never know who may be in hearing range.

3. Keep your cool. Don't display anger during a public call. Conversations that are likely to be emotional should be held where they will not embarrass or intrude on others.

4. Learn to vibe. Use your wireless phone's silent or vibration settings in public places such as business meetings, religious services, schools, restaurants, theaters or sporting events so that you do not disrupt your surroundings.

5. Avoid "cell yell." Remember to use your regular conversational tone when speaking on your wireless phone. People tend to speak more loudly than normal and often don't recognize how distracting they can be to others.

6. Follow the rules. Some places, such as hospitals or airplanes, restrict or prohibit the use of mobile phones, so adhere to posted signs and instructions. Some jurisdictions may also restrict mobile phone use in public places.

7. Excuse yourself. If you are expecting a call that can't be postponed, alert your companions ahead of time and excuse yourself when the call comes in; the people you are with should take precedence over calls you want to make or receive.

8. Send a message. Use Text Messaging to send and receive messages without saying a single word.

9. Watch and listen discreetly. New multimedia applications such as streaming video and music are great ways to stay informed and access the latest entertainment. However, adjust the volume based on your surroundings in much the same way that you would adjust your ringer volume. Earphones are a great way to avoid distracting others in public areas.

10. Alert silently. When using your phone's walkie-talkie feature, send the person you're trying to reach a Call Alert before starting to speak. If you're around other people, turn off your phone's external speaker and use the vibration setting to minimize any disturbance and to respect your contact's privacy.

11. Be a Good Samaritan. Use your cell phone to help others. According to CTIA, The Wireless Association, more than 224,000 calls a day are made to 911 and other emergency numbers by mobile phone users who report crimes and potentially life-threatening emergencies.

12. Focus on driving. Practice wireless responsibility while driving. Don't make or answer calls while in heavy traffic or in hazardous driving conditions. Place calls when your vehicle is not moving, and use a hands-free device to help focus attention on safety. Always make safety your most important call.

13. Spread the word. Discuss cell phone manners with friends and family members. Tell them that you are practicing new wireless phone etiquette rules and offer to share them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Begin the Speculations

It is August now, and despite the ongoing baseball season, all eyes have turned to college football. USA Today has released it’s annual pre-season Coaches’ Poll – the annual prediction of who the coaches believe will do well this season.

Sitting atop the pile is Florida, last year’s #1 team. Last year’s #2 Southern California is sitting down in #4. And bringing up the rear at #23 is the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish”.

What I want to know is, Weis this man smiling?

Get it? Weis this man smiling? Why is this man smiling…

Oh, never mind!

Yes, Charlie Weis is still at the helm of Notre Dame football. Unbelievable! With a record of 29-21 at Notre Dame, he has performed worse than Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham, each of which were handed their walking papers for not keeping the storied Irish program in contention. In fact, Weis’ only good year with ND came with the team Willingham left him.

To make matters worse, after such a long drought, sports writers have been suggesting that USC is the new ND – “the national team” that everyone must beat.

So the pressure is on the fat man to perform.

Oddly, when Weis talks about the team’s potential for this season, he sounds like the pastor of a dying church:
---“I can’t live in last year…”
---“This isn’t about me. This is about us.”
---“I could give you a bunch of hot air about everything we’re going to do… I’d rather get it done on the field.”

Where’s the confidence that comes with coaching at one of the greatest colleges in America? Where’s the confidence that comes with bringing back 18 seasoned starters? Where’s the confidence in his boy-wonder quarterback?

Remember Jimmy Clausen?

Clausen was the #1 pick in 2006. He chose Notre Dame. Clausen was so full of [confidence?] that he showed up at the College Football Hall of Fame in a stretch-Hummer to announce his intentions to play for ND. He bragged that he chose ND “to try to get four national championship rings.”

After two years, he has a total of zero.

Which is not completely his fault. He had elbow surgery that first year, and was put behind a defensive line that couldn’t get the job done. In fact, he was sacked 58 times! ND’s finished the season 3-9.


Now a junior, he will be the starting quarterback again this year. And much more humble.

So how is Weis going to take ND back to the top? The secret is in the schedule:
1) Seven of the 12 games will be in South Bend. Home field advantage. Notre Dame stadium is always intimidating.
2) Only one team on the schedule is ranked in the pre-season polls, and that is #4 USC… at South Bend.
3) With the exception of USC and Michigan, all of the teams on the schedule are teams ND has historically beaten.

Say what you will, but beating Nevada and U Conn will not get ND into a major BCS bowl, much less in position for championship consideration. Sorry, Jimmy, it’s not going to happen for you this year either!

So my prediction for Notre Dame and for Charlie Weis in 2009 is this: If you don’t beat Michigan (who received only one vote to be included in the Coaches’ Top 25), it will be another losing year for the Irish, and the fat man should start polishing his resume immediately following the game.

Friday, August 7, 2009

O Happy Day!

The AVP Hermosa Beach Open begins today and Kerri Walsh will be back on the sand after a nearly nine-month absence.

Yes, she had a baby with hubby and AVP star Casey Jennings on May 22nd. [See announcement on my blog, "Congratulations!", May 23, 2009.]

But you wouldn't know it by looking at her body!

She says her ideal weight is 155 on a 6'3" frame.

Walsh will team with Rachel Wacholder, who also gave birth to a son, Koa, in April. AVP star Sean Scott is the hubby and proud father.

And if we're lucky, we'll see Wacholder & Walsh on NBC Saturday at 3:30 (CST) in the championship match!

FYI: Misty May-Treanor, Walsh's former teammate, is still sitting out. She has recovered from a torn tendon in a failed attempt at "Dancing with the Stars" (see blog "Trick or Treat Wednesday #2", October 7, 2008), and she says she and husband Matt are taking time off "to focus on having a family."

"Dear Misty, It doesn't work that way..."

Matt Treanor, by the way, plays for the Detroit Tigers and is on the disabled list, recovering from hip surgery.

So tune in to NBC tomorrow at 3:30 p.m.!

(Men's finals are on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.)

LATE NIGHT UPDATE: Wacholder & Walsh fell late in the day to Jennifer Boss Kessy and April Ross, AVP's #2 team. Their chances of making it into the finals will be through the Contender's Bracket, unfamilar territory for Kerri Walsh.

Kessy and Ross will play the #1 team of Nicole Branagh & Elaine Youngs tomorrow morning in the semi-finals.

I'll be rooting for Kessy and Ross. This will give Wacholder & Walsh a chance for revenge!

Regardless the outcome, the good news is... Kerri Walsh is back!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Confessions of a Cynic

I am a cynic.

No, not in the Greek philosophical sense of the word.

Philosophically, I would lean more toward “Epicurianism”.

Epicurius (3rd century B.C.) taught that humans simply live and then die – so while one is alive, one should seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Unfortunately, Epicurius leaves God out of his philosophy.

But generally I am cynical. That is, I usually don’t trust anything or anyone until they prove themselves trustworthy.

And I can usually find the dark cloud in front of every silver lining.

It’s not something that I’m necessarily proud of. But in our world today, I wouldn’t choose to be any other way.

I have been cynical most of my life. When I was in college, I sat up late one night watching a televangelist out of New York. He was interesting, to say the least. His name was “Rev. Ike”. I mention this here because Rev. Ike passed away on Tuesday of last week at the age of 74.

Born Frederick J. Eikerenhoetter II, he shortened his name when he moved his congregation into a movie theater in Harlem – “Eikerenhoetter” wouldn’t fit on the marquee!

Rev. Ike was a major proponent of the prosperity gospel. That is, God wants you to be rich! God wants you to live in a big house, drive a nice car, eat fancy dinners – just like Rev. Ike! USA Today quoted him as having once preached: “If it’s that difficult for a rich man to get into heaven, think how terrible it must be for a poor man to get in. He doesn’t even have a bribe for the gatekeeper!”

That night, Rev. Ike promised to send out a “prayer coin” to everyone who called in. I couldn’t resist. I made the call. Just to see.

To be fair, I also once sent a dollar to Jerry Falwell, just to see. What happened was that for the next three years I was besieged by junk mail from Falwell, Liberty Baptist Church, the Moral Majority, the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party.

Not a dollar well spent!

A short time after my call to Rev. Ike, I received a letter in the mail. Enclosed was a photo-copy of two quarters and the instructions to pray over these “coins”, presumably asking “God” for material wealth. I was to place one in my wallet and mail one back to Rev. Ike – along with a donation of $10 or more – and my prayer would come true.

Yeah, right.

The instructions also sternly warned: “Whatever you do, do not keep both coins!”

Foolish me, I kept both coins… which might explain why the riches never came!


Fast forward to the present: Recently, a church member sent me an email with an audio link to “The Fred Thompson Show”. I didn’t even know such a show existed.

A woman – supposedly an “expert” – was deriding the current healthcare reform bill with a near hysterical intensity. She cited a specific passage in the bill and described it as the government requiring older adults to receive counseling every five years on how to refuse medical treatment. She stated that this bill was an attempt to save medical costs by denying healthcare to our older adults.

The church member who sent me the email was concerned and thought we ought to alert the congregation. I listened to the commentary, then read the actual healthcare reform bill.

But as I understand it, that portion of the healthcare reform bill currently before the House simply offers older adults a no-cost opportunity to address end-of-life issues with a trained counselor. Topics to be covered would include living wills, advanced directives, durable powers of attorney, etc., but nothing in the bill suggests that the government will require or even strongly recommend older adults to sign a DNR.

But who are you going to believe? A talk show “expert” or the actual bill itself?

See, I am a cynic!

Then came this article from USA Today, July 31st. The headline read, “Methodists defeat gay-related membership policy”. The lead paragraph declared, “United Methodists have defeated amendments that would have made church membership open to all Christians regardless of sexual orientation…”

Funny how they worded that: “…all Christians regardless of sexual orientation…”

What the newspaper article failed to report was that the amendment was intended to replace a growing list of those whom we do not discriminate against (age, race, gender, etc.) with a statement that we simply do not discriminate… period.

[P.S. - My colleague Sky, of "Kyrie Eleison" fame, has informed me that USA Today misunderstood a news article from United Methodist News Services, which itself jumped the gun and declared the amendments defeated among the American annual conferences... although 29% of the votes are still not counted. However, there are 73 annual conferences outside of the United States that also get to vote, and the final results will not be known until Spring 2010.]

But many in the church (apparently a majority) saw this as having a homosexual agenda – and perhaps it did. I saw it as living up to our denominational advertising campaign: “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”.

And living up to the call of Christ.

Unfortunately, many are not as cynical as I am.
--Many good people continue to seek blessings by sending their “prayer coins” to televangelists.
--Too many uncritically accept the “expert” opinions that fill the airwaves today.
--Far too many have read the USA Today headline and now think all United Methodists are “anti-gay”.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Take it from me, a cynic.