Thursday, April 29, 2010

Career Choices

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Better question, what did your parents want you to be?

A doctor? A lawyer?

Did they ever say, “I want you to play guitar and sing rock-n-roll?”

Mine neither.

Jimmy Buffett’s parents wanted him to be a priest, or to have a military career.

Jimmy had other plans.

While in college, he learned to play guitar. And the rest is history.

But Jimmy Buffett is not just playing guitar in a band. He has transformed his self-confessed mediocre musical abilities into a multi-million dollar industry.

Look at his entry at Wikipedia. It lists him as “Singer/songwriter, author, restaurant and bar owner, minor league baseball team owner.”

Not bad for a hard-drinking, pot-smoking kid from Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Referencing the above photo, in 2009 National Lampoon ranked Jimmy Buffett at #52 among the "90 Greatest Mustaches of All Time".

Wikipedia did not cover it all either. It left out husband, father of three, surfer, boat captain, pilot, actor, producer, recording studio owner, and the overseer of a line of merchandise that ranges from “Margaritaville” souvenirs to tequila and beer to chips and dip to footwear. He is soon to open the first Margaritaville casino and hotel.

And he still manages to tour 20-30 dates per year.

In fact, he personally clears more than $100 million per year.

The moral to the story, children, is this:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
- Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, April 22, 2010


A request came to the church recently asking for monthly meeting space for a local “camp” of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

These are the re-enactors you often see around these parts, re-creating and re-living the “Second American Revolution” (as they call it), or the “War of Northern Aggression”, as other southerners refer to it.

This organization of certified, male descendants of Confederate Army veterans claims as their purpose “preserving the history and legacy of these heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause”.

They claim to do historic preservation work, mark Confederate Soldiers’ graves, publish scholarly works related to the war, and hold regular meetings to discuss the history of the era.

On the face of it, it seemed like a simple request. We’ve got plenty of space. And we allow other community organizations to meet in the church. Why not this one? Unlike the others, the SCV would even pay rent.

The request couldn’t have come at a worse time.

We are a mostly-white congregation (90%) in the middle of a mostly African-American community (80+%). For several years we have been making an intentional effort to reach out to our neighborhood, and we are currently nurturing the development of a new congregation specifically ministering to the African-American community.

You see, I share Dr. King’s dream:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

And I believe the Church should lead the way.

So what’s the problem?

For many in the Memphis area, the Confederate flag is a symbol of the southern states which went to war against the Union to preserve the unconscionable institution of slavery in America. For so many, whose ancestors were stolen from their native lands and brutally forced into labor in America, it is a history not to be celebrated and preserved, but to be repudiated.

But the SCV insists the Civil War was not fought over slavery; that the school history books are teaching it all wrong. The SCV is simply trying to tell the truth.

‘The war was about states’ rights.’… Yes, the right to keep slaves without federal government interference.

‘The war was about economics.’… Yes, an economy based on the free labor of slaves.

‘The war was not about slavery.’… That’s not what Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, said before the war. That’s not what Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens said before the war. That’s not what most of President Lincoln’s speeches from the time indicate.

But frankly, it doesn’t matter what the truth is. People will believe what they believe.

Try convincing a creationist that the world was not created in seven 24-hour days, or a literalist that the creation didn’t occur in 6004 B.C. Try arguing with a “birther” that President Obama really is a natural-born citizen of the United States. Try telling Notre Dame QB Jimmy Claussen that he is not “all that”, and if he does get drafted by an NFL team, he should thank his lucky stars.

Then try arguing with the African-American community in Memphis that the Confederate flag is simply a part of our country’s heritage, the symbol of an important chapter in our history as a nation.

Good luck.

As is so often the case, the “truth” is not relevant.

If I were to fly a flag bearing a “swastika” from my flag pole, I imagine I would be roundly criticized, perhaps even threatened.

I further suspect that just posting this picture on my blog will add a new page to my file at the Office of Homeland Security.

Today, the swastika represents Germany’s failed attempt at world domination under Adolf Hitler, and his carefully-orchestrated attempt to exterminate the Jewish race. Neo-Nazis and other hate-groups today still use the symbol, but the German people do not. You would be hard-pressed to find a German organization called “Sons of the Third Reich”, or historical preservationists commemorating the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, or re-enactors goose-stepping through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Yet, prior to Hitler’s adaptation of the symbol, the swastika was an ancient symbol denoting “good luck” or “well-being”. The oldest examples found to date go back to the Neolithic period, or some 10,000 years B.C. So, for most of human history, the swastika was a perfectly good symbol; but that matters little today.

The Confederate flag, the battle flag of the secessionist states during the mid-1800s, is today mostly associated with slavery and racism, especially among the African-American community. To compound the problem, modern day racist / hate groups have adopted the flag as a symbol of their movements.

Do you see the problem now?

How will our neighborhood – which is more than 80% African-American – respond to the message of the Gospel we proclaim, and to our promise that this church is “a place for all people”, when they see our parking lot full of cars bearing images of that much-despised symbol of slavery and racism?

We already take some heat for the United Methodist cross-and-flame logo, which some say looks like a burning cross.

[*Editor's Note: This logo was developed in 1971 for the United Methodist denomination. The cross, naturally, is an historic symbol representing our savior, Jesus Christ. The flame represents the Holy Spirit of God; the two parts of the flame represent the 1968 merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren. Thanks for asking.]

The SCV may be an organization of fine, upstanding citizens without a racist thought among them. I don’t know. I have been told there are even African-American members of the SCV. I don’t know.

What I do know is that public perception is important to our ministry. And one simple misstep could bring an end to years of our hard work.

I, for one, am not ready for that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Need a Stamp!

Last week I received a notice in the mail informing me that a class-action lawsuit had been brought against AT&T, claiming that their high-speed internet service was not as fast as they promised.

Frankly, my internet will never be “fast enough”, but what geek actually has the time to sit and monitor stuff like that?

Never mind.

Anyway, AT&T settled the lawsuit without admitting guilt.

I suspect lawyers on both sides of the table are laughing all the way to the bank.

The bad news, as the notice further informed me, is that my internet connection was just fine, thank you very much, and as such, I did not qualify to participate in the class-action.

But wait a minute: if AT&T denies there was a problem in the first place, how do I know there wasn't a problem with my connection?

I was about to dispose of the notice when the next paragraph caught my eye:

‘If you think your internet access was too slow and that you should be included in the class-action, send a letter to the address below to claim your $2 settlement check.’


I’m rich!

Rich, I say!

Tell the Bishop I’m done!

I can finally retire!

Honey, we can finally take that cruise we've always talked about! Maybe meet Charro! Or Wayne Newton!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Historic Preservation?

It happens in most major cities – the fight between historic preservation and progress. What do we need to save to remind us of our past? What do we need to discard to make way for the future?

Come to think of it, I have that same battle in my closet at home!

In Midtown Memphis, the battle rages over the preservation of empty and abandoned buildings, no longer located in desirable economic locations, no longer suitable to modern-day purposes.

Sure, one of the buildings in question was the second restaurant in the TGIFriday’s chain, but the restaurant moved to a more desirable location and the parent company has no interest in making the Memphis location a shrine.

The latest battle surrounds a United Methodist Church.

Once the flagship of the Annual Conference, in recent times the membership has declined to a mere handful, who have now prayerfully given up their location and merged with another congregation. And although the church is listed on someone’s Historic Register, and the sanctuary reportedly has “the best acoustics in Memphis”, the rest of the building is inaccessible, outdated, in need of significant repair, and in an undesirable location.

Bottom line is, nobody wants it.

Or, rather, nobody can afford the necessary repairs and renovations to make it useable again. So there is a possibility it will be torn down to make way for a big-box retail store.

What is worth preserving? Who gets to decide?

As California continues an ongoing budget crisis, and Los Angeles is threatened with bankruptcy, budgets are being cut and services are being reduced. The L.A. Times recently reported that one such budget cut threatens the famous Watts Towers.

I remember reading about the Watts Towers when I was a kid. I was inspired.

In the midst of a neighborhood known today mostly for riots and gang activity during the mid-60s and 70s, the towers were built over the course of 33 years (1921-1954) by an Italian immigrant named Sabato Rodia. The 17 spires surrounded his bungalow in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. They are a work of art, and have been hailed as such by art critics around the world.

Unfortunately, his neighbors did not necessarily see it that way. The looming spires, one reaching as high as 100 feet tall, were decorated with broken glass and pottery shards, seashells and ceramic tile. During WWII, paranoid neighbors accused Rodia of building radio towers to communicate with the Japanese. They turned their children loose to vandalize the towers.

In 1955, Rodia gave the property away and moved to a safer, quieter neighborhood. The property changed hands several times, and at one point the city of Los Angeles was determined to raze the structure. But supporters of the towers protested, and the city set up a stress-test to see if the towers were stable. A crane, pulling with lateral force, was unable to budge them, and ultimately the crane experienced a mechanical breakdown. The towers were saved.

In 1975, the site was deeded to the city of Los Angeles, and in 1978 given to the State of California. The Watts Towers are now on the National Register of Historic Places, and designated a National Historic Landmark.

Unfortunately, the structures require regular maintenance, and that requires money… which the State of California does not have. The City of Los Angeles is cutting the budget of the Department of Cultural Affairs, so barely $200,000 will be available next year to make $5 million in deferred maintenance.

The towers’ curator has also been cut from the budget.

Are the Watts Towers truly worth saving? Or is it a relic from the past that needs to go to make way for progress?

For those unfamiliar with the area, there is no progress scheduled to be made in Watts right now.

Fortunately, the LA County Museum of Art believes the towers are worth saving, and are stepping up to help with preservation work and fund raising.

And isn’t that really the answer to the question? Someone’s got to pay the cost of preservation. So if you want to keep something around, YOU buy it. YOU maintain it. Keep it in YOUR attic, not mine.

Yes, it is terrible when an historic property is razed and replaced by a Chic-fil-a. And I sometimes get fed up with the "gleaming cities of tomorrow".

But it is much worse to see long-abandoned buildings left to collapse under the weight of pigeon poop simply because once they were listed on an historic registry.

If no one wants it, put something useful in its place.

 I hope someone will do me the same courtesy when I get old and dilapidated.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

News of the Weak

Dateline: Dubai
In November of 2009 in Dubai, a couple was arrested and given a one-month prison sentence for kissing in public.  

No wonder the Muslims always seem to be angry. No kissing!

On Sunday, an appeals court upheld the conviction. The couple -- yes, heterosexual -- will spend 30 days in prison, each pay a $270 fine, and ultimately be deported.

Apparently the brazen couple kissed in a restaurant. A nearby diner observed the kiss, described it as "passionate", complained, and the couple was arrested.

"Inappropriate behavior and illegal drinking."

Normally, Dubai is sort of laid back, compared to the rest of the Muslim countries in the Middle East. They understand tourism. They have switched their economy from oil to catering to wealthy tourists. They want our filthy, capitalistic dollars.

But since someone complained, what else could the authorities do?

[Note to Karen: Cross Dubai off our list of possible vacation spots. I can't afford the prison time.]

Good Riddance
"Joe Baseball" sent me a text recently announcing the death of Thomas Angove on March 30.


Angove owned a large vineyard in Australia. He invented the first "Wine-in-a-Box".

The invention was panned in the United States by wine snobs like myself.

Wine belongs in bottles. Period.

With real corks. Exclamation point.

But "Wine-in-a-Box" proved popular in Europe, where taste doesn't really enter into the conscious mind.

And it created a whole new set of drinking games and opportunities among the college frat crowds.

Going Down Again
The inappropriate behavior of Roman Catholic priests has once again made the news, as one case in Kentucky names the Vatican as defendant.

But in Memphis, documents revolving around a case that was settled last year have recently been unsealed, thanks to the diligent efforts of our local newspaper.

The court documents show that at least 15 priests have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past four decades in the Memphis diocese, most of whom were quietly relocated to other parishes.

The Commercial Appeal reports, "Local Catholic church leaders concede that mistakes have been made, but said they took immediate action to remove [the most recent perpetrator] and to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse more aggressively with strict reporting policies, abuse awareness training and other preventive measures."

The article continues to quote a spokesperson for the Memphis diocese, who confesses, "No one I know would deny that there has been abuse, and we have attacked it. In fact, the number of abuse cases by Catholic clergy is going down."

"Going down"???

Is that supposed to make us feel better???

How about stopping the practice altogether?

I mean, seriously, for so many priests to have been doing this for so long, with just a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" from their superiors, it must be in a training manual somewhere!

Y'all need to stop it! You're making the rest of us look bad by association!

Monday, April 5, 2010

I Don't Get It

Okay, here's a question for you Bible Scholars.

I know you're out there, reading "Banana Winds", taking notes, building a case...


So, please explain: Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.

I get that.

Then, on the third day, Jesus was resurrected, raised from the dead.

I get that.

He appeared to Mary, the first witness, outside the empty tomb.

I get that.

He appeared to ten of the eleven disciples where they were hiding "for fear of the Jews", as further proof of the resurrection.

I get that.

Thomas wasn't there, so a week later, Jesus appears to them again, this time with Thomas present. More proof.

I get that.

But then, after receiving convincing proofs of the resurrection of Jesus -- empty tomb, witness, two appearances -- Peter's next comment is, "I'm going out to fish." And all the other disciples said, "We'll go with you." (Gospel of John 21:3)

What's up with that?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hoodlums and Thugs

On Tuesday, the Memphis Zoo experienced “The Perfect Storm”.

Every Tuesday from 2-5 p.m., the zoo opens its gates, free to the public.

Mostly, it's senior citizens and mommies with their little darlings in tow.

Unbeknownst to Zoo officials, however, on this particular Tuesday, a storm was brewing. The frigid arctic air of Memphis winter had just given way to the warm, almost tropical breezes of Spring. The sun was shining and the temperature was in the low 70s.

In short, it was a beautiful day to visit the zoo.

At the same time, in an unfortunate twist of fate, the Memphis City School children were on Spring Break.

(Cue the scary music.)

The Memphis Zoo recorded attendance of more than 25,000 people – more than half of which showed up at 2 p.m. Long lines ensued and tempers flared. The tram service through the park had to be discontinued due to the randomly-moving mass of sweaty human bodies blocking the roadways. Fights broke out inside the zoo. Police were called in.

At around 5:30 p.m., while much of the crowd was still mingling around in the adjacent Overton Park, gun shots were heard… random firings in the air, quickly attributed to a group of young people even more quickly described as “hoodlums and thugs”.

Note to the out-of-town reader: Usually, in Memphis, these two terms are reserved for young black men in baggy jeans and “beaters”, wearing baseball caps turned sideways on their heads.


The alarmists and reactionaries in Midtown (white, upper-class) immediately began calling for an end to “Free Tuesday”; others asked for a greater police presence; some suggested even raising the Zoo admission price. (It already costs $15 adults, $10 children.)

Meanwhile, in another part of town, the directors of the Memphis Botanic Garden apparently worried about similar problems – crowds too large to handle, “hoodlums and thugs” scaring people and littering the lawn, etc.

Remember a few years back when the “7/11” convenience store chain had a problem with seedy-looking people loitering outside the stores? To solve the problem, they started pumping classical music out into the parking lot. The loiterers moved one.

So, taking a page from the “7/11” playbook, today the MBG announced the list of performers for its summer concert series, “Live at the Garden”: Diana Ross, Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon, Al Green, Donna Summer, Blondie and Cheap Trick.


Pat Benatar is the youngest of the group, at age 57! Admittedly, I had a crush on her when I was in college – her video “You Better Run” was the second video to ever be shown on MTV. And 30 years ago, she was hot!

Actually, I had an even bigger crush on Martha Quinn, the MTV V-Jay. But that’s another story.

But seriously, Diana Ross? Donna Summer?

Yes, I used to like Cheap Trick… in the late 70s. And REO Speedwagon had one of my favorite videos on MTV – back when MTV showed music videos. But now these aging musicians do their same, tired old schtick on the fair and casino circuit.

Okay, I know what you are going to say: Jimmy Buffett is 63 years old and I just shelled out big bucks for tickets to see him in Nashville just a month from today. But there is a difference. Let me explain.

Like Eric Clapton (see blog from March 6, 2010), Jimmy Buffett has continued to grow and change to compliment his age. While his classics like “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Margaritaville” are still in high demand by his fans, Jimmy Buffett continues to write and produce new material. His role in Alan Jackson’s “5 O’Clock Somewhere” in 2003 took the duo to #1 on the Country Charts. His 2004 album “License to Chill” was all over the country charts. And he continues to tour and sell out stadiums around the world.

When was the last time Donna Summer had a hit? That would be her “Bad Girls” album in 1979!

In spite of all that, we will probably attend some of these concerts at the MBG. Last summer, we went there to see the “B-52s” – just to see if they “still had it”.

They don’t.

But we enjoyed a couple bottles of wine and a tray of hors d’oeuvres out under the stars on a warm Memphis night.

It doesn't get much better than that.

And I was probably the only “hoodlum” or “thug” anywhere in sight.