CHRISTIAN Halloween? Huh?

     Halloween…is there a “holiday” with a more mixed bag of symbols, understandings, and methods of celebrating? From devil-worshiping on one end to fundamental condemnation on the other (and lots of cute little kids in costumes jockeying for candy in the middle), Halloween just doesn’t know who it should be. That is perhaps no more obvious than when it comes to how the Church views it. I have seen churches that condemn it from the get-go, refusing to even use the word in their building. I have also seen churches who have full-blown Halloween parties, inviting children into their building (in full costume) for games, activities and treats. How can they both be right? The bottom line is…it (like most other things) is very much a personal choice. Individuals (as well as organizations) have to decide for themselves what they think.
     Here’s what I do for Halloween. I go out and buy the biggest pumpkin I can find. I bring it home, and my sons design and carve whatever strikes them that particular year. (This year it was a very detailed Mario face. Don’t know Mario? Google it!) I take all the pumpkin seeds, wash them, soak them in salt water, and roast them. (They NEVER last beyond that afternoon!) Meanwhile, my younger son decides on a costume for the year. The only ground rules- it has to be something positive. (No vampires, ghouls, or ax murders in our house. The closest we have ever come to breaking that rule was a mildly dead ninja about 11 years ago!) This year he is going to be…Mario! (See a theme?!) Trick-or-Treating starts at 5:30 tonight in Our Town (hey…good name for a play!). We will hit a few houses of people we know (we DON’T go to houses we DON’T know), after which we will head to another church in town who does Trick or Trunk. (or is it Trunk or Treat…I can never remember!) They rim their parking lot with cars, trunks open, full of candy! After that, we will head to my church where the younger set of our community is invited to attend a special Halloween magic and juggling show put on by yours truly- pure fun with a subtle but unmistakable Christian theme. By 8PM, my family will be back in the “friendly confines” of home, with a happy dog greeting us at the door! Another great Halloween!
     It seems to me church folk often try so hard to be “in the world but not of the world” that we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We see the evil that is carried out under the guise of something like Halloween and we automatically distance ourselves from it. But…the rest of the world doesn’t! So when we step back, fold our arms and pronounce judgment, we automatically distance ourselves from the very people we claim to be trying to reach as well. If you read anything about history, all the “good” Christian holidays began as pagan celebrations, embraced and transformed by a fledgling Christian community. It seems to me, if we try so hard to prove we aren’t like “them”, all we do is alienate “them”. The kids in my community are GOING to celebrate Halloween. Perhaps it is my responsibility as  a Christian to celebrate it WITH them, all the while gently and lovingly showing them a new understanding, a new way. How do YOU celebrate Halloween? Have a great day, check out the Prayer Request section (just below), join the Facebook fan site Twitter or email me, (all on the left side of the page), come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Demise of the Front Porch

     I don’t mean to sound like my dad, but…back in MY day…there seemed to be more pride for a job well done. That pride seemed to translate, in part,  to what we all know as Customer Service. If you walked into a business, you were greeted, you were welcomed, you were appreciated. And although pragmatism would dictate that you were treated that way because you were the customer and you helped pay their salaries, I always felt it was more than that.  It felt more like people actually…CARED…about each other, a sentiment that seems in short supply these days. And one place that really seems to SCREAM that lack of caring is in the marketplace. I am saddened  and somewhat appalled by how BAD customer service has become! Recently, my family went to an area pizza place for dinner (our older son was home from college and specifically picked the place). We walked in AT 5PM on a FRIDAY night (the beginning of prime time for restaurants), and there was NOBODY there! (That should have been the BIG tip off, but again, I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed!) We walked to the counter to place our order, and found NO employees, either! We stood for a few minutes, partially deciding what to order and partially wondering where everyone was, until a lone employee came from the back. At last…service! But wait! He walked toward the counter, took a left turn, came around the counter out into the restaurant, walked RIGHT behind us, said NOT A WORD, and disappeared out the other side! We stood, stunned, until another employee stuck his head out of the office, saw us…and disappeared back into the office! At that point, we decided we should heed these blinking neon signs of bad customer service and go elsewhere. Pizza Hut was glad to see us, feed us, and take our money! Then, I went into a costume/magic shop looking for some things for a magic show I’m doing this weekend. I went to the part of the store that carries magic props, only to find it roped off with a “closed” sign dangling from the rope. I walked to the front counter (where I was the ONLY customer) and asked one of the THREE employees standing there why that area was closed. The reply? “We’re too busy to have that part opened during Halloween week!” (Apparently standing is a 3-person job!)
     What’s happened to hospitality? Caring? Kindness? I personally think it was killed by the demise of the front porch. Think about it- back in the day, folks sat on their front porches. As neighbors went by, they stopped and talked, developing deeper relationships in the process. Today, the alarm wakes us up and we hustle around, getting ready, barely even speaking to the people who actually live in our house. We walk into the garage, drive to work, and then, at the end of the day, we get in our cars, drive home, pull straight into our garage, and hunker down for the night. It’s perfect- we never have to actually SEE another living being! As a minister, I see so many people literally starving for relationship. Are YOU one of them? Here’s a thought- become part of a faith community. I happen to be United Methodist, but any denomination/tradition would do. When you become part of a group, you have a built-in way to foster and develop relationships. And what greater gift, in our current societal climate, could there be? Have a great day, Follow my blog (left hand side of this page), join the Facebook fansite (also left hand side of page), share this with as many people as you can, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

In the Shadow of the Great Fish

     We took the VW camper and headed north. There would be five of us on the trip- mom and dad  slept on the couch that folded out into a bed. My brother slept on an air mattress in the back. My sister slept on a pallet that was laid over the top of the driver and passenger seats. And I slept in a hammock that hung ABOVE those same seats. We would fix breakfast on a Coleman stove and lunch would be “picnic style” somewhere along the road. We went to Canada and Colorado in that camper. This time, however, our main destination (as I recall) was the Wisconsin Dells. (Somewhere, there are pictures of my brother and I, with our buzz haircuts and matching shirt/short outfits, feeding goats on that trip!) Along the way, we stopped in Hayward, Wisconsin, home of the Fishing Hall of Fame. I don’t recall that we stopped there to actually see the museum. Instead, we wanted to see the giant fiberglass fish out front! (Unlike the pics that accompany many of my blogs, this one is actually THE fish in question!) The concrete, steel and fiberglass sculpture was 1/2 a city block long and 4 1/2 stories tall- its gaping jaw able to accommodate 20 people. What farm kid could resist THAT? We parked the camper near the fish, and while mom unpacked the lunch, we scampered off to explore this fiberglass behemoth. It…was…awesome! Then, we ate lunch, and while mom cleaned up, we played some more. (I see a trend of us running off while mom does the work!) Once the camper was  re-packed, we reluctantly piled in for the next leg of the journey. And THAT’S when the trouble started. Apparently, the ground where we parked the van was softer than we thought, because when my dad tried to move it…it wouldn’t!  He gave it gas…it spun. He rocked back and forth- it spun. It seemed that nothing was going to get that camper unstuck. But…AAA to the rescue! My dad placed the call (no cell phones back then- he actually had to…ready?…drop a DIME in a PAY PHONE to call them! I thought pay phones only existed in the Smithsonian!) and they came out. The problem was, if they actually pulled their truck into the spot necessary to simply hook up and pull us out, they would be stuck too.  I was getting tired of waiting, and just getting plain tired, when I heard my mom say, as she watched them struggle with the camper, “We’re never getting out of here!” Well, I was young and gullible…and I took what she said literally. I thought we would have to live there forever, in the shadow of the great fish! I would never get to go home again. I would never see my friends again. I would have to sleep in that stinking hammock for the rest of my miserable life! I promptly sat down on the ground and cried. So, in the middle of trying to deal with everything else, my mom had to figure out what my problem was and try to “talk me down off the ledge”! Eventually, they rigged cables around a big tree and towed us out that way. And YES, I DID get to sleep in my own bed again!
     What is hope? A common understanding of the word is that is means “wishful thinking”. For my money, however, the best definition is “confident expectation”. The New Testament says it produces joy and peace. (I don’t know about you, but I can ALWAYS use a bit more joy and peace!) Hope is a valuable commodity. With it, we can do nearly anything. Without it, however, life…stinks! Do you have hope? Or is every day just another example of “punch the clock, do that thing I do, punch the clock again, go home, get up, do it all over again”? Life is too short to not live it to its fullest. Feel hopeless? Pray about it. Ask God to give you an extra large dose of hope. And when you get that hope, pass it on! Share it with those who are hopeless. Help them find what you have already experienced! Have a great day, watch where you park, sign up to Follow this blog, join my Facebook Fan site (link on this page), come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Amateur Night Demolition Derby

     My family used to LOVE to fish. Let me rephrase that- my PARENTS used to love to fish! While I can’t speak definitively for my siblings, I was never a big fan of drowning worms myself. But when you’re the baby of the family, you often have to simply “go with the flow”, as they say! (“They” again…I’m getting just a BIT tired of THEM inserting themselves into my daily entries!) We had gone to Beaver Dam State Park for the day, and even though I really didn’t want to fish, I always enjoyed going to Beaver Dam (although I always thought I was getting away with something bad when I said the name of the park…I have never been the sharpest tool in the shed!) We stayed, fishing from the bank with our cane poles, until the bitter end, not packing and leaving for the rather long drive home until dusk. That brought us to just outside the town of Shipman, IL after dark. As we drove along the 2-lane state highway, we came upon a car in front of us that was driving REALLY slowly. My dad followed the car for some time, but then decided it was time to pass. He pulled out into the left lane…only to have the other car speed up. So…my dad pulled back into the right lane, at which time the car in front slowed back down! My dad, beginning to get a bit frustrated, pulled back into the left lane and the other car sped up AGAIN, causing us to pull back over. This happened FOUR times, at which point my dad had simply had enough. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, pause a moment, pulled back out into the left lane and tromped on the accelerator! We shot alongside and momentarily past the guy in the other car. He, however, was NOT going to be passed! He sped up to match us, so my dad sped up. There we were, in the wrong lane, flying down this state highway, neck and neck with a guy determined to NOT let us pass. Then, the unimaginable happened. The guy in the other car looked at us, swung his car slightly away from us…and then swung it back, slamming into the side of our car at 50 MPH! The impact pushed us toward the left hand ditch and pushed the other guy toward the right hand ditch. My dad regained control of our car just as the other car came in for a 2nd shot, again smashing into our side! My dad, fearing for the lives of his family, slowed up and began to pull over, just in front of a restaurant with a full-sized fiberglass cow on the roof (if you’re from the area, you know JUST where I’m talking about). Amazingly, the other guy pulled over as well, about 30 feet farther up the road. My dad told us to stay in the car (NO problem there, dad!), and he got out. As he started walking toward the other car, that driver also got out…with a 10-foot section of chain in his hands! As he walked toward my dad, he began to swing the chain in a big lazy circle over his head. We were all quite sure we were going to see our dad die right before our very eyes (whatever very eyes are)! Just as the guy was about to reach my dad with the leading edge of the chain, he suddenly stopped, the chain dropping by his side. He stood for a moment, then turned and ran back to his car, jumped in and took off. We all though, “Go dad! You da’ man! Get down with your bad self, scaring the crazed guy with the chain off just by looking at him! Whoot! Whoot!” Then we got (as the late Paul Harvey would have said) the rest of the story. A heretofore unknown 3rd car had been following us, watching this all unfold. They stopped behind us to see if they could help. And as the chain-wielding guy walked toward my dad, getting out of the 3rd car was what could only be described as a mountain on 2 legs. This ginormous man, easily 8’5″ (remember, I was just a kid!)…extracted…himself from his car and came to my dad’s aid! Hurray for the American offspring of Andre the Giant!
     I’m amazed at how often I think I have any given situation completely in hand, only to realize (often MUCH later) that I had NOTHING in hand! To misquote that great theologian Janet Jackson, it’s all about control! We try SO desperately to gain and keep control of what goes on around us, when the reality is that we simply have no real control over anything that really matters. Life…happens…and as much as we’d like to say otherwise, we simply can’t control what happens. So, if we have no REAL control,  then what’s the point, what’s the use? Why even bother? My experience is this- once we realize, accept, and embrace the fact that we have no real control…that GOD is ultimately in control, then it frees us from a great deal of worry and stress. If I can’t control what other people do, what may or may not happen today, then there is absolutely NO reason to worry about it. And when you decrease worry, you increase joy.  And increasing joy is absolutely the best gift you can give yourself. Because while happiness is fleeting, dependent upon circumstances, and can be taken from you by others, joy is steadfast, completely unswayed by circumstances, and cannot be taken from you. Joy is (ready?) God-given. Do you have joy? REAL joy? You can…if you want it! Have a great day, be careful passing cars, become a follower of my blog (on the left-hand side of this page), share it with others, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Asian Beetle Invasion

     Have you been INUNDATED with Asian beetles/lady bugs/whatever they’re called? Where I live, the little buggers are EVERYWHERE! They are on the trees, on the cars, on the house, and, most importantly, IN the house! I remember when I was a kid, one of the “locust cycles” hit- it was awful! Actually, they aren’t really locusts, but cicadas. They hatch from eggs laid in trees, drop to the ground, burrow about a foot down…and SIT…for 13 or 17 tears, depending on the type. Then…they come…like a bad horror film. They fly around, make lots of noise, mate…and die. Lather, rinse, repeat…17 years later! Anywho, I digress…back to Asian beetles. Supposedly, they were brought to this country to help the farmers control aphids. That’s great, but the crops are quickly coming out around here, which means the bugs have nowhere to go AND the weather’s turning colder, so they head for MY house and MY church…. looking for a nice warm place in which to winter. (I personally would MUCH rather winter with my sister on the Gulf Coast of Florida than in my attic! But no one asked me!) The bottom line is this- I’m killing them by the truckloads (perhaps I exaggerate JUST a bit) in  my house, and they seem to love one of our upstairs classrooms AND my office at the church! (There were 10…YES I counted them…above my head on the light fixture when I wrote this!) So…I called the local pest control company- the one who says, “any time you have a pest problem, just call us, we’ll be right out!” Apparently I misunderstood what “right out” meant, because the response my Office Administrator got over the phone was, “Yep. They’re bad. Vacuum them up! If you still have problems in a few days, call back!” That didn’t seem like the answer I wanted, so I called and pushed a bit- they’re coming out!
     There seems to be a bit of a history of us humans importing some animal to solve a problem, only to have it create a new problem! It makes me think about how we handle other problems.  In my dealings with people I often find that, when a problem occurs, rather than just dealing with it head on, we often try to downplay it, sugarcoat it, or simply throw the rug over it and pretend it doesn’t exist. That works for a while, but inevitably, the problem will again rear its ugly head, and when it does, it won’t be pretty! Something that was small and manageable when it first started usually becomes huge and unwieldy when ignored. Or the “band aid” we try to put on the problem simply makes it worse, or creates new problems we didn’t have. It is so much more proactive to deal with things as they come and not try to ignore them or “MacGyver” them. Got a problem you’re struggling with? How will you deal with it? Here’s a suggestion- pray about it, turning to God for strength and wisdom. Over time, that approach will become 2nd nature and have a profound impact non your day to day life! Have a great day, try and avoid the little pests that might be plaguing your home, share this with as many people as you can, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Bit of Stolen History

     Have you ever been to Colonial Williamsburg? We went there a few years ago. My son and nephew SWEAR they will never go back! Let me explain. While there, we did all of the “normal touristy” things one would expect to do. We walked around all of the old buildings and interacted with the people paid to be “locals”. (That, by the way, is a fascinating character study all by itself! There are people there who take their job VERY seriously, wandering around calling everyone “Billy Biggles!” with about as thick of a cockney accent as one could muster. Meanwhile, there are others who say things like, “Dude, I’m, like, a Colonial Williamsburger…welcome!”) We paid an amount equal to the GNP of most smaller countries for the privilege of eating leg of…something…at the Raleigh Tavern! We “weathered” a virtual monsoon at Busch Gardens, riding some great roller coasters in between raindrops. But the funniest thing that happened was in the Armory of Colonial Williamsburg. My older son (then 14) and my nephew (then 12) went to see the weapons on display there. One of the displays they saw was a collection of real bayonets from the time period. This was a “hands-on” exhibit, allowing people to pick up the bayonets. After the kids were done, they left the armory and walked back to my brother-in-law. Right at that moment, a Williamsburg bicycle policeman came tearing up, skidding to a stop in the loose gravel. He informed my brother-in-law that the boys were going to have to come back to the Armory with him “for questioning”! They made their way back, only to find out that the person responsible for the Armory was accusing the boys of…stealing a bayonet! He named my 12 year-old nephew as “the brains” of the operation, and insisted that he had taken one of their original bayonets. Now, understand, these boys had on shorts and t-shirts. Where exactly would one hide a 14″ long bayonet in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt? The more they talked, the more my son began to figure out that they weren’t even sure how many bayonets they had to begin with! So my son said, “What does the missing bayonet look like?” The guy described the “bit of stolen history” to the policeman present. My son walked over to the display, picked a bayonet up off the table, and said, “You mean…THIS one?” After an awkward moment, the guy allowed as how that seemed to be the bayonet in question- perhaps this evil ring of hardened criminals did NOT, in fact, steal history! Another case closed! We breathed a collective sigh of relief, stopped baking the cake with the file in it, and went on with our vacation!
     Why do we point fingers at others, trying our best to undermine them and bring their shortcomings out into the bright light of day? It’s because we are not happy with ourselves. When we are less than we wish to be, less than we can be, we feel the need to drag others down with us. That it REALLY an unpleasant place to be, for everyone involved. Instead, we should expect the best from people. It doesn’t mean stick your head in the sand. It doesn’t mean take unnecessary risks or put yourself or those you love in dangerous situations. It does mean that, at the end of the day, our similarities FAR outweigh our differences. Age, race, gender, economic circumstance, faith tradition…they only separate us if we let them. The next time you see someone and you feel those judgmental feelings rising, stop…take a deep breath…say a prayer…and think again. Treat folks they way YOU want to be treated! Have a great day, don’t steal any ancient artifacts, share this with as many people as you can (Facebook it, Twitter it, email it, whatever!), come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Birds, the Bees, and the…Electric Slide?

     I have a strange (but valid) theory! (Now, I say valid, but MOST people who hear it lean more toward “crackpot” than “visionary”! YOU be the judge!) I have noticed that, when I am at a wedding reception…ANY wedding reception…an interesting phenomenon occurs. At some point in the evening (I guarantee), a group assembled on the dance floor will spontaneous burst forth with (wait for it) The Electric Slide! It matters not one wit whether the DJ actually plays the song or not- irrelevant. Some collective “pack mentality” kicks in and it…just…happens. BUT…have you noticed…it is almost exclusively those with 2 X chromosomes who are participating? Almost NEVER do you see more than one or two of the XY chromosome types dancing (and some of my friends have questioned the chromosomal makeup of those folks)! Why is that? (That’s the less than subtle literary cue for my theory to come to the forefront!) Remember 5th Grade, when Mrs. Sedrick separated the boys and the girls? The girls went off with her to mystical destinations unknown, while the boys went to Mr. Ray’s room and watched (yes, it’s true!) the “birds and bees” filmstrips (and got really uncomfortable and tried not to snicker, as we were explicitly informed of the fact that heinous punishment would swiftly follow THAT particular crime). But what of the girls? They wandered off to “we don’t know where”, and came back with a knowing, conspiratorial smile on their collective faces. I have become convinced that they were taken off and (this part is known in the biz as “the reveal”) TAUGHT THE ELECTRIC SLIDE! Think about it, and suddenly it all makes perfect sense! They are the only ones who actually know it. When and where did they learn it? It HAD to be sometime when the boys weren’t around. (And let’s be honest; boys don’t stay away from girls very long- never have, never will). Therefore, ipso facto (I’ve been waiting YEARS to use that phrase!), while we were subjected to those filmstrips, they were off with Mrs Sedrick, learning The Electric Slide! By the way, I personally would have paid GOOD money to see Mrs. Sedrick do The Electric Slide. (Author’s note: since blowing the lid off this nefarious scheme, I have devoted my life to learned WHY they do it! I’ll keep you posted!)
     Life is a mystery, isn’t it? Just when you think you have everything figured out, something happens that proves you really haven’t a clue! Don’t despair- we ALL feel that way! (Anyone who says they DO have it all figured out is either spoofing you or sorely mistaken- possibly both!) So what are we to do, if life is too complicated and too capricious to figure out? We turn to “the greatest commandment” as found in the Bible. What is that, you may ask? (And thank you for asking!) Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it- simple. (Not always EASY, but simple!) If you put God ahead of everything else, you gain a marvelous thing- perspective! Also, if you put God first, that love He has for you translates to how you treat your neighbor. As corny as it sounds, life would be so MUCH better if we actually did that. To quote that late great theologian Louie Amstrong- “what a wonderful world”! How will you focus on the main thing today? How will you refuse to be sucked into the negativism that is rampant in our country? How will you make a positive impact on those you meet today? Perhaps…The Electric Slide? Or perhaps, treat people like you want to be treated, love God, love life! Have a great day, share this with as many people as you can, think of me next time you see The Electric Slide, and stick with Jesus!