Tastee Freez–A Cold Blast From My Hot Past

conekidMy lovely bride and I recently made a brief, four-day incursion into the American Southland. We went there to visit our granddaughter at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. She’s our little soldier girl (I hope it’s okay to call her that—she’s twenty, but she was our first grandchild and will always be my little girl).

On the way home, I saw something I hadn’t seen in years—a Tastee Freez. This is probably not a big deal to many, and you’re wondering why I even mention it. But frankly, it was a big deal to me. When I saw it, I got all excited.

I can’t remember the last time I saw one. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, the big treat was to take a trip to the local Tastee Freez. For a dime, you could get a wonderfully delicious, soft-serve, ice cream cone. If you were extra rich that day, a banana split could be landed for fifty cents (yes…fifty cents—I’m that old).

The words, Tastee Freez, conjure up fabulous memories. They also remind me of a love for ice cream that has never abated in all these years. It still remains one of my biggest weaknesses. Fortunately for me (and my never ending battle of the bulge), no Tastee Freez units can be found within shouting distance of my gas tank (although I do live within walking distance of a Dairy Queen—but that’s a story for another day).

I checked their website and discoveredtastee_freez_banana-split-main many of them still exist, but they’re located primarily in the southwest. California is loaded with them. We may have to plan our next vacation along the west coast. Vineyards and sundaes…what a combo!

I’m not sure why these little coveys of culinary delight have all but disappeared from the Northeastern section of our country. There could be a lot of reasons for this, but all I know is they’re few and far between.

In stark contrast, there seems to be a church on every street corner—at least that’s the impression one gets when taking a drive around this groovy nation. That’s why I was so surprised recently to discover that churches are going the way of the Tastee Freez.

7000 churches close every year…

I recently read a statistic reporting that 7000 churches close every year. I’m acutely aware, as are you, that statistics can be manipulated, misleading, and misused. However, this is amazing to me. Seven thousand… How can that be? Is it even possible?

I have, for a long time, had a belief that (when it comes to all things church) “no _________ is better than a bad _________.” In my belief system, those blanks can be filled in with numerous nouns—Sunday School, Bible Study, Youth Group, and even Church. There I’ve said it. No church is better than a bad church.

I just hope the 7000 that go away this year fall into the “bad church” category (however we define “bad”).Tastee Freez

Remembering 911 (or The Empty Stadium Syndrome)

Empty StadiumIt’s hard to believe that infamous day was fourteen years ago. We used to call nine-one-one when there were emergencies. We still do, but now those three numbers have become a byword. All one has to do is utter that nondescript, three numeral password to evoke a torrent of emotions.

For the most part, those emotions lie beneath the surface. If you say 911 to me, I’m not going to fly into a rage, panic, or glare at you like you’re some kind of menacing freak. But underneath it all, I’m a boiling caldron of mixed emotions.

Even as I write this, I’m getting a little tense. I can’t even explain it, really. But like most of you, I remember where I was, whom I was with, and how I felt on that agonizing day. I’ll have to refer to my psychologist buddies to analyze that one.

The silence was deafening…

So many odd and eerie things happened that day and around that event. I live near Dulles Airport. The planes, which were constantly taking off and landing overhead, were suddenly gone. The silence was deafening. A few days later, when I saw my first airplane again, it was almost scary. It was an ominous feeling to have the silence broken.

Earlier this year, there was an event that harkened back to that silence. It was during the riots in Baltimore (which were not at all quiet, of course). Because of the unrest and danger in the situation, no fans were allowed to attend the Orioles game. Everything was so quiet, players could hear the play-by-play announcers up in the booth. They say silence is golden. I say, not always.

If you walk into a large cathedral these days, you can often find that same eerie hush . For the most part, it’s not because everyone there is in reverent silence. It’s because no one is there at all.

Camden Gate

In stark contrast, immediately after 911 the buildings we call churches were full. There were services of remembrance, prayer meetings, and candlelight vigils. People got together in places that reminded them of the hope we have in God. The sense of community was on a sudden uptick—for a while. The only quiet was the intentional moment of silence.

Today, there will be many moments of silence observed across our nation. In addition, however, there will be many hushed cathedrals silenced by the absence of their community. That community, which was rediscovered fourteen years ago, seems to have dissipated as quickly as it was formed.

We still have all the theology, doctrine, and tradition we need. What we don’t have is community. Even the so-called churchgoers are strangely absent much of the time. We’ve lost our sense of community and we need to reclaim it. But the only way to do that is to get together—and not just on Sunday mornings.

It’s time to wake up church. The silence is deafening.

Ron Edgar: A Gift to the Living

Ron & Lynnette 2Recently an old acquaintance of mine passed away. I use the word, acquaintance, very loosely because I didn’t really know him well. We were only together on a few occasions, and never spent a lot of time together. We were separated by distance, time, and circumstances for much of our lives.

Yet I knew who he was. I knew his name well. I knew his reputation even better. We had many mutual friends and relationships including some of his relatives. He was, by all accounts, one of the good guys.

A Chance Encounter…  Shortly after his death, I had a chance encounter with his sister. When I passed along my condolences, she began to tell me about his last days.

I had been watching the family’s Facebook postings and had been given a heads up concerning his physical condition. What I noticed seemed a little unusual, and his sister’s story made sense of it all.

What I saw was a man who was enjoying his life, his friends, and his family. Among other things, I saw several videos of him making music with other musician friends of his. He seemed to be really enjoying himself in many ways, despite the diagnosis that hovered over him.

His sister confirmed all of that. She relayed the message that he was the glue that held them together. He joked and made them laugh when laughter was undoubtedly the last thing on their minds and in their hearts. In other words, his last few days here on this earth were quite incredible.11828794_10204106052881145_6683017485612303337_n copy

I once read a piece by Rev. Billy Graham where he stated the belief that many people receive a special grace as they die. If I remember correctly, he also added that only the dying receive the grace to die. That sounds a bit simplistic, but I certainly can’t argue the point.

As a pastor, I’ve had the privilege from time to be with various people as they die—in some cases in their dying moments. I have seen that grace in action. It is, indeed, a gift as every grace is.

A Gift to the Living…                                                                                            However, it’s not merely a gift to the dying. It seems to be a gift that someone like Ron can receive and share with the rest of us. Someone in that position can give a gift that no one else can give.

When we experience the end of a person’s life with them, it can frequently be excruciating. The surrounding circumstances can seem unbearable. But every so often, we receive a gracious gift that reminds us we are not alone. We receive a gift from the one who is preparing to depart that puts an exclamation point on1908115_10203969012855230_1162852452219850545_n life and prepares us for our own death.

When we are there to receive such a gift, we are blessed. We are graced with a knowledge that is otherwise unknowable. Death is not the end. It is merely a new beginning.

Thanks be to God! 

YOLO, IKTR, LOL–Do You Follow?

If you’re a text-er of the first degree (or even a latecomer to the texting scene), you probably know what I just said in the title of this blog. In case you’re not numbered among the texting gurus (text-ually challenged, as it were), allow me to translate.

The title of this blog simply says, “You only live once—I know that’s right—laugh out loud.” When texting, these little shortcuts really come in handy (especially if you have fat fingers).IMG_1035

For example, HBD means Happy Birthday. Why type it out when everyone knows what the abbreviation means? LMBO means, “Laugh my butt off.” This comes in handy when someone texts you something really funny. WTF means, “Why the face?” I heard that on TV, so it must be true.

Well, I think I’ve reached the end of my texting lexicon. I’m still learning (usually the hard way). But I’ve noticed something significant.

  • The text-er has the advantage. When you’re texting a shortcut, you know what you mean. When you’re on the other end, not so much. I’ve discovered the Urban Dictionary can be my best friend. Who knew?

This whole shortcut business has gone viral. We have a shortcut for everything now. I saw a commercial the other day for an icon in the shape of a pizza slice. If you have that on your cell phone, all you have to do is press it, and Domino’s (or someone) will deliver a pizza to your door. That’s way too easy (and hard on my stomach and wallet).

My fear as a Christian is this whole smartphone-569076_1280shortcut thing will invade the church. Maybe it already has. Many denominations are shrinking (for good or ill) and, along with losing members, they’re losing leaders. Why that is can be a great topic for another day (or maybe a book). But my focus here is how church leaders, elders, pastors, etc. are being replaced (or reproduced).

  • I received notice from a bishop recently that a once popular discipleship course of study was being abbreviated—ostensibly to make it more palatable to the masses. The time of each session was being cut back and the total length of the program curtailed.

I’m not all that familiar with the program, so I can’t comment on its specific worth or its newfound relevance in brevity. It does seem to be a harbinger of things to come, however. Maybe tomorrow has arrived.

I may be an alarmist here, but it seems to me that discipleship has no shortcuts. Discipleship is accomplished line upon line, experience upon experience, and precept upon precept. When the church attempts to short circuit the process, there can only be Hell to pay (HTP?).

I hate to be a wet blanket. Normally I’m very positive about most things. In this area, however, I think I have to draw a line in the sand.

  • If you want to be a true disciple of Christ, put in the time…YKWIM?

It’s a Dog’s Life (or Can We Say Arf?)

As I was growing up, I often heard the expression, “It’s a dog’s life.” For some reason, I always thought that was referring to a life that was hard. I think I actually got it mixed up with another expression that referred to the “dog days of summer” (which was also something I heard a lot while I was growing up).

I’ve been set straight, however. Dogs get to lie around and eat. They devour two or three squares and sleep twenty hours a day (or something like that). Most of them aren’t required to do much except for a few stupid pet tricks (when they feel like it).

KenyaPupThere are the obvious exceptions like guard dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, and police dogs. But I suspect even most of these furry friends are treated quite well. Hence, a dog’s life…

If human beings lived like this, they would be reviled. They would be called all sorts of names like ne’er-do-well, idler, bum, or a drag on society. Since I have often heard these expressions as well, I guess there must be a few of those around.

But dogs, on the other hand, never seem to be called these names. When they lie around and do nothing, they are called cute, cuddly fur balls and are spoken to in baby talk. How can this be?

Well, I’ll tell you how this can be. This can be because dogs provide us with unconditional love. When we walk in the door, they wag their tails so hard their rear ends shake. Even dogs that aren’t treated so well seem to love their masters. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

What ever happened to I love you…period?

It seems to me that we of the human race could learn a couple of things from “man’s best friend” (by the way—what would the politically correct term for that be?). We could use a fresh dose of that unconditional love. We seem to be much better at unconditional apathy and unconditional hatred.

The best example we have of unconditional love does not come from dogs, however. Our best example is Jesus. Yet we in the church don’t seem to get it any more than your average pagan. Any love we can muster up has strings attached. I love you if… I love you when… I love you because… You can fill in the blanks as you wish.

What ever happened to I love you…period? Unconditional love. I Corinthians 13 love. Everything with us is so conditional it’s pathetic. Even among believers.

I guess we can chalk all that up to the human condition. We are deficient in the love department. We have been tried and found wanting. We have discovered the enemy, and it’s us.

Some would say, “Eat, love, pray.” I say, “Eat, sleep, love.” It’s a dog’s life.JessGirls

Michael Vick and the Church Triumphant

Growing up (and to this very day), the Pittsburgh Steelers have been my favorite NFL team. That would be Picksburg Stillerz to yinz from the Steel City. And for you non-fans, NFL stands for National Football League (don’t want to leave anyone behind—this is really important stuff).

Recently their backup quarterback was injured. Their choice to replace him was the best guy left on the market at that late date. That guy was Michael Vick.dog-720906_1280

Even you non-fans probably know MV by reputation—not a very good one, I might add. He was arrested, prosecuted, and served time for his involvement with a dog-fighting ring. But you can look all that up on your Google Machine.

Now let me remind you. Vick’s malicious escapades were made public back in 2007. I’m not a big math guy, but according to my calculations, that was eight years ago. Yet it seems that, eight years later, all is not forgiven (let alone forgotten). I kinda hope I’ve been forgiven for stuff I did eight years ago. In fact, I hope I’ve been forgiven for stuff I did last week, for Heaven’s sake (see what I did there?).

The Steelers are normally known for their high moral standards as an organization. Unfortunately, the word, “high,” is a relative term. In the NFL, “high” places them somewhere between politicians and used car salesmen.

WE ARE A DOG NATION…

We have a star quarterback, a star running back, and a star linebacker who have been forgiven of various and sundry forms of gross misbehavior (to put it mildly). Could this be called selective forgiveness (as in selective hearing)? Or can we simply chalk this up to the fact that we are now a “dog nation” as someone once put it?

I’ve never been known as a big animal guy (although I was a college biology major). I’ve had two pet dogs  in my life. One of the reasons I don’t have one now is because my heart still aches when I think of those two (RIP guys). I really don’t want to go through losing another one.

dog-472071_1280So I really do understand when some Steeler fans pronounce that they are no longer fans. I understand the venomous comments spewed when the subject is broached. In a pre-season game, Vick’s first official pass as a Steeler was a 63 yard bomb. Someone tweeted, “Yeah, but how many dogs did he kill on the sidelines?”

I understand, but I can’t relate. I can’t relate because I’m a lousy, scumbag sinner just like the rest of humanity. I’m undoubtedly capable of doing much worse than Vick (although admittedly, I can’t imagine). If I don’t forgive him and allow him to improve his life and move on, how can I expect the same from others toward me?

So I say to you Michael Vick, for what it’s worth, “I forgive you.” Besides—anyone married to someone named Kijafa Frink can’t be all bad.

Spiritual Nudity (or Rated X Marks the Spot)

Adam and Eve were naked. Noah got drunk AND naked. King David danced half naked through the streets. King Saul wore his birthday suit to prophesy before Samuel prompting people to ask, “Is Saul among the prophets?” (Which would cause me to wonder if the prophets ran a nudist colony.)

paradise-146120_1280These are just a few of the Bible characters who were known to run around in the buff. The ones I just mentioned were quite significant, however—our first parents, the man who saved all the fauna on the planet, and the first two kings of Israel (depending upon how you count them).

These people could be the central cast in a new HBO series. They could call it Naked Before God, Naked We Ran, The Nude Dude…(I could go on, but I’ll spare you the groans). The point is… Well I’m not sure what the point is, but you get the picture—and it’s not a pretty one.

With all this gratuitous lewdity (is that a word?), I can’t figure out how we got to be so prudish in the church. I mean, some of the best people seemed to be comfortable going in the all together. What ever happened to us?

Now before you start judging me (although I’m sure some of you already have), I’m not advocating we start worshiping in various states of undress. In fact, I tend to be a little on the shy side myself. Modesty is the best policy as far as I’m concerned (especially with my own body—which is the only one I can control).

My objective here is to bring a salient point to your attention. Biblical nakedness is a symbolic condition. Adam and Eve, for example were naked for a long time before they even knew it (imagine that). Noah got stinking drunk and made a mockery of himself in front of his family. David’s wife got really ticked at him. And Saul…well, he was just nuts.

sin-146121_1280Biblical nudity has a central theme running all through it. When Adam and Eve finally noticed they were, shall we say, unprotected, it was because their eyes were opened by their own sin (always naked and now finally ashamed). Noah’s sons felt the need to cover him up, even though he was in the confines of his own tent. On and on it goes until we get to the sum of the evidence. There’s something unseemly about being uncovered.

That’s where God comes in. Adam and Eve couldn’t find anything that sufficed for a good cover-up. Like Noah’s sons did for him, God provided cover for our first parents. We’re always naked before God. We can either dance before Him like David, or attempt to run and hide like Adam & Eve.

It’s quite apparent that the best course of action is to look for God cover us up. He’s the only one with the know-how anyway.

Are You On Page 65? (or Dream a Little Dream with Me)

thought-bubble-305444_1280I recently read an article by a writer who said he invariably hits writer’s block early in every project. When this happens, he moans and groans to his wife about it. Finally on one occasion after this had happened several times, his spouse asked him, “Are you on page 65?”

She had noticed a pattern. So he looked, and sure enough, he was on page 65. He would start out with a great idea, confidence, and reckless abandon, only to get to a point where he hit a wall. Once his wife pointed this out to him, he knew everything was going to be okay, and he could move on.

Frankly, I think we’re all like that author. We have a dream we think is worth pursuing, then we hit page 65. In other words, something gets in our way. We hit a snag, and we struggle.

The difference between us and our author is many of us quit at that point. We see an obstacle, we become discouraged, and we convince ourselves it’s not worth the struggle anymore.

There’s a famous passage in the Book of Joel that says the “old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions.” It seems to have been spoken at a time when Israel was on page 65.

board-240136_1280I think at least some of our dreams are from God. These are ones that never really fade away. They always hang around in our subconscious. Sometimes it’s tough to discern which ones are from the Lord and which ones are from the pizza we ate late last night.

But discern we must (at least that’s my thinking). More often than not, we’re likely to look at our situation and pronounce our vision for the future to be a pipe dream, a lark, or impractical. I say, not so fast!

How many lives have lost their luster because dreams were laid aside, never to be resurrected? How many discoveries have been buried beneath fallow ground because we refused to dig? How many profitable ventures have never been realized?

As I enter the waning years of my life, I have purposed to begin living out some of the dreams that have lain dormant in my psyche. I figure, what the heck! I may as well go out with a flash. Even if they turn out to be from somewhere other than God, I won’t be any worse off than I am now. Plus I’ll always wonder what would have been.

The profit Joel told his people to “sound the trumpet in Zion!” In other words, wake up. Live the dreams that Yahweh has given you. Get past your moaning and complaining and just do it.shield-293172_1280

I’m excited about my remaining years, because I think they’re going to be dynamite. I implore you—come and live the dream.

Upholding the Constitution (or How I Saved the Confederacy)

54fq5mjhiw1wzhj3_580x380I recently moved to the lovely state of Virginia (it was actually eighteen years ago, but time is relative—anyway, who’s counting). Being a preacher type, I had to make sure I was legal (to perform weddings, I mean). After asking around, I discovered I had to go to the courthouse, pay $16, and take an oath to uphold the constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I felt very proud as I raised my right hand and put my left hand on the… Hmmm… Now that I think of it, my left hand was dangling at my side not participating at all. At any rate, I can now legally perform my duties as a wedding officiant (or celebrant as we like to say in the trade).

These things vary from state to state. In good old PA and MD, I don’t have to do or pay anything (I have a trusting face). In WV, I had to apply “to be placed on the statewide registry of persons authorized to perform marriages…” Their application includes the following:

  1. Prove you’re 18 years of age
  2. Produce certification you’re authorized by a church, synagogue, spiritual assembly, or religious organization
  3. Present documentation you’re in regular communion with said church, synagogue, spiritual assembly or religious organization
  4. Provide at least one of the following:
  5. Official ordination paper from a church, synagogue spiritual assembly, group or school
  6. A document signed by at least two members of a group stating you’re in regular communion with that group
  7. Sign a paper stating the above info is accurate (no worries, however—it doesn’t have to be notarized)

In addition, I had to send along a check for $25 to seal the deal. Interestingly enough, some of these documents just don’t exist to my knowledge. I just fudged or ignored them altogether.g6oi2q0ak48rpwx_580x380

In DC I had to fill out a brief form (the brevity of which was downright shocking considering it was a Federal Government thing). The catch, however, was that it had to be notarized and a $35 check attached. They did send back a very nice certificate of authorization, however. The Feds are first class all the way…

I once did a wedding in Wisconsin where I had secure sponsorship from an elder of my denomination who resided there. That was an interesting experience since I personally knew no one fitting that description.

Then there was the wedding I celebrated in Michigan. The pastor of the local church had to stand beside me and pronounce the couple man and wife at the appropriate time. I guess Michiganders don’t trust my type.DSC_6505 copy

Of course, when a couple is nice enough to give me an honorarium, the government wants a slice. So much for separation of church and state…

Pretty soon they’re going to tell me who I can and can’t (or have to) marry. Maybe I should become a baker.

How I Survived Rodeo Drive (Or Privilege Has Its Rank)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a phrase or two that keeps surfacing lately (at least in my cultural circles) that really catches my ear. It’s generally used when someone begins to complain about an issue that really warrants no complaining.

For instance: You complain about having three cars and not enough space in your driveway to park them. Another for instance: You complain because, of the three dozen shoes in your closet, none of them perfectly matches your outfit for the day.

In response to these and other similar conundrums, one will often refer to them as “first world problems” (FWP). Another slightly lesser used response is, “white girl problems” (WGP). This one, of course, can only be used in certain situations.

I’m becoming more and more sensitive to these unbearable situations that arise in our privileged lives. The more stuff I accumulate, the more I notice these inconsequential complaints arising in my life and the lives of those around me. A third for instance: My darling wife and I live by ourselves in a home that could house three small families. I complain because I have to maintain it, pay taxes on it, and rake the leaves…FWP. For Heaven’s sake, I grew up in a trailer!

I realize it’s somehow in our nature to complain and that many of our complaints are just hot air. But when do we cross the line from petty human reaction into rank behavior?

What’s worse, these attitudes bleed into the church. Recently the congregation I serve held an administrative meeting. Like many meetings, it began with a Treasurer’s Report. The report sparked a discussion about our “Rainy Day” fund. This is money we have set aside to use in case things really go south. The question arose—when is it rainy enough to use this money? FWP?

This is a legitimate, practical question and concern (especially for a Christian congregation, I might add). Here we have a considerable sum of money that might equal the entire yearly budget of some congregations around the world. While it’s not enough to put a down payment on a Bugatti, it could certainly tide us over for a while.

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When is it prudent to dip into that fund? I suppose some would say, “Hey, you’re a church. Give it to a worthy missionary!” But is that prudent? Is it practical? Is it the Christian thing to do? FWP.

In the end, the whole money thing becomes relative to the situation I suppose. There’s no easy answer to these questions. Should we as a church (and now I’m speaking of the church universal) downsize? Should we get rid of some of our holdings?

The same general questions could be applied to us as individual disciples of Christ. Should WE downsize? Should WE give at least a part of our nest eggs to missions?

I can tell you one thing for sure. Third world Christians don’t have these conversations. Just sayin’…