Monday, September 30, 2013

My Top 10 Baseball Movies

Bull Durham- the meeting on the mound.
The end of this baseball season has been epic. My Tampa Bay Rays will face the Texas Rangers today in game #163 to decide who gets to continue on, and then we settle in for what promises to be some of the most competitive playoffs ever.  Baseball is loaded with drama and great stories, and for many years Hollywood has been aware of this. There have been many good (and plenty of terrible!) baseball movies, and today I give you my updated Top 10- well actually 11.  Not included is The Naked Gun, because it is not really a baseball movie, but which features a hilarious baseball scene including the brilliant Leslie Nielsen as an umpire & and the guy who sings the national anthem!  Anyway, here we go:

10)  Pride of the Yankees (1942) - The Lou Gehrig story. And to my Twitter family, the answer is NO- I didn't see it in a theater on opening night!
10)  The Bad News Bears (1976) - The original is a classic.  Tatum O'Neal had a mean curve, and Walter Matthau was my kind of manager.
  9)  A League of Their Own (1992) - Even with Madonna, this is still a great movie. Tom Hanks reminds us that "there's no crying in baseball." This past Thursday night Mariano Rivera proved him wrong...
  8)  Major League (1989) - The climatic scene when Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) comes out of bullpen and they play Wild Thing always give me chills.  "Give him the heater, Ricky..."
  7)  Eight Men Out (1988) - The story of the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal.  A great cast and a brilliant telling of a great story.  Every movie is better when John Cusack is in it.
  6)  Moneyball  (2011) - How Brad Pitt as Billy Beane turned the Oakland A's from a laughing stock into contenders. And paved the way for idiots like Brian Kenny to try to reduce baseball to a game of numbers with no heart. But a great film.
  5)  Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) - One of Robert DeNiro's early films about a catcher with a terminal illness.  I actually saw this for the first time in a theology class.  This movie also taught me the card game TEGWAR (The Everlasting Game Without Any Rules), which later Alan Brown and I turned into the classic Triple JimBob.  :)
  4)  The Natural (1984) - Robert Redford and his homemade bat "Wonder Boy" give us an insight into the the supernatural side of baseball.  One of my favorite movie scores as well.
  3)  42 (2013) - The Jackie Robinson story, told with heart and a great performance by Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey- the man who took the risk and gave Jackie his chance to shine.  Given time and another viewing this one may move up the list even further...
  2)  Bull Durham (1988) - Crash Davis, Nuke LaLoosh, Annie Savoy and the gang. Funny, moving, touching and inspiring, with lots of great baseball, including this inspired meeting on the mound:  "Okay, well, uh... candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she's registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let's get two!  Go get 'em."  If you have never seen this one, do it!  And no lolly-gagging...
  1)   Field of Dreams (1989) - "If you build it, they will come..."  Not only my favorite baseball  movie, but one of 5 favorite movies ever.  Period.  I still miss having a catch with my Dad...

I know many of you love The Sandlot, and it was hard for me to leave The Rookie, Rookie of the Year and Benchwarmers off the list as well.  If there are others you think I missed, I'd love to hear from you.  Enjoy the playoffs. Though the calendar may not say so, October begins today!  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Acoustic Worship

This morning I woke up humming Lord I Lift Your Name On High.  It reminded me how much I miss leading music in worship, and how much I miss acoustic worship and the spontaneity that comes with it.  Which led me to update  this vintage post...

I attend a church that has an incredible praise band.  We have a song leader who could easily be a recording artist. background singers who could be members of Point of Grace, and three or four staff members who are amazing musicians as well. Every single Sunday the band rocks the house with some amazing music.  And you know what?  I'm a little tired of it.

I miss the intimacy of acoustic worship.  Some of you may remember the days when contemporary worship music was led by one guy/gal with an acoustic guitar. This particular style (in my opinion) puts the emphasis on the singing of the gathered crowd rather than on the praise team.  An acoustic guitar and a solo voice cannot (and should not!) drown out the voices of the congregation.  As someone who led many such songs over many years, I can tell you that there is nothing quite like standing in front of a people gathered to worship and hearing them sing their hearts out.  You can feel their passion for Jesus.  You can hear their hearts cry out.  

I love rockin' out in church.  But I do miss singing the classic praise choruses and older songs that simply don't go well with electric guitars and drums.  I miss singing songs like MajestyThy WordSing Alleluia To the LORDSeek Ye First and Sanctuary with the strum of a single guitar.  I loved doing things like singing Amazing Grace to the tune of the Eagles' Peaceful Easy Feeling or being Spirit-led to lead a song that no one else knew was coming.  And in the deepest depths of my old heart, I even occasionally miss singing classic hymns (Joyful, Joyful We Adore TheeIt Is Well With My Soul) with the piano and organ.  Most of us listen to a wide variety of music in our lives.  Praising God through music should take many forms as well...

So what about you?  What are your favorite songs to sing in worship?  What style do you prefer?  I'd love to hear from you.  The acoustic guitar pictured above is mine.  It's all tuned up and ready to go.  Let's sing praise to the LORD!!!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Shout Outs!

Can you believe it already almost October?  Fall is in the air...unless,of course, you live in Florida like I do. Then autumn is still a couple of months away!  But still, it's football season, Halloween is a month away, and my birthday is coming it MUST be Fall! So we will consider this an autumn edition of the Saturday Shout Outs! Break out out your sweaters and warm up the hot chocolate!  Here we go...

  • Congratulations to Cindy (Moe) Martin (FUMC-Kissimmee) who is going to become a first time grandmother!  Her daughter Katherine (nope, it's not Colleen!) is pregnant, and so in a matter of months Cindy will be the coolest grandmother I can imagine. Love you, Cindy!
  • Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-K) and hubby Eric and daughter Emma are headed to Walt Disney World next week. Teresa is awfully excited for someone who grew up in Orlando. Please feel free to harass her about that. And her sister Cyndi Reep Browning is finally relocated to Alabama with her family. Let's pray that she becomes an Auburn fan, NOT a supporter of the Red Elephants...or whatever the U. of Alabama is!
  • This past Monday night I was retweeted (it's a Twitter thing!) by Craig Thomas, one of the co-creators and head writers for How I Met Your Mother.  I feel so special...
  • Thank you, Lisa Jewett (Wesley Memorial UMC). No special reason. Just thank you!
  • Starting October 7th I am going to do a week of new Hall of Fame inductions here on the blog.  Check out the current inductees by clicking the Hall of Fame tab at the top, and then send me your suggestions of people that I may have overlooked from your days in youth group or at QLC. And yes Susan McBane Tuggle- I am aware you are STILL not in. You are under consideration.  Woohoo!
  • On Thursday night there was a remarkable moment in baseball history at Yankee Stadium, and part of the extended youth family from my days at Wesley Memorial UMC was very much a part of it. Mariano Rivera pitched in his final game in New York, and was pulled from the game with 2 outs in the 9th inning in a very emotional scene. As he reached the dugout and began hugging teammates and coaches, among the first people he embraced was Yankees third base coach Rob Thomson. Rob is the father of Jacqui Thomson, a very active member of the Graceland student ministry back in the day. But the connection did not end there. There was still one out to get in the 9th, and the new Yankee pitcher was Matt Daley. Matt is part of the Hall of Fame Gastler family from my Wesley years- Hal, Joanne, Jennifer and Christine. I never met Matt, but it was still quite awesome to see him strike out the final better in a game that will go down in history.  It was an amazing night for baseball.
  • I received a picture last weekend from my dear old "daughter" from my Quaker Lake days, Laura Wheeler. Wheels is preparing to move and found a turtle I had painted for her in the old QLC crafts hut way back when. I have no artistic skills, and this may well be my masterpiece!

  • My favorite tweet of the week came from Pope Francis himself- "God's forgiveness is stronger than any sin." Amen & AMEN!
  • In the past few weeks I added my 1300th post to the is blog and made my 19,000th tweet on Twitter. Neither of those things is particularly significant- I just wanted to share! I am loving Twitter again, and if you are on come find me @youthguy07. Or consider joining- I know all the best people!  :)
  • I had a 2 hour phone conversation this week with my friend from my own youth group days, Tammy Foster. Got texts from Steve Semmler & Beth McGalliard who were part of that same group, and my old friends Denise continues to look out for me as well. How can one goofy dude be so blessed...
  • Ashley Goad (Springfield Friends Meeting) is currently in London, studying as part of a grad school program. And also because she just can't stay in the U.S. for any extended period of time!  :)
  • May de le Fe-Joy (FUMC-K) became the proud new mom of baby Caleb on September 17th. Congratulations, May!
  • And finally, a huge thank you to everyone who offered prayers and support to Marilyn over the death of her Aunt Nancy. We have the best friends ever. We are blessed!
That's it for today. I hope all my readers have a blessed and wonderful weekend. Peace, my friends!

Because of Jesus.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Funnies: The Driving Test

Today just felt like a day I needed to laugh, and so I thought, "Why not share it with my friends?"  So here is one of the funniest scenes EVER on TV, from the brilliant show Taxi.  Enjoy...and laugh your butt off!  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Magic Moments: WDW 1993

My youth ministry Magic Moment countdown continues today on this Throwback Thursday with a trip back to 1993!  A large group of students and young adults from the youth ministry of Springfield Friends Meeting took a trip to Walt Disney World. We were there, staying on-site at the Caribbean Beach Resort (Aruuuuuuubabbaaaa!) and enjoying all the wonders of WDW for a full week.  There are many stories to tell from that week, and to read more just click the Magic Tour label at the bottom of this post. Both of the places mentioned are no longer around...but the memories remain!

After much planning and preparation (see The Magic Touch) I had arranged for the group to visit Pleasure Island and eat dinner at the The Fireworks Factory before visiting the The Comdey Warehouse. I was excited to have the group eat at the Factory (I was especially interested in seeing how the guys responded to the one-way window in the men's restroom.  While you stood at the urinal, you could watch people eat.  It was very odd...) for one of our pre-purchased meals together.  We arrived and were greeted and seated in a special area upstairs.  Our waiters and waitresses arrived quickly, and I told them we would all be using meal coupons.  They took one to the manager and got their instructions and came back to take our drink orders.  One of the students asked (almost jokingly) if virgin frozen drinks (about $7 each) were included.  To my shock and surprise, they said yes. We had used these coupons at EPCOT and other places and this had not been true, but I didn't argue.  So almost everyone got one...or three!  If the drinks had been alcoholic, I would have had to carry a lot of students out of there. And actually, I found out later that some of our legal young adults had been provided the real deals, also at no cost to us.  Next it was time to order appetizers, and our servers insisted that everyone get one. So everyone got their own appetizer.  That, by itself, was probably enough food to feed most of the group.  Then everyone got an entree (I am certain I had the catfish; it was my favorite dish there) of their own.  By the time we finished that part of the meal (and several more large frozen drinks!) most of us were stuffed.  But the servers were emphatic that everyone get a dessert- sharing would not be allowed!  It began to dawn on me what was going on.  These very bright waiters and waitresses had deduced that their tip was going to be 15% of the total of whatever the total cost of our meal was- and so the more they brought us, the more they made.  It was pure genius. (A side note: later on we discovered we consumed over $600 worth of drinks. The company we purchased the meal coupons from was NOT happy...)  So everyone got dessert, even though many could not eat theirs.  Ben Moran, however, ate his and then began to gather the extra desserts and eat them as well.  I thought he was going to explode (and he did!).  I ate more than one myself.  We had an amazing night, and even though dinner took a lot longer than expected, we left ready for a great time at The Comedy Warehouse.

Our Disney Guest Services escort (who had been receiving regular updates from me) was waiting for us when we came out of the restaurant at the back gate to Pleasure Island.  If you have ever spent much time at WDW, then you have probably seen a Guest Services representative.  They wear plaid vests, and are usually seen escorting celebrities or other Very Important People around the parks.  Not just anyone gets to walk around accompanied by a plaid vest.  But our group did!  She walked us through the gate (even though our passes allowed admission to P.I. we never had to show them) and across the area.  She took us behind our destination, The Comedy Warehouse, where we had to wait a few minutes because there was a show already in progress.  After this short wait, the back door to the club opened and she led us in.  As we entered, it was easy to see that we were the only ones in the building.  They seated us in the best seats in the house BEFORE they let anyone else in.  It was incredible.  We were ready for the show...or so we thought!

The Comedy Warehouse was an improv club, which means every show was different and that information from the audience was used to build the skits they do. They were famous for making fun of tourists and WDW itself.   What we didn't know yet was that for this one night, for this one show, it was going to be all about us.  When the performers hit the stage, they already knew that the Springfield Friends Meeting youth group from High Point, NC was in the crowd.  They knew we were seated down front.  They talked to our students to get what they needed for their skits.  I remember there was a phone located in the audience and they called one of our girls and talked to them about our group, and it was hysterical.  They asked group members for words and numbers that were used on stage.  They made fun of us being from NC and of our accents.  I remember very few details of what they did or said; I do remember laughing hysterically the entire performance and feeling like a celebrity.  I know the entire group felt the same way.

When the show ended, we were again escorted out the back and to an exit from Pleasure Island.  Everyone was giddy about the night, but I felt a special sense of accomplishment.  I had dreamed of making the trip unique, memorable and special.  I had made phone calls, asked never before asked questions of WDW suits, and pushed the boundaries of what we could do.  But in my wildest dreams I had not imagined a night as spectacular as the one we had just completed.  In a week full of great adventures, that night was the one that would stick with us.  That was one of the nights, after my 28 years of student ministry were done, that I could point to and say with great passion, "THAT...WAS AWESOME!!!"  I thank God for all such days and nights and pray that even in such "worldly" events we brought glory to His name.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Farewell, Cellar Anton's

My dear old friend Steve Semmler sent me a link to a news story from our hometown of Greensboro, NC on Monday- and it made me quite melancholy. The restaurant I knew as Cellar Anton's (but had more recently been simply Anton's) has closed its doors to business after some 53 years.  Some restaurants are beloved because of the great food. Some stand out because of great service. Others are memorable because of great atmosphere and ambiance. Cellar Anton's had all of of those things. But none of them are the reason my heart is sad at its passing.

To understand my feelings for this fine restaurant, you have to go back to the mid 1970s. I don't recall how we first discovered the cellar, because it was not easy to find.  It was in the basement of another popular restaurant called the Irving Park Delicatessen (IPD to the locals) and was located across town from the Guilford College community where we lived. They never advertised. They never had to. One of the things you knew each and every time you went to Cellar Anton's was that you would be standing in line to get a table, often a line that wound back up the stairs to the street level. But I never remember caring. It was always worth the wait. 

Once you got in to the restaurant, it was very dark and candle lit. It felt like a cellar. The menu was primarily Italian food- and lots of it! Every entree came with a massive side of spaghetti, and I always left feeling like I might explode. The waiters in those days were all African-American men, and they were consummate professionals. When you were at Anton's, you were pampered.  They didn't miss a thing. And if it happened to be a special occasion, then you were really in for a treat. Getting sung to by the wait staff was like being serenaded by the 3 Tenors. To a high school kid in Greesnboro, NC everything about the place just screamed "classy." And for a period of about 10 years, we were there quite often.

For me, Cellar Anton's was the home of the "first date." I really didn't have many "steady" girlfriends in high school, so I had lots of first dates- and I think I took them all to the cellar (sounds a little creepy when you say that way, doesn't it?). As I told my dear friend Tammy Foster when we were talking yesterday, I think I took some dates there who might not have even known we were on a date! And it never failed to impress them. I had a reputation for treating my dates very well (I needed all the help I could get!), and the restaurant was a big part of that. Plus, it was right across the street from the Janus Theaters, the first multiplex we had ever seen or heard of. Eight theaters in one place seemed like a dream at the time, and we spent many a weekend night having dinner and a movie right there off of Battleground Avenue.

As I got older, Anton's became a place to go for special occasions with groups of friends. We celebrated birthdays there. The Quaker Lake Camp staff would go on Saturday nights, our one night off during the summer months, and share life together yet one more time. I remember sharing an anniversary meal with Neal & Susie Thomas there; a birthday dinner with Butch & Barbara Moran (Barbara didn't know they sang happy birthday, and when they started she almost jumped out of her chair!); and many special times with the amazing group of friends I had back in the 1980s. My lovely wife Marilyn and I shared many a happy moment there. There is absolutely no memory of Cellar Anton's that doesn't make me smile.

I know that the Anton's that I remember had already been gone for a while, but at least it was still there. I was last there in 2006, and it had changed quite a bit.  But today I choose to remember the restaurant that was such an amazing part of my past just as it was back in the day. I want to walk into the dark, dimly lit cellar, order some Veal Juliano (I seldom got anything else), watch the food descend from the kitchen upstairs on the little dumb-waiter. eat some cheesecake and let those amazing waiters spoil me and sing Happy Birthday. And I want to share the moment with so many people- so many friends, so many first dates from days gone by, and so many people I still love so much. I have no idea if Cellar Anton's will be missed by the citizens of Greensboro in 2013. But for old timers like me, a part of our past is gone.  I am so blessed to know that the memories cannot be taken away so easily. And neither can the smiles...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"We're Supposed To Be Some Kind Of Different..."

"Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.  Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’  But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves." ~ Luke 22:23-27 (NLT)

Way back in the dark ages of the 1970s some of my friends and I became big fans of the band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and their live album called 4-Way Street. On that particular masterpiece, Stephen Stills performs a medley of his hits For What It's Worth ("There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear...") and 49 Bye-Byes. As part of the song, he launches into a politically charged "sermon" about the youth of USAmerica and the anti-war movement of the day. At one point he reminds the crowd that if they respond to violence with violence, then "that just means we ain't learned nothing yet...and we're supposed to be some kind of different..." He goes on to mention that Jesus Christ was the first non-violent revolutionary...but that's a post for another day. Dig it.

In this world full of inequality, racism, sexism, violence, hatred and class and religious warfare, Christians have far too often taken positions of superiority. We seek to position ourselves as leaders by assuming a "holier than thou" attitude that far too many of us think sets us apart from the "heathens" of our world. It is just one more way that we have forgotten the teachings of Jesus because they are inconvenient in our society. Check out the scripture at the top.  I did a sermon a number of years ago in which I emphasized the phrase "But among you it will be different."  What was Jesus saying?  He we calling us to a life of service. To put ourselves not in positions of leadership, but in positions of service. We are being commanded....not asked, COMMANDED!-  to show the people the love of God whose name is Jesus by serving them in any way we can. Take the lowest rank. Leaders should be like servants. We should appear to be odd to our world, because we understand that it's not about us- it's all about loving nd serving in the name of Jesus!  And yet we in the church spend countless hours figuring out ways to make ourselves feel and seem more important. We're supposed to be some kind of different. Could it be we ain't learned nothing yet?

Then this past Sunday at worship our pastor preached many of those same messages and pointed out a second phrase from that scripture that drives home a similar point. "Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves."  If we are seeking to be Christians (CHRIST-like) then we have to realize that Jesus is setting an example for us all.  The world is calling us to lift ourselves up. Jesus is calling us to get down! Power and prestige may be the way of the world...but not here!  Not in the family of God. In the world you may be too young, too old, too uneducated, have too much of a past or feel like the good life has passed you by- but not here!  And how do people know that?  Only if those of us who know Jesus overwhelm them with his radical, ridiculous and  redeeming love and grace. When we become servants of all, we let them know that they may feel left out in the world we live in, and they may feel unloved and worthless there.  But not here!

We (and by "we" I mean myself and the vast majority of American Christians) need a serious attitude adjustment on what it means to serve.  Do you know what Jesus did to illustrate his point about service? Did he write a check to a charity? Did he just pray for the less fortunate? Did he send the disciples out on a mission trip while he went to the football game? NO. Jesus got dirty. He washed the disciples feet. As Pastor Matthew said on Sunday, that is the modern day equivalent of him coming to your house and scrubbing your toilet. Our service needs to be radical, and it needs to be fearless. It needs to be a lifestyle not an event. We need to be feeding people, housing people, caring for the sick and loving the unloved- not condemning people because they sin differently than we do. If we do this as Jesus taught, then people all around us will want what we have. They will beg to know WHY we are acting so strangely, so out of step with our world. And they will come to know our LORD and savior. And then, our world will be some kinda different. Dig it.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Who Do You Say That I Am?"

Back in the late 1960s and early 70s I grew up around a number of people who believed the following:  Jesus was a great teacher, a prophet, and an example of how we should live our lives.  He was a great man.  But that didn't necessarily mean he was the Son of God.  And for a brief period in my teen years I bought into that a little bit.  Maybe they were right.  Maybe Jesus was just a really cool dude.

But then I began to look at scripture and see what Jesus had to say about himself.  In Exodus we learn that Moses is to tell the Hebrew people that God's name is I AM.  Jesus knew that, and used that name over and over again to identify himself to his Jewish audience.  He is especially provocative with this in John 8:58“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I AM!”   In John 8:12, Jesus once again claims the name of God as his own- "I AM the light of the world."  In John 4:25-26 Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well-  "The woman said, 'I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.'  Then Jesus declared, 'I, the one speaking to you—I am he'.”   Not much doubt there, huh?

When he asks Peter the famous, "Who do you say that I am?" question in Matthew 16:15-16 and Peter responds, "the Messiah; the Son of the living God," Jesus congratulates him on his answer.  Time and again in the gospels Jesus tells the world that he is the long-awaited Messiah, the only begotten Son of God.  He knows who he is and he understands his mission.

So what does all of that mean to us today?  It means that before there can be any Jesus Revolution there has to be a confession of faith.  Who do we say Jesus is?  And from my perspective, here are the choices.  Either Jesus was who he said he was, or he was the crazed, demon possessed wacko the Pharisees thought him to be.  Either Jesus was the Messiah, sent to save us from ourselves and our sins, or he was the most outrageous liar who ever lived.  I have spent a lot of years looking, and I can find no middle ground.  How can someone be a "perfect example of how to live our lives" and go around telling such over-the-top lies?  How can someone be a "great teacher and prophet" if everything he claims to be in untrue?  We are left with a choice.  And before we can be the radical Jesus Freaks that the revolution calls for, we must answer the same question Peter did: "Who do you say that I am?"  And we must answer it for all the world to hear.

As for me, I know that I know that I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the God incarnate who gave his life to save mine.  Today I invite you to leave a comment and share your answer to the question- Who do you say Jesus is?  Be bold! The Jesus Revolution in our lives can start right now...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Today has been set aside as the International Day of Peace. Many of you know that due to my own religious beliefs and my Quaker roots that I am a pacifist, and so this is an important day to me. I want it to be important to you too. I thought of writing about so many things to convince you that we need to "give peace a chance."  I thought about quoting Jesus as he taught us that peacemakers are blessed and that we should be "cheek-turners" when others turn violent. I thought about preaching about the sacredness of human life and the folly of hatred and revenge, both on a world scale and in our personal lives. I thought of writing about how we need to seek mercy and justice for the "least of these" in a world that so often responds to them with scorn. I thought of asking how we can follow a God who shows us such grace and forgiveness while at the same time seeking to "heap burning coals" on the heads of those who wrong us. But all of that seemed so BIG, and so theoretical.  I wanted to give you something concrete to DO on this special day. Something that might not change the world, but something that just might change YOUR world.

So here it is. Are you ready?  HUG SOMEONE. That's right...HUG SOMEONE!!!  Make a statement that love is the answer while violence and hatred are not. Hug people you see today. Hug people you don't like. Hug everyone!  While using social media,use the hashtag #PeaceHug and give virtual hugs all day long. Be part of a revolution of peace! Why a hug?  Here's a list: 

So share a hug today. Be a peacemaker. And feel free to start with me...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Magic Moments: The 6 Preppies

Marshall & Darek in NYC
It's another Throwback Thursday. and today I begin my countdown of 10 magic moments in youth ministry that I know I will never forget. This week we go back to the beginning. In April of 1982 I was working at New Garden Friends Meeting, and I planned a quick trip to Atlanta to see a Braves games for myself and a few of our high school guys. It would be a most memorable weekend for 6 naive white boys from small town NC...

There were signs all along the way that this would be an unusual event.  First of all, the Braves, pitiful for so long, had begun the season with 13 straight wins, a major league record. We would see their 14th game.  Since there were 6 of us going, my car was not large enough, so I borrowed a station wagon from some parents of the youth, Loy and Connie Newby. As we left Greensboro and began the trek down I-85, we were excited and loud, a regular car full of regular young men.  Somewhere in South Carolina we found a radio station that was doing a unique event. It was a song challenge.  They would play 2 songs to battle each other, and then a third song while people called in their votes. This being WAY before cell phones we couldn't vote, but it was fun to listen.  The winning song would then be give another competitor and played again.  After a few rounds of this, the AC/DC song Highway to Hell became the champion.  And then it won again.  And again.  And again!  We soon grew sick of the song (it finally lost to the Beatles!) but we realized then and there this trip had a theme, and it was not a good one!  Entering Georgia we stopped at a truck stop for gas, and several of us decided to try a Nehi Peach Soda, which may have been the most disgusting thing I have ever tried to drink, and remember, I was a youth pastor and used to disgusting things!  But finally, we arrived in Atlanta.

After checking in at our hotel, a Ramada Inn (I think) across from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, we headed over for the game.  It was exciting to be there when the crowd was actually thinking the Braves could win.  We settled in and watched as the Braves lost for the first time that year.  Bob Horner hit a home run for the Braves, but I missed it while standing in line for food.  More signs- but we still didn't see them.  As we left the game it was still light out, so we decided to walk up and visit the golden dome of the Georgia state capitol building which was just up the street.

I should tell you a little about the group.  Marshall Ratledge, later to become a Quaker Lake Camp legend as The MagnetDanny and Darek Newby (whose parents loaned me the car), who also eventually worked at camp and were both black belts in some sort of martial arts; Jimmy Hale, a golfer; Bruce Reynolds, football player and track star; and myself made up our merry band.  We were all dressed in classic preppy, and we headed into downtown Atlanta on foot absolutely clueless of what we were about to encounter. As we started down the sidewalk we had came to a group of young men who were standing on corner, and smiled as we came to them.  One of them stepped out and asked if we had a match.  None of us were smokers, but we felt in our pockets and acted disappointed that we could not help out.  We then continued on.  We saw the dome, and were not impressed, so we started back to the hotel, now walking the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street.  As we reached the bridge over I-20 and started across, we began to hear voices yelling.  We looked across the street, and it was our friends who wanted a match.  I could here one of them yelling "6 on 6! Come on, 6 on 6!"  In my coolest leader voice I said to the guys "just ignore them and keep walking."  Then the first glass beer bottle hit near us and shattered, and, still being cool, I said "pick up the pace."  As more more bottles hit, and finally a plastic flask full of liquor, I very calmly shouted "RUN!!!!"  As we sprinted up the slight hill towards a stop light where a policeman was directing traffic, three very interesting things were happening.  They had come to our side of the street, but weren't really chasing us.  We were sprinting, and I was in FRONT, meaning I was out-running our track star Bruce!  And finally, as I counted heads, I kept getting 5, when there were in fact 6 of us!  I looked back to see that Darek was not running.  He was very calmly walking behind us.  When we all reached the corner, we hurried to tell the police officer the whole story.  He just starred at me.  After lecturing me for walking downtown in the early evening in a city where gangs ruled, he then cut to the chase.  "A match" he informed us, "is gang talk for a fight. When they were yelling 6 on 6 they were calling you out.  When you walked by them and checked your pockets for a real match, they took that as a sign of disrespect.  Now go back to your hotel and DO NOT leave it again tonight!"  We did just that. After arriving in our rooms, we locked every lock we could find, and then began talking trash about how we could have beaten ourselves, of course!  We also began to question what good it was two have 2 black belts with us if they were not going to protect us.  What could have been a real disaster turned into a memory I have never forgotten, and I suspect they haven't either.  I have been to Atlanta with groups many times since, and I never fail to tell the story of the night the 6 preppies almost got in a gang fight!

On the trip back we only had one major incident.  We were filling the gas tank when the automatic shut off on the pump failed, and we pumped a few gallons of gas all over the car and the parking lot.  All in all, we survived the "highway to hell" and lived to tell about it. And as with many other youth trips over the years, this shared history became a cornerstone of our relationships.  And our relationships with each other lead to a better understanding of our relationship with God.

Choosing that night as one of my top 10 Magic Moments was a no-brainer. And since I suppose there should be a moral to this story,  here it is: NEVER drink Nehi Peach Soda!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Big Chill

"It's a cold world out there. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting a little frosty myself." ~Meg

Any list of my all-time favorite and most watched movies would have to include the 1983 classic, The Big Chill. It is very difficult for me to believe that this piece of my own pop culture history has turned 30, but I guess like everything else in my life its age came sneaking up on me.  If you are familiar with the movie, then you know of the amazing cast, many of whom went on to great success in Hollywood. Glenn Close, Jeff Goldbloom, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place, JoBeth Williams and Kevin Kline played old college friends who reunite for the funeral of another old friend (played by an unknown and never actually seen Kevin Costner!) who has committed suicide. You know of the amazing soundtrack, featuring The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Rascals, The Band, The Beach Boys, Three Dog Night, The Temptations and many other great artists of the 1960s and early 70s. And you know that it is primarily a story about friendship, and how difficult it can be to maintain even the best of friendships as circumstances change, miles separate and years go by.  The film is very funny, very insightful and very real to my life. Take out the recreational drug use and the free-wheeling (and sometimes a little bizarre) sexual encounters and in many ways I feel like I have lived much of this movie. 

We all have friends that we know "get" us. People around whom we can be ourselves with no pretense and no masks. Many times as we grow older these are not the people we see on a regular basis. But when we do talk or get a chance to be together, everything immediately feels like it always did. The discussions become real and poignant, and can almost sound crass to the uninitiated...much like this dialogue from the film, as Mary Kay Place and William Hurt discuss their deceased friend: 
Meg: The last time I talked with Alex we had a fight. I yelled at him.
Nick: That's probably why he killed himself. What the argument about?
Meg: I told him he was wasting his life...

Real friends face real problems together.  This particular group of friends begin to realize that the relationships forged in their college years were relatively easy to maintain then. It is only with the passage of time and intrusion of real world circumstances that there are truly  trials and tests. Marriages that fail. Dreams that die. Friends who give up on life (either figuratively or literally) even when they have much to live for. When life slaps you in the face and you cry out, often your acquaintances will abandon you.  But your friends...those who truly love and care for you...will rise to the occasion.  If we let them...

My life has certainly been full of ups and downs these past few years, and I know I could not have survived without my friends- some of whom I have not seen in years, but who never fail to show me love and support when I need it. They push me, forgive me and make me laugh. And most importantly, even when they are not able to be here, I know they are THERE. They have not and will not abandon me. But I have to be willing to ask for help. I have to willing to ask for prayers.  There is a scene in the movie where Tom Berenger and JoBeth Williams (who play characters who were a couple back in the day) have the following conversation: 
Sam: So how's your life?
Karen: Oh, great. How's yours?
Sam: Not so great.
Karen:  Ohhh...we're telling the truth.

The Big Chill always reminds me how blessed I am who have people in my life who hold me accountable and WANT to hear the truth about my life. It's not always sunny, and it's not always fun, because the truth is it can be a cold world out there, and we all need the love and support of friends to survive it.  Today, I celebrate this 30 year old movie by giving thanks for some more than 30 year old friendships that have kept me afloat for a lot of years. Nick, who was Alex's best friend and the most cynical member of the group, says at one point, "Wise up, folks. We're all alone out there and tomorrow we're going out there again."  Nick is wrong. We are never alone- not so long as we have faith, family and friends. And today I thank God for that. Have a blessed day.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Who Are You Hangin' With?

"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." ~Acts 4:14 (NIV)

The disciples and the early church were ordinary people who did extraordinary things. They weren't seminary graduates, or preachers in mega-churches, or even church deacons and lay leaders. They were fishermen, tax collectors and other assorted common folk who simply changed the world.  In the scripture above, the wise and highly-educated leaders of the day are listening to Peter and John preach in front of the council, and they can't believe their ears. There is something different, something special about these men.  And finally one of them just says it. Hits the nail on the head.  "These men had been with Jesus."

I find myself wondering if people look at my life and say that about me.  I wonder if the influence of Jesus in my heart, mind and soul shines through, or if when people look at me they simply see ME. Ordinary. Weak. Sin-filled. Do I spend enough time hangin' with Jesus? Do I pray enough, meditate enough, serve enough andstudy scripture enough that Jesus is my constant companion, just as he was for those early disciples? Do I love those around me and the "least of these" in ways that show it is not me, but HIM? My prayer for each of us today is that we be people who have been with Jesus each and every day. Because if we are, then we become ordinary women and men who are capable of very extraordinary things.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rock the Boat

I grew up believing that "rocking the boat" was a bad thing.  Songs told us to be careful- "Rock the boat, don't rock the boat baby.  Rock the boat, don't tip the boat over"- or to "Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat."  Teachers told us to learn to go with the flow so we wouldn't rock the metaphorical boat.  It was the best way to stay out of trouble and keep things under control.  Please keep your hands and legs inside the boat at all times.  And since the advice seemed to come from so many places, I accepted it as wisdom.

Jesus, on the other hand, was the greatest boat rocker who ever lived.  He rocked the boat by teaching the old men in the Temple when he was 12.  He rocked the boat by preaching and healing in ways no one had ever seen before. He rocked the boat by telling the Pharisees they were "a brood of vipers."  And he rocked the boat by proclaiming himself the Son of God.  As a matter of fact, Jesus rocked the boat everywhere he went simply by BEING there.  No custom, no leader, no law and no assumptions were safe when Jesus was around.  In fact, in the words of my friend Rick Bundschuh, Jesus didn't rock boats- He CAPSIZED them!

So how did his followers become so lame?  When did our focus change from rocking the world to be being "nice people?"  I don't know the answers, but I do know this- I spent nearly 30 years working for churches and spending way too much time trying not to upset anyone.  It seems one the main goals of many churches is to not rock the boat.  I don't work for churches any more, I just follow Jesus. What difference does that make?  I'll tell you.  If you want to ride in a boat with me now, wear a swim suit.  Because we are all going in!  If the boat is a rockin', then Jesus must be in it.  And that's where I want to be...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Music Speaks

"Music paints pictures and often tells stories,all of it magic, and all of it true.
And all of the pictures and all of the stories, all of the magic
The music is you!" ` John Denver

Yesterday a dear old friend sent this picture along with the words "this made me think of you."  Not only was it very sweet, but it contained a wisdom that I have found to be true in my life over and over again on so many levels. And it continues to be true today...

"Every time the time was right all the words just came out wrong.
so I'll have to say I love you in a song..." ~Jim Croce

Peace my friends.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Those Magic Moments

Everyone has magic moments. You know the ones I'm talking about- the ones where as soon as they happen you know they will be with you for the rest of your life. We have them with our parents, our spouses, our children and our friends.  And if you are as lucky as I was, you even have some on your job. I spent 28 years working with youth and their families as a youth pastor, and my life "on the job" was filled with memorable times. Some were happy, some were emotional, some were sad, some were silly and some were just flat-out "God things." This blog has been filled with many of those stories. But beginning today, I want to tell some of them again. Many social media folks celebrate Throwback Thursday, and I am going to join in the fun! For the next 10 weeks I am going to share with you one of my favorite moments from my days in student ministry. Ten moments I will never forget.

I should warn you that my definition of "moment" is going to be fairly broad. Some will be actual instances; others may be particular days. There will even be some whole weeks thrown in. But each "moment" on my list will share this common trait- it changed me. Some in big ways, some in small- but it changed me.

Narrowing the list to 10 will not be easy, and so I will go ahead and start by cheating and beginning with number 11 (You all know how bad I am with math). So much of who I am now, and who I was as a youth pastor can be traced to the 6 amazing summers (1978-1983) and many other volunteer weeks I worked at Quaker Lake Camp. I could do a list of 50 magical moments just from those years,and you can read about many of them elsewhere on this blog. But here's one really special moment for today...

From Left:  Laura Wheeler, Marty Bray, Kim Haynes, Me, Angie Swaim,
Marshall Ratledge, Marnee Larkin, Jay Osborne, Sabrina Perry, Lisa Wilkins

Front Row:  Rey Iglesisas
I an not certain exactly which year in the early 80s this tale takes place but whenever it was  I found myself in charge of dividing the campers into teams for Team Competition, the sporting part of a Senior High camp.  The teams also served as our small discussion groups for the week.  Having such a responsibility was always a temptation.  I knew the campers very well, and giving myself the best team was always a possibility.  On this occasion, I decided instead to give myself an awesome discussion group and forgo choosing the camp "studs" for my team.  My co-leader for the week would be my dear friend and "Sis" from high school, Sabrina Perry- who I had conned into volunteering for the week.  Everyone else was someone I knew well and loved, with the exception of Rey.  He had come to us from Miami with a group of Hispanic Quakers and was in my cabin, so I claimed him as well.  Marshall and Marnee were both in my youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting.  Jay, Laura and Angie were among my all-time favorite campers.  Kim was the little sister of the girl I was dating at the time, future staff member Donna Haynes.   I had known Marty and Lisa for a couple of summers as well.  As an example of how well I knew them all and how important this group would become to me, I can tell you that as I looked at the picture I identified them all from memory, some 30 years later.  We were all excited to be together, and it was an awesome small group for prayer and discussion.  But we also realized that we seemed to be a bit short of athletic talent.  So I decided to give them a pep talk, basically telling them that we should just have fun because winning was a real long shot.  I cannot remember what name we chose for out team, but I will never forget our team cheer.  It (and my pep talk- I thought I was Bill Murray) was taken from the the greatest camp movie ever made, Meatballs.  We were determined to have fun, win or lose.  So our cheer became "It just doesn't matter..."  (Watch this awesome video clip to learn more!)

To make a great story short, we were unbeatable.  We didn't lose all week, pulling off a few miracle wins in softball and volleyball along the way.  To paraphrase from the clip,"we played so far over our heads that our noses bled."  It was amazing.  And we just kept chanting that it didn't matter.  The other teams were stunned- and a little ticked off.  The rest of the staff questioned my objectivity in picking the teams.  And we became a true family.  I learned a great deal about building community in youth groups from those people.  Laura, Marshall, Lisa and Jay would all go on to work at camp in the years to come.  It was one of the last times I would ever get to hang out with Sis.  It was truly a magical moment I will never forget!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering the Right Things

Every year on September 11th I re-post this particular piece, if for no other reason than it speaks to me. I hope it speaks to you as well.

"The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it."  - Chinese Proverb

I confess that I dread days like this.  Things like marking the anniversary of the September 11th attacks are exactly the kinds of things that we USAmericans so often get so wrong.  We produce countless documentaries so that those who suffered the greatest losses can watch those planes and buildings blow up over and over again.  We profit from their pain, selling souvenirs disguised as remembrances.  And we focus on the wrong things.  Today is not about the terrorists, or conspiracy theories, or poorly thought out government responses, or military success.  Today is most certainly not about patriotism.  Today is about remembering those who through the most random of circumstances lost their lives 12 years ago today.  And today is about those who, that day and in the days that followed, stood with God and with great faith refused to allow the human spirit to be crushed by the events of that horrible morning.  This is my tribute to those people.

I watched that morning, completely stunned like the rest of the world.  I hear many people talk about how surreal it seemed to them.  It was very real to me almost immediately.  I was living in Chicagoland, and rumor spread quickly that the next target was the Sears Tower.  My wife Marilyn worked downtown, and almost immediately the evacuations began.  Panic and chaos were the words of the day.  As our church staff sat in our weekly staff meeting and tried to figure out some way to respond, we learned a local youth pastor had been on one of the planes.  It was all too real.  Three days later Marilyn was flying to Tampa to check out our new home.  Going to the airport and feeling the tension, being scared of something that had never scared us before, made it all too real.  As we watched for weeks as workers sacrificed, struggled and died in the hopes of finding even one person left alive in the aftermath, it seemed like life would never be the same again.  But eventually, we moved on.  We remembered, but we moved on.

In March of 2003 I took a group of youth from Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa to NYC for a few days, and while there we headed over to Ground Zero.  We expected to be moved by the destruction, the lists of those who died, and the remembrances of the horror of the day.  And we were.  But those things were not what we really remember from that visit.  It was our stop at St. Paul's Chapel that changed us all.  The little church on Wall Street, which backed up to the devastation, had been an oasis of peace and rest in the midst of the tragedy. It had become a shrine to the human spirit and the love of God.  It honored the dead, but also honored those who had given so much as first responders. It honored those who came as volunteers from all over the country simply seeking to help.  Pews in the sanctuary were damaged by the heavy equipment many of the firefighters wore that day.  Flowers, signs and banners were everywhere in honor of those who had served.  As you read the log books. watched video interviews and walked around the building, you could not help but realize that this was not an USAmerican thing; this was a GOD thing!  It was the loving responses of the many that would not allow evil to claim victory on that site.  

So how will I mark this occasion today?  By remembering these things- when despair overwhelms us, evil wins.  When anger rules, evil wins.  When revenge is our motivation, evil wins.  When faith, hope and love are all we are left with, then God wins.  There is a story told that a volunteer from St. Paul's tells of how he overheard one of the exhausted rescue workers coming into the church for a meal and a break, and he was singing.  The song he was singing was a youth group favorite by Lost And Found"Oh them lions they can eat my body but they can't swallow my soul..."  And that should be our lasting lesson from September 11, 2001.  It's also in the Gospel of John, chapter 1.  "The Light (Jesus) shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it."  For me, that will always be the story of 9/11.  Today, do not waste energy hating those who are evil.  Remember the fallen and those who were heroic in their selfless, sacrificial, Christ-like response.  That is what this day should always be about. Let's remember the right things...

Because of Jesus,