Friday, February 28, 2014

30/30: Five Movies I Could Watch Forever

This week, as I thought about the daunting task that faced me today, I have been haunted and restless. The number 5 has taunted me, daring me to live up to the Herculean task that I had given myself. You all know how much I love movies, and that I have dozens of favorites that I can watch over and over again. Knowing that about myself, I still went ahead and gave myself this 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge prompt for today: Top 5 Favorite Movies  -Of all-time. Any category, any style. The 5 movies you could take to a deserted island and watch over and over and over again.

Five. That's just insane. I can't even choose my top 5 comedies. I would have a hard time picking my top 5 Tom Hanks (Big? Apollo 13? Philadelphia? Splash?) movies or Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles? Spaceballs? Men In Tights?) films. In a world where there are 6 Star Wars movies, how do I choose which 5 films I will watch forever? After a long discussion with my son and fellow movie lover Will, I decided it is hopeless. But nonetheless, I must do it. It's a moral imperative (a quote from the movie Real Genius- another favorite which has NO chance of making this list)! So here we go. Not the 5 best movies. Not even my 5 favorite movies - because some of my favorites (see Les Miz, Field of Dreams, Forrest Gump, Dead Poet's Society & Pleasantville) are too exhausting to watch that often. I should also say up front that none of The Lord of the Rings movies or The Hobbit made this list because I can't imagine taking one without taking them all. That said, The Return of the King was very close to making it anyway! These are movies that I can (and have!) watch over and over and over again and never grow tired of them. So when I find a deserted island to escape to, here's what I'm taking with me...

  1. Young Frankenstein - There are some comedies that make me laugh hysterically the first time I see them (The Hangover comes to mind) and then are never that funny again. Young Frankenstein is the complete opposite. I have watched it dozens of times- in theaters, on VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray- and it keeps getting funnier. A brilliant, BRILLIANT film and maybe the easiest choice on this list. And yes- I KNOW it's in black and white. Get over it! Don't make me call Frau Blucher!
  2. The Big Chill - It's partly the incredible cast. It's partly the humor. It's partly the music. It's partly that it is a reflection on a generation close to my heart. But mostly, it is because it is my favorite movie about lasting friendships that seem to survive no matter what. It's a story about hope- both lost and found. It probably wouldn't make anyone else's list- but it is an easy addition to mine.
  3. Star Wars - Let me begin by saying I am one of THOSE people who actually enjoys all 6 of the Star Wars movies. I also agree with most fans who deem 1980's The Empire Strikes Back as the best film in the series and one of the best movies ever. But for my deserted island adventure, I choose the original. I had just graduated high school in 1977, and seeing Star Wars (there was only one then- so it was THE Star Wars!) absolutely blew my mind. Every time I watch it I am taken back to that theater and that feeling of amazement. So if I can only take one, I choose to meet Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, Darth, Leia and Chewy for the first time- all over again.
  4. Monty Python & the Holy Grail - It is fairly safe to say that I have seen this film more times that any other movie on this list. I can recite the lines, sing the songs and tell dozens of stories abut exposing people to it for the first time. I saw it in theaters as a sneak preview. There is history here. And again- it never fails to crack me up. I could never leave my faithful steed Patsy behind, or not be able to hear the tale of Sir Robin. This strange and wonderful film is going with me!
  5. A Muppet Christmas Carol - Sooner of later, even on a deserted island, it will be Christmas. I can celebrate the birthday of my Savior anywhere- but it won't really feel like Christmas without my favorite holiday film. We watch it every Christmas Eve and it never gets old. The music is wonderful, the humor is classic and it's got Muppets! And in case you are wondering, right now there are only 298 sleeps 'til Christmas...
OK - so that was just painful! No Stripes, Blues BrothersGhostbusters or Animal House? How can I not take a Die Hard, an Indiana Jones or The Princess Bride? What am I thinking not choosing a single superhero movie - especially The Avengers? Where is The Waterboy or A Fish Called Wanda? I am amazed that neither Anchorman nor The Rocketeer made my list, and that Airplane and Ferris Bueller are nowhere to be found. The sports fan in me would be very happy to have seen Rocky, Remember the Titans or Bull Durham show up on the list. Silverado and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid would have been wonderful choices. I never change the channel when Wayne's World or Fletch comes on TV. And where the #@%* is Caddyshack? How can I not take Caddyshack? There are no Disney or Pixar movies, and leaving off classics like The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp and Toy Story hurt. There are no movies from the last 20 years- and that includes lots of amazing films. But this list is not about what is left out. It's about 5 movies that I- me personally- could watch again and again and still be entertained. And with that in mind, I declare my list a success.

I'd love to hear from some of you. What would be on your list? Remember, you can't be wrong- it's your list. Unless you choose a Twilight film. THAT is just not right...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Magic Moments: One Last Hurrah!

Ski Trip, 2007- at Cracker Barrel
Today is the last entry in my Magic Moments series. When I began these posts I promised there would be 10 posts. This makes 21. I said there would be great memories as well as some ups and downs. This final Throwback Thursday story has both. It is the story of my last days as a youth pastor.

When I began work on the full-time summer staff of Quaker Lake Camp in June of 1978, I was 18 years old. I was still 18 when I led my first youth group at Centre Friends Meeting. I had no idea that nearly 30 years later I would still be doing youth ministry. But in February of 2007 I was still at it, and on February 19 of that year my group from Trinity UMC of Waycross, GA returned home from a ski trip. In many ways it was just like the hundreds of other youth group trips I had been part of over the many years. In at least one way it was like no other. I didn't know it until a few days later, but it had been my last hurrah in student ministry.

The story of the trip really begins a year earlier when I arrived at TUMC. I wanted to change the culture of the youth ministry to reach out to more students in the community and to make our church "the place to be" in Waycross for middle school and high school students. Part of that plan included more trips and more big adventures. In the summer of 2006 we took a successful mission trip to Chicago with the Center for Student Missions. In September we attended Night of Joy at Walt Disney World. By then, we had already announced the ski trip, and excitement was building. We would go to West Virginia and ski Winterplace the week after Christmas. The Guy with the Bus was going home!

As often happens with youth trips, life got in the way. The church van broke down coming home from a Christmas outing to a Japanese restaurant in Brunswick (an hour away). Repairs would be major, and I was left scrambling to find a rental van for those days after Christmas. In the meantime, there was no snow in West Virginia and it was too warm to make any. Winterplace was not even certain they would be open. At the last second, I called and moved our reservations to President's Day Weekend, 2007. This caused much confusion and chaos, but since it was youth ministry, no one really noticed. 

Let it snow!
By the time we actually took the trip, our van was fixed. But the parents who had planned to go along as chaperons had to back out, and no one stepped up to replace them. So my brave wife Marilyn and I took them ourselves- as we had done so often back in the day. I drove the van and she drove our station wagon. We went up on Friday, and any worries about snow were put to rest as soon as we arrived in Virginia. It was snowing like crazy. By the time we arrived at the motel, conditions were tricky. For the students who had never really seen it snow big time, it was amazing. They were all psyched about skiing. It was going to be a great couple of days on the slopes.

A VERY young Will Jones ready for the slopes!
In the middle of that night Marilyn (who never gets sick) became as sick as a dog. By morning it was clear she was going nowhere. So we left her at the motel, loaded up the van, and headed up the mountain to Winterplace. And it was indeed a great couple of days of skiing with a diverse and wonderful group of kids. By the time we were ready to head home on Monday morning, Marilyn was fine. One of the girls, however, was not. Kendall would spend the entire trip back asleep in the back seat of the station wagon, leaving the van a bit more crowded. It snowed more on the way home. But eventually, we arrived safely in Waycross, and I was able to write a safe and successful ending to yet another youth trip.

Meagan & Marilyn in the ski lodge
I was excited for the future of the student ministry of TUMC.  Nearly half of the students on that trip had never been to church at Trinity when I arrived a year before. We were growing. The community was buzzing about us. I was already working on an amazing summer schedule for 2007. Two nights later I led our Wednesday night bible study. That would be my last official act as a youth pastor. After nearly 30 years in ministry, after hundreds of trips, countless programs, thousands of games, 3 guitars and more wonderful relationships than I can possibly count, I was suddenly- and I knew quite permanently- finished as a youth pastor. Seven years later I am still recovering. I have experienced the grace and forgiveness of Jesus in new ways. I have been loved and supported by family and friends (and a whole new community of grace-filled folks from Twitter!) in ways I never expected. I have even found new ways to continue to be in ministry with many of the people I served for all those years. But as I look back today, I see that final trip, and thank God for it- and all of the incredible adventures He allowed me over those many years. My life has been so blessed. So many Magic Moments, so many stories that have been shared here on this blog. But still...I really miss those amazing trips! Anybody else feeling the need to hit the road? Crank up the Bohemian Rhapsody and let's go!  :)

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Remembering Russell Ziskey

In the summer of 1981 I was working at Quaker Lake Camp, and at the end of Senior High Week we got an extra day off (for reasons I don't remember). We normally were only off from noon on Saturdays until 2 PM on Sundays, so trips were out of the question. With my extra 24 hours I decided to drive to Myrtle Beach. By myself. No campers, no one to entertain- just me. Being 21 years old, single and solo in Myrtle Beach was pretty much the dream for me in those days. I could sit on the motel balcony, play the guitar, flirt with strange girls as they passed by and enjoy the ocean in all its glory. There was only one problem. On Saturday afternoon it rained. All afternoon. And I needed something to do.

I drove down to the local multiplex cinema to see what was playing and found that both of the movies I was dying to see were playing (I should point out that in those days some theaters didn't get certain movies, so finding them both was indeed a surprise!). One was Mel Brooks' (another guy who changed comedy forever!History of the World, Part 1.  The other was Bill Murray in Stripes. Bill Murray won the initial coin flip. 

Early in the movie we were introduced to Murray's co-star, an actor named Harold Ramis playing the role of Russell Ziskey. Russell is teaching an English as a second language class, and his methods are very unique. No one in the class peaks any English, although one student does say he speaks "some of it." Ziskey asks him what words he knows and the whole class begins repeating after him- "Son of b*tch. Sh*t." Russell then finishes the class by teaching them this (a scene that would be repeated quite often at QLC over the next couple of years with younger campers):

The longer the movie lasted the funnier Harold Ramis became, and I remember being amazed that this newcomer could match Bill Murray's comic chops. Stripes was quickly added to my list of comedy classics, and I still quote lines from it on a regular basis (That's the fact, Jack!). To finish the story of that day, I should add that it was still raining when I came out of the theater, so I turned around and bought a ticket to History of the World as well. FUNNIEST. DAY. EVER!!!

By the time Ramis showed up again 3 years later in Ghostbusters (which he also co-wrote) I was already a huge fan. His performance as Egon Spengler was nothing short of brilliant. Even Ghostbusters 2 (see clip below) had some great moments. But I was still unaware that there was much more to Harold Ramis than I knew at the time. He didn't just "show up" in Stripes. He had been a driving force behind some of the great comedies of all-time even before 1981. It was just not as an actor.

Ramis was one of the primary writers for both Animal House and Meatballs in 1978. He directed the all-time classic Caddyshack in 1980. After Stripes, he would go on to be the voice of Marty Moose in National Lampoon's Vacation, which he also directed. And in 1993 he would write and direct one of the truly overlooked classic movies of our time, Groundhog Day - which for me may end up being his most enduring masterpiece. It is not hyperbole to call Harold Ramis a comic genius, or to say that the Judd Apatows, Will Ferrells and Adam Sandlers of the world bow to him every time they make a comedy. His movies changed the genre forever. Just pause for a moment and think- what would a comic world without Animal House, Caddyshack, Vacation,  Ghostbusters, Stripes and Groundhog Day be like?  I'm so glad we don't have to know...

Harold Ramis passed away on Monday at the age of 69. He had been in bad health with a rare disease for a number of years. My son Will sent me a text with the news, knowing it would make me as sad as it made him. I tweeted soon after that "Harold Ramis is dead, and the world just got a lot less funny." His work inspired me. I think I could go an entire day and quote lines from his movies in every sentence that I speak. He made me laugh...not just chuckle, but LAUGH. What a great gift to share with the world. R.I.P, Russell Ziskey. May there be "one heavily armed recreational vehicle" waiting for you on the other side...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

#DangerDays: Paul Turner's Story

Today's #DangerDays guest post from another Twitter friend, Paul Turner. Paul is a veteran youth pastor and blogger whose wisdom and insights are always appreciated. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulTurnerToo and visit his blog at Thanks for sharing with us, Paul!

“Danger Will Robinson! Danger!” says the robot from classic t.v. show Lost In Space. I wish I had my own personal robot that would warn me when danger is around. Some would say this is what the Holy Spirit does, but what if He doesn’t? When the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness didn’t he see the devil there? Shouldn’t the Holy Spirit have warned Jesus not to go there? But He didn’t. The path of the believer is dangerous and if the Holy Spirit would warn us about these moments we would avoid them and miss every opportunity to grow. What I’ve realized is that, in life and youth ministry (which the Holy Spirit did not warn me was dangerous work), that the real danger to my faith is avoiding dangerous situations all together. So why put myself in harms path? Sometimes it’s unavoidable.

I work in a small church in the Southeast. It’s a good church filled with great people, but dangerous living has not been in their DNA until the tornadoes of a few years ago destroyed our church and a good portion of our town. Those were real danger days. The Pastor and I had only been there a year. We had no idea what would happen. How would this group of people respond? Would we fold up and would I be looking for another job? The good news is, the church not only survived the tornado but thrived since then. But danger does not sit back and  relax while we reload.

As part of the rebuilding process we built a new pavilion in addition to revamping an old drug store into a beautiful sanctuary.But nothing says danger to a church like skateboarders. Well, dangerous to the church property at least. I was informed by several people that kids had been “grinding” on the new benches and tearing them up. Danger Will Robinson Danger! But what they did not know was that the week before I got that report, I had a kid visit our youth group and share about how he wanted to start a drug free skateboard ministry. Coincidence? I think not. 

The safe thing to do would have been to tell these kids to stay off the property or to just shake my head and agree with the detractors. Instead, I set up a pow-wow between the skaters (some of them very new to our youth group) and our Pastor and a board member. I had coached the skaters as best I could, but I had no idea what they or my Pastor would say to each other. I sat silently and listened intently as both sides talked. My heart raced like I was in a car chase from a blockbuster cop movie. God did a good work, both sides listened and a skate ministry was born. Afterwards I had a Danny Glover moment (from every Lethal Weapon movie), “I’m getting to old for this crap.”

The longer I do youth ministry the dangers increase, not decrease. They come not from the outside but from the inside. Doubt, fear complacency, and even boredom become the most dangerous attitudes to my Christian walk and ministry. The greatest danger is the gravitational pull of the black hole called Status Quo. When I was younger, they expected some radical behavior. Now that I am older the mantra of “Grow up” grows louder. The danger of my position is this- I could age out with no plan for the rest of my life. But, I didn't  call myself to this dangerous work, God did, so my future is ultimately in his hands. Until that day comes, if it comes, I will say, “These were the best (and most dangerous) days of my life”

Monday, February 24, 2014

7 Things: The Winter Olympics on TV

I've spent much of the past 17 days watching the Winter Olympics, and today I'd like to share 7 Things about the coverage. Some are complimentary, some are not. Some are snarky. some are not. But all of these thoughts are born out of my love for the games and the athletes who have entertained me over the last 2 weeks.  So here we go...
  • At every Olympics I always love the pieces networks so about the host country. Mary Carillo's travel pieces during these games were simply marvelous. I especially found her trip to Siberia to be enlightening. For those of us who are students of history, Siberia has always sounded like "the worst place in the world." Now I know the rest of that sentence should say "unless you live there." Thank you, Mary.
  • I was reminded again that as a USAmerican most of the sports of the winter games are sports that I pay attention to once every 4 years. I am ignorant about them. And as a result of that, the commentators can say pretty much whatever they want to without me knowing the difference. But even with that said-  Has there even been an announcer more wrong more often and more loudly than Chad Salmela, the guy who did color on the cross country skiing and biathlon events? Every prediction was sure to go wrong, and at the end of every event he was screaming like it was the last play of the Auburn/Alabama football game. But I couldn't look away- just like with any other train wreck!
  • I am always frustrated at every Olympics with how much time NBC spends reporting on USAmericans instead of on some of the bigger stories from other nations. This time around there not even much coverage of the medal ceremonies featuring national anthems of other countries. This is particularly frustrating for me as during the Winter Olympics I become a fan of Norway. It's been true ever since Lillehammer in 1994, when I fell in love with the place. I'll never get to visit, so I become Norwegian every 4 years. And while my team won many medals, I didn't get to hear the anthem at all.  Boooo, NBC. Boooo!!!
  • Bob Costas deserves a medal of honor for his work while surviving pink eye, as do those who helped fill his shoes while he was out. I have to tell you, however, that I was way ahead of the curve in making "Costas took the red eye flight" jokes. I also made a "Ligety split" joke during the opening ceremonies. I am available for parties and bar mitvahs. 
  • I was confused and frustrated by the figure skating coverage. I am home pretty all day. and so I watched a lot of live event coverage on the NBC Sports Network. When they showed the skating live, the broadcast team was former NC State basketball Terry Gannon, along with former Olympic skater Johnny Weir and 1998 gold medalist Tara Lipinski. When my wife would watch the exact same footage during prime time the announcers were Tom Hammond, Scott Hamiliton and Sandra Bezic. My first question is why? No other sport got new announcers for the taped version. And my second question is WHY? Gannon, Weir and Lipinski were absolutely brilliant. They were honest, concise and full of insight. And Tara and Johnny gave us a fashion show everyday as well!  I love Scott Hamilton, but the rest of his team just did not measure up. And Bezic was better than Sominex. Just awful...
  • I love watching curling. I find it to be unique and fascinating. But does anyone else feel like after 17 days you still have no real idea what the rules are and no clue what the announcers are actually talking about? It's like they speak a foreign language. Curlish. And also, am I alone in thinking that the rules of the biathlon were made up by a middle school youth group? Ski, then shoot while laying down. If you miss, ski around a penalty circle one time for every shot you miss. Then ski some more and shoot standing up. The ski some more. The only thing missing were live bears stationed along the course the spice it up a bit. A very odd sport.
  • The closing ceremonies were. as always, full of pageantry and spectacle. I do have some suggestions on ways they could have spiced them up a bit. First of all, where was YakovSmirnoff? The greatest of all Russian comedians (the ONLY Russian comedian?) could have put  little zip into the festivities. Also, during the tribute to Russian authors, NBC could have easily slipped in the Seinfeld clip of Elaine suggesting that the original working title of War and Peace was actually War- What Is It Good For? Big laughs, no doubt! And finally, did anyone else have trouble deciding if the giant animals at the end were cute...or creepy? That bear was just a little TOO life-like. Wouldn't it have been awesome to see it go on a rampage, squashing dancers like Godzilla and then destroying the cauldron of the Olympic flame? You have to admit, that would have jazzed it all up! 
All-in-all I thought it was an good Olympics. The best part was that after all of initial concerns about security, toilets and Putin that once the games started it became all about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It was all about athletes, And that's the way it's supposed to be. And the United States team did well, even though many of the people and teams who were supposed to win fell short. Maybe we just need to invent a few more freestyle skiing and snowboarding events so we can have the most gold medals! Now bring on the summer games of 2016 and beach volleyball in Rio!!!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Church Math

The great singer/songwriter/comedian Tom Lehrer (Before my time, so WAAAAY before most of yours!) wrote a song around 1965 about a new method of teaching mathematics that was referred to as The New Math. In his introduction to the song on the live album That Was the Year That Was he points out his frustration with this new method. He says, "The purpose of the new math is to make sure you understand what you're doing- rather than to get the right answer!" Sometimes I feel like the Church has adopted the same system. Let's take a look at Church Math...

If you grew up in the mainline or evangelical protestant church in the in the 1970s, 80s or early 90s then chances are that you were taught (although you were probably unaware of it) 3 essential truths about Christianity. Here they are:
  1. Knowledge is the basis of faith, and the scriptures are the basis of that knowledge.
  2. The writings of the Apostle Paul explain what it means to live the Christian life.
  3. If you love the Church, and give your time, talents and money to your church, then you love God.
Over my 28 years of working for churches (and in the 7 years since) I came across person after person who had been indoctrinated with these teachings and were trying to live them out in their lives. I hear them being promoted (though seldom spelled out) in blogs and on Twitter on a regular basis. The problem is, there are not three essential truths, there is one. Check my math...

1)  Knowledge is not the basis of our faith, a relationship with Jesus is! The scriptures inform us, convict us and guide us as we seek to grow closer to the living Christ, but primarily they are a record of God's attempts at relationship with humans. Jesus was the final attempt and the final answer. Answer this: If all of the bibles in the world were to suddenly disappear, would the love and grace of God in our world be rendered moot? Of course not, because Jesus would have still died for our sins and left us with the Holy Spirit.  Knowledge is a great, wonderful and powerful thing. But when it comes to our faith, a relationship with Jesus is the true essential.
2)  The writings of Paul are extremely important to Christianity. His letters to the churches found in the New Testament encourage us, warn us and give us hope in all things. Paul was certainly one of the most important Christians who ever lived. But we do not worship Paul.  He is not part of the Holy Trinity (last time I checked). So why is he quoted more often than Jesus?  Why does seemingly every major argument about our faith begin with the words, "Paul wrote..."  People will tell you that Paul was simply trying to elaborate on the things Jesus taught. If that's true, then where is his detailed explanation of the Sermon on the Mount- especially the Beatitudes?  Where do we read his deeper exegesis of the parables of Christ? He would have been the first one to say, "It's not about me, it's all about Jesus"- and yet we so often make it all about him. Paul was a great writer and committed follower of Christ whose writings have much to offer and much to teach us. But he is not the essential example of how to live the Christian life- Jesus is. 
3)  The third teaching is very important as well. We should love the Church, as it is "the bride of Christ." When we give of ourselves to our churches we help to further the Kingdom. But...when our giving becomes more about building new buildings and getting the pastor a book deal, then we may have lost sight of what's essential. Jesus commanded us to love God and to love each other. I think that sometimes loving our church gets to the top of that list.  We think, "If I love my church, then my church will love the unlovable." The great commandment was not issued as corporate doctrine- it is up to each of us to love as Jesus taught. We should be able to see this quite easily in our world in 2014, where so many are offended (and not in a good way) by the politics and in-fighting of the church but still long to feel the love of Christ in their lives. Church is a great thing, a fellowship of believers that can and should change the world.  But Jesus is essential.

So there you go. It seems in my new math, 1+1+1 does not equal 3. It equals 1. And that one essential, the one thing that no Christian can be without, is Jesus. It's simple, but it's not easy. Head knowledge is always easier to acquire than real relationship. It's much easier to argue about politics or gay marriage than it is to "turn the other cheek" and "pray for those who persecute you." And going to church is a breeze when compared to loving your neighbor as you love yourself. But we must understand and we must articulate that there is only one essential of the Christian faith- and that essential is Jesus. This is what the Jesus Revolution is all about. Theology, dogma and doctrine are wonderful things to know about and seek to understand. But they are not more important than getting the answer right! My prayer on this Sabbath is that I will remember that Jesus is THE ONE THING, and everything else is secondary. I hope you will join me in that prayer...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Kill on the Hill

I was watching the Giant Slalom event at the Winter Olympics the other night and was reminded once again of just how terrible a skier I once was- and now with 7 toes I am betting I could be much worse! But still the thought of going down that mountain appeals to me, and I really think I could do it on a sled. I was always a beast on a sled! Those thoughts took me back to childhood (2 days in a row!) and a game we used to play on those rare occasions when we got a decent snow in Greensboro, NC. Almost everyone in my neighborhood had a sled that looked very much like the one pictured here, and when the snow got deep enough and the roads froze over, we broke them out and gathered on Underwood Drive to risk our lives. It was called Kill on the Hill. And it went something like this...

I lived in a large residential section, but there was really only one hill worthy of sledding. It was a fairly short stretch of road, but the incline was steep. As soon as it would start snowing hard the traffic would find ways to bypass the hill, so the snow stayed fresh and lasted longer than most NC snow. Usually by the first night, Underwood Drive was slick as glass, and we were ready. It was go time. Kids of all ages would gather and lug their sleds to the top of the hill. We all knew the drill. Line up across the road. Wait for someone- anyone- to yell "GO!" Get a running start and dive onto your sled skeleton style (see picture) because sitting up could get you killed. Any may the best person win.

So what was the goal, and what were the rules? It was simple- be the first person to reach the bottom of the hill, and do ANYTHING you could to stop others from getting there. There were those who tried to race to the bottom each time and win with sheer speed. They were usually disappointed by the other sledders like me, who would catch them from behind, grab their runners, and yank their sleds out from under them. With violence! Or perhaps they would be pushed into one of the ditches that were on either side of the street. Sometimes sledders would work as team, pinching the leader between two sleds until they just abandoned their ride and begged for mercy. My sled was short, and could turn on a dime, and I loved chasing people down and dumping them. Reaching the bottom was one way to win. Making sure others did not was my preferred way to win! Did people get banged up, bruised and occasionally bloodied? Oh yea. But this was the 1970s. We had never heard of bicycle helmets, safety goggles or antibacterial wipes. We were just discovering seat belts. Our parents sent us out there fully aware of what was going on- and they didn't care! Some would come out to watch and cheer us on, but there was no "don't do that- you might get hurt!" Of course we would get hurt. We were playing Kill on the Hill!

But in all the years we participated in this wacky sporting event, there was only one major injury. It was bad. It was gruesome, And it was a sick kind of hilarious! I was probably in 7th grade or so when we were playing one night and a high school girl named Kim joined us on the hill. Kim was a cheerleader, a very popular girl who none of the main cast of characters knew very well. But on this night she wanted to play. Like most rookies, she took off and tried to race straight to the bottom, and because she was older, pretty, and a bit unknown we just let her go the first few times while mayhem and chaos ensued behind her. She began to gloat about her winning ways, but no one was quite ready to attack her sled. She began one last run with a shout of "you can't catch me" and took off. She was flying, and one of the guys decided to give chase, nipping at her heels all the way down. She kept looking back to see if he was going to catch her, when someone else caught him and runner-yanked him. She began to laugh and celebrate and look back to taunt us- completely forgetting that the finish line that night was marked by a car parked on the t-intersection at the bottom. A bright yellow AMC Gremlin. We yelled for her to look out, and she did- at exactly the wrong moment. She went face first into the side of that car with a huge SPLAT. She broke her nose, and the sight of the blood on that yellow car and the white snow was quite impressive. She was eventually fine- the Gremlin never recovered. And the story took on mythic proportions as the years went by...

So today I raise a glass to the warriors of days gone by and the great days and nights we spent playing Kill on the Hill. I would suggest it to those of you who are still buried in snow from this terrible winter, but in today's world by the time you got on all of the required safety equipment the snow will have melted. Maybe someone can turn it into a video game (KMN). Or maybe I can get it into the 2018 Winter Olympics. I feel a comeback coming on...

Friday, February 21, 2014

30/30: My Favorite Toys

The 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge for this week is to write about my favorite childhood toy or toys. I have to confess up front that I am not going to do that. It would just be boring. You see, from the time I was about 6 my favorite toys were baseballs, footballs, basketballs, dodge balls, kick balls and for a period of time even golf balls and tennis balls. I was playing any kind of ball I could every moment that I could, and those were the "toys" that I really remember. But that's too easy. I also played superheroes a lot with my neighborhood friends as a child, but in those days that just meant tying a towel around your neck- so no real toys were involved. So instead, I will tell you about 2 "toys" that I had for a long time, and may have enjoyed more as a young adult than I did as a child. Ahhh,,,the classics!

First up is the all-time great toy, Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots! I do not remember at what age I first acquired this majestic masterpiece, but I do remember playing with friends from Little League baseball (ages 8-12 for me) and knocking each others blocks off!  I also remember that I played with them so much they broke, and there was a period of time during which I had no robots with which to battle. At some point, however, I was bequeathed a second chance with a new set of fighting robots, and the games began all over again. I remember one particular night in 8th grade when a couple of buddies slept over and we played into the wee hours, hitting the buttons so hard that heads were popping off just from the vibrations. We were laughing hysterically, and as I recall, someone actually rolled over on the toy and was in serious pain from crushing their own (Do NOT touch certain areas of your body, no matter how much they hurt!)...well, you get the picture. I do not remember what became of the replacement bots, but I would suppose they too were played with until their death. A great toy full of great memories.

The other memory I want to share is of a toy resurrection. Sometime in my childhood (I'm guessing I was around 10) I got a table hockey game much like the one pictured here for Christmas. I enjoyed the game for a number of years, but being an only child it was only fun when people stayed over and we weren't outside playing ball. Over those first years it would come out on occasion and then go back in the closet for long periods of time. I don't know if I even remembered it still existed during my high school years as it languished in the closet. But at some point in my early 20s it made its way out of my room at home and into the apartment I shared with Steve Semmler and Alan Brown. We began to play, and it seemed that this old school game was more fun than it had even been before. We played with such vigor that the metal rod controlling one of the right-wingers became bent, and to use that player you had to really crank the control. And so that team's right-winger became known as Joe Crank. We had tournaments, placed bets and just had a ball playing this low tech hockey game. The game became an all-time favorite.

As with the robots, I have no idea what finally became of the hockey game and Joe Crank. I just know that the hours of fun it provided some grown-up kids will never be forgotten. These may not have been my favorite toys as a child, but they sure hold a special place in my heart now. Thanks for remembering with me. I'll see you next Friday when the prompt is my Top 5 Movies of All-Time. I have no idea how to cut that list down to 5...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Magic Moments: The Flaming Bus

Magic Moments in student ministry can take many forms, including occasionally taking on legendary status. This story of a skit trip to West Virginia has been shared at least twice in the years I have been writing this blog, and it is still one of the most popular, It's today's #TBT and this week's Magic Moment! Enjoy!

We took a Ski Trip from Kissimmee to the mountains of West Virginia, North Carolina or Virginia every year from 1995-2000. To be completely honest, they all run together a bit and it is hard to remember what happened on any given trip. But I am certain that what you are about to read is true, even if it does sound like the plot from a terrible made-for-TV movie!

Our adventure begins in Princeton, WV, where we had arrived the day before after an all-night bus ride. We would be skiing at Winterplace, located about 8 miles north of our motel. All of our arrangements for the trip had been made through a company called Carolina Tours, a group that we knew well and trusted completely. A year or two before their representative Robert had saved our trip by moving the entire excursion from Boone, NC to Winterplace at the last minute- because Boone had no snow. This year we had a different problem. It was brutally cold. We were warned about what the wind and cold up on the mountain could do our skin and our health. We were warned to stay out for short runs and then visit the lodge often. We were not warned about what the intense cold would do to a Floridian bus! When we woke up and loaded the bus on our first day of skiing, our fearless drivers Dave and Vern were trying to warm the bus for us, but it just wasn't working. As we left the motel and tried to merge on to I-77, we discovered the heater was not the only problem we had. We couldn't accelerate. We moved onto the highway doing a robust 8 miles per hour. Dave pulled the bus over to the side of the road, hoping that letting it sit and run would thaw out the diesel fuel and get us going. It didn't. We continued on, and everyone on the bus was freezing. Our pace continued until we had to climb our first major hill, and the bus almost stopped moving. We once again pulled over to see if we could thaw out;  Vern left the bus and went to the woods by the roadside to relieve himself. He came back explaining how peeing outdoors in 10 degree weather was not a good idea! It took us over an hour and a half to drive the 8 miles to Winterplace that morning, but we got there. And we skied and had a great time, I am sure. But the fun was just beginning.

While the group was out on the mountain, Dave and Vern were talking to professional bus drivers who had driven to Winterplace that day about fixing our problem. They were told to add a very small amount of kerosene to the fuel mixture, and that this would help the diesel move through the engine more freely. They took the bus down to a gas station and added the kerosene, and drove back up- but they couldn't feel any difference. When we left Winterplace late that afternoon, the bus was a bit better but still very sluggish. As we headed south on I-77 to our motel, we felt a sudden jolt, and almost instantly we were moving at full speed again. The kerosene had worked, and all was right with our world!

About the same time,  Erin Augenblick yelled to me from her seat in the back of the bus that she thought she saw fire behind the bus. No one else had seen anything, and we were finally moving again, so we just ignored Erin. In fact, I believe we made fun of Erin. A few moments later we arrived back at our motel, and as the bus doors opened an SUV pulled up next to us and out jumped Robert, our Carolina Tours friend. He looked panicked about something, and began asking me if I had seen "them." I am sure I looked confused, so he began to explain. He had been behind us coming up the interstate, and had seen an amazing thing. When the kerosene kicked in, we not only gained speed, but we began shooting flames out of our tailpipe. Not just one or two, but a series of five foot long streams of fire. He could see the fear in the faces of the other drivers on the road. We became a rolling flame thrower! And all we could do was thank God that no one was injured.

The bus was just fine the following day, and we headed back up to the mountain for some more skiing. When we arrived and entered the lodge to claim our tables for the day, there was a buzz. People were pointing at me. I could hear the murmurs; "That's the guy with the bus!"  Robert had shared out story, and it had instantly become legendary. I returned to Winterplace a number of times and with several different churches after that, and every time someone would remember that I was "the guy with the bus." I guess it is good to have a legacy...even if the legacy is a flame-throwing bus!!!

The moral of this story is adventures take many forms, and sometimes the "oops" stories stick with us longer that the perfect ones, And also,  NEVER doubt Erin Augenblick!  

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I never seek to be one of those bloggers who stirs up controversy and alienates a portion of his audience. But today I need to rant. I am not asking you to agree. But sometimes we all have to take a stand...

I don't know how many of you are old enough to really remember the Popeye cartoons, but in nearly every episode the hero would reach a point of no return, when the circumstances around him had become more than he could put up with any longer. At those moments his catchphrase was, "That's all I can stands and I can't stands no more!" He would then pop open a can of spinach and smash a few bad guys. I always loved those moments, because I think we all have points in our lives when we just have to say ENOUGH! And today, I am there.

Despite my long held stance as a pacifist (because I believe that is what Jesus asks of us) I have long steered clear of the national debate about guns. My silence has been for 2 primary reasons. I find that most discussions of the topic become political rather than moral, and I have no desire to have political discussions about much of anything. And I have also witnessed that such debate seems to never change anyone's opinion. It turns into yet another case of "I'm right...and you're stupid!" So I have remained quiet.

I live in Florida. Lately there have been three shootings here that have garnered national attention for a variety of reasons. A young man was shot because he was dressed suspiciously and was therefore seen as a threat by a man who should have just left him alone. Another was killed when a man wanted some music turned down in a van at a gas station, thought he might have seen a gun (he didn't) and fired 10 shots into the vehicle to "protect himself." And most recently, a man was shot in a movie theater after he was asked to quit texting during the previews and threw popcorn at the man who asked. The shooter was a retired police officer. I am not here today to discuss the outcomes of the legal maneuverings surrounding these shootings. I am not here to discuss the racism that may well have been involved in the first two. I am here- crying ENOUGH!- because in all three of these situations there was absolutely no reason it should be legal for the men who did the shooting to be carrying firearms. None.

I understand when people feel the need to protect themselves and their families by keeping weapons in their homes. I choose not to, because I would never want to use such a weapon. But that's just me. I understand that people enjoy hunting and have guns to use for sport. I have good friends who love going to shooting ranges and blasting away at targets. I am not suggesting that all guns are a problem. But I am saying there is no good that can come from non-professionals walking the streets, driving around or sitting in movie theaters with guns. Guns in such situations make people stupidly brave and stupidly bold. People who carry guns may not plan to use them, but more and more it seems like they are more than willing to do just that. In all of those situations, words might have been exchanged. Maybe even angry words. But take away the guns and no one would be dead. If "stand your ground" laws mean that you can antagonize a person, and then if they respond in a negative manner you have the right to shoot them, then we have returned to the days of the wild west. Frontier justice. And if you check with the families of the those three dead men, I think you will find that such a return is not as romantic as it may sound.

I have no idea how to get USAmericans to get serious about this issue when special interest groups won't even discuss banning assault rifles, which serve no purpose except for killing people. I just know that concealed weapons in public places in the hands of the average Joe are a really bad idea. I do not want people wandering around with guns any more than I want my neighbors to have nuclear warheads in the garage. I mention these 3 cases, but there are hundreds more. I know many of my closest friends disagree with me on the evils of concealed weapons, but to be honest, today I don't care. I have had all I can stands...and I can't stands no more. Stop the insanity. I don't hate the 2nd amendment. I hate reading nearly every day about a senseless shooting in which someone loses a brother, a daughter, a parent or a friend. I pray we find a way to get guns off the street, because more and more it seems the "legal" weapons are doing as much damage as the illegal ones. And I, for one, have simply had ENOUGH!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

#DangerDays: Robert Damron's Story

Today's #DangerDays guest post come from my great Twitter friend Robert Damron (@RLDamron). Robert and I share a love of Jesus, of classic comedy movies and of the greatest rivalry is sports- Duke/UNC basketball. But being a believer in grace, I forgive him for being a Duke fan! I so appreciate his willingness to share his dangerous story with us today, and I know you will be blessed by it...

At times the most difficult issue I have is how do I introduce myself.  Do I just walk right up and firmly shake hands?  Do I get up and do my best Monty Python lines?  Or do I stand on top of a chair and proclaim my never ending support for my beloved Duke Blue Devils (after which Carl swiftly kicks the legs out from underneath my chair).  When Carl laid the invitation out there for his Danger Days blog topic at first I chose to remain silent, but after much consideration and a little nudge- okay, shove- from God I told Carl I would love to share. 

I wake up every morning and crave that cup of coffee. You see I've been drinking, what I consider the sweet nectar of the god's, since I can remember. For my sanity (or lack thereof) I have to have it daily. But do I really? That to me is classified as an addiction, a battle that I give into daily. I have many other “addictions” as, college sports and Duke basketball.  But there is one addiction I fight every day of my life, and that is my addiction to pornography. 

This is not something I'm proud of. I like to portray myself as one whose life is in constant order, without chaos or turmoil but there are days I lose on this. These days are few and far between now but needless to say they still exist. It was this addiction that led to my infidelity and separation.  (By the grace of God she took me back)

And I ask myself how does this tie into Danger Days?  Well here's the skinny...

Danger Days for me were when I came clean. Our biggest- well my biggest- fear was how was I going to be looked upon after letting people know my struggles. And although I cannot see your faces while you read today, this is my fear still. There is a certain danger when we let others know about us, I mean truly know about us. God calls us to be a part of a community where we can grow with each other, live life with one another and pray for those that are in need. After all was said and done and my skeleton was out of the closet so to say, my days weren't nearly as dangerous as I thought. It was through community that my so called danger days were actually days of growth. 

I tend to ramble in my writings and my thoughts (my ADD kicks in). But I'd like to close on this note.  n the C.S. Lewis book Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace has been changed into a dragon and meets Aslan. After three failed attempts at trying to remove his own skin the following transpires:

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away. Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I was smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

So be open to your danger days. Let God remove that skin if He needs to. They aren't meant to be comfortable but they can end up being a blessing. I very much consider Carl and my social media friends a family and I hope you are all blessed. Apologies for the rambling where's my coffee?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ding, Dong the Witch Is Dead! (Maybe)

Tonight at midnight Jimmy Fallon becomes the latest host of the historical and prestigious The Tonight Show as it moves back to its original home, New York City. I am thrilled for Jimmy, and so glad to see a comic of such brilliance get his his opportunity is such a big spot. His stint on The Late Show gave us some truly great moments, and I wish him well as he begins this new adventure. I also pray for his job security...

Those who know me well know that I dearly love David Letterman. I realize that Dave is an acquired taste, and has always been too edgy for lots of people. But many of his shows over the years have made for historic TV moments- such as his first show back after 9/11, his interviews with political figures, and countless bits- the Top 10 lists, Stupid Human Tricks and so many more- that have found their way into the public consciousness. I have been fortunate enough to be in his studio audience on 3 different occasions. I find him to be unique, creative and inventive. Not to mention hysterical. And I am not alone. Many of the world's best comics are huge fan's of Dave, and have not been afraid to say so. Included on that list are Jimmy Kimmel (who pretty much worships Dave), Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Conan O'Brien. These current late night hosts all see Dave as a role model- as does Fallon. And it is so exciting to think that beginning tonight they will all be sharing late night together, one big happy family of hosts. Because FINALLY...probably....maybe...Jay Leno is gone. For good. Ding dong the witch is dead!

I am aware there are many people who have watched Leno over the years, and that his ratings have usually been better than those of his competitors. This is something I have never understood. He stole The Tonight Show job some 20 years ago despite the fact that the only true KING of late night, the late Johnny Carson, had handpicked Letterman to be his heir. That was strike one. Strike two was the way he snaked Conan some 5 years ago, giving him the The Tonight Show and then yanking it out from under him when his own ill-conceived 10 PM nightly show crashed and burned, pretty much taking an entire network down with him. NBC has yet to recover from that debacle. But the big strike- the one that has been constant in my opinion- is that Jay Leno was never funny. Actually, my favorite Leno memory is from his voice acting as the Crimson Chin on the great animated series Fairly Odd Parents. His most famous bit from The Tonight Show is "Jay-Walking," which he ripped off from Howard Stern (as Stern is quick to bring up every time he appears on Letterman). He has no memorable characters and very few noteworthy bits. He also has no respect from his peers. Jon Stewart once said that there had been no original material on the show since Johnny left. Kimmel went on Jay's show and skewered him for his treatment of Conan. And when Letterman had Conan on his show shortly after that outrage, thew two of them just sat and smiled at each other for a minute before Dave said, "You know the longer we just sit here the more nervous Jay gets." Many of the world's funniest people have gone on record as saying Leno is not funny. I agree. And now finally, he is gone. Again. Maybe...

So despite my long-standing "relationship" with Dave, tonight I will be up and watching Jimmy Fallon assume the throne of one of the greatest franchises in television history. I truly hope that millions will join me, and that the ratings will be so good that NBC will be asking "Jay who?" in a very short period of time. Because otherwise, I can't help but think that Leno will be hanging around the office of the network looking for another opportunity to to show his his big...chin. So good luck, Jimmy. I've got your back. I think we are entering a new golden age of late night TV. And I'm looking forward to the ride!

And in case you are wondering...of COURSE I'll be recording Letterman tonight. I'm no traitor...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Your God Is Too Small

Prayer Request: Ashley Goad and her team are headed to Russia today, so be praying for their mission and that God will open big doors for them. And also that they find a way to stay warm in temps that may get to -18. Brrr....

The late Brennan Manning was one of my favorite people, and this is one of my favorite quotes from him:

"If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don't find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don't cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God's truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. " 

Too many of us lose the open-mindedness Brennan speaks of above. We all try to put God in our own little boxes, and then seek to destroy anyone who finds God outside that box. I have often said that anyone who begins a sentence with "God can't" or "God wouldn't" has obviously never heard of Jesus. Sending His only son to die for us was impractical, irrational and foolish. It was the ultimate in "outside the box" thinking. And yet that is exactly what God did. 

There are too many Christians in our world (and on my worst days this includes me) who think they have all the answers, when in fact following Jesus is often more about questions. We think that we have a full understanding of God. You know what? If you think you understand God, then your God is too small...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday Shout Outs!

Greetings and salutations, and welcome to another edition of the Saturday Shout Outs! Our thoughts and prayers have been with all of our friends in NC this past week as they faced the Snowpocalypse, and it was great to hear that they all stayed safe and warm. We were also a bit jealous of all the snow, but that's part of the gig when you live in Tampa. If you get another round of winter mess, remember our guest room is available! Now on with the shouting!

  • Yesterday was the birthday of two of my favorite people- Jill Painter Watson (FUMC-Kissimmee) and Susan McBane Tuggle (Quaker Lake). How appropriate that two of the sweetest ladies I know were born on Valentine's Day! I hope you both had great days, Dr. Jill and Boom Boom!
  • I got a Christmas present last week from Todd Willis (FUMC-K) and his lovely wife Kristin. While it may have been just a bit late (like the Wise Men of old) it was very sweet and much appreciated. Love you guys.
  • If you haven't been reading along with my #DangerDays series from some excellent guest writers, then shame on you! Click the #DangerDays tab at the top of this blog and get with it, people!
  • The wonders of social media brought another great surprise a couple of weeks ago when Donna Haynes Myers (QLC, New Garden Friends) popped up on Marilyn's Facebook. We worked at camp together. were co-leaders in the youth group at New Garden together, and survived all kinds of other adventures to be really good friends. It had been nearly 8 years since we knew much about her life, and so now the catching up has begun. Old friends are just such a blessing...
  • How do I know it has been 8 years since my last contact with Donna? Because the last time we had talked was at my Dad's memorial service- and Dad died 8 years ago today. It's hard to believe he's been gone that long. I still miss him every single day.
  • Ashley Goad (Springfield Friends) continues her world tour of mission work as she leaves for Russia tomorrow. Please keep Prudence Irwina in your prayers as she continues to reach out to the globe in the name of Jesus. So proud of you, my friend!
  • My family saw the movie The Monuments Men last weekend. Two big thumbs up. Ignore the critics- it has the Will Jones stamp of approval!!!
  • My old buddy Carl Semmler (New Garden, QLC) turned 2 years older than me on February 2nd. Normally Carl has to split attention with a groundhog, but this year he had to deal with a Super Bowl as well! I hope he found some way to get at least a little bit of attention. A belated happy birthday to you, Ash Tray Kid!
  • I had a couple of blog posts (Bruno Mars Cut In Line & I'm Right...& You're Stupid!) get massive attention over the past 2 weeks, and I can thank my Twitter family for most of that though their unwavering support. Robert, Jenn, Jason, Johnny, Amy, Andrea, Drew and so many others- thanks for all of the retweets and shout outs. You guys are the best!
  • I got a text the other evening from Jeremy Godwin (Springfield) to let me know he was seeing Billy Joel live in Raleigh that night. Jeremy reminded me that the first time he saw Bill was with Marilyn and I in 1990. If my memory is correct, his twin sister Shelley, along with Heather Beggs & Keri Vinson, were high school seniors when we all attended that show. Looking back now, one of my favorite parts of that memory is that NONE of those folks were actually members at Springfield- they were just a HUGE part of our youth ministry. That's a youth ministry community at its best. Thanks, Jeremy, for the reminder. And for rubbing it in that you were seeing Billy and we were not! :)
  • I love when Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi ( FUMC-K) leaves comments here. They are almost always more humorous and insightful than my blog posts. You're the best, Bob!
  • Thank you so much, Lisa Jewett (Wesley Memorial UMC) for all of the laughter you bring to our lives. Even when you don't mean to! We love you.
  • And finally- you guys know I love watching the Olympics, but the best part of TV this week was the Beatles 50th anniversary concert. Holy crap was it amazing! I basically watched in twice, once with the family and once while texting with Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-K). It's easy to forget just how amazing the music was. And even in a room FULL of A-list celebrities, Paul McCartney was still the coolest dude in the room...
So there we go! I hope you all have a blessed weekend, and let me know your news so I can keep shouting!  Much love to you all!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 14, 2014

30/30: Junk Food Junkie

Let me begin this week's 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge by wishing each of you a Happy Valentine's Day! It seems only fitting on a day so often celebrated with candy that today's prompt is about junk foods we can't refuse. For me, while the list may be long, the catefory is simple. I love sweets. There have been times in my life when I could sit and eat an entire box of Swiss Cake Rolls. an entire pan of chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven or a bag of Skittles. And that's not even mentioning what I could do (and have done) to a box of hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts! Whenever I would be sad, bored or just at home watching sports on TV by myself, I could do some some serious damage to junk food.

Then about 16 months ago I was diagnosed as a diabetic. My eating patterns changed. I became a much healthier eater at meals and junk snacks became (mostly) a thing of the past. And sweets became a forbidden fruit. But still....there are times, in the dark places of the night and of my soul, when I have to give in. I need a sweet fix. So while I may talk a good game and eat healthy foods when you are watching, the temptation is always there.

All of this made me recall a novelty song from my teenage years called Junk Food Junkie, sung by a guy name Larry Groce. I was stunned to find it on YouTube, so I share it with you here today. Even tough a few of the references are dated, the song still explains so well what goes on underneath the surface for all of those who try so hard to eat healthy foods. Give it a listen!

We all have our weaknesses. And now, if you don't mind, I'll go have a sugar-free yogurt and some water. Good LORD have pity on me...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Magic Moments: A Farewell to Springfield

On March 30th, 1994, Springfield Friends Meeting honored Marilyn and I with a farewell dinner in the Fellowship Hall of the Meeting. It was quite a night. a great memory, and a definite Magic Moment! We had been so busy with packing, making plans for the move, trying to get things organized for our arrival in Kissimmee and doing all of the youth events we had planned that the emotions of leaving had not really hit us yet. Both of our families were there, along with a couple of hundred members of our Springfield family. It was a very emotional night, but it was also a lot of fun.  And it even had a Disney theme!

Many of the different groups that we had been involved with showered us with gifts. The children's ministry sang us a song to the tune of The Mickey Mouse Club theme. Marilyn was presented with a quilt made by the toddler Sunday School class she taught and put together by our dear friend Karen Chester. Our own Sunday School class honored our contributions to the annual Ham & Egg Supper by giving Marilyn an autographed apron and me a plaque with a golden spatula recognizing my talents as "The Egg Wizard." Lewis Farlow did a one-man skit in which he spoke with God (by phone) about our moving, and it was both touching and hilarious. Lewis, the late Toland Swaim and I also got to perform as a bluegrass trio one last time. I received a Hawaiian shirt and a Mark Rumley-style pink hat from the youth. We got a Mickey Mouse alarm clock from the Family Life Committee. Marilyn was made "Secretary for Life" by the women's circle she belonged to. Tim Terrell presented me with a portrait of myself dressed as a woman from a fundraising Womanless Beauty Pageant we had done a few years earlier. And then there was the youth group. They took about an hour of time, doing skits, singing songs and telling stories. As usual, they were neither organized or prepared. But they were awesome. Erin Moran, Jill Gilbreth, Mandy Beggs, Beth BrownMary Mercadante and others told tales of youth group events. My two favorite moments were very different in tone. The kids used a skit to hit both Marilyn and myself in the face with whipped cream pies and cover us with "silly string," as we had done to them so many times over the years (although we never did use silly string...but whatever!). It was great fun and we loved it and understood it as an act of love. Many of the older folks there that night did not, and thought it was terribly disrespectful.  Such is life in student ministry- often the rest of the congregation doesn't get it! After the pies in the face (and on top of the head- both Marilyn and I were covered in whipped cream!) the group wanted to sing one more song.  One last song. For the previous songs they had performed that night, Bob Spencer, our choir director, had played guitar for them. For this last song they wanted me to play, they wanted to sing Let Me Be There. The song was an old country/pop tune that had been a hit for Olivia Newton John in the early 1970's, and we had been singing it at TNT for a number of years. I never thought of it as a spiritual song- it was just fun. But as we sang it for the last time, the meaning of the words became crystal clear to me and the only thing that kept me from breaking down was the whipped cream in my eyes. Here are those lyrics:

Wherever you go, wherever you may wander in your life
Surely you know, I always want to be there
Holding your hand, and standing by to catch you when you fall
Seeing you through in everything you do

Let me be there in your morning
Let me be there in your night
Let me change whatever's wrong
and make it right (make it right)
Let me take you through that wonderland
that only two can share
All I ask you is let me be there (oh let me be there)

Watching you grow and going through the changes in your life
That's how I know, I always want to be there
Whenever you feel you need a friend to lead on, here I am
Whenever you call, you know I'll be there

The event ended with Max Rees sharing with us an official "minute" drafted by the monthly meeting recognizing Marilyn and I for our contributions to Springfield. If you aren't Quaker, you may not appreciate what a big deal it is to have this done for you- it means future generations will read of your ministry. That was followed by the presentation of a very generous love offering from our adopted church family. The tears flowed freely all over the room as we prayed together and said a final goodbye and amen. We stayed around a long time that night and hung out with some of the youth, which is when we took the picture on the right. Marilyn and I still have the video of that night, which also included personal messages from many of the students. On the cover of that video are written the words So Long...Farewell...Amen! It's  great title. We have shown it to our son Will, and we watch it on occasion to remind ourselves of the amazing 8 years we spent sharing life with Springfield Friends Meeting. We were blessed in so many ways, and there were so many Magic Moments. But this last one was special. 

Because of Jesus,