Saturday, February 28, 2015

Country Swamps

Camp Staff, 1980...I think!
Lately some chats with old friends, some long lost old pictures and some Facebook love for a group photo we shared from 1983 have made me more nostalgic than usual for Quaker Lake Camp. So today, like it or not, you get another QLC flashback. And what better way to celebrate camp than by remembering Country Swamps...

Quaker Lake was always an interesting place to be in the late 70's and early 80's. Camp was a very rustic setting- if by rustic you mean old and often broken down! The lake itself, once the center of camp life, had been replaced by a pool and was no longer fit to swim in (unless, of course, you were fully dressed and going against in your will!). Not only that, the algae was so thick that in the heat of summer the lake could actually appear to be RED. There was no air conditioning anywhere; when it rained hard, the hill in front of the lodge turned into a mudslide; and one summer the sewage system backed up and the smell was often overwhelming. Plus, out behind the winter cabins on the way to the boys side of the lake the "leakage" often made the ground squishy and nasty. All of this, along with crazed campers, long hours and a lack of caffeine often made the summer staff a bit loopy. And yet, we LOVED the place because the people made it so special. From those feelings a song was born. I often get credit for writing it, but the fact is I had nothing to do with it. I just performed it a 1000 times later on, so it is associated with me. It was written by a class full of campers led by Martha Ratledge Farlow and Alan Brown, with one of the campers being the legendary Jay Wilkins. Most of the references are self-explanatory, but I will tell you that Climax is the name of the tiny little town where QLC is located (go ahead and snicker, we always did!),"Red-Eye Dick" was a ghost story about camp we used to tell (before we got them banned!) and that the doors of the old cabins slammed with a volume you just can't imagine! So here are the lyrics to Country Swamps, the only song from the infamous Project Myrtle to ever actually make it onto an official camp song sheet! It is sung to the tune of Take Me Home, Country Roads by the late John Denver (a song that would later become a favorite sing-a-long with groups I took skiing in West Virginia some 20 years after this). Everybody sing!

Almost heaven, Climax suburbs
Blue Ridge swampland
Summer camp at Quaker Lake
The staff is old there
older than the trees
Aged by all those campers no higher
than their knees

Country Swamps, let me go
I’ve had enough as you should know, wo-wo-wo
Climax suburbs, outside of the Food Rite (original lyrics- the Bi-Rite)
Country Swamps, let me go

All my memories of all those mudslides
and Red-Eye Dick still lingers in my mind
Going to the bath house
at 3 o’clock in the morn
Stepping on a black snake
wishing I wasn’t born


I hear the bell in the morning
as it rings so loud
Shuttin’ off my alarm clock
saying "let’s go back to bed"
When suddenly I hear the noise
Of little footsteps running all around the floor
And slamming the door...


Now, don't you feel better? I know I do! Have a wonderful weekend, my friends!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ain't Life Funny?

Last Sunday Marilyn and I journeyed to Kissimmee to hear our dear friend Wayne Cook preach at FUMC. We attended the traditional service at 11 am, and for the first time in a very long time I got to sing some traditional hymns out of a traditional hymnal. As often happens in the wilderness known as Carl's brain, this led to some very random thoughts this week concerning church music. Most of you are aware that I worked in churches for nearly 30 years (until 2007) and for the last 8 years have attended a large, contemporary church here in Tampa. Lately the choices that have been made concerning music in worship there have irritated me (especially on Christmas Eve), and pondering those thoughts led to this...

From my earliest memories of attending church services the hymns that we sang tended to be...well to be honest, ancient! In the 1970s most mainstream churches seemed committed to not singing any congregational music composed after 1900. During my early years in youth ministry I remember trying to slide in some camp/youth group songs sung with guitar on various occasions, but it was like pulling teeth- a painful process. As the years passed and my calling took me different places that seldom seemed to vary. It was at FUMC-Kissimmee in the mid-90s where Andrew Lewis first introduced me (and that church) to a new wave of contemporary praise music. These were songs that became staples of our youth worship; the congregation could handle the new stuff about once a month. As with many, many churches we created a special service (in the Fellowship Hall, because it wasn't REAL church!) for people who enjoyed the new style. It seemed that Andrew, myself and a few others were constantly pushing to get more contemporary music in worship, and Pastor John Willis was supportive, but it was never an easy discussion to have with the church elders. The music continued to be at least 100 years old for the most part. Then just when we were making some headway, Pastor Willis was moved and The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named showed up and did away with ALL contemporary praise music. Except for Youth Sunday. And on Youth Sunday we blew their doors off...

Marilyn, Will & I then moved to Chicagoland, where the worship got more traditional and the hymns got even older! My suggestions of more modern songs were met with concerns that we were "dumbing down" worship just so people would like it more. Never did understand that argument. But all over the rest of the country worship was changing. New music was being used, appreciated and was offering new spiritual connections for many worshippers. By the time we arrived in Tampa in 2001, contemporary worships services were all the rage. Praise bands, praise choirs, microphone singers and current music dominated the landscape. And I loved it. No longer was I a lone voice in the wilderness crying out for songs that were not over 100 years old. Progress had come to some mainstream churches.

All of which brings me back to my frustration with music in worship at the church we attend now. There is no longer a need to cajole and campaign for more up-to-date tunes. You see here's the thing about's so ironic! For the last several months it has jumped off the big screens at me that we are singing almost no songs written before 2012. Don't get me wrong, some of these new songs are great. My frustrations lies in the fact that we are throwing out centuries of important church music, including some great contemporary stuff from all the way back in (GASP!) the 1990s. And it's not just that. When new songs are introduced every week, the congregation never really learns to be comfortable singing any of them. It becomes more performance than worship. It's left me feeling that limiting our worship music to songs composed after 2012 is no better than the days when were were only singing songs from the 1800s. Either way we are missing out on songs that God has given composers to share with the world and the church.

I know that I am asking for everything. I love contemporary music, but I want to sing hymns as well. People might say that I want to have my cake and eat it too. Those people are probably right. But here's the thing. As Jon Lovitz once said in a Lothar of the Hill People sketch on SNL, "That analogy vexes me. If I had cake, why would I not eat it?"  I DO want it all, because there is so much music, new and old, that sings God's praises- and I don't wanna' miss a thing! I'll get over this new frustration, just as I always got past the old ones, because in the end worship is all about Jesus- not about my musical tastes. But still I have to admit that every now and then I think about how I would lead worship (and not just music) if I were in charge. That's a rant for another day...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Legend of the Country Quakers

Happy Throwback Thursday! Yesterday was the great Tony Campolo's 80th birthday. Tony is one of the great storytellers our our time, quoted in sermons on a regular basis. But to celebrate here, I thought I would share my favorite story (originally posted in 2009ABOUT Tony. It's one for the ages...

In the late 70's or early 80's (those years really run together in my mind!Alan Brown showed up at my house one day having written most of a song about a blue pick-up truck. It was the type of song where heartbreak is all around- a true parody of country music. I helped him (very little) finish it, and it became legendary around Quaker Lake Camp and NC Young Friends events. As time passed, Alan was not around those events much and I took to singing it by myself. In 1986 I sang it at New England Yearly Meeting and it killed. It seemed that people everywhere could get into this song.

At the 1987 National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta there was going to be a "talent show" at the annual Wittenburg Door Banquet. I had brought my guitar with me, and at some point Terry VenableRay Luther and I decided we would audition for the banquet and sing Blue Pick-Up Truck. The three of us had never performed the song together before, but we would be bound together by history. Ray would follow me as Youth Pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting, and then would follow Terry as Senior Pastor there. He was still Pastor there until December of 2014. Ray was by far the best singer of the group; I knew the verses; Terry was there for moral support! We auditioned under the name The Country Quakers. They let us sing part of the song and then told us we would get a call letting us know if we were in. The call came, and we would make our debut in front of 800  or so youth workers. 

The Wittenburg Door Banquet was a wild affair each year, and 1987 was no different. We were sharing a table with some Mennonites who were wearing suits and hotel shower caps. People dressed crazy, acted crazy and had lots of fun, all without the benefit of alcohol! Wayne Rice did his Sinatra impression ("I did it His way...") and Mike Yaconelli made fun of everyone. Before we knew it, it was our time to take the stage, one of the final acts of the night.

I introduced the song in my usual way- "How many of you like country music?" After the cheer went up in response, I said, "Well then you will hate this..."  It got a good laugh and started the song. The first verse and chorus passed with some laughter, but we had no indication of what was about to happen. People began to clap along with the music. After the second verse, as we started the chorus again, I jokingly yelled out, "Sing it if you know it!"  To our shock, they did!  "There's a blue pick-up truck where my heart used to be" rang out like Born to Run at a Springsteen concert! The place was now rocking, and we were really getting into it. Everyone in the place was standing and clapping along. The room itself was pretty dark, with candles on every table. Sometime during the final verse we noticed that someone at one of the front tables was standing in a chair and waving a candle. Others began to copy him, until he and some of the crowd were actually on the tables singing and waving candles. We couldn't really see at the time, but when the lights came up we discovered it was Tony Campolo, world renowned speaker and teacher, who had been the lead dancer! We received a huge standing ovation, and Wayne Rice told me he thought we might be the biggest hit in the history of the banquet. Tic Long, who selected the acts for the night, told us later he had chosen us because he thought we would get booed off the stage; we were supposed to have been the "Gong Show" act of the night! I just hate that this was before the days of video phones; I would love to have a tape of it all!

The next day we were full-blown celebrities. Everyone wanted to say hi and offer congratulations. Yohann Anderson wanted to publish the song. Tony himself stopped me in the hall to tell me how much fun it had been for him. The Wittenburg Door Banquet was discontinued shorty thereafter, so that was my one and only bit of  NYWC fame. It was also the one and only performance of The Country Quakers.  Always leave 'em wanting more, right? 

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

8 Years Later

Eight years ago this week was the last time I was ever officially any one's Youth Pastor. It's so hard to believe it has been that long since life fell apart and my sin was exposed to the world. So much has changed in my life. But one thing has not. I still miss being a Youth Pastor.

Please don't misunderstand me. This is not a "poor, poor pitiful me" post. God continues to bless me with a ministry through this blog and through connections with "youth" (some now approaching and passing 40) who still consider me to be one of their pastors. I love those moments and cherish those relationships. But there is something about ministry to and with teenagers that cannot be replicated anyplace else. Youth ministry is a constant whir of sound, energy, movement and emotion. For those who are truly called to do it the outlets for creativity and service are limitless. And though I have not been a youth pastor in 8 years, my mind still operates in that realm. There are opportunities, people, situations and challenges that pop up in my life everyday that are still addressed with the mind of a youth pastor. The issue is this- there are no events to plan, no studies to teach, no trips to take and no ridiculously wild adventures on which to lead students. It all just stays in my head.

At the Oscars this past Sunday night there was a performance (see picture at top) of the song Everything is Awesome from The Lego Movie. It you saw it then you know it was a blur of color, dancing, lights, song and strangeness. It was great! One of my more conservative Twitter followers stated that he had never taken drugs but he was pretty sure that scene was what it would feel like if he did. It was almost hallucinogenic, and he hated it. But one of my youth ministry buddies tweeted that if you had just watched Everything is Awesome then you had seen what it is like inside the head of a youth pastor. Constant, but controllable, chaos! And I do miss turning all of that loose on students in the name of Jesus. You don't have to be wild, crazy and creative to be a youth pastor. But it does help, and God blessed some of us in special ways. Ministry among students requires great passion, and passion is most always messy. Your goal is to build relationships with teenagers and help build a Christian community out of parts that were never designed to work together. The challenges are many, but the rewards are both amazing and eternal. I can look back over the years I spent doing student ministry and see how much those ministries impacted lives in large part because we were willing to take risks and have faith in the truth that God created us all for something special. We believed that in Jesus EVERYONE is awesome, and that changed us all for the better. So of course I miss it. It was such a huge part of me. Even now it feels like I have the ability to see things through a different lens than most of the adults I know. And that is a blessing.

Even without the legacy of my sin, my days as as youth pastor would likely be done by now anyway. The demand for 55 year old, diabetic, 7-toed youth ministers is remarkably low. But that truth does nothing to help me miss it less. So if you are so inclined I would very much appreciate your prayers today, and as always I appreciate your love and support. This post should also comfort many of you, who have often thought to yourselves at a youth meeting, a Rec Around the Clock, on a beach trip, playing a silly game or on the streets of NYC, "Carl is just a little bit nuts." You are and have always been right. And God made me this way so I could spend 30 years in ministry with some incredibly special people. Much love, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Silent Path

The modern church is surrounded by noise. In many ways, our congregations cannot survive without it. There is often loud music, either by a praise band or by a lone organ. Even in our "quiet " moments music plays in the background so there will be no uncomfortable silence. Our preachers are often loud, seemingly afraid they will not be heard unless there is volume to match the content. Church members are encouraged to clap hands, give shouts of praise and (in the words of a friend of mine), "Hoop and holler for Jesus!" We use noisy videos and special effects to insure that our church members will be entertained and stay awake, being certain that there be no "dead air," no pauses and no silence. If you judge by most modern worship it would be easy to assume that the #NarrowRoad of Jesus is a noisy one.

With this as our example, when is it we are supposed to take time to "Be still and know that God is God?" Where do we find the quiet moments in which we center our hearts for worship, in which we pray from the very depths of our souls and and in which we listen for the still, small voice of the Creator? We have given up on silence as a worship discipline in large part because we fear it. There is great depth and power in silence, and we no longer know what to do with it. True, complete silence in the 21st century leaves us gasping for air, waiting for someone else to do something to connect us to Jesus. We no longer know how to focus on God and God alone; we need "elements" to lead us there. Noise is so much easier, and worship fi;;ed with sound and action is so much easier to fake. And that is what makes me think that the #NarrowRoad is a path bathed in silence.

Lent is a wonderful time to find ways to remove some of the noise from your spiritual journey. When you pray, pray in silence. Take time to meditate, making time to listen as well as to talk to God. Turn off he music in the car as you drive alone. Sneak away to a part of the house where you can find 5 minutes of solitude (rest rooms work). We live in a society where sitting quietly contemplating the things of God is so contrary to the norm that it feels like a waste of time. We feel we should be DOING something- and doing creates noise! Silent worship is allowing the Holy Spirit to DO instead of believing it is all up to us. What did Jesus do at the most crucial times in his earthly ministry? He went off to be in solitude, to seek God's will through prayer and meditation. He sought out a quiet place, away from the noise of the world. We need to "go thou and do likewise."

Find a moment today to be overwhelmed by the power of silence. Bel alone with your thoughts and alone with your God.  Total, complete, awesome silence. No background noise, just you and God. It will change you, and will change the way you see life on the #NarrowRoad. Be blessed, my friends.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hiding From God

It is a story we all know, even those of us who don't read the bible or hold to the Jewish or Christian faiths. We know the story of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the one tree God told them not to eat from. We know how the Satan (the deceiver), in the form of a serpent, tricked them into eating the only fruit that was forbidden. This was the original sin, the fall of humankind. Genesis 3: 8-12 recounts what came next. The first couple heard God walking in the Garden (Press pause right there. How amazing is that? God was strolling in the garden. We gloss over so many amazing moments in scripture...), knew they had done wrong, and decided to hide. We've been trying to hide our sin from God ever since. It was at that very moment that the need for Jesus to come to earth became apparent. God wanted so badly for this thing he had created in His own image to be connected to Him. After God questioned the couple about what they had done, he handed out punishment. He was disappointed, just as God is when we sin today. But in verse 21 God shows us His true nature. In the midst of all of this failure, God stops to create animal skin clothing for Adam & Eve, because they were embarrassed to be naked. They didn't deserve God's help. But they got it anyway. And grace was born. 2000 years later that same grace would be wrapped in flesh and bone and come to walk among us again- this time as Jesus.

Today, ask yourself in what ways you are hiding from God? Seek to discover the areas of your life where you need to experience grace. God is waiting. You can find true sanctuary in his presence.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Reflections on #SNL40

In light of my posts and my general state of excitement leading up to celebration of the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live last Sunday night, a number of friends and readers have enquired as to what I thought of the actual show. My family sat together and watched all 3.5 hours of it as it aired; that in and of itself is a miracle. We also recorded it on the DVR and have watched a few sections numerous times already. So the short version of my review is simply that WE LOVED IT! Some things on a DVR you like so much that you grant them Save Until I Delete recognition. The #SNL40 special gets my first Save Until I Die status. It was that amazing. And here are a few of my thoughts from that great night...

  • 1975 was a long time ago, and Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtain, Lorraine Newman and Garrett Morris are all quite old at this point. But WOW was it great to see them on stage again! 
  • He has done so much in the field of entertainment, from music to serious movies to being a best selling author, that it is easy to forget that in the late 1970s Steve Martin was simply the funniest man in the world. The night was a great reminder of that fact, beginning with the "battle" over who should be the host. Martin wins in a landslide on my ballot!
  • I loved the rap Fallon and Timberlake did with catchphrases, and it was a great opening to the show. I was a bit sad that they never got to come back and do a live Barry Gibb Talk Show will all sorts of celebrity guests...
  • When you peel back all the garbage that often surrounds her and give her a great song, Miley Cyrus can REALLY sing. I am a huge Paul Simon fan, and her cover of 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover was dead on. Later on I confess to being very happy when Paul, as Twitter suggested he might, didn't cover Wrecking Ball. But more on that later...
  • Paul McCartney and Paul Simon sang a snippet of I've Just Seen a Face as their "audition" to be hosts of the special. This sent me running to iTunes to purchase the song off of the Wings Over America album. Great song!
  • Jim Carrey doing Matthew McConaughey in the Celebrity Jeopardy skit was simply brilliant. That whole sketch had Will and I falling out of our seats laughing.
  • Many critics complained that McCartney's performance of Maybe I'm Amazed sounded rough. Allow me to say in my nicest possible angry voice, "SHUT UP!!!" Paul McCartney sang on a comedy show. Twice. That makes it awesome, rough or not.
  • The salute to New York City was panned by some critics as a "filler," but I thought it was nearly perfect. NYC has always been a cast member at SNL, not just a location. I loved that tribute.
  • Martin Short may well be the funniest man alive. He and Beyonce (Maya Rudolph) hosting the segment featuring musical skits gave us looks back as so many great moments. And his trying to stay on stage in the face of Beyonce's wind machine was a bit only Martin Short could have pulled off.
  • And speaking of the musical sketches...Bill Murray brought the house down with his new song, Love Theme from Jaws. It was classic Murray, classic SNL and yet brand new. For many of us it was the standout moment of the night. "You bastard, Jaws!"
  • Does anyone know whatever became of Rob Schneider? His buddies Spade, Meadows, Sandler and Farley all got some recognition, but the Richmeister was nowhere to be found. I didn't even see him in the background of a clip.
  • In a WTH moment for women all over the world, Betty White got to make out with Bradley Cooper during The Californians. Classic SNL shock value!
  • It was great so see Eddie Murphy on stage in studio 8H again, but disappointing that he chose not to do a character. I wanted Buckwheat or Mr. Robinson so bad I could taste it. Or even Stevie Wonder- after all, Joe Piscopo did his Sinatra impression. It could have happened. Just as an added note, in my mind, Piscopo is one of the all-time underrated cast members. He was a stalwart not a star, like Aykroyd before him and Hartman and Hammond later on. They played so many roles and set up so many great sketches.
  • Besides Eddie's non-performance, my biggest disappointment was the lack of love for Toonces the Driving Cat. A true SNL legend totally ignored...
  • Mike Myers and Dana Carvey have not changed at all. Wayne's World was awesome, especially the dueling Lorne Michaels impressions. I also loved the "sit down Kanye" jokes and the shout out to the crew.
  • Unfortunately by that time we got to Wayne's World, Kanye had already performed. It was the only section of the show I will never watch again. What a waste of 5 minutes- and the perfect place for a Toonces retrospective!
  • Adam Sandler & Andy Samberg's new digital short was very well done, as they took us through time to see some of the moments when cast members broke character and dissolved into laughter just like the rest of us. Of course half the video consisted of shots of Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz losing it. Truly funny stuff.
  • The tribute to the cast and crew who are no longer with us was touching, and missing John Belushi, Phil Hartman, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley, Jan Hooks and the rest brought a tear to my eye. But just as quickly, they made me laugh again. The very much still alive Jon Lovitz was listed among the dead for the second time that night, and then Bill Murray announced that they had just learned that Generalissimo Francisco Franco was still dead- a joke from the original Weekend Updates with Chevy Chase on the 1975-76 season. Priceless.
  • How do you close a celebration of 40 years worth of Saturday Night Live? With Paul Simon, of course. He has been both host and musical guest a number of times over the years and has probably been a part of as many iconic moments as anyone. In November of 1976 (season 2) he opened the Thanksgiving show by attempting to sing Still Crazy After All These Years while wearing a turkey costume. I was a high school senior, and I watched that show from the Hotel Tudor in NYC on my first ever trip to the city. It is etched in my mind. Fast forward 39 years and Paul sang the same song to close out the show. Still Crazy After All These Years. It was a perfect description of the show, and gives the song the honor of having been an iconic SNL moment TWICE
So there are few of my thoughts. It wasn't quite everything I hoped it would be, but it sure was close. I only wish the after party had been televised so we could have seen all the impromptu all-star jam sessions that took place at the Plaza Hotel, with Fallon serving as a manic MC. Maybe some bootlegs will leak later. All in all it was a great night for comedy, for NYC and for me. Good times...good times...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

#TBT: Ten Random Quaker Lake Camp Memories

My mind has been on Quaker Lake Camp a lot lately (I'm working on something special, so stay tuned!) and so this seemed like an obvious choice for a Throwback Thursday! In my 6 years as a full-time member of the Quaker Lake staff (1978-83) there were hundreds of moments that made me laugh. Here are ten of the most memorable (I left out so much, like Gail Steelman ambushing Neal Thomas, seen here!); all names are maiden names, including the guys!

10) My first week as a camper at QLC I was sleeping comfortably in my top bunk in Boys Cabin 1 when suddenly I was awakened by loud noises, giggles, and the feeling of water soaking my bed and sleeping bag. And not just me- our entire cabin had been attacked. It was a sneak attack that rivaled Pearl Harbor, brilliantly executed and very successful. There was only one problem. The water balloons tossed at our screens by the girls in question (including some people I love dearly- TAMMY...) destroyed those screens, knocking them out completely. It was all fun and games until breakfast the next morning when new camp director Neal Thomas went totally ballistic over the damage done and forced the girls to repair the screens. So it was one of those rare pranks where, in the end, everyone got to laugh at everyone else!

9) There was no air conditioning at QLC, so floor fans and window fans were very important, especially when you were trying to sleep. The girls' staff cabin, where the cooks and female lifeguards lived, was no exception. One particular night we came into possession of a 50 pound bag of dried mashed potato flakes that some mice had gotten into, so they could not be used. We waited until the middle of the night, slid a window fan to the side, and started throwing flakes through the window! As they went in, the multitude of fans began to blow the flakes all over the cabin. They woke up the next morning buried under 50 pounds of potato flakes! Snow in July!

8) David Fields, as a 4th grade camper, singing Home On the Range. "Oh give me a................HOME!" Also his famous line at dinner: "This is not Del Monte corn. I taste Del Monte corn when I taste it!"

7) My cabin of guys snuck over to the girls cabins in the early morning hours to lock in the campers of Beth Grantham's cabin. Our usual plan consisted of locking them in and singing to them, thus waking them up and causing some of them to need to use the rest room- which was located OUTSIDE the cabins! As they woke up and began screaming at us, Beth said to one of my guys "You just wait until I tell Carl Jones you are out of your cabin!" I laughed and responded "Good morning, Beth!" She forgave me about a week later...

6) On Saturday mornings one particular summer Ronnie Osborne and a very young Doug Thomas would ride around in the classic old QLC truck and empty the garbage cans dressed as Trashman and Garbage Boy! It was such a hoot to watch the parents arriving to pick up their kids try to figure our what was going on...

5) Before we knew sun tanning was bad, people used to wear oil (SPF Negative 50!) to actually attract the sun. Susan McBane was using such an oil- until Carl Semmler (the king of pranks!) substituted bacon grease from breakfast in her oil bottle. It looked the same, and she rubbed it all over her, but after a few minutes the smell started to get to her. Her response: "Oh wow, I think this oil is cankered!" A classic moment.

4) A few us were walking by the guys outhouse one afternoon when we heard the familiar voice of Lindley Osborne singing The All Day Song while sitting on the toilet. Just as we passed the door we heard "and in the in between time when you feel the pressure coming..." And we lost it! We also once lost Lindley for hours when he took a nap on a third level bunk in the back of the lodge and didn't tell anyone. We searched everywhere...

3) Head Cook Denise May and her assistant spent hours hand writing a huge chart for the kitchen with a measurement list- things like 4 Quarts=1 Gallon. Hours after they posted it, two unnamed culprits came along and wrote on the bottom 2 Cooks=1 Disaster! Denise is still mad. (Bonus: Name the 2 culprits!)

2) Alan Brown and I had written a silly song about animals dying and we premiered it at camp. We dedicated it to fellow staffer Martha Ratledge, and then finished the song with this chorus:

Isn't it a sad day, when all the animals die
There ain't nothing to do
Isn't it a sad day, when all the animals die
Why can't you die too?

It was so off the wall and so unexpected, everyone just burst into laughter. A great moment! And as always (and she needed to quite often!) Martha forgave us.

1) I had a cabin of guys for a number of years who not only came to camp together but went to school together as well. They would spend the "off-season" planning for camp, and one year they came armed with elaborate paper shooters. They would fold bits of paper and fire them at each other, leaving marks whenever they hit. One night, it was late and we had been loud, and when Neal came by for cabin check he had told us no more noise. So as David Fields, David Hockett, Robert Osborne and the rest lay in their beds, all was quiet. Until I heard this- Zing!....POP....Owwww!!!!!!!! There would be snickers, more quiet, and then a repeat. Over and over again, until, to keep from laughing, I yelled at them "ENOUGH!" Quiet set in for a minute, and then I heard a loud thump, followed by the all-time classic line "Carl- David just hit me with his saxophone!" I lost it laughing! I loved those guys...

So there you have it. If you were never a part of the QLC family then I hope this flashback makes you wish you had been. And if you were- what did I leave out? I truly hope you get a feel for how special those years were to me. 

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the traditional beginning of Lent and a time during which Christians everywhere dedicate themselves to growing closer to Jesus. Today, in churches of many denominations all over the world, believers will gather in somber recognition of the sacrifice Jesus would make for us. Many will mark the occasion by having ashes rubbed on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. The ashes are often palm branches from the previous year's Palm Sunday that were burned and saved. In many cases the minister will remind us that "from dust we came, and to dust we shall return." The entire service is a call to repentance. If you are able to attend an Ash Wednesday service at your place of worship, please do. It will provide a moving start to your Lenten adventure.

If you are unable to attend a service, then take time today to focus on being open to the meaning of Lent. I call it being Crosseyed- keeping yourself aware of the cross of Christ and the Resurrection that would follow. Assuming you don't have any ashes handy, I suggest that you take a piece of charcoal or some sort of marker and mark yourself with the cross. Pray about the things in your life that you need to let go of- the things you REALLY need to repent of. Look at the mark of the cross on your body. Do people see the mark of Jesus on you everyday?  

The ashes are a mark that are easy to put on, easy to see- and easy to remove. But what does the mark of Jesus look like in the lives of those who seek to follow him? It does not show up on the faces of dour sourpusses who see God as a great cosmic killjoy. It does not show up in the lives of those who see church as means to a political end or an institution placed here to promote causes in which they believe. Instead, it looks like compassion and a love that surpasses all understanding. It shows up when we reach out to the lost, the hurting, the under-resourced and the broken. The mark of Christ is visible on us when we put the needs of others ahead of own wants and desires. The cross shows up in our souls when we understand that Jesus came and died and rose again for the very people our world so often rejects, and when we reach out to them with love, respect and a helping hand. Jesus said that if we love him we must "feed his sheep." Not just the pretty cheep. Not just the sheep who agree with us. Not the sheep who have it all together. ALL the sheep. Our task is to love them all. And by this love they will know we are his, and that we bear the mark of Christ.

So wear the mark with humility, with hope and with compassion. The world needs to know that this 40 day adventure we begin today ends in life, not death; it ends in love, not judgement; and it ends in joy, not sorrow. Lent may point to the cross, but it ends with the Resurrection- and we are a Resurrection people. Wear the mark of Jesus so that the world may know...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Leave It Behind

Imagine if you will that you are standing at the beginning of the #NarrowRoad that Jesus calls us all to walk and that before you begin your journey the Savior himself stands before you. You ask what you need to do if you want to be a true Christ-follower, wondering what his advice will be. Will he want you to go to church more? Will he want you to pray more? Will he command that you memorized more scripture? What is the first thing Jesus will ask of you as you become his disciple? And then you realize you don't have to guess. This has happened before...

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.  -Matthew 4:18-22 (NIV)

Peter and Andrew left their nets and careers behind to follow Jesus. James and John left their boat and their father. Modern Christians spend far too much time worrying what sorts of attributes we need to take with us on our spiritual journey, when perhaps the first question needs to be what must we leave behind? What are the things in our lives that are receiving priority over the risen Savior? What are the things in our lives that become excess baggage on the #NarrowRoad

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. My challenge to myself and to all of you is the same as always in this season of the year. If you are going to "give up" something for Lent. make certain it is something you never intend to take back. Don't give up soda, give up resentment. Don't give up chocolate, give up racism. Give up something that stands between you and Jesus. And then leave it behind. The #NarrowRoad awaits...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Building the Perfect Christian

Everyone knows the Frankenstein story, right? A mad scientist seeks to create a perfect human being by reanimating body parts gathered from dead people- and it all goes wrong. Suppose you could take the DNA from some of the greatest Christians you know in a quest to build a perfect Christian. What traits would you want to include? There would need to be solid theology and a commitment to the spiritual disciplines. Certainly you would want the knowledge of a great Biblical scholar, someone who not only knows scripture but is fluent in Greek and Hebrew as well. You would want the gift of evangelism from someone like Billy Graham, whose heart is broken by the lost. You would want the golden voice of one of the great communicators of the faith who could speak words of encouragement and wisdom to everyone they encountered. Perhaps a gene for counselling should be included, along with the gift of song to help the world sing praise to the LORD. I would include a desire to care for the downtrodden and impoverished just as Jesus did.  And the wisdom of Solomon would be a welcome addition as well. This lab creation, a sort of Christian Frankenstein, would be the ultimate leader in our search to complete the Great Commission.

One of my very favorite movies is Young Frankenstein. In that flick, the man becomes a monster because Igor brings the his boss the brain of "Abby Normal" instead of the brilliant brain he requested. Our creation would fare no better. You see, scripture tells us that if we created a specimen with all of the attributes listed above, it would be a failure. Even with all of those gifts, all of that knowledge and wisdom, it could not communicate the true nature of Jesus to this hurting world. Why not? Because we left out the one ingredient that our creation cannot survive without. I'll let Paul tell you...

1 Corinthians 13: 1-7 (The Message)- If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love. 

So here's the deal- we can know more, experience more and be gifted more than any other Christian walking this planet, but if we don't have the overwhelming, radical, passionate and forgiving love of Jesus in our hearts, then we still don't get it. We are indeed like Frankenstein, imposing and overbearing, with nothing real to offer the world.  Theology and public piety will not win hearts for Christ. Love will. There is no such thing as a perfect Christian. But a reflection of God's love and grace in this hurting world? Yeah...we can do that.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Shout Outs!

It's time for the February edition of my Saturday Shout Outs!- and love is in the air! Yes love- in addition to candy, flowers, cards and the occasional romantic getaway. February 14th also happens to be a birth date shared by two of my favorite people, Jill Painter Watson (FUMC-Kissimmee) and Susan McBane Tuggle (Quaker Lake Camp). Happy birthday, ladies! It's not polite to mention a woman's age, but it always made Jill happy that she was younger than me. Susan has never known that feeling. :) So now that I'm already in trouble, let's get on with the shouting!

  • Marilyn and I are planning to head to FUMC-Kissimmee for the 11 am worship service on Sunday, February 22nd to hear our old friend Wayne Cook preach and hopefully get some lunch with he and Janet. Let's make it a party! We hope anyone who can join us that Sunday will join us and let Wayne know we love him!
  • Join me in praying for Todd (FUMC-K) & Kristin Willis and family. Kristin's father is struggling with major health issues and they need to feel our love and support.
  • We also continue to pray for Springfield Friends Meeting as they seek a new Senior Pastor. Their last 3 have been people I loved and respected so much. Those are not easy shoes to fill...
  • Thought For the Day- repeating your opinion over and over again on social media does not make it the truth. You may think it's a fact, but in truth it is still just your opinion. The world needs more open minds.
  • Now that the Saturday Night Live Rewind marathon on VH1 Classic is coming to an end my life can return to normal. Just in time for Spring Training. :)
  • Meagan Hill Halquist's (FUMC-K) grandmother went to be with the LORD this week. Prayers go out to Meagan and her family.
  • It's been over a month now since I emailed out about 35 copies of my book, Even Better Than Before. I have gotten responses back from 12 readers so far, all very positive. Both Carl and Steve Semmler (New Garden Friends Meeting) offered constructive advice that may lead to a little rewriting on my part, giving more background on a few of the characters.However, Steve, your suggestion about adding certain "interactions" between specific characters may have to wait. The one thing I think all of the reviewers agree on so far is that they want to go to the beach and eat seafood- NOW! Thanks again to all who are still reading. 
  • Brook Teoli Phelps (FUMC-K) will be in central Florida (she lives in Cali) in late July, and she would love to see some of the old Kissimmee crew! So let's be thinking abut getting the old gang back together again! Ca you say Reunion 2- the Sequel?
  • It feels like every time we post a link to this blog on Facebook these days it immediately disappears, and the number of people visiting each day from Facebook has dropped dramatically, If people aren't clicking on the links, that's cool. If people aren't seeing them, that is not. So I'm curious- and I'm shouting at Facebook!!!
  • And finally, for all my dear friends and readers...

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 13, 2015

Floridays 1990 Flashback: A Rough Start

Today we step into the Wayback Machine and celebrate Flashback Friday with a look back at the inauspicious first day of our second trip from Springfield Friends Meeting to Walt Disney World, June 9-15, 1990. Over 60 youth and adults caravaned together in five vehicles. Included in this adventure was our friend Jeff Byrd (that's Jeff in the glasses, with Rich Hughes at The Florida Mall ), the youth dude at Archdale Friends Meeting, and around 10 of his group. The trip had tripled in size since our first WDW outing only three years before, and there was great excitement. We were staying at the Gold Key Inn, once again out on Orange Blossom Trail (OBT) in Orlando. We would have four days at the Disney parks, including the brand new Disney/MGM Studios. We couldn't wait to get there.

Getting there turned out to be a bit of an issue, however. One of the Suburbans we were using for transportation, owned by Judy Rees and driven for most of the trip by Robin Thomas, took the wrong exit at one point. This was before the days of cell phones, but we did have some walkie-talkie type radios, and we were able to correct the mistake with minor damage to our trip time. We discovered later those radios didn't have much range. 

We made it into the Orlando area and were cruising down I-4 looking for the OBT exit, all of our vehicles together in single file formation. I was driving the lead vehicle and keeping us in the center lane of traffic when I came to the exit and realized a bit too late that we would be exiting to the left, not the right as one would suppose. I signaled and pulled over, and Butch Moran and my wife Marilyn did the same, blocking the lane and allowing our other vehicles to move over as well. We took the left exit and headed for the motel, thinking all was well. We were wrong! Somehow (and to this day I don't know how) the Archdale van driven by Jeff Byrd did not take the exit with us. They had been in the middle of the caravan, but somehow had continued on down I-4! We tried the radios, but could not reach them. We continued on to the Gold Key Inn, confident that Jeff had the address of the motel and would find it. We should have been more worried. In the years that have followed I have lived in central Florida and spent much time in Orlando, and I have NEVER been able to figure out exactly where Jeff went after we lost him. Apparently he exited on to a toll road (the Florida  Turnpike or the East-West?) and then could not get anyplace he wanted to go. He traveled up and down the highway until finally figuring something out and making his way to the motel, a good hour after the rest of us had checked in. It was a joyful reunion.

After checking-in and unpacking we were all really hungry and ready to hit the food court at The Florida Mall and end this first, very long day. We prepared to cram back into our vehicles when we encountered a slight delay. It seemed that someone (Robin Thomas got all the blame at the time!) had locked the keys in Judy Rees' Suburban. The spare key was safe and secure- in North Carolina! We wandered around the motel and explored out motel while we waited for a locksmith, who eventually showed up and rescued the keys. We were now more ready than ever to make the short drive to the mall, so we once again gathered the troops and loaded up the vehicles. We had a standard operating procedure for making sure we had everyone. Each person was to ride in the same vehicle everywhere we went that week. Each vehicle would count their own passengers, and then I would go from van to van and total our numbers. It was a very safe system- usually.

On this particular night, as I began to go from vehicle to vehicle to make the final count, Jill Gilbreth (that's her in the stripes, at Archdale Friends Meeting at a pre-trip car wash! Behind her are Emily Beggs, Mary Mercadante, Dana Oxendine, Stacy Gilbreth Beth Brown.) left her vehicle AFTER I had already made sure everyone in it was accounted for. When I finished my rounds, we had the right numbers. Jill, however, was still in the motel getting her money for dinner. Her driver (I don't remember who) didn't realize she was gone, and her friends somehow failed to mention this to anyone. I guess they were just that hungry! So off we went. We arrived at the food court and were sitting down eating, when suddenly Jillybean came running up to our table, looking rather panicked. She told us the story of how she had been left behind at the motel.  She had gone inside, freaked out and crying, and told the motel employees that her group had left her. She must have appeared to be totally panicked, because the motel gave her a ride to the mall AND gave her $5 for supper. She forgave us- sometime around 1993!  And we never failed to remind her that the Gold Key Inn was so anxious to be rid of her that they paid her off!

It's so hard to believe we are coming up on the 25th anniversary of this great trip. Floridays 1990 began with us losing a van, keys, and Jill all on the first day. The next day we would make it to Walt Disney World and things would improve greatly. It was a wonderful trip full of memories. But that first day was a doozy...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 12, 2015

40 Classic SNL Moments (Part 2)

My Top 40 moments in Saturday Night Live history continue with #21...

*  Not Gonna Phone It In Tonight- In my mind this is the single greatest cold opening to the show in its 40 years of existence. Steve Martin and the entire cast mock their own complacency. The clip is nearly 7 minutes long, so so TOTALLY worth it. "Live from New York...LINE?"  (1990)

*  The Star Trek Convention- Host William Shatner attends a Star Trek convention and addresses the Trekkies. He admonishes them to "get a life" and "move out of their parent's basements"  even as the attendees bombard him with ridiculously trivial questions. A bold and brilliant sketch. "Have you ever kissed a girl, son?  I didn't think so..." (1991)

*  Family Feud- It's the CBS all-stars verses the NBC all-stars in celebrity Family Feud! Host Jimmy Fallon plays Jim Parsons in full character as Sheldon Cooper, captain of the CBS team. Justin Timberlake plays Fallon, captain of the NBC team. Timberlake's Fallon impression is so over the top that Fallon loses it completely on a few occasions. A seriously funny sketch from 2 of the guys whose guest appearances have made the show watchable these past couple of years. "This is so great. Soooo great. So great. Celebrities playing games. Nothing better!"(2013)

*  Buckwheat Has Been Shot- Leaving 30 Rockefeller Center after appearing on SNL, the great Buckwheat (Eddie Murphy) is shot by an unknown assailant who yells out "Hey Mr. Wheat" as he is getting into his limo. What makes this ongoing sketch (it had several episodes the first week and continued on through his death the following week) hilarious is they way they parodied the ridiculous coverage of the night President Reagan was shot in 1981, showing the clip of the shooting over and over again. Joe Piscopo as Ted Koppel was brilliant. "For those of you just joining us, Buckwheat has been shot." (1983)

*  Chippendales- This consistently ranks in the Top 5 SNL skits of all-time on pretty much every list I have ever seen. The brilliance of Chris Farley has never been more evident. "I mean in straight on dancing and presentation ain't no way I'm better than him!"  (1990)

* Master Thespian and His Mentor- Master Thespian (Jon Lovitz) was one of my favorite characters, and in late 1985 we got to meet his mentor, Baudelaire, played by host John Lithgow. They keep fooling each other (Acting! Genius! Thank You!) until Baudelaire can take it no more and thinks he has killed Master Thespian, but he's just acting. Baudelaire he was merely pretending to kill him, but once again, the master prevails. "For it is I who have fooled you. I am dead, and merely acting alive!" And Baudelaire gives the proper response- "GENIUS!" (1985)

* Palm Beach- Quite possibly my all-time favorite skit because of the soap opera setting for some classic SNL political satire. It is December 2000, and in the year of the hanging chad the presidential election is still undecided. All of the major players from the drama in Florida- George W. Bush (Will Ferrell), Kathryn Harris (Ana Gasteyer), Al Gore (Darrell Hammond) and Jeb Bush (host Val Kilmer) have gathered in Palm Beach to await the final tally of votes as Tom Brokaw (Chris Parnell) reports. There is intrigue, romance and hilarity as W. confesses he didn't know being president would last 4 years and Jeb confess that his brother is "special." Brilliantly done from start to finish. "Hey Hey, it's me...hey...uh Jeb...the computer's doing that thing again. Can you fix it for me so I can finish my game of Tetris?"  (2000)

*  The French Chef- Dan Aykroyd (for my money the MVP of the original cast) portrays Julia Childs doing a cooking show. During the scene she cuts her finger and blood begins to shoot everywhere. As she tries to stop the bleeding, she also tries to continue to prepare the food. Finally, after great blood loss, she faints. "Save the liver!" (1978)

*  Stephon's Valentines Day Tips- Bill Hader's character Stephon was a regular visitor to Weekend Update, teaming with Seth Meyers to give tourists suggestions on things to do in New York. I loved these sketches, and this one is a particular favorite. "New York's hottest club is Booooooooof..." (2011)

*  The Nerds Broken Fridge- Nerds Todd and Lisa (Bill Murray & Gilda Radner) are up to their usual tricks, harassing each other and dealing with the Noogie Patrol. Meanwhile, Mrs. Loopner (Jane Curtain) has bigger problems. Her trusty old Norge refrigerator is on the fritz, and repairman Dan Aykroyd arrives- complete with his plumber's crack- to fix it. Sadly, the Norge must be taken away- but not until Todd & Lisa have had plenty of laughs at the repairman's expense. The censors told Aykroyd he couldn't keep his pencil in his butt crack. They were wrong... "Egg salad for everyone!" (1978)

*  Choppin' Broccoli- British musician Derek Stevens (Dana Carvey) knows his drug-plauged career hangs in the as he sits down to perform new music for record company executives played by Sigourney Weaver and Phil Hartman. There's only one problem- he hasn't actually written any new music. So he begins to play and sing The Lady I Know, making up the lyrics as he goes. The song has become known by its familiar and extended chorus- "Choppin broccoli." It is a brilliant performance by Carvey, and a true send-up of the music business- the 2 execs LOVE the new song! "There's a lady I know, and if I didn't know her she'd be the lady I didn't know..." (1986)

* More Cowbell- In an episode of Behind the Music, the rock band Blue Oyster Cult is in the studio hoping to record a new hit song, Don't Fear the Reaper. Legendary producer Bruce Dickinson (host Christopher Walken) is ready to make a gold record. The band (Chris Parnell, Chris Kattan, Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell and Horatio Sanz) begins to record, but lead singer Parnell is distracted by the cowbell playing of Ferrell and stops the take. Walken comes in and disagrees with Parnell, saying that he "needs more cowbell." This continues until a fight breaks out between band members, with Walken finally uttering this all-time classic line: "I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!" The sketch is great, and is yet another time Fallon totally loses character and cracks up during a skit. This sketch gets quoted EVERYWHERE! "Babies, before we're done here ya'll be wearing gold plaited diapers." (2000) 

* King Tut- Steve Martin stunned everyone with this tribute to the Egyptian boy king. This song was so big it was actually played on Top 40 radio. "Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia, King Tut."  (1978)

*  Bass-O-Matic- Dan Aykroyd did a number of commercials for the fictional company Rovco and their wide assortment of odd products, but nothing ever topped the Bass-o-matic, which was actually just a blender. Ackroyd explained how to use the product: Here's how it works: Catch a bass, remove the hook, and drop the bass - that's the whole bass - into the Super Bass-o-Matic '76. Now, adjust the control dial so that the bass is blended just the way you like it. [turns blender on and grinds it to a pulp] Yes, it's that simple!  He then pours a big glass of the disgusting fish shake and gives it to Lorraine Newman., who takes a gulp and says, "Wow! That's terrific bass!"  We had never seen anything like that on tv before. "We've got fish here, fast, easy and ready to pour!" (1976)

*  Black History Minute- I keep remembering all of these great Eddie Murphy moments that should not be left off my list. Here's another favorite. "So I messed up. Shut up!" (1984)

*  Celebrity Jeopardy- There were lots of great moments for this recurring sketch featuring Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek, but my favorite was the one where the contestants were Burt Reynolds (Norm MacDonald), French Stewart (Jimmy Fallon) and the ever-present Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond). The show gets off to a flying start as Connery insults the host and Burt Reynolds announces that he want to be called Turd Ferguson. The categories include such difficult topics as Animal Sounds, Sharp Things and Movies That Start with the Word Jaws. There is also a category featuring French phrases called A Petite Dejeuner, which Trebel warns them not to try.. As always the contestants are idiots and get nothing right, not even on final jeopardy when all they have to do is write a number. Any number. And they fail. These skits never failed to make me laugh out loud. "Why don'tcha give me Ape Tit for $200?" (1999)

* Steve and Gilda-  Way before Bruce Springsteen's song. Steve Martin and Gilda Radner did a sweet yet hilarious dance routine called Dancing in the Dark. The year was 1978. A decade later (1989) Martin was in rehearsals to host again when word came that Gilda had lost her fight with cancer. The clip was shown again and introduced by Martin as a tribute to the brilliant actress. A rare moment in SNL history- a sketch that was perfect TWICE...

*  Belushi Does Beethoven- I could have gone with a Samurai , a "But noooo!" or even the classic Dueling Brandos. The Thing That Wouldn't Leave is another favorite of mine. John Belushi was just amazing. I even thought about the Don't Look Back in Anger short film. But in the end I decided to go with Beethoven because is a little less known and incredibly funny. The scene below is actually the third section of the skit, following one where the pianist composed the great Temptations song, My Girl.  "Baby it's alright..."  (1977)

*  Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker -  John Belushi had few peers when it came to physical comedy, but Chris Farley was his equal. We lost them both way too soon. The first appearance of Matt Foley found him trying to inspire David Spade and host Christina Applegate at the request of parents Phil Hartman and Julia Sweeney. Spade has said that many of the mannerisms you see from Farley were things they had not seen in dress rehearsal, thus the laughter from the 2 actors. This was ranked by Rolling Stone as the greatest SNL skit of all time. "Well la-dee-freakin'-da!"  (2003)

That's 40. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. I can't wait for Sunday night and the 40th anniversary special on NBC, but for now, let me quote Dennis Miller- "That's the news and I am outa here!"