Saturday, December 22, 2007


There has been some real excitement here on the island of Oahu since our return. The University of Hawaii Warrior Football Team won its final game, the only team in the nation with a perfect record, thus earning an invite to the Sugar Bowl. The stadium was filled to capacity, and afterwards there was a “Hallelujah Windup” in Waikiki, keeping us up half the night. If they win the Sugar Bowl, you can rest assured that their helmets will be replaced with halos.

The Honolulu Marathon took place last weekend with thousands of runners and even more revelers. Fireworks very early in the morning (to announce the start of the race), startled us out of our blissful reverie (visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads). Later on we ventured over to the finish line for the "Hallelujah Windup" which lasted deep into the night.

Look, who in their right mind would get up at 4:00 a.m. and pay $140 to run 26 miles, only to receive a crummy yellow T-shirt with the inscription, “2007 Finisher, Honolulu Marathon.” And to top it off, celebrate that insanity all night long! Needless to say, I felt very inferior, sticking out like a sore halo in that sea of yellow T-shirts, wearing my old, grubby, faded white “Jesus Saves” one.

The “Triple Crown of Surfing” is another annual December event out on Oahu’s North Shore, concluding with the Pipeline Masters – waves sometimes higher than a five-story building. And the Aussies swept it all. The Pipeline break is a wave that literally halos every surfer who passes through and under it. And thousands braved that primitive, two-lane road to watch these haloed rides, yours truly included. The “Hallelujah Windup” was celebrated, bumper-to-bumper deep into the night on the long trek home.

Last, but not least, was our four-year old granddaughter’s preschool Christmas pageant the other day. She was (is) an angel and spoke her line confidently and to perfection, making the buttons on her Tutu’s (Grandparent’s) tunics pop. The climax came, however, during the benedictory prayer when all of the precious little angels started throwing their halos at each other – the quintessential “Hallelujah Windup,” don’t you think? I may be mistaken, but I think my church did it that way once upon a time, celebrating deep into the night while tossing their “hallelujah halos” at one another. DIDN’T THEY?

By the way, her spoken line was, “PEACE ON EARTH!”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:13-14 NIV)

I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn't fragile like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27 TLB)

God’s saints need to give their halos a hallelujah workout every once-in-a-while, DON’T YOU THINK? Why should the world have all the fun?

Note 1: “Halo Tossing” is an art form perfected by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, sometimes the Spirit is not present in the tossing.

Note 2: “Hallelujah Windup” is Salvation Army Speak for the victory celebration that occurs following prayer meetings where seeking souls have found “peace of mind and heart!” Pictured below is a photo I took at the Pipeline Break showing the “halo wave” beginning to take shape, followed by that precious angel mentioned above (Her halo now snugly in place).

Sunday, December 9, 2007


These irreverent thoughts were formed while standing on the old picturesque Kawarau Bridge, strung out high across a deep, beautiful, majestic gorge outside Queenstown, New Zealand, where we watched crazy people jump 43 meters (141 ft) attached to a bungy cord…141 feet straight down, did you get that? This all took place in 8.5 seconds, and for a measly $140 per jump, or if you really want to get technical, $16.50 per second. I was told they average 100 jumps per day, you calculate the math.

The propaganda reads, “The world's first and most infamous of leaps is still going strong, with tens of thousands Bungying each year. At the world's best-loved Bungy site, you can choose from a number of options; topple over backwards, forwards, with another person, spin or somersault. Kawarau Bridge Bungy is also the only Bungy in Queenstown where you can choose to bob above the water, touch it, or be fully immersed.”

While watching the crazies jump, my fertile church growth imagination kicked into overdrive with this creative thought, Bungy Baptisms! Wait a minute! Before you pooh pooh the idea, hear me out. Think objectively – three for the price of one.

1. Evangelism: It will attract this emerging, risk-taking prone generation (the future).
2. Membership: The rolls will grow exponentially – by the “tens of thousands.”
3. Tithing: Calculate the math.

And there are options for every theological persuasion: Non-sacramental - bob above the water; Semi-sacramental - touch the water; Sacramental - full emersion. This might even be the beginning of an unprecedented ecumenical movement.

Think of the recruiting slogan possibilities, “Jump for Jesus,” being one. Coincidentally, there’s already a theme song written (If so inspired, email me for the details):

Jump, jump, jump for Jesus.
Jump, jump, for He is Lord.
Jump, jump, jump for Jesus.
Jump, jump, for He is Lord.
(Repeat chorus)

He is my rock, and on His Word I’ll stand.
He is my shield, and on Him I’ll depend.
The sword of the Spirit
He’s placed in my hand.
He sets my feet on a high place to stand.
(Repeat chorus 4x then repeat verse,
repeat chorus 2x)

I can read your minds, those of you out there with more fertile imaginations than mine. How about a competition between churches with the theme, 'Doing the Most Jumps,' I hear you thinking. Shame on you!

Before pressing that delete button, hear me out! Satire cannot exist apart from reality. Catherine Booth, Co-founder of The Salvation Army, puts this reality into perspective with the following excerpt from her preaching series on “Aggressive Christianity":

I want you to note that the only law laid down in the New Testament for the prosecution of this kind of aggressive warfare is the law of adaptation …That is, adapt ourselves and our measures to the social and spiritual condition of those whom we seek to benefit. It is here that I conceive that our Churches have fallen into such grievous mistakes with reference to the propagation of the Gospel in our own times. We have stood to our stereotyped forms, refusing to come down from the routine of our forefathers, although this routine has ceased to be attractive to the people, nay, in many instances, the very thing that drives them away… you must interest them. You must clothe the truth in such garb, and convey it by such mediums, as will arouse their attention and interest their minds. In short, we must come down to them…If they will not come inside our consecrated buildings, we must get at them in unconsecrated ones, or out under the canopy of heaven…He acted upon the principle of adaptation… and chose the best adapted instruments for His purpose… and sent them out into the bye-ways and hedges, the fields, the market-place, the sea-shore, and the hill-side; in short, He sent them wherever the people were to be got at.

I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
1 Cor 9:22 NIV)

Catherine would have Bungy jumped for Jesus had the sport existed in her day, no doubt about it... sans the baptism part, me thinks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


“Hi, my name is Joe and I’m an introvert.” There, I’ve said it out loud. Leaving Hawaii, where introversion (laid back) is a way of life, and returning to California (fast lane), where extroversion abounds, I’m immediately reminded of my own personal proclivity toward timidity (Did I really write that?), except on the freeways where I become a freaked out, cursing (heck, darn, stupid, idiot), horn-blowing, egomaniac like the rest of them! It’s interesting how dispositions can change quickly when secure in the safe, womblike confines of an automobile, isn’t it?

In my denomination, we wear a military style uniform. I’ve noticed a scary womblike similarity when one dons the tunic, and it gets even scarier depending upon the cut of the shoulder braid. Why I’ve actually seen genetically inherent recluses instantly take on a Marine Corps, drill-sergeant type persona with braid and/or title change. It is a metamorphosis that borders on the miraculous. Clerical collars, likewise.

We’re not alone, though. Traffic cops are famous for it. I was a Marine and have experienced, first-hand, the transformation that occurs with the addition of one stripe on a sleeve – three stripes over crossed rifles, look out! And how about those airport screeners with “TSA” stamped on their uniform blouses (now there’s a frightening acronym for you)? Does “Gestapo” come to mind?

It shouldn’t be surprising, though. In our culture, the extrovert is valued and rewarded, whilst introversion is looked upon as a weakness. To make matters worse, introverts are out numbered about three to one. From the moment of awakening, we are pressured to “shape up” and conform to the majority world around us.

But take heart, my fellow introverts, hope is on the way. Why, there’s even a website for introverts,, and a book by same title. Let us unite! – Wake up to the fact that we have the upper hand. The world is in the mess it’s in because of all those pushy, garrulous, loud-mouthed extroverts out there. For example, it has been carefully documented that extroverts speak before thinking, whilst introverts think deeply before speaking and/or acting. Also, other studies show that we are “flexible, independent, self-reflective, studious and smart, with an uncanny ability for creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

And we’re in good company. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Johnny Carson and the Apostle John were “Innies” (Slang for introverts)? Contrast John’s disposition with that of the Apostle, Peter for a Biblical comparison.

Maybe the answer is to design our very own uniform with “Innies” part of the insignia, and the above mentioned persons our patron saints. Not only will the uniform identify and empower us; it will also signify that we are members of an exclusive grouping open only to those who act, talk (or don’t talk) and think like us.

Hmmm. On second thought, maybe these uniforms already exist!

Peter fairly exploded with his good news: ‘It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.’ (Acts 10:34-35 The Message)

Come Join us!

PS – All-inclusive, every disposition welcomed. No uniform required!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


When in Hawaii, every morning, after my exercise dance routine, I swim for thirty minutes – four laps across the Kuhio Beach lagoon. Salt water has a healing, life-giving effect, so I’m told. And this old, sagging, septuagenarian body needs all of the healing help it can get.

It’s not easy, though. Aging brings with it a plethora of aches, pains and metabolic changes. Exercising hurts more than it used to and takes far greater effort. Added to this, I’ve been stung twice by jellyfish while swimming. And you know the treatment for jellyfish stings, demeaning to say the least.

It’s the result that keeps me going, cleansing and regenerative, body, soul and spirit, born again every morning. This followed by a tall double-shot latte, Starbucks sanctified, makes me ready to take on the world. Like my good friend, Bill Francis says, “It’s heaven on the way to heaven.”

Here’s the rub, though. Caffeine is not everlasting, despite “power drink” testimonials to the contrary – Monster, Red Bull and Full Throttle, to name a few. Heaven and hell coexist together on this planet, each competing for control. It’s an up and down wrestling match with hell coming out on top ever too frequently, forcing you to cry, “Uncle!” The older I get, the more dependent I become upon savior uncle. To say, “It hurts like hell” is not cursing, my spiritually-minded friend; it is reality! The eternal caffeine fix is a promise yet to come.

It takes discipline to coexist in this world, dear ones. “Discipline: reflexive verb to make yourself act or work in a controlled or systematic way. Make: transitive verb to transform somebody or something into something else or to cause somebody to do something or act in a particular way” (Encarta Dictionary).

Back in the dark ages when the use of a leather strap was not called child abuse, my mother’s form of discipline was to let me have it on the behind while saying simultaneously, “This hurts me more than it hurts you!” Yeah, sure! She might as well have been speaking a foreign language. What did she mean? Why was she crying when I was the one literally getting the Hades beaten out of me? It never occurred to me that my undisciplined behavior hurt her more than that hell-cleansing leather strap hurt me.

I had a preacher once say to me, with great braggadocio, “I get up early on Sunday morning to prepare my sermons,” obviously proud of this accomplishment. I had just suffered through one of those sermons, sitting on a hard other-century pew. Made me want to cry, “Uncle!” and exclaim to that preacher, “This is hurting me more than it hurt you!”

Sounds like I’m picking on preachers, doesn’t it? Suffered through a few Sunday School teachers, likewise. Discipline, lack thereof, is no respecter of persons or situations, devotional life first and foremost, I suspect. “Disciple” and “discipline?” They somehow go together, don’t they?

Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane…Stay here and keep vigil with me…Going a little ahead, he fell on his face praying…When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, ‘Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert…There is part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy and an old dog sleeping by the fire. He left them a second time. Again he prayed…When he came back, he again found them sound asleep…went back a third time to pray…When he came back…he said, ‘Are you going to sleep on…? My time is up…Get up!’ (Matthew 26:36-46 Message)

Too bad there were no 7/11 convenience stores in Jerusalem at the time. A caffeine-laden can of Full Throttle would have been a Godsend right about then. Did I really say Godsend?

Come to think about it, who needs all that hard work and discipline anyway. A double-shot latte is worth about thirty minutes in the pulpit, enough to get a pastor through to retirement, thus ensuring that monthly pension check. Besides, on this continent, all you need is a congregation of fifty to place your church in the majority, attendance wise. What more can one ask? I mean, who’s it hurting?

Hmmm. I guess I am picking on preachers… And then he told them, ‘You are to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere.’ (Mark 16:15 TLB)

Is He talking to me? I’m retired!... GET UP!

Friday, October 12, 2007


The girls are out of school this week and the whole family (nine of us), twins and all took in a movie, “The Game Plan,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I was coerced into going and then surreptitiously enjoyed the movie, keep it to yourself please.

The reviews are mid-range (3 on scale of 5), but one reviewer wrote, “The Game Plan, by comparison, is a sweet, funny story that made me smile, gasp and, yes, shed a few tears.” I got a kick out of my granddaughter, afterward, announcing to the world that her mother cried during the movie. And if I weren’t so macho, I’d admit to a tear forming, only one and in its formative stage, mind you, this confession for your eyes only.

I thought the directing was excellent and loved the visually creative back-and-forth camera shots between ballet movement and football action. The lead character’s name is Joe Kingman, befitting his perceived kingly status, and his mantra is, “Joe, Never Say No!” A poster with those words hangs conspicuously on the wall in his plushy apartment and focal to the film’s plot.

This mantra resonates with me on several levels. First, obviously, because my name is Joe, a stereotypical name to be sure. Think about it. G.I. Joe, Joe’s Bar, Cup of Joe, Joe Blow, Joe Smoe,Joe Cool, Joe Camel and the list goes on ad infinitum. I’m compiling same for a future writing project, so if you can add to this list, send them on.

More importantly, I hate the word, “no,” and firmly believe that it should be purged from our vocabulary. Granted, the “Keeper’s of the Regulations” (See Sept. 14 Aloha post right) in most traditional institutions and denominations would be out of a job. Can you visualize a board meeting without the use of the word, “no?” Emails would slow to a dribble. Middle management staff positions would be eliminated, thus allowing budgets to be freed up for grass-roots mission priorities. Chaos, risk-taking and creativity would abound. Failure would be tolerated. The Kingdom would increase exponentially (Insert “Hallelujah Chorus” here).

In an early day staff appointment, I served directly under the Chief Secretary, second-in-command or “Chief Keeper of the Regulations” in our ecclesiastical body. I affectionately referred to him as “Colonel No” – under my breath you understand. By the way, “Regulation Keepers” are found up and down the hierarchical ladder, lurking in corners everywhere, plenty to go around for everyone, lest you be feeling left out.

Anyway, Colonel No’s responses to my brilliant, innovative, creative ideas inspired me to mount a flagpole on the corner of my desk. The idea was that, every time I heard the word, “yes,” the flag would go up, “no,” it would remain down. Sad to say, there was very little flag waving during my tenure in that appointment. But, brother, when it did go up there was cause for celebration; corks popping, party hats donned, glasses lifted and laughter erupting – TGIY (Thank God it’s Yes!) – Party Time!

When Jesus came, the regulation keepers were understandably bummed. He took away their “no’s,” replacing them with a resounding, “Yes!” The “shalt nots” were replaced with “thou shalts.” The disciples partied day and night, with but a few exceptions, and the Pentecostal experience was like New Year’s Eve – a new beginning. “YES!” (Arm pump goes here). His followers were released, empowered and, yes, given permission to fail, which they surely did now and again, big-time sometimes.

But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. (2 Cor. 1:18-20 NIV)

I don’t want to sound too smug here, but you must know that life in retirement is one releasing, empowering, never-ending “Yes!” Must conclude on this note because Doris is calling and she never takes “no” for an answer.

“Yes, dear, I’m coming… Do what?!!!”

(Posted on TGIF, by the way)

Friday, October 5, 2007


Most evenings we sit on the Beach in Waikiki watching the sun set out over the Pacific Rim. It never grows old. Tourist flock by the busload to look, cameras clicking, fingers pointing, smiles forming. As the sun slides beneath the horizon, there is an audible “ahhhh!” heard all around, a beauty to behold.

It occurred to me that many of those sunset gazers are also in the sunset years of their lives, yours truly included – “sun-setters” watching the sun setting. When others behold us, is it with the same awe, wonder and dignity? I wonder.

This wonder thought came about because someone called me a septuagenarian the other day, sounds like a cuss word. Had to look it up to make sure: “sep-tu-a-ge-nar-i-an” (noun) “somebody in 8th decade of life – between 70 and 79.” Contrary to popular thinking, it is not synonymous with senility. “se-nil-i-ty: “forgetful, confused, or otherwise mentally less acute in later life.”

It gets worse. Doris took our granddaughters to school the other morning. In conversation on the way, the middle one asked, “Did grandpa go to Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, too?” This came up because they were discussing my attendance at a memorial service following Martin Luther King’s assassination. Ouch!

It doesn’t stop there. We recently paid a visit to The Salvation Army’s cemetery plot in San Francisco to pay our respects. It became readily apparent that we know more people dead than alive – a sobering discovery.

Lately, this beginning septuagenarian has become acutely aware (as opposed to mentally less acute) of people’s perceptions toward we who are approaching the proverbial “four-score-and-ten” mark. In my church, when an Officer (ordained minister) reaches Social Security age, he/she loses his/her “full-time” ministerial effectiveness. A miraculous transformation occurs, with a “reverse metamorphoses” taking place at midnight on retirement day. Voila! 11:59 p.m., productive, 12:01 a.m., passé, snap, just like that.

There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow (Eccl 1:11 NIV). Preach it, brother!

Believe it or not, there are grown, intelligent people in my church who avocationally track the retirement dates of those in leadership. Why, they even have wallet-sized cards along with formulas that will predict who will replace these retiring leaders, and with some accuracy, I might add. Imagine that?

Stop! Hold it! Wait a minute! Do you realize how important we septuagenarians are to the world economy? Without us, the Viagra industry would be in deep you know what? Pharmaceutical companies would be crying, “Uncle!” The cruise industry would be going down for the third time. Think about charitable giving. The average age of donors is well up into the sixth decade.

Could the church survive without us? Check out tithing statistics by age category. Who would they turn to when there is a clergy breakdown (in my ecclesiastical part of the world anyway)? The headlines read, “Congregations Facing Clergy Shortage.” In some denominations, “more than half the pastors of congregations are in their second career.” “Quality not quantity,” I hear it said, ad nauseam. Rationalization be damned!

You want quality? Septuagenarians arise! “Golden Agers” unite! He who has the gold, rules! Flex those atrophying muscles (and wallets)! Rebuke those patronizing attitudes! Censure those condescending postures! Join with us, octogenarians. Take up your staffs!

Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded them. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh. The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, 'Perform a miracle,' then say to Aaron, 'Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,' and it will become a snake.” (Ex 7:6-9 NIV)

Read on in Exodus for the rest of the story, if you don’t know it already. What might have happened had God sent two youngsters to confront Pharaoh? You don’t even want to think about it. Want quality and quantity? Look no further!

Now, if I can only remember where I put that blasted cane, staff, whatever you call it!

Friday, September 28, 2007


We’re staying in a little one bedroom flat, third floor, no elevator, 34 steps down and 150 additional steps to Kuhio Beach, of Waikiki surfing fame, count ‘em. This is the center of everything, Hyatt Regency, Moana Surf Rider, Duke’s Canoe Club and, on the beach, the bigger-than-life statue of Duke Kahanamoku, himself – the patron saint of surfing. Surfer wannabe worshipers flock to the shrine endlessly, bedecking it with colorful leis.

Ah yes, a bit of heaven on earth. Or is it? Could this image, perhaps, be an artificially created façade, one purposely designed to cover a darker, seamier side? Is it possible that heaven and hell can coexist together in these islands?

To illustrate the point, we never know what new experience our evening constitutional stroll down Kalakaua Avenue will bring. It may be a pusher peddling “Maui Wowie” (Marijuana) or a prostitute (male/female/who knows?) propositioning a John (a Joe on those occasions when Doris isn’t with me) or someone stoned out of their mind, lying unconscious spread-eagle on the sidewalk, tourists delicately stepping around him or her. Ah yes, a bit of heaven on earth.

Walking past the International Marketplace, street performers are out in force: A clown sculpting balloons; living statues, painted silver or gold from head to toe, standing for hours immobile; cartoon caricaturists, street message therapists and musicians of every color and stripe, all performing with evangelistic fervor. The crowds gather continuously, intrigued by their offerings.

On Sundays, strolling past Duke’s shrine, a hyper, elderly man sits on the grass, frantically striking guitar strings and singing (more like screaming) at the top of his lungs. Listening closely, you can decipher the lyrics – Scripture verses – bellowing forth with wild-like ferocity. The sound is unpleasant and grating to the ear. No crowds gather.


My church used to do that kind of thing, “Open-airs” and Street-Corner Meetings” they were called. There were some strange ones for sure, Ah, I remember them well. Early on in one of my congregations, an overzealous worshipper used to shout “Hallelujah” and “Amen” at the most inappropriate times.


Every once-in-a-while at special events, you will hear the following words to an old song proudly sung:

How many queer folk in the Army we see, good old Army… though our methods are strange and oft misunderstood, we do it all for the best you know, telling poor sinners wherever we go, they can be made as white as snow in Jesus blood.

It’s cute looking back, but embarrassing now, so we don’t do them anymore. We’ve matured over the years, you see, climbed far up the social ladder, a much more sophisticated church today. We’ve attended Church Growth Conferences and mimicked those who have become popular and more respected, in look and worship style – but not statistically for some strange reason. Go figure? None-the-less, we’re much more sophisticated now, thank God!

Continuing on our walk through Kapiolani Park, we see a gal high-stepping backwards at a fast clip, and all the while balancing a bottle on top of her head. Passer bys fasten on to her with fascination, a sight peculiar to the eye. My first thought is, What a great witness this would be if she were wearing a T-shirt or holding a sign that read, ‘ANYTHING FOR JESUS!’

On second thought, that would be…


An open-air cable car on wheels, filled with tourists, drives by. The sign on the side reads, “Waikiki shuttle, Free ride.” My fertile imagination starts to run wild. If I were The Salvation Army’s spiritual guru in Hawaii again, I would buy one of those cable cars, offer free rides wherever, hand out creatively designed tracts saying, “This ride is free, but it will soon end. We can also offer you the ride of your life, one that will last forever. Heaven is a free gift,” or something to that effect, you get the drift. We would have clown balloon sculptors, Christian magicians, cartoon caricaturists, message therapists and musicians on board performing at varying times – and with evangelistic fervor, I might add.

Then again, maybe not…

Embarrassing! (Besides, what would our donors think?)

Other than that strange, elderly man, we have seen no other spiritual outreach expressions during our constitutionals. The need is there, no question about it. Sin and degradation abound. The people are there, coming by the planeloads – “the good, the bad and the ugly.” We’re not there, however, and understandably so. You see, the modern church growth movement has taught us a better way, a more popular way, an unembarrassed way. Mimic its model and the Church will never have to face persecution or ridicule again.


If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels (Mark 8:28 NIV).

Thursday, September 20, 2007


The internet has really complicated this pesky “temptation” thing, as if it wasn’t bad enough to begin with. I don’t know about you, but temptation’s lure entices me on a consistent basis, albeit taking different shapes and forms at my age. Some lures have lost their power, you get the drift, as does the tempter, believe me. A whole new arsenal is now at his disposal – the internet. It’s like “omnipresent temptation.”

For example, I ordered a text book through for a class I’m taking over the internet, as a prerequisite to becoming an online college instructor. The book was shipped two weeks in advance and, as of this writing (class starts today), no book. In anticipation, I sent an inquiry to the Amazon subcontractor and received a very terse response back, lecturing me on poor decision making when ordering items for shipment to Hawaii.

Hackles up! Snare set. Tempter pounces. I will spare you the details, except to say that Samuel Logan Brengle (Salvation Army Holiness Teacher) would have been disappointed with my Email response. It was brief; no swear words, but lacking in compassion. Guess what? Her return, return response was not only angry, but extremely threatening. Dear reader, this enraged soul accused me of calling her a moron, to which I plead, “Not Guilty!” As God is my witness! Unless, “…do business with a more reputable dealer,” can be construed the same.

Granted, my note wasn’t “sanctified,” in tone, but it was far from vitriolic. Instead of responding again, I swallowed hard and uttered a prayer of repentance, thereby resisting a powerful, compelling and less than sanctimonious urge to do otherwise. I must confess that the tempter is still messing with my thoughts, though. “Get thee behind me, Satan,” doesn’t work; it only increases the volume, like one of those “suped up,” “boom box” laden roadsters pulling up behind you on the highway.

Here’s what I have discovered. Even the most timid amongst us can become like roaring lions when communicating impersonally, like over the internet. In fact, the book I referred to earlier, The Online Teaching Guide: A Handbook of Attitudes, Strategies, and techniques for the Virtual Classroom (White & Weight), makes this very point. The word, coined by onliners, describing this phenomenon is, flaming. To put it in perspective, that heretofore mentioned book dealer was flaming. And I suspect speaking eyeball-to-eyeball with her would have produced dramatically different responses, on both our parts.

As a young officer (pastor), prehistorically (BI: “Before Internet”), I would periodically receive a haughty, dictatorial sounding missal through the mail from the “powers that be,” causing my blood pressure to sky-rocket. This set off an immediate, visceral response, resulting in a flaming chain reaction. What began explosively, ended up implosively. Guess at what end? Fellow travelers, I have self-destructed more times than I care to remember.

I learned early on how to count to ten before responding. Actually, it was to 86,400, figuratively (number of seconds in 24 hours). I would write the letter as prompted by the tempter (for cathartic purposes), then lay it aside for a cooling off period. That’s when the Sanctifier took over and continued His progressive work –In me, anyway.

But remember this-the wrong desires that come into your life aren't anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it, for he has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation's power so that you can bear up patiently against it (1 Corinthians 10:13 TLB).

“…bear up patiently” is the operative phrase in this Scripture for me. It’s been 48 hours since receiving that acerbic response from the book dealer and I still feel like punching her lights out, although I must say the feeling is fading. After all, admittedly, I’m not entirely guiltless in this process. Is there any such thing as being “less guilty?”

I still faintly hear the echo of the Boom Box behind me when thinking back to some of those “powers that be” letters received (20-40 years ago). Especially when something occurs to trigger those memories, as it does occasionally through an Email posting or, vicariously, through my kids involvement in ministry. I also keep a “temptation file” that is pulled out once-in-a-while to view copies of those once-upon-a-time trophies within it. I’m reminded how silly it all was… and is (some things never change).

The file is thick, but can you imagine its thickness had the internet been around? You ought to read some of the responses I get to this blog. By some counts, there are 200 million blogs in existence. Think about the amount of omnipresent flaming taking place at this very moment? Mind-boggling! But it’s not nearly as mind-boggling as the “delete (escape) key” promised in First Corinthians 10.

Whoops! Got to go now, more Emails coming in…

Delete… delete… delete!

Friday, September 14, 2007


We’re in Hawaii for two reasons. Twins! They arrived this week, Parker Tai Kuanalu first, with Hayden Sheridan Kaipo’i following close behind. The first-born’s Hawaiian name means “cresting wave” and the other, “breaking wave.” Pretty creative, huh? My son is a surfer, obviously. The twins have three older sisters, two of them (7 and 9) already “Hanging 10.” By comparison, when I surf everything hangs!

They were born at Queens Hospital (as in Hawaiian royalty). Coincidentally, while looking through the “Book of Hawaiian Names,” I discovered that the translated name for Noland is “Kaulana,” meaning “famous, celebrated, renowned.” Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the hospital personnel.

I will spare you the gory detail, except to say that the parking was horrendous, five dollars every time you entered and exited, including the father. And that price required a special stamp. The “keeper of the stamp” was obviously a descendent of some Gestapo Chieftain or Chief Secretary, take your pick. You know the type. Dear ones, the Chief Secretary is second-in-command, “keeper of the regulations,” in my denomination – title may vary, but is common to all.

Here’s the long of it, abbreviated. Time for discharge and it’s my responsibility to bring the car around. Wallet empty, I go to the hospital ATM machine. Out of order! Back to “keeper of the stamp,” hat in hand, begging for compassion. “Sorry,” she said, “The rules.” “But I’m Commissioner (VIP) Kaulana (Renowned), pleaded I (not revealing my retired status, mind you). She gave me that wrinkled brow, question mark kind of look, obviously thinking to herself, What kind of nut-case is this?

Dear reader, please understand that “Commissioner” is “The Man!” in my denomination. Lest I get into trouble with some, let me change that to “The Person!” Our Founder once exclaimed, “Some of my best men are women!” I believe that, because I’m married to a Commissioner. And she is “The Man!”

Nonplussed, I go whimpering to the concierge desk hoping to find a person full of love and grace sitting behind it, wisely leaving off the “Commissioner” bit this time. Voila! This tiny, kind, flexible Mother Theresa, non-Chief Secretary Type took mercy on my soul saying, “Bless you my son. Discharging patients receive special dispensation and, thus, I give you absolution. The parking price has been paid for you.”

She then took my hand and gently led me to the Admissions Office, whereupon “the keeper of the stamp” reluctantly pressed, “Pardoned,” on my parking ticket. “Hallelujah, set free!” sang my liberated soul. Well, this is how I vaguely remember it anyway.

Embellished, you say? Perhaps it is a wee bit in word, but not in spirit. Listen up! My daughter-in-law required an expensive apparatus in order to care for the twins. She was directed to a government office, indicating it would be free for the asking. Calling for an appointment, she was told to bring the babies (1 week old) with her, the only instructions given.

She sat in the waiting room for one solid hour, juggling two crying babies, when finally summoned by the official in charge, asking her for proof of birth. “Here they are,” she said, proudly, holding the twins forth. “Not sufficient,” stated the “Keeper of the Stamp, officiously. “How do we know they’re yours?” My daughter-in-law sat there dumbfounded. The stamp was affixed, “Request Denied.” “Next!” cried the official, dispassionately.

“Keepers of the stamp” are proliferating in our society, look around you. The law has become institutionally deified and almost always takes precedence over compassion.

Ah, but that’s why Jesus came, isn’t it?

A new commandment I give to you … that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

That one phrase, “love one another,” is repeated three times in this ultimate principle to live by. I call it the Commandment of Compassion...The religious leaders of that day deified the law, whilst Jesus came with a new overriding commandment. This new “law of love” was given precedence over all the other existing laws, rules and regulations.

Thank God we live in a new dispensation and His Church, through Jesus Christ, has been absolved from this kind of deification. Hmmm. Does that include my church too, I wonder? And yes, I would send this article to one of our denominational papers (The War Cry, New Frontier, Officer or Good News) for publication, but I don’t think it would get the obligatory “Stamp of Approval.”

By the way, in Hawaii, the “Aloha Spirit” captures the essence of this “new commandment.” I hope the twins become infected with it. In fact, I hope all Christians catch it, Chief Secretaries included (I can say it because I were one once). Now where did I put that darn stamp? Oh, there it is…


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Heaven Bound!

Well, so much for the routine. Hawaii beckons, so we pull up roots again and suffer our way across the Pacific to “a little bit of heaven on earth.” In fact, Magic Johnson, of Los Angeles Lakers basketball fame, was once quoted as saying, “If you don’t think you’re going to go to heaven when you die, you had better come to Hawaii and experience a little bit of what you will be missing” (or something to that effect).

I agree wholeheartedly. It’s the “getting there” part that really sucks, though. For us, a 120 mile trek across the desert, airport hotel, up early, little sleep, crammed onto an overfilled airporter bus, luggage tossed to and fro, long check-in lines, dodging carts, pushing, shoving, x-ray machines, computers out, shoes off, metal detector sounds, keys disposed, makeup confiscated (hers, not mine), computers in, shoes on, shoes back off, wands waved, shoes on again, curses exchanged. “Phew!” and this is only the beginning of our journey.

The seats are all taken in the waiting area, ah, well, not quite. People hoarding seats filled with luggage and packages, not bodies. Finally spot two vacant seats, rushing over to find out that their “saved.” Sure! Of Course! Muttering indecipherably, you stand impatiently waiting for the flight to be called. Eventually, a voice comes over the PA system with gargled instructions you can’t understand. “Wait a minute!” Is this our flight or another one nearby? Who’s boarding now? What’d she say? Man, this is nerve racking!” Meanwhile, the mob inches forward, elbows ready, each mobster determined to be first on board. Tension fills the air. “On your mark! Get set!”

Family with children first, taking forever, followed by the aged and infirmed, even longer. One old gimpy guy boards with cane in hand, and I swear to God (and Doris, in that order) that he was strutting across the terminal earlier with nary a limp. Why didn’t I think of that? And I can’t stand it when the First-Class passengers begin boarding, that smug, haughty, holier-than-thou look of superiority as they go swaggering by. Want to reach out and smack ‘em across the head, or somewhere.

Father, forgive me!

“Go!” The mob breaks, elbows flailing, shoved through the First-Class cabin, past its passengers sitting there snugly and smugly with a glass of wine or orange juice in hand. “Hope they spill it on themselves,” “old nature” resurfacing again, momentarily.

Father, forgive me!

We’re pushed, frantically, into coach looking for an empty storage bin, eventually cramming our whatever’s, wherever. Then squeeze into the seats, scrunched into a space obviously designed by Lilliputian engineers. And to make matters worse, when the flight takes off, the passenger in front reclines to the max, his head in my lap. Desire the destination, dread the journey.

We always pray and have our devotions when taking off, for all the obvious reasons. Sitting on the plane, Bible in hand, I turn to today’s devotional, “The Gateway to the Kingdom.” The two bookend Beatitude verses are the Biblical references, I kid you not:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3 NIV).

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (5:10).

The devotional thought concludes with (16:24-25). If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

I take note of the spiritual parabolic similarities. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches when delivering His “Sermon on the Mount.” He’s instructing us on the Heavenly journey and would never put it crudely like I did to begin with, but, paraphrased, He is saying, “The ‘getting there’ part requires sacrifice.” My apologies dear reader, but the word, “sucks,” really does communicate it so much better, don’t you think?

Father, forgive me!

Devotions completed, we settle in for the long, laborious flight. The food is bad, the movie boring, the ride bumpy and the lavatory lines maddening. After a hard landing, we deplane to balmy breezes, breath-taking panoramas, water clear as crystal, life-giving coconut, papaya and mango trees swaying, yielding its fruit every month, Heaven on earth… I feel born again.

Momentarily, I try not to think of the next journey when we will suffer off to a Church Growth Conference at the Hyatt Regency, “on the beach,” in “Someplace,” Florida or California, room with a view, I hope – king-size bed preferred, upgraded rental car and... Dread the flight!

Oh, and looking forward to the Bible Conference at “Beach/Lake Whatever” this year, see you there. Sure hope I don’t have to share a bathroom with anyone. Wouldn’t that be the pits? Dread the drive!

“Sign me up for the journey, Lord, no sacrifice too great...”

“Go where?!#*@!...”

Father, forgive me!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Disgusting! ;-)

We’ve been home a week, feeling pretty groovy, nothing out of the ordinary, getting reacquainted with old friend routine. Same oh, same oh, exercise (dance) routine, devotions, writing with a break mid-morning down the street at Coffee Bean for a tall, non-fat, sugar-free vanilla latte, set your watch to it.

Sitting there sipping, up pulls a Harley Davidson, Neanderthal-like person in front with cave-woman on back, head-bands, leather jackets, tattoos with piercings on body parts seen and unseen, I’m sure. All heads turn and the reaction is one of disgust, revulsion and moral condemnation, yours truly included. You can feel it in the atmosphere, Hell’s Angels, literally – dealing drugs, murder-for-hire, prostitution rings, you name it, disgusting! Anyway, it added a little spice to the routine.

Then there’s our Sunday routine. Following The Salvation Army meeting, we often drop in at a little church up the street from our house, six services, five thousand worshipers and a partridge in a pear tree. Timing finds us in the 11:00 a.m. “Video Café’ Live” service – “Guitar-driven, rock-style music in a concert-like setting that you can FEEL!” reads the program description. And we can FEEL it! They also have “Classic” services at other times and “Celebrate Recovery” on Friday evenings.

Around the perimeter of the auditorium are tables with coffee, donuts and muffins. Half-circle tables are spread throughout the body, with regular seating rows in between, take your pick. We choose a table, coffee and muffin in hand. This is the way to worship, many of us attired in shorts and T-shirts, I love it!

The music starts and everyone stands, that is except for the old couple on the row behind, sitting stern-faced, arms firmly crossed, in an attempt to ward off the ever invading, God-awful music. To the right, front is a young couple, her hands raised in adoration, his left hand raised similarly, with right hand firmly planted low on the back of her lap. Glancing back, I see two heads shaking disgustingly and lip read a series of “Tsk, tsks.”

Across the way is a woman (or is it a man, not sure?), with a multi-colored Mohawk haircut, in church believe it or not, disgusting! Directly to the left is a Neanderthal looking man, jeans, bandana, scraggly beard, tattoos, piercings and a T-shirt with the words, “Bikers for Christ.” Standing next to him is a middle-aged woman, low cut blouse, no bra, ingredients hanging low, not a pretty sight, disgusting! I do a double-take, could this be the same couple we saw at Coffee Bean, uncertain because they all do tend to look alike?

The double-takes continue when, during the fellowship interlude period, another biker-type person comes up to my Neanderthal neighbor, exchanging fraternal handshakes. Following the interlude, they give each other a bear-hug and he, with a departing wave blurts out, “Love ya, man,” completely out of stereotypical character. I feel a slight nudge from old nemesis guilt, nothing too serious though.

The pastor comes on stage attired in aloha shirt, sock-less sandals, Bible in hand, and begins to teach expositorily. The dress doesn’t seem to impede the quality of his teaching, powerful, commanding and straight-forward - Go figure? I look around, everyone has their Bible open, except me (Doris always has hers). The sound of a thousand pages turning becomes guiltily noticeable with all deeply engaged, scribbling notes vociferously, including my new Neanderthal friend (We shook hands during the interlude). That kind of total emersion in worship is foreign to me.

Driving home, I couldn’t help but think back to the time my son, Guy, came home with an earring dangling from his left ear, the image of a cross no less. Disgusting! When I finally came down off the ceiling, he said, “Dad, you’ve always taught me that, it’s what’s in the heart that counts.”

Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart (1 John 5:10 NIV).

I’m seriously considering a tattoo, the form of a cross right over the heart perhaps… wrinkles, sagging and all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jiggity Jig ;-)

“Home again, home again jiggity jig.” Jiggity Jig? First opportunity, I typed “jiggity” into the cyberspace dictionary and nada, nothing. “J-I-G,” bingo! Folk dance in triple time, especially one with kicking or jumping steps… wiggle, shake, jerk. That’s exactly what I felt like doing as we pulled into the driveway, kicking up my heels! “Hot diggity dog, we’re home!”

The older I get, the more routine is desired. Away from home, I get out of my established pattern. I’m out of sorts until the groove is reestablished, just ask Doris. That’s why it’s great to be home, because the rut is once again within sight and magnetically beckoning me in. Sinking back down into it feels safe and comforting. With advancing age, nemesis change is always out there lurking, threatening to breakup the routine. How dare it! Get thee behind me, change! We, the mature, established ones, must unite together against it! “Hear! Hear!”

It’s a good thing that old people, like us, rule the establishment and are “keepers of the routine,” or this world would be going to “hell in a hand basket,” as the old saying goes. And we have a handle on all of the old sayings, don’t we? Ah, yes, the main-line religious establishment is in good hands, my friends. Anyway, back to my changeless routine.

First thing up in the morning, I begin an exercise routine. After stretching, the cable music channel is tuned to “Today’s Country,” surround sound stereo, high decimal and bass thumping loudly. For twenty minutes, I begin to move, jiggity jig, to the beat of the music, triple time, kicking, jumping, wiggling, shaking and jerking extemporaneously until the is sweat is running down my brow. There’s nothing like moving to the lyrics of, “God don’t want me to be a cowboy no more;” it really gets the adrenalin flowing. So it goes every morning like clockwork, followed by a little strength training and thirty laps in the pool.

Young folk would call what I’m doing dancing, but old nemesis guilt insists that it’s nothing more than an exercise routine. Young folk had their way, there’d be dancing in the church. God forbid! Good thing we old folk are in control.

Where I go to church, we have groups who perform, solo and in unison with tambourines, imagine that! It used to be that these groups stood in place sternly at attention with tambourines in hand, arms shaking up, down and sideways. Then old nemesis change raised its ugly head and now, in some circles, every part of the body is shaking, kicking, jumping, wiggling and jerking (jiggity jigging) during performances. Secularists would view this as a dance routine, but the old folks in control know better than that. Nothing has changed; it’s simply a traditional timbrel routine, no more, no less (Holy Liturgical Movement), certainly not dancing. Perish the thought! No worries dear reader, we have everything under control.

Dancing is of the Devil, as the old saying goes.

Praise the LORD.

Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the saints.

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with tambourine and harp.
(Ps 149:1-3 NIV)

Oh, coincidentally, in the Faith section of today’s newspaper was the headline, “Young Protestants drop out” with byline, “Congregations lose 70% of teen churchgoers once they turn adult.” Of those taking the survey, “Dropouts were more than twice as likely than those who continued attending church to describe church members as judgmental, hypocritical or insincere.”

But not to worry, dear ones, those teens will eventually come to their senses and discover the groove. You see, it is inevitable because one day “the jig will be up,” so the old saying goes, and they too will become “Keepers of the Routine.”

Good thing we old folk are eternally in control!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NOT!!! ;-)

Just south of Reno is Carson City where my uncle has a ranch, big spread and beautiful home (10,000 sq. ft.) once owned by the Scripps family (as in publishing, hospitals, everything). Doris’ mother used to say, when they would drive by a posh house, “Oh, but they’re not happy.” Two things: My uncle is very happy and, if this is unhappiness, let me suffer through it for awhile, thank you. We did, two days to be exact. And let me share with you some of the misery we suffered during the interim.

The view from our bedroom, which opened onto a deck the size of Wrigley Field (Cricket Field on the other side of the pond), was spectacular, the East facing slopes of the Sierras with Lake Tahoe Basin on the other side of the rim. A masseuse comes twice a week and my aunt/uncle graciously allowed us to take their turn, a two-hour, deep-tissue, undulating, unbelievably, regenerative full-body message – 120 minutes of unhappy bliss. This followed by a fresh “melt-in-your-mouth” salmon dinner to die for, oh the suffering.

They had also arranged VIP tickets for a “70’s Musical Spectacular” at one of the elegant hotel casinos nearby. It was a high energy, high tech, multimedia production featuring music from the 1970’s. It was fast-paced and enjoyable, but I noticed that most of the people present were “fiftyish.” The music was unfamiliar to me, but everyone else seemed to be mouthing the words, standing, bouncing and waving their hands like a bunch of immature, hyped-up teenagers.

And then it dawned on me! They were regressing for a moment in time back to those teen years. If it had been 40’s swing, my 89 year-old uncle would have been up dancing the jig; 50’s and I’d of been rockin and a rollin, twisting and a boppin, with a bit of an arthritic limp, mind you (Oh, picture it now!).

Since then it has occurred to me that on many Sundays we attend a “Pre-1900’s Musical Spectacle.” Flipping through most hymnals one finds museum pieces such as, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” (1483-1546), sung last Sunday in the service we attended by the way. Or “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name (1726-1792) and “Rock of Ages (1740-1778). Peruse any hymnal, look at the dates and you will understand what I’m saying.

Can you imagine a “Pre 1900’s Musical Spectacular” in one of the casinos, or on Broadway? One wouldn’t have to worry about long lines and poor seats. It would, however, be a great draw if held in one of the Forest Lawn mausoleums, right? Now there’s a thought (picture the spirits dancing, bouncing and waving). Thank goodness I attend a church that features brass band music.

Hallelujah! Yes, praise the Lord! Sing him a new song. Sing his praises, all his people (Ps 149:1 TLB).

Alas, back to the subject at hand. I could get use to all of this unhappiness (my uncle’s lifestyle), nonetheless, reality sets in and we start thinking about leaving it all behind, going back to our humble 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 car garage (with 2 cars in it) located in a modest, gated community, swimming pools, tennis courts, health club and all. The thinking continues further into the future, contemplating two months in Hawaii and the cruise to follow soon thereafter. Ah, but time heals all wounds and we will eventually get over it. I mean, are they really happy anyway? “NOT!” My mother-in-law would say.

And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:24-25 NAS).

Thus after two, miserable, glorious days, our little Miata points itself South through Mammoth Lakes, past Mt. Whitney, highest peak in the lower 48 (14,505 ft – 4421 meters), and back toward our simple, impoverished lifestyle on the desert. Flipping through the radio dial, we search for some soul music pleasing to the ear: Rock N Roll… Golden Oldies… Hard Rock… Soft Rock… Rap… Country…, finally settling on a Christian station featuring “Hymns for Inspiration” (can’t help it, we’re old). It must have been a sight to see, though, this little, old, retiring couple cruising down the highway, top down, Boze speakers blaring, singing good old pre-1900 Gospel hymns at the top of our lungs. Hey, but what do we care, this is “slightly irreverent” California and we love it!


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

God-forsaken! ;-)

The travelogue continues as we wind our way through the Napa Valley, across the Sacramento plain, over the majestic, breathtaking Sierras, passing by Squaw Valley, around North Lake Tahoe, following the Truckee River down the slope to our next destination, Reno, Nevada, “The Biggest, Little City in the World,” so they claim. We have senior-discounted reservations (with perks galore) at a local hotel/casino.

Old nemesis, guilt, keeps us away from the slot machines and gaming tables, but there are plenty of non-gambling activities to keep us occupied, people watching being high on the recreational list. Those casino developers and operators are brilliant, you know. The architecture and ambience is designed to camouflage loneliness, defeat and despair with an artificial feeling of glamour, friendliness and hope.

They’re on to something and its paying off big-time. Senior citizens flock to these casinos by the bus-load. It appears as if every other person rides a motorized cart, maneuvering in between the crowded slots with great precision and skill, and/or is pulling an oxygen tank behind, whilst sucking in oxygen and tobacco smoke simultaneously, which takes even greater precision and skill.

They cater to we who are old, senile and invalid with two-for-one dinners, free drinks, upgraded rooms and senior discounts galore. We are pampered religiously and made to feel like Kings and Queens for a day. No wonder we gladly hand over our meager Social Security checks (not just 10%, the whole thing) in exchange for this temporary feeling of camaraderie and a sense of belonging. We are addicted to hope and this “God-forsaken fellowship” supplies it for us, momentarily.

The other thing that strikes my attention is the energy in this place. This, coupled with a feeling of reverence, worship and awe, gives the illusion of being in another realm, almost spiritual in dimension. There is a phantasmagoria of sight and sound meant to rev the emotions and perpetuate our fantasies. Periodically bells ring at the slots, signifying a jackpot won, followed by shouts of acclamation and thanksgiving. Similarly, cheers, applause and praise can be heard around the craps tables from time to time signifying a winning roll of the dice. It may be my imagination, but there are surely distinct “Hallelujah’s, Amen’s and Praise the Lord’s” echoing forth, spontaneously. No disputing the energy, joy, communion and comradeship occurring around these otherwise hallowed tables. Interestingly, the following is a quote out of a novel I am presently reading:

There was a whoop from the casino floor and it was loud enough to break the barrier surrounding them. She looked out and saw some ten-gallon Texan dancing at the end of one of the craps tables, just below the pulpit that reached out over the casino floor... There was a man up there dressed darkly and staring down like a priest on his congregation ("Void Moon," Michael Connelly).

Old nemesis guilt, persistent fellow that he is, sends us out seeking a place of worship on the following morning, Sunday. We find a small church nearby with a glass case marquee outlining the service times. The “S” is missing in the word, “_UNDAY,” but we pay little attention, having witnessed worse during our ecclesiastical leadership wanderings.

Without going into a lot of detail, the congregation is small, aging and friendly in an “arms length” sort of way. The pews (of 18th or 19th Century design) are hard and uncomfortable, but we are no strangers to this. A lulling organ prelude of, “The Old Rugged Cross,” is followed by a long litany of announcements, already carefully laid out in the printed program, typos and all. We sit unfazed.

Then comes twenty minutes of ultramodern 1980’s praise songs, words reflected on the screen, with each verse lagging about ten seconds behind, and everyone coerced to stand, clap and sing spontaneously. Oh, the electricity in that sanctuary is simply spine-tingling.

Well, you get the idea. An offering, two 19th Century hymns and a fifteen-minute too long sermon later (with nary an “amen” or “hallelujah” heard), we are out the door, anxiously making our way back to the energy, joy, communion and comradeship of that “God-forsaken” casino… and, I suspect, the congregation isn’t too far behind, canes, wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and all.

So Paul, standing before them at the Mars Hill forum, addressed them as follows: ‘Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious, for as I was out walking I saw your many altars, and one of them had this inscription on it - 'To the Unknown God.' You have been worshiping him without knowing who he is, and now I wish to tell you about him.

He made the world and everything in it, and since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn't live in man-made temples…He himself gives life and breath to everything, and satisfies every need there is
(Acts 17:22-25 TLB).

Do I hear an “Amen!?”

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Leaving San Francisco, we made one more stop – one of our favorite spots – Ghiardelli Square, adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf. This once world-renowned chocolate factory is now a trendy boutique-style shopping center and we are drawn to it because, in the sweet shops, chocolate samples are given freely and liberally. Thus all caution is thrown to the wind and we gorge ourselves freely and liberally, literally. And we’re not alone.

One would think that this doesn’t make good business sense, but its operators were not born yesterday; they know exactly what they’re doing. An orchestrated “temptation psychology” is employed here, big time. Chocolate is intoxicating and addictive, one bite leading to another and then another. The craving becomes so overwhelming that samplings no longer satisfy the palate. One enters empty handed, but alas, leaves heavy laden as the cash registers ring out with joy.

I noticed the obvious absence of mirrors, pretty smart, huh? If there were a suggestion box, my card would have read, “Place slimming mirrors everywhere and sales will increase dramatically.” One look in the mirror and double the purchase, weight and health be damned! The sweetest part is, that this wide-spread addiction has no ‘religious’ consequences.

Two thousand calories later, we squeezed into our chocolate laden Miata and put-putted across the Golden Gate Bridge, over the rolling hills and through the vineyards en route to our next destination, Lytton, a 500 acre ranch located eighty miles north of SF. This was once a Salvation Army Children’s Home, later converted into an Adult Rehabilitation Center. Doris’ parents were stationed here on two occasions, subsequently making this their retirement home. Obviously, the place is filled with lots of nostalgia and warm memories.

Irony of all ironies, this addictions treatment center is located in wine country, dead center. One of its adjacent neighbors is Simi Winery, beautifully landscaped with an enticing, tempting wine tasting room. At every turn there is another winery beckoning the happy wanderer in for a taste (68 of them in a 5 by 10 mile radius so says my trusty winery map guide). Throughout the Napa Valley, spirits are flowing freely and liberally.

As part of our “research tour,” we visited Simi Winery and, stepping into the tasting sanctuary, were immediately greeted by their version of “Door Sergeant” (Do we really still use that term?), a very gracious, affable and gregarious elderly lady. She immediately engaged us in conversation spewing compliments right and left, making us feel as if we were the most important people on this planet. And she didn’t even know we were Commissioners! (Her slurred speech did seem to indicate a few additional perks with the job). This was all wonderfully orchestrated, of course, and we were ushered up to the tasting altar eagerly anticipating the sacramental communion experience awaiting us.

The person on the other side of the tasting altar, seemingly bedecked in flowing robes (my mind was beginning to play tricks on me), began to quote chapter and verse, magnifying and glorifying the spirits laid out before us, “vintages eternally aged to perfection, velvety to the palate, guaranteed to revive the spirit.” The only thing missing was a rousing rendition of, “The Hallelujah Chorus,” which we were tempted to supply. Sanity prevailed, however, and we backed away, choosing to honor The Salvation Army’s denominational sacramental position (questionable and controversial though it be). And, of course, there were religious consequences to consider as well.

Unlike the chocolate samples, we resisted the winery temptation, but there were a host of other sacramentally inclined patrons, lining the tasting altar, who imbibed religiously. They were hooked. One taste leads to another and then another until samplings no longer satisfy the craving. One enters sober-minded and empty handed, but alas, leaves spirit-filled and heavy laden as the cash registers ring out with joy (an educated assumption, of course).

And so it was, with top down and music blaring, we soberly pointed our Miata Eastward toward the scenic Sierras. With consciences clear, Doris reached for a sumptuous box of chocolates, blessedly assured and confident that, with this addiction, there are no religious consequences… “Health and longevity be damned!”

‘Sir, which is the most important command in the laws of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: 'Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.' All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others.’ (Matt 22:36-40 TLB)

By the way, if I were the Corps Officer (Pastor) in Santa Rosa, I would hustle on up to the Simi Winery and vigorously attempt to recruit that elderly lady greeter as my Welcome Sergeant” (Church greeter), sans the perks, naturally. She certainly made me and Doris feel warm and valued. Perhaps the wine industry can teach us a thing or two about how to make our sanctuaries more tempting and enticing – with Love being the intoxicating temptress, of course.

Shall we drink to that?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Raised Eyebrows

It’s July with the temperature pushing 110f in our little corner of the world – time to pack up our shiny white, Mazda Miata and mosey on north. With top down, sun glasses donned and lotion on, we cruised up the rugged, picturesque coast of California. It was a glorious day, picture perfect with nary a cloud in the sky and “the world on a string” as the lyrics of that old song portend – and a bit comedic, I suspect, to anyone who might have fortuitously witnessed this little, old, retiring couple cruising up the highway, Boze speakers blaring, singing Sinatra hits (“My Way”) and 50’s tunes at the top of our lungs. Hey, but what do we care, this is “slightly irreverent” California and we love it, having spent 55 of the past 70 years here on the left coast (me that is).

Chugging into the beautiful seaside village of Carmel, it was time for a refreshment break. While sitting there, enjoying a healthy fat-free, sugar-free, Toffee Coffee, almond topped frozen yogurt, an elderly couple passed by. My eyes were immediately drawn to them because their look was so arresting, something like crusty, shoe leather skinned characters out of “Dogpatch” of “Lil Abner” fame. Their worn, rugged features were magnified 100 times over as if just walking off a large cinema screen into real life. There was no hint of affection, whatsoever, in either of their hardened straightforward stares. The look was so entrancing that I couldn’t take my eyes off them until they passed on by.

Several minutes later, as I was licking at the last remnants of my healthy Toffee Coffee yogurt, they happened by again going in the opposite direction, but this time completely out of character – they were holding hands. And then he did something that took me completely by surprise, lifting the back of her hand to his lips and kissing it. It was a surreal moment, almost magical. Ah, but this is California after all, the liberal, la la land of enchantment, isn’t it?

On the following day, we zoom-zoomed into San Francisco, the city by the golden bay where we had spent nine of our thirty-nine Salvation Army officership years, two of them as cadets-in-training during the nostalgic sixties as part of the beatnik/hippy era. In fact, we formed a folk-singing group (The Salvation Singers) performing inside and outside various bohemian North Beach haunts, including a gig every Monday evening at a coffee house called, “Coffee and Confusion.” We were smack dab in the middle of that radical Beatnik – Hippie transitional period which also included the beginnings of the topless era.

Our group performed outside and inside the first topless nightclub, the infamous Condor Club featuring the one-and-only Carol Doda, breast enhancements and all. We were able to sit down at the bar with the topless dancers and witness to them — No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure It (1 Cor. 10:13) — Oh, how I hung on firmly to this promise that evening. You can bet that there were a lot of raised Army eyebrows after these evangelistic shenanigans were reported, which they were, far and wide, front page headlines of the Bay Area newspapers, Associated Press and national television.

Interestingly, one evening while performing on the corner outside the Condor Club one of the dancers ventured out and asked us to sing, “O Boundless Salvation.” We finished our gig and were half way down the street before it suddenly dawned on us that this was a Salvation Army song, written by its Founder, General William Booth. Long story short, we hurried back, talked with her and found that she had been a Sunbeam and Junior Soldier (Church member) as a young girl in one of the local corps. Long story even shorter, she eventually recommitted her life to the Lord. And even more interesting, one of the folk songs in our repertoire that evening was, “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well,” made famous by the folk-singing trio, “Peter, Paul and Mary.” This night, “Jesus Met the Woman at the Topless Club.” How contemporary is that? Raised eyebrows? You bet!

The Condor Club is still there as is Tommy’s Joynt, the very first place that allowed us the use of their platform. More on this later, but needless to say it was a magical, memorable and tempting time.

Anyway, yesterday we were walking down Broadway in North Beach retracing our steps (Incidentally, this is where our courtship began) when I casually reached down and took hold of Doris’ hand. Overwhelmed with the nostalgia of it all, I unconsciously brought the back of her hand up to my lips. This spontaneous show of affection resulted in one of those “raised eyebrow” looks. Gazing past that look, I observed a crusty old codger sitting in front of a coffee house intently watching this unseemly display as he sipped at the last remnants of his iced cappuccino.

That was yesterday and I suspect today, somewhere on the streets of San Francisco, perhaps even as I write, another old, wrinkled, liver spotted hand is feeling the warmth of an unexpected “eyebrow raising” moment. And the thought occurred to me, “Perhaps this is the beginning of a spontaneous ‘Lifting Hands and Eyebrows across America’ movement – young and old alike – a spiritual, left-leaning, counter-culture ‘Love In’ 21st Century style.”

It’s Scriptural, in a way, isn’t it? Greet one another with a kiss of love (1 Peter 5:14). Now go out and start a revolution, won’t you? And let it begin with the “lifting hands and eyebrows” of those “significant others” in our lives, the one’s whom we too often take for granted.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Start A Revolution!

Words I recently saw on a T-shirt: “Quit bitching and start a revolution.” Crude and slightly irreverent, but it clearly gets one’s attention and makes the point. Before reacting too negatively to the slang, please read on.

Blogging has taken “bitching” (slang term for bellyaching) to a whole new level. Before, it was limited in space and time. Now, all of it, gobs and hoards of it ricochet through cyberspace with split-second timing. It doesn’t matter the subject, politics, religion, whatever. It’s a “bellyachers” paradise out there. With this in mind and for the fun of it, I Googled the word, “bitching,” and following is but a tiny sampling of the 3,750,000 results.

I learned that, “From this usage of bitch(ing) as ‘complain’, the colloquial noun 'bitch-fest' evolved, to describe people complaining about something together.” Allow me to expand upon this colloquialism and bring it up to date by coining the term, "cyber-bitch-fest."

I further found that “The use of the term "bitching" has been extended to the common sewing or crafting get together known as a 'stitch-n-bitch'. At these gathering women (and occasionally men) gather to work on projects and talk or complain.” There is a temptation to digress here, church-wise, but I will resist the tempter and move on.

In fact, I’m going to go one better than that because I know the term “bitching” is offensive to some (even though it no longer carries the same connotation it once did) and, from this point on, substitute the term “bellyaching” (“to complain in a whining manner”). Thus it is now "cyber-bellyache-fest" and "stitch-n-bellyache," even though it loses its charming rhyme sequence.

STOP BELLYACHING AND START A REVOLUTION! – Not quite as dramatic, but probably a little more palatable for the fainthearted among us. And I don’t want to lose this segment of the blogging congregation.

Speaking of congregations, having pastored a few, I found no dearth of bellyaching there. In fact, it seems to thrive in that environment, perhaps because the tempter finds his greatest challenge in such hallowed settings. I still have some of the notes slipped to me by parishioners as they shook my hand following the Sunday services. “The music was too loud. Can you do something about it in the future, please?” “The flags were not draped properly and this was very distracting. Surely there is someone who can see that they are straightened before the meeting.” “The message was good, but a little brevity would have gone a long way.” “Might I suggest you read, ‘Helps to Holiness’ by Samuel Logan Brengle before preaching another holiness sermon?” "Why is there never any tissue in the bathroom?" And so it went. (Can you add to my list here?) Seldom did I receive a note complimenting the service or care of the facility. Incidentally, as an aside for those Army trivia buffs among us, did you know that Brengle was the first American born officer to reach the rank of Commissioner? And a sanctified one at that.

I’m guessing that even the Disciples did their share of bellyaching, with most of it not recorded, I’m sure. Take the following for example.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…’ (Matt 28:16-20 NIV)

…but some doubted. Imagine! Doubting, complaining and bellyaching usually go together, don’t they? Who knows what they were saying to one another before Jesus appeared. I suspect there might have been a little bellyaching going on. How did He respond? Not everything Jesus said or did is recorded, you understand. Who knows, perhaps my “irreverent interpretation” of this passage has some merit…”Stop doubting, second-guessing, complaining… GO… Start a revolution!


I suspect there were a few bellyachers in those early Christian Mission days as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bramwell even did a little grumbling himself. Do you think he agreed with his father on everything? It’s not all recorded in the history books, you know (I’m sure William Booth had his share of doubters in those early days). Who knows all that Booth actually said as he stood with his son in the East End of London looking over a sea of lost humanity? Loosely interpreted, he might have said something like, “Stop bellyaching,… Bramwell, for God's sake do something!


It is now the year of our Lord, 2007 and the blogging phenomenon has taken bellyaching into a whole new stratosphere. Need I say more?