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?