Sunday, July 11, 2010

God’s Sense of Humor | Look at us!



Homer, Alaska is the halibut fishing capital of the world, some of those caught weighing up to 730 lbs, 8’ long. They are one of God’s strange creations, at birth having an eye on each side of the head and swimming like a salmon. After about 6 months, one eye migrates to the other side and the color changes on the stationary-eyed side to disguise it from predators. God does have a sense of humor, doesn’t he? Look at some of us!

Now docked out on Homer Spit, there are “some of us” strange looking creatures disembarking to have a look-see – each of us “created in His image,” mind you. All rushing to have our pictures taken along side one of these bottom-feeding behemoths as they hang there on the weighing hooks (above). It’s really quite a funny sight if you stop and think about it, almost laughable. Which one has the Toni? Remember that commercial?

Makes me wonder, did God have these images in mind when creating us? Or did we screw it up somewhere along the way? For example, were “comb overs” included in His creation plan (See sample above)? What about makeup, liposuction and BOTOX? Or did He have a balanced diet, exercise and aging gracefully in mind? “Smile, Honey!” Get the picture? Standing next to this strange looking fish: Shorts, skinny white legs, pot belly hanging over, hair sprouting out the ears and extreme comb over – “Created in God’s image?”

The name, halibut, is derived from haly (holy) butt (flat fish) because of its popularity as a delicacy on Catholic Holy Days. I’ll leave the exegesis on this bit of knowledge to someone cleverer than I am. Go ahead, let your imagination run wild. There must be a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

Next port is Kodiak, where “there are more than 2,000 resident Kodiak bears on the island. North America’s largest carnivores and the world’s largest bear species, Kodiaks can be more than 10 feet tall, can weigh more than 1,200 pounds and are part of the Grizzly family; another of God’s strange creations. God does have a sense of humor, doesn’t he? Again, look at some of us.

Back on board, the Lakers are playing the Phoenix Suns again for the Western Conference Championship, watching it in the Sports Bar, Lorna Luft and entourage there whooping it up. Basketball is a strange game, isn’t it, grown, seemingly intelligent men running up and down this 94’ by 50’ court for 60 minutes (which takes 3 hours) trying to put a ball through a rim 10’ high and 18” in diameter? And they are paid millions for doing so! Can you believe this LeBron James thing? King James, Chosen One, really?

Ever look closely at these revered, athlete behemoths? Talk about strange creations. Take Shaquille O’Neal for example: 7-foot, one-inch tall, 360 pounds, size 23 shoe, shaved head and fully inked torso. Stand him up next to one of those Halibut fish or Kodiak bears. Get the picture?

Even stranger, stand my 5-foot, six-inch, 150 pound frame, receding hairline (no comb over yet), size 7 shoe and lily white, flabby torso next to his. Get the picture? I’ll bet I could take him in a game of Horse, though (ever watch Shaq shoot free throws?). David against Goliath!

Compare myself to David? Maybe not! He must have been the exception. There aren’t many of us who could sing, as he did, “ I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, marvelous are your works… (Ps 134:14). The word ‘wonderfully” means: unique, set apart, uniquely marvelous, each and every one of us a very individual creation. Ah, maybe so!

Still, anyway you look at it God does have a great sense of humor. Take an honest peak in the mirror if you don’t believe me.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Among Goliaths | Standing Out!



Anchorage, Alaska, not a cloud in the sky, Denali (“high place”), also known as Mt. McKinley, towering majestically in the distance, the Goliath of North American summits (20,320 feet). We’re told that temperatures at the top can dip below 100°F.

Ours is the first ship sailing into Anchorage after dredging of the harbor, coming in and leaving with the high tide very critical. Cameras and politicians everywhere, and I didn’t even bring my uniform. Commissioner Who? As a once high-placed Commissioner liked to say, “Upon retirement, I went from “Who’s Who!” to “Who’s He?” In hindsight, with all the uniforms on board (lots of gold braid), wearing mine, oozing velvet, might have brought preferential treatment (“high place”). Next time.

Speaking of uniform, there’s a Catholic priest aboard, conducting daily mass, high collar and all. He stands about 6’ 3’, very conspicuous, towering majestically above me. After a few days, high collar or naught, he is recognizable and very approachable, always a kind word (“Who’s Who”). Interestingly, I’m magnetically drawn toward attending his mass, conflicted about my Protestantism for the moment.

There’s also a Protestant service, but only on Sunday’s, the minister with no identifiable costume, invisible, blending in with the rest of us. They all pretty much look alike don’t they? – Dignified, severe expression, high forehead, thick glasses, pudgy around the middle and a long sleeved white shirt buttoned to the collar. I think I’ve spotted him, kind of looks like a Salvation Army Officer in civvies. The uniform does wonders for some, doesn’t it? Transforming, majestic, regal and imposing.

The Divisional Leaders in Alaska, Majors Doug and Sherry Tollerud, give us a grand tour, which includes a look-see at their magnificent camp, 700 some acres surrounding a gorgeous lake in Wasilla, they in uniform and we in civvies (Pictured above). I’ll let your imagination take over from there – what’s the plural of moose? Anyway can't see them, standing just out of the frame. By the way, Sarah Palin is one of their neighbors – “You betcha!”

Had to get back on board for the Los Angeles Lakers Playoff Game against the Phoenix Suns, a few 7’ plus Goliaths among them. Forget the Alaskan grandeur for a moment, got to be there in spirit with my buddy, Jack Nicholson, the Goliath of Academy Award winning actors.

Forget Jack, sitting in the lounge physically with us watching the game is Lorna Luft (daughter of Judy Garland), bedecked in Lakers uniform regalia (Pictured above, a little out of focus, forgive me). No question where she stands, vocally, ceremonially or otherwise. Lifting her hands high, she proclaims, “He (Kobe) is Lord (of basketball)! And here I sit, unceremoniously, in civvies. You get the picture. The game ended dramatically with the Lakers scoring in the last second to win, high fives all around. Lorna, upon leaving, places her hand on Doris’ shoulder and says, “I’ve got to go back to my room and take a Valium after that!”

Lorna performed the next evening, reminiscing about her two-year run on Broadway in Guys and Dolls, playing the lead female role, uniform, bonnet and all. In her remarks, she referenced this show as the Goliath of all Broadway Musicals. The lights dim, the orchestra strikes an opening credenza and she sings a medley of songs from the show. At its conclusion, I want to jump up and shout, “We’re Salvation Army Officers; that musical was about us!”

Alas! We sit there diminutively, quietly subdued in our civvies (Let your imagination run). Were we dressed in Salvation Army WARdrobe regalia, we would undoubtedly tower majestically above the crowd (“high place”), conspicuously, recognizable and approachable – buttons popping, high fives flailing.

Hmmm? Isn’t there a Biblical story somewhere about a light and a bushel? Exegetically, is TSA uniform a light or a bushel? Or maybe both depending? Standing out like a sore thumb. Or standing out, above the crowd.

“Once you're watching every move that I make
You gotta believe that I got what it takes
To stand out, above the crowd…” (Disney: “Stand Out)

There goes that love/hate relationship again.

PS Read the previous posts on this Alaskan Cruise travelogue, if you haven't already.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day of Rest | Rest Room Missionaries?



It’s day seven of the cruise and we’ve lost all sense of time. We know what day it is because the elevator carpets are changed daily with the day of the week embroidered thereupon. Today they read SUNDAY, a day of rest, or so prescribed in the Good Book. I wonder if God had cruises in mind when he originated this command? Maybe that’s what heavens going to be like – one eternal cruise, one everlasting Sunday.

Speaking of elevators, just got off one crammed with eleven other capacious bodies squeezed around my 5’ 6” 150 lb frame. The weight limit notice on the wall reading 2640 lbs. Do the math. I look around nervously (my eyes, the only body parts able to move); panic building until we reach the 9th level (Sports Deck) where all 2640 lbs (I’m guessing) unload for our forced, guilt-laden wobble around the track – canes, walkers, oxygen tanks and all.

The days are long, continuous daylight plaguing our every waking hour, throwing our body clocks wonky. Not sure if we’re coming or going. When God separated night from day, he obviously ignored the upper Northern part of this planet. With food served 24/7, our stomachs tell us when it is time to eat and drooping eyes tells us when it is time to snooze, whenever, whatever, seemingly forever.

Blurred in there somewhere were stops in Skagway and Sitka with a few glacier viewings thrown in between. At the historical museum in Skagway there is a small pump organ with this inscription: “Donated by Commander Evangeline Booth of The Salvation Army, Daughter of Founder, William Booth, who used the organ during her ministry in Skagway during the Klondike Gold Rush” (See photos above).

Also posted is this newspaper article: “Arriving on the SS Tees from Vancouver in April 1898, The Salvation Army’s Klondike party created a sensation in Skagway as the officers marched from their ship to Sixth and Broadway led by Commander Evangeline Booth. They conducted their first open-air meeting near Jeff Smiths parlors (of ill repute) and played their small portable pump organ during the lively meeting. Jeff Soapy Smith, notorious leader of Skagway’s underworld, observed the service from the edge of the crowd and added gold coins to the collection” (Much more detail on their encounter in Henry Gariepy’s book, “A Century of Service in Alaska).

“Eight Salvation Army officers, including two women, climbed over the Chilkoot Pass, and continued on to Dawson City. Said Ensign McGill, “We had two detachable canoes and our packs and we carried the lot over the pass on our backs. That was the heaviest job I ever had in my life.”

Oh my, how times have changed, state of the art everything in our cloistered, comfortable citadels and (KROC) centers, all 40 of us spread out comfortably on a Sunday, day of rest morning, heavy lifting replaced by modern conveniences, not even song books or Bibles to lift, everything projected magically on the screens surrounding us, don’t have to lift a thing except our bodies when asked to stand, grumbling as we do, singing “I’ll stand for Christ.” One or two zealots among us doing some heavy lifting raising their hands, signifying visibly that “He is Lord!” God is good. “ALL THE TIME!”

In Sitka town now, marching off the ship, looking for a rest stop when we spot a sign “Sitka Lutheran Church – Inside, restrooms available for your comfort and convenience.” Phew! What a relief. Entering, we are welcomed by a couple, pointing us in the right direction, men one way, ladies the other. On the sink is a container suggesting, “Donations Welcome.”

On the bulletin board in the foyer are photos of half dozen people, including our welcoming duo, with a little biographical sketch on each. Seems as if they are Lutheran restroom missionaries hailing from various parts of the USA, sacrificially giving of their time and talent in this small isolated village in Southeast Alaska. Brochures with a simple Gospel message are pressed into our hands as we prepare to leave. Restroom evangelism – a modern-day outreach twist – why didn’t we think of that?

Back on board, dinner, show, restful night, what day is it? Step inside the elevator and the floor mat now reads “MONDAY.” Where did Sunday go? No matter. Just another day of rest! On the heavenly cruise, there’s going to be no weekdays, only one floor mat reading, “SUNDAY.” Lift your hands and say it with me: “God is good. ALL THE TIME!”

REST ROOM MISSIONARIES!!!???
(See below for Post 1,2, in this continuing series)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Satisfaction Guaranteed! | What are the Odds?



Morning comes quickly and breakfast is awaiting us in The Lido Restaurant: Eggs Benedict (or any style for that matter), custom-made omelets, breakfast burritos, steak, ham, bacon, sausage, cereal, juices, pastries, take your pick. For some the “pick” is too difficult so why not sample a little of everything? While children go starving… No, life isn’t fair is it? Does this mean that the Creator of life isn’t fair, that satisfaction isn’t always guaranteed? Is it by happenstance or design? What are the odds?

Outside our dining room window is a breathtaking view of Ketchikan, Alaska. I say this because the sun is actually shining in a village that averages 152 inches of rain (plus 37’ snow) per year. We’ve been here half a dozen times without ever seeing the sunshine. In fact, on one occasion we were socked in for three drizzling, miserable days, couldn’t fly out, stranded and bored silly. Curio shops can hold your interest for only so long, speaking for myself, of course, not Doris. So with the sun shining, it feels like we have won the lottery. What are the odds?

Off the ship we go, me clad in shorts, slippers and Hawaiian themed t-shirt, believe it or not, to make that exciting, stimulating round of Alaskan-themed curio shops. We linger at one such shop, a showcase of non-Alaskan Lladro figurines magically conjuring up out of nowhere, what are the odds? Doris fawns over one in particular: two Hawaiian brown- skinned, identical twin boys taking a bath, one scrubbing the other’s back. Meanwhile, I stand fidgeting over in the corner. “Only $230,” she pines. I grumble. She fusses. I grouse. She pleads. I acquiesce, a Visa card conjuring up out of nowhere, believe it or not!

Stepping out the door, new non-Alaskan-made acquisition in hand, I spot this slogan painted on the side of a Ketchikan garbage truck rumbling by: “Satisfaction guaranteed or double your garbage back” (See photo above). The thought immediately leapt out at me: One man’s garbage is another’s treasure, or something to that effect. For me that Lladro is junk; for Doris it’s treasure. In her eyes, she’d won the lottery.

In that instant, it also occurred to me that the truck might have been carting away a portion of the leftover’s from the ship, a wealthy man’s waste: lobster, shrimp, prime rib, perfectly good portions left on plates overflowing. Children scavenging for food in garbage dumps… Satisfaction guaranteed? What are the odds?

Speaking of food…again, someone recommended we try the fresh halibut fish and chips at “Alaskan Surf Fish & Chips,” only $9.95. They were delicious, like butter melting in your mouth. As we sat there feasting on this gastronomical delight, I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a voice behind me exclaim, “Commissioner Noland, is that you?” Looking around, I spotted a couple vaguely familiar. “We’re Major’s Richard and Linda Lopez from the USA Eastern Territory, remember us?” “Yes!” I exclaimed confidently, without a clue. “My father was the one who took the photo of you riding on back of that Harley Davidson in Puerto Rico,” she proudly proclaimed. “We were stationed in Philadelphia at the time, Richard now the DYS in Puerto Rico.” Ah yes! At that moment everything clicked, as we enthusiastically embraced one another warmly.

They were on another cruise ship in port at the same time. Think about it, they seemingly conjuring up out of nowhere, now the four of us together in this small isolated village at this unlikely moment in time? What are the odds? (See photo above)

Back on the ship reflecting over dinner in La Fontaine Dining Room: The sun shining in Ketchikan, Doris finding that Lladro, halibut fish and chips and a chance encounter with the Lopez’s, kind of like winning the lottery four-fold, beating the odds big time. Doesn’t get any better than this.

Yes it does!

Dinner Menu this evening:
Appetizer: Papaya with a rainbow of fruit, splashed with banana liqueur and sprinkled with coconut shavings.

Soup: Chilled apple vichyssoise with a kick of apple brandy, sprinkled with diced granny apples.

Main Course: Tender Lobster Tail broiled with garlic butter, served with scalloped potatoes, baby carrots and grilled asparagus.

Dessert: The Gold Rush Baked Alaska, Praline ice cream, surrounded by double chocolate chip cookie and coated in meringue, dusted in gold, served with your choice of topping: Alaskan huckleberries, strawberries in cointreau, creamy caramel fudge.

I chose the creamy caramel fudge, yummy! 1400 dinners served, passengers and crew. Leaving the dining room, there were noticeable leftovers on most plates, delicious, but too much for even the most gluttonous among us to absorb. We’d won the lottery five-fold this day.

The Ketchikan garbage trucks are going to be busy tonight: “Satisfaction Guaranteed or…” Children starving everywhere… ‘Double your (this) Garbage Back’ would be a lottery winner for the majority eking out a living on this planet. One person’s garbage is…

It is written, “But now here is the bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever!”

“Satisfaction Guaranteed!” What are the odds?

PS This follows the post below if you haven't read it already.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

North to Alaska | Shush!

It was an offer too good to refuse, a 14-day cruise at an unbelievably low price: Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Victoria and Seattle, this being the first chapter in a slightly irreverent travelogue to follow.

It was a clear, 90 degree, picture-perfect day as we left our comfortable, comparatively upscale California home in La Quinta, heading west past Palm Springs via Banning, Beaumont, Yucaipa, Redlands, San Bernardino, dipping down into Riverside where we would spend the night courtesy of The Salvation Army. No! It wasn’t a transient shelter for vagabonds, although beggars can’t be choosers, admittedly. It was a nicely appointed guest apartment offered to us by gracious hosts. Thank you, Lord!

What does the Lord have to do with any of this? I hear you thinking. Well, the Lord giveth and taketh, so it saith in an ancient translation of the good Book. In this particular instance, He giveth. Thank you, Lord!

A freebie apartment? For one night? Aren’t there more important things He should be concentrating on, like the starving and homeless orphans in earthquake ravaged Haiti or the garbage heap dwellers in Manila or the abused and neglected right here in affluent America? My God!

I know what you’re doing, trying to place a guilt trip on me, huh? Leave me alone, goin’ on a cruise. Shush! Get thee behind me, conscience. Hey, I’m not the one responsible for all of this evil and poverty in the world anyway. God help us!

As I was saying, the following morning a Super Shuttle picks us up for transport to Ontario Airport, $50 roundtrip fare each plus tip, what? Checking in, Alaska Airlines rousted us for another $15 per checked bag, can you believe it? Upon arrival in Seattle, La Quinta Inn’s shuttle picked us up, another $5 tip expected by the driver, huh? The following morning, another shuttle to the ship, $12 each, can you believe it? The young driver, helpful, friendly, talkative (also a driver for Pizza Hut – 2500 deliveries without a mishap), angling for that $5 tip, what? Do your math, greed and malice everywhere, God help us!

Starving, homeless, jobless, foreclosures, recession everywhere! Shush. Get thee behind me, conscience! Let me enjoy this cruise guilt free please. Hurry up and wait. Lines and more lines, passports and pat downs, finally on board only to discover that our stateroom is at the very bottom of the ship, port side at the very tip of the bow, no porthole, claustrophobics beware!

Comfortable though: king-sized bed, television, DVD player, remote control, his/her robes, hairdryer, ice bucket and CNN. Whew! Two weeks without depressing news and the stock market report, unthinkable. But most importantly, the Room Service Menu available 24/7 FREEEEEE! (Technically speaking, paid for in the price of the cruise, and I’m going to get my money’s worth, arterial plaque buildup be damned!)

Speaking of eating, we hotfoot it up to the Pinnacle Restaurant for dinner: Quail, crab legs, Filet Mignon, lobster, escargot, shrimp, take your pick, or take it all as some obviously do, plates piled high. Looking around, it occurs to me that cruises particularly attract the aged, infirmed and obese, walkers, canes, oxygen tanks and suspenders galore (no corsets, obviously, though). Rarely have I seen this amount of tonnage isolated in one place at the same time. My silent prayer is that we don’t all decide to move to one side of the ship simultaneously. God forbid!

Silent prayer? God forbid? Aren’t there more important things you should be concentrating on and praying for?

Shush!

The rest of the evening is filled with a Broadway style musical extravaganza in the theater, followed by chocolate chip cookies, ice cream and tea. Belly’s fully gorged; contentedly we snuggle into our king-sized bed oblivious to the goings on in the wider world around us, ship rocking gently, sugar-plums dancing in our heads.

What’s the statistic? 3 billion people on this planet living on under $1 a day! Didn’t someone say something about a rich man, heaven, camel and eye of a needle?

Shush!

Saturday, February 6, 2010



In the past I have written about my love/hate relationship with the uniform. The wearing of it opens doors, no question about it. But it also smacks of exclusiveness, rendering the non-wearer as an outsider, not part of “the special club.” I love the concept that “WARrobe: Army Apparel,” (found on FaceBook) is promoting – the idea of uniform wearing as spontaneous, contemporary and culturally relevant – non-threatening to the “outsider.”

I took the photos above, my contribution to their promotional campaign because I think they’re on to something here. Now, I know this is not going down well with some for all the obvious reasons, but for me it is quintessential Salvationism in motion.

Salvationism is a two part word: Salvation + ism. The salvation part is never changing – the same, yesterday, today, forever (The conservative part). Ism, by its proper definition is “a movement” – always changing: “Mobile, fluid, robust, pulsating, progressive, maturing – Genesis in motion.” In other words, our methodology needs to stay relevant, inclusive and flexible in order to reach the last, the lost and least (The liberal part).

Commissioner Harry Reid defines it this way: "Salvationism is an engine-room kind of word, for within its robust, energy-exuding frame pulsates the heart of the Army. Here, the essential beliefs of the Movement, its active, maturing and progressive concepts, its love and service-centred ministries, all reside in a living, quick-to-respond balance for the benefit of mankind."

Several liberal “movement”-type phrases jump out at me: “…within its robust, energy-exuding frame pulsates…active, maturing and progressive concepts…living, quick to respond…”

For me, personally, Primitive Salvationism is an oxymoron because Salvationism is never primitive; it is always relevant, contemporary and spontaneous, spewing forth autonomy and individuality. That’s what makes it scary i.e., forcing one to look over the edge once in awhile.

Also risk is relative. One person’s risk is another person’s opportunity. One may see risk as opportunity, whilst another sees it as uncertainty. Risk-taking is entirely individualistic by definition. “Conforming risk-taker” is also an oxymoron. Doing it the way its always been done is not risky business; it’s called, safety, status quo.

I have assumed, perhaps wrongly, that the risk I speak about will be interpreted as good risk. Risks must always be taken for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Also, you will find that good, calculated, risk-taking begins to dissipate as mission metamorphosis into institutionalism. Early day Salvationists were risk-takers for the right reasons. Let’s take this primitive concept and make it contemporary, sans the traditional, institutional regulations and regalia. For many that’s too scary (risky) to even think about.

JN

Monday, February 1, 2010

God Knows Where!

What short memories we have. I was the Divisional Commander in the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division when Hurricane Iniki hit the island of Kauai on 9/11 in the year 1992. Coincidently, nine years to the day later, 9/11 in the year 2001, I was the Territorial Commander, headquartered in New York when the World Trade Center buildings came tumbling down. In both instances, I was responsible for all of the disaster relief services administered by The Salvation Army.

I could recount the horror stories chapter and verse, regarding the arrogance and misuse of donated monies, but I won’t because what I write now will be forgotten when the next disaster strikes. Thus, I will keep this brief and channel my creative energy into something more productive. What I have to say is already written in a blog posted over at www.therubicon.org, titled “Show Us The Mission!”

Simply to say, what short memories we have. For some relief agencies, mission is paramount; for others it’s “Show Us The Money!” What the heck! “THE RED CROSS!” There, I’ve said it out loud. But hey, don’t just listen to me even though I was there first hand and saw it all myself up close and personal. Google “Red Cross Scandal” and your memories will be jogged big time. Here’s one post to get you started titled, “The Red Cross Coming Home to Roost: Remember 9/11 Anyone?” If you’re not into Googling, here are a couple of excerpts:

“Americans have a short and forgiving historical memory. Most can remember last year's Super Bowl champs and World Series winners, but few seem able to remember a $1 billion scandal involving the American Red Cross following 9/11, America's most disastrous terrorist or military attack on its homeland.”

“Jogging your memory a bit -- Red Cross was the flavor of the month following 9/11. Celebrities, corporations and foundations wrote million-dollar checks and performed or sponsored TV and live events ad infinitum; ad campaigns were rewritten as Red Cross appeals; media outlets pushed their name across the airwaves and online.”

“…served coffee and donuts to rescue workers at the World Trade Center site only to be accused of charging for them. (It later paid Daniel Bouley, New York's star chef, to cook for them after the news about charging for coffee was made public.)”

“Flash forward to Hurricane Katrina and you find the same unthinking, reflexive, robotic response from Diddy to Spielberg and hundreds of other celebrities, businesses and the unknowing public. Primal fear may be what motivates them but their trust is misplaced.”

“Read the New York Times of September 20th and this week's Time Magazine for just the opening salvos of what will become yet another American Red Cross "cause celebre."

As infinitum.

On second thought, I wouldn’t bother Googling all this stuff; you’ll have forgotten it when the next disaster strikes anyway. My apologies for enticing you to read this post, when there are so many more productive things worth doing.

By the way, Michelle Obama (whom I like and respect) has an ad running with a text message number for The Red Cross, as do a host of celebrities and events, including at “The Grammies” last evening. If you’ve forgotten the text message, let me jog your memory: “Haiti” 90999, and another $10 will go to, God knows where?

Hey! What's another Billion dollars, anyway!