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!”

(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?


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?