Monday, January 30, 2006

Walking in Memphis

Last week, Geoff Calkins, sports columnist for The Commercial Appeal, celebrated his 10th anniversary in Memphis noting some highlights of his time in the city, and then commented on 3 places in town he's yet to visit:


Bellevue Baptist

Platinum Plus

and it left me to think - "you know, I haven't been to those places either."

For the purposes of full disclosure, let me qualify that a bit.

I have never been to Six Flags over... uh, I mean, Bellevue's new location. Although . . .

I have been to the church once (when it really was on Bellevue) back in the late 70's when Tom Landry spoke there. A vanload of us came down from Jackson. I was a teenager, and I remember being disappointed though. I wanted to hear football stories, but mostly heard about Jesus and how badly I needed him.

Which is true, I do need him, badly. But, I always had the feeling that if Jesus had been there in the flesh to hear Coach Landry, he would have wanted to hear football stories, too.

I've never been to Graceland.
Although . . . I lived around the corner from it for years. When Dad was appointed to Grace UMC, I lived in that parsonage for several years while going to Memphis State. My second ever church job was as youth director of Whitehaven UMC on Elvis Presley Blvd., and let me tell you, during "death week" in the hound dog days of August, we had hunka hunks of hot, sweaty Elvi out the wazoo coming by for a cool cup of water or looking for bus fare home. Can't tell you how many times I heard - "thank you, thank you very much."

I've never been to Platinum Plus.
Although . . . I served as Associate at Asbury in the days that "establishment" was trying to open in "our part of town." It's there on Mt. Moriah on car lot row and it was and is a part of the parish area for that church. We fought to keep it from opening, to no avail, of course. For me, it was part and parcel of what was going on in the Fox Meadows area, because at the same time this strip club was attempting to open, Tunica was getting into the gambling business, and I was noticing in my old neighborhood that businesses I had long since known were closing and giving way to pawn shops and now strip clubs.

Makes me angry still to think about it.

No, I've never been to Platinum Plus.
Although . . . I have been in the building it now occupies. Back in the day, it was known as something else. It was a restaurant called "The Loft." I took my senior fall formal date there for dinner before the dance. I had my little suit on, my 80's moussed back hair (I had a lot of hair in those days), awash in Halston Z-14(something I remember daily now that I can smell my older sons about 10 seconds before they enter a room), and a pretty girl on my arm. As memory serves, it was a good night, a very good night.

So, thanks, Geoff, for reminding me of where I haven't been, either. Or, where I have been in another time and place. But that's just how it is, isn't it? Things we've known as something become something else over time.

Makes me think of the decisions of people not to move - not to forsake their setting, their context.

Makes me think of the generation of folks from St. John's who intentionally chose not to run away from midtown when everything and everyone else was - including too many churches.

But if the Bible does nothing else, it reminds us that even if all that's left is a remnant, it's enough to establish new memories for generations to come.

Because while individuals, businesses, and churches may forsake a community, God doesn't. And God still needs agents of grace who will remain and make a witness, trusting in the day that those who remain will be "blessed to be a blessing."

That we see the fruit of faith now planted back then should be a lesson for us all.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, January 20, 2006

What Does Victory Look Like?

Just a few thoughts worth pondering . . . feel free to jump in on this one.

And before I begin I'd like to welcome our friends (and fellow citizens) from the NSA who may be looking in -

If the intent of "the evildoers" in the war on terror is to destroy the Amercian way of life, and if, in our "crusade" to wage this cosmic battle, the government vitiates the civil liberties (in essence, the stuff that defines us) of it's own citizens (in order to protect us, of course),


who the hell's winning this war?

I'm just asking . . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Read Me Like a Book

So, I’m watching the premiere of “The Book of Daniel,” and, ….



You ask, Johnny, YOU watched “The Book of Daniel?”

And I say, “Yep.”

You ask, “Why, pastor of mine, would you watch something like that? Didn’t you hear all the controversy about it before it actually aired? Didn’t you see the news coverage of boycotts of this show from people who never saw it?”

And I say, “Friend, don’t you know me by now? I watched it because all the closed-minded, self-righteous, insecure ‘holy’ folks told me not to.”

Call it holy boldness (my wife would probably say “holy” has nothing to do with it and Jeffords’ stubbornness does), but when these folks get on their religious high horse and tell me what I shouldn’t do, that’s a recipe insuring that I’ll do that very thing.

And to that bunch of folks, on the matter of this TV show, I say this – shut up and lighten up.

Of that show, here’s my review. I’m not going to watch it anymore. Not for religious reasons, I just don’t have life to give to another show (and I’m mourning the long, slow death of one of my favorites, “The West Wing,” – rest in peace, John Spencer). I’m not going to watch it anymore because it’s just not that good.

I dig the concept of the show, mind you. And maybe that’s part of the problem for religious muckitymucks who want this program banished from the planet. By the way, it will be banished from the planet, and soon, but not by Jesus, but by lack of viewers.

From the most liberal to most conservative of clergy families, there is a universal character to our being.

We all have issues.

Trust me. I know this one.

I’ve lived in a clergy family all my life.

Addiction, conflict, discovering and exploring sexual identity, rebelling against authority, making poor choices…this isn’t the next episode of an over-the-top television show, it’s the mirror of any family.

But with clergy, somehow, we can’t abide that reality and rather than deal honestly with it, we’ll do most of our work hiding it for the sake of appearing to have our sh.., uh, stuff, together.

So, on one level, I get it. Granted, some elements of the show are a bit much. The personified Jesus who comes in and out of frame is not sacrilegious, it’s just stupid.

But the clergyman who is charged with tending a flock, while his own family is out of control, and while he’s not sure what to do with his own pain except medicate it….I understand that. I even recognize it to the point of my own discomfort.

That’s not fiction…that happens.

Not so much in the way depicted on the show, but there is a “realness” to that.

Some folks don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.

Some lay folks don’t want to think that their clergy family goes through the same stuff they try to hide, and will often project on to them an impossible standard they cannot keep either.

In seminary, one of the things I heard again and again from one of my favorite teachers, Joretta Marshall, was this – “who will pastor you?”

Who pastors the pastor?

We need Jesus, too, you know.

I suspect that he is real to those of us who need him most through the lives of those who understand just how human we are, and love us, still.