Thursday, November 24, 2016

Modern-day Thanksgiving Traditions – Buying the Free-range Turkey

      After years of living in Indiana we discovered the wonders of the farmers market that set up every Wednesday afternoon during the summer about a ½ a mile from our house.  After hanging out there and getting to know some of the farmers, we discovered that we could get a free-range turkey from one of them for Thanksgiving.  After experiencing the goodness of the produce that we found at the farmers market each week, we decided that we should try one of these turkeys for Thanksgiving.
      This is how to buy a free-range turkey directly from the farmer who raises it:
Sometime in mid-October email the farmer and order the turkey, telling them what size you want.  They will confirm your order and tell you that they will email you sometime in early November as to the arrangements for pick-up and payment.  The email arrives in November and they tell you to meet them at a particular time on a particular Saturday in the parking lot where the farmers market is set up during the summer.  You bring your check to pay for the turkey.  We had lived in Indiana long enough for this not to seem strange. 
     So the day came.  It was gloomy and chilly and a little damp.  We drove to the parking lot of the park.  It was not long before a small SUV pulling a tiny trailer pulled into the parking lot and stopped right next to us.  We got out of our vehicles and with smiles and greetings and a small amount of conversation we handed over the check and the farmer handed over the frozen turkey in a bag.  After a few words of instructions on how to cook the turkey (not the same as a store-bought, hormone-filled one), we wished one another a Happy Thanksgiving and got in our car and went home with our turkey.
     One year when the email came telling us the delivery date we discovered that we both had commitments and would not be able to be at the parking lot at the proper time.  We called our barely young adult daughter to go pick up our bird.  She agreed.  We gave her all the instructions and she seemed fine with it.  When the time came I got a phone call:

Daughter:  “Mom, I’m sitting here in the parking lot and they haven’t come yet.”
Me: “Don’t worry, they’ll come.”
D: “How will I know that it is them?”
Me:  “Don’t worry, you’ll know.”
D: “Okay. Bye.”

A few minutes later the phone rings again.
D:  “Mom, what kind of car will they be driving?”
Me:  “I don’t know.  I think it was a jeep or something.  Last year they pulled a little trailer behind, but don’t worry you will know.  Besides, who else is in that parking lot this time of year?”
D:  “Well, there was this lady who pulled up and parked.   As she got out of her car I got out and walked over to her.  She looked at me funny when I asked her if she had my turkey.  She was there to go for a run.”
Me:  (trying not to laugh out loud) “Ok, but there probably aren’t that many other people there, right?”
D: “Yes!  There was this other woman who pulled up.  I got eye-contact with her and smiled.  When I started to get out of the car, she put her car in gear and moved to another parking spot across the lot.”
Me:  “Wow, who knew so many people would go to the park on a gloomy day like today.  Last year there wasn’t another car.”
D:  “But, Mom, this is embarrassing.  It feels like a drug-deal or something!”
Me:  “Yeah, I know.  Don’t worry.  They’ll be there soon and you can go home.”
D:  “What if they don’t come.”
Me:  “Don’t worry about it yet.”
D:  “Okaaay.  Bye.”

Several minutes pass and I hear nothing.  Several more and I begin to worry.  Finally, I call her:
Me:  “Did they come?”
D:  (cheerfully) “Yes!  I got the turkey!  No problem!
Me:  “Okay.  Thanks!”
D:  “Sure!  No big deal!  Gotta go.  Love you!”
Me:  “Love you, too!”

And so we had another wonderful turkey dinner that year and a great story to tell for years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, January 8, 2016

"There Are Better Beaches" - Another Attempt

We went to our favorite beach.  The last time we went there I tried to write about it in a creative way, from the perspective of someone we met along the horrible dirt road, who told us how terrible the beach was and that we should turn back because, in his opinion, it wasn’t worth it.  “There are better beaches,” he said.  Well, I had been to that beach before and I knew that I wanted to go back.  The road to get there was muddy and full of rocks and potholes and we were driving a rental car.  Already, we were breaking all sorts of rules just being on that road, and it was going to take us forever to get to the beach.  This was our third attempt to get there and it wasn’t looking good.  And that guy somehow got to the beach and he didn’t even appreciate it!  But my attempt at humor and sarcasm instead was at best a good, “you had to be there” story.  So, upon visiting my favorite beach again, I am inspired to tell about this beautiful place more directly. 
We were first introduced to this beach when were in Kauai with our friends Sonya and Walter.  We had taken a short trip over to Maui overnight and while we were gone they discovered this beach.  When we got back Sonya said to me, “Shawn, you are going to love this beach that we found.”  So on our last day, before flying out to go back home, Walter skillfully drove us on this horrible dirt road for what seemed like hours until we arrived at this bay that had sand and cliffs and reefs and trees and tide pools, as well as all of the things you find at nearly any Kauai beach, clear warm water, beautiful dancing waves and a sandy beach.  As we left to head to the airport, I made a mental note that we had to return to this beach on our next visit to Kauai. 
Three years later we found ourselves attempting to keep that promise.  The first time was after a bit of rain and so giving up on the dirt road (which seemed even worse than when Walter so skillfully maneuvered it) we decided to wait a day or two when it had some time to dry out.  A few days later we attempted it again.  This time, though somewhat less muddy, it still seemed impossible.  We would be changing rental cars, maybe the new one would handle the trip better.  As we prepared for our third attempt, I decided that I would look at the map once again and see if there was another way to go.  I found what looked like a trail that could possibly lead us there without having to spend a great deal of time traversing the near impossible dirt road.  It was on this third attempt that we met up with the guy in a jeep, coming towards us, motioning for us to turn around.  I thought he was going to tell us that the road was impassible or something like that.  Instead, he told us that “There are better beaches (!).”  We thanked him and went on a bit further and then turned around and went back almost to the beginning of the dirt road. 
Our last chance was the trail that I had found on the map.  Still on the dirt road, but before it got really bad, we took a turn and parked our car next to a horse stable.  We took a path over a rise and through some bushes which took us down to a beach, not “our” beach, but one we hoped would lead us to our beach.  We walked along the water’s edge, enjoying the warm, refreshing waves on our feet.  Part way there was a monk seal in a dead sleep on the beach.  She had been there long enough for the ones who do such things to put caution tape around a 15 foot radius of the sleeping “beauty” so that no one would bother her slumber or attempt to “rescue” her back into the ocean.  Not everyone gets to see a monk seal when they come to Hawaii! 
After walking a while on the beach we came to a turn, or a point.  From there we were able to see into the bay that was the goal of all of our attempts!  Just as beautiful as I remembered!  We got to the tide pools and watched fish and crabs and other sea creatures.  We hiked along the cliffs and looked down at the waves crashing on them, as we felt the accompanying spray of water.  We found a hole that would shoot out air as the wave crashed nearby, strong enough to send your hat flying!  The shapes that were the result of years of erosion were the making of fantasy stories.  As we walked along the cliffs the space opened up like a mesa.  The movement of the clouds and sporadic rain showers were such that there were rainbows almost constantly.  At one point walking across the mesa there was a full rainbow that made me feel like it was the handle to a basket and I was on top of the contents of that basket.  I felt like the Kauai version of the first scene of Sound of Music and I began to run toward what I knew was ahead of me.  Another bay, completely deserted, with huge waved dangerously crashing against the cliffs that surrounded it.  The colors of blue and green and white changing with the currents, the waves and the movement of the clouds are difficult to describe. And that rainbow, continued to stretch over me as I ran to the scene of the bay.  There it expanded even further, adding to the majesty of the sight before me.  We stood and took in the beauty of the sight, feeling the wind coming off of the water, so strong at times if felt as if it would knock us over.  On our way back we walked along the cliffs, looking for shapes and faces that had been warn into the stone by the wind and waves.  At one point we saw a smiley face.  And as we walked the beach to find the trail back to our car, we once again passed the sleeping “beauty” who had actually rolled over.
And so we returned to “our beach” the other day...  And we we're going back again today!  After all, “There are better beaches,” but I don’t know where!

To see the previous blog, "There Are Better Beaches,"

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Happy Birthday, Bettie GRACE

      Today is my mom’s birthday—the first one since she passed away on May 25.  She would have been 79.  We were already thinking about what we were going to do for her “Big 80th.”  I guess it will be different than anything we were thinking about.
      Though I started my day in West Lafayette, IN, I am ending it in Los Angeles—an appropriate way to spend my mother’s birthday, in the city where she was raised and where she raised me.  I am on my way to a conference called, “Space for Grace.”  “Grace” is what filled the space between her first and last name.  Grace was also something that she lived out better than anyone I know.  It’s what I appreciated most and what frustrated me most about my mother.  It’s what made her a great mother and an amazing grandmother (which also made her a great mother).
      At the time that my mother died and the weeks after, I heard all at once something that I had heard many times in my life.  “You mother was my best friend.”  In the midst of the shock and my grief I remember thinking (and maybe even saying out loud to my sisters) “How in the world can someone have so many ‘best friends’?” and “I’ve never even heard of you.  How can you be my mother’s best friend?”  And then I realized, they weren’t her best friend, she was their best friend.  That I could understand!   Bettie GRACE ‘s legacy.
Mom and I (and possibly Kellie?)
      It made me think of the people that were a part of our life growing up.  I am quite sure that for some of them my mother not only was their best friend, but their ONLY friend.  I would say to her, “Why are you friends with that person?”   But that is grace.
      And it is a good thing that she lived up to her name.  There isn’t anything that she wouldn’t do if it would help her daughters or her grandchildren.  She was the haven for parents (her daughters) and children (her grandchildren) that could no longer live peacefully in the same home.  She was the one who unconditionally loved her grandchildren when they felt like no one else did.  We knew she was praying for all of us, even when we didn’t ask her to.
       Space for GRACE:  Happy birthday, Mom!  I miss you!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Good Stories

 There was a time before Facebook when people would send out mass emails to their “friends” with jokes, stories, and political statements.  I had my favorites, usually jokes and funny stories.  There were those that I didn’t even open before I deleted them.  And there were an abundance of those that were somewhere in between.  My least favorites were those stories that ended with something like, “and if you really love Jesus you will pass this on to everyone in your address book…” or worse, “you will pass this on, unless you are embarrassed by Jesus, who was not embarrassed to die for you!”   
                One day back then I received an email from a colleague of mine at another campus.  It was a story about an incident that allegedly happened in a philosophy class at USC.  Suspicious of the veracity of this story and since he knew that I had been serving as a campus minister at USC for a number of years, my friend  wrote to ask if I knew whether or not the story was true.  The story was about a philosophy professor that had been at USC for over 30 years and was teaching a class that was mandatory for all students.  In this class there were over 300 students. Every year in his class he would claim that there was no God and challenge the Christians in his class to prove otherwise by praying that a piece of chalk (that’s what we used before white boards and PowerPoint) that he would drop would not break as it hit the ground.  Normally there would be no one who was brave enough to take the challenge.  But one year a lone Christian student was strong enough in his faith to stand up to the professor.   After an exchange the student prayed and the professor dropped the chalk.  The chalk got caught in the cuff of the professor’s pants and then rolled onto the floor in one piece.  Humiliated that he was proven wrong about the existence of God in front of 300 undergraduates, the professor went running out of the room and the student stood in front of the class and shared the gospel.  
                I told my friend that I was pretty sure that this story was not true, but I would check it out.  I knew a few professors in that department.  I wrote to the one that I knew best, Dallas Willard.  For those who don’t know, Dallas Willard was a very committed follower of Jesus and had written several books on Christian Spirituality.  Dallas told me that the story was not true but referred me to the head of the department for the “official” response to the email that was going around.  I knew him too.  I was serving on the Religious Life Advisory Committee with him.  He sent me the response which broke down the story point by point.  I won’t do that here, except to share a couple points that I thought were particularly amusing.  First, the only professor in the department that had been there for 30 years was Dallas Willard.  Additionally, there were no “mandatory” philosophy classes (except for majors, of course) and, in his words, “sadly” there were none with anything close to 300 people. 
                I am sure that many of the other “inspiring” stories that I received by email of the courage of Christians to stand up to persecution were also apocryphal, but this story made me angry.  Indicting the Philosophy Department at USC, a department that had the reputation of being supportive of people of faith, seemed to me, among other things, to be unchristian!  It is true that the story didn’t name names and the intention was to inspire people to stand up for their faith – how bad is that?  But the department was made up of people and for the sake of a “good story” good Christians were willing to spread a lie about those people. 
                There are many true stories about people who have courageously stood up for their beliefs and suffered for it—some even died!   When Christians spread a story that is implied to be true but isn’t, it is disrespectful to those who truly were courageous, and potentially is counterproductive to the good intentions of those sharing the story.  Additionally, this story annoys me because it feeds the notion that is common in certain Christian circles that the intention of most professors at secular colleges and universities is to destroy the faith of good Christian young people.  Further, it is a part of a pervading view in such circles that Christians are being persecuted right and left in the western world, as evidenced by someone saying “season’s greetings” or “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in the mall.
                Maybe if we who identify as followers of Jesus would stand up for the kind of people that Jesus stood up for we would begin to find the apocryphal stories, like the one above, to be a bit "ho hum" in the wake of real courage. Now, those would be good stories!