Tuesday, August 30, 2016


My wife got a very weird call on her cell phone last week.  For starters, the call came at an ungodly 5:45 a.m.  Secondly, the caller was one of my poker buddies.  And lastly, the call went straight to voicemail (Karen turns off her ringer at night) but he left no message.  None.

Who does that?  Who places a phone call before 6 in the morning and DOESN’T leave a message when it goes unanswered?  If the call is important enough to risk waking someone up for, then it’s important enough to leave a message.  Right?

And why did he call KAREN?  Why didn’t he call ME?  After all, he’s supposedly MY friend.  So, unless he’s planning a surprise party to congratulate me for being a vastly superior card player to him, this pre-dawn inter-spouse cell phone call was an egregious violation of “Guy Code”. 

When confronted with these questions, my friend said that he didn’t actually call Karen.  He said that for the last couple of days, his so-called “smart” phone had been making unauthorized phone calls to 5 random folks on his contact list whenever his morning alarm went off.  To make matters worse, the phone would subsequently hang up as soon as the connection was made.   

The way he described it to me, his phone was “cursed and possessed by the devil, and needed to be exorcized”.  I told him that I didn’t do exorcisms - but even if I did, I didn’t think that there was anything demonic about this.

In fact, I thought it was rather divine.

I mean, do you think it would be a blessing or a curse if you started each day by randomly calling 5 people on your contact list – FOR NO REASON AT ALL?  Just because.  No hidden agenda.  No ulterior motive.  No purpose, other than to simply connect with them.  Person to person.  

Do you think the folks on the receiving end of such a call from you would consider that a blessing, or would they curse you? 

Consider the preparation that you'd likely make prior to each one of those calls. Granted, you’re calling “just to say hi”, but you’d probably spend a moment or two beforehand thinking about them and what might be going on in their life.

Is their dog still sick?  Has their only child just left the nest for college?  How’s their favorite football team looking for the upcoming season?  Is their boss still a jerk? 

You know, I used to do something similar to this back when I was the pastor of a local church.  Each Monday morning, I’d put the names of 5 persons/families on my desk blotter.  I made it my goal that, by the end of the week, I would call each and every one of those folks “just to say hi”. 

As you can imagine, the responses I received to these random phone calls varied wildly.  Sometimes, the recipient would spend the entire conversation wondering why I really called, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  

But much more often, the folks would say something like “It’s funny that you called, Pastor…”,  and then share with me an important issue that they had been hesitant to talk to me about because either I seemed too busy or they were too afraid/embarrassed. 

Alas, I’ve gotten away from this practice since becoming a DS, reasoning that the context for my ministry is so different now.  But honestly, ministry is ministry, and people are people. 

So I’m gonna stop typing now, and start calling.  TTYS!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

O me of little faith

There’s a barber shop on my way to work.  It’s not a beauty shop or a hair salon or a coiffuring center.  It’s just a good ole fashioned barber shop, with a swirling red, white and blue barber pole out front.

For the past 7 years, I have driven by this place – but I’ve never walked inside.  I’ve thought about it, though.  Actually, I’ve fantasized about it. 

Perhaps I should explain.

It’s not the prospect of having of my ever-thinning and ever-graying hair cut that draws me to this place.  I already have someone who lops my locks every couple of months, with whom I am well pleased. 

No. What draws me to this particular barber’s shop is the large sign in his window that advertises a $20 shave.  Admittedly, that’s a lot of money to pay to have one’s face shaved – especially when one has his own electric razor at home that’ll do the job for free.  But ever since I was a little shaver, I have longed to sit in a swivel chair, draped in an apron, lathered to the limits, and have a guy use a straight razor to give me a nice warm, close shave.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to justify such a luxurious and self-indulgent extravagance.  If only it was a little less expensive. 

Ah, watch what you ask for, beloved.

Last month, I attended a  5-day church conference at the Marriott in Lancaster, PA. During a brief break from our business, I took a short stroll.  A few blocks from my hotel, at the corner of King and Prince Streets, I spied a sandwich-board sign with a painted picture of a red, white and blue barber pole and the promise of a $3 haircut!

Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed that this place wasn’t a barber shop but a barber school. In other words, they didn’t want customers - they wanted guinea pigs.

Inside the barber school, hanging on the wall, was a more complete price list of the various services the students offered. The one that caught my eye was the $3 shave.

My first (second and third) reaction was to dismiss that possibility as quickly as I dismissed the $3 haircut.  After all, what kind of person would literally stick their neck out to allow a nervous neophyte to put a straight razor anywhere near their jugular vein just to save a few bucks? 

A person of faith, that’s who!  A person with a tremendous amount of faith.   A person with so much faith that their cup o’ faith runneth over, that’s who!  (see Genesis 22)

In other words, a person not like me.  

To be honest, I don’t have faith…
…that ISIS is going to stop terrorizing the civilized world in the foreseeable future;
…that our country will solve its racial divide so that we can finally live in harmony and unity, as God intended;
…that we’re going to suddenly stop mortgaging our children’s fragile future with our  local, state and national budget deficits. 

Then again, I didn’t have faith that I would ever see…
…the end to Apartheid in South Africa;
…the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction           of the Berlin Wall;
…a black man living in the White House, and a woman being nominated by one of the major political parties for the presidency.

Soooo, maybe the next time the Big Bad Wolf of doubt and fear threatens to enter my house of faith, I will, with the confidence of Christ, proclaim, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.” 

Monday, July 4, 2016


I entered the Jewish Heritage Museum in lower Manhattan, passing through the museum’s heavy doors and even heavier security.  After taking the elevator to the floor dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims, I sat down to watch a 15-minute video on the S.S. St. Louis.  Since I had already seen all the sickening newsreels on the Holocaust back  in middle school, I figured I knew what I was getting myself into.   

I was dead wrong.

As her name might indicate, the Saint Louis was a godsend to the 900 Jews who were fortunate to find themselves on the ship’s manifest in May of 1939.  The passengers were refugees, desperate to flee to Cuba in order to escape the tidal wave of terror that was about to hit Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  And for the first half-hour of their voyage, they believed they had succeeded.

But then came a telling telegram that warned the ship’s captain that he had better put the pedal to the metal - because 2 other ships were headed to the same place for the same reason, and there were no guarantees that Cuba, still in the throes of the Great Depression, would put out the welcome mat for any or all of them. 

Tragically, by the time the ship finally found haven in Havana’s harbor, the immigration waters were so muddied by Goebbels’ propaganda machine that the refugees were prevented from disembarking until further notice.  

Further notice never came, of course.   Hours turned into days, and days turned into an eternity.  Like the chaise lounges on the ship's sun deck, negotiations were opened and then closed, re-opened and then re-closed until ultimately, by order of the President of Cuba, the St. Louis had to get the heck out of Dodge.  ¡Inmediatamente!

The tearful and fearful passengers found themselves waving goodbye to their waiting family and friends on shore as the captain pointed his vessel towards, and pinned his hopes on, the United States.  

Surely the land of the free and the home of the brave would extend to these exiles an invitation, he thought.  Surely the residents of E Pluribus Unumville would come to the rescue of these refugees.  Surely the president would bring these innocent victims under the protection of his West Wing.

Alas, the world watched in disbelief as the S.S. St. Louis found no port in the storm of American anti-Semitism.  Eventually, dwindling provisions forced the captain to set sail for “home” - Nazi Germany. 

In a last ditch effort to avoid delivering 900 innocent Jewish men, women and children back into Lucifer’s lair, intense negotiations continued with immigration officials in several European countries as the ship chugged across the Atlantic. 

Of the 4 Allied nations who finally agreed to receive these refugees, 3 of them would soon be occupied by the very forces of evil from which the Jews were trying to flee in the first place, and the fourth was nearly blitzkrieged to Kingdom come!

When the video ended, and my 15 minutes of shame was over, I went outside for a breath of fresh NYC air.  I found no relief there.  Instead, I found myself staring straight into the big green eyes of the world’s most beautiful woman – the Statue of Liberty.

I tried to apologize to her, but before I could fully formulate an excuse commensurate with such egregious sinfulness, this mother-of-all-exiles recited a line from a Jewish-American poetess, saying for the 6 millionth time… “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. 

Let us never forget.

Friday, July 1, 2016


The official slogan of Portland, Oregon, is “The City That Works” -  but the UNofficial  and UNabashed slogan is “Keep Portland Weird”. 

Granted, I was there only once, for a grand total of 12 whole days, but based on that one visit last month, I believe that Portland’s populace is doing a pretty good job of living into their UNstated weirdness.   

So, what’s so weird about Portland?


#1)  Driving – First of all, Portland drivers inexplicably stop their cars, not only at red lights, but at yellow lights as well!  (Where I’m from, people not only don’t stop at yellow lights, they speed up at red lights!)

      Secondly, drivers in Portland will also stop their cars when pedestrians have entered the crosswalk.  Actually, it’s worse than that.  Portlanders will stop their cars if a pedestrian even intends to enter a crosswalk.  (Again, where I’m from, drivers speed up if they see a pedestrian enter a crosswalk!)

    Lastly, drivers don’t/won’t use their horns.  During my recent dozen-day stay in busy downtown Portland, I heard a car horn honk only once - and according to the license plate, the offending driver was from New Jersey!

Moral to the story - It’s as if folks in the City of Roses actually enjoy where they are so much that they’re in no hurry to be somewhere else, or beat someone else.  They literally take the time to stop and smell the roses. Weird, right?

#2) Umbrellas – Portlanders are philosophically opposed to umbrellas.  Now, everybody knows that it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest - but the locals refuse to use umbrellas. Weird, right?

Moral to the story - Portlanders seem to  handle whatever befalls them.  If it’s rainy, they accept it.  If it’s sunny, they accept it.  They just deal with whatever life throws at them on a daily basis.   So the umbrellas stay at home in an oversized flower vase in the foyer, as God intended.  Perhaps Portlanders should be honest and just call these things "UNbrellas".  

#3) Train tickets – Speaking of being honest, Portlanders are also philosophically opposed to checking commuters'  train tickets.  I rode the light-rail train all the way from the outskirts to the center of the city and back again every day and night for 12 straight days and nights, and no one ever checked to see if I had bought a ticket.   Ever! 

      Of course, I didn’t know this on day one, so I cluelessly plunked down $51 for a 2-week rail pass.  Silly tourist.  In hindsight, that money would have been better spent if I had used it to buy a reconditioned 8-track player!  

Moral to the story - The trains may run on a light rail, but the entire city transit association runs on the honor system.  Weird, right?

#4) The factses about taxes -  Portlanders pay no sales tax.  None!  Zero!  Nada!  So there’s no need to try and figure out what 6.75% of $14.99 is.  Stuff simply costs only and exactly what the price tag reads, or what the shopkeeper says. 

Moral to the story - In Portland, you can actually believe what you read, and you can actually take people at their word.  Weird, right?

#5) What’s REALLY weird about Portland  - I have saved the best for last.  Perhaps the weirdest thing about Portland is that an American city that values, celebrates, promotes and models civility, courtesy, honesty and truthfulness is considered by the rest of us to be weird.  Weird, right?