Tubin’

WP_20160626_16_02_58_ProI felt like such an idiot yesterday for having worried so much about white-water rafting. As I posted yesterday, I had a blast.

I’d never been tubing, either, but it sounded like it would be a lot more relaxing, and nowhere near as challenging.

Right?

Right?

Bueller?

Bueller?

One continues the journey of self-discovery throughout one’s life, and today I discovered that I am not cut out for tubing. Everything I worried about from white-water rafting came true in tubing. I was an ungainly idiot just getting into the tube, and scratched up my left leg at that point. I kept getting turned around backwards and couldn’t figure out a good way to turn myself around, so I kept getting into the wrong areas — stuck on rocks or flipping over in the rapids. I flipped over at least three times, scratching my right leg even worse than I’d scratched the left one.
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Later, several others would try to tell me that they, too, had had trouble, either today or else the first time they’d gone tubing. But I was having worse trouble, as evidenced by the fact that I was lagging way behind the rest of the group. Alden, our leader, and Tori, one of the youth, hung back so that they could keep me in view, which made me feel guilty.

Finally, after about the third time I flipped, I was gasping for breath and just feeling completely frustrated, completely clumsy and fatter than Fatty Arbuckle.

I stood there, in the current, trying to catch my breath. I was at a place where there was a way back up to the path.

I heard Alden’s voice: “I think you’re going to have to walk it.” I did not realize at the time that Alden was talking to Tori, telling her that a particular area was so shallow that Tori would have to pick up her tube and cross it that way. I thought Alden was talking to me, confirming that I was just so incredibly bad at tubing that now was the time to give up.

I stood there for a few minutes. Alden got out of her tube, went ashore, and walked back to where I was. She clarified that she was not telling me to stop, and in fact she encouraged me to continue, saying that we’d passed the worst of the rapids and it was much easier from that point downstream. But by that time my mind was made up. I did not want to get back in that tube, I did not want to feel like I was holding everyone else back; I just wanted to go.

I got out of the water and made the walk, which seemed like a mile or more, back to the tube rental place. (On the way up, we had actually driven part of the way, but those vans were now already back at the rental place, where we would eat lunch.) It was a long walk, carrying a light but ungainly tube, and I think I’d pulled some muscle in my hip at some point while I was in the water. It actually hurts worse now than it did then; I especially felt it when getting into and out of the van for the ride back to Junaluska. I was berating myself pretty much the whole walk back.

When I got back to the tube rental place, the first few tubers from Isle of Hope were starting to arrive. Kim Floyd, a delightful woman from Isle of Hope who has been doing our food service this weekend, put disinfectant and Neosporin on my shins and taped a big piece of gauze on my right one. I was really grateful for her help and kindness.

I eventually got over feeling sorry for myself. The kids had a great time, and many of them eagerly went back up the hill to do it all over again after lunch. And that’s who this trip is about, after all — the kids.

We had pre-ordered hamburgers for lunch from the snack bar there at the tube rental place, and they were quite good. Later, if we wanted, we could buy ice cream from that same snack bar. I had some Mayfield blueberry cheesecake, and it was terrific. There’s nothing like a couple of scoops of ice cream to put you in a better mood.

Worry too much

Sometimes it feels like bars of steel
I cannot bend with my hands
Oh-I worry too much
Somebody told me that I worry too much

— From “Worry Too Much,” by Mark Heard

One of the reasons I chose “Lake Neuron” as a domain name was a deprecating reference to the fact that I sometimes tend to overthink things. That was certainly the case with white water rafting. Being fatter than I once was, older and less flexible than I once was, I imagined any number of ways that white-water rafting could go wrong for me, starting with stepping into the raft.

Not one of them happened. In fact, I had a fabulous time white-water rafting.
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Backing up for those who don’t know, I’m here in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, for a trip with the middle school youth from my home church, First United Methodist in Shelbyville. Lake Junaluska is a Methodist retreat and conference facility. It’s huge, sort of a small town wrapped around a lake, and there are various events, big and small, going on at any given time. A lot of United Methodist ministers retire here.

Our trip here is a joint venture between First UMC and Isle of Hope UMC from Savannah, Georgia. The reason for this is that our director of children and youth, Alden Procopio, is originally from Savannah and Isle of Hope and participated with them in years past. They have a very large group; we’re sort of the junior partner, with only three adults and six kids.

We are staying in a beautiful converted house on the compound called the Lagoalinda Inn. The inn overlooks the lake, and we can see kayakers out there. However, all of our water adventures are off-site. Today, we drove back over the border into Tennessee for the white-water rafting, which was on the Pigeon River.

In my raft today, I was with two of our First UMC kids, Grayson and Kenny, and an adult (my roommate here at Lagoalinda, Henry) and two boys from Isle of Hope, plus our guide, a red-headed woman named Katie. It was loads of fun, and I felt like such an idiot for worrying so much about it. The safety briefing today, of course, was Ground Zero for worry-warts; they talk about how you react to various situations, which just reminds you of all the ways in which the trip could conceivably go wrong.

I was in such a good mood that I spent money on a USB with 16 photos of our raft — too much money, but, hey, it’s the only proof I have. I can look at those photos for a long time to come.

Later in the day, we went to downtown Waynesville, the city closest to Lake Junaluska. It’s got a really lovely and active downtown area — it reminds me a little of Fayetteville, North Carolina, where my brother Michael and his family live. We went in this place called Mast General Store — it’s part of a chain. Upstairs, it’s a clothing store, but downstairs, there are various other types of merchandise including the biggest selection of candy I have ever seen — big old bushels of bulk candy, plus all sorts of other types of candy — lollipops made with maple sugar, PEZ dispensers, candy bars you haven’t seen in ages and assumed had gone out of production, and lots more. It was a hoot.

Also at Mast, I tried a Blenheim hot ginger ale. This is a North South Carolina product which I first learned about in, I guess, the late 1970s, when Charles Kuralt did an “On The Road” segment on them for CBS News. It’s not like any other ginger ale you’ve ever tasted — tangy, but with a heavy ginger bite. They have “hot” and “not” varieties, in case you want the ginger a little more subdued.

Tomorrow, we will go tubing, and then on Monday, we will go to Sliding Rock near Brevard, North Carolina, a natural feature which is a little like a water slide.

We do have programming — a guest speaker who talks to the kids in the morning, before we head out, and then again in the evening. He’s been great so far as well. He has an interesting background — converted to Christianity from a family of Jews.

Anyway, I’m having a great time. Like Warmth In Winter, it feels more like a vacation than like being a chaperone, but Alden says I’m doing fine. In any case, if it weren’t for my presence, Grayson and Kenny couldn’t be here, because our church rules require that for this type of overnight trip, you have to have a male chaperone if there are any male campers (and vice versa).

We’ll drive back home on Tuesday.

chili, interrupted

Well, I joined the International Chili Society earlier this week, so I guess that means I’m committed – I’m going to enter my first-ever sanctioned chili cookoff next month in Shelbyville.

Some special spices I had ordered last week arrived on Monday, and today, our local Piggly Wiggly store started a special “truckload sale” on meat, including the cut of meat which one of our local competitive chili experts had advised me to use. Even though it hasn’t exactly been chili weather, I was itching to make my first test batch, fine-tuning a combination of various recipes and techniques I’ve stumbled across over the years. I stopped by Piggly Wiggly on the way home and bought the roast.

The chili had been on the stove for maybe half an hour, 45 minutes when the power went out – for an hour and 15 minutes. I have resumed cooking. I don’t think it will affect the flavor that much – it might affect the way the meat cooks, but who knows?

At some point, probably after I get back from my trip with the youth next weekend, I will go ahead and borrow the Coleman stove that I will be using at the cookoff and make another test batch that way (incorporating any changes in the recipe that I decide on after tonight).

I don’t know what my chances are, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I hope this isn’t an omen.

An RC and a Moon Pie

If you are within driving distance of Bedford County, let me suggest a weekend activity for you: the RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival in Bell Buckle, which will take place this Saturday, the 18th.
This is one of my favorite events, and I always volunteer to cover it for the newspaper. It’s a fun little festival with a quirky, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

Bell Buckle is an eclectic little railroad town in northeastern Bedford County. It’s home to The Webb School, an outstanding prep school with students from all over the world. The combination of the rural setting and the academic influence has always given Bell Buckle its own quirky personality. My father had a three-point charge including Bell Buckle UMC for 17 years, and so I lived in the parsonage there my last two or three years of high school and when I was home from college.
Back when I lived there, there was an event held in June called the “Country Fair,” sort of a wannabe stepchild of the huge Webb School Art & Craft festival that takes place each October. By the mid-90s, the country fair had atrophied and the town’s merchants were looking for a way to revive it. Someone read a news story about the anniversary of the Moon Pie, and the town contacted Chattanooga Bakery and asked for permission to put on a Moon Pie festival. Chattanooga Bakery, probably not expecting much, gave its permission, as did the local RC Cola bottler, and the first RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival was held in 1995.
Moon Pie is a snack consisting of two cookies, with a marshmallow filling between them, dipped in chocolate (or some other flavored coating — there are now multiple flavors). In olden days, Moon Pie was one of the largest and most filling snack foods which was sold in country stores, and Royal Crown Cola came in a larger glass bottle than Coke or Pepsi for the same price. Hungry farm laborers would combine the two as a make-do lunch, and “an RC and a Moon Pie” became inextricably linked in southern culture.
In 1996, the Olympic Games in Atlanta were the talk of the region — the torch relay even passed through Shelbyville — and the Moon Pie festival responded in typical fashion. That year only, it was billed as the “Moon Pie Games.” The 10-mile run, which is still a regular feature of the festival, was added. It is 10 miles, NOT 10K, and the course is hilly and challenging, especially in hot weather. That is a serious run, managed by the Nashville Striders running club with computer chip timing. But another 1996 innovation, poking fun at the Olympics, was “synchronized wading.” Carla Webb, who is currently Bell Buckle’s first lady, started writing brilliantly funny skits — referencing local personalities and events — which were performed in a wading pool. Synchronized wading continued for many years, and is revived occasionally. This year, however, Carla is part of a new musical act, Davis and Dayle, which will be making an appearance as live entertainment at the festival. I’m curious to see them.
The festival draws numerous vendors, including crafts, food and what have you. There’s live entertainment including cloggers and a band. The centerpiece of the day is the parade, which passes in front of the town’s railroad storefronts, followed by the crowning of the RC King and Moon Pie queen. There have been some quite prominent honorees over the years, including Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter just a year or two before Waylon’s passing. Gov. Bill Haslam was the king one year. I first met Russ and Tori Taff while writing a story about their selection as king and queen, a few months after they moved to Bell Buckle. After the Nashville floods, a family from Nashville which had lost its home was honored, and there was a voluntary admission fee for the festival that year to benefit them.
This year’s king and queen will be world champion duck caller Johnny “Boo” Mahfouz and Miss Plus Size Tennessee Misti Appleby (she’s a Bell Buckle resident).
At the end of the day, around 4 p.m., the “world’s largest Moon Pie” is sliced and served to festival-goers. I have to admit I am usually not around for that part. I tend to arrive before 7 so that I can get good photos and/or video of the 10-mile run starting, and so by mid-afternoon, I’m often pooped, especially if it’s a hot day.
But it’s a good kind of pooped. I love this festival, and I think you’d love it too.
For more information, go to http://bellbucklechamber.com/bell-buckle-rc-moonpie-festival-general-info/

broadsword, calling danny boy

Turner Classic Movies runs a Memorial Day marathon of war movies – but, given the somber nature of the holiday, they run a sort-of-surprising variety of movies within that genre. Yesterday, the emphasis was on service comedies, including both Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello, as well as “No Time For Sergeants.” I wonder if they ever get any complaints.

Tonight in prime time, they’re running “Where Eagles Dare,” one of my all-time favorite movies, but it’s a slam-bang, over-the-top spy thriller.

I am sure most of you have seen it, and I’ve blogged about it before, but in case you’ve somehow missed it, it stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Burton, of course, is known for heavier dramatic fare, but his son challenged him to do an action movie as a change of pace, and to prove his versatility. “The Guns of Navarone” (which will also be on TCM today) had been a big hit, and so Burton wanted to adapt another Alistair MacLean spy novel. But all of MacLean’s novels were spoken for, and so MacLean agreed to write a new, original screenplay, which he then turned into a novel. Eastwood, who was riding high as the star of Sergio Leone westerns, wasn’t sure about taking second billing, but agreed to it anyway, and the two of them make a fantastic team – the bombastic Brit and the cool, laconic American.

This is one of those movies that you don’t want to spoil, but I can give you the basic setup. An American general, with knowledge of the D-Day plans, has been shot down and captured by the Germans and is being held prisoner in a remote mountain castle. A British commando team, headed by Burton, with Eastwood as a token American member, is dispatched to rescue him.  But events soon make it clear that the situation isn’t what it seems and that no one can be trusted.

Supposedly, Spielberg is a fan of this – when he was asked about it by an interviewer, he immediately started parroting Burton’s radio call sign, “Broadsword calling Danny Boy.” Once it gets going, the last two-thirds of it have the same sort of slam-bang action-serial pace as Spielberg’s “Raiders Of The Lost Ark.” There’s a fight on top of a skylift car.

Anyway, I love it. I have it set to record (I also have the DVD around here somewhere), but I’ll probably watch it live if I’m here tonight.

The Very Impressive Centurion

Mt. Lebanon UMC
May 29, 2016

Luke 7:1-10 (CEB)

7 After Jesus finished presenting all his words among the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion had a servant who was very important to him, but the servant was ill and about to die. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly pleaded with Jesus. “He deserves to have you do this for him,” they said. 5 “He loves our people and he built our synagogue for us.”
6 Jesus went with them. He had almost reached the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, “Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8 I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”
9 When Jesus heard these words, he was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said,“I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” 10 When the centurion’s friends returned to his house, they found the servant restored to health.

This is one of my favorite stories from the Gospels, and when I saw it in the Lectionary for this week I was delighted, and I thought I knew the story well. But whenever I go to look something like this up for a sermon I learn something new.
For example, a week ago I would have told you that a centurion was an officer in the Roman army who was in charge of 100 men. The word “centurion” comes from the same root as “century,” or “bicentennial,” or “percent.” It means 100.
However, I learned that by the time of Jesus, the Romans had changed their structure a little bit, and by that time a “centurion” was actually in charge of about 80 soldiers. The Romans didn’t bother changing the name, though; they were still called “centurions.” It’s like when you say you’re going to “dial” a phone number even though your phone doesn’t have a dial. Force of habit.
But actually, it’s possible that the centurion we’re talking about here wasn’t really with the Roman army at all – at least, not the real Roman army. According to the Wesley Study Bible, historians tell us that the Romans had no troops stationed in the region of Galilee, which they considered a remote and unimportant backwater. So this particular centurion, and whoever was under his command, may have been local forces, not actually a part of the official Roman army but rather mercenaries whom the Romans had hired to keep the peace – sort of a Roman cross between the National Guard and the French Foreign Legion.
But the qualities that made a good centurion were the same no matter what the nationality. Luke, who wrote both this gospel and the book of Acts, mentions centurions numerous times, and according to the commentator William Barclay it’s always in a positive context. It was a centurion at Jesus’ crucifixion who said “Surely this was the son of God.” There were several times in the book of Acts when we hear about centurions protecting Paul or ensuring that Paul is treated fairly while he is a Roman prisoner.
Perhaps it was the case that a centurion was a man who had proven himself worthy and earned some level of trust and responsibility – but who hadn’t yet risen high enough on the organizational chart to be truly corrupted by power.
Whatever his citizenship, we know that the centurion in today’s scripture was a gentile – and yet, he was a gentile who was friendly with, and supportive of, the local Jewish population. In Luke’s account, the Jewish elders from that community come to Jesus on the centurion’s behalf. They tell Jesus that the centurion loves their people and that he actually donated the money to build the local synagogue.
The great center of worship for Jews was the temple in Jerusalem. But synagogues were, and are, neighborhood or community meeting places which are the Jewish equivalent of a local church.
Although the Romans had their own gods, and their own belief system, they did not necessarily force the countries they conquered to worship their gods. If there was a pre-existing religion, and if it wasn’t fanatical, the Romans tended to encourage that it continue, believing religion to be a civilizing, or at least pacifying, influence. The Roman emperors would rather have the people in a temple or a synagogue than in someone’s back room plotting rebellion. In fact, according to William Barclay, Caesar Augustus encouraged the building of synagogues in Judaea for that very reason.
But we don’t get the sense that this centurion’s support of the local synagogue in Capernaum was calculated. We get the sense that he had developed a warm and friendly relationship with the Jews of that area, which is all the more amazing because the laws of Moses limited the extent to which he, as a gentile, could interact with those Jews.
It is possible for a Gentile to convert to Judaism, but that’s not what had happened here. The centurion remained a Gentile. That meant that in certain ways, he and the people he was helping had to remain at arm’s length. But he was friendly enough to Judaism to give enough money to build the local Jewish community a meeting place.
It’s easy to be generous to your own. It’s harder to be generous to those outside your circle, and even harder to be generous to people who are, by their own laws, prevented from showing you a full measure of generosity.
This centurion was a remarkable man. But the Bible is filled with stories of unexpected people as examples of faith.
This centurion had a slave who was ill. Now, just as this centurion’s attitude toward the Jews was quite unusual, his attitude towards his slave was also quite unusual. Roman slaves had no rights. One writer even recommended to his fellow Romans that they go through their slaves every year or two and the ones who were no longer productive should be abandoned to die. But this centurion apparently had a different attitude towards this slave, and the slave’s illness grieved the centurion.
And so, the elders came to Jesus and they asked Jesus to intervene. They tell Jesus what a good man the centurion is, and it comes out as if they’re apologizing for the fact that he’s a gentile. We know there was no love lost between the Jews and the Romans, or the Jews and the gentiles in general.
“Well, we know he’s a gentile,” they tell Jesus, “but he’s not one of the bad ones. He’s one of the good ones. It’s okay if you help him.”
It’s funny, because that sounds kind of prejudiced. Anyone who has a really bad prejudice will try to defend themselves by pointing to their one black friend or their one Hispanic friend. “See? I can’t be prejudiced! I have a black friend!”
At any rate, the elders bring the message to Jesus, and Jesus – in his compassion – goes with the elders to the centurion’s home.
But then the centurion hears that Jesus is coming, and sends word – “No,” he says, “I’m not worthy to have you in my home.” And, in fact, Peter – after Jesus’ resurrection, when he visited the centurion Cornelius and began the process of sharing the gospel with the Gentiles – acknowledged that, under the rules and customs of the time, it was considered wrong for Jews to visit Gentiles or associate to closely with them, such as visiting them in their homes. The centurion in this passage knew that as well, and he didn’t want to put Jesus in a position of breaking the Jewish law.
But the next part of his message is what’s really extraordinary.
“Just say the word and my servant will be healed,” says the centurion. “I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”
There’s an old story – and I apologize to those of you who have heard it before – about a town where there was a bad flood. One man was sitting on his porch, his entire house surrounded by the flood waters. An inflatable raft came by, and a man from the sheriff’s department said to him, “Get in the boat, and I’ll take you to the shelter.”
“No thanks,” said the man. “The Lord will take care of me.”
The flood waters continued to rise, and the man had to move up to the second floor of the house. He had the window open, and a powerboat came by with someone from the Civil Defense. “Get in the boat,” they said, “and we’ll take you to the shelter.”
“No thanks,” said the man. “The Lord will take care of me.”
Well, the flood waters continued to rise, and the man had to climb up onto the roof of the house. A National Guard helicopter came flying overhead and dropped a rope ladder. “GRAB HOLD OF THE LADDER,” said a guardsman holding a bullhorn.
“NO THANKS,” the man yelled back. “THE LORD WILL TAKE CARE OF ME.”
Finally, however, the flood waters rose too high and the man drowned. He found himself at the Pearly Gates, and was escorted inside, where he insisted on speaking to the Almighty.
“Why didn’t you take care of me?” the man demanded to know.
“I sent two boats and a helicopter,” God responded. “What more do you want?”
That’s us sometimes – we ask God for help, but we get a little too specific about what form that help should take. Maybe we ask for a new washing machine when God’s will is actually to make our old machine last a little bit longer – or maybe God has plans for us to encounter someone at the Laundromat. We get fixated on asking God to help us in some specific and dramatic way, and we miss the beauty and richness of all the other ways God might be looking after us.
But the centurion was not trying to limit God – just the opposite. The centurion was showing that he understood that God works in many different ways. When he heard Jesus was coming to visit him, he was alarmed – because he knew it was against the religious laws for an observant Jew to enter his home. So he sent word to Jesus – “Don’t come. I know you don’t have to come. I have men under my command, and I tell them to go somewhere or to bring me something, and they do it. I know you can heal my servant from anywhere.”
In the account of this same story in Matthew’s gospel, the centurion even rushes to meet Jesus himself to say this in person. That contradicts Luke, who quotes the centurion as saying he’s not worthy to approach Jesus in person.
The centurion knows what it’s like to have a little bit of power. And he has the imagination, and the faith, to understand that Jesus has divine power. And just as the centurion can send people to do things or get things, the centurion knew that Jesus could heal his servant from afar.
Jesus responded to this with amazement. I read from the Common English Bible earlier, and I want to repeat verse 9: “When Jesus heard these words, he was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, ‘I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.’”
Jesus was impressed with the centurion! What a remarkable thing! This centurion had a better concept of who Jesus was, and of what Jesus was capable, than the Jews who had come to recommend him. He had a level of faith that Jesus hadn’t found anywhere in Israel.
In the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus is in Cana, but a royal official from Capernaum comes to see him. The royal official has a son who was sick. The official, like the Jewish elders who approached Jesus on the centurion’s behalf, assumes that Jesus needs to be present to heal his son. But Jesus, as the centurion understood, isn’t limited by time or place. Jesus speaks the word, and sends the royal official home.
When the official gets home, an overnight trip, he discovers that his son is healed – and when they tell him what time the boy started getting better, it was at one in the afternoon on the previous day – exactly the time that Jesus had pronounced him healed.
So Jesus can heal from anywhere, and this is true in the case of the centurion’s servant, who was found in good health by the Jewish elders when they got back to town.
The centurion’s faith is held up as a model for our own. The centurion had complete trust that God, in the person of Jesus, could and would do what was right. But the centurion, rather than insisting that God act in one certain way, put his request in the context of God’s kingdom as a whole. The centurion didn’t want Jesus to come to his home because he was concerned about the impact on Jesus and his ministry.
That concern might have been misplaced – Jesus was on his way to the centurion’s home, and apparently had no hesitation about going there, just as Jesus freely associated with whoever needed him and whoever turned to him, regardless of how those associations looked to the religious leaders of that day. But the important thing is that the centurion was concerned for something larger than his own household.
God encourages us, throughout the Bible, to bring our cares and concerns and requests to the holy throne. We don’t always receive what we ask for. Sometimes we ask for things that would be harmful to ourselves or others. It’s like the Garth Brooks song – some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. Sometimes we make requests that aren’t really that important in the larger scheme of things. Sometimes we don’t know why God doesn’t grant our requests.
Those of you who are parents or grandparents may have a better sense of this. When your child, or your grandchild, comes to you and asks for an ice cream cone, you know that ice cream cone isn’t of any great importance in the long run. You know that you’re providing for that child in a hundred other ways that are much more important – seeing to their health and their education and their safety.
Sometimes, you have to say “no” and the child doesn’t understand why. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want them to ask. The fact that they ask you for things is a sign of their trust, a sign that they know you love them and that you want the best for them. It’s part of the conversation of growing up.
And as they grow up, as they begin to mature and better understand the world and their place in it, what they ask you for will change.
God wants us to ask for things, for ourselves and in intercessory prayer for others. God already knows what we need, but God still wants us to make the request because that conversation helps us. It helps us realize what our own priorities are. It helps us realize our dependence upon God. And as we grow in our faith, our prayers will change over time – they’ll become less selfish and more about what’s best for others. The centurion wasn’t requesting healing for himself – he was requesting that his servant be healed. Although, actually, even that’s not true – it wasn’t the centurion who made the initial request, it was the centurion’s friends, the Jewish leaders.
Prayer is a conversation with God. It needs to be a two-way conversation, in which we listen for God’s voice in our hearts. God wants us to be in that conversation, and even if we start that conversation asking for the wrong things, at least it’s a start.
And this story is also a great example of the importance of intercessory prayer. Everyone here is concerned with someone else’s welfare – except the servant, and we don’t meet the servant, so he’s not really a character in the story.
Let us all aspire to be more like the centurion, someone who trusts completely in Jesus, who believes in Jesus’ kingdom, and who has the compassion to pray for others. Maybe someday, we’ll get to hear Jesus say that he was impressed by our faith as well.

We can’t turn over the raft, because Methodists avoid immersion

I’m looking forward to a trip I’m taking with the First United Methodist Church – Shelbyville middle school youth next month to Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

I’ve heard of Lake Junaluska for years and always wanted to visit; it’s one of the most famous Methodist retreat centers and headquarters of the World Methodist Council. It’s owned by the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.

This being a youth trip, we will get to enjoy some of the surrounding area in the mountains. This will include tubing and white-water rafting, neither of which I’ve ever done before, and a natural rock water slide. We’ll also have some programming with a special guest speaker.

There’s a museum at Lake Junaluska about the history of Methodism, but the musuem closes at 4 each day and, according to the agenda our youth director has sent out, our free time periods all seem to start around that time. So I may not make it to the museum. That’s sad, because — by sheer coincidence — I’m currently reading Wesley And The People Called Methodists, by Richard P. Heitzenrater, a history of the origins of Methodism which was recommended at the last lay servant class I took. But, hey, there’s always next time.

I had a great time as a chaperone with our youth (both middle and high school) at Warmth In Winter in January, and I expect to have a great time on this trip as well. We have a great group of kids at First UMC. This trip will be in partnership between First UMC and our youth director’s home church in Savannah, Ga., Isle Of Hope UMC. So we’ll meet new people as well. We’ll all be staying at the Lagoalinda Inn at Lake Junaluska.

To prompt or not to prompt

I posted last week about a new version of “Match Game” which will air this summer, and in passing I mentioned, and included a YouTube clip of, the mid-1980s “Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour,” one of the most notorious flops in game show history.
I actually liked both “Match Game” and “Hollywood Squares,” but despite sharing lots-of-celebrities gimmick they’re actually quite different shows, and I think that’s one reason the attempt to put them together did not work.
One thing that differentiated the original 1970s shows from each other was the matter of whether the celebrities got any advance preparation. On “Match Game,” for better or worse, they did not. Any answers given by the panelists were their own, and any tomfoolery was their own. As I mentioned last week, five shows were taped in a day — that’s the norm for half-hour game shows — and the celebrities had access to Adult Beverages during the lunch break, which is why the Thursday and Friday shows tended to be more, um, free-spirited than the Monday and Tuesday shows.
“Hollywood Squares” was a different matter. If you’ve seen any version of the show (except the “Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour”) you know that the normal pattern was that the host (Peter Marshall, John Davidson, Tom Bergeron, and Peter Rosenberg from MTV’s “Hip Hop Squares”) would ask the celebrity a question, and the celebrity’s first answer would normally be some sort of joke, but then the celebrity would give his or her “real” answer. Whether the celebrity’s answer was right or wrong was not the determining factor, of course, because the contestant would then get the chance to either agree or disagree with the celebrity’s answer, and that would determine the outcome of the question. In some ways, the contestant was helped by a too-obviously-wrong answer from the celebrity, and so the producers had an interest in prepping the celebrities to the extent that they could at least give a credible wrong, or “bluff,” answer. In any of the versions, the host would usually read a disclaimer at the top of the show that “the stars were briefed before the show to help them with their bluffs.”
According to most sources, virtually all the joke answers were written in advance, even from some of the stars who have been complimented over the years for their quick wits on the program. In the Tom Bergeron / Whoopi Goldberg version, head writer Bruce Vilanch — who had not really been known as a performer up to that point – was made one of the squares. Vilanch had worked for years with center square Whoopi Goldberg. His placement on the tic-tac-toe board put him right next to Whoopi. Vilanch, who’s written for at least a dozen Oscar ceremonies and numerous other awards shows, has been known for writing jokes on the fly backstage, so that the host could refer to and build on some blooper or running gag from earlier in the show. I’m guessing he probably wrote some on-the-fly jokes for Whoopi on “Hollywood Squares” as well.
I’m not saying there was anything at all wrong with this; it’s entertainment, after all, and some of those scripted “ad libs” were pretty funny, no matter who actually came up with them or when. But it was a different type of humor than “Match Game,” and therein lied one problem with trying to mash the two shows together.
The “Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour” was one of the game shows run by Mark Goodson, the creator of “Match Game,” who simply licensed the “Hollywood Squares” name and format from its original creators or whoever owned it at the time. Goodson had taken pride in the fact that the celebrities on “Match Game” were unscripted and wanted the new show to be unscripted as well.
In order to facilitate this, without all the celebrities looking like idiots in an SNL “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketch, the trivia questions on the Hollywood Squares portion of the “Hour” were largely limited to true-false or multiple-choice formats, which limited the chances for the celebrities to look stupid. There were also, of course, no scripted joke answers.
This meant that the “Hollywood Squares” part of the show wasn’t very much like the “Hollywood Squares” people had come to know and love in the late 60s and through the 70s. To make matters worse, it was hosted by Jon Bauman of Sha Na Na, who lacked the kind of polish that Gene Rayburn brought to “Match Game” or Peter Marshall brought to the original “Hollywood Squares.”

summer of my game show youth

ABC is bringing back not one but two of my childhood favorite game shows this summer. Well, three, actually.

I grew up in the early 1970s heyday of daytime network game shows, before syndicated talk shows and expanded morning shows took over. I was, and am, a game show geek. Deal with it.

First up, on June 14, will be a revival of “To Tell The Truth” hosted by Anthony Anderson. This show has been on and off various times over the past five or six decades. The original was hosted by Bud Collyer, but the version I remember, from the late 60s and early 70s, was hosted by Garry Moore (and then, in its last season or two, by Joe Garagiola, due to Moore’s health problems). The movie “Catch Me If You Can” begins with an actual clip from the Garagiola era, only with the real Frank Abagnale digitally replaced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The three regular panelists during this era were Bill Cullen, Peggy Cass and Kitty Carlisle, with the fourth seat on the panel filled by a different celebrity each week. Betty White, who will be a regular panelist on the new version, was sometimes a guest in that fourth seat. (She was connected to  the Goodson-Todman game show empire through her husband, the wonderful “Password” host Allen Ludden.)

The most recent version, in the 1990s, was hosted by John O’Hurley and had Paula Poundstone and the late Meshach Taylor as panelists.

If you’re too young to remember this show, the premise is based on a guest with an unusual occupation, experience or story. Let’s say that someone named John X. Kadiddlehopper was the first person to swim the length of the Mississippi River upstream. At the start of a game, three people would be brought out.

“Number one, what is your name?” the host (or, in some versions, the announcer) would ask.

“My name is John  X. Kadiddlehopper .”

“Number two, what is your name?”

“My name is John X. Kadiddlehopper .”

“And number three, what is your name?”

“My name is John X. Kadiddlehopper .”

“Well, panelists, all three of these men claim to be swimmer John X. Kadiddlehopper, but only one of them is sworn to tell the truth.” The host then reads a first-person affidavit, signed by John X. Kadiddlehopper, describing who he is and what he’s done. Each of the panelists then gets a period of time to ask questions of the three people on stage, in an attempt to figure out which one is actually John X. Kadiddlehopper.

The three players – the real John X. Kadiddlehopper, and the two impostors – are trying to fool the panel. The real John X. Kadiddlehopper is supposed to answer questions truthfully, but the impostors can say whatever they think will be believable.

Once all four panelists have had a chance to question the players, each of them casts a vote for who they think is the real John X. Kadiddlehopper. Then, the host asks, “Will the real John X. Kadiddlehopper please stand up?”, a phrase which started on “To Tell The Truth” and went on to enter the lexicon. The three players earn money for each wrong vote by the panel, usually with some sort of bonus if they manage to fool all four panelists. In some later versions, including the John O’Hurley version, the studio audience was also polled, and their collective response counted as a fifth vote.

I enjoyed O’Hurley, Poundstone and Taylor in the 90s – Taylor was a razor-sharp interrogator, almost too good. But the producers, in an attempt to compete with salacious daytime talk shows, seemed obsessed with booking players with sex-related stories – the sex coach to the stars, that sort of thing. They just went overboard.

The Anthony Anderson version sounds like its angle on freshening up the format is more comedy-related. Anderson’s mother Doris will serve as scorekeeper (why do you need a scorekeeper?) and get to ask a question during each game. The celebrity panelist with the worst record at the end of each show will have to tweet a lie about themselves. NeNe Leakes will be the other regular panelist besides Betty White.

I’m keeping an open mind.

Later in the month, on June 26, ABC will premiere a block of back-to-back summer game shows. There will be “Celebrity Family Feud,” hosted by Steve Harvey; “The $100,000 Pyramid,” hosted by Michael Strahan; and “Match Game,” hosted by Alec Baldwin.

“Pyramid” has been on TV several times lately, so even though it’s another of my childhood favorites it’s not as much of a novelty to have it back. Donny Osmond hosted a syndicated version from 2002 to 2004, while Game Show Network did its own version in 2012, just four years ago.

No, the big news here is “Match Game,” hosted by Alec Baldwin. Whether or not it’s successful will no doubt depend on the celebrity panelists, and I don’t think ABC has announced them yet. In fact, on the promo that ABC ran tonight, they had actual clips of “Feud” and “Pyramid,” while “Match Game” was represented by generic footage of Baldwin standing before a white background.

“Match Game” has become a part of popular culture, such that even young people are vaguely familiar with it, through reruns on GSN, parodies on “Saturday Night Live,” and so on. So I don’t really need a long and detailed explanation, but the basic idea is that the game is based on sentences like “Dumb Dora is so dumb, she thinks the Golden Globe Award is presented to the person with the best [BLANK].” The players try to match the answers written down by a panel of celebrities.

The secret of the iconic 1970s version of the show, of course, was the byplay among the celebrities – particularly the three regular panelists (out of 6): Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Richard Dawson. As with most game shows, a week’s worth of shows were shot in a day, and apparently alcohol was available with lunch, so fans of the show have noted that the celebrities are considerably less-inhibited for the Thursday and Friday shows for a given week than they were on Monday and Tuesday, if you catch my drift.

We’ll see what celebrities turn up on this new version, and whether or not there’s any chemistry.

By the way, there have been several attempts to revive “Match Game” over the years, and one of them is widely-acknowledged to be one of the worst game shows ever: “The Match Game / Hollywood Squares Hour,” an unfortunate and poorly-executed attempt to mash together two incompatible celebrity game-show formats. Gene Rayburn, who had hosted “Match Game” back in the 1970s, hosted the “Match Game” half of the program, with Jon “Bowser” Bauman of  Sha Na Na as one of the celebrities. Then, for the “Hollywood Squares” half of the show, they would switch places. Bauman hosted, awkwardly, and Rayburn served as one of the celebrity squares.

Think I’m making this turkey up? Think again: