At the end of my power cord

For the most part, I’ve been quite happy with the Internet part of my Charter Communications bundle. The speed is much faster and the service is usually much more reliable than my old AT&T DSL, and I generally laugh when I get mailings from AT&T imploring me to come back and pay almost exactly what I’m paying Charter for 1/10 the speed.

Every utility service has occasional problems and outages, though, and the past couple of weeks my Charter Internet service would drop periodically. It got worse over the weekend, to where when the Internet was up it was only a tiny fraction of the normal speed, and it was dropping more and more frequently. At the time I called Charter tech support Saturday, it was down altogether.

The Charter representative scheduled a service visit for Tuesday but said that I might want to try dropping by my nearest Charter office on Monday and swapping out my modem. If that worked, I could then cancel the service appointment and not have to miss any work.

On Sunday, things seemed to be running better for a while. I had wishful thinking and hoped that maybe there was a neighborhood outage and that someone else’s service call, or some tweaking at a network operations center somewhere, had fixed my problem. When Charter called and texted me (simultaneously!) to confirm the Tuesday appointment, I decided to go ahead and cancel it and see what happened.

What happened was that things got slow again.

So, today, I went straight from work to Tullahoma — 20 miles down the road, and that’s not counting the rush-hour drive through downtown Tullahoma to get to the other side. I finally found the Charter office (I had confused Industrial Boulevard with Mitchell Avenue), and went in. The woman at the counter happily took my information. I handed her my modem and power cord. She took them into the next room. Then, she came back, and from a cabinet behind her she grabbed a modem, a power cord, and an Ethernet cable.

The modem was shrink-wrapped rather than in a box, which was — all things considered — a good thing. I noticed that there was an Ethernet port but nowhere to plug in a phone. I pointed this out. She then realized that all they had in their cabinet was Internet-only modems, not Internet-and-phone modems. She said she would have to schedule a truck to drop a modem by my address. This would not be a service appointment; I wouldn’t have to be home, they would just drop it off. But even so, it had to be scheduled, and the soonest it could be dropped off would be Wednesday.

Since my old modem might not even be the problem, and since my setup as-is was at least partially functional, she gave me back my old modem. I asked about the power cord, and she told me that the new Cisco power cord she’d already pulled out of the cabinet would fit the old Cisco modem. In fact, I’d seen a case online where a bad power supply was actually the source of someone’s Internet problems. The woman at the counter said that, who knows, maybe the new power supply or the new Ethernet cable would end up solving my problem.

So I drove home from Tullahoma — round trip about 90 minutes, with no other stops. I got ready to put everything back together. My old modem power cord had a small plug, with a box-like power supply further down the cable. The new power cord had an oversized plug with the power supply built into the plug — which meant it would take up more than one space on my surge protector. I did some juggling; I ended up having to plug something, I think my printer, directly into the wall instead of the surge protector.

Then, with everything else hooked up, I went to plug the power cord into the back of my old modem.

Remember when the lady at the counter told me that the new power cord would fit my old modem, since they were both Cisco?

Guess again. The new cord has a larger-diameter round connector than the old cord.

So now, I can’t even use the old modem until the new one is dropped off on Wednesday. I am writing this blog post using my laptop tethered to my AT&T cell phone. It works, but I can’t go crazy or I’ll go over the data limits for my cell phone plan this month.

Here’s hoping the new Internet-and-phone modem can use the new power cord, or that the Charter truck drops off a power cord to go with it.

A good Thai was had by all

I don’t eat out at full-service restaurants too terribly often, but I had to try out Shelbyville’s first Thai restaurant, Yummy Thai, last week. I decided it was cliché to order pad thai on my first visit, and so I had a red curry, which was wonderful.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try the pad thai. This evening, I am going straight from covering a finance committee meeting to the first rehearsal for “The Foreigner,” and I’m not sure I’ll get to grab a bite in between, which means I may not get supper until after 8. So it seemed like a good day to eat a hearty lunch. I went back to Yummy Thai.

I’m glad I did. I’d had pad thai once before, many years ago, at a restaurant in Murfreesboro, but I think this was better. As you may or may not know, Thai food can be spicy but doesn’t have to be. If it’s prepared to order, as is the case here, you usually get to tell your server how hot you want it. They will add (or not add) Thai peppers based on this. Yummy Thai has a fairly typical one-to-five scale. 1 is mild, 2 is medium, 3 is hot, 4 is very hot and 5 is “Thai hot.” I stayed on the safe side and ordered my pad thai with #3 heat today. I think that was about right. It was mildly hot as you were eating, but the heat hung around for a while and I could still barely feel it on my tongue as I was driving back to the newspaper.

I might try #4 sometime, but only if I don’t have to be anywhere urgent for the next 24 hours.

Anyway, the pad thai had a great flavor to it, and I will definitely try it again.

The service is unfailingly friendly and personable, although they’re still advertising for help and seem just slightly understaffed. I was in no hurry, so it didn’t affect me that much.

They have a wide variety of dishes, including some from other Asian cuisines. I want to try the pho, a Vietnamese soup, some time. I had it once before, when my sister-in-law took me to a Vietnamese restaurant in Orange County, Calif., back when she and Michael were living there.

Yummy Thai has what looks like a sushi bar, and they feature sushi in one of their Facebook profile images, but there’s no mention of it in the menu yet, so it may be something they’ll add to the operation in a few weeks.

Anyway, based on my two visits I’d definitely recommend it.

is my neck red enough?

Well, I have the part of Owen Musser in “The Foreigner,” which will be presented May 6-7 and 13-15 at The Fly Arts Center in Shelbyville. We had auditions tonight and will start rehearsals tomorrow.

I was not too familiar with the play, and put down on my registration sheet that I’d take any role offered. I’ve been fortunate enough to have big parts in my last few plays; that’s fun, but it can also be fun to have a smaller part and not feel like the whole production is on your shoulders. We did not get to bring playbooks home with us tonight, so I can’t say exactly how large Owen’s part is – it’s certainly smaller than Walter Hollander, and that’s perfectly OK with me.

It will be a challenge, though. Like one of my other recent roles, Orville in “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?”, Owen is not very likable. Without giving too much away (and most of what I know, I’ve been told, since I only read a few of Owen’s lines tonight), Owen is an antagonist, and kind of a redneck. Orville was a jerk, but his actions had consequences and he got a little bit of redemption (just a little) at the end of the play. I do not believe Owen is as fortunate – if anything, Owen turns out to be even worse than you think he is when you first meet him. There’s some fun and catharsis in being the bad guy, but I can’t say that it’s my normal preference.

In “Daddy’s Dyin’,” I was playing a man who was verbally abusive to, and who at one point threatens physical abuse against, his wife. I tried to play the part honestly, but it was a challenge – and, boy, was it awkward on the night when my “wife”s family was in the audience and in the reception line after the play.

I hope I’m up to being a bad guy again.

One difference between Orville and Owen has to do with profanity. Although we cleaned up some of the worst profanity in “Daddy’s Dyin,’” most of Orville’s curse words were delivered as written – which was reflective of his character. There are only a few mild curse words in “The Foreigner,” and we won’t be using even those, because our director – who normally works with high school students – has a strict no-profanity policy.

Our director is Tony Davis, which will be interesting for him and for us. Tony normally directs students at Community High School, which has the most ambitious and high-profile drama program of any of the county’s three public high schools. The way he conducted auditions tonight was quite different from most of the community theater auditions I’ve been through, and I suspect it’s like what he does with his students. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to learn from him, and it may be a different atmosphere than I’m used to.

The play as a whole is said to be very funny, and the sections I heard during audtions tonight seem to bear that out. I’m sure it would be well worth your time to come and see us in May.

john i. corned beef

Months ago, through the good graces of a couple of different family members, I got two huuuge corned beefs. I cooked one of them at the time – the first time I’d ever made corned beef – parceled it out for the freezer, and ate for weeks. The other one has been in the freezer uncooked since that time.

My original plan was to cook that second corned beef Wednesday night so that I could enjoy some tonight for St. Paddy’s Day. But that didn’t work out, so I’m having chicken tonight and the corned beef will be cooking all evening for use going forward.

I am, however, enjoying another (and perhaps more authentic) Irish treat. I’m not really a beer drinker, but after reading the excellent The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Steven Mansfield, I now buy a four-pack of Guinness Stout in cans each year about St. Patrick’s Day, and enjoy a pint on the day itself. I drink or cook with the other cans over the next week or two.

This is a really wonderful book. It’s a history of Arthur Guinness, the company he founded, and his descendants – some of whom followed him into the brewing business, some of whom went into banking, and some of whom went into the ministry.

Arthur Guinness himself was a devout Protestant, an admirer of his contemporary John Wesley, and was responsible for bringing Sunday School to Ireland for the first time. A devout beer-maker? At the time, of course, there were no soft drinks or readily-available juices, and in overcrowded Dublin, without the benefit of modern septic systems, the ground water was disease-ridden. Brewers of beer felt, justifiably, that they were providing a healthful and reasonable alternative to hard liquor. You sometimes hear overstated claims that Guinness thought his beer-making was a divine calling; Mansfield walks that back a bit, but portrays Guinness and his successors through the 1800s as good men who saw no conflict between their vocation and their faith.

And, in fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that, during the 1800s, Guinness was one of the most socially-responsible companies of its day, in its treatment of its own employees and in the money it spent to address poverty and horrific living conditions in Dublin. One of the company’s heirs even took  his new bride and moved into the slums.

Some of the benefits Guinness provided its workers in the 1800s were far, far ahead of their time. The company not only gave its employees vacations but even covered modest trip expenses into the Irish countryside so they could enjoy themselves.

Anyway, it’s a good book. And so, with a pint of Guinness in hand, and pounds of corned beef on the stove, I wish you all a merry (but safe) St. Patrick’s Day.

relay update

relay-logoWell, it’s been an American Cancer Society Relay For Life kind of week.

Monday night, I helped set up for our annual Celebrity Waiter Luncheon, which I attended on Tuesday. This morning, I went to Shelbyville Rotary Club to cover a presentation (which I was responsible for setting up) by our American Cancer Society community manager, Samantha Chamblee.

On Sunday, one of my fellow members at First United Methodist will be making a pitch for the congregation to restart a Relay team after being idle for a few years.

I first got involved in Relay in 2011, the year after losing my mother, Carrie Carney, to pancreatic cancer. In 2012, I joined the local Relay organizing committee (now called the event leadership team; ACS seems to love changing its jargon every few years). Last year, I won the Martha Deason Award as Bedford County’s Relay volunteer of the year:


No that’s not a trick of the lighting. My hair is purple, thanks to one of our Relay teams that night, which was offering temporary hair color.

Relay, and ACS, have become passions for me.

After an incredibly successful local event in 2014, our numbers have been down a little bit, and we were agonizing over that at the last committee meeting a few weeks ago. Part of it is just the normal cyclical nature of things. But some people have complained about the fact that the money they give to ACS goes out of town.

Yes, it does. But the impact of that money is felt in Bedford County every single day.

ACS does provide patient services, such as a 24-hour information and referral line, transportation to cancer treatments, and a network of Hope Lodge facilities that provide lodging for people undergoing cancer treatments more than 50 miles away from home.

But obviously, the biggest part of what ACS does is research. Specifically, $3.9 billion in cancer research since 1946, including work by 47 Nobel Prize winners. There’s not been some magic silver-bullet cure for cancer, and that distracts people from what actually has been accomplished. Many individual cancers that used to be untreatable are now treatable. Detection of cancer is better. Prevention of cancer is better. ACS’s sister organization, the Cancer Action Network, has advocated for laws relating to issues like smoking and insurance coverage. There’s no way to even estimate how many people are walking the planet right now blissfully unaware that the American Cancer Society is partly responsible for saving their lives.

This is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Three and a half years ago, after turning 50, I had a colonoscopy, as recommended by ACS guidelines and my doctor. My insurance paid for the procedure, without even looking at my deductible. The good news is that the doctor didn’t discover any cancer. The even better news is that the doctor removed a benign polyp from my colon – and when it comes to colon cancer, benign polyps sometimes turn into cancerous polyps. So that colonoscopy could, just possibly, have saved my life. I’ll never know. And the American Cancer Society played a big part in promoting colonoscopies and making them more readily available to more people.

It’s hard to get people to wrap their minds around such “what if” scenarios. Some people just see dollars going out of town, and don’t realize that the impact of those dollars is all around them – and maybe looking back at them in the mirror.

Relay For Life – the actual event, as well as the year-round activity which feeds into it – is a thing of joy. It’s a time to, as the slogan goes, “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back.” It’s something that means a lot to me. Relay events used to always run overnight, to symbolize the darkness and struggle with which cancer patients must contend. But a rule change a few years ago has allowed many communities to cut back the length of their Relay events by eliminating the overnight schedule. But I love the overnight schedule, which we’ve held onto in Bedford County for another year. I love being at the event at 3 in the morning, feeling like I’m part of something special, something larger than myself.

Please consider doing one of the following:

  • Join or start a Relay team. If you’re reading this from outside Bedford County, you can find your community’s Relay event here. If you’re here in Bedford County, here’s our local event.
  • At the very least, please attend your local Relay event. It’s not, repeat NOT, just for the registered team members. Teams will have concession stands set up and will be selling lots of tasty food, merchandise, carnival games, and so on. There will be special ceremonies and activities, such as a survivor lap to honor cancer survivors and a luminaria ceremony to remember those we’ve lost and honor those who are still fighting. If you’ve never attended a luminaria ceremony, you will have to trust me when I tell you it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
  • Or, you can donate online to support someone who is participating in Relay.

Do it for my mom, if you knew her. Or do it for any of the people you know who are fighting cancer, or for someone you remember who was lost to cancer.

cheaper than cheap

When I first started living on my own, back in the 1980s, I remember store brand cola being all but undrinkable. It had weird flavors and tasted nothing like Coke or Pepsi. Yeah, it was cheap, but nobody wanted it.

It was Walmart, as best I recall, that stepped up the store-brand cola game. Sam’s Choice, now known just as Sam’s, was the first store brand cola I can remember that tasted good, and pretty soon all of the grocery store chains had to step up to compete. Now, while some store brand colas are better than others, all are drinkable.

I don’t know what part he played in the cola, but I do know the late Sam Walton took a personal interest in Walmart’s grape soda. Grapette had been an independent brand of grape soda when Sam Walton was a child, and it had been his favorite. But the company had fallen on hard times, and had sold off various assets; the name “Grapette” was owned by one company, while the actual recipe for the product was owned by another. Walton wanted Grapette at Walmart, so he first bought the formula and started making Walmart-branded grape soda, then eventually bought the names “Grapette” and “Orangette” as well.

I had to go to Walmart this morning, and one of the things I wanted to buy was a 24-pack of diet cola. But they were out of the 24-packs except for caffeine-free diet cola. Two 12-packs wouldn’t be quite as cheap, but I figured that was the way I would have to go. I grabbed a 12-pack of Sam’s Diet Cola … and then I noticed a 12-pack of “DIET COLA.” No brand name, just completely generic: “DIET COLA.” So I grabbed one of each.cola

I have no idea how “DIET COLA” is going to taste. The 12-pack of Sam’s was $2.68, while the “DIET COLA” was just $2. I hope I haven’t wasted the $2 on something that tastes like the Bad Old Days. It’s in the fridge chilling now; I still have a few cans of Save-A-Lot diet cola to use up before I get to it.

Mightier (and more annoying) than the sword

My second group of kids this morning at Regan Aymett‘s class at Learning Way Elementary was a little bit of a problem today during my Raise Your Hand Tennessee volunteer hour. They were all boys. We were doing the first half of an activity, with no writing required, but they all had pens, and one of them had a four-color pen — the type that has four different little sliding levers, each of which causes a different color of ballpoint pen to pop out.
The boys were fighting over the pen. I took up all the pens and set them in a basket on the table, but one of the boys kept trying to grab the pen from the basket when I wasn’t looking. I finally took all the pens and carried them over to Ms. Aymett’s desk for safekeeping. I was trying to walk a line between sounding firm and yet not sounding annoyed, like they were getting to me.
In truth, they were getting to me.
Meanwhile, I am wearing a shirt today that is relatively snug-fitting, and when I am sitting in a relatively small chair, leaning forward to indicate my interest in what the kids are saying, my belly pushes out and it gaps up a bit. At one point, the boys were going on about how they could see my belly. I tried to straighten up and readjust the shirt, and then one of them talked about how bushy and funny-looking my eyebrows were. I tried to say something about it being rude to talk about someone’s appearance, but the boys weren’t having it.
Later, I had to go back and get the pens so that we could start on the second half of the activity. At the end of the session, as Regan cheerfully intoned “Class, class!”, one of the boys was removing the cap from a felt-tip marker. It stuck or something, so that when he pulled it off his arm went back too far and he poked the boy next to him in the eye.
I hope that I do an OK job as a volunteer for an hour a week, but it sure makes me appreciative of the people like Regan who deal with this all day, every day.

Faces at the Cross: Joseph of Arimathea

First United Methodist Church
March 6, 2016

During the season of Lent, each different worship service at First United Methodist Church is focusing on one of the “Faces at the Cross”: someone associated in some way with the crucifixion story. When the Rev. Lanita Monroe asked me to fill the pulpit this Sunday, she asked me to preach on this Sunday’s subject, Joseph of Arimathea.

I want to read you three passage, from three different gospels, each from the Common English Bible. Each of these passages is about today’s Face at the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea:

Luke 23:50-56 (CEB)

50 Now there was a man named Joseph who was a member of the council. He was a good and righteous man. 51 He hadn’t agreed with the plan and actions of the council. He was from the Jewish city of Arimathea and eagerly anticipated God’s kingdom. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Taking it down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb carved out of the rock, in which no one had ever been buried. 54 It was the Preparation Day for the Sabbath, and the Sabbath was quickly approaching. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it, 56 then they went away and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. They rested on the Sabbath, in keeping with the commandment.

John 19:38-42 (CEB)

38 After this Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could take away the body of Jesus. Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one because he feared the Jewish authorities. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took the body away. 39 Nicodemus, the one who at first had come to Jesus at night, was there too. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe, nearly seventy-five pounds in all. 40 Following Jewish burial customs, they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the spices, in linen cloths. 41 There was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish Preparation Day and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus in it.

Mark 15:42-47 (CEB)

42 Since it was late in the afternoon on Preparation Day, just before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph from Arimathea dared to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was a prominent council member who also eagerly anticipated the coming of God’s kingdom.) 44 Pilate wondered if Jesus was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him whether Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that Jesus was dead, Pilate gave the dead body to Joseph. 46 He bought a linen cloth, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the cloth, and laid him in a tomb that had been carved out of rock. He rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was buried.

When Lanita asked me to preach on Joseph of Arimathea, I was delighted – I’ve always found him an interesting character.

I once tried to write a novel about what happened to the disciples in between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. I knew I wasn’t a trained scholar of Bible history, but I told myself it was going to be more allegory than speculative history, and so if the characters used modern speech patterns or if I got some minor detail wrong, it wasn’t a big deal. But I eventually decided the story was too big for my skills as a writer. I still have the manuscript on my computer somewhere, and I look at it occasionally.

When Jesus was arrested – and willingly surrendered, telling Peter to put away his sword – the disciples seem to have made themselves scarce. Peter, of course, famously followed Jesus to the place where he was being tried, but then denied three times that he knew Jesus. We hear about John being at the crucifixion, and Jesus speaking to him. And we hear about Judas Iscariot’s remorse and death. For the most part, the 12 disciples seem to have laid low on that sad Sabbath day. They didn’t disperse, or leave Jerusalem, and when the Sabbath was over they were found together in the same place on Easter morning. But the Bible doesn’t tell us much about what happened to the disciples in between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

We can assume that this was a moment in which most of the disciples had lost faith, or were at least in a state of confusion – their shock and disbelief on Easter morning indicated that they weren’t expecting Jesus to return, even though he’d spoken about it during his ministry. So many of Jesus’ teachings were in parables or metaphors, and the disciples did not seem to have the courage to take the idea of Jesus rising from the dead literally. This was a moment when Jesus’ followers might have been reconciling themselves to what seemed to be proof that he was just a great teacher and not the world-changing messiah that they’d been promised.

It’s hard for us, knowing the outcome of the story, to imagine the despair that Jesus’ followers must have felt. They believed he was the Messiah. Many of them, not understanding the true nature of his kingdom, had assumed that his destiny was to lead the people of Israel to political freedom, overthrowing the rule of the hated Roman Empire.

Now, Jesus – the miracle worker who could raise others from the dead – is dead himself. Hope is over. The game has ended, and our team lost. The disciples clung to each other, but they must have been questioning whether they’d wasted the months they spent following Jesus.

Joseph of Arimathea, however, is the other way around – and that’s one of the things that’s interesting about him. Joseph was fearful while Jesus was alive and yet somehow found boldness after Jesus’ death.

Joseph was a wealthy man, and he was a member of the Sanhedrin – a council, or court, composed of 70 members, plus the high priest. The Sanhedrin was responsible for questions of Jewish law.

We know that Joseph was wealthy, but we don’t know from the Bible what his occupation was. There are legends and traditions, which developed in church history, that Joseph was involved in metalwork somehow. In the middle ages, when the church was fascinated by the holy grail, the cup used during the Last Supper, there were legends – and they were only legends, with no apparent basis in fact – that Joseph had been the first keeper of the grail.

During Jesus’ lifetime – according to John’s gospel — Joseph had kept his admiration for the controversial teacher from Nazareth quiet, out of fear of his fellow members of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus, with whom Joseph worked to bury Jesus’ body, first came to Jesus under cover of darkness, and it’s implied that Joseph had been just as anxious not to let anyone know of his interest in Jesus’ teachings.

And yet, now, with Jesus’ beaten and bloody corpse nailed to a piece of wood, Joseph of Arimathea chose to take a step out of the darkness. It was at this moment in which he decided his devotion to Jesus would no longer be a secret.

By earthly measures, by conventional wisdom, the cause of Jesus of Nazareth had already been lost. Joseph of Arimathea had nothing to gain and everything to lose by allowing his feelings to be made public. It’s like someone deciding to root for the losing team after the game has ended.

The idea that Joseph would oppose his fellow members of the Sanhedrin is a remarkable one. The Sanhedrin were about preserving the peace, and the status quo, and the power of the existing religious elite. They surely convinced themselves that they were doing what was right for their own people and what was right in the eyes of God. It not only took courage for Joseph of Arimathea to stand up to them, it took spiritual perception. It took spiritual perception for him to realize the truth in Jesus’ teachings, a truth that seemed to run counter to what the Sanhedrin stood for. It can be hard to question and move past long-held convictions when they turn out to be against the will of God.

I highly recommend the book “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” an award-winning biography of the great theologican Dietrich Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas. One of the things that comes through in Bonhoeffer’s story is the extent to which so many elements of the official state-sponsored church in Germany – the reichskirke – were easily co-opted into support of the Nazi cause during Hitler’s rise to power. They thought that their patriotic and religious duties were one and the same, and Hitler seemed to be doing great things for Germany. So they rationalized and they made excuses and they just went along.

Most of them went along.

Bonhoeffer and a group of other pastors began to see the Nazi regime for what it was and they began to form a movement called the Confessing Church which distanced itself from the German government. Bonhoeffer, of course, eventually gave up his life for the cause. He had been sent to safety in America but deliberately returned to Germany to stand with his fellow Germans. He played a part in a conspiracy to assasinate Hitler and was eventually executed by the Nazis.

In the movie “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” Jimmy Stewart, playing a character named Jefferson Smith, says that lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. It’s at this moment, when the cause of Jesus seems to be a lost cause, that Joseph of Arimathea decides to go public with his admiration for Jesus and all that Jesus stood for. Mark, in the Common English Bible, says that Joseph “dared” to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body. And given the uproar that had surrounded Jesus and led to his crucifixion, it was an act of daring to ask for his body and give him a dignified burial.

It seems like an odd, even offensive, comparison to make, but one of the things that happened to pop into my head as I thought about Joseph of Arimathea was the story of the Rev. Louis Sanders.

Robert McGill Thomas, a Shelbyville native, became one of the all-time great obituary writers for the New York Times. I never got to meet Mr. Thomas, even though he visited Shelbyville quite frequently and even kept a house here. But after his death, I read the wonderful book “52 McGs,” which is a compilation of 51 of his best obituaries from the Times, along with his own obituary. Robert Thomas was best-known for writing obituaries of unusual and off-beat subjects, and it was from the book “52 McGs” that I first learned about the Rev. Louis Sanders.

Rev. Sanders was a member of the Christian church – Disciples of Christ, like First Christian Church across from Hardee’s – who attended Vanderbilt Divinity School. In 1963, he was head of the Fort Worth Council of Churches, not unlike Lanita being the head of Bedford County Ministerial Association. Following the Kennedy assassination, he was working on organizing a memorial service for JFK, but it was also his duty to make sure that someone was available to preach at the funeral service for – well, for Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who had been arrested as an assassin and then shot two days later by Jack Ruby. The Fort Worth Council of Churches felt that Oswald – or at least, Oswald’s family – deserved some sort of funeral service, an act of simple Christian compassion, even though at that moment Oswald was perhaps the most hated man in the world.

Two ministers agreed to officiate at Oswald’s funeral, but then when they discovered the services were outdoors, at the graveside, they pulled out at the last minute, afraid that they themselves might be killed by snipers. So Rev. Sanders, who had come to the service as an observer and had left his Bible in the car, performed the ceremony, reading the 23rd Psalm and a passage from John 14 by memory, and giving a two-sentence eulogy which mainly mentioned Oswald’s mother and how much she loved her son.

There is, of course, no comparison to be made between the man Louis Sanders eulogized – a man guilty of a horrific crime – and the one whom Joseph of Arimathea buried, who was blameless. The comparison is only in the courageous acts of mercy which were made despite overwhelming opposition from the community.

For Joseph of Arimathea, giving Jesus a tomb was compassionate and kind. We don’t know what he was thinking or feeling about the teacher from Nazareth whose body he claimed, but he at least knew that Jesus had been mistreated by his fellow members of the Sanhedrin.

I don’t believe he had, at this time, a complete understanding of Jesus’ true kingdom. Almost no one did. Had he known Jesus was about to rise from the dead, the courtesy of a tomb would have been, well, somewhat meaningless. The fact that Joseph of Arimathea offered a tomb probably means that he thought Jesus was going to need a tomb.

But Joseph at least recognized something of Jesus’ holy nature, and had the courage to stand up in the face of opposition from his fellow members of the Sanhedrin.

There may be many times in our life, in our faith, in our service to the church in which we don’t fully understand God’s plan. But we have to do our best to be faithful, and sometimes our faithfulness is rewarded in unexpected ways. The conspiracy in which Dietrich Bonhoeffer was involved failed to assasinate Hitler, and yet Bonhoeffer in martyrdom became an example and an inspiration to millions, drawing attention to his valuable writings.

Abraham and Sarah trusted God to give them descendants even when they were past their child-bearing years. Mary and Joseph trusted God even when she was unmarried and mysteriously pregnant.

Joseph of Arimathea donated a tomb thinking that it would be the eternal resting place of a great teacher who was killed before his time. Instead, the tomb itself would become a symbol of the greatest event of human history. The empty tomb of Jesus speaks to resurrection, and rebirth, and hope. Joseph of Arimathea had the wisdom and vision to follow God, and the courage to trust in God without knowing the complete plan. May each of us be able to say the same.

mission trip update

This is the text of an e-mail I sent out last night to a variety of friends and family members. I got a few bouncebacks, so if you think I might have tried to send you one it might be that I have an out-of-date e-mail address for you in my files.

If you would like to be included in further updates, please let me know and I will add you to the list for future updates.

Friends, family, and mission trip supporters:

I have good news!

First, a little bit of background, because I think I am sending this to some newer acquaintances as well as old friends. (If you’d rather not receive future updates, just let me know.) From 2003 to 2010, I took a series of mission trips through a small, non-denominational organization called LEAMIS International Ministries. I went to Nicaragua, Bolivia, Costa Rica and five times to Kenya. I had already decided prior to the 2010 trip that it was time to give my supporters a break, and then the 2010 trip ended up coinciding with Mom’s cancer – I found out she was incurable on the morning I left for Kenya.

By 2013, however, I was talking with LEAMIS’s executive director and co-founder, the Rev. Debra Snellen, about going to West Africa — specifically, Sierra Leone.

I started raising money, and many of you receiving this e-mail were generous enough to give. But the trip had to be postponed – at first, it was scheduling problems and a family situation involving our host in Sierra Leone, the Rev. Gregory Bangura. Then, the trip was rescheduled, although this time Rev. Bangura was going to bring us into neighboring Liberia instead of Sierra Leone. Then, the Ebola crisis shook both countries (as well as nearby Guinea) and we had to postpone the trip again for safety reasons.

Now, with the Ebola situation finally quiet, we are moving forward, and have set new dates for the trip – which is now back in Sierra Leone. The trip is now scheduled for Nov. 16-30. (Yes, I will be out of the country and will miss Thanksgiving.)

Unlike some of my trips, this will not be a big team trip – just me and Debra. LEAMIS has a program called The Jethro Project (named for Moses’ father-in-law, who gave him some good advice about not spreading himself too thin) which conducts Bible-based leadership training for native pastors in developing nations. Many of these pastors have had only some rudimentary Biblical training, but haven’t had any practical training in leadership skills or principles. LEAMIS’s curriculum uses concepts from recognized authors like John Maxwell, along with tools like personality tests.

We’ll also teach some practical skills which the pastors can share with their congregations in various parts of Sierra Leone and Libera. One of these will be SODIS, a system for sanitizing water by leaving it in the sun in plastic soda bottles, where ultraviolet rays can kill harmful bacteria. SODIS (you can learn more at only works in cases where the water is clear; muddy water won’t work. But it’s cheap, easy and practical, even in the most remote settings. We may end up teaching some cottage industry skills as well. Debra tells me that Rev. Bangura is more of a type-A personality than some of the host pastors we’ve worked with and will likely make the best use he can of us during our short time in Sierra Leone.

Debra and I have been a two-person team once before, during our 2007 trip to Bolivia.

During my initial fundraising, thanks to your generosity, I turned in $2,100 to LEAMIS, and that money has been sitting in LEAMIS’s accounts waiting for the trip. I never did have a hard-and-fast cost estimate on the trip, and I think at one point I thought it was going to cost a total of $3,000 including air fare. Fortunately, the air fare to Sierra Leone is going to be less than what we were told several years ago, and while some aspects of the trip are still being firmed up it looks like most of what I have to send LEAMIS is already taken care of. There still may be some additional costs depending on how those final arrangements come together.

This next paragraph is not directed at those of you who have already given to this trip. I am not asking any of you to give again. But if you have not yet supported the trip and you — or your church, Sunday School class or other group — would still like to make a contribution, I will probably have some other trip-related expenses between now and November – such as a $160 visa fee just to enter Sierra Leone (that’s three times more than any of the visa fees charged by other countries in which I’ve worked), travel insurance, and so on. Depending on what cottage industry workshops we end up doing, I might have to buy some supplies to take with me.

In order for your contributions to be tax deductible, you can still make them payable to LEAMIS, and I can get LEAMIS to reimburse me for legitimate and documented trip-related expenses. Checks made out to me are not tax-deductible, but that’s up to you.

You may mail your check directly to

P.O. Box 104292
Jefferson City, MO   65110

or give it to me and I will forward it to LEAMIS. If you submit directly to LEAMIS, please let me know so I can thank you promptly.

Now, here’s the fun news. I almost hesitate to mention it, because it makes me sound like a tourist instead of a missionary. But I can’t help myself. You all know that I take this mission work very seriously, as does Debra. But LEAMIS always tries to leave a day at the end of a two-week trip – especially for team trips, but usually even for two-person or three-person trips like this – for participants to debrief each other on the experience, discussing what we learned and processing how our hearts were touched as we unwind a little bit in a pleasant environment before returning to the U.S. Usually, this is done in-country. On four of my five Kenya trips, I had the opportunity to visit wildlife parks on our debrief day. In Bolivia, we visited a city that had a zoo and a beautiful cathedral – although there was a record cold snap on the day of our arrival, which led to a miserable, bit-by-bit 24-hour delay in our departure for America.

But Sierra Leone – much smaller and poorer than Kenya – doesn’t really have a suitable place for us to hold debrief. So instead, we’re going to take advantage of our layover on the way back. When you fly from the U.S. to Sierra Leone, you change planes at Charles DeGaulle Airport … in Paris. So we’ve arranged the itinerary to give us a day in Paris on the way back, and we’ll debrief and unwind while seeing a few sights. Seeing Paris – even though I won’t get to see much of it! – is a bucket list item for me. On my first Kenya trip, we changed planes in London – another city I hope to see one day – and it was so frustrating not to be able to leave the airport!

I just had to share that.

Anyway, please keep me, Debra, and the trip in prayer. I appreciate all of your prayers, thoughts and encouragement over the years.

hello larry

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my regular weekly volunteer hour at Learning Way Elementary. Unfortunately, a combination of Monday holidays, weather and a doctor’s appointment made my participation spotty during January and the first half of February, but I’m back on track now.

As I posted to Facebook last week, there’s a new automated security check system at Bedford County schools. When you arrive at school as a visitor, you give them your driver’s license, and they scan it and run an immediate background check. The system then prints out a visitor name badge sticker personalized with your name and driver’s license photo. Once the license has been scanned the first time, you’re in the system and all they have to do is look you up on your next visit.

Of course, I had a background check back when I first signed up for Raise Your Hand Tennessee, the volunteer program through which I work at Learning Way. But this new system scans every visitor.

Unfortunately, there seem to be a few quirks. Last week, my name badge got printed out as “L Carney,” and when the receptionist looked me up this week, she told me that there was no way to change it. So I’ll be “L Carney” from this point forward.

The first group of kids I worked with this morning helpfully suggested the name “Larry” to go with my new first initial.

Someone on Facebook posed a good question last week – if the system has gotten my name wrong, does that also mean the background check isn’t reliable?

I was disappointed to find out that today was “Hat Day” at Learning Way. Had I known, I’d have worn the floppy hat, made of baobab tree fibers, that I brought back from one of my Kenya trips.

Another new development since I blogged last is that Regan Aymett, the teacher in whose classroom I work, managed to get donations to buy rubber fitness balls for all of her students to sit on. I sit in a regular chair, but the kids are all on rubber balls – not unlike the one that Leo Laporte sits on for some of his podcasts on the TWiT network.

Leo, of course, has not always had good success sitting on his ball, as you can see in these clips:

The purpose of the balls is to help keep the kids active even as they’re seated and working on classwork. The kids seem to have adapted well to them.