true confessions: I was not completely candid with my former dentist

I placed an order with Jet last weekend – the first in a while. One of the items I ordered, as I was trying to get to the $35 minimum for free shipping, was a Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kit.

It was the Carroll Shelby and Wick Fowler chili kits – once competitors, now made by the same company – which introduced me to the pleasures of authentic, slow-cooked Texas-style chili. Ironically, neither includes the proper directions for that anymore; the products themselves haven’t changed, but they now only have directions for a quick-cooking chili made with regular ground meat. The kind of chili I’m talking about requires either coarse “chili grind” meat or meat cut up into little chunks.

One of the three packages in my order arrived today – it was the main one, the one actually being fulfilled by Jet itself, and it included the chili kit. On my way home, I stopped by United Grocery Outlet, and while I didn’t expect them to have chili grind meat I figured I’d see if they either had stew beef – which can easily be cut down into smaller chunks – or something that I could throw into the food processor and chop into something vaguely resembling chili grind meat.

What I found, on expiration-day sale, was blade steak. I’d seen these before; they’re weird little steaks with a little squiggle of connective tissue running down the middle. I knew I might wind up with some gristly pieces, but they were the cheapest thing there, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So I bought both packages, which gave me the two pounds of beef I needed.

I had the blade steak in my cart when I happened to run into Buddy Koonce. Buddy was my dentist through childhood and for the first part of my adult years. He’d probably still be my dentist if not for a weird insurance thing back when the newspaper first offered us dental insurance. I am, of course, also delighted with my current dentist, Jay Davis, with whom I go to church at First United Methodist Church. Both are fine men, both professionally and personally, and I would be perfectly happy to entrust my teeth to either of them at any time.

I made some lame joke about “they’ll let anybody shop here,” and then Buddy asked me about the meat in my grocery cart. I mumbled something about how I was going to go home and make “something” with the blade steaks.

I didn’t want to admit I was making chili – because Buddy Koonce and his son-in-law Dicky Thorpe are both competitive chili cooks, who travel around the country to International Chili Society events. I one day want to get the resources together to enter the ICS cookoff in Shelbyville; I’ve been a judge there several times. I would also someday like to take the official ICS chili-judging course.

Anyway, I didn’t want to admit that I was making chili with the blade steaks because I thought Buddy might think that was weird. What does that say about me as a human being?

Anyway, the chili is now cooking. There are a couple of squiggle pieces that didn’t chop up completely in the food processor, but otherwise it looks fine. I’m not entertaining, so if I run into any gristle I can just spit it discreetly into a napkin. (Just kidding – it would be a paper towel.) I noticed when looking it up online just now that blade steak is basically the same thing as what you now see sold as flatiron steak –it’s just that flatiron steak is cut in a different direction to avoid the connective tissue. So it’s actually a better piece of meat than I was giving it credit for being.

my new study bible

I used to have a Wesley Study Bible, in the New Revised Standard Version, and I liked it – it was probably the favorite of the various study Bibles I’d owned up to that point. The Wesley Study Bible has interesting little features scattered throughout pointing out how particular Bible passages relate to Wesleyan theology.

Unfortunately, I lost the Bible. I think I must have misplaced it during a layspeaking assignment somewhere a year or two ago, but I’m not sure. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t realize it was gone right away – part of that was because I’d been listening to the Daily Audio Bible for my daily Bible reading, and I had a smaller, non-study Bible I would often take to church. The DAB is a great program – it costs nothing, and you can listen on your desktop, your phone or tablet, or even on smart TV devices like Roku (look for a podcast app for your smart TV). If you hop on board Jan. 1 it will take you through the Bible in a year’s time. I may take a break from it in 2016, however, if only because I don’t think I’ve been doing it justice and I think maybe forcing myself to read the Bible each day will be a better discipline for me. There are some great Bible reading plans available for download.

By the time I went looking for the study Bible – probably to start writing a sermon for another lay speaking assignment – I couldn’t figure out what had happened to it. It wasn’t in the lost and found at my home church, and so my best guess is that I left it at one of the other churches where I spoke.

I have other study Bibles, and continued to use them, but I missed that Wesley Study Bible. Meanwhile, I had become a fan of a different Bible translation – the Common English Bible.

I’ll digress a second. I suspect most of you understand the difference between translations and paraphrases, but just in case: a translation (like the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version) is a Bible version prepared by a team of translators, working from the best and most reliable old manuscripts available, who strive for a high standard of accuracy in the difficult task of translating writings from thousands of years ago into the English of today. A paraphrase (like The Message) is often the work of one person and is designed to be readable, often updating figures of speech, metaphors or expressions by replacing them with close English equivalents.

WP_20151226_19_50_46_Pro (2)Either has its uses – a paraphrase can be great for personal reading and can be dramatic when read aloud in a worship service. But if you’re trying to settle a complex or nuanced theological point, a translation is likely to be more accurate and reliable.

I like the CEB because it is a true translation – prepared by a team of scholars – and yet it has the readability of many of the paraphrase versions. The CEB is also endorsed by the United Methodist Church and is now used in some of the church literature.

I knew that an edition of the Wesley Study Bible was now available using the CEB translation. My father often just gets me clothes for Christmas, and they’re wonderful – I’m lousy at buying clothes for myself. But this year he specifically – and repeatedly – asked me for a wish list. One of the two items I mentioned was a CEB Wesley Study Bible, and sure enough it was under the tree yesterday – with my name inscribed on the cover.

I want to take good care of it, so I braved the after-Christmas crowd at Walmart this morning to buy a Bible cover. I’ve put contact information in a little window inside the Bible cover in case I try to leave this Bible somewhere, and I’ll write my name inside the Bible too (since the Bible cover hides hides my name on the front of the actual Bible).

Happily, I’ll have this Bible to use from the pulpit in another week when I preach Jan. 3 at First UMC in Shelbyville. Often, I just copy and paste the Bible passage into the manuscript of my sermon and read it from the printout. I’ve been told at lay speaking classes not to do that, though – it helps to give reverence to the Bible reading if the congregation actually sees you holding and reading from the Bible.


In the 30 years I’ve been at the Times-Gazette (I mark I passed, without fanfare, last July) I have had seven editors: Chris Shofner, Mark McGee, Kay Rose, Rene Capley, John Philleo, Kent Flanagan and currently Sadie Fowler. I am heartbroken to have lost three of them in 2015 – Chris, Kent, and now Philleo (which is all we ever called him at the T-G), who passed away this weekend.

John was a good man, a caring man, who encouraged us and challenged us to do better. He loved to put out a good newspaper, as much as anyone I’ve ever known. He had his own private struggles, and was honest about them starting with the very first staff meeting we had with him, but he had a big heart.

I remember a conversation while he was driving me the mile from the newspaper to my apartment – I’d had car trouble, or something – just a day or two after he’d been hired. I had served as interim editor for six months prior to his hiring, didn’t get the job, and he wanted to make sure I didn’t feel any resentment towards him. It was a short conversation but it said volumes about who he was and why he was such a joy to work with.

spoiler-free, I promise

This will be a spoiler-free reaction to “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” although I may create a separate blog post to talk about the movie for those of us who’ve actually seen it.

I saw the movie this afternoon at the Capri Theater in Shelbyville. I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it. It was everything the original “Star Wars” movies were that the prequels weren’t.

I loved the new characters – and the movie spends a lot of time setting up the new characters. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are both terrific. But of course, I also loved what we saw of the original characters.

The movie has some fun parallels to the original 1977 movie, which was released as just “Star Wars” and is now known as “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” Some critics (even some with generally positive reviews) have dismissed this as pandering or fan service, saying the new movie hews too close to the original. But I don’t think so. I thought it was all presented in fresh and unexpected new ways. I thought there was just enough homage but that things were well set up to go in new directions as we move forward. Unlike the prequels, in which the fates of Obi-Wan and Anakin were already known to us and loomed over everything, this movie opens up infinite storytelling possibilities.

Because of the way this one ended, I’m glad the next movie is due in the summer of 2017 – only a year and a half, and not the three years we had to wait between segments of the original trilogy. (Summer 2017 will also be the 40th anniversary of “A New Hope.”)

It’s a great movie. See it sooner rather than later, before someone really does spoil it for you.

santa denied

This was not my day to show Christmas cheer.

This was to have been my last time to see the kids at Learning Way prior to the holiday break, and I wore my Santa hat for the occasion. But when I got to Regan’s class and saw a substitute teacher, I was saddened to hear that Regan had a death in the family. Rather than burden the sub with trying to figure out what to do with me, I just turned around and headed back to the newspaper.

Then, earlier today, a former co-worker from my brief sojourn in Lewisburg earlier this year – she’s now a college student out west – was on Facebook looking for a last-minute co-consipirator to help her deliver a holiday/birthday surprise to her father, who works in Shelbyville. I was looking forward to it, and put my shoes on ready to head out the door, but then she looked at the logistics and decided her plan wouldn’t work. and so my services weren’t needed.

So, bah humbug.

in the spirit of the season

The past three Christmases, I’ve recorded holiday recitations and sent out links to them by e-mail as “audio Christmas cards.” I meant to do another one this year but so far inspiration has not yet hit. There’s still time. But I thought that in the meantime, I’d post the still-active links from those first three readings. Merry Christmas.

viewers like you

Anyone who thinks about it reasonably understands the value of public television, and right now, local public television stations have to rely on some form of local fund-raising to make their budgets. You’ll get no argument from me on either of those points.

But the current system of on-air pledge drives seems more and more broken each year. Here are a couple of the things that really annoy me about it:

Bait and switch: The type of programming that turns up during pledge drives is so different in style and approach from regular programming that Pledge Drive Public TV seems like an entirely different station from Regular Public TV. And I don’t mean that they save their best shows for pledge drive season – that would be understandable. I mean that the target audience for their regular schedule sometimes seems like an entirely different demographic than the target audience for pledge week.

Frankly, it’s a little disturbing sometimes that so many of the pledge drive shows are geared towards seniors – it’s almost like PBS has decided to target a demographic with low sales resistance. Sometimes, I halfway expect them to segue into selling reverse mortgages and medic-alert pendants.

No longer local: I remember when the pledge breaks used to originate with the local station. They would feature staff members from the local station, and occasionally other local radio or TV personalities. I think it sent a great message to occasionally see a news or weather personality from one of the commercial TV stations appearing on the public TV station asking for funds.

Now, all or most of the pledge breaks are packaged with the programs, and they are national and generic. The announcers, whom you’ve never seen before, ask you to support “this public television station” or “your public television station” but they never say its name, channel or call letters, because they’re airing on hundreds of stations across the country. I understand that it’s easier and cheaper to do it that way, but I think it gives up part of the connection the stations should be trying to build with their viewers. How can I think of it as “my public television station” if they won’t talk to me directly?

That’s enough ranting for now. Public TV is a good thing, and we should all support it. Apparently, not enough of us can or do, and so they have to ask for money. I just wish they’d find some different way of doing it.

call waiting

Ever since my father became a United Methodist minister, people have asked me if I planned to follow in his footsteps. I’ve never felt that call. I do, in fact, love to write and preach sermons – maybe for some of the wrong reasons. I have been a United Methodist layspeaker since the 1990s, filling in for ordained ministers when they go on vacation, get sick, or what have you. The past few years, I had been averaging up to one speaking assignment a month, but this year has been slow, for no particular reason. It’s just that way. A couple of people who used to call on me regularly are now in different situations.

But being a pastor is a lot more than preaching, or even preparing sermons. A lot more. As a PK, I’ve seen that firsthand. And I don’t think I’m suited for some of the tasks that are part and parcel of that job. Now, it’s true that God sometimes qualifies the called instead of calling the qualified. God sometimes brings out strengths or abilities that the simple shepherd boy from Bethlehem or the Galilean fishermen didn’t know they possessed. But I just don’t feel called to that particular job.

There’s something of an irony, then, that I’m now part of the process for people who do feel that call. Last summer, I joined the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, or “D-COM,” for the Murfreesboro District of the United Methodist Church. There are various types of pastoral ministry within the United Methodist Church – although not everyone achieves, or intends to achieve, the final destination as an ordained elder. But there’s a process you go through to get to each of these various steps. And at various points on the journey, you go before D-COM, which makes recommendations about whether you should proceed.

When I was first called last spring and asked to serve on D-COM, I wasn’t really familiar with it and thought they had called me by mistake, meaning to call my father. But D-COM has both ordained clergy and laypeople as members. I am a layperson member.

My first D-COM meeting was last summer. I had to miss the next meeting due to work responsibilities, so tonight was my second chance to actually attend. At last summer’s meeting, we were interviewing candidates who were very early in the process – the only decision we had to make was whether or not to allow them to go to an exploratory retreat where they would discuss God’s call on their lives.

Tonight’s meeting was with candidates who were further along in the process. Naturally, I can’t discuss any of the specifics, which are confidential. We divided up into two teams, and each team conducted interviews separately.

The thing that struck me tonight was that each of the three candidates I heard from humbled me in some way. Each of them had some quality to that person’s life or ministry that made me think, “Gee, I wish I had more of that.”

And I have to admit, even though I haven’t heard that particular call I find myself a little envious of them for having a call. They didn’t necessarily all know exactly what form of ministry they were being called to, but they were in the pipeline, trying to respond to God’s call, moving forward.

I wish I had as clear a vision of where God wants me or what God wants me doing.

melts in your mouth, not on the bulletin

I cannot wait to tell my father about the children’s sermon at First UMC this morning.

You have to understand that my father is a big M&Ms fan (as are we all, but in his case particularly so). He loves the M&Ms themselves and loves various dispensers and merchandise with the M&Ms characters on them. I gave him a heads up a couple months ago when a temporary pop-up M&Ms World store opened in Cleveland, Tenn. (Did you know M&Ms were manufactured in Cleveland? I didn’t, until I happened to get the press release about the pop-up store.) Sure enough, he and Ms. Rachel made a special shopping trip to Cleveland, which is on the other side of Chattanooga.

mmsAnyway, there’s a corny old joke, which I’ve told more than once, about the joke-teller’s stupid uncle who got fired from the M&M factory for marking all the “W”s as factory seconds and throwing them out. In a sense, that’s what our director of children and youth Alden Procopio played off of in her children’s message. She gave each child a few M&Ms and showed them that, depending on how you held a piece, the marking looked like an “M,” a “W,” an “E” or the number “3.” Then, she read a little poem in which the E stood for the star in the East, the M stood for the manger in which the baby Jesus was laid, the 3 stood for the three wise men* and the W stood for the fact that they came to worship the child.

I just thought it was a fun visual aid, and you can immediately see why I want to share it with Dad for him to use at his church.

*Yes, I know there weren’t necessarily three wise men, and that the child was no longer in a manger when they came to see him.

Chad bounces checks

As I was getting ready to head out the door for work this morning, a western was starting on Turner Classic Movies. The names of the stars flashed boldly on the screen: “GLENN FORD … ANGIE DICKINSON … CHAD EVERETT.”
I had to smile when they got to Chad Everett. In the early 1970s (according to Wikipedia, 1969-1976), Everett starred in a drama on CBS entitled “Medical Center.”

Long before “ER” or even “St. Elsewhere,” TV medical dramas were about saintly, all-powerful doctors who had all the time in the world, who seemed to know all their patients socially, and who stopped by unannounced to check on their patients at home. “Medical Center” was an heir to “Dr. Kildare” and a contemporary of “Marcus Welby, M.D.”
My mother swooned over Chad Everett — the most vocal I ever heard her get about liking a handsome leading man.
Then, all of a sudden, she dropped him like a hot potato. Apparently, he was on a talk show — could have been Johnny Carson, or maybe a daytime talk show like Mike Douglas on a day when Mom happened to be home. I didn’t see it, but apparently he was telling stories of his days as a struggling young actor and was laughing at some scheme of his that involved writing bad checks. My mother, who was working for First National Bank at the time and who’d worked for other banks earlier in life, was horrified. She’d have gladly forgiven him, I’m sure, if he’d shown remorse, and portrayed this as a youthful indiscretion, but he was laughing at it, almost boasting about it, and that mother clearly could not countenance. She never felt the same about him again.
I was surprised by a couple of things in Everett’s Wikipedia page. Apparently, in 1972 Lily Tomlin walked off the set of the Dick Cavett show in protest after Everett, who was also on the show, referred to his dog, his horse and his wife as “my property.” Also, Everett apparently did a great John Wayne voice, and was personally selected by the Wayne family to perform it for a Hollywood-themed ride at Walt Disney World. He also did the Wayne voice for a bonus scene in the VHS release of “Gremlins 2.”
Anyway, it’s funny the little memories you have and how they come back at unexpected times and places.