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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MIRACLE WHIP AND MERCY

As a kid I grew up experiencing a very typical Thanksgiving complete with the traditional turkey dinner and a family running around in socks and sweatshirts. At school, the holiday meant the best cafeteria lunch of the year and construction paper art projects that were a welcomed break from English and Math. My favorite projects included making black pilgrim hats with gold buckles and hand turkeys out of corn and dried beans. The fact the pilgrims had belts on their hats instead of their pants might have been the first clue they would need help from the Indians.

Television in the 70's portrayed the Indians as savages bent on attacking covered wagons, and who could blame them after we broke every treaty we ever signed? When it came to breech of contract I was the same way: when my cousin and sister tried to walk away from the field of play when it was my bat (verbal contract) I picked up the pitching mound (a brick) and threw it at them! Gravity saved their life.

So this portrayal of the Indians as saviors during Thanksgiving was quite interesting. Their get- together with the pilgrims probably had no pumpkin pie, no cranberry sauce, and probably no turkey because the foods simply weren't available. For me, if there is no Miracle Whip for the turkey you can just throw the whole dang meal in the trash. Yet in spite of the lack of traditional food and a football game, they celebrated survival...that's right survival. And isn't that the way this whole year has felt for a lot of us?

Back in January it looked like I was about to conquer Starbucks with my fancy slogans of "Star who, the Buck stops here," and unique drinks like the Dirty Snowman, but then the economy slithered into a deeper recession in spite of the debut of the Fricken Sandwich. By May, sales had dipped 40% and the big dream was starting to fade. My father stepped in with some assets and I bought out my partners and reset things with the bank. It wasn't until October when I saw signs of life. It has been a hard year and the old Tahoe is going to have to last a little longer.

Whenever I felt a little overwhelmed I pulled out a book entitled Night written by holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. I don't recommend it for the faint of heart. The book details a man's experience in the concentration camps during World War II. It's a tremendously sad story with graphic detail and it is not afraid to ask hard questions. How could God let this happen? How could God watch a million children go up in smoke, literally? Yet then I thought, which is worse, to watch a million children massacred or watch your own son crucified by the ones he came to rescue? (For great discussion on these topics read Phillip Yancey)

I read about the holocaust because Joan of Arc always said, "There is always somebody who has it worse than you." At the time I always thought, "This does nothing to help me feel better about only getting one bowl of chocolate pudding." Little did I know I was probably one of the luckiest kids on earth. A candle seems small, until you know the darkness.

First I want to come to God's defense about the horrible state of the world, not that He can't defend himself. I believe God's heart is broken by what is happening in his creation. I also believe there is more at play than simply rearranging a few pieces. I'm sure the free world (meaning a world were mankind is allowed to do anything he wants) is quite tempting for someone who has unlimited power to invade, to pick up bricks and start throwing. My favorite film, Schindler's List-a movie also about the holocaust, has an interesting dialogue between Oskar and Anon when Oskar is trying to talk Anon out of killing children. Oskar says that real power is having the ability and authority to kill but choosing not to, that restraint is harder than throwing. For God to invade the world would surely mean devastation to far greater numbers of people than it would help, but instead of invading he saves, instead of running through the streets with a sword, he crawled through a barn with a child. God limits his own power, he restrains himself.

Second, in spite of the delay of my dreams turning into reality, in spite of my own insignificant suffering, I plan on celebrating my survival Thursday. All three stores shows sign of life. Monday two men were praying at Green Frog with their Bible's open when I walked in with the Sam's order. Last week at Java twelve girls huddled around three tables pushed together, talking about this Child who crawled into their lives. This past Sunday an employee from Ja Ja's sent a text that said if we look to God we will be delivered. The signs of life, something to celebrate, something to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my kind, hardworking staff; for my loyal and "faithful" customers many who have become close friends; but most of all for a loving God who practices restraint when it comes to dealing with me. I have always heard never scream for justice because "you" might get it. I think if I scream for anything it will be mercy. (crying, don't know why but writing this last sentence was very powerful, it almost felt like I was a child who has been struggling against my father but who has collapsed in tears into his arms to be comforted) Mercy. Give me mercy. I am grateful for His Mercy.


So we took gifts from the Indians and celebrated life... and then we killed them. God knows how it feels. I'm sure a lot of people who have ever been betrayed, know how it feels. But do you know how it feels to create something on behalf of love and then watch them kill each other? Do you know how if feels to have the power to stop it but enough knowledge to understand that by doing so you will destroy more than you save? Do you know how it feels to be accused of not loving when loving is all you ever do? Do you know how it feels to be powerful and merciful and be accused of being weak and heartless? We owe the Indians and God an apology...but remember God isn't really interested in hearing it (prodigal son story) He just wants to hold us in his arms and have a feast to celebrate our survival.


P.S. When we sit down at the banqueting table in Heaven, don't be surprised if I ask for Ketchup if we have steak... and Miracle Whip if we have turkey. They'll have it, because it's gonna be perfect.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CHRISTMAS PARTY FOR GREEN FROG CUSTOMERS

You hear me talk a lot about my dream of a helping build community through coffee. Well, I have an idea. What would happen it we closed all three stores early Sunday, December the 13th; called a caterer for a massive meal of great traditional food; invited our best customers, employees and their families; gathered together in a really cool log cabin dining hall; and had a time of sharing and celebration? And what if we could help some people in the process? Well, I'm doing it!

On Sunday, December the 13th, we are closing all stores at 4pm and heading to Green Frog Village on HWY 412 for the best Christmas party ever! You can arrive at 6pm with your friends/family and have your photograph taken in an antique sleigh with Santa; walk into Ja Ja's for a small cup of hot chocolate or Dirty Snowman; go tour the first decorated log cabin (with roaring fire) and drop off your canned goods for RIFA; go to the second decorated log cabin (with roaring fire) and drop off your toy for Carl Perkins Child Abuse Center; go to the log cabin dining hall and enjoy a candelight meal cooked by Blackberry Hill Catering; let your kids make a natural Christmas ornament in our craft section; listen to us encourage our employees and even compliment your favorite barista yourself; and then join us in the old fashioned chapel for a few Christmas Carols and a look at the true meaning of Christmas. It will simply be a time of sweet fellowship with friends and family.

The cost is $15/adult, $7.50/child (ten and under), and will help cover the cost of the meal and create some proceeds that will go to Dyer County Transitions a non-profit that helps provide housing and mentoring for women in crisis. Tickets will be available at all three stores beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving. Seating is limited to the first 90 guests. Don't miss out on an incredible night of what will surely become a wonderful holiday tradition.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

BUTTERED POPCORN WITH A BUTTERFLY BREEZE

Whitney and I visited the church I recently spoke at today. I warned her that the church was lack luster in appearance but made up for it in it's authentic grass roots feel. I also warned her that people might assume we are "together" in spite of our age difference and be prepared to ignore the questions or be ready to respond with "we're just friends." The last time I was there a woman suggested I meet her 19 year old grand daughter. I didn't have the heart to tell her I was twice her age. (Yes I know my crush Taylor Swift is only turning 20 in December)

We scrambled in a little late and immediately were greeted by a smile from Clarice, Clarice as in the Silence of the Lambs Clarice. This was how she introduced herself the first time I met her. It worked: I remembered her name.

I was a little nervous about Whitney going with me because The Path openly struggles with worship and Whitney is accustomed to great worship just like I am. I told her the one guy who dresses up in a suit tries to play the piano and it can get a little tough. After some trouble with the overhead projector, Jason said, "If you came here for fancy church you came to the wrong place. Here things are out of place and out of the ordinary." Then the piano player piped in, "And out of tune!" We all laughed.

The worship actually turned out to be two guitarist and a decent vocalist. One guitarist's face was a little beaten up from his ultimate fighting championship fight the night before. We sang I Saw the Light and Amazing Love. It wasn't bad and I actually paid attention to the lyrics. The piano player I liked played the offertory hymn.

The best thing about the service was the two kids who collected the offering. One was wearing an AC/DC T-shirt and the other one was wearing Star Wars: a rocker and futuristic warrior collecting money for God. Almost everyone was dressed casual. I myself was in jeans, while Whitney got herself fairly cute looking.

Jason talked about where we take our concerns and worries and used quite a bit of scripture. I was paying attention but couldn't wait to get home and write about AC/DC and Star Wars.

When we got back to my house we spent some time admiring my Ginkgo trees and looking around the old estate I live on. It was a perfect Fall day that concluded with us eating at Applebees and me learning about why older women use a lot of conditioning cream. When I got home I took a two hour nap that was so good it felt like I was sleeping in warm buttered popcorn with a butterfly breeze.

I had snapped a photo of our shadow while we were walking around earlier and started thinking about what God was teaching me today. It had been a rather busy week followed by a coffee bar for the West Tennessee Health Care Foundation Saturday night. We handed out Dirty Snowmen in a room full of bow ties and black gowns. Then today in church I was staring at AC/DC and Star Wars. And now, I'm looking at this shadow.

In this shadow you can't tell what we are wearing, you can't even tell if we are smiling, but you can tell something is going on. I often feel like this with God: you can't tell what He is doing, you can't even tell how it will change you , but you can tell He is up to something. Paul said "We see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." I often wonder what God is up to in my life. I often wonder what He is trying to tell me, and probably dying to show me. The problem is I have trouble listening and paying attention. I'm like a six year old in math class distracted by a cookie in my pocket.

John said, "We love Him because He first loved us." I want to be more like John and a lot more like Jesus. They both were very loving individuals. They both openly loved the people around them and had no problem making sure the people around them felt their love. Proverbs says hidden love is worse than open rebuke, or that not telling someone you love them will kill a relationship faster than fighting. I'm fairly sure that part of what God is up to is softening the heart of Timm Johnson and giving Timm Johnson the wisdom to openly love the people in his life better.

I've been thinking about how that shadow is a mixture of the sun and us facing the sun. The shadow wouldn't exist if either the sun or we weren't there. I've thought about how great it is that we get to be a in an incredible mixture, in a relationship, with God of the universe, and that in some ways it resembles us, but more than anything it gives God the glory. We are privileged vessels of the incredible love and light of God, vessels created in the image of his majesty. And I've thought about how one day we will stand before the King, comprehending his full love for us, understanding why he loved us, because as we stare into his beautiful face we will finally see what the King has wanted us to see all along.....the resemblance.

After I hug my Father for a while, I think I might go lay my head on a cotton candy pillow in warm buttered popcorn with a butterfly breeze, because I'm going to be tired from all that smiling.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

IF LOVE IS BLIND, I'VE STILL GOT A CHANCE.

If love is blind, I've still got a chance. I wrote that last night in the book I'm working on. I admit I enjoy laughing at myself. Sometimes I look in the mirror in the morning and I'm sure my forehead is growing. I tell people my hairline isn't receding, my eyebrows are just falling down.

I'm single and this tends to lead me to comparing myself with other single men, or you might say I like to square off against the competition. Of course I'm comparing myself to people like an unshaven George Clooney, a young Robert Redford, and a tall Michael J Fox (I'm just trying to make it a fair fight). All these men have been seen with women I would marry.

I was thinking about this comparison thing last night holding two travel mugs trying to decide which would be better for our new discount program. They differed in color, in weight, in size, and in price. The test for how well they performed revealed they were also very different in what they could do. The test didn't go the way I expected but it got me thinking.

I used to think a good friend of mine had said, "Comparison is the thief of joy," but actually I think it was C.S. Lewis, not that me and C.S. aren't great friends. This is probably the smartest thing a human being has ever uttered. Comparison turns community into competition and friends into foes. Comparison is a way of self mutilation practiced daily by people who are overwhelmed by the need to fit in. I believe one thing the Kingdom will eventually reveal is an equal appreciation for diversity. One day we may celebrate our personal handicaps.

Practically speaking, I started thinking about how I rob my own joy by taking something perfectly beautiful in it's own right and shoving it next to something to be dominated, like taking a lady bug and comparing it to a rainbow or like taking the life of Timm Jonson and shoving it next to Howard Schultz. Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than anybody else in our own life. I simply wanted to remind you/me that we're beautiful today. Our unique life stands as a testimony to God's creativity. And regardless of what the mirror tells us, there is a God who finds us precious. And his fervent love for us has been demonstrated in a very ugly but beautiful display called Calvary. The mirror doesn't lie, we do.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

HUDDLE HOUSE ON STERIODS!


I went with a friend last night to Shogun's, a new Japanese hibachi grill in Dyersburg. As a big fan of sushi, I opted for a variety tray of raw fish while my friend ordered the steak "show." They were busy, so we sat there for a while. I was so close to the grill I started day dreaming about throwing a couple pieces of bread on the griddle and making myself a grilled cheese. I was hungry.

Our chef/entertainer was Kin. He started off juggling his spatula and fork in an array of amusing flips and clanks. He then moved to flipping a raw egg into the air and spinning it into his hat. Then with a squeeze of some flammable liquid onto the griddle and a lighter, POOF....I lost my eyebrows. The flame was so big it reminded me of my mother's episode with her fuzzy angora sweater and a wedding candle, hence her nickname Joan of Arc.

As I was driving home stuffed like a turkey, I thought, "That place is just a Huddle House on steroids." They had a lot of similarities: griddles, fire, spatulas, eggs, and direct cook observations. Heck, if the Huddle House cooks could balance a spinning egg on their head they could start charging twenty dollars for hash browns.

I also started thinking about how several things in life are simply modifications of something else: Shogun is Huddle House with tricky cooks; the tricycle is a bicycle with three wheels; the television is a radio with a picture; the automobile is a buggy with a motor; and sometimes the Christian is a loveless person governed by a set of morals.

I sometimes try to live my faith by believing I just need to simply modify my normal behavior and it usually involves a list of don'ts: don't smoke (love the candy ones), don't drink (I'm a Mountain Dew man), don't dance (can't anyway), and don't curse (often substitute dang and break pens). I believe if I am practicing discipline in these areas I am a successful Christian, sadly, even if I am loveless.

Two verses in scripture haunt me. One is in Proverbs and says hidden love is worse than open rebuke, or not telling someone you care is worse than screaming at them. Wow! Sometimes I laugh about this and say, "Well I should tell Taylor Swift I love her," but then sometimes I cry about this because I know I have squandered opportunities to be light in darkness with encouraging words. The other verse is in James and it says to know what good to do and then not do it, is sin. This is simply powerful...overwhelming to my spirit.

To me this means rather than a list of don't(s) dictating my life, a list of do(s) should be. When I know a friend is struggling I should call. When I see a child drop their ice cream I should stop their tears with a new one (gravity's fault anyway). When I see someone in the town gossip, I should stop and make them feel valuable. When I see good to do, I should do it.

Although Jesus was a very moral person, he was more known what he did do than what he didn't do, and when it came to rules or people, he choose people. When He saw good to do, He did it, and this is a higher law, this is more than spinning an egg on his head and cooking waffles, this is the secret to life to the fullest: rather than be loveless with rules, let love rule.

P.S. If you go to Shogun's, take marshmallows and suntan lotion.

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