Friday, May 9, 2008

Prayer Blog - 5/9/2008

My parents are traveling to the Boston area as my father has a business conference there. They flight out tomorrow at 7 am and plan on returning on Saturday, May 17. Please keep their travel in your prayers as they have a long history of travel nightmares. Actually, they might make good poster children for all that can go wrong on a trip...

WAM Quote of the Day - 5/9/2008

WAM attended Iron Man last night with a group of our friends. We met at my house where a hailstorm caused a power outage. I provided WAM with a flash light and with this visual he made the WAM Quote of the Day:

"Muhaahahhaa!"

Note: I informed WAM that this would be the quote of the day but admitted my uncertainity as to the spelling. He typed this into my cell phone to insure historical accuracy.

Bible Trivia - 5/9/2008

Question: To whom did Luke address both books he contributed to the New Testament?

Answer: Theophilus (Luke 1 and Acts 1).

Comments: Theophilus appears Biblically only in Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1. Nothing beyond this is definitively known of him.

His name means “friend of God" and thus the book could be addressed to any believer. This generic interpretation would function much the same way that Kay Arthur uses “Beloved” today.

His honorific epithet (“most excellent”) has led most to conclude that he was an historical entity. It is used only in Luke-Acts to refer to public officials [also used of Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26), Felix (Acts 24:3), and Festus (Acts 26:25)]. From this many have concluded that Theophilus was a person of rank, perhaps a Roman officer.

Some also identify Luke's Theophilus with Theophilus ben Ananus, High Priest of the Temple of Jerusalem from 37-41 CE. In this tradition Theophilus would have been both a kohen and a Sadducee, the the son of Annas and the brother-in-law of Caiaphas. He would have grown up in the temple. This interpretation has Luke-Acts targeting Sadducees and would account for some features of Luke-Acts, such as his preoccupation with the temple.

Coptic tradition asserts that Theophilus was a Jew of Alexandria while others still have speculated that he could have been Paul's lawyer during his trial period in Rome.

Whoever he was, he was someone Paul cared enough to tell about the Christian faith. Who do you care enough to tell about Jesus?

Word of the Day - 5/9/2008

Diadem

A diadem is a crown.

At the end of his earthly life, Paul looked forward to the diadem of righteousness that awaited him.

in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (II Timothy 4:8, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 5/9/2008

On Thursday, my Bible Study’s time and location changed...again. This time we met at 10:30 (am) in MLM’s office. Since the church was inexplicably blanketed by preschoolers, MLM made the decision to meet in his office with the instruction, “Let’s do something different!” The irony is that we always do something different. We change our setting more often than moonshiners moved their stills to avoid revenuers. (Remember, I am from Newport.) Unfortunately, ours is the type of meeting we would not mind people finding. 10 o’clock on Thursdays will now be our tentative scheduled time. Place the emphasis on the word tentative.

The sign (pictured) in MLM’s office is very descriptive of the locale.

We spent a good deal of time debriefing on the past two weeks events, what with a mission trip and funeral to discuss. Fortunately, our Bible Study covered only one verse - a parable presented in Matthew 13:33.

He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:33, NASB)

We noted that leaven can be bad too, like the “leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:11, Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1), and as such one should be careful what leaven one subjects oneself to. I saw a church sign in Gulfport with the negative inverse of this parable - “Give Satan an inch and he’ll become a ruler.” Consider yourself warned.

The always thoughtful CMU baked my family banana bread to express condolences for my grandmother’s passing. As part of my continuing effort to treat my family like royalty, I sampled it before it ever hit their lips. It was delicious. Thanks, CMU!

Congratulations to SMA as he completed his last day of law school at the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. He turned in his last paper (which he was not overly pleased with) and returned to Knoxville. He will return to Birmingham May 17 for graduation.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 5/8/2008

Associated Baptist Press
May 8, 2008 (8-48)

IN THIS ISSUE:
In Indiana, N.C. primaries, Obama cuts into Clinton’s Catholic lead
Iraq status reportedly divides panel on religious freedom
Speakers tell British Baptists: fight global warming, poverty
Opinion: How are Christians accountable to each other?

In Indiana, N.C. primaries, Obama cuts into Clinton’s Catholic lead
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Echoing his successes in earlier contests, Barack Obama cut into the recent advantage Hillary Clinton had built among Roman Catholics during the Indiana and North Carolina Democratic presidential primaries May 6.

Catholics in Indiana and North Carolina still supported the New York senator over her Illinois colleague, according to exit polls. But the margin by which he lost the Catholic vote -- 61-39 percent in Indiana and 51-48 percent in North Carolina -- was much smaller than the 40-point margin by which Catholics favored her in the crucial Pennsylvania primary two weeks prior. Clinton won that contest by 10 percentage points.

In Indiana, Catholics made up 19 percent of all Democratic voters -- a crucial voting bloc in a state in which Clinton barely edged Obama among the overall electorate.

But they made up only 8 percent of Democratic primary voters in overwhelmingly Protestant North Carolina. Obama won that state’s primary handily.

A large percentage of primary voters -- about a third in each state -- identified themselves as Christians but not as Catholics, Protestants or Mormons. As in several earlier states, they voted overwhelmingly for Obama in North Carolina and by a 10-point margin in Indiana.

Among Democratic voters in both states who did not identify with any religious group, Obama beat Clinton soundly -- by 16 points in Indiana and 40 points in North Carolina. The religiously unaffiliated made up just over a tenth of voters in each state.

In the Hoosier State, Clinton and Obama ran fairly even among all categories of voters as measured by religious attendance. But, as in many earlier contests, Obama had advantages with both the most religious and the least religious as gauged by church attendance.

Voters who said they attend religious services more often than weekly favored him over his rival by 10 points, 55-45 percent. They made up 13 percent of Indiana Democratic primary voters.

But Indiana Democrats who said they worship once a week, but not more often, favored Clinton by a 6-point margin, 53-47 percent. They made up 26 percent of the state’s Democratic voters.

Clinton, meanwhile, had a 10-point edge among voters who said they only attend services a few times a year. And Obama -- as he has in the past -- was preferred by voters who never go to church or synagogue. His margin among non-attenders in Indiana -- only four points -- was lower than in other states.

Unlike in Pennsylvania and Ohio contests, frequency of Mass attendance among Catholics seemed to have little effect on candidate preference. Clinton’s margins among the most frequent Catholic churchgoers in those states -- both rich and blue-collar voters -- were even higher than her overall Catholic advantage. But in Indiana, which also has a large population of working-class Catholics, the most frequent Mass-goers favored Clinton by a margin similar to that of their less-faithful members.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, Obama did dramatically better (69-29 percent) than Clinton among the 13 percent of primary voters who listed no religious affiliation. However, his support among all voters who said they never attended religious services was only slightly off his overall margin in the state. Those voters made up12 percent of the Democratic electorate.

Clinton maintained an advantage among the most frequent self-described Protestant churchgoers in the Tar Heel State, but those figures did not count the high percentage of voters who failed to identify themselves as Catholic or Protestant. In North Carolina -- as in other pro-Obama states where exit polls showed high percentages of such non-identifying Christians -- a significant portion of such voters may be members of Baptist, Pentecostal or non-denominational congregations that don’t consider themselves Protestant.

The North Carolina Catholic vote, according to the exit polls, was not statistically significant enough to sub-divide it by frequency of Mass attendance.

In both states, the Democratic primaries drew large numbers of people who attend services weekly or more often. They made up 40 percent of the vote in Indiana, and half of Democrats in North Carolina.

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Iraq status reportedly divides panel on religious freedom
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- An independent, non-partisan federal panel’s failure to issue a recommendation to the State Department about Iraq is reportedly due to political division.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report and recommendations May 2. But conspicuously absent from the document was a recommendation on whether to black-list Iraq, which the commission has been eying warily since the United States overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“The commissioners said at the press conference several times that they haven’t finished their deliberations on Iraq and they will be traveling back to the region later this month to collect more information so they can make a considered decision,” Judith Ingram, the panel’s spokesperson, said May 8.

The report and recommendations -- made to Congress, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- included information about religious-freedom conditions in dozens of countries around the world. Although it did not contain information about Iraq or a recommendation, the commissioners sent a separate letter to Rice mentioning their concern about that country.

“The Commission has been concerned about the particularly dire conditions affecting non-Muslims in Iraq, including Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, other Christians, Sabean Mandaeans, Yazidis, and other minority religious communities, who face widespread violence from Sunni insurgents and foreign extremists, as well as pervasive violence, discrimination, and marginalization at the hands of the national government, regional governments, and para-state militias, including those in Kurdish areas. The Commission also concluded that Iraq's government was failing to curb the growing scope and severity of other religious-freedom violations,” the letter said, noting the commission’s decision last year to focus on Iraq’s deteriorating conditions for religious freedom.

“We remain seriously concerned about religious freedom conditions in Iraq,” the commissioners wrote.

The 1998 law that created USCIRF requires it to report annually on the status of religious liberty worldwide and to recommend that the State Department name nations that commit or tolerate "severe and egregious" violations of religious freedom as "Countries of Particular Concern," or CPCs. Administration officials retain ultimate authority to make those designations and impose sanctions they deem appropriate.

In addition, the commission has made a practice of producing a "watch list" of nations in danger of earning CPC status. Last year, it added Iraq to the watch list. In 2006, the panel added Afghanistan -- another nation struggling to recover from a U.S.-led invasion -- to the watch list. In 2007, the panel was divided -- mostly along party lines -- on whether to elevate Iraq to the watch list or to full CPC status.

But the New York Sun reported May 1 that the division was even sharper and more partisan this year.

The 10-member panel has nine voting members. Of those presently serving, five commissioners were appointed by Republicans, and four by Democrats. According to the Sun, all Democrat-appointed commissioners supported elevating Iraq to CPC status this year, while most Republican-appointed commissioners opposed the designation and the report accompanying it.

A draft of the Iraq recommendation reportedly was harshly critical of the Bush administration’s military strategy in Iraq because of its lack of provisions for protecting religious minorities. Some Republican commissioners planned to issue a dissenting report accusing the panel’s Democrats of injecting partisanship into the process.

The commission’s members and staff almost always make recommendations by consensus and decline to speak publicly about ideological divisions on the panel. Ingram would only say that commissioners will make a recommendation following the trip to the region later in May. They will visit places, such as Syria, to which Iraqi religious minorities have been forced to flee.

Other than Iraq, the panel’s recommendations for CPC status and its watch list are unchanged from last year. Commissioners recommended the State Department designate Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam as CPCs.

Although the commission has long recommended most of those nations for CPC status, the State Department has not followed that recommendation for Pakistan and Turkmenistan, has been slow to take action against Saudi Arabia and, last year, removed Vietnam from its CPC list.

The commission's report criticized those decisions, noting that religious-freedom violations are widespread in Pakistan and Turkmenistan. The commission also contended that Vietnam has not improved conditions enough to warrant its removal from the CPC list, which happened on the eve of Bush’s November 2006 trip there.

With the exception of Iraq, the panel’s watch list is the same as the last two years: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.

-30-

Speakers tell British Baptists: fight global warming, poverty
By ABP staff

BLACKPOOL, England (ABP) -- British Baptists heard warnings against overconsumption and further degradation of the environment during their annual meeting May 2-4 in Blackpool, Lancashire.

Theologian Elaine Storkey told members of the British Union of Great Britain to reject “false prophets” of consumerism, and renowned climate-change expert Sir John Houghton encouraged listeners to switch to clean energy for the earth’s sake.

Taking Jeremiah 29:11 as her text (“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope”) Storkey spoke of the effects of global poverty, and warned against those who suggested that the present levels of consumption in rich countries could be sustained indefinitely.

“Don’t listen to the false prophets; don’t listen to the dreams they dream; don’t listen if they are proclaiming anything but the good news that comes from God,” she said. “False hope is anything that doesn’t have its grounding in the plans and purposes of God.”

Storkey, a prominent British evangelical feminist who also runs a Christian charity, said false prophets are those who “offer easy answers, easy solutions, complacency and self-indulgence.”

She added, “The false prophets have prophesied continual growth and rising consumption. But the earth cannot sustain these levels of consumption and these levels of growth.”

Reflecting on the Israelites’ experience of exile, she reminded listeners that, even as aliens and strangers, they were called to work and pray for the welfare of their nation, to “live in a land that was not their own as if they belonged there.”

“We should live respecting our earthly location, respect its cities and work for their welfare,” Storkey said.

Her theme built on an earlier on-stage interview with Houghton, one of the United Kingdom’s foremost experts on global warming. It was conducted by the Alistair Brown, who was attending his last British Baptist Union meeting as general director of BMS World Mission, the denomination’s missions agency. Brown is to become president of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary outside Chicago later this year.

Although it may cost slightly more, Houghton said, British Baptists could make a powerful statement by signing up for Good Energy. The company supplies electricity from wind, hydroelectric and solar-power generators located all over Britain.

“We simply must cut down our emissions of greenhouse gases, and one thing we can all do is sign up for greener electricity through Good Energy,’ said Houghton, the country’s former chief meteorologist.

“By doing this, it means none of our energy is from fossil fuels. If everyone in this room were to do it, it could make big news.”

Houghton’s call came in a hard-hitting and impassioned presentation on the disastrous effects of global warming.

Using a mixture of slides, clips from the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth and an interactive question-and-answer session, Sir John outlined how human activity has led to “unprecedented levels” of climate change.

“The impact of global warming is such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a ‘weapon of mass destruction,’” he told the audience, referring to a famous quote in a newspaper article he had written on the subject. “I was criticized for writing that, but I have studied climate change for many years -- and it was meant to be strong language.”

Houghton explained that the use of fossil fuels over the last 200 years had led to a marked increase in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. The combined effect of these gases has been to gradually raise the temperature of the earth’s surface.

If it continues at the current rate, by the end of the century there will be between a two- and four-degree rise in temperature -- and a corresponding and catastrophic rise in global ocean levels, inundating places like the Netherlands and parts of New York.

But generally, poorer nations will be worse affected, Houghton said.

He said there was a “moral imperative” for Britons to act, as the average carbon-dioxide emission per person was much higher in the developed world.

“We have become very rich because of all this coal, oil and gas. Initially, we didn’t know the damage, but now we do,” he said. “We have benefited from this, and now we need to share our right to have all these things we have with the poor nations of the world.

“This is a real opportunity for Christians to make a difference.”

Houghton has already exerted a global influence of his own on the subject. One of his talks several years ago directly led to the vice president of governmental affairs of America’s National Association of Evangelicals, Richard Cizik, changing his views on global warming.

In other business, British Baptists installed John Weaver, principal of South Wales Baptist College, as president of the denomination.

They also took up donations toward scholarship fund for the Amsterdam 400 conference, scheduled for next July. The European Baptist Federation is holding a major celebration in Amsterdam marking 400 years since the Baptist movement began there in 1609. The gifts will be used to help participants from Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.

-30-

-- Compiled from stories provided by the Baptist Times, the newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

Opinion: How are Christians accountable to each other?
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- One of the most vexing issues in Christian life is the question of accountability.

At every level of Christian community, the question arises. We know that Christians are accountable to God for their lives and will one day actually give an account (Mt. 25:31-46; 1 Cor. 4:4, 2 Cor. 5:10). But are we accountable to each other? Which others? Are you accountable to: your pastor? Fellow church members? Fellow Sunday school classmates? All members of your church? All Baptists? All Christians everywhere?

And, if the answer is “yes” to any of these, how is this accountability exercised?

It might be helpful to begin with those relationships in which accountability seems clear, and then move from there to the gray areas. I will speak in a personal voice here, and you can draw the parallels to your own life.

I know that I am accountable to God for the entirety of my life. Even though I trust Christ for salvation, I do not presume that this frees me from accountability for the conduct of my life. Quite the contrary -- it heightens my accountability as one who has publicly confessed to serve Jesus Christ as Lord of my life.

As a Sunday school teacher at a particular local church, I know that I am accountable to the church leaders who appointed me to this role, and to the members who choose to attend the class. I am accountable to them for the fulfillment of my specific duties in this role -- most particularly competent Bible teaching, but also a measure of pastoral care for the little community under my charge.

As a teacher at McAfee School of Theology and Mercer University, I am likewise accountable to the dean, provost, and president, to the students, and in a sense to my colleagues. I am accountable in a specifically Christian sense because of the nature of my work, but also in a general “workplace” sense like anyone else who has a job that comes with specific accountability relationships.

As a husband, I am accountable to my wife for the conduct of my life in every area that relates to her and touches on her life -- which is nearly everything. I am accountable to my children for a number of specific responsibilities, as I am to my parents for other responsibilities and my sisters for yet others. As a citizen I have certain responsibilities for which I may be held accountable.

I can think of only one biblical category that can encompass all of these types of accountability and yet can set some coherent limits on them: the category of the covenant. So my tentative thesis is that we are accountable in every relationship in which

we have explicitly covenanted with a person or a community for the fulfillment of certain specific promises and responsibilities.

We do that explicitly at weddings, baby dedications, baptisms, ministerial installations, and in starting work at most jobs. We even do it implicitly in many instances in which our conduct affects the well-being of others. One might say that a restaurant has a covenant with its customers to serve them clean food, and a car company has a covenant with its customers to offer them a road-worthy vehicle.

Still, this leaves us with a number of murky and unresolved questions of accountability. Am I accountable as a church member to every other member of First Baptist Church? Am I accountable as a Baptist to all other Baptists? Am I accountable as a writer to everyone who reads my columns and books? Am I accountable as a Christian to all other Christians?

Errors abound on all sides, leaning either toward hyper-accountability or toward non-accountability. Probably many of us have known Christian friends or fellow church members who believe it is their God-given role to correct us for our faults on a regular basis. Here the words of Paul resonate: “it is a very small thing I should be judged by you or any human court. I do not even judge myself…It is the Lord who judges me” (I Cor. 4:3-4). Paul here says that while servants of Christ are indeed “stewards of God’s mysteries,” their master is God, and only to God will they give an account.

On the other hand, probably many of us have also known of cases in which outrageous stuff is going on in a family, church, workplace, school or nation -- and no one is holding anyone to account. This silence may be occurring in the name of personal freedom, or a commitment to non-judgmentalism, or fear of a confrontation, or in a diffusion of responsibility in which no one is accountable to anyone else for anything. Paul himself was certainly unwilling to accept that the congregations he founded would be characterized by such laxity (I Cor. 5).

One possible solution for us is to do better in clarifying on the front end what vision of accountability, if any, will characterize our relationships. If we voluntarily covenant together -- in a friendship, or a congregation, or a workplace -- to have X level of accountability to each other, related to Y matters, exercised in Z fashion, then uncertainty about accountability can be diminished.

I am coming to believe that only when we covenant together about how accountability will work in a relationship should we expect either to hold others accountable or to be held accountable ourselves. Otherwise, all accountability is left to God alone -- who alone can be trusted to get accountability right, in any case.

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-- David Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University. His latest book is titled, The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center. www.davidpgushee.com

To offer feedback, send e-mails to feedback@davidpgushee.com.

Bible Trivia - 5/8/2008

Question: What was the name of the woman who was the first person revived from the dead by Peter?

Answer: Tabitha or Dorcas (Acts 9:36)

Comments: Dorcas/Tabitha was a disicple in Joppa, known for her acts of charity, which included making garments for the poor. Acts recounts that when she died, the people of the village called upon Peter in the nearby village of Lydda. Upon his arrival, Peter miracuously raised her from the dead.

This was the first such miracle performed through any of the apostles, and it resulted in many new believers. Not only was Dorcas/Tabitha the first woman Peter raised from the dead, but the only one in the canon. (Acts 9:36-41) Peter learned his bedside manner from Jesus and a comparison of this account with the raising of Jairus' daughter (at which Peter was present) is almost identical in methodology. (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:35-43; Luke 8:41-56)

The woman had two names, both meaning the same thing. "Dorcas" is a female name of Greek origins, the Aramaic cognate is "Tabitha", meaning "gazelle." From this many have concluded that she was a Hellenistic Jewess, called Tabitha by the Jews and Dorcas by the Greeks.

I have always thought that Peter made a great pastoral decision when he chose to address her as "Tabitha" and not "Dorcas"...

But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. (Acts 9:40, NASB)

Word of the Day - 5/8/2008

Lapidate

To lapidate is to pelt with stones; to stone to death.

Jesus prevented a mob from lapidating a known adulterer. (John 8:1-11) He reminded the mob of their own imperfection - "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 5/8/2008

I had a light Wednesday at home with my family.

I picked myself and my mother up food from Ham ’N Goodys. Masculinity is diminished exponentially just by entering the establishment. The place was packed on this day and there were actually two other men in the sandwich shop (both named Mark). This made me feel better about my machismo until one of the men received a phone call which revealed a ring tone playing Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings.”

As usual, I waited a long time for the order. First, the elderly gentleman who took the order forgot to take down our name. Then, he forgot that they were out of the chicken salad that my mother ordered. Then, someone remembered they were making a batch that could be prepared in “three minutes.” So I waited on that. When I finally got home, my mother’s side salad was incorrect and her chicken salad had an excess of eggs. Ham ’N Goodys has excellent food (it was voted best bakery in Knoxville), but the worst service. I feel bad complaining as it is a Christian business and the people are always pleasant.

My father picked up take out from Silver Spoon for dinner and aside from forgetting the essential extra honey mustard and my soup, it went far better.

In big news, there was a run on Joker figures from the new Batman movie in New York when they were released on Tuesday. Some believe they will be collector’s items. Just for the good of the local community, I checked Wal-Mart and can report that they have a vast supply, less the one I purchased. I love both Batman and Ledger, so the purchase seemed a natural.

The new trailer for the film was also released recently. You can watch it here. It is the longest footage to date of the Ledger as The Joker, in his last completed role. The movie will be released July 18.

Congratulations to SDSH, who graduated from the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine school on Wednesday night.

In closing, why does Red Robin have so many advertisements on Knoxville television without any locations here? I wish they would bring one as I have heard they have very cute waitresses, oh and gourmet hamburgers...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bible Trivia - 5/7/2008

Question: Which is the only apostle thought not to have been martyred?

Answer: John.

Comments: Though church tradition dictates that John was the only of the twelve apostles not martyred, it also notes that this was not due to a lack of trying. Tradition has held that the Roman Emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96) ordered John be executed via being boiled alive in a cauldron. The story claims that not only was he unharmed but that he continued preaching from the vat. Rather than being convinced of John's innocence, his enemies accused him of having been delivered by sorcery and they exiled him to Patmos, a prison colony off the coast of Turkey. From where he penned the canonical book of Revelation. Tertullian (160-225), a second century North African theologian, may have been the first to describe this narrative. (De praescriptione haereticorum, chapter 36)

Word of the Day - 5/7/2008

Tonsure

Tonsure is the act of cutting the hair or shaving the head.

During Paul's "Third Missionary Journey," he completed tonsure in fulfillment of a vow. (Acts 18:18)

Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. (Acts 18:18, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 5/7/2008

I spent Tuesday with JTH hanging out and trying a new restaurant.

We met at the church where JTH was working out. (I had already finished my workout.) We got to watch our friend MoT practice with her AAU basketball team. JTH was once her babysitter. We are getting so old...

JTH and I then went to Big Fatty’s Catering Kitchen Restaurant (located at 5005 Kingston Pike) for the first time. The restaurant is concealed from the street, nestled between West Knox News and Fisher Tire. The same building once housed Little Star. It was opened on January 2, 2006. Studies have shown that new customers tend to dwindle after a restaurant has been opened for two years, but Big Fatty’s seems to still be adding regulars because of their poor roadside visibility.

The restaurant’s interior looks like an old time diner. We were greeted by Kelly, a waitress who has worked there since its opening. She was informative (the source of my information) and delightful. She immediately sold me on the blue plate special (which changes daily) - chicken & dumplings. The menu says: “We served these to a movie crew from L.A. and they were ready to move down south (don’t worry, we talked them out of it.) If a restaurant serves this dish, there is a good chance I am ordering it.

The dish was served on vintage Shoney’s Blue Plate Special plates. The restaurant did not steal them (though that might be kind of cool if they did, says the sinful part of me). They get all of their plates from either Best Priced Equipment (a store that sells discarded restaurant supplies at 1719 N Central) or from Goodwill. They also serve their pudding in traditional striped popcorn bowls. I love the concept.

I also got to sides: Scalloped potatoes and Brunswick stew. Brunswick stew is tomato based and chocked full of various meats. It is traditionally made from the likes of roadkill. It is named from its place of origin though there seems to be a debate as to where that is. In Georgia, a plaque on a pot in Brunswick states that the first Brunswick stew was cooked in it on July 2, 1898. A competing story, however, claims that the dish hails from Brunswick County, Virginia. Only in the south would there be a debate as to who originated a dish made from roadkill.

Both sides were great. JTH let me sample his fried okra as Kelly had told him that she thought it was the best she had ever eaten. Indeed, it was good.

I loved the atmosphere. The restaurant has a foosball table. (Not a Water Boy reference, but an actual foosball game.) In addition, Motown songs played throughout our stay. They even played the rare Temptations song “Don’t Look Back,” one of the few singles in which Paul Williams sang lead. If you cannot tell, I loved this place!

If the words calorie or cholesterol mean a great deal to you, do not go here. If you want a great Southern meal, go and go often. The place also caters and dopes take out orders. If interested call 865-219-8317.

After gorging ourselves and feeling like big fatties, JTH and I ran errands at Wal-Mart and McKays. JTH actually bought more at Wal-Mart than I did! (I bought nothing.) Naturally, the same trend did not follow at the book store...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 5/6/2008

Associated Baptist Press
May 6, 2008 (8-47)

IN THIS ISSUE:
Crowded SBC presidential field grows by 2: Avery Willis, Johnny Hunt
Upcoming ‘Manifesto’ rebukes evangelicals for becoming pawns
Half of SBC churches could die before 2030, president predicts
Nashville megachurch fails to oust dissident members
Christ identifies with poor, Vestal tells Baylor students
Opinion: How real is the Resurrection?

Crowded SBC presidential field grows by 2: Avery Willis, Johnny Hunt
By Robert Marus

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (ABP) -- A crowded field of hopefuls for the Southern Baptist Convention presidency appears to be developing, with two high-profile candidates set to join three already-announced nominees.

Retired SBC International Mission Board executive Avery Willis and Atlanta-area pastor Johnny Hunt will reportedly be nominated for the denomination’s top position. SBC messengers will elect a new president and conduct other business during the body’s annual meeting, scheduled for June 10-11 in Indianapolis.

Willis will reportedly be nominated by John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo. An Associated Baptist Press reporter, acting on tips from several sources, spoke to Marshall’s assistant the evening of May 5. She said she could not confirm that he would nominate Willis, but would convey the request for confirmation to him.

Marshall had not returned the message as of midday May 6. But The Pathway, the in-house news organ of the conservative-dominated Missouri Baptist Convention, posted a notice on its website late the evening of May 5 that Marshall had “announced May 6” his intention to nominate Willis. It also said further details would be published May 7.

Hunt also did not respond to ABP's request for confirmation of tips that he would be nominated. But Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., confirmed via e-mail May 6 that he would nominate Hunt.

"For 12 years, many in the SBC have wanted to have Johnny lead and serve our convention as president," Traylor said. "His passion is to reach the nations. I know of no other pastor who has had a positive influence on more young pastors than Dr. Hunt. Our future as a convention requires that we connect with those young church leaders."

Willis retired in 2004 as IMB’s senior vice president for overseas operations. A former missionary to Indonesia, he is well known across the SBC as an expert on missiology and discipleship. He created the MasterLife discipleship series used by the SBC’s publishing agency, now known as LifeWay Christian Resources. He now lives in Bella Vista, Ark., but continues to work with several initiatives that bring evangelical missions organizations together for joint evangelism strategies.

Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., was initially expected to be a candidate during the last contested SBC presidential election, in 2006. But he dropped out a month before the convention.

Although he was the first choice of the SBC's conservative leadership in 2006, Hunt was likely to face opposition from one or more other factions in the convention -- most notably a

loose-knit group of younger conservatives protesting what they called the leadership's narrow and exclusivistic track record.

Instead, Hunt nominated Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church of Springdale, Ark., that year. But Floyd and another candidate with the support of some SBC power-brokers -- Nashville, Tenn., pastor Jerry Sutton -- both lost to an outsider candidate, South Carolina pastor Frank Page, who is completing his second one-year term next month. Presidents customarily are re-elected to a second term but cannot serve more than two consecutively.

Both Hunt and Floyd came under heavy criticism for their churches’ weak records of giving to the Cooperative Program, the denomination’s unified budget. Page, in contrast, had consistently led his church to give a relatively high percentage of its undesignated receipts to denomination.

The presidency has been the key to gaining and retaining control of the 16 million-member denomination and its agencies. The SBC's inerrantist leaders have controlled the position for almost three decades, usually running unopposed. Since 1979, all SBC presidents have been inerrantists. But only two were elected without the approval of the small cadre of insiders who directed the denomination’s rightward shift, which took place during the same period.

The 2008 SBC presidential election was thrown into disarray in February, after Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler dropped out of the race for health reasons. He was widely expected to be the establishment candidate for the position.

Three other candidates for the spot have already been announced. Frank Cox, pastor of the Atlanta-area North Metro First Baptist Church, has already been announced. His large congregation also has a strong record of CP giving.

Two long-shot candidates from California have also announced their candidacies: former Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bill Wagner, and Orange County pastor and activist Wiley Drake.

Drake, who pastors the tiny First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., has for more than a decade been an SBC annual-meeting gadfly known for his folksy humor and frequent motions on behalf of ultraconservative causes, including a controversial boycott of Disney.

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Upcoming ‘Manifesto’ rebukes evangelicals for becoming pawns
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Several prominent conservative Christian leaders, in a joint statement to be unveiled May 7, are rebuking their fellow American evangelicals for allowing secular politics to co-opt their faith.

“An Evangelical Manifesto,” set to be released at a Washington press conference, reportedly criticizes evangelicals for allowing the religious label to become synonymous with conservative politics.

The Associated Press, which attained a draft of the statement in advance of the announcement, reported May 2 that the manifesto is “starkly self-critical” of the evangelical movement for focusing on secular politics to the detriment of the gospel proclamation that is at the core of evangelicalism.

“That way faith loses its independence, Christians become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology,” the statement, according to the AP, says.

Press materials said the manifesto “seeks to clarify the confusions and corruptions surrounding the term ‘evangelical’ that have grown so deep that the character of what it means has been obscured and its importance lost.”

The statement was spearheaded by popular evangelical author Os Guinness. Among its more than 80 initial signatories are Richard Muow, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; and David Neff, editor of Christianity Today.

It criticizes evangelicals at both ends of the political spectrum for getting so heavily involved in fighting over culture-war issues -- such as abortion rights and gay rights -- that they have earned evangelicals the reputation of being little more than a political special-interest group. The document is clearly aimed at the most politically active evangelical conservatives, however.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most prominent Religious Right activists have not signed on to the document. According to news reports, its signers don’t include figures like Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council or Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The document is the latest evidence of an increasingly apparent division within American evangelicalism between emerging leaders and many in the old guard of the movement. Younger leaders -- and some of their older allies -- have lamented the increasingly strong identification of the evangelical tradition with the Republican Party’s conservative wing. Many of them also have encouraged evangelical leaders to move away from a focus on fighting legalized abortion and gay rights without a similarly intense focus on issues like protecting the environment, fighting global AIDS and poverty and supporting international religious freedom and other human rights.

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Half of SBC churches could die before 2030, president predicts
By Douglas Baker


CARY, N.C. (ABP) -- The Southern Baptist Convention is rapidly dying, and resistance to change could kill over half of the denomination’s churches by 2030, the outgoing SBC president said May 1.

Unless something is done to reverse the downward trend, Southern Baptist churches could number only 20,000 -- down from the current total of more than 44,000 -- in fewer than 22 years, South Carolina pastor Frank Page said. His comments came in a conference call with pastors, hosted by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Page said the problem “resided in the churches” that refuse to change to stop their inevitable demise. He said the SBC downturn is not the denomination’s fault – because of poor programming or lack of emphasis on the denominational level.

“The reality is it’s our fault,” Page told the Pastor’s Disciple-Making Network, an initiative of the North Carolina convention. “People rarely rise above the level of their pastor’s spiritual life, and it is critical that pastors maintain a vibrant walk with Christ.”

Page confessed to the “busyness” which often accompanies life in modern ministry, with committees and administrative responsibilities overwhelming a pastor’s schedule to the point that he has no time for serious study of the Bible, prayer or mediation. “Pastors can easily get distracted, and they must fight against it, because pastors must remain learners of Jesus for as long as they live,” said Page, pastor of First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C.

“Many Southern Baptist churches are small groups of white people who are holding on [until] the end,” he said. “Not only have we not reached out to younger generations, but we have failed to reach out to other ethnic minorities who are all around us.”

Rather than embracing a “whatever it takes” mentality to change and restore a local church to health, Page said, many pastors and churches have “chosen to die rather than change, and they are doing it.”

Page said the vision of pastors must be biblical, firm and resolute, or else when they face “the horizon of trouble, their vision is the first thing out the window.” Pastors must stay the course or risk being blown off course by the trials that accompany any change in any church, Page emphasized.

“Church members must be helped to catch the vision, and pastors must work to bring their people to a place of trust” so they will follow the pastor’s vision, he said.

Personal interaction with the pastor and times of pastoral care and concern are essential to establishing relationships capable of embracing change, Page continued.

“Until I pastored a congregation of more than 1,000 people, I always personally called every member on their birthday,” Page said. As a result, in times of personal crisis or church-wide change, they knew “that their pastor was involved in their lives and cared about them,” he said.

Page’s recent book, The Incredible Shrinking Church, discusses the declining status of churches in America. The book attempts to help churches make the transition from a mentality of an inevitable decline, without resorting to non-biblical organizational tactics.

Although change is a church imperative, Page said, there is “no national entity currently helping them do that.”

Making that transition was the topic of discussion by the pastors after Page left the conference call.

“I see no more courageous call for any pastor than to lead their people to leave behind unbiblical methods of ministry and embrace news ways of accomplishing biblical goals,” said Rick Hughes, the state convention’s senior consultant for discipleship. “We must face the fact that much of the American church is declining for a very biblical reason: We have failed to be and make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Pastor’s Disciple-Making Network was established to provide fellowship, instruction and opportunities for interaction with evangelical scholars and church leaders.

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-- Douglas Baker is director of public relations for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Nashville megachurch fails to oust dissident members
By Lonnie Wilkey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- A May 4 vote to oust 71 dissident members of Nashville, Tenn., megachurch Two Rivers Baptist Church failed by four votes -- less than half a percent.

The 71 members are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against church leaders last year alleging improper spending practices and seeking access to financial records.

The ouster attempt was proposed by embattled pastor Jerry Sutton and the deacon chair, Carlos Cobos.

Exactly 1,000 church members voted, according to a letter Cobos sent to the congregation after the vote. Of those voting, 663 voted to dismiss the plaintiffs, while 337 voted “no.” A two-thirds approval was required, Cobos said in the letter, but the motion fell four votes short -- with 66.3 percent.

Last October, Sutton, who has served Two Rivers for more than two decades, easily won a churchwide vote of confidence in his leadership -- 1,101-286. The plaintiffs had asked a local judge to stop the vote-of-confidence meeting, but she refused.

One month earlier, those church members filed the lawsuit charging Sutton with refusing to release church records to members and with using church funds on his daughter’s wedding reception and other questionable expenses. Sutton has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The April 23 motion to dismiss the suit-filing members read: “Because of the continued violation of biblical standards clearly outlined in our constitution and bylaws, and because of the damage done to the witness, reputation, and welfare of Two Rivers Baptist Church, we, the pastor and deacon officers, in compliance with our church’s bylaws, move that the plaintiffs be dismissed from church membership.”

The motion was presented to members in an April 23 letter, which noted that the plaintiffs could choose to repent before the May 4 vote, have a private meeting with two deacons, remove themselves from the lawsuit, and pledge not to be part of an appeal or any future lawsuits. The plaintiffs stood their ground, however, and remained in the lawsuit.

In the May 4 letter, Cobos acknowledged that “though Robert’s Rules of Order states that those being disciplined are not entitled to vote, the deacon chairman made a decision before the beginning of the counting process to include the votes of the 71 plaintiffs.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Freeman, was allowed to observe the vote count, Cobos told Two Rivers members in the letter.

Freeman praised the deacons for their action. “We spent several hours together and counted and recounted the ballots,” he told the Tennessean newspaper May 5. “All the counting was done in good faith.”

Church member Peggy Lewis was one of the 71 who went to church May 4 expecting to be voted out. After hearing the results of the vote, she told the Tennessean, “I’m just praising Jesus. God is still on the throne.”

Two Rivers Baptist is one of the most prominent congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention, which is headquartered in Nashville. Many of the denomination’s top leaders attend the church. Sutton, a one-time SBC first vice president, lost a three-way race for the SBC presidency in 2006.

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Christ identifies with poor,Vestal tells Baylor students
By Marv Knox

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- God identifies with the poor and the powerless, and Christians encounter Christ when they serve the weakest of the world’s citizens, Daniel Vestal recently told a group of social-work students at Baylor University.

“Concern for the poor and the powerless is not partisan politics. It is central and integral to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” stressed Vestal, executive coordinator of the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, at an April 24 dinner.

Baptists haven’t always realized that truth, Vestal said, acknowledging he did not comprehend the connection between Christ and the poor when he was a young person growing up in a Texas Baptist church.

“The gospel used to be more about pie-in-the-sky than the here-and-now,” he recalled.

Vestal said his own “social conscience” was awakened almost exactly 40 years ago, when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.

Vestal was a graduate student at Baylor in the spring of 1968. “I realized I bore responsibility for social and economic justice,” he remembered.

But many Baptists still have been “wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years,” while the gap widens between rich and poor Americans and between rich and poor nations, he said.

Social workers trained at Baylor are “wonderful examples of practitioners of the gospel,” as they serve the poor and powerless, Vestal said. Unfortunately, they do not represent a dominant position among Christians, he added, lamenting, “The wind of the Spirit [regarding compassion for the poor] is getting more of a hearing in the world than in the church.”

Still, Vestal noted, throughout the Gospels Jesus continually expressed love and concern for the poor. He even went so far as to tell his followers the criterion for their own divine judgment will be how well they cared for the poor and powerless.

Since Pentecost -- not long after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, when the Holy Spirit descended on the young church -- “Christ is no longer limited to time and place,” and the church’s task is to minister on behalf of Christ to the poor, for whom he cared so deeply, Vestal said.

Christian social work is distinctive, because it is centered upon Christ, who is “hidden among the poor,” he said, adding Christ also is “served among the poor” when the needs of the weak and powerless are tended.

“If you want to see the face of Christ, go to the poor, the powerless, the suffering,” he advised. “As you take Christ to them, you will find he already is there.”

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Opinion: How real is the Resurrection?
By Beth Newman

(ABP) -- A young woman who had been visiting in the United Methodist congregation my husband serves came to him to inquire about membership. He was, of course, happy to answer her questions, but wondered about the “problems” she said that she had with her previous congregation.

Well, she replied, some of the things taught there struck her as a little creepy and almost cultish. Pressed for a specific example she replied that she was told that our bodies would someday be raised from their graves. By the way, she recited the Apostles Creed by heart along with the rest of the congregation each Sunday.

I recalled this incident upon reading an interview in a recent Newsweek with the Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright. The occasion for the interview was the publication of Wright’s most recent book, Surprised By Hope. But the essence of the bishop’s remarks was this: Today, talking about the Resurrection of Jesus means talking about something that few persons have actually heard of. Sort of.

Wright means that insisting on the historicity of the Resurrection is the new part. People are used to hearing of the event spoken of as myth, metaphor, or symbol. People, presumably Christian people, are used to hearing about the “spiritual” meaning of the “Easter event.” It’s just that these same people aren’t really able to say what it has to do with anything.

The fact that these assumptions were featured in a publication as clearly mainstream and middlebrow as Newsweek made me wonder how far gone we really are. That the promise of the resurrection of our own bodies seemed to our church’s guest more like a scene from a zombie movie than the consummation of God’s redemptive activity is disturbing in more ways that one.

My alarm is not that there are large parts of the church that don’t think as I do. While that disturbs me, it doesn’t alarm me. The problem, rather, is that the keystone of the Christian story is now missing from the lives and the minds of so many believers. Whether this is from laziness on the part of our preachers and teachers (which I doubt) or from an admirable desire to communicate with its surrounding culture (which is probably the case), we seem to have lost the thread of the only story we have to tell.

My observations have been raised by others as have the typical responses: that the real business of the church is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, defend the oppressed. That is certainly true. But as our friend Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, it is the height of arrogance to imagine that one must be religious in order to be just, compassionate, or caring. To speak of the Resurrection is certainly not the only way to underwrite a particular way of life. But it is our way.

If I wished to be cynical, I might point out that after 2,000 years of being about the “real business” of the church, the amount of misery in the world seems to have remained constant. As I write these words, thousands have died in Myanmar and thousands more will die. The Christian reason to keep trying in the face of all this misery is not that our striving will end this, but that each individual body is precious to God. The resurrection is the proof of that.

Further, the church’s apparent late-to-the-party attitude toward an issue like climate change derives from not doctrinal navel-gazing or self-absorption, but from our failure fully to imagine all the implications of a bodily resurrection. As Bishop Wright observes, the resurrection of Jesus “gives you a sense of what God wants to do for the whole world….” The resurrection is ultimately about God’s desire for all of creation; through Christ, God is remaking humanity and the cosmos.

As the bearers of the gospel, let’s be sure we understand that.

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Bible Trivia - 5/6/2008

Question: What did Pharaoh give his daughter as a dowry when she became Solomon's bride?

Answer: The ruined city of Gezer. (I Kings 9:16)

Comments: The Bible specifically notes that Pharaoh gave the burned city of Gezer as a dowry. The city was strategically situated on the International Coastal Highway.

For Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon's wife. (I Kings 9:16, NASB)

The real question is whether the Hebrew groom celebrated Passover with his Egyptian wife...

Word of the Day - 5/6/2008

Rubicund

Rubicund means red or reddish; ruddy: a rubicund complexion.

King David is described twice as being rubicund. (I Samuel 16:12, 17:42).

When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, with a handsome appearance. (I Samuel 17:42, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 5/6/2008

I had a very busy Monday, burying my grandmother in Newport in the afternoon and celebrating Cinco de Mayo with my friends in Knoxville later in the evening. While the two appear to be very different gatherings, both were celebrations.

My parents and I met a group of “mourners” at our church at 2:30 to caravan to Newport for the funeral. The support was overwhelming. We had assumed the funeral would be small as virtually all of my 94-year old grandmother’s friends were dead. We were wrong as several hundred people attended to support us.

On little notice, my church sent three representatives from the ministerial staff - RWB, MLM, and GWS. We were amazed and honored. RWB and MLM shared memories from their first funerals as ministers with me. MLM was working in Chattanooga just out of seminary and was called on when a stranger died. He preached on I Corinthians 15. RWB’s funeral debut was horrific as two weeks out of seminary he performed the funeral for an avowed atheist and alcoholic who committed suicide in front of mother while watching television! Their horror stories made me appreciate how good it was that my grandmother’s eulogy would be given by someone who knew her, even if it was me.

The trip up was great. My father drove, which provided a nice reprieve. SPP, an adopted family member, road with us making the journey far more enjoyable. This was my first experience with Knoxville’s rerouted interstate system. I-40 closed on May 1 forcing us to take the bypass, 640. If the detour delayed us, the postponement was negligible.

My immediate family all wore blue as it was my grandmother’s favorite color. Many of her dresses and virtually all of her automobiles were blue. Amazingly, my father did not own a blue shirt and had to go buy one to coordinate with us. This is the beautiful blue coffin my grandmother was buried in.

The funeral went well. My cousin HANW and I reunited and formed the same tandem we had from my grandfather’s funeral over a decade ago. I delivered the eulogy and she sang Stuart Townend’s contemporary Christian hit “In Christ Alone.” She was great. MLM did note that I did not shake each member of the funeral party's hands (as is protocol), but otherwise the ministers in attendance were complimentary of my performance as well.

My barometer on funeral sermons is that if the sermon comforts the family to the degree that they do not cry and makes those who did not know the deceased weep, then it is a great sermon. I do not know if the eulogy was great, but my mother was comforted and that was good enough for me.

It is strange what people take comfort in at funerals. My mother was ecstatic all day because my grandmother was buried on a beautiful day. It was one of the prettiest days I have ever seen, with nary a cloud in sight and a breeze that made the weather pleasant. The view of the mountains from her plot is striking. I, on the other hand, took solace that she was buried between her two beloved older brothers, Chandler (tombstone pictured) on her left and John M. to her right. It just seemed fitting.

The staff at Manes Funeral Home could not have been better to us. The two proprietors, Chris (CLA) and Conchita Austin (CFA), knew my grandparents well. CFA said that when she was ill, my grandparents brought her something daily. She took great care in preparing my grandmother’s hair. We were very appreciative.

We were especially interested that my grandfather had shared his experiences at Pearl Harbor at length with them. This was interesting as it was a topic that he never discussed with the family. My grandfather was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed on Sunday morning, having had a late night out the Saturday night before. Presuming the navy was on maneuvers, his initial reaction was “these navy guys have gone too far this time.” He knew the attack was real when a water tower fell. He could clearly see a Japanese pilot from the ground. (He never truly got over his resentment of the Japanese and was offended when my parents bought a Subaru in the 1980s. I was offended because it was a lame car.) My grandfather rushed to secure weapons but they were locked up and in different places. He only had a .45 but he shot at the plane while still in his underwear. It did no good, but it made him feel better.

The army, fearing an invasion, quickly went into action to block the island’s beaches. By Wednesday, they finally realized that an invasion was not in the works. My grandfather went to see the girl he had been with the night before the attacks and learned from her mother that she had married another soldier! I also learned that my grandfather dated one of the legendary Andrews Sisters during the war. We believe it was Maxene. It was not a serious relationship and he may have merely shared a dance with her. Her overprotective father allowed little more.

It was great seeing many of our old friends. As usual, my good friend and new local attorney CAL made my day. I commented how proud I was of her brother, WML, on his new job in Seattle with Microsoft. I thought it was an accomplishment worthy of an article in the local paper. She admitted her pride to but added, “It’s not like he’s a lawyer or anything, but I am proud of him.”

Before leaving Newport, we made time to visit the local Goodwill that DLB has managed the store for 4½ years. DLB babysat me for years before we lived in Newport. We were all glad to see her.

I rushed back to Knoxville to attend the Cinco de Mayo party I had planned. I provided the supplies while RAW hosted the event and KLTW served as taco chef. Before going, I had pillaged the local Wal-Mart and Party City of many Mexican products. Wal-Mart even had a “Cinco Centro.” That means “Cinco Center.” I have never had a Spanish class. Are you impressed?

KLTW and I took KJW to Food City to acquire the tacos and their toppings. It is always fun shopping with them and pushing KJW around the store. We bought numerous toppings and taco shells. We did forget one thing ... the meat. This is sort of a significant portion of the taco. We called JTH and he correct the omission.

We had a great crowd. Ten people showed up: JTH, KL, WAM, DBN, MP, KLTW, KJW, MPW, RAW, and myself. I must lament that KL and MPW were conspicuously absent a good part of the evening, often venturing off by themselves. Ah, young love...

It was especially good to see DBN. (Yes, he is still married, we just do not get to see his wife.) DBN regaled us with a series of jokes. My favorite - Question: “What did the necktie say to the hat?” Answer: "You go on ahead. I'll hang around for a while." I have really missed Mongo.

Everyone was supplied with a sombrero. I actually had no complaints as everyone wore theirs willingly. It was worth the price just to see KJW in the hat. We set the radio to WKZX 93.5 FM (Regional Mexican) and KJW danced much of the night.

The food was also a hit. KLTW has a career in taco making if radiography does not pan out. I bought something known as chicharrones, which as far as I can tell are Mexican pork rinds. DBN asked who purchased the fried pork fat and when I confessed, he told me that I was a good man. Still, I do not think anyone sampled them. We ate a Cinco de Mayo cookie cake from Wal-Mart for dessert. Though this did not seem to fit with traditional Mexican cuisine, it was a hit.

We then went outside to waste a Dora the Explorer pull piñata. I bought Dora because she is one of the few characters I felt the Walker family would enjoy demolishing. KJW’s fist cousin Jake loathes Dora and his hatred has been contagious. Yes, a 6-year old has that big an influence. DBN and I had filled it to the max with candy and we were ready for action. Or so we thought...

We found we forgot something else - we had nothing to beat the piñata with. So we improvised, using KJW’s plastic carrot baseball bats left over from Easter. We all took pot shots at Dora, though never at her face. I am not sure what took more abuse, the ill-equipped bats or the piñata. Things got out of hand quickly when WAM began using his karate on the piñata. The event came to a screeching halt when RAW took out his machete and decapitated Dora leaving her head swinging from his patio. To be honest, each turn of events (except maybe the carrot baseball bats) was predictable given the participants. (Note: KJW was absent for this carnage as she was being watched by the always missing couple of MPW and KL.)

The night concluded at a bonfire with the roasting of marshmallows and making of s’mores. This was clearly not very Mexican. I accidentally set my mallows on fire. It was worth it to reference them being “en fuego” and recapturing some of the evening’s Mexican theme.

For the record 5/5 is not even Mexican independence day. Mexico declared its independence from Spain on midnight, September 15th, 1810, and it took eleven years before the first Spanish soldiers were told and forced to leave Mexico. Cinco de Mayo commemorates 4,000 Mexican soldiers defeating an army of 8000 composed of French and traitors at Puebla, Mexico, on the morning of May 5th, 1862. As far as I am concerned a French defeat is always worth celebrating. Then again, I celebrate just about anything.

In a dated, effeminate, and obscure movie reference, do you think Novalee Nation (Nalatie Portman in Where the Heart Is) hated Cinco de Mayo?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Prayer Blog - 5/5/2008

CEH, a missionary friend, has asked for prayer as she leaves today for South Asia.

Regarding prayer, she wrote:

Here are a few praises and prayer request to be lifted up!
Praise God, that He provided this opportunity to work along side Him in South Asia!
Praise God, that we got our visa's and funding for this mission trip!
Praise God for the missionaries all ready working in the South Asia harvest field and around the world!
Please pray for safety as we travel...safe flight, getting through customs, immigration, all of our luggage arrives, etc.
Please pray for open doors to share the truth with nationals, and that we would have boldness and wisdom in how we share the gift of eternal life.
Please pray for joy amidst the journey, and that Laura and I will both grow in our own personal prayer life and relationship with Christ.

WAM Quote of the Day - 5/5/2008

WAM attended our Cinco de Mayo party tonight and helpfully intervened as KJW was stepping on her fragile Magna Doodle. It is a toy that allows her to draw and quickly erase her work. WAM picked her up off of it and explained to her:

“We do not tap dance on writing implements...This is not modern art.”

It must have worked as KJW did not seem to mind the interruption and did not step on it the rest of the night.

Eulogy for Mary Louise Jones Nodell (1914-2008)

This is my first funeral and I discovered that a lot of ministers might begin with a Bible verse or story, but since this is for my grandmother, I decided to give you a synopsis of the entire Bible story. Do not get too excited. After the world was created a lovely young couple named Adam and Eve (you may have heard of them), lived in a utopian garden. Due to some unfortunate circumstances that I will not get into, they had their house repossessed. The rest of the book is about them and their descendants trying to get back home. I tell you this because this is my grandmother’s story too, save for that whole repossessed business.

My grandmother was born in 1914 in Newport. She had devoted parents and two older brothers, Chandler (which is a mighty good name) and John M. Her brothers were very nurturing. For instance, in the winter, they would tie a sled up to their car and pull her. They taught her to swim in a method that would make the judges at the Salem witch trials proud. They threw her into Carson Springs and in if she didn’t sink, she learned. Around these parts, there is a fine line between attempted murder (like Adam and Eve’s boys) and teaching. My grandmother always remembered these days fondly and never forgot how much she loved her brothers.

It was from her brothers that she got the name "Sis" (Short for "sister.") My grandmother was born with the name "Mary Louise" but I seldom heard her called by that name in my home. I called her "Grandma." My mom called her "Mom." My father called her "Sis" long after her brother had passed away. All these names are relational. This is fitting as relationships were my grandmother’s top priority.

My grandmother got to attend UT for two years before her family’s money ran out. They had were hit hard by the depression. Soon after, she got a job as a teacher at the Edgemont school here in Cocke County. On the day of her funeral, I regret to acknowledge that she was fired from the job. She was fired because she was a registered democrat which I suppose was a perfectly good reason at the time. Some of you still might find that suitable grounds for termination.

Then in the 1940s, her life changed. A big blessing came with an event called World War II. The war itself was not he blessing, but through it she met my grandfather. Dick Nodell was on maneuvers when Newport hosted the troops in the Memorial Building. My grandmother served him refreshments. He always said, "I was on maneuvers but I got outmaneuvered." An affinity for bad puns evidently run in the family.

My grandfather, a native New Yorker from Queens, decided he wanted to marry my grandmother and she agreed based upon one condition. He must bring her home every summer and Christmas and they would retire to Newport. My grandfather never once broke his promise. They lived in New York where he was teacher and later principal, but came home every summer. (On one of those trips my mother met my father.) My grandmother’s body left Newport, but part of her was always here wishing for the relationships that were so dear to her.

There are not many stories of my grandmother involving great hijinx. My grandfather was the prankster. Behind every great prankster is a woman embarrassed by his antics and that woman was my grandmother. It took a woman with my grandmother’s sweet disposition to compliment Dick Nodell. You see, he was an acquired taste. Let me explain. I have a two-year old goddaughter and there are some foods she eats and likes immediately. For example, the kid never complains about chocolate. My grandmother was chocolate to my grandfather’s asparagus. If I had to describe my grandmother in one word is would be "Sweet." I have always said that she and my Aunt Carwin were the sweetest people I ever met. (I can’t help it that they both happened to be related to me.)

I loved my grandfather but I can honestly say that he and his family were a cantankerous bunch. They argued about anything and everything just for the fun of it. The last time my grandfather’s sister visited I chauffeured her to see my grandmother. She said that of all the people she had met, my grandmother was the easiest to get along with. I knew she must be because the woman in my car was not the easiest person to get along with.

I recently talked about my grandmother with one of her best friends from New York (Edith). There was something I just had to know. While I am the same person in public and private, my good friends know exactly who I like and who I do not. So, I asked Edith if my grandmother ever said a bad word about anyone. She could not remember so. I can’t either.

Grandma would go to great lengths to be accommodating. Though she would have rather been home, she accompanied my grandfather to Europe every summer. One time, my grandmother did not want her mother to know she smoked. Her secret was almost leaked one day when her mother interrupted her during a smoke break. To avoid offending her, my grandmother put the cigarette out in her hand. To her the pain in her hand was nothing compared to hurting her mother. My grandmother never wanted to bother anyone or put anyone out.

In New York, my grandmother settled into being a wife and mother to my mom Dotty and her brother Rick. I would tell you what years they were born, but I do not wish to face the consequences that would follow. I recently traveled to her homes in Farmingdale and Oyster Bay and if you have seen "Leave it to Beaver" you have seen them. My grandmother was June Cleaver, give or take the cooking. She was the ideal mother that everyone would have wanted.

When it was time to retire, again my grandfather was true to his word. They moved back here to Cocke County. I know what you’re thinking. Thomas Wolfe has gotten it into out heads that you can’t go home again. Thomas Wolfe never lived in Newport. When she got back her friends - Ella (Wood), Dot (Talcott), Jo, Jackie (Mims), and Elizabeth (Stokely) were all still here. Margaret Elizabeth Sangster (1838-1912) wrote, "There's nothing half so pleasant as coming home again." My grandmother would have agreed. If the sum of a persons life is the true friends they acquired along the way my grandmother lived a rich life and made others richer for having known her.

She enjoyed life in Newport and while there gladly added Bill and Jo into her family. No distinction was ever made between child and in-law. I do not mean to brag, but she was especially proud of her five grandchildren.

Most of you know, my grandmother battled Alzheimer’s the last 16 years of her life. Even this period was not without its levity. In the disease’s infancy, my grandmother resided at Williamsburg Villas. Though she would have struggled to remember her name, she somehow managed to watch people press the four digit security code and retain it. She not only escaped from the community, but led those retirees out of there like Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt.

On close examination, there is more to the story. If she were trying to sneak out, she would have done so alone. One absence is far less conspicuous than many. To borrow a phrase from sports there is no I in Grandma. Even in an entirely new environment, she was still about relationships.

Someone once wrote how limited cancer is. They wrote things like "It cannot suppress memories." Alzheimer’s can. It took the Solitaire games away, which she played religiously. Eventually it even took her love of chocolate. But it did not take all of grandmother. The last words I remember her trying to convey were at Christmas 2006. By then, the disease had taken over. My mother was always faithful to visit and give her a gift. When she saw the gift, my grandmother tried very hard to say, "But I don’t have anything for you." Till the end, she was sweet and polite. Alzheimer’s never took this.

And now she is back in Newport. It is fitting she will be buried here. She traveled the globe with my grandfather but never found a place she liked more. I am convinced she is going to a better home than even Newport.

My hope comes from the Bible. There was another Bible man was named Abraham. He too was asked to leave his home. The book of Hebrews tells us why he could. Pay attention because there is a good chance each of you will die and you may want to remember this.

"By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:9-10)


We are all aliens on earth as our real home awaits in heaven. Now I don’t want to spoil the Bible’s ending for you, but we, Adam and Eve’s descendants, can make it back home. There are a lot of plot twists along the way but a guy named Jesus intervenes and gives us a way back just by believing in Him. My grandmother did and I am certain she has made her way back home again. May we all be so blessed.

In Memory of Mary Louise Jones Nodell

Mary Louise Jones Nodell (March 16, 1914-May 3, 2008)

As many of you know my grandmother passed away on Saturday night. My mother's mother was one of the sweetest people I ever met and I will miss her. This picture of my parents and grandparents was taken at my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary party.

The following is the obituary my mother and I collaborated on. It appeared in today's edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel and Tuesday's edition of her hometown paper, The Newport Plain Talk. Unfortunately, her local paper does not have a Monday edition and as such the obituary will be printed after her funeral.

Mary Louise “Sis” Nodell, age 94, formerly of Newport, passed away Saturday, May 3, 2008 at the Shannondale Health Care Center. She was born, March 16, 1914, the youngest of three children to John M. and Dora Susong Jones. She was valedictorian of her class at Cocke County High School and went on to attend the University of Tennessee where she was a member of the Phi Mu Sorority. She worked as a teacher at the Edgemont School in Cocke County and at the Taylor Grocery Company before marrying Richard Ellis Nodell on February 13, 1944. It was then that she gravitated to the roles that would define her – wife, mother and friend. She excelled at each. She was a member of numerous organizations including being a lifelong member of the First Baptist Church of Newport and founding member of the Cocke County chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Though the family mourns her loss, it is grateful that her suffering has subsided and she is now with her heavenly father. She was preceded in death by her parents; her beloved brothers; her devoted husband, Richard Ellis Nodell and her loving cousin, Elizabeth Stokley. She is survived by her daughter, Dotty Nodell Vinson (and husband Bill) of Knoxville; son, Richard “Rick” Nodell (and wife Jo) of Knoxville. She also leaves five grandchildren Chandler Vinson of Knoxville; Adrienne Nodell Walker (and husband Michael) of Knoxville; Haley Nodell Johnson (and husband Damien) of Pensacola, Florida; Amelia Nodell of Amherst, Massachusetts; and Hannah Nodell of Knoxville. We express much appreciation to the Shannondale staff for their care and concern. Graveside services will be held 4:00 pm Monday, May 5, 2008 in Union Cemetery with Rev. Chandler Vinson, presiding. In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to the Alzheimer’s Association at 2200 Sutherland Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37919.