Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Passion for Pop-Tarts

The Kellogg's website proclaims: "We believe life should be sprinkled with happiness, frosted with possibilities and filled with fun. Just like Pop-Tarts toaster pastries." That kind of statement will preach, won't it? At least in America.
I was on the Kellogg's website because I found myself craving Pop-Tarts last week. I was driving north of Akron on Rt. 8 when all of a sudden and without prior warning Pop-Tarts came into my mind. I didn't feel sprinkled with happiness or frosted with possibilities, but I felt a craving for those toaster pastries. As these unbidden thoughts entered my mind, my mouth actually started to water, and I could taste that Brown Sugar Cinnamon. I was startled by how powerful that craving was and how real the taste seemed. Usually only my close friend, Mr. Caffeine, has that kind of grip on me.
I have not eaten a Pop-Tart in years, but if I hadn't shaken off that thought I was only minutes away from the cereal aisle and that sugary delight in my mouth. I probably would have opened the package right in the store. At one time, Pop-Tarts were a regular part of my daily food pyramid, at least for the summer. I spent many summer weeks as the Director of Camp Christian, and Pop-Tarts were often the late night snack that we gave to our middle-school aged campers. What a better way to prepare a child to sleep away a humid July night after the Monday night square dance than by offering them a warm glass of milk and a cold Pop-Tart. Counselors often thanked us for giving their charges sugar right before bedtime. We had cases of those delightful snacks in the office, and as the Director I could have one anytime I wanted to. What a great job benefit! And even if I tried to eat just one, I always ended up eating that second one that came in the package because I felt so bad for it being all alone in that little box.
The grip of Pop-Tart passion last week was undeniable, and it reminded me of that quote that sin starts in the mind and in the heart before it moves to other parts of our bodies. And that's why Jesus made such a big deal of pointing out to his followers that they can commit a sin like adultery without even touching another person. It all starts in the head.
Pop-Tarts have tried to enter my mind a couple of times since last week. They know that they got my attention, and they are lurking at the door of my heart encouraging me to invite them in. And they would taste so good. I know they would. But so far I have managed to say: "Get behind me, Satan! Take away thy vile calories."
What is lurking outside the door of your heart?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Nicole, our Director of Community Ministries, went to a FREE PASTORS LUNCH with me last week. As the pastor of a local church, I receive a number of invitations to a FREE PASTORS BREAKFAST or LUNCH. Clergy respond to the words FREE and FOOD in the same sentence as if it is an altar call for them. This particular invitation offered a meal at a buffet, and do you know a pastor who can turn that down? I don't know if I have met one.

I had second thoughts before we even got to the event because I have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a FREE PASTORS LUNCH. I once attended one meal in which we were required to sit through a sermon by a main speaker. I was willing to do that, but when the speaker announced that she couldn't decide between two messages so she would be preaching them both, I knew I was in trouble. I stayed through the first message, paying my dues, then left. No FREE CLERGY MEAL is worth sitting through two sermons. And the coffee was weak and the eggs were cold.

When we arrived at the restaurant it was packed with thrifty men and women of God (mostly men). I didn't recognize any of them. Apparently Nicole and I were in a select group that no other members of our denomination belonged in. We wanted to sit in the back, but we were ushered to seats at the front near the speaker who was already mesmerizing the crowd with his homiletic skills. It was like one of the parables of Jesus except that we didn't want to be honored. We didn't want the best seats. We preferred to be closer to the exits. As the speaker went on, there was only one question on everyone's minds: "When will he take a break and let us get in that buffet line?"

When he stopped to take a breath, someone managed to pray, and a herd of hungry folks hurdled towards that FREE PASTORS LUNCHEON. The buffet turned out to be much better than I expected, but the program was much worse. Once we had our food (and Nicole and I had managed to move towards the back, letting other people have those choice front row seats - we were modest after all), he continued with his seemingly nonstop barrage of personal stories and anecdotes all of which (I assume) were meant to convince us to purchase the product he was selling.

After being at the event for over 1 1/2 hours and making sure I picked up that extra brownie, I was beginning to plan an exit strategy when the speaker unexpectedly said: "FORNICATORS AND HOMOSEXUALS." As a pastor I hate to admit that I don't really know what the word "FORNICATORS" refers to, and I don't believe I have ever used that word in a sermon. But I now know that if our own congregation on Sunday is beginning to drift then that word will snap them back to attention. I don't know if I have ever met a FORNICATOR, but I can tell you that some of my favorite people in the world are HOMOSEXUALS.

The speaker went on to say that his product could be used a a tool to help HOMOSEXUALS leave their lifestyle. Most HOMOSEXUALS I know aren't all that interested in leaving their lifestyle unless that implies winning the lottery , quitting their jobs, and moving to Maui. What they are looking for in the church is a place of love and acceptance for who they are. The speaker asked for a show of hands of how many of the clergy at the FREE PASTORS LUNCHEON knew about a HOMOSEXUAL who had left their lifestyle. I didn't see any hands go up.

My hand did not go up, but I didn't stand up to walk out either. Anyone observing my silence and my lack of movement could have thought that I approved of what he was saying. A few minutes later Nicole and I did move on, and a few days later I wondered about my lack of action.

What did that FREE PASTORS LUNCH cost me and those that I care about?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Turning Down The Radio

At a few minutes after midnight on Easter morn, our son Josh and friend Kathleen devoured a small mountain of chocolate. They had both been faithful to their Lenten pledges to refrain from sweets, but why wait any longer than necessary to celebrate Christ's liberating us from the bondage of sin? I am still keeping my Lenten pledge at least for now. I had decided on Ash Wednesday to keep the radio and sound system turned off in my car when I drove. No NPR, no CAVS games, no Jim Rome, no "Safe for the Whole Family" stations, no independent music, no CD's, no MP3's, no books on tape or CD. At first it seemed unnatural because my hand was trained to push on the radio knob a second after I started the car. I had decided that everytime I reached for the radio I would recite the Shema (Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God...), but after a week or so I wasn't reaching anymore. Here's the major learning from my quiet car experiences: I didn't miss a thing. I didn't hear the ususal suspects calling Howie Chizek on WNIR nor did I catch "All Things Considered" or even spend any time in The Jungle. And those things and my life went on just fine. We didn't miss each other one bit. I don't think I am close to removing the sound system from my car, but I am certainly wondering why I should turn it back on.
I recall that when I was in seminary travelling back and forth from Northeast Ohio to Boston that my radio (AM plus that FM converter) was my #1 piece of safety equipment. When ominous banging noises came from my engine, I just turned up the radio and keep the pedal to the metal. Who needed to hear those noises anyway? Now it is the noises from my radio that bother me more than the sounds from my engine. Who needs those noises anyway? So for now anyway I prefer my own stream of conciousness - as disturbing as it is sometimes - to those sounds from the car speakers. Happy Easter season.