Vacation Whizzings

Thirty-two years ago–that would be the summer of ’76–my wife and I took the children on a Bicentennial vacation up the East Coast. We were combining trips to the Southern Baptist Convention and my first session as a trustee of the Foreign Mission Board with our own personal travels, and decided on a theme for our journeying.

We visited presidential homes. Starting in Columbis, TN, we called on President James Polk. In Nashville, it was President Andy Jackson. In Staunton, VA, Woodrow Wilson was not at home, but we went on in his house anyway. We visited with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and went through the White House (if Jerry Ford was at home, no one was saying). Later, we drove north and saw the hometown of Calvin Coolidge, Hyde Park where FDR came from and returned to, and in New Hampshire, the home of Franklin Pierce. I think that’s all.

This time, I’m making pretty much the same journey, except this is not about presidents, but calling on some of my preacher friends. Of course, the main idea is to visit our grandchildren in Charlotte, NC and in Laconia, NH, but it’s a great opportunity to see some old friends.

If any of the preacher-friends I’ve visited are reading this, they can relax. I’m not telling a thing. What happens in McDonalds stays in McDonalds (or the Waffle House in Spartanburg or Nordstrom’s Cafe in Charlotte). Still, the experience is proving to be quite a blessing to me personally.

I’m always surprised on encountering ministers who never connect with their colleagues in the Lord’s work, for whatever reason. That might be a good subject to pursue for a future article here–why so many pastors are loners.

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Before The Vacation….

1) We never take vacations, but visit families. I expect you know how that is. The last real vacation we had was the Spring of ’04 in between pastoring FBC Kenner and this job with the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Tomorrow, though, vacation begins.

It was to have been a driving trip to South Dakota to meet up with Margaret’s sister and brother-in-law, our beloved Susan and Jim from Seattle. Alas, their health problems forced them to cancel, and we’re not going without them. I insisted to Margaret that we take some kind of vacation, and she suggested that if I want to get out of town, then I should drive to New Hampshire to see our daughter and three granddaughters–as well as our son and his family in North Carolina–and visit with friends along the way, one of my favorite activities.

So, Sunday, July 27, that’s the plan. She doesn’t feel up to accompanying me, so I checked out several recorded books from the library to take along, and after a wedding today and a going-away thing for Dr. Ken Gabrielse tonight at a church member’s home, I’m packing and pulling out tomorrow morning.

I’m leaving a few things for my son Marty to post in my absence.

2) Do you know the name Maria Shaw? I didn’t either. Evidently, she’s a psychic of some notoriety, said to have a call-in show on the CBS radio network, which is available here only on the web. Anyway, she has moved to New Orleans and was interviewed in Friday’s paper by columnist (formerly, in pre-Katrina New Orleans, we would have called him a humorist, but the hurricane knocked all the bluster out of him) Chris Rose.

One question he asked her was: “What do you see for the Saints this season?”

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Name, Names, and The Name (A Sermon, of Sorts)

Sometimes when I sketch someone, I’ll ask their name so I can write it at the bottom. Most often, it’s a normal name, but once in a while, I’ll hear, “Arkadelphia Sue” or “Tae-D’Antonio” or some such. I ask how they spell it and, “Have you ever met another person by that name?” Usually they haven’t.

I wonder what in the sam hill the parents were thinking, saddling a child with a name like that! They have guaranteed that he’ll go through life spelling his name for everyone he meets.

Maybe carrying a name like Joe makes me think about things like that.

I was named for one of my Mom’s uncles, Joe Noles, and a family friend, Neil Barker. Interestingly, with the internet, the daughters of both these terrific men read this blog and occasionally respond. Myrtle, daughter of Uncle Joe, lives in Houston. Mary Frances, daughter of Neil, lives in Rome, New York. (She says he spelled it “Neal.” Too late, M.F.)

This was in Saturday’s news….

“A family court judge in New Zealand has had enough with parents giving their children bizarre names here, and did something about it. Just ask ‘Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii.’”

Yep. That was her name.

The judge allowed the 9-year-old girl to choose another name. He should have allowed her to choose other parents!

The paper isn’t saying what her new name is, adding she’d been so embarrassed she had never told her closest friends her real name.

In the judge’s ruling, he cited some of the unfortunate names he’d run across in his court. How about a man named “Fish and Chips,” one named “Yeah Detroit,” and then, “Keenan Got Lucy” and “Sex Fruit.”

There oughta be a law.

I’ve previously mentioned my “present favorite” Western movie, “Open Range,” starring Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner. In the story, Duvall, known as Boss Spearman, reveals to Costner that his real name is Bluebonnet. Now, he made him swear never to tell a living soul, but the cameras were rolling and we all heard, so the secret is out.

I could fill several pages with odd names I’ve encountered through the years. Mary Lee Sumrall, welfare officer in Columbus, MS, was filling out papers on a client who gave her name as “Ninthamay Terry.” When asked how she came by such a name, the woman replied, “I was born on the Ninth of May.”

Which makes us wonder what if she’d been born on September the twenty-third.

I met Auburn waiting tables in a restaurant in Birmingham and made a little joke about her name. “Bet you have a sister named Alabama.” She said, “I have two sisters, Tulane and Cornell.” Surely, I thought, she was putting me on. “I have four brothers–Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and Duquesne.” I said, “Lady, I don’t believe a word of this.”

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Doing the Right Thing

Thursday, NOPD Chief Warren Riley announced that after departmental hearings conducted this week, he has suspended from the police force two officers who made news in all the wrong ways in recent days. Ashley Terry is the cop who terrorized a community center with her cursings and gun wavings. Donyell Sanchell led the bridge cops on a high speed chase, almost ran over a policeman in his truck, and slapped another. Both have been fired.

Riley announced that he moved quickly on these cases because of the public outcry and the overwhelming nature of the evidence against them. In Sanchell’s case, police cars recorded the entire thing on video. In Terry’s case, the community center produced witness after witness to incriminate her.

Chief Riley said he’s turning both cases over to the district attorney’s office for possible prosecution.

Interestingly, the chief said two representatives from Inspector General Robert Cerasoli’s office sat in on the hearings. “I wanted them to see that we conduct our business open and above board,” Riley said.

A later hearing will be held for the police officer who responded to the 911 call at the community center and dismissed the matter without interviewing a soul. Look for him to be disciplined.

On a closely-related matter, the new Chief of the Causeway Police is Nick Congemi, for 16 years chief of the Kenner Police Department. The causeway position became vacant recently after it came to light that police on this 23-mile bridge had stopped a drunken Mayor Eddie Price of Mandeville and did not charge him. Several officers were terminated and the chief resigned. When the position of chief was opened for applications, a dozen or more candidates responded. Today, the board administering the causeway affairs voted unanimously to hire Chief Congemi.

Nick Congemi is a man of great integrity and the highest character. I was privileged to pastor his father-in-law Everett Beasley for all my 14 years at FBC-Kenner, and came to a high appreciation of Mr. Congemi and his family.

The more we hear of the disaster on the Mississippi River, the worse it gets.

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Change at Warp Speed

Sunday, I worshiped with the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, met with two other churches in the afternoon to monitor their discussion about the possibility of merging, and preached at another that night.

The last time I worshiped at FBC-NO, Pastor David Crosby was announcing the departure of Minister of Music Brian Skinner. Today, it was the departure of Scott Carlin, for the last six years his associate pastor. Scott becomes education minister at FBC Lubbock, Texas.

David Crosby told me, “Before Katrina, our church had 12 full-time staffers, including custodial. Today, with Scott’s departure, the last has left us. Everyone on our staff has come since Katrina.”

Turnover. It’s like an epidemic.

As the First Baptist Church of Kenner prepares to welcome Pastor Mike Miller on Sunday, July 27, the following Sunday it will say good-bye to Ken Gabrielse, minister of music for the past 16 years. Ken leaves our church and the music department chairmanship at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to become director of music for the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.

No one called from Oklahoma to ask, but had they done so, in addition to giving Ken the highest of recommendations, I would have encouraged them to find occasions for him to teach pastors about staff leadership. I’ve worked with some excellent staffers on the years, but none more loyal or more faithful than Ken. We thank God for him and Jana and will miss them intensely.

Meanwhile, New Orleans’ Calvary Baptist Church has voted unanimously-save-one to call Michael Carney as their new pastor. Coming from the Atlanta area, he begins on August 24.

This week, Good News Baptist Church, located 3 blocks from Franklin Avenue Baptist Church–are these folks brave or what?–is dedicating their new facility with a series of services. I’m preaching Wednesday night, July 23.

Sunday, August 10, the First Baptist Church of LaPlace dedicates a new educational building which has been long in the planning stage.

Deaths.

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Colonoscopy: As Medical Procedures Go, It’s a Life-Saver

You’ve heard of the optimist who jumped off the top of the highest building in the city. Someone at the 20th floor heard him say on the way down, “So far, so good.”

It’s Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock and my colonoscopy is scheduled for 12:30 pm. I’m ready.

They say that after age 50, men and women–but particularly men–should get these tests every five years. I’m 68 and this is my first. My wife and her gastroenterologist conspired to get me in for this examination. I didn’t protest; I’ve known this is something that I needed to attend to.

When I’ve mentioned to friends that I’m having a colonoscopy, they all say the same thing: “Piece of cake. The worst part is the preparation.”

The internet is saturated with sites giving information, analyses, advice, descriptions, photos, and testimonials on the subject, so I’ll spare readers the technical stuff I’ve dug up, except for one paragraph.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the USA. Each year, something like 150,000 Americans come down with colon cancer, and around a third of them die from it. However, a colonoscopy is the gold standard of detections, and when caught in time, colon cancer has a 90 percent cure rate. That’s pretty impressive.

I visited the doctor’s office one week ago and we made this appointment. The doctor gave me a prescription for something called “osmoprep,” the tablets to clear my system before the test. The prescription costs 50 dollars. The instructions said to quit taking aspirins 7 days prior to the colonoscopy. On Sunday, two days before the test, I was to eat easily-digested food. I had cereal with milk and coffee for breakfast, a piece of grilled chicken and a baked potato for lunch, and a bowl of chicken noodle soup for supper.

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Three Things the New Pastor Wants Most

I was scheduled to bring the final sermon at a church that was one week away from welcoming its new pastor. My first thought was to pull out a message I had used before with other congregations that would be apt for this occasion. Then, an idea occurred to me.

Why not ask the incoming pastor what he’d like me to say to the church.

In reply to my e-mail, an hour later I had his answer. One would have thought he had been waiting for someone to ask him that very question since he was so prompt in responding.

He said, “I would love to come into a church that was unified, where everyone loved each other, and they all prayed for the pastor.” He even gave a text for each point from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.

The more I reflected on it all week, the more I realized any pastor coming into a new church would give a month’s salary for these three gifts.

UNITY — The text is Ephesians 4:11-16.

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All the Rage in New Orleans

To be sure, we only have one side of the story, but from the account of the only eyewitnesses speaking out, this is what happened at the Treme Community Center Tuesday morning.

Kiyana Howell had arrived at the center to pick up her four children at the end of the Tambourine and Fan summer camp. She parked in the drive-through and was gathering the kids in, when a woman pulled up behind her and began blowing her horn, demanding that she “move it” and “move it now.” The angry motorist, it turned out, was a member of the New Orleans Police Department, 17-month veteran Ashley Terry, who was there in her personal vehicle to pick up her nephew.

According to the staff of the center and some bystanders, Terry was honking her horn and yelling, “B—-, you don’t know who you’re f—- with!” among other crude cursings. At some point, she told Ms. Howell she was a police officer and flaunted her gun in full view of a number of witnesses.

Meanwhile, the staff of the center called 911. Several members of the force showed up a few minutes later. The one in charge talked only to Officer Terry, interviewed no one else, told Ms. Terry that she should have shot the man who had stepped up and suggested she put her gun away, and wrote up the report that the 911 complaint was “unfounded.”

Well, not so fast, defenders of the public welfare. Wednesday morning’s Times-Picayune brandished this all across the front page. Looks like one more example of local police departments taking care of their own, said the report.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen several occasions where a cop was out of line but his colleagues merely warned him and sent him on his way. In one case, the off-duty cop was speeding, almost ran over another policeman, and slapped a cop. However, no charges were filed.

In another, the mayor of Mandeville, just across Lake Pontchartrain to the north, was drunk and behind the wheel of his SUV. He was speeding, broke through the toll booth gate leading on to the causeway, and was finally chased down by the Causeway cops. Because he was the mayor, they took him home and that was that. Except you can’t keep news like this down.

For the next couple of weeks, more and more revelations about Mayor Eddie Price’s drunken behavior came to light, making the front page of our newspaper each time. The cops who should have written him a ticket and booked him but did nothing were fired, as they should have been.

One more, of a different nature.

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Pastor For a Day

Thursday of this week was unlike any 12 hour period of the last four-and-a-half years for me. I was a pastor again, doing the things pastors typically do.

Here’s how it went.

For two hours–from 7 to 9 am–I sat in the waiting room of my local tire store. After finding out the previous afternoon that the wait to have my tires rotated would be up to two hours, I decided to be there when they opened the next morning. Thursday morning at 7 o’clock, I was there. A woman and I walked in together, and ended up the sole occupants of the waiting room as the employees worked on our car and kept finding additional services we needed. In my case, it was a front end alignment, wind-shield wiper replacement, new air filter, and one of my tires was questionable. (It was the spare that had come with the car when it was new. After a blowout a few months back, we took it out of the trunk and put it on the ground. Small numbers on the tire indicate it was manufactured in the 25th week of 2004. Who knew tires get old so quickly and become hazardous? We put it back in the trunk for the emergency spare and placed the spare, a new tire, in its place. We’re leaving on a 2-3 week vacation on July 27 and want the tires to be in good shape.)

I had prayed for the Lord to use the time in the store. He did.

The woman and I gradually began to chat, first about her job, then her church (her pastor is a close friend), and finally about her broken marriage and the challenges she faces dealing with a non-responsive ex-husband, bad finances, two young children, and such. I made suggestions on getting help, shared two scriptures that seem ready-made for her situation, and we prayed together.

Since she drives almost 10 miles to church on Sunday, and lives only a few blocks from the First Baptist Church of Kenner, when she found out that I will be preaching there this Sunday night at 6 o’clock, she said, “I’m coming.” I suggested it wouldn’t be a bad idea for her to have this as her back-up church family since she lives so close, but to remain a member of the fine church she already has.

I was 10 o’clock arriving at the associational office. In the meantime, the pastor’s secretary from our church called to tell me of two families in Ochsner Hospital. One family had asked if I might run by to visit, since death seems eminent.

I’m no longer a pastor but I know my calling. God did not give me a pastor’s heart for nothing. (Every retired pastor knows the feeling.) I told her I would go.

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Do You Know What You Are Doing?

Tuesday evening, on my way home, I was driving up Metairie Road in heavy traffic. Suddenly as we drove past a small side street, I glimpsed a fellow on a bicycle coming out of that street, headed straight for our line of cars. In a split second, the bike whipped straight toward us, then at the last moment turned a sharp right and moved in the same direction we were going. I almost had a heart attack; I just knew I was hitting a cyclist and killing him.

And now, for perhaps 10 seconds he was pedaling alongside my car, just off the right window. I rolled it down and called.

“What are you doing? You scared the daylights out of me!”

He said, “Don’t worry about me. I know what I’m doing.” The light up ahead turned red, the traffic stopped, he crossed at the light, and was gone.

I thought of twelve things I wanted to say to that foolish man. “Maybe you know what you’re doing, but I don’t–and I’m the guy with the car!” “You’re trying to commit suicide, that’s what you’re doing.” I even thought of saying to him, “Friend, you’re going to get killed. I can’t say that bothers me a great deal, but it will devastate your loved ones. And, frankly, I don’t want to be the one who hits you!”

So, so foolish. “I know what I’m doing.” He was in a little world all his own, dead certain that if he followed his own rules, he would do just fine.

My strong hunch is that the impatient motorist on the interstate, the one weaving in and out of traffic, the fellow who tailgates you flashing his lights until you get out of his way, then pulls the same stunt on the next driver in front of him, that foolish speeder no doubt feels he knows what he is doing.

He may indeed. Until he meets up with another nitwit just like him, then all bets are off.

Earlier the same day, maybe at 1:30 or so, I drove a few blocks to a little eatery that has opened up on Elysian Fields Avenue close to the University of New Orleans. I’ve been there once, trying to patronize businesses that have reopened in our area. The food was nothing special, but I decided to give them another try.

Inside the door, a sign instructed me to seat myself. The one vacant table, however, had not been cleaned and the last diners had clearly been messy eaters. I pulled out a chair, sat a little back from the table, and looked for a waiter. A couple of minutes later, he arrived, towel in one hand and a stack of menus in the other. When I asked for a menu, he said, “In a minute,” and proceeded to–I couldn’t believe my eyes–rake the mess off the table onto the tiled floor.

I sat there frozen in place. Did I want to eat here?

I said, “You’re raking that food onto the floor?!” He didn’t say a word, just kept at it. I stood up and said, “Friend, this place is too dirty for me. I believe I’ll eat somewhere else.” And walked out. Nonplussed, the waiter called, “Thanks for coming in, have a nice day.”

Clueless, apparently. Or maybe he just didn’t care.

What are they thinking? I can understand the restaurants that serve you a bucket of roasted peanuts encouraging customers to drop the dry shells onto the floor. But wet, sloppy food onto a tiled floor? No thank you.

I drove down the street to Cafe Roma, a lovely and classy affair with great food, friendly staff, and better prices.

Do they know what they are doing, one wonders.

You visit a church where no one speaks to you, no one greets you at the front door, no one gives you a bulletin, and no one even acknowledges your presence. You’re uncertain where to sit, completely in the dark on where the nursery or rest rooms are, and feeling more alone by the minute. You can tell by the empty pews that this church is in trouble. You find yourself wondering, do they know what they are doing?

Or more specifically, what they are not doing.

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