Poor People’s Derby

Growing up in Louisville, the Derby Week Festival led up to the first Saturday in May. On Wednesday friends would picnic in the park beside the Ohio River to watch the steamboat race between the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen. Thursday was the Pegasus Parade in which I rode in a Chevy convertible with a Derby Princess. I didn’t know her. Dad had the insurance account for Jim Booher Chevrolet; he used the connection to be our driver. (We drove only Chevys for three decades.)

We didn’t have school on Friday when many families went to the Kentucky Oaks. The 100th Run for the Roses was the first Derby I attended. My parents had home parties on Derby Day because corporations bought most of the seats. At one party I met Penny Tweedy the year she raced Riva Ridge—a couple of years before her famed Secretariat.

In 2000 I started a tradition to fill the Tuesday of Derby Week which I called the poor person’s derby. During “Rotary Day at the Downs” dad would reserve an eight-top table for my friends on “Millionaire’s Row”. For $90 we had a buffet meal, access everywhere, and 8 races to watch. Four days later that same seat would cost $5000. We bet on the same jockeys, just very different horses. Our experience enhanced watching the Kentucky Derby on TV back in Moberly.

What traditions are associated with your hometown? How does a past experience transform an event today? Who are the eight with whom you’d want to share a table?

Chicken Soup – Too Funny

When I started reading “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books 25 years ago, it never occurred to me I’d have a story published in one. I only wrote sermons “weakly”. From April to December, 2020, when I couldn’t visit the members in person, I wrote brief reflections for First Presbyterian in Columbia. I was encouraged to write a book.

In 2021, I took several online writing classes hosted by Brian Allain on “Becoming a Spiritual Writer.” His “Writing for Your Life” presentations helped me visit with my top 5 authors along with helpful resources he makes available.

During one workshop I met the editor of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. Amy Newmark said she was accepting about a thousand submissions for a book with humorous stories and they’d publish 101 of those stories sometime next year. 

“Sometime next year” is today! The story I submitted last year is #51 in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL — TOO FUNNY. I avoided my first rejection letter by choosing the best story I told for years at breakfast at pastor’s conferences to watch them spit their milk.

I still enjoy certain songs from the 70s — Vehicle, Mississippi Queen, Spirit in the Sky, Montego Bay, Brandy, etc.—each is a one-hit wonder. Today I joined the one-hit-wonder club with “This Time in Latin”. We’ll see what might come next.

What is your dream for the coming years? Where can you go for resources and support to act on your hope? What might you do if your dream became a reality?

Table-Threat to Empire

We started Lent imagining with Diana Butler Bass that the Table is the central image of Holy Week. A community was celebrating deliverance from bondage to Pharaoh’s Empire at the joyful Jewish Passover meal. Their rabbi, Jesus, says, “Love one another as I have loved you” as he washes feet. The abundant life is expressed in a communal table where everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome to eat bread and drink wine in peace and mutuality with each other and God.

This Friday we see that table shattered. John Dominic Crossan taught me to ask, “Why would Rome waste the cost of a garrison, cross, and nails if Jesus were not a threat to the Empire?” If Jesus was just talking about an afterlife, they wouldn’t care. An alternative Kingdom of God on earth was a threat to the Kingdom of Caesar on earth; there’s only room for one king at the top of the pyramid. Public execution of the leader would settle it, and deter anyone else from trying.

Every Empire before and after relies on domination by one group over others, making “the other/outsider/alien” an enemy to be controlled, systems that result in the few having the most while the vast majority possess little, using ever-increasing violence to maintain power and domination. 

Proclaiming a table for all, “each under their own vine and fig tree where no one shall make them afraid”, disarms the violence and fear that maintains the empire’s myth of scarcity. I wonder why people who follow the way of Jesus wear crosses instead of tables? Jesus never took the disciples to the cross after he died. He met them back in their last supper upper room, the Emmaus road table, the seashore breakfast table. 

What powers of domination and violence do you see crushing the table today? What causes you to despair and grieve on this Friday? Where do find your source for hope and strength?

Chicken? Chow Mein

When I became Kitchen Steward for the Sigma Chi Fraternity at Emory in 1977, I was given many recipes that had been collected over the years to help me plan daily meals for 86 brothers. One dinner was Chicken Chow Mein.

C.C.M. was popular with past kitchen stewards because it was cheap when the budget got tight. Several #10 cans of chicken chow mein and more cans of fried noodles cost less than any meal in the repertoire. C.C.M. was popular with our beloved cooks, Ethel & Pearl. Open, pour, heat… one pot clean-up… home early.

C.C.M. was not popular with anyone who tried it. What little “chicken” there was among the soggy celery was questionable. The watery sauce was gray—the color of a mouse. We were actually relieved to find it had no flavor (spare us the imagined alternative). 

Each person could “sign off” one meal a week and almost everyone got in a long line to sign off the night chicken chow mein was up.

After my second experience of mass sign-off protest, I took our last #10 can of Chicken Chow Mein down to our chapter meeting and announced its official retirement. As I hung up the can as an iconic reminder of “never again”, I received my only kitchen steward standing ovation.

What is something you keep doing, that you could allow to cease? How did you start on that path in your family system or community system? What steps do you take to discern what to let go? How would your change affect those around you? What would it take for you to act?

Kitchen Steward

During my Junior year at Emory University I worked for our fraternity, Sigma Chi, as the Kitchen Steward. I wasn’t paid with money; the job was bartered with free meals that year. For 86 brothers plus our “little sisters” on our meal plan, I organized 3 meals a day (Mon-Fri), made contracts with food distributors, and kept our two beloved cooks, Ethel and Pearl, satisfied.

I worked harder than I was paid to keep people with a full spectrum of tastes happy with the choices. My clients were privileged post-pubescents who came from the unique cuisine of their family of origin. It was impossible to keep everyone happy. I worked within a limited budget. Most remained silently satisfied. Some shared their appreciation. The few obnoxious brothers seemed blaming and reactive in most areas of life. Some meals stood out as excellent; most nobody can remember; at the end of  the year we had been well fed.

What an incredible preparation for a calling to church ministry!!!!! I grew from being a Kitchen Steward to preaching parables about stewards.

I worked harder than I was paid to keep individuals as happy as possible. Each church member had a unique idea of what church “should be” based on their history— and/or their hopes. It was impossible to keep everyone happy. I worked within a limited budget. Many remained silently satisfied; many more showed appreciation. Reactive, obnoxious complainers revealed their hurts, as they remained beloved children of God. Some sermons and teachings stood out as excellent; most nobody can remember; in the end we were spiritually fed.

How do your experiences connect with mine? With your personality, how would you imagine being a caretaker for a frat house kitchen? If you are in a spiritual community, how do you seek unity rather than uniformity? How do you hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness in your life and in the world?

Second Mile

“…and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40) is an example by Jesus of non-violent active protest against unjust legal and economic systems then and now. You can read more about it in Walter Wink’s Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.

“….and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matthew 5:41). I have seen this statement abused by church leaders who tell a person to go back for more abuse. How is that interpretation and advice even possible? How might we help someone suffering abuse to find the best way to resist an evildoer (fight, flight, a third way….)?

I have forced this phrase into a sermon on stewardship—Second Mile Giving: donate more. Not necessarily bad advice—just an inappropriate use of the metaphor. 

This is a great example for reading the Bible today through the lens of an ancient world. “If anyone forces you to go one mile…” would be abundantly clear to all hearers that day. ANYONE means any member of the Imperial Roman Army who could FORCE any resident to carry his 60 pound pack one mile. It was a privilege to the soldier; it was an humiliating abuse of power to the peasant. 

Roman law had a limitation: a soldier could only force someone to carry his pack one mile. You didn’t want to take up a field worker’s whole day—one mile on your back, one mile back, and back to work. There were severe consequences for forcing a carrier past a mile marker on a Roman road. 

To “go also the second mile” upsets the system of power in non-violent protest. By being more helpful, you force the soldier to chase you down the road, begging you to stop before he gets in trouble with his superiors. I now imagine those listening then laughing with joy at this image of transformation of power.

What is your experience of powerful humiliation? How have you been taught to interpret these words of Jesus?  Where are opportunities for your transformation now?

Turn the other cheek

Soon after a slap on the LEFT cheek, the Academy tweeted it “does not condone violence of any form.” I thought: “While our industry does not condone violence, we make billions portraying it.”

Two thousand years ago my teacher spoke of a slap to the RIGHT cheek: “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:39). In 2003, Walter Wink (whose lamp glows on my bookshelf) wrote: Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.

Jesus’ word “resist” means “violently resist” (do thwart an evildoer, but with non-violent action). The “third way” to respond to injustice is (1) not passivity, (2) not violent opposition, but (3) creative non-violent resistance.

So why the RIGHT cheek? In that day, you couldn’t slap with your left palm—it was “unclean” (no toilet paper). You had to use the back of your right hand to slap the right cheek of the other. 

In the culture of Jesus, people in power could demean you and maintain control by giving you a back-handed slap: husbands over wives, masters over slaves, Roman soldiers over the conquered. By turning the other cheek, you were saying, “If you slap me again with your right palm, you will have to treat me as an equal human.”

To (1) passively take it continues the cycle of abuse. To (2) oppose violently would result in your death. To (3) create a non-violent protest leaves the abuser in a quandary—do I treat you as my equal or leave you alone? Jesus then gives two more illustrations on transforming systems of injustice, and inviting evildoers to become transformed themselves.

Mahatma Gandhi (a student of Jesus), the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (a disciple of Jesus) and countess others have used a variety of creative, non-violent actions to resist evil, transform enemies with love, and change the world.

How have you been taught to interpret “turn the other cheek” in your life? What are the usual results of passivity or violent opposition? How have you been transformed by the actions of another person’s love? In what situations are you called to action to creatively,  non-violently resist an evildoer?

Tradition

We experienced the musical “Fidler on the Roof” at the University of Missouri this week. We were transported to a Jewish Russian village in 1905 when the Tsar used “Pogroms” to bury any dissent—even against those who weren’t part of the first revolution. “Pogram” is a Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently.” 

As a familiar Bible story gives new meaning in various contexts of our experience, Kyiv’s place in that story had a new place in my heart. I felt for those who experienced unwarranted abuse in a play, an invasive war, and the senate that day.

The opening song “Tradition” transported me to a different place—my high school German class. Our teacher used the German version of “Fiddler on the Roof” as one way to learn German. While I remember the love and drinking songs better, I can still belt out some tradition in German—especially the fiddler intro that we heard a hundred times. 

Maybe that’s why I remember this quote from my 20s: “TRADITION IS THE LIVING FAITH OF DEAD PEOPLE; TRADITIONALISM IS THE DEAD FAITH OF LIVING PEOPLE.” I have sought to live out the traditions that bring us life, while questioning the traditionalisms that kill our spirit. 

Tevye wrestles with traditionalism views of marriage that threaten to destroy his family, while holding onto the life-giving traditions of his community. Each “on the other hand” spoken to God echoes the battle between traditionalism and tradition in equality, justice, marriage, politics, and the church.

When have the arts (a song, movie, play, painting….) given you new insights to your journey? How have traditionalisms drained you of the abundant life? How do traditions of the dead help you live more fully today?

The Table

If March’s full moon had been today instead of last Thursday, we would be in Holy Week. It wasn’t; we aren’t. Easter remains the first Sunday after the full moon after the March Equinox.

In this alternative reality, let me invite you to an alternative Holy Week. What if the table on Thursday is the metaphor, that precedes (dare I say supersedes?) the cross on Friday?

Last fall the church I served studied the book Grateful by Diana Butler Bass. We loved her video reflections and study guide from “The Work of the People”.  A transformative take-away for me was that the Lord’s Table (throughout scripture) means all are invited, there is more than enough for all, and together the world feasts around one table in gratitude for God’s abundant gifts. I invite you to feast on and proclaim the good news of this book.

Last week in “The Cottage” zoom event with Diana Butler Bass I was reminded that gathering equally at the Table is a direct threat to those who want to control the way we live and the resources we have (“from Pilate to Putin?” I thought).

The Roman Empire was not the first or last to seek to maintain control through violence, oppression, hoarding wealth, conquering peoples, and controlling the ways others live. I wonder if Crucifixion—Rome’s threat of terror to squash all resistance—has become the current control of crucifying civilian cities.

Table gatherings with the risen Lord behind locked doors, along the Emmaus road, and beside the open sea had and have the final vision for us to live into. God’s grace wins.

During this time before Holy Week, how can you proclaim the good news of the Lord’s Table? Which views of the table, the cross, and the resurrection is God transforming in your journey? How do you participate in the myth of scarcity and the illusion of control? In what ways are your seeking to live the abundant life?

Chicken Soup – Too Funny Reflections & Questions

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://law-and-gospel.com/2022/04/19/chicken-soup-too-funny/
  1. Chicken Soup – Too Funny
  2. Table-Threat to Empire
  3. Chicken Chow Mein
  4. Kitchen Steward
  5. Second Mile

But wait……

My mother’s mother made many memorable statements on life. “You can judge a person’s life by how many funny-looking people come to the funeral” was one.

In her teens (and the teens of the last century), she met my grandfather while they attended the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He became the newspaper editor in Pineville, KY and then for the Lexington Herald. In a state where basketball is a religion, they were faithful followers.

In her 70’s her husband and brother died in the same year. “The two men in the world who think I’m perfect are gone,” she said.

At 90 she worried about breaking a hip: “nobody will like me anymore.” Sure enough, she lived for a year in a nursing home, knowing she’d never live anywhere else—everyone still loved her. 

One dark night, she said to a nurse by her bed, “You know, I’ve lived a full and long life. My family is doing fine. I’m tired. I think it’s time to be with God and my husband.” She closed her eyes and rolled into the covers.

Soon enough, she rolled back toward the nurse, opened her eyes and proclaimed, “But wait…. Kentucky is playing basketball this Saturday!”

As her grandson, I’m disappointed Kentucky is not playing this Saturday. (Any pull with Saint Peter doesn’t help against Saint Peters.) And yet, I can smile as I wonder what’s coming next.

What brings you joy in life? Is the anticipation or the experience itself more meaningful to you? As Mary Oliver wrote in her poem The Summer Day: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Chicken Soup – Too Funny Reflections & Questions

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://law-and-gospel.com/2022/04/19/chicken-soup-too-funny/
  1. Chicken Soup – Too Funny
  2. Table-Threat to Empire
  3. Chicken Chow Mein
  4. Kitchen Steward
  5. Second Mile