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Simply Sinful










The Movie Fireproof; I Liked It

Yes,  I did.  I didn’t expect to.  One of my wife’s patients gave it to her. She was insistent that we watch it, and out of respect for her we did.

A church in Georgia produced the movie and aside from Kirk Cameron, the actors were all amateurs, enlisted from the congregation.  Cameron does a pretty good job (good acting is something I rarely see in these homegrown Evangelical films) but the rest of the cast did a lot better than you would expect from such inexperience. Essentially the movie is built around a real marriage guide called the “Love Dare” which is available on the website as well as in bookstores.

Production values were high, the sound track was decent and the dialogue believable.  It was good to see Christians addressing the issue of divorce, which is like the elephant in the middle of the sanctuary.  Christian marriages, on the whole, last no longer than secular ones; about half end up in divorce. Even if you are not an Evangelical or even a Christian,  there is really good advice in this movie for all married couples.

A couple things I could have done without:  the gratuitous references to Hell (but much fewer than the title of the movie would suggest) could have been left out. They probably turned some folks off the movie (they almost caused me to turn off the TV) and that is a shame because the main thrust of the movie is so good.  And the house that Cameron’s character lived in with his wife was too much of an expensive mansion to be believable as a firehouse captain’s home.  I realize the home site was donated by a local builder but it was jarring inconsistency.  But then again, every character in just about every Hollywood film seems to live in Bel Air or Beverly Hills or some type of hip warehouse conversion in Manhattan.

Good flick. See it. Or visit the website.  Now, I might have to check out “Facing the Giants”.


Hear the Bells Ring, Are You Listening?




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Relax; It’s Only Make Believe

While looking for fundamentalist arguments against Halloween, I was surprised to find a very sensible article on the subject by Andy Freeman, over on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network website. I present you with the piece in it’s entirety. It’s called The Enemy’s Victory: Darkened Homes and Harvest Parties.

I realize this column is going to bring down the wrath of Preacher, teacher, and parent alike. But someone has to break the illusion. Here goes.

The biggest trick played on Halloween is Christian kids and adults being bottled up inside churches or homes all night. That’s right! Hiding from the devil in the family life center and surrendering the neighborhood to little Ghouls, goblins, and witches is a victory for old Beelzebub. He’s got the church right where he wants it: inside the four walls, hunkered down behind the stained glass.

Think about it. How many chances do you get to mix with our neighbors during the year? At my house we are blessed with a 4th of July block party. Otherwise, Halloween may be it for many of you. And what is your relationship evangelism strategy? Either hustle the kids over to church before nightfall or worse, you turn out the lights, don’t answer the children at the door, thereby demonstrating your Christian love and hospitality. But if you do encounter a child in a pink bunny costume it goes something like this:

“We don’t celebrate Halloween! There’s no candy here for you, kid! Now get out of here”.

And the parents of the pink bunny waiting at the foot of your sidewalk say:

“Boy, honey. There’s something really different about that mean family that sits in the dark every Halloween. I really want what they have in their life.”

Isn’t it time to turn loose a few of those little Moses and Davids into your community?

Imagine the shock when an Angel instead of a devil greets the nice lady down the block. A child who says “please”, “thank you” and yes, even “Jesus loves you” and “God bless you” as they receive their mini-Snickers or Candy corn. And please, please, please you well-meaning brethren: give the kids that come to your door the best candy treat on the entire block along with that tract. Some of you give six years olds a little “be warm and filled” treatment every Halloween. Give them something sweet for the palate as well as the soul.

Never forget: Jesus came to serve the sick and broken. He loved being at the well, by the sea, and in the marketplace. He would never have said “run and hide, its Halloween!”

Don’t teach children to fear Satan. Help them understand Christ has overcome the world. He has made us victors in Him. He loves all of His creation.

Remember what He said:

” You are the light of the world – like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket (or in a dark house, or at a harvest party with church kids)! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father”. Matthew 5:14-16

Jesus wants us to engage our neighbors and culture not hide from them this October 31st.

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lawn darts

lawn darts

It’s a crisis! Retailers and parents are in a panic. Never before have so many toys been recalled for so many reasons for so few people.

Here are some more awful toys that experts (such as myself) feel should have been included in the list but were not:

The Lego Step Ladder

“The Indiana Jones Sewer Explorer Adventure Outfit”

“Baby’s First Bottle of Bleach” by Fisher Price

Betty Crocker’s “Basement, Backyard and Bathroom Cook Book for Boys and Girls”

Uncle Milton’s “Fire Ant Farm”

Discovery Channel’s “Solar Binoculars”

Martha Stewart’s “Baby Carrot Guillotine”

Michael Vick’s Robo Sapien Pit Bull

The Jurassic Park” Dress-Up the Cat Velociraptor” Costume

The Sumac Chia Puppy

“My First Chemistry Set” by the Bin Laden Learning Company

The Green Earth “Personal Powered Methane Scooter” (requires the Green Earth Broccoli Farm starter kit)

Trojan Man’s “Easy Balloon Animals for Pre-Schoolers”

The Playschool “Piercing Pagoda”

Tonka Toy’s “Potty Training Dump Truck”

“Harry Potter Hogwart’s Home Laser Surgery Kit” by Mattel

“Suzy Homemaker’s Happy Housewife Handcuffs”

“BudMan” – Beer Truck to Bottle Opener Transformer by Hasbro

In spite of our diligent research I am sure we may have missed one or two here at the Sharp Iron Toy Safety Center. If you can think of any to add to this list then American parents across the globe will surely appreciate it.



The Christmas Tree Squint Test

100_1749.jpg On one of the earlier threads  there was some disagreement over the true meaning of certain scriptural passages. (I must be kidding, right? Here?) It seemed like we kept going around and around and around. I was suddenly reminded of another issue that keeps me going around and around and around; Christmas.

I’ve always loved this time of year, I probably even loved it more when I didn’t have a faith (but that’s another story). But I am not too crazy about getting all the kitsch down from the attic, setting them up and then having to clean it all up in January.  I especially don’t like having to trim the tree. It is a lot of work.

I used to spend a considerable amount of time making sure that every single strand of tiny lights was evenly distributed on each branch, like my father had taught me. Soon enough I learned how to stand about six feet away and toss the lights on like a fisherman casting his net.  What a time saver.

I’ve always preferred the little tasteful white lights, like the ones we had growing up in my house.  Bev, though, hails from a tradition that celebrated with gaudy multi-colored lights. She was raised Lutheran and I Catholic.  In the ecumenical spirit we agreed to blend both types of lights and 25 years later I can’t even imagine of not having it both ways.

Some people accuse me of wanting to have it ‘both ways’ when it comes to how I relate to God.  I can see value in most faith traditions and I hesitate to say if someone is not with God even though they may respond to him differently than I do. I consider myself  a Christian but many have challenged me  on this. Apparently some think that it is impossible to hold  a more tolerant point of view and still maintain a faith in Jesus.

Usually our arguments will boil down to the essence of where we disagree – Holy Scripture. Someone may place more emphasis on a certain verse than I do. I might be inspired by something completely different. With both of us concentrating on what we  each hold most dear, we end up stalled and (at best) agreeing to disagree. But that can be so unsatisfying.

But back to the tree. Typically, when we decorate ours, each family member  devotes his or her efforts to their specific parts of the tree. When the children were


small they concentrated on the low hanging branches while I would be teetering on the stool near the tree top as my wife would finessed the all important mid-section. Even then, some would stray more towards one side of the tree over the other. Many times the kids would hang balls or ornaments in the ‘wrong’ places, out near the ends of the branches where they sagged (or too far inside where they could hardly be seen). This would drive me nuts but over time I learned to bite my tongue, for the sake of family harmony.

When all was hung, when the boxes were empty, we would take a few steps back to review our handiwork. After a few moments Bev would say, “Well? Does it pass the squint test?”. To my surprise, it always did.

Standing in close to the tree all I can see are the individual ornaments of different shapes, colors and sizes and where each are placed. The occasional broken branches and bare spots are starkly visible. I am painfully aware of the ‘mistakes’ of my children. Though these mistakes cried out to me for fixing,  in order to make ‘more sense’, I eventually learned to accept their places in the overall scheme of things.

But when I move back a bit, taking in the whole tree and, perhaps softening my focus just a little, I make out the image of a beautiful, bright and colorful  Christmas tree. All the intricate and and glistening ornaments, each of them with their own story of Christmases past, work together to create this wonderful creation. Even those deep and dark recesses where the lights do not reach suggest mysterious areas worthy of future discovery.



Our family’s joint venture speaks in a slightly different tone of voice to each person that meets it, evoking memories and feelings that cannot always be expressed. The ‘imperfect’ yet natural shape, the ‘inaccurate’ placement of the balls, the ornaments that range from big and shiny to small and fragile – each element works together to present a perfect whole. A bit different every time, though each observer will agree that the overall shape is always the same, and the spirit that this shape evokes is shared by all.




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While Some Eat With Their Eyes Others Just Don’t Eat

huger burger So we’ve been talking about things like fair trade, social justice, moral responsibility and the conscientious s capitalist. Often we get to arguing about where we should draw the line, who should decide what is ‘enough’, what is ‘too much’ and whether this is really just talk of pie in the sky.

I’ve never been involved in overseas or inner city missions and I live in one of the richest counties in the US. I own four automobiles, including my children’s. My house has cable TV and internet and air conditioning. We have three television sets, two computers, a dishwasher, washing machine and dryer, microwave oven, electric range, DVD players, XBox and PS2, multiple stereos and Lord knows how many defunct cell phones. We eat out at least a couple times a week and like to take drives in the country. I definitely would not hold myself up as an example of someone living a life of mere sufficiency.

So how am I leaving a bigger (or smaller) footprint on this planet than others? Where can I change? Honestly, I’m not ready to give up much, if any, of the things that I just rattled off. Other than turning the water off when I shave or brush my teeth, I can’t think of too many more ways in which I can make a difference. We’ve recycled for years and we keep a close eye on the thermostat and other appliances (because of the money). Now we look for certain labels in our garments or on our boxes, bottles and cans before we buy, but if they’re not available (or too expensive) we usually purchase what’s there.

But I waste quite a bit, and I always have. And most of you folks do as well – it’s just not in ways that are very visible. Some of you know I work in the culinary business and you probably can guess that my industry is responsible for a lot of wasted food. But before you start railing against McDonald’s and Red Lobster you must remember that they are driven by profits and none of them like throwing away food. The market (us) has demanded that a large line for waste be included on most food service P&L’s. If the operation is within budget then waste is not considered excessive. But it’s still waste. Nobody likes it.

The classic visible example of industry conservation has been the disappearance of the obligatory water glass. I remember years ago when (during a drought) we began serving water by request only. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who thought this was a personal affront. After all, how much can a glass of water cost? So you try explaining that it’s not just the 10 ounces of water in the glass, it’s the water used to make the ice as well as the water used to clean the glass (probably another 10-20 ounces).

Of course on top of that there is the energy needed to make the ice and run the dish machine. More soapy water goes down the drain, requiring energy demanding treatment or perhaps running off into the aquifer. The more glassware that’s used the more breakage occurs and the more glass goes into the landfill. More energy and resources are used to make more glasses. And don’t forget – half of the folks never touched their water, so it was often for nothing.

I used to spend an occasional shift working the dish machine just to get a feel for what was coming back from the dining room. This is how I found out that nobody was eating the dill pickle spear we served with all of our sandwiches. When I decided to pull the pickle off of the plate (and take 50 cents off the price) the uproar was loud and angry. Over a pickle. You would have thought the consumption of pickles was protected in our constitution. It was obvious that some people feel an entitlement to some things they become used to. Even fermented cucumbers that they don’t eat. (I stuck to my guns though – pickles ain’t cheap.) How many sandwiches have you seen come out with a slice of tomato, lettuce and onion on the side? I’ll bet at least half of those sides get tossed in the trash. But presentation is king and we all know that people ‘eat with their eyes’. But really they eat with their mouths and their mouths rarely eat the garnish.

Have you ever seen a salad ordered, with dressing on the side (dieters love this trick) but the server presented it dressed? I don’t know how many salads I’ve had to remake because of that unforgivable mistake. But then to see the same diner now take the ramekin of dressing and dump it all over the salad anyway…..jeesh!

How about the burger that should’ve been rare to medium rare and it came out just plain old medium rare? Many people who order in this fashion don’t have the correct nomenclature down. I’ve had customers who didn’t know the difference send their burgers back two or three times. At that point I would personally cook the burger and present it myself; just so all questions of doneness would be resolved. But two perfectly good hamburgers were now in the trash (or going down the drain).


As much flack as the QSR segment gets for ‘supersized’ foods the real culprit behind huge restaurant portions is the Cheesecake Factory. They started this long lived national trend of plating up excessive quantities. Now everyone does it. Real American food, served real big under real big ferns. The funny thing is, probably the most productive and efficient cuisine is from France. French chefs became the best at what they do because they did not have access to cheap and abundant high-quality food. When you are serving cow spleen you better know how to make a good sauce

So maybe you don’t dine out, you do your cooking at home. Do you think that Superfresh is going to sell every one of those tomatoes or bananas or heads of romaine that they put out on display? What about the chicken, beef and pork that we pick through, putting those with the oldest dates to the bottom of the pile? Or the fish that must be fresh, fresh, fresh? (even though only frozen fish is truly fresh in most grocery stores or restaurants). The look of abundance is inviting and appetizing – think of each grocery department as a great big cornucopia of foods. To achieve that effect a lot more perishable food must be displayed than is prudent or necessary. The consumer market demands this look while the food markets’ dumpsters need to be emptied daily.

gray meats

Many schools receive a Federal partial subsidy for free lunches they provide poorer students. In order to qualify for these subsidies each child must be served the mandated components of a nutritional meal, whether they eat it or not. So quite a lot of vegetables and fruit end up in many school’s trashcans. To demonstrate a higher level of respect for high school students it is required that they be offered a varied choice of entrees at lunch time. This means that more food is prepared than would otherwise be necessary (who knows what dish will move on a particular day and of course no one wants to run out of anything). Salad bars are being strongly encouraged, but of course salad bars and buffets are very wasteful – nothing can be saved from a self-serve line – even in restaurants or at catered events.

So, there seems to be much more to this problem of personal excess than meets the eye. And we have only touched upon three segments of one American industry. Maybe we can be more globally and locally responsible while saving some of our money as well.

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