Friday, August 24, 2012

The Uncle Al Show and my first public humiliation

Appearing on “The Uncle Al Show” was a pretty big deal for a kid growing up in the Cincinnati area during the 1950’s. Every morning, I tuned in to one of the three channels we got on our black-and-white T.V. to spend time with my best friend, Uncle Al. He was always smiling, just so darn glad to see us out- there- in-T.V.-land, wearing a straw hat with a band around it that matched his striped blazer. The best thing about Uncle Al was that he played the accordion and sang wonderful songs that I now suspect he wrote himself. I can still sing them to this day. Songs like “Up, up, up! Climb up Mr. Sun!” and “Put your toys away, don’t delay. Help your mommy have a happy day.” Uncle Al was married to a woman named Captain Windy, who was on the show, too. She wore a shiny skirt and a cape. Every day she made a fabulous entrance by flying in. This, of course, explained the cape.

When I was five years old and my cousin Judy was six, we got to appear on the Uncle Al show. It was the first time that I can remember ever feeling disillusioned, as well as my first public humiliation. The disillusionment came when I actually met Uncle Al up close and personal. He was a cranky guy who didn’t really seem to like kids. Then, when the cameras started rolling, he was all smiles. Of course, his on-stage little friends played along, including me. The biggest disappointment to me, though, was Captain Windy. I was waiting to see her fly in, but it never happened. Uncle Al announced her entrance, and I heard the flying music, but then she just came walking over to us. Oh well.

The Uncle Al Show had sponsors like: Skippy peanut butter, Kahn’s wieners, Snyder’s pretzels, and Butternut bread. On the show, Uncle Al did all the commercials himself and he involved selected children in them. For example, Captain Windy would spread the Skippy peanut butter on a saltine cracker about five inches high and cram it into a kid’s mouth and then Uncle Al asked that kid a question, which of course the kid couldn’t answer because his mouth was full of sticky, gooey stuff. And we would all laugh at the kid. It was so funny. Every day it happened. And every day it was funny.

My cousin Judy was selected for the pretzel commercial. She got to swing on a giant pretzel, which I thought was way cool. That’s the commercial I wanted. But the one I appeared in was the Butternut bread commercial. I was well aware of how it went. A kid would stand and hold her arms out as Uncle Al piled loaves of bread in them so high that you couldn’t see her face any more. And, invariably, it was too much for the poor kid, and all the bread came tumbling to the floor. Well, I was bound and determined that wasn’t going to happen to me. I was going to be the first kid on Uncle Al to hold that bread in my arms no matter how high the stack got.

I stood with my arms out straight and steady while Uncle Al piled up the tower of bread. Higher and higher it went, and I didn’t move. When the last loaf was in place, I was so proud of myself. I did it! But my glory was short-lived. Uncle Al reached under my arms and punched up. The result of this unfair interference, which the cameras obviously didn’t capture, was an avalanche of bread loaves. Everyone laughed, and I was mortified!

This was certainly not the last time I experienced a public humiliation, but just a preview of coming attractions. I still get that same feeling sometimes after I’ve preached a sermon, in fact. I feel like I’ve put myself out there and made an ass of myself and I’ll never be able to show my face in public again. But then, of course, I do. It’s a lesson I first learned from Uncle Al. Along with the realization that: smiles are often deceptive, I should never trust a man wearing a straw hat, and I will never be able to fly, not even if I wear a really nice cape.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reflections of a Schmuck

I wonder how different my life would be if I weren’t so doggone trusting. There have been times when I thought it’s a good thing to trust other people, but today, I’m not so sure.

I got burned. I trusted someone completely, only to learn that this person had lied, cheated and stolen from me. Now, I know that there are people who do such things. And I’m realistic enough to acknowledge that this is fairly common behavior in our world. So, I can accept the fact that a person could do such despicable things. I get that. But that it would be THIS person, someone I was so sure I could trust, leaves me feeling like my guts have been tossed into a blender.

No, this isn’t the first time in my life when I’ve trusted someone who betrayed that trust. It's happened a lot. And I’m starting to think I may have a problem in that regard. I may be too trusting. When I first meet someone, I’m always cautious. But once I let my guard down, I’m ripe for the picking. I’ve never thought of myself as na├»ve, but maybe I am. I do know that when I trust, I trust completely. It’s hard for me to trust someone a little.

Why am I such an easy mark? Some of it, I suspect, has to do with an overpowering need I have to be loved. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but I’ve grown to accept it as a part of who I am. I need to be loved so much that I have been known to allow that need to over-ride my better judgment. So I tried to overlook the unfaithfulness of my first husband. And I denied the obvious deceit of a second one. How could I have been so stupid? I feared the consequences of facing the truth because it meant losing the love I so desperately needed. The thought of that was more painful to me than facing the truth and taking care of my own best interests.

Another reason why it’s so easy for me to trust those who aren’t trustworthy is that I make the mistake of thinking other people are like me when it comes to honesty. There is not a dishonest bone in my body. (Okay, maybe there are a few tendons and ligaments, but none of the major bones.) If I lie, I get physically ill. I mean that literally. And I assume that other people are the same way. This is especially true with those I become close to. I know that I would never deceive them, so I can’t imagine that they would ever deceive me.

Oh, let’s face it. I’m a schmuck, plain and simple. I try to convince myself that trusting others is admirable by going to a poem that’s attributed to Mother Teresa: “People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway….” I'm not convinced today. And then I think of that wonderful quote from Anne Frank, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” Yes, what a wonderful perspective on life! But now I’m remembering that this was something she wrote in her diary before some of those really-good-at-heart people drug her off to a concentration camp and killed her.

Despite the fact that I know in my head why I have reason to hope, sometimes despair gets the best of me and threatens to crush my spirit. The only thing I can do to combat it is offer deepest thanks for all the trustworthy people God has sent to be a part of my life’s journey. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to go on. Yes, this is one of those days when I’m convinced that people who are “really good at heart” are truly the exception in this world, but that just makes them all the more valuable to me.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Do you ever get a hankerin’ for something, but you’re not quite sure what it is? Every once in a while, this happens to me. It’s usually associated with stress. I’m a stress eater. And sometimes I get this notion that if I can just find what it is I’m hankerin’ for, I’m going to feel a whole lot better -- better about my situation, my life, myself.

So, I climb into my car and head for the supermarket. Then I get down to business. I walk up and down the aisles. In the produce I stop and imagine myself eating some fat, juicy grapes. Is that what I’m hankerin’ for? Nope. I go to the chips and think about how satisfying it would be to crunch away on something salty. But will that do it for me? Nope. I make my way to my favorite section of the grocery store, the cookie aisle. And I stop by the Nutter Butters. Is this what I’m hankerin’ for? Nope. Next comes the freezer section. Frozen Yogurt. Is that it? Nope. I make my way through the entire store, hoping that something will jump out and grab me because I have no idea what I’m looking for. Just something to ease this hankerin’ I’m feeling inside.

There are times when I go through this whole routine and leave the store empty-handed. Nothing seems to do it for me. But most often, I do walk away with something, usually something that isn’t at all good for me. Then as soon as I get into the car I tear it open and start in.

Do you ever do that? Do you ever feel yourself hankerin’ for something and you don’t know what it is? It might not be food. It might be that you’re hankerin’ for a drink. Or you’re hankerin’ to buy something new. Or you’re hankerin’ for an adventure. Or you’re hankerin’ for a special person in your life. Or you’re hankerin’ for something to entertain you.

Whatever it is, hankerin’ can be pretty stressful in itself. Especially when you aren’t quite sure what you’re hankerin’ for. It leaves everything in your life feeling out of whack. Something’s just not right. Nothing quite fits. You have this dis-ease that keeps gnawing at you and you don’t know what to do about it.

We humans must have a natural tendency to hanker. The children of Israel were terrible hankerers. In the Exodus story, they have what presents itself as a food crisis. But, in reality, it’s a faith crisis. God has just delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians, but all they can think about is the food they used to have back in the days when they lived in Egypt. Never mind the fact that they were slaves, and miserable. They seemed to forget about all that. So, instead of being thankful for the amazing blessings within their grasp, they hanker for what they can’t have. God hears their hankerin’ and gives them manna for bread and quail for meat. It may not be exactly what they want, but it’s exactly what they need.

This story from Exodus seems to foreshadow a story that we read in John’s gospel. Jesus has just fed a hungry crowd of 5000+ people. And now, they’re chasing him down. It wasn’t enough for them. They’re hankerin’ for something more. Jesus knows that. And he realizes that they don’t even know what it is they’re hankerin’ for.

“You’re looking for me because I fed you,” he says. “But there’s so much more I can give you. That bread and fish that I fed you will only satisfy you for so long, and then you’re going to be hungry again. You’re going to spend the rest of your life hankerin’ for something you don’t have until you seek the true bread from heaven.”

Well, that sounds pretty good to them. “Okay, we’ll take it. Give it to us, please.”

“Here’s the thing,” Jesus tells them. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. “

Jesus warns his followers, then and now, that we’d best be mindful about what we’re hankerin’ for. Because pert near everything in this world that we convince ourselves we can’t live without has little to do with really living. Not the living that God calls us to be a part of.

The kinds of things we spend our lives pursuing are usually things that have a shelf life. The only thing that doesn’t have a shelf life, Jesus reminds us, is the relationship we have with God. And until we live into that reality, we’re going to continue wandering aimlessly up and down the aisles at the supermarket looking for just the thing that will satisfy our longing. And we fail to notice is that everything we think might satisfy us is stamped with an expiration date.

St. Augustine once said that our hearts will always be restless until they find their rest in God. Life doesn’t have to be an endless quest to find the one thing that will satisfy our hankerin’. God is there all along, waiting to give us all that we need: to be complete, to be at peace, to be content.

When I get a hankerin’ and go to Harris Teeter, hoping to find just the right thing to satisfy me, I usually end up with junk food that I stuff into my face. And in no time at all, I’m feeling worse than I did before, both physically and emotionally. And now I’m hankerin’ again. Because junk food isn’t what I needed.

It makes me wonder about all the other kinds of junk food we consume in an effort to satisfy our longing. Our junk food may be drugs, alcohol, sex, work, fast cars, running, our children, a reckless pursuit of adrenaline rushes, a relentless quest for perfection or control or the approval of others. There are so many things we can convince ourselves we need to satisfy our hankerin’.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? Why do we have such a tendency to hanker for junk food when we could be savoring the bread of life?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Day After They Lined Up for Chicken

So much has already been said about boycotting Chick-Fil-A that I don’t need to say a whole lot about it here. At first I was among those who didn’t quite get why many of my friends were so offended by some old man who made homophobic statements. After all, we hear these things all the time. Doesn’t the guy have as much right to express his opinion as I do? But then when I learned about the millions of dollars Chick-Fil-A contributes to organizations that are working to deny the rights of gay folks, I realized that every time I buy a chicken sandwich there, I am contributing to those organizations, as well. So, I won’t be doing that any more. It’s as simple as that for me.

Now, the morning after “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day”, I am having strong feelings about what I witnessed yesterday. I can understand why some people would not see this as I do; we disagree about the issue of homosexuality. So, of course, it wouldn’t bother them to continue patronizing Chick-Fil-A. That’s fine. I won’t fault them for it. But what I saw yesterday went beyond that. There were people who made a point of going to Chick-Fil-A, standing in line, having their pictures taken and boasting about it. Some of them ate there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Of course, the name of Jesus was invoked while they were doing it. Somehow this became an expression of “Christianity.” And it makes me sick to my stomach.

I often hear Christians who are opposed to what they refer to as the homosexual “lifestyle” (implying that sexual orientation is a choice) saying that they “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” They will insist that they do not hate people who are gay. In fact they love them. What they’re trying to do is save them. Again, I don’t agree with them. But I can respect what they’re saying.

So tell me, please, how what happened yesterday could be construed as loving toward LGBT people? Those who made a big deal out of eating at Chick-Fil-A yesterday were spitting in the faces of a lot of people I love. It grieves my soul to see how quickly people jump on the hate bandwagon. I wonder if they really think about the ones they are hurting. But then, that's the way I tend to see these things. It's not about who's right and who's wrong. It's about who's being harmed. And a lot of people were harmed yesterday. There was nothing loving about eating at Chick-Fil-A and telling gay people you don’t give a damn about them.

I want to say “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” but I’m having trouble with that right now.