Everybody Crokinole!

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Crokinole is a game that somehow manages to combine elements of curling (minus the ice), marbles (minus the color), and shuffleboard (minus the cruise ship) into a table-top game enjoyable for all ages. The object of the game is to flick your little cookie-shaped discs into the higher-point regions in the middle of the board, but the greater challenge is to knock your opponent’s discs off the board while keeping yours on and avoiding the crazy posts that protect the inner circle. Trust me, it’s awesome.

The game originated in Canada, which is where I first learned about it thirty years ago when my oldest sister married and moved there. My mother loved it. Although the game is designed for two or four players, like a gambling addict at a poker table my Mom would sit alone for hours on end flicking the crazy discs toward that elusive hole in the middle of the table on our annual visits north of the border.

Last Christmas my wife surprised our family with a crokinole board as a family gift, and it has been a hit at our house with guests ranging from preschoolers to college students to young adults and beyond. There is something addictive about the game, and I confess to feeling a little like a pusher getting people hooked. I mean, c’mon, everyone (in Canada at least) is doing it?

I learned that there is an annual World Crokinole Championship tournament that draws entrants from multiple continents. For some reason that makes me happy. I’m not exactly sure why a simple game draws people from around the world, nor why it makes practically everyone who walks in our doors want to play—but it does. Maybe it is the easy, accessible challenge. It may be that the game is unique. But I prefer to think that it is because we are all drawn to sit down at a table with each other as equals and laugh together.

I mean, check out this video and just try not to smile! 🙂

JuneBaby

Junebaby1We signed our youngest daughter up for TIME magazine her senior year of high school when she indicated an interest in international affairs, but when she took off to Seattle for college I became the beneficiary of knowing what’s up in the world. As time flies and all that, that daughter is about to begin her senior year of college, and I thought I would sneak up to see her for a couple of days last week before the entire college experience slips away. As fate would have it I was reading TIME just before the trip and stumbled across the magazine’s inaugural run at identifying the “World’s Greatest Places.” The list contained one-hundred places from forty-eight countries on six continents and was chosen using factors such as “quality, originality, innovation, sustainability, and influence.” One of those one-hundred places is in Seattle, a restaurant featuring Southern food named JuneBaby.

Well, we are from Arkansas and were in Seattle, so we just had to go. We arrived when the doors opened and noticed an expected line out the door, but the wait wasn’t long. We enjoyed a delicious meal—gumbo for Hillary and catfish for me with wheat buns and honey butter to share. It was awesome.

But I don’t think it was the Southern food or even the ambience that landed this little restaurant on a list of the one-hundred greatest places on the planet. I suspect such a prestigious designation came from the beautiful idea behind the place.

Here is its self-description:

Southern food’s humble beginnings embarked when West Africans were taken from their home and were forced across the middle passage to North America. The term soul food originated during American slavery to not only describe a type of cuisine but also a period of time of oppression and overcoming hardships. It is traditionally cooked and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States and merges influences from West Africa, Western Europe, and North America. As a result, America’s culinary history was built on cornrice, peas, and the hog; many of the ingredients associated with Southern food. Southern cuisine has always had and continues to have stereotypical connotations. Seen through the eyes of most Americans as inferior, unsophisticated, and unhealthy, Southern food reflects hard times and resourcefulness and is nothing short of beautiful. It is a cuisine to be respected and celebrated.

Yep, that’s why I am suddenly in love with JuneBaby. It bears repeating: “Southern food reflects hard times and resourcefulness and is nothing short of beautiful. It is a cuisine to be respected and celebrated.”

Beauty can and often does rise from ashes. And when it does, it should be respected and celebrated in all of its various forms, including fried catfish and gumbo.

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Travel Well

YA at UCLA

UCC Young Adults at UCLA

On Friday evening a group of friends from University Church traveled to UCLA to cheer on our Pepperdine women’s soccer team in a match against the Bruins. Although we came up short on the scoreboard our student-athletes battled hard and it was good to cheer on their great effort, especially on the road. Over the past two seasons I have gone on the road to cheer for multiple Waves teams, including baseball, basketball, cross country, track, and soccer. There is something fun about entering someone else’s turf to cheer on your team, wearing the colors, looking for friendly faces.

I am a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and in the past month had the opportunity to watch the Redbirds play in two different stadiums while on a western road swing. The Cardinals are said to “travel well,” a sports world phrase that means that the fan base shows up in support whenever and wherever the team happens to play.

Travel well. I really like that phrase. Sounds like something I would like to do in life in general.

The problem it seems is that you don’t have a ton of control over whether others will show up to support you when you are away from home and outnumbered. I guess the way that you conduct yourself can influence others to represent, but truth be told, even that isn’t required. What would it be like to rest assured that wherever you go in life you will find supporters out en masse, wearing your colors, and cheering you on? What would it feel like to travel well?

I guess most of us will never know.

One thing we can control, however, is whether or not we are individuals who help others travel well. Yes, that we can do. And, wow, what a world that would be.

A Party Worth Imagining

MCLE Party

PC: Tim Horton

The party was phenomenal. No, not the kind of party you might imagine happening in Malibu. In fact, this was the kind of party one might never imagine happening anywhere, including Malibu.

It was a beautiful Saturday where the bright blue heavens slowly faded into a starry sky that featured a spectacular orange moon, and when day transformed into dark the lights that had been carefully strung across the trees and green space lit up the night. Everyone was welcome to attend at no charge, and it seemed as if everyone did. There were people everywhere enjoying the tacos and pupusas and hot dogs and the ice cream cart that never slowed down the entire evening. There were crafts and piñatas for the children along with two, count ‘em two, mariachi bands that entertained and inspired the crowd to dance well into the night. We wanted a celebration, and we had a celebration.

The crowd was a cross-section of the community, and thus, a cross-section of the world. There were homeless and underemployed friends in conversations with world-famous celebrities. Every age level, every education level, every income level, every type of national origin, every faith, every ethnicity—it was all there in a singular party.

I love the Malibu Community Labor Exchange and could not have imagined a more appropriate atmosphere to celebrate its twenty-five years of service.

Late in the evening, while standing under the twinkling lights, I looked across the parking lot and noticed a photographer lurking under a tree with a long-range lens snapping pictures of the party’s celebrity host. That scene is my enduring memory of the party. There were homeless and underemployed men and women feasting with the rich and famous, and lurking in the shadows was paparazzi trying to sneak a shot. There was something right about that scene, something that said that the world needs to know what was happening there—a place where the lion and lamb decided to have a party together and everyone was invited.

Maybe I should have wandered over to the paparazzi and invited him to join us for a taco.

A Conversation Going South

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Is there a term for an escalator that is going down? A de-escalator? Well there should be a term. Anyway, I exited the Denver airport last Friday and stepped on the escalator headed down (sigh) when I heard, “Sir! Sir!”

I turned and saw a blonde woman about my age running and trying to get my attention. “Is this the way to the light rail?” she asked as she stepped on the escalator (?) behind me.

“I think so,” I answered. “That’s where I’m headed.”

“Where are you from?”

“California.”

“Oh,” she replied, obviously disappointed. “I thought I detected an accent.”

“Well, you probably did. I’m originally from Arkansas.”

“Oh,” she replied, suddenly in a better mood. “I would claim Arkansas.”

Well I won’t repeat what came to mind at this juncture of the conversation; instead, I made the difficult choice to smile and simply said, “I like them both.”

I thought that made a nice conversation ender, but she reluctantly replied, “Yes, I guess there are good and bad people wherever you go.” Saying this appeared to disappoint her once again.

There were many things I might have said at that point, but I just agreed and ended the conversation by turning and facing ahead. Which happened to be down. On both literally and metaphorically one of the longest rides I have taken on whatever one should call an escalator going down.

The Labor Party

MCLEOn the big screen Martin Sheen is probably best known for his leading role in Apocalypse Now and on the television screen for his portrayal of President Bartlet on The West Wing.  In Malibu he is known for his generosity.

Several years ago some teenagers from our church were at our local ice cream shop and one of the teens did not have a jacket with him. There was a bit of a chill in the air, and, you know, there was ice cream. One of the group noticed that the teenager was suddenly wearing a sweatshirt or jacket, I forget the specifics, and when asked where he got it he pointed to some random man that gave it to him. He had no idea it was Martin Sheen.

I have been involved in a unique and wonderful day labor hiring site called the Malibu Community Labor Exchange for ten years now and am embarking on my second stint as president of the board of directors. Martin Sheen has been involved since its inception twenty-five years ago, prominently at the beginning, and more behind the scenes in the years that followed, but he is stepping out front to host a major silver anniversary celebration that is open to public this Saturday evening at the Labor Exchange (23595 Civic Center Way – the Malibu Library parking lot).

As we planned the party, I had several opportunities to interact with Martin in person, including interviewing him for a promotional video. The word “celebrity” did not factor into conversation in my Arkansas hometown, so this is a novel experience for me. We were both interviewed by a local newspaper about the event, and one line in the article made me smile: “Sturgeon and Sheen emphasized that the joyful occasion is intended to recognize the Labor Exchange’s contributions to the community and its gratefulness to Malibu.” I know my name is a big draw, but Mr. Sheen’s name should have come first alphabetically.

If you are near Malibu this Saturday, I invite you to drop by the Labor Exchange trailer from 6-9pm to dance to the mariachi band, grab a free taco, and celebrate this local institution. You are welcomed. That’s the thing I love the most about the Labor Exchange. Everyone is always welcomed.

Do Sweat the Big Stuff

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Last October the New York Times published an article now credited with sparking the #MeToo movement that exposed producer Harvey Weinstein’s history and practice of sexual abuse and harassment. The first woman mentioned in the article was actress, Ashley Judd, and the second was a wonderful former student of mine at Pepperdine Law. In less than a month there were scores of other names added to the list.

Exactly one week after that landmark article my good friends at Pepperdine Law hosted an important conference titled, “In Search of Sanctuary: Strengthening the Church’s Response to Intimate Partner Violence.” The featured speaker at the conference was Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, and I was honored to be in attendance to listen and learn from her great wisdom and work. As a preacher now/again I was particularly surprised that when Rev. Fortune asked for a show of hands of all familiar with the story of Vashti only a few of us were. She then asked how many knew the story of the nameless Levite’s concubine (from Judges 19), and there may have been one other person besides me who raised a hand. Dr. Fortune’s point was that texts dealing with intimate partner violence are not popular preaching texts, and as a result, the Church is sadly unfamiliar with and at the very least complicit in sustaining an environment that results in a deafening silence. She told of one particular pastor who simply mentioned his plan to attend a conference on intimate partner violence and was shocked to have multiple victims approach him afterward in their pain—a simple off-handed reference was the most the topic had ever been broached in the congregation. I have been no better.

That conference planted the seed that resulted in my summer sermon series on the Book of Judges at my congregation. I learned that those who faithfully follow the Revised Common Lectionary will only turn to the Book of Judges for one text in their lives (the Song of Deborah) and never face the violent texts, especially not the sickening story of the nameless Levite’s concubine in Judges 19. Yesterday I forced myself to deliver a sermon on that text, which also happened to be the first sermon I had ever heard on that particular text.

I do not write today to redeliver the sermon—I will upload it today to uccmalibu.podbean.com if you are interested in that sort of thing. And I do not write today to congratulate myself. No, my attitude is one of embarrassment for my complicity, and I write in a spirit of confession.

The sermons this summer have been difficult to deliver, but one of the enduring images I will take from it are of those who periodically stopped to say that they sincerely appreciate the effort to confront the difficult texts.

I have often told my daughters that the only things worth doing in life are difficult. I hope to listen to my own advice.

Pay Attention

Writing Books
“He could go anyplace he wanted with a sense of purpose. One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches and tramps around. Writing taught my father to pay attention…”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I avoided writing whenever possible in high school and celebrated upon testing out of both required English composition courses in college. And now I love to write. For whatever reason I cannot seem to pick up the curveball in this game called life.

When my dad died in 1994 I experienced a strong urge to write—the first time I wanted to write an essay—and the urge returned not long afterward when the moms and dads of my elementary school daughter’s local soccer team acted completely insane and nearly drove me bonkers.  Around then it occurred to me that I should not have prayed so fervently to test out of English composition.  On both occasions writing was my way of processing the confusion of life.

And then, on the eighth day, God created a host of things like home computers and Microsoft Word, grammar check and spell check, print-on-demand publishing and blogs.  I became a writer in spite of poor life decisions.  Sort of like how Donald Trump became the president.

Somewhere along the way I purchased and devoured two wonderful books on the craft of writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing by Stephen King.  Both are chock full of hilarious, practical, and straight-shooting advice on this creative outlet that I now adore.  It was Lamott, however, who zeroed in on what I love the most: Writing teaches me to pay attention.

I shouldn’t need anything to make me pay attention to life, but then again, maybe I do.  Maybe my cousin, Amy, is right when she claims that we all have a creative side that needs exercising, and maybe it is that need to create that leads us to lean into this thing called life, to have a reason to head out into it, to use all of our senses, to take notes on everything that is there.

Maybe.  That’s all I’m saying.  I just know that writing is now a part of who I am—and that I am thankful.

Time Keeps on Slipping

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PC: Kristi May

Time is a sneaky son of a gun.

I recently traveled to my hometown to pull off two reunions in a single day: eight first cousins for a mini-family reunion over an extra-long lunch followed by eight high school classmates for a thirty-year reunion over an extra-long dinner. It was a great day from start to finish.

I am the youngest of fourteen first cousins on my mother’s side of the family, so I missed out on the creation of many of the great memories that were shared over lunch. I do, however, remember assembling on a designated Sunday each summer in tiny towns in the hills of Arkansas for a family reunion that served to bind us together. Jeff brought an old DVD from the reunion the summer I graduated from college way back in 1992. My parents and grandparents were alive then, and the DVD brought them back from the grave and threw my heart for a loop.

I also happened to be the youngest of nineteen members of the Class of ’88 at Crowley’s Ridge Academy due to a late September birthday, but I was most definitely there for all the wonderful memories that we recalled with great laughter over dinner. In fact, I attended that tiny school for twelve years—it is as much a part of me as anything. Joe brought several yearbooks, and those old black-and-white photographs resurrected memories that did their own number on my heart.

It occurred to me at some point that some of the high school teachers we once considered ancient were younger then than we are now. I’m not exactly sure how to describe how that all settled in the old heart, but I wouldn’t use any version of the word comfort.

Steve Miller wrote and released the song Fly Like an Eagle (and immortalized the line that time keeps on slipping into the future) around the time I started making all those memories at home and school. The lyrics seem to say that Miller wanted to spend his time helping the poor and soar to a place of freedom for everyone—but time keeps on slipping away.

Yes, it does. Hashtag agreed and all that.

Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what I would tell myself thirty years ago, or forty, or whatever—and to be honest, I’m not particularly interested since that ship has apparently sailed. What I would rather determine is what I would tell myself right now. I gave that question quite a bit of thought after this little peek in the time capsule, and do you know what I concluded?

Me neither.

I am sure that I, too, want to help the poor and soar to a place of freedom for everyone. But time apparently has a habit of going viral.

Manzanar

ManzanarI elbowed my way through afternoon L.A. traffic to begin a four-hour mountain drive that ended in a surprising thunderstorm and finally some peace and quiet. Early the next morning I drove the few remaining miles to my destination: Manzanar.

I forget exactly when I learned about Manzanar, but it should have been sooner.

Asian-Americans endured prejudicial treatment prior to Pearl Harbor in 1941 but that terrible attack brought specific ethnic hostility to those of Japanese ancestry. In early 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 that authorized the military to remove “any or all persons” from the West Coast and ultimately over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in ten American concentration camps simply because of their ethnicity. Ten thousand of those Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants were incarcerated in California at Manzanar.

My interest in visiting Manzanar intensified a few years ago when I learned that two of the ten wartime camps were located in Arkansas—I grew up in Arkansas and taught history in Arkansas and had never been told that Arkansas incarcerated 17,000 people of Japanese descent from California, half at Camp Jerome and half at Camp Rohwer. I knew then that I needed to visit Manzanar to feel the pain of a camp and ponder this terrible connection between my two “home” states—and my native country.

Manzanar is easy to visit on one hand: It is free, uncrowded, and only takes an hour or two to see everything there is to see. But it is difficult to visit as well. For what it represents, and what it proclaims.

Out of the 110,000+ imprisoned out of fear of espionage or sabotage, exactly zero were convicted of espionage or sabotage. That unwarranted fear destroyed many lives and families and even flirted with destroying a culture. In Hawaii where 158,000 Japanese-Americans faced less prejudice and enjoyed more freedom than those on the mainland, they were still discouraged from speaking the Japanese language and practicing the Buddhist religion. Hawaii’s military governor explained why: “We must remember that this is America and we must do things the American Way.”

And what, pray tell, did this chapter of American history communicate about the American Way?

The barbed wire at Manzanar stands as a reminder of how fear and power work together. But Manzanar also reminds us of the potential resilience of oppressed people and that even when fear and power lace up on the same team that victims can band together and rise above their circumstances. Possibly my favorite poster in the visitor’s center hung outside the theater and featured a quote from Hank Umemoto: “We were screwed, but then we made the most out of it and we turned Manzanar into a community.”

May there be no more Manzanars. But in the meanwhile, may all such peoples find that kind of courage and hope.