One of the funnier moments I’ve seen on television this year happened this past Sunday on NBC’s underperforming America’s Next Great Restaurant. We have watched every episode and actually enjoy it. The concept of the show is that there are twelve people who have a proposal for a national chain restaurant. The four “investors” (not judges, investors) hear the pitches and watch them execute various tasks. At the end of each episode, these investors discuss who they don’t want to keep and send that person packing. The winner gets to have three locations of their restaurant opened in Los Angeles, New York, and Minneapolis. (Yeah, that last one baffles me too.) These experts are Bobby Flay (Food Network stud and owner of Mesa, among other places), Lorena Garcia (some Hispanic chick with short skirts and I still don’t know what she ever did), Curtis Stone (celebrity chef and someone who has some sort of blackmail on NBC executives who keep trying to push him as a star), and Steve Ells Founder of Chipotle (Seriously, that is how he introduces himself EVERY TIME. I think it is his name.) The show is pretty entertaining. And as a person who likes food, restaurants, food competitions, and food television - and a person who has his own ideas for chain restaurants (a China/Mex place - it works) - I like the show a lot.
Anyway, they are down to the final four contestants. There is Soul Daddy - a Soul Food place. (I hope they win.) And then there is Spice Coast - an Indian place I would eat at. The third guy is a total Italian stereotype who has nearly cost himself the competition a half dozen times, despite having the easiest and most marketable concept. Brooklyn Meatball Company. See what I mean? I can see that everywhere, and I would eat there. The last place is Harvest Sol - a healthy Mediterranean place that tries to keep low calorie meals with a “green” mentality. The girl has changed her pitch so many times that it is hard to keep track of her latest iteration - something that threw off her own staff this last week. She is into sustainable foods, healthy stuff, all natural things. And the biggest strikes have come from her chef using canned chick peas and their food, well, generally sucking. But her concept isn’t bad - if you can figure out where she is trying to go with it. So she was still around.
Last week, this girl (Stephenie with all e’s, no a’s) managed to get herself kicked out, largely because of the funny thing that I referenced earlier. They were trying to put together a menu for the second to last competition in Las Vegas. She was going to make beef short ribs, a lamb wrap thingee, and some salad stuff. Well, the chef got the ingredients and she asked if the lamb were free range lambs. He said he didn’t know, so she decided that she wasn’t going to do the dish. She started talking about how it needs to be focused on sustainable food and healthy, no antibiotics meat and such. The chef, who has been reamed out several times for not listening to her, gave her the Spock/People’s Eyebrow and wanted to say something. You saw it falling out of his mouth. But he swallowed it and was like, “Okay. Um, I haven’t heard that… Okay, whatever.”
So when the judges (sorry, investors) came traipsing through the kitchen later, she was explaining her offerings. She went on a big rant about how she was going to do a lamb dish, but couldn’t be sure it was free range and sustainable and decided against it. These four restaurant gurus looked at her weird before Curtis Stone spoke up. (He must have won the pre-waltz coin toss for who busted her.) “So, how do you think they raise lambs for meat?” Stepheneee looked at them and started going on about how they were raised in cages without much freedom and all this. More quizzical looks. Steve Ells then started in about how lambs here are almost ALL free range and generally are way more sustainable than any other meat. Now, this dude owns Chipotle. The company as a whole has as its motto “Food with Integrity.” They devote a huge chunk of their website and menu to this promise. They have been featured on national news shows about this. They don’t use meat with antibiotics and are trying to get 100% of their meat from naturally raised animals. (They are at 85% on beef.) So, this guy is like the expert on this mentality. And there is this little girl rambling on with NO CLUE about what she was talking about.
But that wasn’t the best part. The show cut to her interview clip, where she said, “Looking back, I realize that I got veal and lamb mixed up.” Okay, I guess that is a fair mistake - maybe. Still not the best part. Bobby Flay, always the one to rein in the others, asked what else she was selling. So she started talking about the beef short ribs. All four of them tripped over themselves to ask the OBVIOUS question. “Is the beef naturally raised?” I wish I could have frozen her face at that point. “Uhh….” I think Curtis took over the inevitable beating duties. “You just made a big deal about the lambs being sustainable. But you are making BEEF ribs. That is a much bigger issue. Are they antibiotic free? Are they grass fed? Are they naturally raised?” Stephenney just stared and answered, “Honestly, I didn’t check that at all.”
Now, I am all for people taking a stand and eating healthier. I think it is a good thing to try to gravitate towards meat that is treated better and handled more correctly. We have made some of those changes in our own lives. We make sure we only buy hormone-free milk. My yogurt is all organic and natural - since most Greek yogurt companies are exclusively of that mindset. Beef in general has been mostly eliminated from our diet. We are trying - admittedly not as much as many people. But I am not out there on television pounding a drum about how natural and healthy and organic I am and then using canned chick peas, questionable beef, and mouthing off about lamb meat.
I am not trying to pick on Stefphennieye, per se. It is actually a sign of a bigger problem. We have become a society of supposed experts. There have always been blowhard wind bags that liked to act like they know everything. They would just ramble on about stuff that they didn’t actually know. (My dad was one of the biggest of them.) They would read something in Newsweek or Time and earn their mail-order Certificate of Expertnicity. But, it was pretty easy to recognize these people. Your BS detector would go off and then you would just kind of put up with them until they finished.
With the advent and proliferation of the Interwebs, this problem has become even more pronounced - and harder to eliminate. Think about it this way… When you ask someone where they got their information, how many times do they say, “I read it on Wikipedia.” When I was teaching, students would use wikipedia as a source for research papers, like it was a legitimate place to get info. And, honestly, most people believe it is. My argument was always, “YOU can update wikipedia. It isn’t a reliable source.” Anyone can go to Google or Wikipedia and look something up now and then turn around and rehash it - appearing to be quite intelligent. But they never even check to make sure that what they are saying is accurate.
This was Stiphini’s problem. She started talking like an expert, without ever making sure what she said was right. It was a noble position and it sounded good. But it was misguided. When she was questioned by an expert, she wilted because her knowledge was all props. This happens quite frequently now. Everyone with a blog is an expert on something. Facebook has made it possible to spread false information across the globe in a manner of seconds with just a few clicks of the “Share” button. It is easier to just retweet or resend or repost rather than go and check the validity of something.
This can be a very dangerous approach. People’s character and career can be ruined unjustly. Financial errors can be made. People can make incorrect decisions based on incorrect data. On the show, it wasn’t that big of a deal. The girl wasn’t going to win. She got put in her place. End of story. But what happens when someone posts something on a blog or on youtube and it gets out before that security can clamp down? Then we are caught trying to put the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube.
It is virtually impossible to erase something now when it is published. Which is why we need to be even MORE careful to be right about what we say. On one of my favorite sites, Uni Watch, they were talking about the Buffalo Bills’ new uniforms. Apparently, through a preview of the new Madden video game, a video of the new uniform set got out onto YouTube. It got taken down, since it was not up legitimately. Then someone else put it up. And it got taken down. And that cycle is probably continuing right now. But someone took screen shots of the video while it was up, so those pics were posted. And then Uni Watch linked to them. See the problem? Even if the Bills and the NFL were able to get the videos taken down and the original pics and the Uni Watch links removed, how many other little bloggers have now saved those pics and posted them? It becomes impossible to erase the error.
I think we have a responsibility to make sure what we are saying is accurate when we are reporting things as facts. Or we need to make sure that it is clear that we are stating opinions or satirizing something. That used to be the rules of journalism. But, in today’s blurred world of news, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between news, opinion, entertainment, and plain old bull. I mean, some people quote The Onion, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show like they are actual news sources.
When I worked at Apple, there were many things we did that surprised customers. But the one thing I got the most comments about was what we did when confronted with something we didn’t know. At other places I had worked (including churches), we were trained how important it was to always demonstrate that you were an expert. At Apple, we were trained from early on that if we didn’t know the answer, DO NOT MAKE IT UP. Instead, we would say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” And then we would walk with the customer to a computer and look up the answer. Or we would go to the Genius Bar or the inventory guy or the product label and find out. In fact, if you made up an answer, you would get in trouble for it. Customers for some reason couldn’t believe that we did this. They weren’t offended - in fact, it made them trust us more. They know we weren’t trying to pull something over on them.
I wish more people held to that belief. I would rather someone tell me that they didn’t know something and then verify facts than try to maintain a level of authority. When I was a teacher, I tried to do this with my students. I did the same thing as a minister. If I didn’t know, I said that and then went and found out. I think that is the responsible thing to do. We need to make sure that what we are hearing - and repeating - is true. (That is also a good message about sermons and Bible studies too.) It doesn’t take long. But it can stop a lot of damage. On the restaurant show, a little research would have saved Stephenie a lot of embarrassment and maybe even kept her in the running. Sometimes, as the old saying goes, it is better to keep our mouth shut and let people think we are stupid than speak and remove all doubt. At times, the best words to say are, “I don’t know.”
Apr 26, 2011
Apr 14, 2011
Elijah is one of those amazing characters in the Bible. I always liked when we covered him in Bible class or Sunday School. And I loved reading his stories in our Illustrated Children's Bible. They were so exciting and action packed. Fiery chariots, fire from heaven, lots of miracles. It's the stuff that a kid loves to think about. As I grew older, I found new excitement in Elijah - mostly for the ballsy approach he had to life. I admired the fact that he just brazenly walked in to the king and gave him the what what. He also prayed some stuff that I was stunned about. [It's the same thing that made me love Caleb's story. At 80 the dude wanted the hill country from God so he could go bust up some giants. Just a studly move.]
But the sad thing is, despite the fact that I really like the character of Elijah and his stories, they kind of stayed in that realm of superhero stories that we so readily file Bible stories under. I don't know about you... Wait, yes, actually, I do. You're like me. We put these "heroes of the Bible" into the same category as Batman and Superman and Iron Man. They are these amazing characters with some supernatural gifts - kind of like a Israelite version of the X-Men.
But then there is the phrase in James 5:17. "Elijah was a man just like us..." Uh.... I can't recall there being such a straightforward reminder like that about any other character. James is telling believers to pray about things like healing and suffering. And, as if he could hear people questioning the rationale of this, he throws out the example of Elijah. [I'm using the NIV, because that is the way I learned this passage in school. Others say, "a nature like ours" or "subject to the same passions as us." I think they are fancy ways of saying the same thing. NIV is more succinct and poetic.] "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."
Does that just punch you right in the eyes? That is honestly one of the most convicting, hard to handle verses in the whole Bible for me. Right up there with Matthew 5:28 and Ephesians 5:25 and Matthew 5:48. So many times when we see things in the Bible that seem hard for us to do, we go into "yeah but" mode. "Yeah, but that was Jesus. He was God." Or "yeah, but that was Paul. I'm not Paul." Or, "yeah, but that was a different time." We can't use that this time. We are supposed to pray with that kind of boldness and conviction and faith. We can't cop out by saying, "Yeah, but that was Elijah. He was a superhero." Nope, he was a man just like us.
That brings a whole different dimension to the entire Elijah story. It has to. He's one of those bigger than life guys. I would love to see a movie made about his life - one with high production values and killer special effects. Call it Just Like Us. (I also would love to see Samson made this way. And Moses.) I mean, look at the stuff he is involved in during his life.
- The very first time we see him, he is standing there in front of the evil King Ahab. (I'm telling you, there is even great movie names. Someone, get on this project, now!) Elijah just flat out tells the king that there is not going to be any rain or dew or water. Then he leaves.
- Elijah is fed by ravens at the brook of Cherith.
- Elijah stays with the widow and her son - and her flour and oil don't run out for three years.
- The widow's son dies. Elijah prays over him and he comes back to life.
- Elijah goes back to King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel. They threaten his life.
- Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. This is one of his biggest stories. It is a post in itself. During the showdown he mocks the prophets as they can't produce anything (humor too!). Then he prays and calls down fire from Heaven. Then the pagan prophets get slaughtered. (Yay, violence!)
- Elijah on foot outraces the king's chariot.
- Here comes the dramatic turn! After the VICTORY, Elijah goes and hides in a cave and gets depressed. He is afraid Jezebel is going to kill him - even after witnessing the crazy events at Mt. Carmel. This story perhaps greater than any other shows how much "like us" Elijah actually was. He got scared and depressed too.
- Elijah confronted Ahab and Jezebel again - telling them that God was going to kill them and bring destruction on their house. God extended mercy due to their repentance, until they turned back to paganism. They died three years later just like Elijah said.
- The next king didn't like Elijah either. So he sent fifty soldiers men to capture him. Two different times Elijah called fire down from heaven to destroy the troops before the third guy asked for mercy because he was just doing his job. Elijah went with that guy, and told the king he was going to die - which he did.
- Elijah didn't die. Instead God pulled him up into Heaven in a whirlwind and chariot of fire.
Yup. Just like us. The guy is pulling fire out of the air like nothing. He is telling people they are going to die and they do. He stops the rain. He outraces chariots. Doesn't sound like me at all. I get overwhelmed by everything. I sit here frustrated and worried. And helpless. That feeling actually describes me a lot. I feel helpless to change anything. I just watch things going on and don't see what I can do. I usually say something like, "All I can do is pray." But then there is this guy Elijah. He sees evil and suffering. He observes injustice and pain. But he doesn't sit there helpless. He acts.
Now, it is very easy to hide behind a lot of excuses. I'm not Elijah. "Those were different days. It is up to God to do those things. God led him to pray those things." But I ask you not to resort to those answers this time, just like I am trying to not allow myself to fall into those thoughts. We see numerous exhortations to pray with boldness. Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us to boldly approach the throne of grace. John 16 tells us that when we ask in His name, He will give it to us. And it says that we haven't asked for anything, so if we did we would have it. Matthew 7 says if we ask, it will be given to us. Matthew 18 tells us if two or more agree and ask, it will happen. Matthew 21 says we will receive what we ask in prayer, if we ask in faith. These sentiments are echoed in parallel passages in the other Gospel books. James 1 tells us to ask and not doubt. 1 John 3 and 5 both tell us to ask God for what we need.
We have concocted this kind of lily livered view of prayer, where we go to God and say, "Um, God, whatever you want to do is fine. Please do that. If you are willing, then we would like this particular thing to happen. If it isn't too much worry. No biggie." How does that match Elijah OR the passages in the last paragraph? Quite frankly, it doesn't. Looking at Elijah's life, I don't see a wimpy approach - except for that one passage where he hid in the cave and wanted to die. Now THAT I can relate to. But that is NOT the part we are supposed to see as our example. We have this incredible example of a normal person who God used in a truly exceptional way. And God wants us to live this way.
Years ago, I tried to live this way. I started praying with increasing boldness. I saw some incredible things happen in those days - things that when I tell people about them they look at me with the Spock eyebrow and wonder if I was serious. But it did happen. And it could again. But are we willing to live that way? Am I willing? Instead of sitting back and waiting for things like the Libyan situation work itself out, why am I not aggressively and boldly praying for it to be solved? Why don't I make specific and daring requests of God. I'm not talking about "testing God" like Satan tried to do with Christ in the desert. I'm talking about having confidence in my prayers.
The last two years have sort of taught me to pray that way again. I'm certainly not fully there. But I am starting. I have been praying for specific things about our home in Orlando. When I prayed that Gabe would start to potty train, he started on his own the next day. But it seemed that when I stopped praying about it, he stopped doing it. Finances, academic ability, ministry opportunities. All of those things should be offered up in the method of Elijah. Am I able to believe in God that much? Am I willing to invest myself that way? Am I going to be committed to a life of faith and prayer?
That's my challenge to myself - and to you. Go and read about Elijah. Then decide for yourself if you are willing to step up and become a person like that. He was a man like us - can we be a man like him? It isn't asking too much. Those stories are in the Bible for a reason - and it isn't just to entertain children. It is to encourage us to live in a certain way. It isn't a mediocre helpless life. It is one of fire and whirlwinds.
Apr 11, 2011
But still, there are those things that just don't make sense. Lately, the passage of 1 Kings 17 has been coming to mind quite frequently. The Campbell's condensed soup version is as follows. There was a famine and drought wrecking havoc over in Israel. Elijah, God's prophet, was getting his water from a brook and food from ravens who brought it to him. (Weird happening #1) After that dried up, he went and visited a widow and her son. He asked her to make him some bread. Since he was the well known prophet of God, she wanted to do this - and would ordinarily have jumped at the chance. But the fact was that she only had enough oil and flour to make one cake for her and her son to eat and then die. Elijah told her to go ahead and make him a cake first and that God would not let the flour or oil run out until rain returned to the land. The lady made the cake. The stuff never ran out.
Now, it never says that the lady suddenly had buckets of oil and flour. (That happens with Elisha in 2 Kings 4 and a DIFFERENT widow.) Instead, it appears that she always had just what she needed. It reminds me of the story of the Israelites and the manna in the wilderness. They had enough to eat each day. If they hoarded too much, it went bad. God told them to take what they needed and that was it. It forced them - and the widow - to rely on God EACH DAY for their provision. They didn't save. They didn't store. They got and used and did the same the next day. (What would Dave Ramsey say about THAT mentality? No six months in savings?!?! AAACCKKK! I kid, I kid.)
That brings me to why I have been thinking about this passage. In our current phase of life, finances are a constant source of struggle. Heather goes to Med School. I stay home with the kids. My income opportunities are limited, due to that schedule. I earn money here and there from speaking engagements, curriculum sales, random graphic design work, and from Defender Ministries - when we have donations enough to generate some salary. So I'm hit and miss. Heather gets loans to cover expenses three times a year. So here is the way we deal with our budget. Have enough for three months, panic for three months, have enough for four and a half months, panic for one and a half months. It is awesome. We are in the midst of a panic stretch. And, to make that panic burst even more enjoyable, we HAVE TO move back to Orlando in June. FSU runs years three and four through satellite locations and we were assigned to Orlando. So we have to be there by June 29 for Heather to start her rotations. Which means security deposits, start up costs, moving truck, blah blah blah.
To explain how this panic feels, I use this illustration. Imagine that you are driving your minivan (or SUV) as fast as you can down the road with your family inside. This represents your financial wherewithal. As you race down this road (unable to go slower because the world slows down for no one), you are approaching a wall. That is the point where your money runs out and your bills come due. As the month goes along, you get closer and closer to the wall. You try everything you can to fix the situation, but it comes down to the fact you are going to crash. So you kind of brace for impact and pray like crazy that something happens. Sounds fun, right?
Well, this is how it goes. We race towards the wall and I prepare to crash. And then, right before the end of the month, somehow we get enough to make it into another month. A family member gives us money (God bless those family members - they know who they are). Defender gets a big donation. A church buys a big chunk of curriculum. Something happens. It doesn't make the wall disappear, but it pushes it back about 500 yards. So we can relax for a couple weeks before the panic sets in again. Now, I don't really like living this way. My prayer is usually that we hit a point where the wall is gone and we are able to drive without the panic bursts. Actually, my prayer is actually that we are able to do that and then help the other people in panic mode all around us. But that - for now - doesn't seem to happen. I know some day it will, just by the fact that my wife is going to be a doctor in a few years. But, for this time period, the wall just slides backwards a bit.
We're in panic mode now. It started with the arrival of April - when the latest resources ran out. We got through that through someone's generosity. Now May is looming - and it seems like the wall is even bigger. The move combined with the normal bills means the wall got thicker and taller. So the panic is more intense and overwhelming. Through it all, I am trying like crazy to trust that God is going to provide. But I can't see how. Libya doesn't look promising (look to this post for why that matters). There haven't been any mysterious envelopes in our mailbox. The economy didn't get healthy overnight. In fact, gas now is almost $4 a gallon down here - making the situation WORSE.
God has been trying to show me something through all of this, but I have been hesitant to believe it. So He keeps trying. But, remember, I'm an intelligent modern Christian with a healthy skepticism of miracles. So I doubt. And He keeps trying.
- THE SHAMPOO - I have a bottle of Axe men's dandruff shampoo in the shower. Two weeks ago, I noticed it is running out. With shampoo, I let it run down to about two or three days worth left and get a new bottle - usually something for men with dandruff. Of course, on sale. Two weeks ago, I bought a new bottle at Target. The thing is, my Axe still hasn't run out. And, truth be told, it still is as full as when I bought the new bottle. Every day, I grab it and say, "Why is this so full?" Then the widow's oil goes through my head. And I push it away, thinking that is ridiculous and God doesn't miraculously replace shampoo.
- RAZOR BLADES - I have very sensitive face skin. I've been shaving for over twenty years and I still can easily cut myself and bleed out. I have tried everything. I even have cut myself with an electric Braun razor. Don't ask me how; I don't know. This is why I almost always look unshaven. I shave three time a week, if I need to look presentable - once if I don't. To avoid blood loss and the inevitable transfusions, I have to use the fancy expensive blades. Anything else makes me look like I lost a knife fight. Well, I'm out. The three blades I have in the shower all have lost most of their lubricant strip - showing the yellow warning strip beneath. This translates to, "GO GET NEW BLADES, SUCKER, OR YOU WILL BE SHAVING WITH THE EQUIVALENT OF A RUSTY MACHETE!" Well, I can't justify spending the money on the new blades. A month ago, I told Heather that I needed blades. When I shaved on Saturday, I noticed that the green strip hadn't decreased any from the last time I used it. In fact, it looked the same as it has for the last month. Then the widow's flour went through my head. And I pushed it away, thinking it crazy and God doesn't miraculously replace razor lubricant strips.
- PRESCRIPTIONS - Thanks to my rheumatoid arthritis, I am one of the many Americans experiencing better living through chemistry. I use two medicines to treat my RA (plaquanel and mobic) and two medicines to treat the side effects of my prescriptions (Zegerid for reflux and Zyrtec for allergies). Originally, I was on Nexium for reflux, but it was $40 WITH the insurance copay. Last month our stellar (read: dogmeat) student insurance plan told me they would not cover my prescriptions any more. I only have $350 of coverage a year - so I'm on my own until August. That meant my $3.75, $9, and $40 payments would balloon to $9, $35, and $177. I ditched Nexium for Zegerid - which was only $22 a month. And I found Zyrtec at Costco for $15 A YEAR. But I knew that my prescriptions this month would be $45. Target was running a deal where if you transferred your prescriptions they would give you a $10 gift card. I sent both of mine over there and went to pick them up. When I paid, it was $13. I questioned this and explained that the insurance had said I had used up my coverage. But the pharmacist assured me it was right. It was $13 - and I got $20 in Target gift cards. This was the third time that something that was supposed to have been used up had somehow refilled itself. This time, I didn't push the thought away.
It is a continual challenge. No one likes living with the constant fear of impending destruction. I would wager that most people reading this can understand that feeling. I don't know too many people who never have financial concerns or hardships. I have found that one of my lessons through this is to be grateful for God's provision - whatever amount it is, whoever it comes from, however long it lasts. Sometimes He doesn't want us to have too much because it will be too easy to forget Who is behind meeting our needs. It is good to stop and think about the fact that God is still the One who is in control of resources - even things as small as shampoo, razor blades, and prescriptions. And certainly in large things like rent and moving expenses.