Make America Great Again, the Top Hog BBQ way

When we came to Tennessee to watch the total solar eclipse, which was a wonderful event., we had decided to stay in Tennessee for a few extra days, hoping to soak up a little bit of the local culture. Yet it seemed like every restaurant recommendation we found was to some polished place in a mall somewhere, a mall that could have been anywhere in America.

On Wednesday, we headed towards a state park to see some of Tennessee’s great waterfalls. We drove through Franklin, where a statue of “Chip”, a confederate soldier was surrounded by green ribbons and private property flags. We didn’t know the details but guessed it had to do with the struggle over what we choose to honor and remember about our history.

As I prepare for seminary, I’ve been reading Radical Welcome by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers and been wondering how we welcome those who want to hang on to statues of Confederate soldiers and how we welcome those who want such statues removed. I’ve been wondering what sort of southern culture people are seeking to defend and what it really takes to make America great again.

In the evening, we headed out to dinner. A course that I’ve signed up for this fall is “Religion and News Media” at the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum. There was a video conference orientation session that I needed to join. I had some difficulties joining in and ended up participating from the backseat of the car as we drove to dinner.

How can we have meaningful and respectful dialog about religion in America? This is one of the topics we will be struggling with and talked a little bit about on the video conference.

My wife and daughter headed into the restaurant while I finished the end of the call. I had not seen the roads my wife took to get to the restaurant, but this was not in a mall. Walking into the restaurant, it was clear that Top Hog BBQ was different. On the walls were old advertisements for nickel bottles of Mountain Due, pictures of Barney Fife and the cast of The Wizard of Oz. There were big wooden tables, and no small plastic sign saying, “Please wait to be seated”. I looked around and saw my wife and daughter sitting at a table sipping fruit tea.

I’m not a big fan of sweet tea, so I thought I would skip the fruit tea, but when I looked at the other choices which were mostly soft drinks, I decided to give the fruit tea a try. It was great.

This was the experience we had been searching for. From the first sip of the fruit tea, to the last bite of BBQ, it was clear that this place is the real deal. Good solid tasty food. My wife loved the spicy turnip greens and my daughter who went with a simple cheeseburger declared it the best she had had in ages.

As we finished up, we got into talking with Patty, who owns the place. We talked about the eclipse, our families, our interests, and good food. It seemed that she personified the sort of southern culture that we need to be preserving and what it really takes to make America great again: attention to quality and detail, the kindness and friendliness.

So, if you’re serious about preserving southern culture and making America great again, I have one recommendation: Eat at Top Hog BBQ. I you can't make it to Gallatin, find someplace like Top Hog BBQ. Go in, have a great meal, talk with the staff and the other customers. Appreciate good food and good company and spread the word.

Eclipse Reflections

Today, there were lots of discussions on social media about the eclipse. One religious friend posted that he didn’t see what the big deal about the eclipse was. I responded, “I like anything that gets people to stop and look at God's creation differently and to share with one another a sense of awe”

Another friend posted about lost productivity. I responded,

“My wife and I took vacation to watch the eclipse. The productivity would have been lost whether we were watching the eclipse or doing something else.

Yet thinking about the beauty of the eclipse, it seems like we need to ask, is productivity really the ultimate aim of our lives?”

Friends that saw totality have been posting about how wonderful and magical it was. It was my fourth total eclipse and I look forward to many more. Two years from now in Argentina? Seven years from now in the United States again? We’ll see which ones we manage to make it to.

On one friends reflections, I commented:

“We had a wonderful impromptu eclipse party down in Castalian Springs. People from Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Russia, and I'm not sure where all else, sharing stories, eclipse glasses, peaks through telescopes, Prosecco, ad contact information to stay in touch.

It has been a wonderful day, and I too, love that so many of us from various different backgrounds could stop, even briefly, to enjoy one another and some of the beauty of creation.”

So my hope remains. However you think about creation, the creator, the source of beauty, the source of kindness, the source of love, I hope that you managed to stop and appreciate a little of the beauty of the created world, and share some joy and love from that experience to those around you.

Daily Examen, August 14-16, 2017

Daily Examen, Monday, August 14, 2017

A busy week begins with a blur
and offering comfort.
The day ends, not much different than it started
with a rush from one thing to the next
with the underlying reminder
God alone is enough

Daily Examen, Tuesday, August 15, 2017

As I sit in the dental chair
I think of those
who cannot afford
a visit to the dentist.
Then the day rushes forward
ending with a reminder
by three deer
looking over their shoulders
at me.

Daily Examen, Wednesday, August 16, 2017

And on the third day
of the work week
the pace does not slow down
but neither do the reminders
of God’s love
and I settle in
to read a book
give as a gift.

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Radical Inclusion

As I prepare to start seminary next month, I am reading various books from the recommended reading list. One book, Radical Welcome by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers has particularly caught my attention. While the focus is more on how local churches can be more welcoming, in a radically transforming manner, there is much in the book that could be considered for other parts of the ecclesiastical structure or even for our country as a whole.

After Charlottesville, I have been wondering about how our civic life can become more radically welcome, up to, and including how we can welcome those young men who are being drawn away by hate filled ideologies like white supremacy.

In an interview, ‘I’m not the angry racist they see’: Alt-Righter became viral face of hate in Virginia — and now regrets it, Peter Cvjetanovic, the face of the torch wielding angry crowd on Friday evening says,

“I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture,” Cvjetanovic opined. “It is not perfect; there are flaws to it, of course. However I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time.”

It is easy to dismiss this as the self-justification of someone whose hatred and wrong-doing has been exposed. It is far more challenging to accept him as another person loved by God and created in God’s image. It is far more challenging to listen to what he has to say and work towards reconciliation.

What is this “white European culture” he is talking about? What does that mean to him, to us, to those who have been oppressed for generations by representatives of this “white European culture”? As we take down statues of Robert E. Lee, what can we put up that radically includes those who feel their culture slipping away?

As a northerner, I find parts of my heritage challenged. Thanksgiving was a very important day for me, but I have grown to understand how it is not a day of celebration for those who were here before white Europeans came and I seek ways of celebrating my ancestors arrival in a way that is respectful of those who were already here. I seek to learn about and celebrate their culture as well.

What are the things that white Europeans from the south can celebrate? The first thing that comes to my mind is Juneteenth. If you don’t know what that is and don’t celebrate it, go out and spend some time learning. What are other things? I don’t know. I hope my white European friends from the south can share some ideas. Perhaps it has to do with Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. Perhaps it has something to do with southern cuisine.

If we can radically welcome young white men who fear their culture is slipping away, perhaps they can join with us as we all battle symbols of hatred and oppression.

Daily Examen, August 11-13, 2017

Daily Examen, August 11, 2017

There are days
when you reach major milestones
and find
how much further you need to go
and work
later into the evening
than you want to
missing other important events.

Daily Examen, August 12, 2017

Praying.
Preparing for a memorial service.
Watching the news.
Asking the Spirit to speak
to bring God’s love
in memory of a peacemaker
to a country that sorely needs it
right now.

Daily Examen, August 13, 2017

Amidst the grief and politics
the elderly still need to be visited
and prayed with,
the homeless still need to be fed
physically and spiritually.
There is more that I would have liked to do today
then I had time for.
So I end the day
both blessed
and exhausted.

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