A Drink at Joel’s Place: An Appreciation

I’ve recently been re-reading a book written in the 60s that I first read in college in the 70s, and that has had an impact on me ever since. It’s a short little book and a quick read, but one that leaves you with a lot to consider. (And here’s a tip of my hat to Dr. Mark Berrier, my professor at Dallas Christian College, who shared the book with me.) It’s called A Drink at Joel’s Place, and it was written by Dr. Jess Moody, a native of Paducah, and later Muleshoe, Texas, and graduate of Baylor and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He later received his doctorate from Campbell College in Kentucky and became the founder and first president of Palm Beach Atlantic College in Florida. He wrote a total of seven books before his death in 2018 at the age of 93.

In this book, Dr. Moody makes a startling assertion – there are many qualities that a neighborhood bar has that a local church needs. Someone who is willing to listen without passing judgment, for example. Bartenders do it all the time. Pastors usually feel the need to teach or correct, and there is certainly a place for that when the time is right, but many times, people just need someone who is willing to LISTEN to them without condemnation or rebuke.

Another thing is enjoyment – or as Moody calls it, “Pure, old-fashioned fun.” He points out the many exaggerations that Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere – lines that would have drawn genuine laughter from his original audience. He talks about how the early church was able to make fun of death, because, as he says, “all heaven had broken loose through Jesus’ victory on the cross.” He adds, “One wave after another of joyous Christian laughter washed upon the shores of time and finally caved in the Roman house of sand.” Sad to say, real joy isn’t found in very many churches today.

Genuine fellowship is another quality he lists: the idea that you are part of a community that matters, and that your congregation is a place where love lives, and where acceptance is the rule of the day. Another is anonymity and the opportunity to be left alone, if desired. If a bartender detects that someone doesn’t want to talk, that wish is granted. Many times, churches fail to recognize that newcomers just need some quiet time. The congregation tries to bury new folks with programs and activities, but busy-ness is no substitute for godliness.

One final feature that bars have that churches could use – they deliver what they promise. So should the church. How long would a bar stay in business if all they sold was warm milk? As Dr. Moody points out, the early church found success on the Day of Pentecost when Peter stood up in Acts 2 and announced to the stunned crowd, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” referring to the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, and the accompanying signs and new life.

Joel’s Place – get it?

In other chapters, he goes on to point out the need for genuine community in the church – not a fake, feel-good, phony substitute, but a true demonstration of the power of love. As he says, “We will win the world when we realize that fellowship, not evangelism, must be our primary emphasis.” Jesus was willing – even eager! – to reach out to the rejected and to minister to the marginalized. Or, as one speaker I heard recently expressed it, “Jesus calls us to follow his example, and reach out to the least, the last, and the lost.” Another chapter talks about the need to pursue and promote real and true peace – not just the absence of conflict but restored relationships and genuine, meaningful interactions with others. I enjoy this book because he is blunt when he needs to be, but also visionary when appropriate. As he says in one place, too many churches “have been dusting the furniture while the house is on fire.”

It’s fair to say that I don’t agree with every word in this book, but even then, I appreciate his point of view and the way he makes me think. Towards the end, he has a chapter about qualities that a good minister should have, and he says that anyone who shows “a lack of Christian love and New Testament fellowship has no business preaching about Jesus.” Good stuff.

Drink deep.

Another Sequel: The Movies x5

I was visiting recently with Preston and Sarah Cox, owners of The Grand Theatre in Stamford. I confessed my love of classic movies, and we talked over some ideas for showing more classic Hollywood films, in addition to the new, first-run pictures featured at The Grand. In fact, one of the movies I’m about to mention was just shown there, as part of their Valentine special feature.

It comes as no surprise to the regular readers of these musings that I love old movies. When I’m with other fans of classic film, I enjoy the game of naming a movie category, and then engaging in discussion about our five favorites of that type. Best Jimmy Stewart picture. Best courtroom drama. Favorite musical. Who was the better actress – Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth?

Our category for this week is “Chick Flicks,” and I will admit it now: I like a lot of these movies, because they tell an interesting story. I like a good story! On the other hand, I’m not a fan of films that just feature two hours of special effects and blowing stuff up but forget to bring the story. This term “Chick Flick” has been around for a long time but didn’t come into widespread usage until the 1990s. Although the meaning has changed from its origin designation, it now is used to refer to a movie that has one or more strong female leads and is geared primarily towards a female audience. They are often, but not always, romantic comedies – “rom coms.” The term is somewhat pejorative: movies with a strong male lead are just “movies,” but movies with a strong woman are often dismissed as just a “chick flick.” But there have been some really great movies made in this category, and here are five of my favorites, listed in order of their release dates.

Steel Magnolias (1989) In some ways, this movie was the original Chick Flick, and is still my favorite. The cast is amazing: Sally Field, Olivia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, and Daryl Hannah star as a group of friends who meet, visit, gossip, and share life at a neighborhood beauty salon. “I’m not crazy, M’Lynn – I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!”

Here’s the cast of the “chick flick,” Steel Magnolias.
The movie gives us a great look at the power of relationships to help us get through the challenges and changes of life.

Pretty Woman (1990) – Another Julia Roberts gem; also starring Richard Gere and directed by Garry Marshall. CAUTION FOR SUBJECT MATTER. This is a retelling of the Pygmalion – My Fair Lady story, showing the power of love to transform someone’s life. Don’t miss Hector Elizondo as the hotel manager.

Titanic (1997) Stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, with a very strong supporting cast. It was directed by James Cameron, who may have his faults as a director, but he does know how to tell a story visually. A rich heiress meets and falls in love with a kind but poor artist about the doomed ocean liner. Also with a strong musical score, including the main title theme by Celine Dion. STRONG CAUTION.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)Nia Vardalos and John Corbett lead a great cast. She portrays a young Greek-American woman who falls in love with a non-Greek man, then has to persuade her family to accept him and learn to love him as she has. This is a terrific movie about what family really means, and accepting people as they are – and maybe learn and grow along the way. Opa!

The Notebook (2004)(This is the movie that appeared at the Grand last weekend.) James Garner shines in one of my all-time favorite films of his. Gena Rowlands, Ryan Gosling, and Rachel McAdams also star. If you enjoy movies that tell their story through extended flashback sequences, you’ll love this picture – it bounces between a modern-day nursing home and a story about two young people set during World War II. SOME CAUTION.

Some others – Sleepless in Seattle, A League of Their Own, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Princess Diaries, Moonstruck, Something’s Gotta Give, and Thelma and Louise. What would be your pics? Drop me a note at haskellstarnews@gmail.com and let me know what you think. And until then, please save me some popcorn.

The Real Story of Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day approaching next week, I wanted to write about the true story of who St. Valentine was and why we associate him with honoring our sweethearts. The problem is, while there are many legends and myths about the origins of this observance, there is very little reliable history about exactly who the real person was or how he came to be associated with honoring that special someone in our lives.

The best evidence seems to be that “Valentine” was a fairly common name in ancient Roman times, shared by at least three different saints with a connection to February 14. The name “Valentine” comes from the Latin valens, meaning “worthy, strong, powerful” – it’s also the root for our word, “valiant.” For our purposes, Saint Valentine was a clergyman, perhaps a priest or a bishop, from the central Italian town of Terni, around the year 270. He was arrested for his faith – it was still illegal in those days to be a Christian – and brought before a judge named Asterius.

Valentinus (the Latin version of his name) was discussing faith with the judge, who challenged him to prove his faith by performing a miracle: restoring the sight of the judge’s young, blind daughter. The priest prayed for the girl and laid his hands on her eyes, and the child could see. Humbled by this act of God, Judge Asterius asked for instructions for what to do next. Valentinus ordered the judge to destroy all the idols in his home, fast for three days, and be baptized. Church history says that the judge freed all the Christian inmates in his custody, then he, his family, and 44 adult members of his household were baptized.

Later, Valentinus was arrested again for his continuing work in ministry, and this time, he was brought before Emperor Claudius II. The emperor liked the old priest and wanted to set him free, until the priest tried to convince him to become a Christian. Valentinus was sentenced to death. Legend says that just before his death, the old priest sent a note to the judge’s daughter – the one healed of her blindness – and he signed it, “from your Valentine.”

A different story goes that the emperor had decided that married soldiers didn’t fight as well as single men, and so he issued an order forbidding young men of military age to be married. But, according to this legend, the priest Valentine kept secretly performing marriage ceremonies, even though it was against the law. He was executed for this on February 14, 270, and in so doing, became remembered as the patron saint of young lovers.

Other accounts suggest a totally different origin for the day. A pagan Roman festival known as “Lupercalia” occurred sometime from February 13–15, involving a matchmaking lottery and a wild night of drunken celebrations. This history says that at some point in the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I established the Feast of St. Valentine’s Day to “Christianize” this festival.

Whatever its origins, it remained a minor festival of the church until the time of the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. (I remember reading through Chaucer’s most famous work, The Canterbury Tales, in a high school English class. Thanks, Mr. Wernig.) Anyway, sometime around the 1370s or 1380s, he wrote a poem called “Parliament of Fowls,” with the line, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.” The name stuck, and within a generation, people were writing little poems and notes to their love interests, and these communications became known as “valentines.”

Anyway, fast forward to the 1860s, and candymaker Cadbury’s began selling boxes of heart-shaped chocolates. Hershey’s Kisses came out in 1907, and Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards debuted in 1913. And according to the National Retail Federation, US consumers spent a record $19.7 billion in 2016, in what is believed to be the highest total ever for the holiday.

However you choose to celebrate the day – flowers, chocolates, a pretty card, enjoying a nice meal eating out somewhere – here’s wishing you and your special someone a very happy and loving day.

“From your valentine.”

The House Where I Grew Up

As I mentioned in a recent article, we always had a lot of music, especially country music, in the house when my brothers and I were growing up in Orange County. Well, that house was severely damaged last week by a string of tornadoes that ripped through Southeast Texas. As of this writing, it’s too early to tell if it can be repaired and rebuilt or not. The house across the road, which I knew as my grandpa’s house – now owned by my brother Jim and his wife, Christy – that house was destroyed by the same twister. It held together well enough to save their lives when the storms hit. They were sheltering in an interior closet and emerged without a scratch, but much of the house was destroyed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the house where I grew up. It was built especially for our family, and we moved into it when I was a baby. In the years that followed, I would gain three brothers. As our family grew, my parents took in the garage, added a back porch and another garage, and made other improvements, eventually adding central heat and air and another bathroom. But it was still the house where I grew up.

It was damaged by Hurricane Rita in 2004: repaired and rebuilt. Mom had a stroke there in 2010. After she passed, it was where dad continued to live. It was where I moved back to live with him in 2017 – then Hurricane Harvey flooded us out. Dad stayed in a nursing home while the house was again rebuilt. After we moved him back home in 2018, it was where he died in his sleep. Our youngest brother, David – himself a pastor for a large church in Spring, Texas – he and his wife Gina now own the house. They were using it for church retreats and family get-aways, and planning to retire there in a few years.

Now the roof is gone, down to the ceiling joists. Portions of two external walls were damaged by the force of the storm. There’s pink insulation and bits of the metal roof, hanging from the trees around the house – that is, in the trees that are still standing. A lot of the trees around the house were stripped clean of most of their branches, down to the main trunks. And depending on what the engineers say, the house may now be structurally unsalvageable and have to be torn down.

So, as I say, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and remembering. And what I’ve decided is this: the house may be gone, but the foundation for life remains.

Our parents gave us a home where hard work and discipline mattered, but so did the times of having fun. The house was out in the country. Every other house we could see belonged to a member of our extended family. It was a house where we would do our homework after school, and then go outside to play. We hosted get-togethers for the kids from our church youth group and for the grown-ups, too, if they wanted to come along. Hayrides and bonfires in the fall, fishing trips to the bayou in the spring. Watching daddy’s cattle grazing in the pasture in the summer and walking through the piney woods to cut a Christmas tree in December. Playing baseball or football with my brothers in the front yard and feeding the chickens in the area behind the backyard.

And then there was the time when we were hosting a Cub Scout meeting and mom, the Den Mother, lit a candle and set it on a wooden buffet table (which we called the “green thing”). While we were outside, the base of the candle somehow managed to get hot enough to catch the top of the table on fire. We came inside at just in time to safely put it out. That table has been repainted, sanded, and refinished many times, but the burned place is still visible.

Do you know the old song by Jimmie Davis, “Suppertime”? I can remember many times when we would be outside and hear mom holler, “Boys! Wash up! Suppertime!” If you never got to hear something like that, I feel sorry for you.

I remember family devotions that we would have in the evenings, right before bed. Mom would read us a Bible story, then she or my dad, or sometimes one of us older boys, would pray. And when death touched our family – a grandparent, or a beloved aunt or uncle – we cried out to God and held each other and dealt with it together. Our faith was truly a big part of the foundation of our home.

But most of all, there was love. You knew that you were part of the family and that you belonged. Whether you were having a good day, or not so good, under that roof was someone who cared, someone to whom you mattered. And triumphs were made sweeter and sorrows more bearable because we went through them together. I remember coming home from college, walking in the front door, getting a hug from mom, and feeling – finally! – that I was home.

The house may be gone. The memories remain and the foundation endures.