Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Are we becoming desensitized to terrorism?

Yasser Arafat isn't a name that raises eyebrows these days.  Back in the '70s & '80s  he was on everyone's radar.  Arafat died over a decade ago, but he was masterful when it came to instilling sheer terror.

Today, a bomb in an airport in Brussels got the attention of most of the world.  It's apparently in retaliation for the capture of one of the terrorists from last year's attack in Paris.  Events like this will no doubt instill fear in innocent people and paralyze that region for days to come.

Unless you have friends or family on the ground in the midst of such a situation, I wonder how long until these senseless acts of violence no longer get our attention?  Sadly, politicians politicize these inexcusable actions, and Cable news sensationalize them as well.  And we the people who are bombarded with images and soundbites are left trying to process how these barbaric rampages could happen in the 21st Century.

Do you remember 9/11?  People were glued to their television sets.  Air traffic was halted.  People gathered in churches in record numbers.  Now?  Now, we remember San Bernardino as the FBI verses Apple more than we remember the victims.   The events in Paris are blurry.  And no one is even talking about Garland Texas.

What can we do to avoid becoming numb to the random acts of terrorism?  Maybe not much, or maybe a lot?  It all depends on how we choose to value life, liberty, freedom, and how well we can unite behind our fellow man.

I think the longer we as a culture are entertained by gore & violence in our video games and movies, the less chance we have of really feeling he impact of terrorism.  The longer we fuel our ethnocentrism, the harder it will be to feel true empathy for anyone who suffers an attack on foreign soil.  And, until we find a way to reach the hearts and minds of our enemies without resorting to blowing them up, then we will resign ourselves to simply accept terrorism as the new norm.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction....
The chain reaction of evil --
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars --
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Strength To Love, 1963

Monday, March 21, 2016

In love with Jonesboro TN

Main St Jonesboro TN

This week one of our fours sons, along with his girlfriend, is visiting us from Arkansas.  Whenever we have out-of-town company visiting, we always take our guests on a short trip down to downtown Jonesboro. We've lived in the Tricities in Northeast TN for 11 years now, and our love for the small town feel of Jonesboro only grows with time.  I could totally see my wife and myself living in Jonesboro someday.

As usual, once we park, we walk up and down Main Street, eating and checking out the many shops.  Today was a Monday, which means some of the shops are closed for the day.  The streets are not crowded and there's plenty of elbow room in the stores.  

It was a little brisk out today, it being the first week of spring and all.  We were warm enough as we walked in the sun, but as we crossed the street to the shade, it was noticeably colder.  Since we arrived around 12:30 in the afternoon, we wanted to grab lunch while we could, so we headed to the Main Street Cafe.  

My wife, our son and his girlfriend, and I enjoyed lunch.  I branched out and instead of getting a burger or sandwich, I had their Athena Wrap because it had feta cheese and humus.  Our son had the Philly Cheesesteak, which would've been my second choice, his girlfriend had the black-bean burger, and my wife tried the chicken salad sandwich.  I truly enjoy the Main Street cafe, yes the food is good, but mainly because of the old fashioned architecture and decor.  As you eat in the Main Street cafe, the atmosphere is relaxing and you truly feel like you are back in a more simple and peaceful place in time.  Patrons sat in small groups, huddled around small tables engaged in quiet conversation.  The friendly restaurant staff wait on you like you are the only ones eating.  It's a great expedience.  

After we were finished with our lunch, we walked back up Main Street intending to stop in the International Story telling center.  On our way we stopped by the two story log cabin that was the Christopher Taylor house.  The guy on your twenty dollar bill once lived in that log cabin too. The reason we were going to the Story Telling center was, our son's girlfriend was looking for a refrigerator magnate that was connected to Jonesboro, but we were out of luck.  Still I enjoyed perusing the books on writing and storytelling which are on display in the gift shop.  

After the Story telling center, we walked across the street to Mauk's.  Mauk's has a hodgepodge of knickknacks, and they have the most comfortable furniture in the world.  Inside Mauk's, several locals sat around, simply talking.  As we walked in the door, one of the owners (I'm assuming) said, "Make yourselves at home."  So I did, I sat in one of their leather chairs that are designed to make you feel stress free, and relaxed while my family browsed.  I looked around from my perch, observing hourglasses, racks of reading glasses, and plaques with homespun wisdom.  Sometimes it's good just to be still and sit, and Mauk's is a place where you can unwind without being rushed or pressured.  

We left Mauk's and hit up a candy store filled with 1970's-1990's memorabilia and then we went to the Jonesboro Visitor's center.  We stopped by a bakery that was closed, and pressed our faces mournfully upon the glass door wishing we could enter.  And when we didn't find a magnate in the visitor's center, we went back into town to look again.  On the way out of town as we headed back to Kingsport, we stopped into the Boone's Creek Pottery Gallery and wandered around for a while.  

All and all, even though we never found the fridge magnate, we had a great day just walking around looking in shops and enjoying downtown Jonesboro.  For me, I love the feel of the town, and particularly downtown on Main Street.  There are structures and buildings that are hundreds of years old, filled with rich history and which hold a majestic beauty.  There's a certain feel to the downtown area that is impossible to replicate elsewhere.  If you haven't visited downtown Jonesboro, you are missing out.  The shopkeepers and restaurateurs are welcoming and friendly.  The sights are memorable and delightful.  Jonesboro offers a small pocket of space where you can slow down, relax, and enjoy life.  I know as I write this, it sounds idyllic, too Mayberry-ish to be true.  It sounds too simple.  I'm sure their citizens have everyday life issues that they face, but as a local visitor, I never pass up an opportunity to enjoy their hospitality -- and I recommend you don't pass it up either.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tasting is believing, why you need to ride the foodtruck wave now


To be frank, our family doesn't go out to eat all that often.  Typically, I prefer to cook with my wife or I enjoy grilling over charcoal, of course.  In part, we don't eat out all that often because living in East Tennessee leaves us with few options to choose from outside of the stale worn out chain-restaurant.  Man, I miss the diversity of the food in the Chicagoland area.  Even though we rarely go out to eat, we almost never pass up a local foodtruck junction.

Today my wife and I went to the Farmer's Market in downtown Kingsport to attend the foodtruck junction.  Judging by the overflowing garbage cans surrounding today's event and the long lines at the foodtrucks, we weren't the only ones to get our fill.  The Farmer's Market was an excellent choice of venues and today's foodtruck junction drew a varied crowd of all ages.  Tattooed hipsters with their dogs in tow and young families pushing strollers were side-by-side with elderly people, all waiting in line to sample the great food that was being offered.  

I've been in construction on and off for 30 years, and today's foodtrucks aren't to be confused with the trucks that pull up on the jobsite selling sandwiches and coffee, the ones we've lovingly nicknamed maggot-wagons.  Also, don't confuse today's foodtrucks with fastfood restaurants.  The new breed of foodtrucks offer gourmet choices and they provide a wide variety of menu options.   The foodtrucks of today optimize social media and they collaborate with other foodtrucks to bring together a mobile foodcourt extraordinaire. 

Our first stop, as always, is at the Foodiefiction foodtruck.  The owner & multi-talented chef is Michael Archdeacon, an expatriot of New York.  I'm guessing many of the people who were sampling the foodtrucks at today's event didn't know that Michael was once the head chef at a local favorite, The Troutdale.  We sampled his brisket taco.  We were sad they were already out of their delicious mac & cheese creation, small squares of fried mac & cheese.  Foodiefiction has a menu that will absolutely rock your world. 

We also hit up another great foodtruck, the Caribbean Grill.  The Ramos family operates this truck.  They moved to the Tricites about 10 years ago from New Jersey, and they've been running their foodtruck for about 4 years now.  They have several fine options to choose from, but I always get their Cuban sandwich.  

Something I've noticed.  New restaurants in our area seem to go through a similar phase, at first everyone rushes to get in line, then when the new wears off, a new restaurant hardly every gets a second thought from the locals.  This isn't the case with foodtrucks.   

I think part of the reason the foodtruck craze is so captivating to both the entrepreneurs who strive to provide an excellent experience and the customers who wait outdoors to eat, is due to the flexibility and versatility of the venue.  Each time you go to a foodtruck junction, it is like a new experience.  The offerings are fresh, crafted with a personal flair, not like the mass produced prepackaged food you get in a chain restaurant. And, when these foodtrucks gather in one location, it's a win-win for everyone.

I'm guessing that local brick & mortar restaurants see the foodtrucks as competition.  And though the experience is different dining off of a foodtruck, while the prices and the wait are about the same, I'm glad to see the foodtrucks give the old establishment a run for their money.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Choose your enemies, carefully

If you are ready to experience more joy and find real liberation in this life, then it’s time to realize: The more the strength we imagine our enemies have, the more control we give our enemies over us -- which ends up meaning less bliss and less freedom for us.  Therefore, we need be more selective in who we call our enemies, and, we need to realize who our actual enemies truly are.  

Besides.  Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy.  We end up doing more damage to ourselves through our own self-sabotage or our inability to manage certain transitions well.  We can hurt ourselves more than a thousand enemies ever could.  

But lately, it seems like creating enemies has become an industry.  From political ads where people within the same party demonize their opponents more than their rivals do, to the perennial spats over borders/airspace/international waters, and from class warfare to what denominational ties a person claims, we label far too many people as our enemies.  This can’t be healthy for anyone.  And in the meantime the homeless still go cold, the uneducated suffer, the impoverished remain marginalized, starvation runs rampant worldwide, and many elderly are neglected.

Everywhere we look it seems like enemies are being pointed out for us to hate or blame.  But what about closer to home?  Like the person who bullied you, wronged you, betrayed you, wounded you deeply, abused you, or destroyed your trust?  Have they earned the prevailing title of enemy?  Out of curiosity, how’s it coming, your efforts to settle the score?  Remember Scripture says to leave room for God’s wrath, He will handle the situation better than we can.    

Part of the problem with hatred or scorekeeping is the result, we tend to live as victims instead of victors (lest we forget, according to the Bible we reign with Christ).  Another more dangerous aspect of guarding our enemies against ever becoming allies is we never forgive people in the enemy camp.  Jesus had some strong words for His followers about the essential/symbiotic relationship between forgiving from the heart and being forgiven by the Father.  

I’m not suggesting for one moment you have to become friends with harmful people -- healthy boundaries are more than appropriate.  On the other hand, remember, the Bible is clear about the spiritual damage we will suffer if we harbor hatred and carry unforgiveness in our heart.  Forgive them and truly free yourself; life is too short to stay bitter and angry.

Yet, isn’t it also true, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves from the people who were seemingly our biggest enemies?  We learned what matters, what counts, who we really are and who we don’t want to be, because of what we suffered from them.  I know I’m not alone in this experience.

Do you know how much better you’d sleep if you stopped viewing the person who caused you so much pain as an enemy?  Do you really realize all the good that could happen if political adversaries cooperated?  Or what churches could accomplish if everyone ignored denominational affiliations or inter-denominational squabbles and people simply collaborated in the name of Jesus?  

A lot of our arguments and divisions are forged in conflicts over liberal vs conservative or contemporary vs traditional, when in reality, there’s only the eternal Kingdom which Jesus already established.  Often times, choosing our enemies comes down to the positions we hold.  But haven’t you changed your mind on positions before?  Haven't you ever discovered you were (take a deep breath) wrong before?  

When we allow our enemies to become an all-consuming train of thought, is it any wonder our view of life becomes clouded and remains gloomy?  From exes to the Government, from old friends to former employers, we can stack the battlefield with more enemies than we can shake a stick at.  And eventually once we’ve surrounded ourselves with all of these enemies, we live on the defense.  

It’s impossible for us to accomplish anything positive if we are stuck in protection mode.  You can’t spend money while it’s locked up in a safe and you can’t raise a family in a bomb shelter.  Sometimes you have to let down your guard, take a chance, and move on with life in spite of the risks.

In the end, there's only one common enemy we all face, and Jesus said that enemy who is the father of lies comes to kill, steal, and destroy.  And, Scripture teaches us clearly our battle isn’t against flesh & blood, it’s against dark supernatural powers.  Until we realize our enemies are demonic forces of evil and we fight our greatest battle on a spiritual plane, all the worldly enemies we set up in our crosshairs are mere distractions.