Throne Games

I know. I know. I'm late to the Game. As someone who was on the bottom floor of Lost, 24 and Breaking Bad, Orphan Black, The Americans, The Good Wife and Fargo, I cannot explain why just this week, I've begun the long and perilous journey that is Game of Thrones. (One of my Facebook friends posted something about, "Here's what I don't get about GoT..." and I had no idea what she was talking about.)
First show.
What I gather on a basic level - this show will bring me into a land of unparalleled violence and sex of a kind strictly prohibited in the Bible. Walkers are bad. And it looks like poor Boromir lost his smallest son; no matter, I'm sure his little Brave girl will provide him with a son-like heir. The nasty writer from Elf looks like he's going to be drowning in hookers, but good is rarely all good on HBO and evil is rarely all evil. The white haired lady - I guess she turns out to be the Dragon Queen? thanks for the spoiler, M! - well, we've already seen her nekkid from head to toe, so I guess we've established her character. Her fey brother is extremely skeevy and her new hubby only knows the word "no" so far. Meanwhile, in the other kingdom, the Queen and her brother are reaaaaaally close. And murderous. So we're going to love to hate them. King Full Monty will hopefully have some redeeming qualities. Boromir's wife looks to be made of steel, but how will she withstand the Walkers? And we have a classic vengeance scenario between Fey King and his Yes Man, who just happened to kill Boromir's sister. I wouldn't want to go against Boromir.
Will I need a score card?
So why would a Christian minister watch Game of Thrones?
I have and remain a cultural sojourner. I share with Luther not exactly the disdain he had for the Cloister, but am curious as to why my fellow disciples refuse to step outside the safe walls of Christian radio, Christian schools, Christian thought, Christian scripture, Christian authors, and especially Christian friends. How are you going to change people of the world if you know only the Bible and everything Christian? That's your first step to interaction (not integration) with the world.
Now I do understand the statement in James that if we are to be religious, we should keep ourselves from being polluted by the world. So if you are going to avoid a toxic dump, you can either not go near the dump, or else wear a protective suit. I prefer to wear my Ephesian armor as well as my Christian filter.
And this is not me saying there is something good in everything I see. There is a lot of crap out there. I could not, cannot watch another episode of Parenthood. I gave up on Glee after the second season. Just could not. Californication. No. Sorry, Mulder, don't go there.
So first show of Game of Thrones - could have some potential there. We'll see. But we'll see, we won't keep out. Got my filter on.

The week in review 3

Holy Week 2014.
Of course rating Holy Week without Easter is like gaining the calories without eating the pie. So writing on Good Friday is a bit unfair, but we'll hit Easter next week.
Stillness: Recalling God's Presence
I definitely felt God's presence today, in an unusual place, honestly. For all the speechifying I heard today, it was the words and melody of O Sacred Head Now Wounded that nailed me to the floor this week. Not that I didn't appreciate the words of Mike Neil at the Kiwanis Prayer breakfast this morning, or the seven OSLC elders who shared thoughts on seven words of Good Friday at Tennebrae, but it was the hymn well-sung by the congregation, well-accompanied by Gerod, Diane and the band and harmonized by the choir that drove it home.

Gratitude: Expressing Thankfulness 
I'm thankful I heard from my daughter today. It's strange, and a little unnerving not to hear from your kid. For five days. While she's in Spain. On Spring Break. At a place where Britons are notoriously stupid. But she surfaced today, tired, but happy.

Reflection: Looking Back on Your Day 
I did a lot of driving today! Odd that. Drove the 15 miles to Bethany Baptist for the breakfast; drove back home. Was just about to take a nap when daughter called with tales of Spring Break. Took a nap. Went to get my hair re-cut; drove back home. Went to lunch at Shogun and the mall for Sees candy. Drove back home. Did an errand for last minute groceries for our Sunday meal (challa for French Toast!); drove back home. Drove another 12 miles back out to church for Good Friday service; drove back home. Happily, I made a lot of headway into Eusebius. (I have his History on audiobook, and made quite a dent.) Very good day.

Sorrow: Asking for Forgiveness
If you can't think of a thing to ask for forgiveness on Good Friday you're just not trying. This day is all about realizing the part each of us - including Tim Ihssen - plays in nailing Christ to the cross. My lies and thievery drove those nails a little deeper. Father, forgive me, for I know exactly what I'm doing.

Hopefulness: Resolving to Grow
I know I'm being flip, but after a disastrous hair cut, I'm resolving to grow my hair back as quick as I can. It drives home the point that I should have never cut my hair in the first place. Of all the traits I want to thank my parents for - blue eyes, healthy body, good work habits - I'll not be thanking whoever gave me a cowlick. I think it's dad, but I'm no geneticist. After yesterday's cut, both the stylist and I felt uneasy. She said, "That bugs me," but we let it go. I preached last night, but never really got it right (luckily, my tie was backward for most of the sermon, so no one was looking at my hair). So I decided to give her another crack at it and she agreed. If anything, it's worse. It was to the point where I thought about wearing a hat to church. My wife frantically put product after product in my hair just to get it manageable. Then I get there and sit in the second row, because no one sits in the first row. Except my most stylish youth group member, Emily! There were little cards in our bulletin, where we could confess our sins, and she passed hers to me saying, "I made fun of Tim's hair cut."
It's that bad. If I believed that kind of thing, I'd say God was punishing me for my part in his son's death by giving me the worst hair cut ever.
I forgave her and told her to sin no more.

God bless your week, and remember to pray for a time between now and Sunday.

The Upstairs Front Room

Here is my message - two true stories, but not at the same time - that I gave at the Maundy Thursday service tonight.

John 13
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

I’m going to tell you about a time when I was a waiter at the Front Room on Ninth and Judah in San Francisco, around 1990. It was kind of a neighborhood joint, we served chicken dishes, like chicken la crema or chicken parm, and salads with home made dressing, we had steaks and sandwiches. But the thing we were most known for is our Chicago style deep dish pizza. Before Pizza Hut invented the cheese in the crust thing, we did it with a thick pan, with the dough wrapped around the outside, then sauce would go on the bottom, then cheese, then the toppings, and then more cheese on top of that, so that when they wrapped the dough back over, the cheese would go inside the crust. Now I’m hungry.
I was one of the two waiters there, and the other was Guy, he was raised on a kibbutz in Israel. Our owner was Cambodian. And then we had two cooks, Chen from China and Danny from Iran. So if you’re keeping track, our staff was from China, Iran, America and Israel. Little united nations going there. We also had a couple of dishwashers but they were notoriously unreliable.
You work at a neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco for awhile and you end up with some regular customers. I had Jim the book store owner, who would sometimes tip me with paperbacks, Abe, the tailor who always had to send something back, Susan, the Korean grad student – actually went out with her for awhile before we realized that our fathers had both fought in the Korean war. On opposite sides. The thought of in-laws who had already tried to kill each other put the kibosh on that relationship, we were still friends though, she always came by. Then there was Tammy the Tazmanian she-devil, and the zoo workers, and my very favorite, Crazy Uncle Bud, who wore a fedora and suit coat, not matter what the weather.
The interior was like this the front door split into two sides, 15 tables on the main floor, but we also had this single room upstairs that could hold about 20 people, and so the owner bought a big screen tv and offered 2 dollar pitcher Tuesdays and thursdsay, but for some reason ,most people didn’t want to go up there – the stairs were kind of steep, but I thought it was a nice place. Didn’t really take. We had a couple of softball teams that tried it out, but we didn’t get the regular business in the upstairs room. Until one day, I saw on the reservation board Guy’s Gang. Apparently, some friends of Guy wanted a place for a private celebration – wedding or funeral, or some such, I never did find out. And they wanted the place to themselves. The owner figured out how much a typical Thursday night would run, made sure his waiters would get a good tip, and so we shut the place down for Guy’s friends. Deals were made, hands were shook, and we were ready for the big party in the Upstairs Front Room.
I thought it would be a pretty easy night, and it would have been, except that Cheno got sick and the dishwasher didn’t show up of course, and the owner took off for Reno, so it was just Danny the cook, Guy and me, the three of us for what turned out to be 13 guys.
They came in promptly at 6 and it took everything for me to not bust out laughing. Apparently the invitation said “formal dress” for whatever celebration they were having, but they had all gone to the Goodwill, because they looked like a motley crew of dudes. Blue collar types with a coat of one color, and pants of a different color, and a shirt that did not match, ties of all shapes and sizes. The biggest guy looked like he was right off the boat, and his suit was two sizes too small, so he was stuffed into it. There was one guy who was nerdy, but he was nerdy nerdy, not hipster nerdy. It looked like they were trying, but did not have a sense of style. Except two guys, one who looked like he had a tailored outfit and the other, obviously the leader – he had on a dark plum coat with matching pants, a black turtle neck and ankle boots. He just had this look – he wasn’t trying hard at all, but it was quality.
As they walked up the stairs, they were really happy, like they were going to the party, and the first thing the main guy did when he got to the Upper Front Room was turn off the tv.  We walked up behind him – they were Guy’s friends, or at least one of them was. We had agreed to split the tip, and so when we got them settled with menus, the main guy said, “We’re not going to need any of those. If you’ll come and sit down, I’ll tell you what we’d like.”
That’s kinda strange – most people don’t have you sit down when you take an order, but we rolled with it. After we sat down, he pulled up a chair and faced us and he said, “Here’s what we’d like. I’d like to get four deep dish cheese pizzas, no meat, just cheese. I need 13 glasses and three bottles of wine. And once you deliver those, you’ll be done for the night.”
And he smiled.
Man, I thought – 1200 dollars to get four cheese pizzas, but it’s not my money. And he had a really cool smile. So we went down and delivered the order to Danny, who shrugged when he saw the order. the pizzas take about 25-35 minutes to cook, so we didn’t really have anything to do except point to the sign on the door when people tried to come in – Private Party!. But I was so curious about what was going on upstairs, and for the first ten minutes, nothing really happened. You know, you could hear lots of people talking, but you know how when you’re watching a game and something surprising happens and you gasp? After about 10 minutes, we heard that gasp. And the mood of the room changed – it was no longer a party atmosphere, it’s almost like someone was getting fired. And sure enough, the guy in the expensive suit came storming down the stairs and he pushed open the front door and ran straight cross 9th avenue. If one of the Muni trains had been running, it would have flattened him, but luckily the lights were with him. None of the other guys came down after him, but you could tell they were watching him go from the railing on the balcony.
“Is one of them crying?” I asked Guy. It sure sounded like it, but I wasn’t going to go up. I kinda poked my head out to see if there was anything obvious wrong. A few minutes later, though, something else weird happened. I was taking the plates up, because the pizzas would be ready in about five minutes, and I saw the big guy, with the small suit saying, “I’ll never betray you. I swear to God!” and the main guy gave him a look filled with love and said, “You’ll do it three times tonight. But the good news is, it looks like our pizza is almost here.” All eyes were on me, and the other guys gave a nervous laugh, but you could tell that the Big Guy was unnerved. I felt dumb, and made two stacks of uneven plates on one side of the table, and placed napkins forks and knives at each place. not a word was spoken when I was there, until I got to the main guy, and he said, “It’s just you and Guy and the cook?”
And what’s his name?
He smiled again and the sweetness and the sadness of it nailed me to the floor.
I wanted to ask him what was going on, what the celebration was for, why the guy ran out, why would his friend betray him, but what I said was, “The pizzas will be here soon.”
I went down and Guy and I brought up the pizzas a little later, and I dished it out, because the pans are hot, and the cheese gets everywhere, so I had to do this kind of motion – slicing the cheese with the spatula and we had a kind of a fireline going all the way around the table, and finally, all 12 guys had a piece. Can I get cheese and peppers? No thanks. I left, and five minutes later, Guy went up to see if everything was all right, and he came back down shaking his head.
What? I said,
Weirdest thing, he said. I went up and each of the guys had a piece of pizza on a fork, and the main guy was standing, and he said, “When you eat this, you are one with me.” and he turned to the guy next to him and gave him his bite, and they each turned to the guy next to him and they all fed each other.
I know. And then he said, “when you drink this, you’re one with me,” and he gave a sip of his wine to the guy next to him, and the same thing happened. The last thing he said was “This is a new way. Remember me and remember this.”
Weird. You don’t think this is some kind of cult do you? They weren’t wearing black Nike track suits, were they?
But it wasn’t done getting weird. They stayed up there and talked for awhile, and it was a pretty somber affair. We couldn’t make out any words, but we know the one guy is talking and I was thinking, “Man this is not a great party.” But it got to be about time to clean up, and I was just thinking of going to clear some plates, when the main guy comes down with his plate, glass, knife and fork and I’m thinking, “Dang, we have to comp him a pizza because there’s a dirty fork or plate, or something was floating in his wine glass. And the whole party behind him.
He puts the plate, glass, fork and knife down on table number 7, takes off his plum coat, takes off his black turtle neck and says to me, “Do you have an apron I can borrow?”
I take off my blue apron and he puts it over his head and he says, “The dish room is this way?”
Now we have a nasty dish room. It’s no wonder the guys never show up, because it is a hot, steamy, smelly room. And no matter how often we try to hose off those rubber mats, there’s a kind of permanent sour milk smell to them. I just have one thing to say – hot, steaming water and bleu cheese dressing. But he goes right in with his plate and glass his fork and his knife and he washes them with the hose, and soaps them up with the dish wand, really cleans the inside and outside of the cup, scrapes between the tines of the fork, and then he gets a clean towel and dries them, and puts the plate on a stack, the wine glass on the overhead hanger, the fork and knife in their places.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your dishes, you also should wash one another’s dishes. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
And sure enough, one by one the guys all file back upstairs, and take each other’s dishes, and while some of them are busy with the dishes, the other guys are cleaning the rest of the restaurant. Some guys are wiping the tables, the other guys are vacuuming, putting the chairs upside down on the clean tables, the nerdy guy is helping me count the money, another guy is helping Danny clean the grill and wash the big pots of spaghetti sauce, another guy is folding the cloth napkins, another guy is making takeout pizza boxes for the next day’s shift. The only thing Guy, Danny and I did was tell people what our normal jobs are and where things went.
And even though the main guy went to his work cheerfully, when he saw that everyone was working, he went off by himself in an alleyway out by the dumpster, in a little hallway, it wasn’t inside it wasn’t outside. But he was squatting and leaning against the wall and I could just look at him and tell he was distraught. That’s the only word for it. I kinda poked my head in and he saw me, and gave me a reassuring smile, so I left him alone, and as I was working by the kitchen, I could hear him crying. I don’t know what it was, but he was really upset.
And even though the message was for his friends, Guy and I learned something from him that night. We never did our jobs the same again, because when he showed his friends how to do what we do, he made it seem special, and new and fresh and different. It actually changed the way I worked as a waiter, and more than that, how I lived my life. I came up with what I call the Waiter’s Prayer after that. Lord let me be of use, that I may glorify you through my acts of service.

I heard a rumor that the guy got murdered a couple of days later. That really made me sad. I never saw him after that anyway. But some of his friends came around, after about a year or so. They were different, and not just because they weren’t in their funny clothes. And here’s the weird thing – whenever they came they insisted on doing their own dishes. I said, “What are you doing, why are you doing your dishes?” We do it, they said, because we remember. We remember what he told us.

And I do too. I’ll never forget that night, and my prayer is you don’t either.


1. to wheedle, cajole, or coax.
This week's word might not have taken the cake if it hadn't been for's examples.
Some words have poetry in their meanings, and cuittle is one of them. As you can see, it rhymes with "idol," and its synonyms look like they are a combination of them: wheedle (we-dl), cajole and coax. If I were going to make up a word like cuittle, I'd have made it cajeedle, but words are not mine to make.
But unusual spellings/pronunciations are not enough to whet my wheedle. Let's hear from Sir Walter Scott, shall we?
The Papist threatened us with purgatory, and fleeched us with pardons; — the Protestant mints at us with the sword, and cuittles  us with the liberty of conscience…
-- Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot , 1820

I'm fascinated to know what this means. So I looked up to see what the context of this quote is:

So soon as the more numerous body of riders had
turned off to pursue their journey westward, those
whose route lay across the river, and was directed 
towards the north, summoned the Bridgeward, and
demanded a free passage.

" I will not lower the bridge," answered -Peter, in
a voice querulous with age and ill-humour. — " Come
Papist, come Protestant, ye are all the same. The
Papists threatened us with Purgatory, and fleeched
us with pardons ; — The Protestant mints at us with
the sword, and cuittles us with the liberty of con-
science ; but never a one of either says, ' Peter, there
is your penny.' I am well tired of all this, and for
no man shall the bridge fall that pays me not ready
money ; and I would have you know I care as little
for Geneva as for Eome — as little for homilies as
for pardons; and the silver pennies are the only
passports I will hear of."

Being a Protestant, I wanted to find out what we do, and how it differs from the Catholic especially in the area of how we treat bridgewards. The Catholic - excuse me, Papist - threatened him “with purgatory and fleeched him with  pardons.” Taken from the context, fleeched would be analogous to cuittles, which is sort of like the the carrot Boyd Crowder offers his meth cookers, rather than the stick (purgatory and sword). There is no dictionary definition for fleeched, but for mints there is, which is "to hit or strike at (someone or something)." As opposed to the chocolate treat found on the pillows of finer hotels.
So I learned two new words (cuittle and mints), and am left wondering at another (fleeched). And to top it all off?
Cuittle  is of uncertain origin.
A mystery wrapped inside an enigma fleeched inside a contradiction.
I guess the lesson from all of this is that for all the mintsing, and fleeching and cuittling and threats, the only way to get across is to pay the penny.

There’s probably a sermon there somewhere…

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