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Bucket List Travels with Suzanne and Michael – Part Three

After a very good brunch at Elmer’s Restaurant in Eugene we headed toward Crater Lake National Park. We stopped to explore another covered bridge and resumed our journey. We found to our astonishment an authentic A & W Root Beer Restaurant at Willamette. We had to indulge. It brought back so many memories.  This is the 100th. Anniversary of its founding. Suzanne spotted the snow on the mountains long before I did. Once we entered the park there was snow everywhere. The lake surrounded by the mountains is spectacular. You must add Crater Lake to your travel list. After our stop at the visitor’s center, we had a decision to make. Would we head back to Bend, Oregon and across to Idaho or would we head straight across the southern route? Yours truly made the decision to go the southern route.

We headed across what we learned later was the Oregon Desert. We saw horses, cows, sheep, fields of grass, and irrigation systems. We rarely saw people or other cars. The landscape is beautiful. Fierce battles were once waged here between sheep herders and cattlemen. As daylight was fading, we lost cell phone service and Suzanne said the gas was getting low. I wasn’t worried. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t see the gas gage. Finally we came upon a sign for Silver Lake. We found a service station somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Inside we found a very nice lady who told me I had chosen right to skip Bend. We pressed on to Burns where we dined at McDonald’s. We spent the night at a very well used Day’s Inn. After breakfast we headed toward Ontario, ‘where Oregon begins.”  Burns is named for Robert Burns, the Scottish poet. We visited a very interesting Native American Museum and Shop. We ate lunch at an Asian restaurant in Ontario, took pictured and were on our way to Twin Falls.

When we crossed into Idaho, I was elated. We found our hotel in Burley.  Shoshone Falls have not been commercialized and thus are not spoiled. They are actually 35ft. higher than Niagara Falls. What a sight! We headed back to the Twin Falls Visitor’s Center and were off to Boise. We visited Boise State University. Suzanne got a picture of the blue turf and we browsed the book store. We had a very good dinner at Morey’s Steak House. This was bittersweet because this was the end of our wonderful journey.

Saturday morning we relinquished our trusty steed and flew together to Denver where we parted company. Suzanne flew to Nashville and I flew to Charleston. My heart overflows with joy for these two journeys to the Baltic with Michael and to round out my 50 state Bucket List with Suzanne. I am blessed with two wonderful children.

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Bucket List Travels with Suzanne and Michael – Part Two

On September 27, I flew to Nashville on Southwest to meet Suzanne, my daughter. We had dinner in the airport. Our 9:45p.m. flight to Chicago on Southwest was cancelled due to a thunderstorm over Midway. Southwest could not get us to Chicago in time to make our Amtrak connections to the Empire Builder the next day. The first Southwest associate was less than helpful but assured us that our bags would be taken off and would be waiting for us in baggage claim. Not true. The second associate was much more helpful. She said that against policy our bags had been put on an earlier flight that did make it to Chicago. Not true. She did schedule us on a flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul where we could meet the train Saturday night. Suzanne and I made it to a Residence Inn for the night. At 1:o’clock a.m. Southwest called Suzanne’s cell phone to say they had located our bags. Not true. When we arrived at the airport our bags were not there; however we did make our flight to Minneapolis. The Southwest attendant assured us that our bags would arrive with us. Not true. We did learn that Suzanne’s bag did make it to Chicago and mine was still in Nashville. The next flight from Chicago would be at 4:30. The next flight from Nashville would be at 6:30 p.m. All we could do was wait. When we returned to baggage claim at about 5:30, Suzanne’s bag was there. Mine came in on the 6:30 flight. We were without our luggage for about 22 hours.

We boarded the Empire Builder in St. Paul and the remainder of the trip was smooth traveling. We met wonderful companions at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a horrible mistake for Amtrak to discontinue the dining cars from the trains. Meeting new people is part of the attraction. We had booked a roomette. Suzanne climbed into the upper bunk and I was below. The scenery from the train is beautiful. The landscape keeps changing before your eyes. We went through 40 inches of snow in Montana. I’m glad we were inside. After about 36 hours, we arrived in Portland, Oregon. We had already arranged for a rental car. I hated to say goodbye to the train. It was a wonderful trip although I hardly got any sleep which didn’t matter. This train trip has been a goal forever.

We drove around Portland. On our way to Eugene, we had lunch at Buster’s Texas Style Barbecue. Although it was not what we expected in Oregon, it was excellent. Our next stop was off the beaten track to the Brigittine Monastery that advertised chocolates and fruit cakes made by the monks. The chocolate is excellent. The fruitcake is waiting. I am one of the few who admit to liking fruitcake. The monastery is surrounded by hazelnut trees. We finally made it to our hotel in Eugene with rooms overlooking the river and a park. We ate dinner in the hotel restaurant, Sweetwater. We enjoyed a wonderful brunch the following morning at the Pump Restaurant. Not only was the service efficient and friendly, but I enjoyed the best home fries I have ever eaten. The restaurant is decorated with license plates from several states. It needs one from South Carolina. Our afternoon was taken up by either driving through or walking through seven restored covered bridges and of course a visit with the University of Oregon Duck. We were greeted warmly and had our pictures taken with the famous mascot. .

Tuesday night we enjoyed a marvelous dinner at the Kings Estate Winery Restaurant. The surroundings are beautiful and the service flawless. An-dee was friendly but not intrusive. She provided us with answers to our many questions. They grow their own vegetables and pride themselves on everything being organic. I think this is the largest winery in Oregon. Oregon is the 49th. state on my Bucket List.

Hold your breath for part three next week.

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Bucket List Travels with Suzanne and Michael

After my Uncle Jack, dad’s brother, returned from Europe following the Second World War, he told me, an eleven year old, about all the places he had seen. He did not tell me about the combat. He let me know that the world was a very different place than my small town. He lit a fire in me to see for myself that has only grown brighter through the years.

In May of this year, my son, Michael, and I fulfilled one of my major goals – to visit Russia. We took an amazing Baltic cruise. One of the major destinations was St. Petersburg. What a glorious time we had. Of course, we could have spent weeks. Michael is a wonderful, knowledgeable, inquisitive travel companion.

On October 4th. my daughter, Suzanne, steered our rental car over the border into Idaho, the remaining state to fulfill my Bucket List of seeing all 50 states. What a wonderful moment. Suzanne had driven almost 1,200 miles. What a trooper! What a great travel companion. Just as on our trip to Ireland she was thrilled with all the sheep. She tolerated her dad who knows less than nothing about wines. Oregon, the 49th. state, on my list is overflowing with wineries. She too is curious and determined. We tracked down every covered bridge and either drove through or walked through all of them.

All of my travel began with a train trip from Spartanburg, South Carolina to Kansas City, Missouri/Kansas when I was a senior in high school. Our senior class trip was to Washington, D.C. Liz and I, Suzanne and Michael’s mother, traveled to Puerto Rico and the American Virgin Islands when I was invited to speak to the Caribbean Speech and Hearing Association. She and I also went to San Francisco, New York, and Boston. After her untimely death, Suzanne, Michael and I went to Ireland when I spoke to the European Speech and Hearing Association. My brother-in-law, John Wallace, and I went to Australia when I spoke to the speech association there. That was a trip Liz and her father before her were supposed to make.

Nine years later, Carol and I went to England, Scotland and Wales on our honeymoon. We went to Alaska the following year. What an experience! She and I traveled even into her losing battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

What can I say other than how grateful I am to have two children who gave up their time so that their dad could complete his Bucket List? I hope they know that as much as I love travel, traveling with each of them surpasses anything I will ever see or experience. There is a great big beautiful world out there filled with people anxious to be friends. Don’t worry. I am compiling a new list.

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Comic and Preacher Pens How-To Book on Sermon Prep  

Susan Sparks reflects on humor that is joyful and therapeutic in her book, “Preaching Punchlines.”

She is not speaking of humor that is scornful, rude, hateful or judgmental, but humor that lifts us up and honors. She quickly banishes any thoughts that she is advocating delivering sermons that are theologically light.

Sparks, who is pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City, knew that her calling was to be a pastor at age 6.

Yet, her dreams were ridiculed and squelched by religious leaders in her native Southern Baptist upbringing, and so she delayed that dream until mid-career after becoming a successful attorney.

She delights in being a pastor, and this book stresses the hard work that delivering a sermon, speech or comedy routine requires. She is part of a standup comedy troupe that includes a rabbi and an imam.

The heart of the book is the fifth chapter, in which she demonstrates the humor of Jesus in example after example.

Sparks is enthusiastic about how Jesus uses ordinary circumstances to connect with his audience.

He uses every technique available: exaggeration, humor, voice, irony, timing, silence, parables and repetition to capture his listener’s attention.

Follow Jesus’ example, she urges. Use every means possible including humor. This is important because the audience will remember only 10% of what you say.

Providing step-by-step instructions on sermon preparation, she emphasizes always keeping your congregation in mind. What are members of your congregation interested in? What keeps them awake at night? What’s going on around you?

Observe people and listen to them, she advises. Always keep a notebook or recording device with you. Make a note about your observations. Develop a file system that will let you find illustrations that you have experienced, observed or read about. Talk about the hard stuff.

She stresses that congregations need more than they can Google. They need to be given real food by someone they trust.

“A sermon is bigger than us,” she writes. “In its purest form, a sermon should be a message inspired from a higher power given through you to a congregation. God is the power source. If we don’t feel the power, it’s not God.”

Learn to write like a comedian, Sparks says. Build your scenario. The punch line comes last. Wait a moment to let it sink in before you start talking again.

Boil your sermon down to your core message. Put that at the top of your page. Read your sermon out loud at least twice. This will help you weed out unnecessary words or extraneous material.

Narrow your sermon to what is direct and necessary for your one-line summary. Reserve the rest for another time.

Finally, she follows and recommends the practice of praying your sermon out loud.

One commandment Sparks gives is the one many ministers ignore, but its observance is essential: “Thou shalt not be exhausted by the Sabbath.” Rest and sleep are essential.

Sparks believes that being given an opportunity to preach before a community of faith is one of the highest honors one can receive. If one is to perform at her or his best, time apart, rest and reflection are mandatory.

So, she emphasizes that ministers must take a day off. Get away. At least stay away from the church once in a while. She and her husband take motorcycle trips.

Always remember why you are doing what you are doing, she says. Tap into the source. Always keep a copy of your sermons. Review them, taking note of common themes. What excites you? What do you preach about most often?

Her final commandment is my favorite, “Thou shalt have joyous communication.” This is true for comedians, motivational speakers and preachers. “No matter how we feel, we must radiate joyous communication into the rafters and far corners of the sanctuary.”

As I travel around and hear sermons from preachers in various denominations, this element most often is missing. Where is the joy of living the Christian life?

I already know my failures. If the joy is lacking in your speeches or sermons, Spark’s book will lift your spirits and help you rekindle your zest for preaching.

She reminds us that we are enough, and that God always has our back.

“Preaching Punchlines” contains ample references and numerous QR codes that allow you to scan even more. This book is pure gold for anyone who wishes to improve her or his sermons.

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