Monday, July 30, 2018

All the posts: July 23 - 29, 2018

It's still summer! We roused ourselves from porch-sitting and other energy-sapping summer activities (like going to work) for a few small adventures this week. We're even getting our movie posters hung up (well, some of them, anyway).

We even managed to visit one church two times, and while I was reading some Father Brown mysteries, Dean watched a related movie. While we didn't make it to a new bar this week, we revisited our memories of a bar we visited two years ago in Boston. Perhaps you've heard of it?

This week I'll be starting a new job (woohoo!) and maybe we'll get some family photos up on the wall. In the meantime, read these posts (and if you haven't already, we'd love you to review Cheers and Amen, the book about our year of visiting a bar and a church in every state, on Amazon. Thank you for considering it!)

We visit a church going through changes

It's a mysterious movie clergyman who's oddly familiar

We always knew we'd end up here

Have a good week, dear readers!
West Side Presbyterian Church, West Seattle, Washington

Saturday, July 28, 2018

We remember a bar we walked into two years ago

With the news that Kelsey Grammer is considering revisiting Frasier, we were reminded of our visit to the bar his character frequented before moving back to his hometown of Seattle. Do you remember when we walked into Cheers?

We were amazed at the number of people who respond to our question about what makes for a good bar with the answer, “You know, like Cheers, where everybody knows your name.” The theme was so constant, we chose the title of our book about visiting a bar and a church in every state, Cheers and Amen, as a nod to the fictional bar.

The show premiered over three decades ago, but we’ve heard this response not just from geezers like ourselves but also from a number of millennials.

So why is this sitcom still part of the contemporary conversation in the same way that Seinfeld is, while shows like Happy Days and Different Strokes are not? Off the top of my head, here are ten reasons Cheers endures.

  1. The Theme Song - Not only have people told us what they want in a bar; occasionally they sing, “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” There’s a reason the song plays on a continuous loop at the Cheers tourist attraction in Boston. The chorus of that song provides a wonderful picture of acceptance and openness even though the show was…
  2. Rarely sentimental - It was never mawkish, but when the show shot for the heart (such as when Coach talked with his daughter about her mother’s beauty or when Norm admits Vera is the only woman he has ever loved), it hits the bullseye.
  3. It’s not about politics - Even though the show had cameos by such pols as Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, and Tip O’Neil. Even though many of the actors and creators have been quite vocal about politics outside the show. The cast and crew members embraced quite different politics. Ted Dansen (Sam) spoke at the Democratic Convention and Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) is one of the few well-known Republicans in Hollywood. Woody Harrelson (Woody) has long been an outspoken champion of cannabis and Kristie Alley endorsed Trump. Show producer Rob Long now writes for the conservative National Review. If there was a laugh to be found in politics (such as when Woody ran for office or Sam dated a politician) they’d go there, but the writers wanted to entertain, not to make partisan points.
  4. It’s not about religion - On occasion, characters talk to priests or pray. On occasion the absurdities of the characters are a source of humor (particularly Carla’s weird mix of Catholicism and superstition*), but God and faith are not mocked.
  5. It endured - The show lasted for eleven season and stayed funny. This is a remarkable achievement. Most shows, especially comedies, start repeating themselves after two or three seasons. The show also survived major cast changes. Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach, died after the second season. Shelley Long, who played Diane, left the show after five seasons to pursue a career on the big screen. Perhaps there is a link to the cast changes and the show’s freshness. New characters didn’t replace the old ones, but brought something utterly new.
  6. The actors have endured - Ted Danson, for instance, has been on a number of popular TV shows since Cheers ended, from Becker to CSI to Fargo. Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith) has a Tony winning career on Broadway. Kelsey Grammer’s spinoff to Cheers, Frasier, was nearly as acclaimed and long running as the original show. Woody Harrelson went on to become a major film star. And Pixar can’t make a film with John Ratzenberger. The continuing success of the cast (and creative staff) of the show is a mark of the show’s quality.
  7. Enduring one liners - Norm’s lines alone continue to be quoted for laughs: “It’s a dog eat dog world, and I’m wearing milkbone underwear.” “Women. You can’t live with them… Pass the beer nuts.” “Once the trust goes out of a relationship, it’s no fun lying anymore.”
  8. Characters as friends - Psychologists have coined the term “parasocial relationship” to describe the one-sided connectedness between real people and fictional characters. All things considered, the gang at Cheers are a fairly smart, witty, and usually kind group of people to hang with, in a meta sense.
  9. Introduced long term storytelling to sitcoms - Before Cheers, the characters on sitcoms and their relationships with other characters didn’t change much. They were set in stone. But this show, beginning with the relationship between Sam and Diane, set up stories that took many episodes, sometimes seasons, to play out. That’s not how TV used to work, but because of Cheers, it’s how it works now.
  10. It really is excellent - Amy Poehler (the creator of Parks and Recreation) claims “It’s the best show that’s ever been.” The show has fans in such diverse television notables as Dan Harmon (Community) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield). But I’ll quit with one other recommendation from the great novelist Kurt Vonnegut:I would rather have written Cheers than anything I’ve written.”

While we were in Boston, we had the opportunity to visit the bar that was used for the exterior shots of Cheers. It used to be called The Bull and Finch, but they’ve given up on that now and call themselves Cheers. Because that’s really the bar everyone seems to want to go to.

*If you are looking to make the cheap joke that Catholicism and superstition are the same thing, that’s not where the show ever goes. Religion is treated with respect. Strangely, even superstition is often treated with respect.

Monday, July 23, 2018

All the Posts: July 16 through 22

This morning I was drinking my coffee on the front porch when I suddenly got a whiff of that briny, tar-scented smell of saltwater I associate with vacations by the beach. Wow. I get to hear seagulls (and crows) every day, even though we can't see the water. We can see the occasional cargo ship sail by if we look past the warehouses, train tracks, recycling center, and construction equipment, so I know the waterway's there!

Anyway, that's my excuse for getting this post out late: I was distracted by summer. 

Otherwise, we've been getting settled into our new routine. Dean started his new job, we're figuring out how to get around (we have to go through two five-way stops to get anywhere north or east of us. GPS is our best friend), and we've figured out where most of our stuff goes. I even planted some seeds and bought a tomato plant. We visited a new bar (more or less by accident), a new church (where we were surprised), and Dean watched another murder mystery.

And that's what you came for: to find out about last week's posts -- so here they are:

Okay, I'm back to porch-sitting and watching the traffic stopped on the West Seattle Bridge. Have a good week!

Monday, July 16, 2018

All the Posts: July 9 through 15, 2018

The stacks (and stacks) of boxes have mostly become stacks (and stacks) of flattened cardboard. We've become accustomed to hearing extremely loud train whistles at least four times a day (except Sunday, when they're more frequent but further away). The Seattle skyline and Mount Ranier still make me catch my breath, but we're beginning to know our way around. We've even gotten a bus pass and Washington driver's licenses.

But we haven't forgotten about you, so here's a whole batch of posts for you to catch up on (including an "in theaters now" movie post that I'm pretty sure you'll want to read about -- and probably to see).

We go to church in Ethiopia?

An old friend shows up in theaters now

The baffling mystery isn't a murder

We give our spanking new licenses a rest and actually walk to a bar

Monday, July 9, 2018

All the Posts: July 2 - 8, 2018

Most of the time this past week, we weren't entirely certain where anything was -- except possibly the clothes we were wearing and the minivan. I don't know how he did it, but Dean managed three posts at movie churches in spite of the chaos.

Internet connections were also spotty, leading to oddly timed posts, and in the case of Dean and Mindy go to Church , no post at all.* After driving about a thousand miles, two book signings (one without books), repeated trips up 31 steps to carry our boxes from the moving truck into our upstairs unit, daily trips to grocery stores for things we forgot on the last trip, job interviews, and one afternoon at the movies, we're getting settled in.

Mystery Month begins

Two versions of a classic

Saturday matinee at our new local theater

An all-American bar (with empanadas)

*We planned to post this: Dean and Mindy talk in Sunday School. And you'll be pleased to know we didn't miss church -- we went to Healdsburg Community Church, but we didn't write about it this time.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

2016 Memories: Massachusetts

Cheers and Amenthe book about our adventures visiting a bar and a church in every state during 2016, was officially released July 4. Since we're also in the midst of unpacking, we're reposting stories about people who we can't forget, even though we couldn't include them in the book. We're feeling pretty independent right now, so we're remembering this bar today.

Liberty Tavern, Clinton, Massachusetts
Mindy asked the boy in Liberty Tavern about the game he was playing. The four year old told her, “Don’t listen. They say bad words.” He went back to his concentrated effort to race his car through the big city streets.

We were not in the big city. We had been to Boston a few days before, where we went to the Cheers bar (we’ll write about that soon) but that was more like visiting an amusement park attraction than a bar. So our bar visit was in a reluctant Boston suburb.

Sometimes it’s best not to investigate local legends. We heard talk from a few folks that Clinton, Massachusetts, had more bars per capita than anywhere else in the United States. (One person in the bar said it had been in the Guinness Book of World Records) Mindy investigated though, and found it currently barely cracks the top hundred in Massachusetts. We still went to Clinton because the town where we’re were staying, neighboring Lancaster, MA, is dry.

Being in the state that is the Birthplace of the American Revolution, we, of course, went with the Liberty Tavern in Clinton. (Though, frankly, I was tempted by Scooby Doo’s, another bar and pool hall in Clinton. I’ve been a fan of that mystery solving mutt since the first Saturday morning he appeared.)

Liberty Tavern, Clinton, MA
The lettering of the outside sign is deceptively weathered. I would have assumed, looking at it, that Paul Revere and Sam Adams hoisted cold ones here back in the day, but the place has only been called “Liberty” since 2007, though the location has been a bar for many years under a variety of other names. The current owners have just had the place since 2013.

The bar was fairly full when we came in late on a Friday afternoon.  The walls were decorated with a mix of purchased and hand painted signs and sayings. I always appreciate the sign, “All our guests bring happiness, some by coming and some by leaving.” Shortly after we arrived, someone else came in the door and a number of people shouted out the man’s name. Sadly, the name was not “Norm.” But it was quickly apparent that people here know each other.

I noticed empanadas for sale on a counter beneath a warming lamp. I asked the bartender about them, and she told me they were made by a friend of hers who brought them in every Friday. I bought some along with Mindy's and my Angry Orchard ciders. The cider and the empanadas were very good, and minutes later I met the woman who had made the pastries.

Colleen was sitting at the bar. I introduced myself, not knowing she was the cook, but learned it soon. She told me she caters for a living, empanadas being one of many items she makes not just for this bar but also for local restaurants and catering events. She’s originally from Clinton, but has lived in a number of places through the years. She lived for a time in northern California, in Fortuna, for a bit and lived as a minor on her own in San Francisco. She’s lived for a time in Mexico. She is prone to wander, but for the last five years she has been back in Clinton.

I asked her our two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” She said that what matters is having a good bartender and the people. She’s a friend of the bartenders at Liberty Tavern, so obviously that’s a draw for her. As for people, she’s just there to watch. She prefers to sit alone and observe the personalities and drama. I asked her who she likes to watch most, and she said the little boy that Mindy talked to earlier. It turns out he’s the son of one of the owners and a beloved mascot in the place. Many guests greeted the child when they came and left.

I asked Colleen what would make for a good church. She said she believes and prays everyday, but “churches are the number one place for finding hypocrites.”  We talked about this for a bit. I agreed with her that hypocrisy in the church was an issue, but I told her about some of the churches we’d seen on our trip that reach out to the homeless and hurting. She said that Clinton didn’t have much to offer for homeless people, that it didn’t have a shelter for battered women and it didn’t have much for kids. (Though I did notice, walking through town, First Concern, a pregnancy resource center.)

I had an opportunity to talk to Megan, an owner of the bar who’s perhaps even better known in this place as the little boy’s mother.  Megan is also owns a restaurant in town, Wrong Way Cafe, and she said her son moves back and forth between the places because she has the worthy desire to keep him with her. She talked about how he is a good, smart kid, and it’s quite obvious that many of the bar patrons agree with that assessment.

I asked her what makes for a good bar, and she said that a bar depends on regulars and that it’s important to keep those people happy. If a regular mentions that there is a beer or liquor that they want, she’ll get it in stock. She works to make sure that her staff wants to make people happy.

I asked her what would make for a good church. She said a friend of hers that lived to the north was a part of a non-denominational congregation that did a great job of focusing on kids, and kids enjoy it. She said that even though it taught about “God and stuff,” they incorporate “real life situations.” But she doesn’t go to church now. “I was a good church girl for a little while,” she said, and when she wanted her son to be baptized she was told that she needed to attend the church for three months. So she did. And she didn’t mind. But she quit after the baptism.

Meanwhile, Mindy was talking to a couple of men at the other end of the bar. Tommy told her that a good bar had “friendly people” and “good service” because the people were what make for a good bar.

His neighbor, Ray, said the service makes a good bar. At Liberty Tavern, he told Mindy, “you walked into a neighborhood bar. There’s good people here. It’s friendly. That’s the type of bar this is.”

Tommy grew up going to church, as did Ray, though neither attend much now. Tommy said that a good church had a speaker who could “relate to common people without talking over their heads.” The message should “relate to their life.”

Ray said that he didn’t really have any idea about what makes for a good church. “Only reason I’ve been to church is weddings or funerals. Weddings are happy, funerals are sad.” Both agreed that we wouldn’t see a prettier church than St. John’s in Clinton, and told us we should go inside if possible.

One of the bartenders, Steve, headed out to smoke, and Mindy followed him to continue the conversation they’d started at the bar. He said he’d worked there under three owners, since the bar was called Dave’s Place. He said a good bar needed “great morale for everybody, that treats everybody equal. That’s pretty much what I think a great bar is.” He added, “For me, a positive vibe. Sort of like at church: we all greet each other even if you don’t know each other. For a bar to work, everybody has to accept each other. You set all those things from the outside world aside, and know you’re accepted.”

He knew the church question was coming, and he said it’s the same thing. “No different. People go because they know they won’t be ridiculed.”

Another bartender, Tee, agreed. “Both have the same answer: good people at both ends. Staff, customers.”

I found it interesting that everyone in the bar seemed to know the laws for minors in bars: kids can’t be in a bar after 9:00 pm, and they can’t be at the bar themselves. They also know what soda the boy likes and where in the bar his toys are kept.

One of the current candidates for president used to say “it takes a village” to raise a child. I guess sometimes it takes a bar.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Cheers and Amen book launch!

Even though we've been telling you about our new book, Cheers and Amen, for a few weeks, tonight's the official launch. Celebrate the USA with us, and we'll party like it's 2016!

If you buy a book today (July 4, 2018) or tomorrow (July 5, 2018), send us an email telling us. We'll send you a postcard from somewhere in America!

Monday, July 2, 2018

2016 Memories: Oklahoma and Cherokee Nation

Cheers and Amenthe book about our adventures visiting a bar and a church in every state during 2016, will have its official launch on July 4. In preparation, we're reposting stories about people we can't forget, even though we couldn't include them in the book.

Samuel Worcester plaque at Cherokee Heritage Center
Elm Tree Baptist Church, Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Originally posted 2/2/2016

I found a new hero Saturday while touring the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, OKSamuel Austin Worcester was missionary to the Cherokee in the 1800's, but Georgiahad a law that forbade missionaries from living with Native Americans without a license. He flouted the law, and he went to jail for over a year. His case went to the Supreme Court, and he won. He was a great advocate for Cherokee sovereignty, translated the New Testament to Cherokee, and helped found the first Native American newspaper. I also learned about the missionaries that accompanied Native Americans on the Trail of Tears. This helped me understand why the Cherokee people turned to Christianity in spite of the despicable treatment they received from the American government (#GetJackonOffTheTwenty).

Elm Tree Baptist Church
Upon coming to Oklahoma, we learned there are a number of "Indian" churches. In Tahlequah there are a number of such churches, many featuring "Indian" in the title. But we asked people we trusted to recommend a good Indian church in town and were pointed to Elm Tree Baptist Church.

Elm Tree Baptist Church entrance
We decided to go to Sunday School before the service and were glad we did. At the church on fifth Sundays, all the classes meet together for special programs. Darrel, the man in charge of the morning's activities, introduced himself. We mentioned that we'd decided to come here since we heard Indian Churches were a thing here. He pointed out that there was a mix of Indians and non-Indians in the congregation. (It is impossible, of course, to guess by appearance such things since there are a number of blond, blue eyed Cherokee.)

The opening reminded me of Sunday School programs when I was a kid. There was the chance to share birthdays and anniversary, and then there was the "Penny Parade" when people could march to the front and put change in the church building bank (which I could not resist).

Adult class at Elm Tree Baptist Church
Each class presented songs and/or memory verses. This was a guarantee of some little kid cuteness. After presentations from the children and youth, the adult Sunday School classes gave presentations; two general adult classes, a women's class and a Cherokee class. The Cherokee class presented verses in Cherokee and English and sang a song in Cherokee. Three men also sang a hymn in Choctaw (another language from another tribe). Some people shared testimonies. One woman told about her husband's recent stay in the hospital and the encouragement she received from people in the church in the form of calls, visits, cards and especially groceries.

worship at Elm Tree Church
At the end of the program, a woman came to the front of the room to give the director the results of the attendance count and Bible count which was shared with the group. The program ran a little long, so we moved straight into the worship service which began a couple of minutes late.

Pastor D. J. McCarter welcomed a Councilman and his family who were visiting. He then welcomed a couple from California (That's us!) and invited us to introduce ourselves. Then the pastor introduced a group of students from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry of the local school, Northeastern State University, who were brought forward to lead the service.

BCM leading worship
Frankly, we were a bit disappointed to learn the students would be leading the service. They said they would be letting everyone experience an average college worship service, but we were hoping to experience an average Indian worship service. Still, we enjoyed the hymns and choruses.

singing in Cherokee
But it was great fun to learn that one of young woman in the group is the current Miss Cherokee, a goodwill ambassador for the Cherokee Nation. She sang a Cherokee hymn accompanied by her mother and aunt. She also shared about her experiences in a recent mission trip to Haiti. Other members of the group also shared about the trip, which was sponsored in part by Elm Tree Baptist.

The leader of the BCM group then spoke. He said just as many who shared about their trip to Haiti spoke of "leaving their comfort zone," he was doing the same as "a white boy speaking to an Indian church."  After the short sermon (that had been preceded by three missions testimonies), Pastor McCarter presented an altar call asking people to come forward to receive Christ or come forward for prayer. The prayer requests of those who came forward were then shared with the congregation. As the pastor was concluding the service, more prayer requests and announcements were called out from the congregation.

Cherokee hymn books
After the service I talked with some of the junior and senior high students who were sitting near us. I asked what an average service was like, and they said there was usually a singing time (with at least a couple of songs from the Cherokee Hymn Book), and then Pastor McCarter would preach. I asked about the pastor's preaching and one of the young men said, "I like his preaching because I can understand it. When I listen to some other preachers, I don't always get anything out of it, but I do with D. J." I shared this with Pastor McCarter and he said he was simple man with a simple message.

Pastor D J McCarter
Pastor McCarter told me Elm Street was his third ministry, and he's been serving there for the last 26 years. He came to Christ back in 1972 when he was playing guitar in rock and country bands and drinking too much. But God changed his heart, and he now says that there is nothing he likes better than preaching the Gospel.

Pastor McCarter also teaches the Cherokee language in spoken and written forms, and he leads a Cherokee choir with members from a variety of churches. That choir travels and has performed at the Smithsonian twice.

Members of the congregation were quite welcoming and one gentleman assured us that we had already seen the best of the country by coming to Cherokee County. Our journalistic objectivity keeps us from calling anyplace the best, but we are thankful God led us to Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation.

Total 2016 Miles: 4,464