Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What church should taste like

I had church in my front yard this past Sunday.

My grandson and me.  He is two.  He wanted to swing in our frontyard swing.  He's an amazing athlete.

He can crawl up into the swing and buckle himself in.

What he can't do is swing on his own.

So, I started to swing him.  The more he swung, the happier he became.  The higher he went, the greater the smile.   He was free.  He was moving.  He knew that his grandpa (although he calls me Boss) was 100% focused on him and he was 100% focused on me.

It was happiness.  It was joy.  It was pure unconditional love.

How many times a week, a year, a lifetime do we experience this?  Too few I think is the answer for most.

I'm a Christian man.  I love him with a grandpa's love.  I think that quailifies as lifestyle witnessing.

It was one of the sweetest times in my life.  I believe it made a mark on him.  That was church for me.

My grandson is adopted.  He is from a differnet ethnic background than me.  Love is color blind.  He loves me and I love him.  He knows he is safe in my arms.  The only way to describe our time is sweet.

I went to church recently at a place that has been worhsiping for over 100 years in the same place.

The building is a beautiful red brick building with stained glass windows.  Lots of farmers and ranchers gave way more than 10% to make this place a reality.

And in 2017, it is still populated by ranchers and farmers.  Families that have been in this locale way long before the concrete showed up.

A dear friend is the pastor.  He's the luckiest man I know.  His flock is sweet.  They sing George Strait songs on Father's Day.  The average age is old.

I had a chance to attend a church seminar there.  I asked where the online signup was.  My buddy the pastor informed me that we just signed up on the bulletin board.  There isn't an app for small town love.

We were all to show up and learn and to bring someting to eat.

I spent a Friday evening and Saturday morning with a group of 65 plus year old folks.  We all had pain.

Kids in prison.  Kids with drug problems.  Kids that had turned their back to Christ.  Kids that died before their time.

But, we all ate really well.  Strawberry shortcake, sausage and biscuits, potato salad, honey baked ham, Krispy Kreme's.

It was one of the most humbling, numbing, reality-glass experiences of my life.

And when my wife asked me what I thought, I told her it was sweet.

We are all sinners.  And, we all have a story.

Thank God for the church.  And, the church just means people that gather together.

If you are hurting, there's a sweet place.  If you are in need of harmony, there's a sweet place.

Brothers and sisters, these are the pillars of the church.

It is sweetness.

Peter.  Paul.  And, cholestorol.

The Gospel.  And, macaroni and cheese.  It will cure what ails you.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Christmas Unicorn

The mysterious package arrived a week or so ago.

In a distinctive DHL yellow bag.  Addressed to me from:

Suzhou min Huan Mdt Info Tech Ltd

I don't know anyone in Suzhou.  So, I was a bit confused from the start.

Then I opened the package.  A bit confused immediately became wildly confused then to paranoia then to laughter then to concern then to WTF and finally reaching the sane confusion that it was just a mistake.

There was a bizarre little unicorn costume in the bag.  Not my size.

Was this Twatson playing a joke?  Was it some sort of shaming thing?  What did unicorns symbolize? Who did I piss off in China?  Is someone videoing me as I'm in shock on my front porch?

I asked my sweet wife if perchance she had any idea.  Nope.  Not a clue.

I became convinced that it was just a mistake and somehow DHL's system had a glitch.

DHL has great customer service.  The nice lady I spoke with tracked the package in their system immediately.  She was as confused as me.  She promised they would send someone to retrieve the package.

DHL did come by at some time that day but missed us and left a nice note on the door.

I then left the package on the front porch so the driver would easily find it on his next stop by. We were leaving town for a few days so we asked the world's greatest neighbor to watch for packages on the front porch, collect our mail, etc.  But, we explained that DHL would be coming to pickup the mystery package.

While out of town, my wife got the sad news from the world's greatest neighbor that someone had ripped open the mystery package but to add to the mystery, they had left the package and the contents on the porch.  Wow.  It even freaked out porch thieves.  Then, I remembered I was the dunce that had ripped open the package and placed it back on the porch without sealing the package.

The world's greatest neighbor placed the mystery package inside our house to prevent further mayhem.  When we arrived home, there it sat with our mail and a few Amazon deliveries.

There it sat for two days.  DHL was no longer interested in trying to pick it up.  We couldn't for the life of us figure it out.  So, to the trash it went.  It was too strange and had too much voodoo attached to dump it on the sweet folks at Goodwill.

Last evening, we had a family Christmas gathering and gift exchange.  As happens when kids grow up, they marry and have to split time between the in-laws.  One of our married couples was here at Thanksgiving and was spending Christmas with the other side of their family in Houston.

My son called just before the party to make sure that the gifts they had sent had arrived.  My wife spoke with him an explained that we had received an Amazon box and all of the gifts were clearly marked.  Hallelujah.  All was good.

Then my bride had a thought.  Do you know anything about a package from China with a unicorn costume?

Well, of course he did.  It was a gift for his niece Piper who loves unicorns, fairies, elves, princesses, Santa Claus and all things wonderful in her imagination.

Like Shimmer Laglinda.  That's the name she gave the new Elf on the Shelf.  Shimmer Laglinda had replaced Sprinkles, the previous Elf on the Shelf.  Sprinkles had survided a near death experience a year or so ago only to be revived with positive thoughts, some crystals and a touch of incense.

But alas, Sprinkles has wandered off again (maybe to New York City to join Buddy) and had to be replaced by Shimmer Laglinda.

As I'm driving home from work to help make last minute arrangements for the party, my wife calls me repeatedly.  It was a Christmas emergency of the highest order.  To make matters worse, I didn't answer her call as I was speaking with another daugther.

As I walked in the house, she was panicked.  She told me the story and immediately began the last minute search for the unicorn.  We found the DHL envelope under coffee grounds in the trash compactor.  But where was the costume?  Did we take it to Goodwill?  Was it stuffed in a closet where Christmas secrets are hidden?

OMG!!!!!!  It's in the trash!

I rushed outside and looked in the trash bin.  It was dark, but I saw two bags of normal glossy white Kirkland Signature kitchen trash bags.  "It's not there", I reported dejectedly.

Undeterred, my wife dumpster-dived and found the unicorn costume under the trash bags and saved it from a sad, mistaken, unintended ending.

Piper did get her unicorn outfit.

I once again proved to be an idiot.

My wife saved Christmas.

And, somehwere, Sprinkles is smiling.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Well, at least we didn't get blanked by the Biscuits

On a recent trip to Birmingham, we went to watch the Barons play.

You know, the minor league baseball team that Michael Jordan wasn't really good enough to play for?

There's not much more fun than minor league baseball.  It's cheap.  You're close to the field and the players.  There's lots of fun and hi-jinks.

You get to see a combination of Crash Davis and the future of MLB.

On this particularly lovely Southern summer evening, the Birmingham Barons were hosting the Montgomery Biscuits.  Yep, the Biscuits.

How can you not love a team whose logo is a flaky biscuit with a slab of butter in its mouth?

The Biscuits have produced David Price, James Shields, Jonny Gomes and Evan Longoria (the Rays third baseman, not the actress that married Tony Parker and then cost himself a heap of trouble by messing around with Brent Barry's wife).  This is not only a lovable team, they produce talent.

We were blessed with seats a few rows in front of one of the Barons' most ardent fans.  He loves him some Baron baseball.  And, he loves to talk about it.  Loud enough for all 6,000 fans to hear him.

Seems the Barons season isn't going well.  And, the team had suffered a rash of injuries and call-ups that had resulted in a long losing streak.

Superfan explained this to all with gusto and just a touch of defeatism.

The Biscuits are apparently THE rival of the Barons.  Being separated by just 93.4 miles of I-65, this is to baseball in Alabama the same as the Barners vs.the Gumpers in semi-pro football in that state.

Anywho, this game got out of the Barons control early.  It was 10-0 Biscuits after 4.  If this had been Little League, it would have been game over.

Thankfully, in the bottom of the 5th, the Barons designated hitter Nicky Delmonico cranked one over the wall in right center.

That produced one of the greatest baseball sayings this fan has ever heard.

The Baron Superfan exclaimed, "Well, at least we didn't get blanked by the Biscuits."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Arnie Karr: A man I loved

Arnie Karr and I were set up to have a contentious relationship.

Arnie was a journalist, focusing on financial performance of apparel companies.  I was the mouthpiece for several companies that he followed.

Arnie was a brilliant, proudly Jewish, proudly liberal, proud New Yorker.  I am a white-bread, slightly redneck, thankful to be Christian, moderate to conservative Southern kid.

Arnie and I first met face-to face at a DNR event in New York about 20 years ago to discuss the future of retail.  I was on a panel with two consultants.

Arnie was the moderator.  The consultants blabbed on and on with their sketchy insights.  I spoke as a guy responsible for sales and profits of a $500 million public company with retailers pulling at our every coin pocket.  Arnie told me he appreciated my candor and that I made him laugh.

That was the beginning of a long-distance relationship of love and respect.

We've discussed politics, religion, the rag business, retail, family and a thousand other things via email, phone, social media and the all-to-rare in person meetings.  

The last time I saw Arnie was at P.J. Clarke's a few years ago, just before he left on a vacation to Hawaii with his beloved family.

I wrote a post on this blog about man love years ago. http://burkslaw.blogspot.com/2010/08/man-love.html

I sent the link as a reminder to a number of men that I love in 2013.

Here's Arnie's response.

Alan – Amazing that you shared that this week. I'd just been reminded how true it is.

My mother still lives in the house where I grew up and, until this week, Mrs. Lippe, the mother of my closest childhood friend, Ken, and his sister, who had the same role in my sister's life, remained there as well. Mrs. Lippe — aka Lenny — had hip replacement surgery a few months ago and has been just a little bit less sharp since the surgery. And four stories is a lot for a widow in an empty nest to cover.

Lenny moved into an assisted living facility — yuck, euphemism! -- this week. As her daughter was getting ready to leave, who should show up at her door but my Mom, in her traditional role as someone who easily gives lots of love on an unconditional basis. Her daughter sent me a little note on Facebook telling me how good my Mom had made her and her mom both feel.

But when I got home that night and checked my personal email, there was a 1,000-word note from Ken. I haven't seen him since the day of his father's funeral last year. But, just like you wrote, it didn't matter. We weren't keeping tabs on each other. No one was watching the clock or the calendar.  He just felt he needed to put down in writing a remembrance about the day in 1957 he moved onto our "block" and, before he could even finish his first lunch in his new home, some dark-, curly-haired kid from down the block (you can probably guess who) knocked on and then opened the front door asking if the new people had anyone he could play with. It was just an incredibly touching note that produced a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes and several other physical abnormalities.

Ken and I were inseparable during our childhoods but drifted a bit in the later years of high school — I was more of a musician/writer and he more of an athlete — but we picked up exactly where we left off in 1976, when I arrived in California as DNR's new West Coast editor. He was going to school in Santa Barbara and I was in L.A., but we visited as often as possible. 

But Ken and me?  Exactly as you described. We can talk about anything and, even with 46 years of memories to draw on, it's still the man-love thing you described so well.

Glad you shared that, and really glad we had a chance to hoist a few last month.  Hawaii was, as you would expect, fantastic.


Arnie died a few weeks ago.  At 62.  I had no idea he was sick.  I woke up one day and he was gone.

Arnie, I love you.  I miss you.  

Ken, I'd love to meet you.

Mrs. Karr, I'd love to have coffee with you in your kitchen where you raised a great man.

Rhea and Daniel, I can somewhat imagine the hole in your world.  May God's peace be with you.

To all of us who loved Arnie Karr, let us soon stop grieving and start living as Arnie would have us do.  Honest, happy, dancing, singing, respectful of one another, learning everyday.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Roads of Madness

Dear Peanut,

So, you'll be getting your driver's license in two years.

You've learned well the first rule of safe driving:

"Assume every other driver on the road is an idiot."

The importance of this is because it's basically true, it's the safest way to drive, it prevents surprises, it saves time, eliminates guesswork and it will keep you out of harm's way.  

Remember, the objective of driving is to get from point A to point B in the safest and most pleasant means possible.  Idiots don't understand this at all, and therefore, they are to be avoided at all costs.

Also, driver idiocy is not based on gender, socioeconomics, race, creed, religion, or nationality.  Or, for that matter, hair color.  (Although if her hair is the color of Twizzlers, she has more than three bumper stickers pertaining to saving the water moccasins, and she's driving thru Texas in August with her windows down, you might tap the brakes.)

In order to accelerate your training, the following wisdom has been gleaned over the past 44 years and countless millions of miles driving.

1.  Avoid the Rice Rocket

The driver of this car has taken a perfectly good, inexpensive automobile made in a Southeast Asian country and has spent a month of his wages on a high-flow catback exhaust that you can hear from a half-mile away.  It sounds like Godzilla farting.  

In addition to the annoying sound, this dude believes he is starring in Fast and Furious 9.  He drives without regard to his safety or yours.

Research has shown these drivers have a lower brain-to-body mass ratio than that of the bony-eared assfish. (The assfish was heretofore thought to hold the record of lowest ratio of all vertebrates. Fumes from high-flow catback exhausts, excessive consumption of Monster energy drinks and hours of Cannibal Corpse tunes at 130 decibels has allowed the Acanthonus armatus to move up a rung.)

2.  Pay Attention to Vehicle Color

If the vehicle is the color of anything ever seen in a baby's diaper, watch out. 

If the vehicle is the color of a freezer pop, watch out.

There are only five approved personal vehicle colors.  Black, white, red, candy apple red, silver and metallic grey.

White.  Not beige, not tan, not pearl white, not sand.


Red.  As in Coke red.  Not warm red, not plum, not pink, not puce. And do not be fooled by burgundy/maroon/crimson.  These are not red.  And, they are most likely being driven by a deranged fan of: a school with a two word fight song and both words rhyme with tumor, the University of Spoiled Children, Bates College (who managed to produce Bryant Gumbel), or Free Shoes/Seafood University.  Also, possibly a Gumper, a red-assed Aggie (a fine school but a weird cult), someone who always needs more cowbell or someone who thinks it perfectly normal to holler "Go Cocks" at a women's volleyball game.  Fear the wrong-shade-of-red vehicle driven by a Gopher (they elected Jesse Ventura as governor) or the swine worshiping fans of the team whose football coach once said, "Fayetteville isn't the end of the world.  But you can see it from here."


Candy apple red. A beautiful color for autos, trucks and Fender Stratocasters.

Metallic grey.  Avoid flat gray at all costs.  It is the color of death.  And Bondo.

No shade of brown, paprika, copper, bronze or pumpkin is approved.  David Fisher had a poop brown ex-government vehicle and the tales of idiocy from that four-door death machine are legendary.

The vehicle below is an example of an unapproved hue and therefore likely driven by an idiot.

This has been determined by the International Proper External Car Authority on Color. Better known as IPECAC.  Any unauthorized vehicle color will induce vomiting.

The are only a few exceptions.

First is the Jeep.  After all, it began as a General Purpose (the origin of the word jeep) military vehicle in WWII.  The Jeep is allowed browns, greens and golds.

Corvettes are allowed Daytona yellow.

The VW Beetle is allowed Yellow Rush, so long as it is driven by a woman.  (BTW, slug bug!)

And classic and antique cars and trucks, let's say 1970 or earlier, can be any color they want.

I speak from personal experience.  I've driven a late 1968 navy blue Chevy Malibu (known as "The Blue Crap"), a classic copper 1970 Camaro, and a forest green Tahoe.  Some of the worst decisions in my life were made driving those vehicles.  I was at those times not playing with a full deck.

Especially the time Jim Bennett and I played fake chicken on Boulder Way at midnight to impress our dates only to find out we both forgot who was to pass on which side and we nearly bought it.  I can still hear the tires screeching and Mrs. Yohe bolting out her front door only to see it was me in my copper Camaro and Bennett in his bright orange Chevy.  It didn't take long for her to let my parents know that my friend and I were idiots.  And, she was right. (I think Mrs. Bennett was spared that news.)

3.  Watch Out for Trucks with Unsecured Loads

Gravel trucks, uncovered dump trucks, trucks pulling trailers with a load that looks like it could fall off.

If you see a college student driving a pickup on his way to his dorm with a crappy table and a floppy mattress in the back, stop.  The mattress is very likely to blow out.  I know mine did on the Atlanta Highway.

4.  Fear the Non-maintained Hooptie

If the car's paint job looks like the sweat-stained baseball cap of the coach of Grand Canyon University, how well do you think the brakes are maintained?  Or the steering mechanism?  Or the tires, transmission, turn signals, brake lights, headlights, backup lights or any of a thousand other parts that are necessary for a car to be safe on the road?

Chances are, they aren't maintained at all.

If the rear window is full of crap, so is the brain of the driver.

Watch out for the loblolly driving regularly on one, two three or four emergency spare tires.  They are meant to get you to a tire repair store, not across the country.

5.  Stay Alert for Situational Idiocy

High school drivers, especially on the first day of school, the last day of school, or their birthday.

Panic stricken drivers at airports.  Especially Monday mornings.

Out-of-state drivers.  Imagine the poor soul from a state with less than 750,000 people encountering the 405 at rush hour.

6.  Beware Muffy and Fifi

Their names are interchangeable.  So are their brains.  Except the dog wouldn't wear the stupid hat.

7.  Give Wide Berth to All Hat, No Cattle Pickup Drivers

Nobody would drive this thing but a pilgarlic spending his daddy's money.  He's an idiot for owning it.  And, he believes he's bullet proof.  

He likely also wears his baseball hat backwards, or worse, sideways.  And there's high likelihood he wears white sunglasses.  

Stay clear.  

8.  Steer Clear of Ridiculous After Market Parts

As Gabe Massimi said, they call them spoilers cause they spoil the looks of the car. I suspect this dimwit thinks his looks cool.  And, it accents his racing stripes and his spare tire.  

Dubs are generally stupid.  Dubs on a pickup are particularly stupid, and so will the driver be.

9.  Be Especially Careful of the Combo Platter

Little one, quite often you will see more than one of these warning signs in one vehicle.

There are many more lessons that you'll have to learn on your own.  But if you start with a healthy distrust in every driver and vehicle around you, you will be way ahead.

Love you.  Be safe.  Drive happy.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dear Jihadi John

Dear "Jihadi John",

Sir, this is a love letter.

We in the "West" would call this a tough love letter.  But it is born out of love.

If your name is Mohammed Emwazi, as is now widely reported, then please allow me to address you as Mohammed.  "Jihadi John" is a media-created and crass way to de-personalize whoever you are.

Sir, you must be congratulated for accomplishing some significant personal goals.  You are now extremely well known.  And sadly, you are now perhaps the "most wanted" man on earth.

Your executions and your social media prowess have you in the gun sights of almost every country with a military capability on earth. 

If attention is what you've sought, you've got it.

Here's my question for you.

To what end?  If you are dead tomorrow, so what? 

You might die at any moment from a number of assailants.  The Jordanians, the Japanese, the Brits, the Americans, the Sauds and many others would like to see you dead. You have incensed all of them.

Your fellow ISIS/ISIL/Daesh compatriots might become jealous of your fame.  Watch your back.  And your front.

You are a dead man walking.

An American military man who spent much time in your current part of the world (not your West London upbringing), said this.  "If there is a single power the West underestimates, it is the power of collected hatred."

Having been raised and living in the "West", it is difficult to understand why.  We live in freedom.  We are free to speak, live, love, worship, contribute, play and go about life as we wish.

Apparently, this lifestyle offends you.

If you will, please allow me to offer a totally new thought on how to live and think that might free you from the certain death sentence that awaits you.

You are not the first or the most prolific terrorist against the "West" that has ever lived.  Nor are any of your compatriots.  And, you never will be.

Here are just a few folks to keep in mind.

The Romans.  (That didn't end well for them.)

The Nazis.  (That didn't end well for them.)

The Soviet Union (That didn't end well for them.  And it won't end well for Putin.)

Mohammed, freedom and love are what ends well.

 I have no idea if you've ever read the Holy Bible.  But, there's a story in there you ought to know about.

Saul of Tarsus (still a thriving city in Turkey), was a devout Jew.  He thought that the Jewish tradition was the only way.  He heard of the uprising of followers of Jesus.  He decided to become the pre-emenint  enemy of the followers of Christ.  He jailed them.  He persecuted them.  He thought he was on the high road.  He was enjoying his infamy.

One day, on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, in person. 

Saul was changed that day.

He went from being the enemy of freedom and love to become Paul, the pre-eminent teacher of freedom and love.

Mohammed,  you have a choice.

You can die a small time martyr.

Or, you could lead your people out of darkness.

I implore you to study the life of Paul and the teachings of Jesus.

Hate will never conquer.  Only love can conquer all. 

Mohammed, I've lost a 26 year old son due to hate.

I pray for you an opportunity to change your world.

I love you, son.  I don't know how often you've heard that. I am a father.  I am a Christian.  I hurt for you. 

I can't comprehend what lead you to this life.  But, I can promise you that you can change your current and future.  And, a better way awaits you.

I know that on your current course, destruction awaits you.  But, I also know that redemption and knowing that you are loved unconditionally is a real and present opportunity.

Please, put down your dukes.

Know that love is all around if you will accept it.

God is love.  

Alan Burks

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What a photograph can reveal

Last Monday afternoon, something evil this way came into my intestines.

I assumed it was a 24 hour virus.  

By Thursday, all my Wikipedia research indicated the rumbling down below could no longer be assumed to be the Norovirus.

Twenty years ago, I was fortunate to become the patient of a physician that I liked then and trust and respect even more after all these years.  Dr. Paul Sokal.  

Thankfully, the good doctor was in Thursday afternoon.

After a few minutes of questions and examination, Dr. Sokal determined I had a bacterial infection, i.e. food poisoning.  (I swear to never eat at a NASCAR event again.)  A few days of antibiotics, and I would be good to go.

Once the exam was over, Dr. Sokal said that he wanted to show me a photograph he had taken.

I knew that years back he had given up on golf and taken up photography.  It made going to the doctor's office fun to see his new work on the wall on each visit.  Beautiful images from exotic locations, junkyards, the Calatrava bridge. New work from a recent trip to Lake Tahoe graced this exam room.

 "I think this may be the best photograph I've shot yet.  But given the nature of the image, and how you feel today, I hesitate to show it to you.  Probably better on your next visit."

"No, no.  Please show it to me.  I'm ok."

 So, he opened his computer, and this is the photograph.

"Alan, my dad was an Army veteran.  He is buried in Arlington National.  I'll never forget his ceremony.  The folding of the flag was an image I'll never forget.  You could have bounced quarters off the flag when the honor guard pulled it taut before they began to fold it.  

Thinking of him, I went to Dallas National to look around.  That's when I saw this image and captured it.  

And now, I wanted to ask your help.  I know you have suffered in this same way.  I'm determined to find the family of CPL Peter Courcy, but I don't have any idea where to begin.  If it I'm not asking too much, I was wondering if you could give this some thought and advise me where I might begin my search to find them."

I got goosebumps.  

"I know CPL Courcy's family.  I can put you in touch with them today.  Look, here's his mom's Facebook page.  We're friends.  She has a very similar photo on there.  What a wonderful day this is, Paul.  You didn't upset me at all.  Today is my Pete's birthday, and you just gave me a wonderful gift."

Then he got goosebumps.  

Now, I know why I got the yuk.

Now, I know more about Paul Sokal.

Now, I can see his father's ceremony.

Now, Paul Sokal knows the family of Peter Courcy.

Now, I see again the importance of the monuments we build to fallen heroes.

Now, I see more clearly the arc of miracles.  

Amazing what one photograph can reveal.