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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day Verse

A poignant, touching original verse in honor of Father's Day 
by  J.E. Hopkins 

P is for the Patience youse had when I did dumb stuff
O is for the Offerin’ of time youse made in my life
P (again) is for Passin’ the Skills of being an adal..adol… a Grown-up to me
S is for the Smarts needed to raise a bunch of kids

you are Tops!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A New Clean, Well-lighted Place

Hemingway had his clean, well-lighted place; a small cozy bistro tucked away in post-WWI Paris. He wrote at length extolling the coziness, the quaintness, and the inspirational merits of the café.

(If the reader is not familiar with “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” of Hemingway’s I would suggest borrowing it from the library or purchasing from a bookstore (you know, those buildings with all the books inside), and acquainting one’s self with Ernest and his times.)

However, my Lovely Bride and I have discovered a far cleaner, well-lighted and affable place in post Great Recession Cleveland. Tucked away in the former warehouse district, on a bluff above the gritty Cuyahoga River is one of our favorite places.

A warm spring evening finds the restaurant/café bustling with activity, nearly every table filled with diners although it was close to 9 o’clock.

It was quite by accident we stumbled upon this jewel one Saturday. We had spent the better part of the afternoon traveling back in time at the Western Reserve Historical Society museum, another bright spot of Northeast Ohio.

Upon leaving, we were desirous of having dinner. While there is certainly no end to excellent local dining places in and around the University Circle area, LB had a yearning for some Greek food.

We set off on a tour of the newly revamped Euclid Avenue, past some not-so-great areas, through the CSU campus, and toward Public Square. As for myself, my stomach was not quite as discriminating as LB’s, and was ready to take a stab at the BB-Q joints, burger places, and soul food emporiums we cruised past.

Undeterred in her quest, she was following the Apostle Paul’s advice, pressing onward toward the mark. Albeit, he was illustrating a far more lofty quest than a dinner of moussaka. 

We wended our way around a Public Square under renovation, past the Society for Savings bank building, tipped our figurative hats to the Old Stone Church, and found the corner which once was home to John Q’s Public House was now vacant.

With that uniquely American bent, we continued onward; Westward, ever Westward. I was beginning to become anxious, as the Great Divide of the Cuyahoga River was fast approaching. Neither of us had passports or visas with us. The Point of No Return loomed.

For those not familiar with the Greater Cleveland area, it is unique in many, many ways. Unique in its founding, not as a trading post done good, not as a strategic military location which kept on growing, nor a spot where a broken down prospector, withdrawing his pick from the soil, spots a glitter, shouts “Eureka!” and overnight, a flood of treasure seekers has arrived.

No, Cleveland was begun as a profit making real-estate venture. Moses Cleaveland, the founder and namesake of the city, had been hired by the Connecticut Land Company to map and plat the lands of the Western Reserve.

The Western Reserve was land set-aside for the survivors of England’s scorched earth policy in Connecticut during our Revolutionary War; giving those families who had lost their farms, businesses, homes, etc  the opportunity for a fresh start in the newly opened Ohio Territory.

The Connecticut Land Company was established for the purpose of selling tracts of land to those people who were not entitled to a land-grant.

A natural barrier between the two sides of Cleveland (in fact, the west bank was called Ohio City, a name which lives in describing the area which had long ago been annexed) is the Cuyahoga. Although bridges now span its width, the river (or The River, as it is referred to) is a cultural and psychological barrier as well.  The old stigma of being “a Westsider” or an “Eastsider” has begun to fade, although vestiges still remain.

Hence, one can now appreciate my anxiety. In desperation, we turned down a narrow little street, popping out on West Ninth Street. We spot an eatery on a corner, and resignedly opt to go there. I was at the point of considering boiling the seat-belt for nourishment.  Then, with a shaft of light streaming from the heavens, the haunting tones of an angelic chorus, we saw IT.

A sign,  high above: “Santorini  Greek Taverna”.

We entered into one of the best kept secrets in town. Greeted by a cheerful young lady, we were shown to our table.  A plate of olives and pita was placed before us. We were treated like family who had not been seen for some time. Explaining to Alexis, our server that I am Irish, so I need some help with anything beyond potatoes, she gladly described the many wonderful selections.

The fragrances from the open kitchen area filled the place. With a shout of “Oompa!” a near-by table was enthralled with the presentation of Saganaki, a flaming Greek cheese appetizer.  Trays of youvetsi,  pork souvlaki, and so much more were carried past; invoking an “Ooo, what is that?” reaction.

Finally, we settled upon our meal; which I cannot recall the exact constituents. It was excellent, however.  
We also were treated to their version of baklava, the classic Greek dessert. Typically, I am not a huge fan of this sticky, gooey, flaky pastry. However, the spin (not going to tell you, you have to check it out for yourself) put on by Santorini’s is outstanding!

We departed, feeling quite pleased.

So it was, we found ourselves on a warm spring evening (see The Schmooze, May, 2013) entering the door of our new favorite place. Being a busy Friday, we thought we would simply meld into the background; just another couple at a two-top table.

We were wrong as the greeter remembered us, Alexis greeted us with a smile (actually LB got a hug); we were astounded. As we were enjoying our light repast, Gus Karakostas, the owner spotted us. Making a bee-line for our table, we were warmly greeted. Again, LB received a hug (what is up with that?) and I received a hardy hand-shake, which was fine with me… that whole guys-hugging-thing… a generational thing…you know.

Finally, we made our departure, Gus joining us at the door.  Stepping onto the sidewalk, the alfresco café tables filled, the happy sounds of conversation and laughter filling our ears; we knew we would be back.
So, Ernest, you can have your clean, well-lighted place. I am sure it is quite nice. But, give me Santorini’s in tough, won’t-stay-down Cleveland any day.

*NOTE: the writer of this column has received NO remuneration or consideration in any form. I do believe in sharing some of the positive experiences LB and I have.*

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Theological Debate Overheard

In our home, the radio is on from early morning until late at night. Ninety-nine and seven-tenths  out of 100, it is tuned to Cleveland’s Moody Broadcasting affiliate. 

This has been the case now for well over two decades. Once in a while (usually during absences by my Lovely Bride) the tuner finds itself on the local jazz station. Sometimes, once in a very blue moon, the local country station fills the room.

But, by and large, it is Moody Broadcasting.

As a result, I overheard the most amazing conversation the other night.

It was storming, with lightning reflecting off the bedroom walls, peals of thunder rattling the window-frame, and torrents of wind propelled rain peppering the siding. I lay there awake, wrestling with the blankets when I heard it.

From the kitchen, Ike’s youthful canine voice raised the question:

 “Mimi, what do you think of Grace? Is it provisional, or un-conditional?”

Shaking my head to clear the cobwebs, I heard Mimi reply, even as she lay between LB and me;

 “Ike, Ike, Ike… how many times are we going to go over this? Grace is unmerited. No one can earn it. Look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 6; “For by Grace are you saved, not of works.”

“I know salvation is not works based… but what are the limits of Grace?”

“Ike, how can Someone as limitless as God place a limit upon one of His most fundamental virtues?”

“Why do you have to answer a question with a question?”

“Do I do that?”

“Yes, and it drives me nuts!  Now back to Grace. So, you are saying God’s Grace is limitless. Now, what if we extrapolate that to followers of Christ, can they, do they, have unlimited Grace?”

It began to dawn on me, that after nearly a dozen years of listening to the radio, Mimi has a very solid grasp of theology and doctrine! In fact, she could give most ministers a run for their money; with the possible exceptions of Erwin Lutzer, C.S. Lewis or the Rev. Dr. David Welle. The more I listened, I began to see she holds to a “Calvinian” belief; Calvinist, with overtones of Arminianism.

She cleared her throat, took a deep breath, sighed and replied.

 “You are asking a question with several prongs. As I see it, the first is ‘Can followers have unlimited Grace’, the second is ‘Do followers have unlimited Grace.’ As you are aware, there is a gulf of difference between ‘can’ and ‘have’.”

“Yeah, yeah…I get all that. What do you think?”

“Let’s take a look at some Biblical examples, shall we? Perhaps one of the earliest, and most poignant, examples of Grace being extended by one of Christ followers is the stoning of Stephen. While the hatred of the mob washed over him like a wave, the stones breaking his bones, splitting his skin; yet Stephen implored the Lord to not hold his murder to the account of the ones stoning him. That, my little friend is unlimited Grace exemplified.”

“Yes, I recall hearing about Stephen the other day.” Ike proclaimed.

I sat up, eyes wide, staring at the little brindle dog lying there. “How is she doing that?” I wondered. Tentatively, I reached toward LB’s shoulder; she has to hear this.

“Another example of unlimited Grace is that of Ananias, in Acts chapter 9. Here we see not only Grace being exercised, but also Obedience to God; despite the possibility of great physical harm. Here, God called him, a believer, to seek out the feared Saul of Tarsus; the Persecutor of the Church. Yet, he believed God. Through Grace, with Obedience, he extended his hands, touched Saul’s blinded eyes, and prayed for healing, and an in-filling of the Holy Spirit, upon Saul.”

“Okay, I see. Do you think believers of today have the same capabilities?”

“Again, the ultimate answer lies within Scripture. The writer of Hebrews…”

“Wasn’t it Paul?”

My hand stopped mere inches from LB’s shoulder! I wanted to awaken her, yet I feared the disturbance would slam the door shut on what I was experiencing. I thought back upon anything I may have eaten or drank before bed-time. Nothing, not a thing I could recall. A crash of thunder shook the very walls of our home. The trees beyond the window thrashed as if crazed, caught in an unfettered dance with the wind.

“No, there is no certainty Paul wrote Hebrews. For one, he was not ashamed to announce he was the writer of his known epistles, unlike the anonymity of this letter. Secondly, the sentence structure and syntax do not conform to other Pauline examples. As I was about to say, though, Hebrews 13:8 states “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”, which underscores that He is unchanging. Therefore, if He is unchanging, his Grace is the same today as it was to Ananias two thousand years ago.”

“Whew… that is good to know.”

“Why do you ask such deep questions so late at night, little buddy?”, Mimi asked.

“Well, you know that blue-green carnival glass fruit bowl on the kitchen table?”

“Of course I do. That has been in the family’s household since the 1970s. Every dog that has been privileged to be part of this family knows that bowl.”


“ ‘Un-huh’ what, Ike?”

“Well, do you remember that one really, really, really loud clap of thunder?”

“Vaguely, I sleep pretty soundly at my age, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t. I jumped up, bumped the table and, well….”

“Oh no, Ike! You didn’t.”

“I think I did. Nothing went crash, but I have a smorgasbord of apples and bananas down here.”

“Oh my… oh my, I will be praying for you, little man. I hope that Puppy-cuteness still works for you.”

The next thing I recalled was the sound of a contemporary Christian song coming from the clock radio. 

Groggily, I pulled on my jeans, scooped up Mimi, headed down the stairs and outdoors. After her morning oblations were complete, I came into the kitchen to prepare their breakfasts.

There, safely on the table, the apples and bananas intact, was the bowl.

As I turned to get the dog-food from the refrigerator (LB cooks her own food for them), I could have sworn I heard Ike humming “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”