About Bill Burch

Theology literally means "words about God." The divine Word described in human words--heavenly treasure in jars of clay. Bill is a practical theologian sharing his worldview. To misquote Lucy van Pelt: "Theological help 5¢--the doctor is IN!" Bill serves as the senior pastor at Northside United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is married to Tracy who is a school teacher, and they have two adult children: Katie and Will. Their third "child" is a Yorkshire Terrier named Sam.

Thanksgiving in the South

Our community’s continued growth reflects the changing face of Georgia. Transplants from faraway places now call our state home. These newcomers represent a rich diversity of heritages, traditions, and cultures. However, they sometimes find Southern holiday customs perplexing. For those not blessed to be born and bred below the Mason-Dixon Line, I would like to offer this primer on celebrating Thanksgiving in the Deep South.

Thanksgiving Normal RockwellFirst and foremost, turkey is ALWAYS the main course at a Southern Thanksgiving feast. We hold no bias against the beef, fish, and pork food groups, but poultry reigns supreme on November’s fourth Thursday. We learned from our mothers who baked turkeys a golden brown, waiting until the surgically inserted, plastic pop-up button indicated the proper degree of doneness.

Frying the bird in peanut oil provides an acceptable alternative, although many a good ole’ boy bears the proud grease scars of holidays past. In more recent days, slow smoking a turkey over a grill has also gained in popularity and acceptance.

Real Southerners serve DRESSING with their turkey entrees. Crumble together a few pones of cornbread with onions, shortening, spices, and salt. Then bake in the oven until the grease bubbles and the top turns a crusty brown.

Let me be clear on this point: stuffing is something put in a pillow! Why would anyone cook a side dish in the backside of a turkey? Think about it. If you must put something inside the bird’s body, place a few scoops of Crisco into the cavity.

Turkey and dressing require a heaping helping of artery-clogging giblet gravy. Giblets resemble sausage and pork rinds—you will enjoy them more if you remain uncertain of their origins. Find the plastic packet of unidentifiable bird parts and cook them until tender. Combine the innards with roasting pan broth and Martha White flour. Simmer until a spoon stands straight up in the mixture. Then pour the concoction liberally over everything on your plate.

A standard side dish at Southern Thanksgivings is sweet potato casserole. If you cannot find the orange vegetable in the grocery aisle, yams form a viable alternative. Cream the cans’ contents with brown sugar and butter. Then cover the soufflé with a marshmallow blanket. I personally prefer small marshmallows but their bigger brothers serve equally well.

No Thanksgiving repast is complete without cranberry sauce. It provides a festive color and piquant flavor. REAL cranberry sauce comes in a jellied cylindrical shape with the can ridges still imprinted upon its side. Simply slice the jiggling mass into quarter inch thick slabs. I knew a woman with no raising who once served real cranberries combined with some other fruits and nuts. I just shook my head and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Southern hospitality dictates a hostess provide bread for the post-dinner rite of plate-sopping. Any bread will do, but the bake-and-serve rolls with the four ridges on top remain the norm. Classy homes also provide real butter. Serving the spread in its original foil wrapper on a dinner plate is acceptable table manners.

The feast concludes with a multiple choice selection of desserts. True Southerners consume at least one slice of pecan pie along with other cakes and sweets. We save pumpkin pie for Yankees and other foreigners. The entire dinner is washed down with sweet iced tea. (If you have to SAY “sweet” or “iced” tea, then you’re not in the South.)

After dinner, good manners dictate one loosens a belt two notches before sinking comatose into an easy chair. Most men “watch” the football game while taking a long nap.  Later in the day, leftovers can be consumed to fill up any empty corners.

And finally, before, during, and after the meal, do not forget the real reason for the day. On this uniquely American and Christian holiday, give thanks to God for the many blessings of life—including the grace to celebrate Thanksgiving in the South!

 

 

 

 

DDS: ATL

FILL IN THE BLANK with your favorite Department of Driver Services’ horror story.

ddsWe’ve all heard and told them. The plots feature faceless bureaucracies, prison-grey facilities, long lines, sullen clerks, indecipherable instructions, and gleeful denials. A trip to the DDS office competes with a tax audit, root canal, kidney stones, back spasms, and an in-law visit.

However, my wife and I recently moved to Atlanta; and our motor vehicles expired on our upcoming birthdays.

To add insult to injury, the state required us to physically visit a office to obtain a new Secure ID driver license. This involves presenting several forms of personal identification that include a birth certificate, Social Security Card, passport, utility bill, or bank statement. I halfway expected someone to demand a DNA sample, pint of blood, and retinal scan as well.

With fear and trembling, we planned a visit to DDS Land. We arrived at the downtown Atlanta location at 400 Whitehall Street SW a bit early. The new facility featured a gated, well lit parking lot. A typical assortment of humanity waited in line for the 7:30 a.m. opening.

At 7:30 on the dot, the doors opened and a security guard cheerfully welcomed each patron. Since we had completed our forms online, a young lady helpfully directed us to a kiosk where pushing a few screens generated a number in line.

My bottom barely touched the chair before an electronic voice called B-104 to Station 15. I walked warily up to the counter where a clerk named Pamela greeted me with a smile.

Following a review of my paperwork, she clicked a few buttons, checked my eyesight, and asked me to smile for the camera. After swiping my credit card, I received a temporary license and . . . I WAS DONE.

Total time in the DDS: 15 minutes start to finish!

To recap: secure parking, new facility, cheerful security guard, helpful attendant, professional clerk, efficient process, and happy clients.

Maybe others have DDS horror stories to tell. However, my fairy tale visit began: Once upon a time; and it ended: And they lived happily ever after.

The Five Senses of Fall

Sights of fall:  

Burning bushes ablaze with God’s glory. Pomegranate sunsets painting a western sky. Harvest moon slinging a scythe through sheaves of stars. Orange light dancing in hollow-eyed pumpkins. First leaves falling, fluttering, flipping, flopping. Smoky breath steaming in the morning chill. Frost glazed windows heralding winter’s advent. Thanksgiving tables boasting divine bounty.

Sounds of fall:

Crisp, crunching, cackling, crackling leaves underfoot. Raucous honks of southbound geese. Pitter-patter of oaks shedding their acorn burdens. Fussy, chattering squirrels scampering up trees, burying nuts, and insulating winter’s nests. Ding-dong of doorbells and Trick-or-Treats of costumed children. Swish-swish whispers of corduroy pants. Fingernail-on-the-chalkboard scratching of scrapers on ice-blinded windshields.

Smells of fall:

Wisps of smoldering leaves wafting along the biting breeze. Vegetable soup bubbling and boiling on the stove. The arid smell of burnt dust as heaters awake from hibernation. Chimney smoke’s hickory and oak scented breath. Hot apple cider stirred with cinnamon sticks held close to the face. Aching lungs drawing great draughts of chilled air.

Feelings of fall:

Sweater weather mornings and shirtsleeve afternoons. Crisp, cool sheets of bedtime. Snuggling deep under cozy quilts. Cold tile shocking bare feet. Squishy, squashy, stringy, slippery pumpkin guts sliding between children’s fingers. Slick feel of early Christmas catalogs filling the mailbox.

Tastes of fall:

The crisp crunch of Red Delicious apples. Carnival cotton candy and corn dogs. Buttered, salted, toasted pecans. Fried peach pies piping hot from the stove. First-cold-snap chili, spicy and steamy. Hot cocoa with a whipped cream cap. Turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato soufflé, and pecan pies. Muscadines fermented by sunshine and aged on the vine.

During this fall season, see, hear, smell, touch, and taste that the Lord is good!

A Walk around the Block

During my bulletproof youth, I enjoyed an occasional shot of adrenaline. I tried rappelling, spelunking, SCUBA diving, skydiving, water skiing, snow skiing, and more. However, none of these past pursuits prepared me for the death-defying-act of a casual stroll in Buckhead.

My back and knees convinced me years ago to abandon jogging; but I still enjoy a fast-paced walk around the block. However, unwary pedestrians in our neighborhood risk life and limb.

We live on West Wesley Street which serves as an East-West corridor between Peachtree and Northside. If the City of Atlanta ever needs additional funds, a steady source of revenue could be collected on our road by a traffic officer with a radar gun.

At the top of the hill, West Wesley intersects Northside Drive. NASCAR racers qualify for pole positions on Northside. Squeezing three lanes into a two lane road also insures cars swoosh by inches from pedestrians. Frogger

Kingswood turns in front of Northside Church and offers a welcome respite from the traffic. However, the sidewalk peters out past the parking deck, forcing walkers to play a game of “Frogger” with cars topping the hill.

Normandy makes up the fourth side of the block with no sidewalks on either side of the road. Motorists launch themselves from the speed-humps like the Duke Boys in Hazard County.

One memorable day a driver actually put her car in REVERSE and almost backed over me at the corner of Normandy and West Wesley. I’m glad to report that the preacher did NOT cuss. Oh, I WANTED to cuss! However, the near-death experience left me breathless.

Physicians say cardiovascular exercise is good for the heart, but they’ve never walked around my block. Watching TV while eating a bag of potato chips chased by a bowl of ice cream just might be better for my health!

Life goes by too fast as it is, so SLOW DOWN.

The life you save just might be your preacher’s.

 

Wear Sunscreen

Sun Tan OilMy generation grew up with a reckless disregard of ultraviolet radiation. Far from avoiding sunshine, we basked in it. TV commercials promoted sun tan oils guaranteed to give a deeper, darker tan. Sun worshippers basted their bodies in baby oil and baked until well-done.

In an era before sunblock and UPF ratings, we considered sunburns a normal part of outdoor life. Every summer I burned at the ballpark, pool, and beach until my skin slowly peeled and then browned under the southern sun.

Now I’m paying for the sins of my youth.

I recently asked my dermatologist to check a small blemish on my face. She quickly identified half a dozen areas that needed attention. Pulling out an appliance that looked suspiciously like a paint sprayer, she spurted frozen nitrogen liberally over my cheekbones and one unwary eyebrow.

I left the office looking like an accident victim. The freeze-dried skin reddened and swelled (swoll . . . swolled up . . . swelleder?). After the doctor’s appointment, I made a hospital visit and several nurses tried to admit me!

Over time my skin healed and the blemishes disappeared. However, the dermatologist says people my age need an annual exam.

People my age . . . .

I’ve never been people my age before. People my age have always been OLDER. And now so am I.

So if I have any advice to offer the younger generation, then it is this:

Play outside.

But wear sunscreen.

And a hat.

Someday, you will be people my age, too!

A Time for Everything, Part 2

Ecclesiastess 3 BThe third chapter of Ecclesiastes declares: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. The author then lists fourteen pairs of diametrically opposed activities. Examples include: A time to live and die, plant and uproot, weep and laugh, mourn and dance, scatter and gather, and tear and mend.

The Preacher’s words inspired a list of my own which I have shared over the past two weeks.

There is a time to turn off your cell phone. Turn off your cell phone in a restaurant. Turn off your cell phone in church. Turn off your cell phone in a hospital. Turn off your cell phone during a funeral. (True story—I attended a funeral where a person ANSWERED his cell phone during the service!)

There is a time to call another person’s phone. Call after 8:00 a.m. Call before 9:00 p.m. Don’t call during mealtime. Any questions?

There’s a time to text. Don’t text and drive. Don’t text while others are speaking to you—or you to them. Don’t text on a date. Don’t text when you are with real people beside you. Don’t text during a sermon! 🙂

There’s a time to turn off the TV. Turn off the TV when a family member wants to talk. Turn off the TV when company visits. Turn off the TV during meal time. Turn off the TV when nothing worth watching is on—which is most of the time.

There’s a time to be intolerant. Don’t tolerate bigotry. Don’t tolerate misogyny. Don’t tolerate child abuse. Don’t tolerate mediocrity. Don’t tolerate intolerance.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. And the time is now.

A Time for Everything, Part 1

Ecclesiastes 3The third chapter of Ecclesiastes declares: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. The author then lists fourteen pairs of diametrically opposed activities. Examples include: A time to live and die, plant and uproot, weep and laugh, mourn and dance, scatter and gather, and tear and mend.

The Preacher’s words inspired a list of my own which I will share over the next two weeks.

There is a time to stand up. Stand up when the National Anthem plays. Stand up when a lady or older person enters the room. Stand up when the family processes and recesses during a funeral. Stand up during the playing of Taps at a graveside—and put your right hand over your heart.

There is a time to take off your baseball cap. Take off your hat during The Star Spangled Banner. Take off your hat during prayer. Take off your hat as a funeral procession passes. Take off your hat at the dinner table. Call me old-school but take off your hat when you go inside.

There is a time to shut up. Ecclesiastes states this more tactfully by saying There’s a time to remain silent. I prefer to be more direct. Shut up when someone else is talking. Shut up at the theater. Shut up when a family member or friend is speaking on the phone.

There is a time to let go. Let go of a grudge. Let go of an addiction. Let go of hurtful words. Let go of harmful deeds. Let go of past failures. Let go of future worries. Let go and let God.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. And the time is now.