xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: February 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

From Mockery to Marketing

February 25, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Who knew that reviews on Amazon.com could be so funny?

A friend of mine shared with me a listing on the popular cyber-shopping website for the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, a product whose complicated name belies an inanely simple function.  According to its description, the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer “Slice an entire banana with one quick motion.  Kids love slicing their own bananas.  Safer than a knife.” [1]

Sidestepping for a moment the hilarity of juxtaposing this product’s hi-tech name with its low-tech functionality, we get to the real laughs when it comes to the 3,075 mock “reviews” from people who claim life altering experiences with this invention.

March 3, 2011:   No more winning for you, Mr. Banana!
For decades I have been trying to come up with an ideal way to slice a banana. "Use a knife!" they say. Well...my parole officer won't allow me to be around knives. "Shoot it with a gun!" Background check...HELLO! I had to resort to carefully attempt to slice those bananas with my bare hands.  Banana slicer...thanks to you, I see greatness on the horizon.

July 30, 2012:  Saved my marriage
What can I say about the 571B Banana Slicer that hasn't already been said about the wheel, penicillin, or the iPhone.... this is one of the greatest inventions of all time. My husband and I would argue constantly over who had to cut the day's banana slices. It's one of those chores NO ONE wants to do! You know, the old "I spent the entire day rearing OUR children, maybe YOU can pitch in a little and cut these bananas? … That's when I found the 571B Banana Slicer. Our marriage has never been healthier … THANKS 571B BANANA SLICER!

August 3, 2012:  GREAT gift
Once I figured out I had to peel the banana before using - it works much better.
Ordering one for my nephew who's in the air force in California. He's been using an old slinky to slice his bananas.  He should really enjoy this product!

August 10, 2012:  A Military Endorsement
I have served in the US Army for over 12 years. I can say that there is technology being used by the military that is rarely seen in the civilian sector. Once in a while, however, an amazing product is released by the DoD for civilian use. The 571B is one of those products. Although once called the M571B Tactical Banana Slicer (TBS)V1, they have declassified it for public use. I am glad to see this product on the market today but I will warn you now, this is a CIVILIAN model and not designed for field use!

September 24, 2012:  Such a time saver
No more throwing bananas at the ceiling fan for me! This product has saved me the work of peeling the banana slices off the wall after the fan slices them. Thanks, banana slicer!

And the list of laughs continues, 3,070 more times.  Thousands of people have taken the time to throw their own mockery into the mix, and it became one of last fall’s most popular internet memes. 

But here’s the kicker.  Sales for this silly little device have gone through the roof!  According to Businessweek.com, the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer rose to number two in overall sales in Amazon.com’s mandolin and slicer subcategory! [1]  Not bad for a tiny manufacturing company in Connecticut with a scant marketing budget!


As People Called Methodist, we have seen this kind of phenomenon before.  It’s in our heritage.  Back in nineteenth century England, a young Anglican priest named John Wesley began a reform movement within the Church of England by focusing on personal piety and social holiness.  He assembled a band of fellow Christians committed to living their lives with diligent, focused attention on the routines of daily discipleship.  They became so regimented in their day-to-day patterns of prayer, worship, Bible study, and service to the community that soon they garnered some unsavory attention from outsiders. 

There was no amazon.com comment section back then, but the mock reviews flowed in from the general public, who jabbed Wesley and his colleagues as being too “methodical.”  If the internet existed, it would have become a meme.  If there were Twitter, “Methodist” would have been trending.  Eventually, their comments went viral.

But, just like the Huntzler company that makes banana slicers, Wesley used the mockery to his advantage:

I say those who are called Methodists; for, let it be well observed, that this is not a name which they take to themselves, but one fixed upon them by way of reproach, without their approbation or consent. It was first given to three or four young men at Oxford, by a student of Christ Church; either in allusion to the ancient sect of Physicians so called, from their teaching, that almost all diseases might be cured by a specific method of diet and exercise, or from their observing a more regular method of study and behaviour than was usual with those of their age and station.

I should rejoice (so little ambitious am I to be at the head of any sect or party) if the very name might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion. But if that cannot be, at least let those who will use it, know the meaning of the word they use. Let us not always be fighting in the dark. Come, and let us look one another in the face. And perhaps some of you who hate what I am called, may love what I am by the grace of God; or rather, what "I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." 
(from The Character of a Methodist, 1782)  [3]

Isn’t that wonderful?  Our very name comes from Wesley’s clever twisting of a snide insult, flipping it into a marketing tool that the CEO of Huntzler could appreciate.  Rather than engage those who were attacking them at their level, he refused to “fight them in the dark,” and extracted from their barbs a way to reinforce “who he was by the grace of God:” a person of uncompromising commitment, passionate discipline, and patterned obedience to the way of Jesus.


That same “methodical” approach undergirds our current sermon series on tending the soul.  This Sunday, we will explore the discipline that is often the most overlooked and least understood.  Fasting, we will discover, is more than just refraining from food for a period of time.  It is a deeply intentional effort to recalibrate our attention and reset our daily rhythms around the mind and heart of Christ.

Perhaps no other spiritual discipline will return you to being methodical in your discipleship better than this one. 

So join us this Sunday as I share some theological and biblical insights into the discipline of fasting, along with some practical tips that are especially helpful for those who have never fasted before.  And I’ll even invite you to participate in a congregation-wide fasting experience next week.  This Lenten season may be the perfect time for you to try it for the first time. 

Together, let us “apprehend that for which also we are apprehended of Christ Jesus!”

Grace and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Hutzler-5717-571-Banana-Slicer/dp/B0047E0EII/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
[2] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-15/selling-banana-slicers-and-more-with-gag-reviews
[3] http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/Global-Worship-and-Spiritual-Growth/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/The-Character-of-a-Methodist


What is the status of the reconstruction?
There have been some significant developments in the last week in our negotiations with the insurance company, but the bottom line is that there is still about a $250,000 gap between the proposed settlement and the actual costs of reconstruction.

Why is there still such a gap?
What constitutes the largest part of the difference is not upgrades to the appliances, new decorative finishes, or any extra amenities we might add to the kitchen and dining hall.  Those costs are quite minimal relative to the overall project.  Instead, the difference lies in the costs needed to bring the areas up to state and local code requirements.  Those were identified last summer by our architect, who worked closely with state and local officials, and include the new exhaust hoods, fire rated doors, accessibility in the northeast stairwell from the sanctuary, and all requisite mechanical, plumbing, and infrastructural support.  To date, the insurance company is only offering $60,000 to cover those costs.

What are the significant developments from the past week?
Back in January, our insurance company brought in a third party appraiser that specializes in churches to determine what it would take to put the kitchen back to its prior condition.  That third party company is called Guide One Taylor Ball, and their representative spent three days over a period of a few weeks conducting their study.  Thanks to Don Witcombe, who spent over twenty hours working with him, Guide One identified about $40,000 of costs which our claims adjuster missed.  This past week, we received the latest settlement proposal from the insurance company, which accounted for that $40,000 increase.  However, the amount for code coverage was still only $60,000, with our adjuster claiming that our policy does not cover more than that amount for code items.

Can’t we move forward with the project without the hoods and changes to the stairwell, and look at overlooking some of these code requirements?
Now that these items have been identified based on due diligence conversations with state and local officials, we will not be able to later plead ignorance about those requirements, thereby putting ourselves at risk of serious penalties.  Also, since we were forced to switch to a new insurance company this past January 1, there is a strong likelihood that the new company will require us to make these code changes in the future anyway.

So, how are we moving forward?
Because we just received this settlement proposal last week, we have been in regular contact with the insurance company.  Magrey and lay leadership have been conversing with the claims adjuster on a daily basis, attempting to gain further information about their rational, along with explaining our position.  As we gain further clarity about the details of our situation, we will be able to determine the best path forward.  As always, if you have any questions, contact Don Witcombe (Trustees), John Cook (Finance), Gene Anderson, or Magrey.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What is the Soul?

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

In 1901, a scientist named Duncan MacDougall conducted an odd set of experiments to test an unusual question:  What is the weight of the human soul?

He monitored six patients, very close to death from a terminal case of tuberculosis, by placing them each on a giant scale.  Then, at the exact moment that they died, he noted the drop in their body weight, surmising that it was precisely then that their souls left their bodies.  He noted that, on average, the bodies dropped twenty-one grams when they died.

So his conclusion?  The human soul weighs exactly twenty-one grams.  [1]

Of course, MacDougall’s work has since been debunked as folly, but his inquiry follows a long line of historical pursuits on the nature of the human soul.  You may not have given the matter much thought, but if you really think about it, what do we mean when we talk about our souls?

The Bible certainly seems interested in the matter, as its pages teem with references to that mysterious part of our existence.  The Hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psyche, most often translated as soul, occur over eight hundred times throughout the Scriptures.  Our Christian conversations are inundated with its usage, with popular phrases like “Bless my soul,” “God rest his soul,” “Don’t tell a soul,” and “Bare my soul.”  Even John Wesley emphasized it, requiring that every class meeting of Methodists include the question, “How is it with your soul?” at its inception.

Clearly, a Methodist needs to know what a soul is in order to answer how the soul is doing.

So what do we talk about when we talk about the soul?  Our Western understanding comes primarily from Greek philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle.  Plato defined the soul as having three parts, fueling the three primary centers of our body:  the mind (intellect), the heart (emotion), and the gut (instinct and passion.)  The soul is greater and deeper than one’s thoughts, feelings, and instincts, for it gives life to all three.  Aristotle believed that the soul was not, as Duncan MacDougall surmised, separate from our material bodies.  Instead, it is the primary animating principle at work from the very first moment we are alive.

So, perhaps a suitable first part of a definition of the soul is that it is the source of our lives.

But there’s more.  As Christian people, we believe that our souls were given to us as gifts from God, breathed into us at the moment we were created.  As a result, the soul’s innate function is to draw us into a deeper relationship with God.  Just as the giver and receiver of a gift can become closer to one another after the gift is exchanged, God’s gift of our souls prompt us to long for that which is greater than ourselves.

That’s why so many of the Psalms that mention the soul do so with such a profound yearning for God.  “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs after You,” declares Psalm 42.  “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Hope in God and praise him, my Savior and my God,” says Psalm 43.  Even the great hymn “How Great Thou Art” speaks of a soul that reaches out to God.  “Then sings my soul / my Savior God, to Thee / How great Thou art.

So, here’s my own, personal, two-part definition of the soul: “The soul is the source of our lives that connects us to the Source of All Life.”

However, there is still one more important component.  In order for us to draw closer to God, back to the giver of the gift, and have an intimate connection between creatures and Creator, our souls need to be tended.  They need to be nurtured, cared for, and expressed, if they are to fulfill their purpose of drawing us to the Source of All Life.

That’s why we will be spending these weeks of Lent focusing on the sacred task of soul-tending.  Each Sunday, we will learn about different aspects of the soul, and experience an array of practical techniques designed to free our souls from the weighty encumbrances of sinful living, in order to point us toward the God who gave us life.  In doing so, we will follow Jesus to the cross, who said, rather plainly, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their souls (psyche) will lose them. But all who lose their souls because of me and because of the good news will save them.” (Mark 8:34-35)

Grace and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

[1] For this and other quirky stories of the human pursuit of the afterlife, I recommend Mary Roach’s delightful book Spook:  Science Tackles the Afterlife.

Tending the Soul
Principles and Practices for the Spiritual Life

February 24
“Be Still My Soul”
Stillness and Silence

March 3
“My Soul Looks Up to Thee”
Prayer and Fasting

March 10
“My Soul Longeth for Thee”
Scripture Reading and Study

March 17
Special Concert by
David and Judi Klee

March 24
“A Soul in Action”
Acts of Compassion and Justice

March 27
“Let This Cup Pass from Me”
Maundy Thursday Service

March 28
Good Friday Service

March 31
“A Soul Filled with Praise”
Easter Sunday