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Sample from
Out on a Whim


Flammable Household Appliances (and Other Combustible Close Calls)

Twenty-five years ago a guy named Jerry taught me that the secret to really great barbecued food is simply this: Never clean the grill.

“Honest,” he said as he observed my wrinkled brow. “The flavor builds up on the metal, and as a bonus you get to avoid the messy job of getting all that grease off the grill.”

You’ll never read this helpful tip in Better Homes & Gardens magazine. But I have been following Jerry’s advice for more than two decades now, and I can personally attest to the fact that not cleaning the grill takes a lot less time than cleaning the grill. However, my grill has developed a nasty habit of erupting into flames moments after I ignite the propane. (Oddly, Jerry always seemed to have this problem as well.)

On one occasion, my neighbors called the fire department to report that a flaming meteorite had apparently crashed into the Meurer’s backyard—smack into a pile of pork ribs.

Many forest fires emit less smoke than my barbecue grill. Hostile researchers have begun to blame me for global warming.

“Why don’t you just clean it sometime?!!” Dale shouted one day above the roar of the flames as I sprayed water on the bellowing conflagration.

“You lose the flavor!” I called back to her through the smoke.

Confession time: for many years now, I have suspected that Jerry was wrong. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I am certain he was wrong. I think he was just looking for a minimally plausible reason to get out of cleaning a sooty, greasy grill. But because he gave me a reasonably decent excuse to avoid a task I’d prefer to avoid anyway, I have been clutching to his words like barnacles seize to the bottom of a boat.

Isn’t it amazing how we will kid ourselves, and even outright lie to ourselves, to have our own way?

Sometimes it starts out as wishful thinking—“Hey, it could be true”—but even when we suspect that the facts are otherwise, we often continue to believe what we want to believe. And we don’t just do this about fairly inconsequential issues like scrubbing a grill. Against a mountain of evidence to the contrary, we often hold on to all kinds of myths, because the myths frequently require less from us than the truth.

I recently heard a caller on a radio talk show who was hopping mad when she discovered that her son had been smoking pot with a friend for months in the friend’s house.

“Where were the friend’s parents?” asked the talk show host.

“Upstairs,” replied the unamused mom. “They said they had no idea.”

“They didn’t want to know,” replied the host.

And that is probably the case. For crying out loud, even Helen Keller would have at least smelled the stuff wafting up the stairs.

Parents lie to themselves about their kids because the truth is much more burdensome to deal with. Who needs the hassle of reality when denial is as close as the TV remote control or a cold beer in the fridge?

Wives will lie to themselves about their alcoholic husbands, and husbands will do the same about their wives’ excessive use of diet pills. Church people will lie to themselves about the multiple signs that their pastor is unfaithful to his wife. We’ll even lie to ourselves about our favorite president, because we want the myth of leadership if we can’t have the real thing.

Some of us have even been known to lie to ourselves about physics.

A few years ago, after procrastinating for weeks, I finally reached the last valid day of my burn permit for leaves and branches and assorted garden debris. I was raking and piling everything into a huge mound when I noticed ominous clouds moving in. It was looking suspiciously like rain. I was piling on the last few branches when a drop of water hit my nose.

The race was on.

I dashed to the garage to grab the bottle of charcoal lighter fluid and found it was virtually empty. DRAT!

I looked wildly around as the telltale tapping of rain sounded on the roof of the garage. The only flammable substance I could find was gasoline.

I grabbed the gas can and matches and ran toward the burn pile, but even as I ran I had a distinct recollection of my sixth grade science teacher telling us that gas fumes are heavier than air and they hug the ground as you fill up your car and that is why if someone tosses a cigarette down at a gas station the entire place could blow up.

“Fortunately, I don’t smoke,” I said to myself.

Plus, I would only use a little.

The rain increased.

Well, maybe just a quart.

I reasoned that I could dump the gasoline on the pile really fast, then stand waaaaay back before the fumes had time to spread out. It couldn’t be all that risky, and I needed to beat the rain before it really picked up or I would be stuck with the unsightly pile of debris until the next burn season.

So I doused the pile with gas, then stood back about eight feet and flicked a match.

If you have ever seen one of those old army films they made back in the 1950s when they still did above-ground nuclear bomb detonations, you’ll have a rough idea of what happened next, only with less radioactivity.

The flames roared outward with a huge “FOOOMP,” hugging the ground and surrounding me in vivid orange heat. The hair on my arms curled up and disappeared. Before I could even take a step back, the air rushed back into the pile and sucked burning leaves into the rising column of flames.

Quickly recovering my wits, I managed to stand there and shriek, “GAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!”

Dale took the matches away from me for an entire year.

Petty retaliation is so unbecoming to women. As if the loss of my eyebrows wasn’t punishment enough. For weeks concerned strangers in store aisles looked at me with the same pity they showed to chemotherapy patients.

The really terrible thing about this incident was that deep down I knew it was inherently dangerous. Assuring yourself, “Oh, it’ll be OK,” does not quite rise to the level of peer-reviewed science.

Reality is not dictated by what we wish were true.

Jesus once said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Fundamentally He was speaking about spiritual truth and specifically about the freedom that comes from knowing Him for who He really is. But I think His words have a broader application to all aspects of our life.

Quite simply, we need to look the truth in the face and believe it, no matter how unwelcome it may be. Jesus never said the truth would be easy, only liberating. Truth is often difficult, awkward, inconvenient, and demanding. But it is still the truth.

Any counselor or psychiatrist worth his degree will tell you that much mental illness, self-destructive behavior, and even uncontrolled flames stem from people trying to avoid the truth.

So let us embrace the truth, whatever the cost.

For some of us, that resolution will mean cleaning the barbecue grill for the first time since our national bicentennial. It could also mean a painful conversation with a loved one. It could mean a brutally honest confession to God. But in every case, it ultimately means freedom.

Study Guide Questions

1. Yes, my eyebrows have grown back.

2. Have you ever done something that stupid with flames? Discuss in your small group and invite your children to listen.

3. I recently read a newspaper account about a guy who used gasoline in an attempt to “restart” the embers in his wood stove. I think the fire department was able to salvage at least part of his home. On the downside, I believe his wife also took away his match privileges. What is it about women that makes them so uptight about these little learning episodes?

4. Do you ever find yourself deliberately avoiding any unpleasant truths?


Excerpted from:
Out on a Whim: A Somewhat Useful Guide to Marriage, Family, Culture, God and Flammable Household Appliances by Dave Meurer
Copyright � 2001, Dave Meurer
ISBN: 0764225456
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited