Monday, June 29, 2009

What I saw in Vegas

Last week, I was in Las Vegas on business. Given the downturn in the economy, we were able to stay on the Strip for $45 a night, which is convenient for walking to various attractions and restaurants. I was able to enjoy the show of the fountains at the Bellagio, and though I was not able to see the art gallery, I had a pleasant enough evening.

There were the normal things you find on the Strip in Vegas - the people handing out explicit cards promising "Girls to you in minutes," some men sitting on the sidewalk with a cup in front of them for money, men selling "ice cold water, one dollar" from coolers along the sidewalk, and lots of tourists.

But the things that sticks with me the most is a scene and an image from my last morning there, as we were preparing to leave the hotel. As I waited in a chair by the elevators, a couple coworkers came up, and I asked how they were that morning. "Oh, fine - just been watching the hookers." I hadn't been paying much attention, but there were a few women in suggestive clothing wandering around the casino floor, which was largely empty that early in the morning.

When I went over to get a warm drink from the coffee shop, I was able to get a look at the woman who had propositioned my coworker, and it was that look that sticks with me. There was a rather young woman hunched over the bar, looking tired in every sense of the word. According to my coworker, she had a number of bruises on the outside of one arm, suggesting that she's been a victim of violence before, though I was too far away to see that.

I can't really capture in words how sad a picture this lady painted for me. I don't know her story - what brought her to the place she was at. I think hearing such a story would probably break anyone's heart.

And what it drives home to me is this: Jesus was a friend to the tax collectors and sinners. Here is a woman who society regards as inhuman - an object at best and a problem to be solved at worst. To see someone who embodies utter tiredness is to know the offer Jesus makes when he says "come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest."

And it reminded me of this - that God's kingdom is one in which the people you normally honor are ignored, and the people you normally ignore are honored. It can even happen within a church, where the pastor becomes the local celebrity, while someone sits in the back corner of the room alone. Bu tif I am to believe that God is Mighty to Save, I have to believe that it is not just effective - but most effective with the lonely, outcast, disillusioned, broken people that society does not even notice.

I have to believe that God can reach a tired prostitute waiting to snag a client at a bar in Las Vegas, because it is the sick who need a doctor. And I have to believe that God would leave the 99 obedient sheep in a field to chase down one that has wandered away... and if that is what God is doing, then it's what the church should be doing, too.

So if you would, pray for this girl. Pray for society's lost and forgotten, and pray for the courage and wisdom to step out in the world and love them. And pray for the same courage and wisdom for me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Local Restaurants

Recently, my Friday night dinner friends and I have broken from our normal routine a little bit to check out some new restaurants. This might not sound all that unusual, except we are all very much creatures of habit. We could go to Chili's every night for a year. So to break from our small litany of chain restaurants is most unusual indeed.

So far, though, the results have been good. First, we visited Zozo's - a little Italian restaurant tucked away in the shopping center on the North-East side of Lakeside and Virginia. The service was excellent, and the food was quite good. One of their signature foods is the raspberry vinagrette salad dressing, which seems to be mixed with yogurt for a creamier texture. The whole meal for each of use was about $25 a person.

Fresh off our success with slightly-adventuresome eating there, we next visited Naan Kabab. It looks like an old fast-food restaurant (my guess - a Long John Silver's) that has been converted into a nice little hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It's next to Ruby River steakhouse, across Virginia Street form the Peppermill. It's run by a chef with many years experience cooking and teaching "culinary arts" and in my opinion, it shows. Instead of the common dinner-bread at the table, you get a basket of flatbread with a salsa that leave your mouth warm. The dinner was a good portion size, and the meat was quite savory, and unlike many restaurants, it felt like the meat was just a part of the meal - the meal wasn't "large side of meat with a couple other things." And for desert... they had a baklava a la mode called the "Awesome Dude" which definitely lived up to its name. It is... most tasty. And best yet, despite several people ordering desert, the whole meal was a little under $20 person, including tip. If you want to eat on the cheap, the large and filling pita sandwiches are under $7.

I like to support local restaurants, and Naan Kabab in particular seemed to be trying to drum up business. The chef visited us twice during the meal, gave out busines cards, and we got a carry-out menu too.

If you're looking for a place to grab a meal on a Friday night and want to try something different, I reccomend either of these restaurants. I don't think you will be disappointed.