How Jeter Helps Us…

September 26, 2014 1 comment

Ok, admittedly, I am a baseball fan. I could watch baseball all day, then turn on the lights on the back porch and play catch with my son until one of us gets hit in the face. But despite that fact, I think I can be a little impartial in saying that Derek Jeter is helping the United States stay human. (And I’m not a Yankees fan…at all.)

Yesterday a friend of mine was recounting her experience with her son’s concussion, and the multiple other football players she saw coming in and out of the ER. I was glad my son likes to play baseball.

NFL season is in full pass rush by now and I’ve turned off the TV on Sunday afternoons. There are players killing people, beating their wives, whipping their four-year-old children, and those are the things I have heard about just recently.

Now, I realize a few things: 1. NFL players aren’t the only ones acting poorly. In fact, they are just holding up a mirror to the public. As a pastor I saw a lot of these things in my parishioners, and as a person I see the tendencies of poor behavior in myself. 2. As a culture, the American people have encouraged an atmosphere in which we have allowed young men who have the ability to throw, kick, catch, and carry a ball to believe they are above the rules. 3. My son has a Richard Sherman jersey (Seattle Seahawks player). At 11 years, he is drawn to the chest-beating, bicep-kissing, self-aggrandizing behavior. And he emulates them…when he thinks I can’t see him. 4. Sports is not sport anymore at that level. It is corporation. It is business. Just look at the difficulty ESPN has in honest reporting regarding sports it gets to air on its stations.

What about Jeter? After all, I did title this with his name in it…which may be why anyone looked at it at all. Derek Jeter. Captain Clutch. Mr. November. His post-season heroics have earned him those names. The Yankees owner (I told you I’m not a fan of the Yanks…so, I won’t mention his name) gave him the rare and well-earned position as “Captain” of the team. And now, at the end of his 20-year MLB career, he’s getting the accolades due him.

Every ball park he played in during his final season has given him a standing ovation. He’s even getting respect in Boston – the Yankees’ division and eternal rivals. With my son I attended one of his final games in Detroit just so my son could, in his old age, say to his grandchildren that he had seen the Captain play. The Kalamazoo Kid was gifted soil from the three main ball parks he played on in Michigan, and seats from old Tigers’ Stadium. He’s a demigod. He’s worshipped. He somehow stands out as different. Does he? And if so, why?

First of all he is different…from the bad boys. He’s different in that he doesn’t get into trouble. You never ever hear about Derek Jeter in conjunction with troglodytic behavior. In that way he is different. He’s also different in that he is a great player. His numbers are astounding due to his ability and his longevity and the supporting cast he’s had in 20 years with a well-funded team. He’s different.

And he’s not different…from the rest. Sports teams have the bad boys, but a majority are superlative people who see their abilities as a way to improve their communities, fund non-profits, and visit sick kids in hospitals to bring joy in the midst of pain. They work hard, they are committed to their families and their world. There are hundreds of them. Jeter is no different from them in that respect.

But now, as Derek Jeter puts the closing at bats on his career, he is getting more press than murderers, wife-beaters, child-abusers, and the rest. All eyes are turned in his direction because of how he is different. And we need him to be different. We need someone to show us, to remind us, that we can be human…and sometimes that takes a demigod to show us.

All the brokenness of the bad boys is a mirror to our society, and that’s why we need people like Jeter to hold up their mirror, too. So we see the other side of our humanity – the humane side. But for all the ways he is different, he is simply human, and reminds us to hold up our own mirrors to the rest of the world. At the end of the day, the Kalamazoo Kid is just that – a kid who grew up in West Michigan just like my son. I hope my son will grow up to reflect all the good things placed in him by his Creator. No not Jeter…Jeter’s Creator.

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After The Sabbatical: Three Poems

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment

After The Sabbatical

I. Eyes

My child’s eyes wistful
As I walk out the door
Remembering the summer
That was

Time
Attention
My face
My whole self

My child’s eyes fearful
As I climb in my car
Remembering the spring
That was

Time
Vacant presence
My mind ever-absent
Dis-spirited father

My child’s eyes anxious
Mimicking my own stomach tightening
Again. The way
That was

My child’s eyes speak
The wistful, fearful, anxious
Prophecy
That must not be

II. Re-Entry

After the float
Seeing the sun
Squinted-eye clarity
After gravity’s release
Has taken its turn

A careful angle
Must be taken
For gravity’s pull,
If not respected,
Will burn you up

Atmosphere thickens
Oxygen
Nitrogen
Carbon dioxide
Other carcinogens

Upon landing you are greeted
And all eyes examine your psyche
And you must regain your land legs
And then, each night, lay awake at night
Trying to remember the feeling of weightlessness

III. Slipping Your Shadow

A hammock will make him nauseous
Campfire smoke irritates him
A leisurely stroll will turn him around
Feet dipped in the ocean prunes his skin
A book for fun will bore him
Repeated deep breaths make him dizzy
Sunsets burn his eyes

Enough of these
Will cause your companion
Disorientation
And in a sunset he will become lost
He will look for you and blink
And that’s when you’ll lose him
And he will become lost

For a while
You will glide
Alone…

But he is searching
And will find you
He knows where to look

The moment you dare
Gaze at your calendar
Knowing tomorrow your ceasing ends
This companion
This bastard shadow
This clenched stomach
Will re-attach

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Turning Coffee Into Water

I met some dudes in a band, maybe you’ve heard of them: Jars of Clay.  They told me about something called Blood:Water Mission (B:WM).  It’s a project to get both clean water to Africa as well as fight HIV/AIDS.  This sounds to me like EXACTLY the kind of thing Jesus was talking about his people being involved in.  So…I think I will do it.

Will you join me?

I wanted to get a little creative in my fundraising.  I drink coffee about every day.  Meanwhile, millions of people don’t even have clean water.  So, I’m giving up coffee for the month and have donated what I normally spend on coffee/lattes to B:WM.  I’m trying to raise $1,000 in a month.  I put in $50, my mom put in $50, too.  Therefore, as I write this, we are 10% there.

You don’t have to give up coffee.  But you can put some money toward helping someone have clean water.  Think of it…clean water – I freaking fill my toilet with the stuff.  I take way too long of showers with it.  I turn on my little tractor sprinkler at night and send it spraying all over my grass.  And these folks don’t have a drop.

Let’s do this, friends.  Can you think of one good reason why not?  Better not say because you’re lazy.  Better not say because you want to spend the $5-$50 on something like a Venti Triple Half Caff Mocha Frapp.  Click this link and help out some thirsty people.  If you are feeling shamed or guilted…Ok.  Just do the thing.  Thanks!

Click Here!

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Cottonwood Tree

I have a cottonwood tree.  It’s big, and it’s beautiful, and it sits on the corner of where two streets meet.  Therefore, in the early summer it shares its lovely white puffs with every which direction and turns the neighborhood into a snow globe.  I happen to think it’s kind of pretty.  I know that some of my neighbors do not.  I can see how it can be a little bit of an inconvenience for them for a few weeks a year – something they might not want to look at.  Or maybe it gives the neighborhood a look they don’t enjoy and wouldn’t have chosen.

But you know what?  I wouldn’t have chosen that tree either.  It makes my life a little more difficult.  If I don’t thoroughly pick up my yard before mowing, I get explosions of white all over the place.  The tree was there before I bought the place.  In fact, I am willing to bet the tree was there before most of the houses were built in our neighborhood (it’s pretty big).  It is a bit of an inconvenience for me at times, too.  I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I have it, and I think it’s kind of nice.  It’s a tree and casts shade, and for two or three weeks a year it creates a bit of an etherial atmosphere.

Even through this tree has cast its tiny seeds all over everyone else’s yards for many, many years, there aren’t cottonwood trees springing up in other people’s yards as a result of my tree being next door.  So, it’s not like their yard is going to “catch” cottonwood.  So, I’m not to sure why it would upset them…but I think it kind of does.  Nobody comes right out and says it to my face, but I can see it…I know.

But I am a good neighbor.  When I walk my dog, I pick up after him.  I’m very polite and helpful.  I share my tools with people in need.  I help people get their cars unstuck in the snow.  I buy fundraiser junk from neighborhood kids.  I vote, pay my taxes, keep my lawn mowed…for the most part, and let my neighbors know when I’m going to be throwing a party…and invite them to it, and burn only dry wood in my fire pit so the smoke is minimal.  I’m a pretty good neighbor.

I just happen to have a cottonwood tree – one I didn’t choose to plant, but one I love.  I hope people will treat me kindly with my cottonwood tree; the same way I would hope people would treat someone with an alternate lifestyle.

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Tax Me

May 6, 2014 2 comments

This morning I voted.  There was only one thing on the ballot: should we continue to be taxed to keep funding the public school.  I know this is a gross simplification, but it’s how I read it.  I voted, and while one of the things I love about America is that I don’t have to tell anyone how I voted, I’m going to tell you.  “Tax Me!”  That’s how I voted.  Can I tell you why?  OK.  Here goes.

I went to the polling station directly from volunteering in my daughter’s 2nd grade classroom.  I go every Tuesday morning and listen to kids read and help them check out their “read-at-home” books.  I know all their names, and they know me.  It pays in hugs and smiles and the big dividend of getting to see the progress of each child throughout the year.  I had them on my mind as I entered the ballot box.  I voted for them…but not just for them.

There are a lot of options for education in my city: multiple private schools and a variety of publicly funded schools.  I respect each family’s decision regarding where they send their children and why.  I have no problem with people choosing something differently than I do – they have their reasons, and their reasons are good ones.  But we send our kids to the public school for a few reasons: It’s our neighborhood school, there is great variety in diversity available there, and mostly because I think they need me and my kids.

I know that not everybody has the opportunity to make choices about where to send their kids to school.  I also know that not everybody cares a whole lot where their kids go.  Sadly, there are kids whose parents are not involved in their education at all.  And then there is this: a few years ago statistics showed that my very school district had 10% of its students who were classified as homeless.

One out of 10 students in my kids’ school don’t have a steady place to lay their head at night…let alone do homework.  So, on Tuesdays they have a regular face who knows their name and listens to them read, encourages them, asks about their week, and sends them on their day with a smile.  It’s no small thing.

To my point.  I vote to be taxed, and I send my kids to the public school, and I volunteer because these children (all of  them) are the future of my town, and if I want a great town I have to engage in it.  I could hide, I suppose.  I could look out for me and mine, I suppose.  But that will end up being taxing in different ways.

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An Easter Poem 2014

April 19, 2014 Leave a comment

I found this terrific new band (married couple…don’t know if you call that a band or what) called The Gray Havens. They have a song out just in time for Easter called “Stone.” #1 You should check them out; their lyrics are crazy good. #2 You should listen to this song in particular. #3 This poem got its start by listening to that song about 1 bajillion times. I hope you like my Easter Poem 2014. It’s titled “Secret.”

Secret

The stone held the dead within itself
All was motionless, quiet – a broken person within
The stone heard the first breath of life
Out of silence, the intake
The stone felt the brush of unraveled grave clothes land upon its insides
In darkness began to feel something of life stirring
The stone animated, shook, moved
When commanded to life obeying the Animator
The stone blinked open in the brightness of glory
Light burning a picture of resurrection on its edges
The stone heard the woman’s cry, “There’s none inside the grave!”
And knew a secret
The stone felt the warmth of the angel’s presence
Was strengthened and glowed within
The stone heard the Breather speak a name and become recognized
And the curse it cradled was broken
The stone turned to flesh
Mouth agape declaring the glory of its secret

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Upon The Burying Of An Estranged Father

April 7, 2014 9 comments

I am preparing to bury my father.  I placed a little announcement about it on FaceBook, which is weird because FaceBook has become a place where people make announcements about small things, and this seems like more than a small thing.  It’s also weird because people clicked the “like” button.  Which is just kind of an odd thing to do.

I received from hundreds of people electronic condolences – all of them heartfelt.  But very few of these people knew about my relationship with my father.  You’ll notice I don’t really use the word “dad” when talking about him.  This is because he wasn’t overly engaged in raising me; my mom did that.  I don’t want it to sound like he did nothing.  We lived over 2,000 miles away from each other.  So…it was complicated.

Many of my friends’ condolences were based on their own relationship with a father, and that makes sense.  I received all of these well wishes with grace and accepted them with gratitude because my friends care for me.  They either know or are guessing at how difficult it must be to bury a parent.   But I’m not sure.  I’m not sure how hard it will be.  Is it ok for me to say that?  

I’m a pastor, and an unfortunate expectation placed upon pastors is that we would have answers for a lot of questions.  And we do.  But we don’t have all the answers…in fact we don’t know a lot of the questions.  And one of all the questions I don’t have a good answer to, this has remained the largest: “What does it mean to honor your father?”  This has been my question for decades.

Does it mean I try to emulate him?  No.   That can’t be it.  Does it mean I follow his guidance?  No.  That’s not it either for me.  How about does it mean I spend time with him?  No.  This hasn’t felt like honoring him to me.  Does he get to help me raise my children?  Surely not the honoring I feel called to do.

Here is how I have found to honor my father: I am attempting to be a father to my own children in the best way I know how.  I am also attempting to follow the call of Christ on my life in honesty and with integrity.  

And then there is this: I will bury him.  I will drive and I will don my suit and listen to the hope of the resurrection.  I will listen to the voices who knew him better than I.  I will glean from my time in the pew at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Claremore, OK all that I can – both from the good news of the resurrection and also from the voices of those who called my father friend.  And I will listen for the man I didn’t know, and I will pay attention to who he was as recounted by those whose lives he touched.  And I will be present.

I’m not sure if it will be difficult to do, but I will do it.  And then I will travel to the grave and I will toss a handful of dirt – at least that’s how I picture it.  And I may cry – I may cry because my father is dead.  I may cry because I have lost something: a father, the hope of further reconciliation, a hope of a future where my own children would know the good things of my father from first-hand experience.  No matter what, there is a loss and this makes me sad…and I can honestly say I am grateful to be sad.  After all, sadness tells us something.

And when I’m done doing these things I will treasure up in my heart all my gleanings, and attempt to refurbish my internal picture of my father.  I won’t shine it up, and I won’t put it in a fancy frame, but I hope to color it in with grace.  And when that is over I will drive home to my own children, hug them, tell them I love them, and be a father and husband and friend and pastor in all the ways that I can that will cause someone to say, “That’s George’s son.  That George must have been a good father.”

And I think that will honor him.

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