Saturday, April 27, 2013

Peanuts and CrackerJack

  • I really don't know about this whole "planned suckage" things the Cubs have going on.  The strategy seems to be "we're going to be horrible on purpose for 3 years while we develop the farm system, and then, boy, we'll really have something."  
    • My dad says the Royals had the same plan a few years ago and now it's finally coming to fruition this year.  Hmm...
    • Even if it works long-term, how is it motivational to your players?  Wanna play in the big leagues, son?  Your team is probably only going to win 50 games - heck, that's why we're picking you, you're not really that good - but the perks are nice, so come along for the ride!  Seriously, who wants to play for that?
    • Paraphrasing a commenter from another blog: Ok, let's say it works, and we suck for 3, even 5 years, but long-term, we get good.  I'm 31, I've got time.  But the 98-year-olds who have been waiting their whole lives might not appreciate this plan quite so much.
  • The Cubs have won 2 in a row.  Gosh, is that a streak?  
  • Darwin Barney.  Sigh...What can I say? I have a thing for middle-infielders.
  • The National League really, really, really, really, really needs to not adopt the DH rule.  It's for sissies.
  • I don't understand pitching management strategy.  What is it with needing to have a new pitcher for practically every hitter, especially in the late innings?  And why the obsession with right hand vs. left hand pitchers and hitters? I mean, it really is an obsession.  Just listen to anybody call a ballgame these days - it's practically all they can talk about anymore.  That and the nachos.  Did it used to be like this? Were Willie, Mickey, and the Duke having pitchers rearranged just for them?  And how come nobody is allowed to pitch a complete game anymore?  And can someone - anyone - tell me why Carlos Marmol is allowed anywhere near a baseball? 
  • I miss Harry Caray.  Also Ryne Sandberg - who is not dead, but conspicuously absent.  
  • I would love to go back to the Hall of Fame.  A person could spend several days in there, and Cooperstown is just the cutest little town, besides.   
  • I'm not much of a Twins fan.  They're fine, I guess, they're just not my team.  But putting the Twins game on late at night just to hear it in the background reminds me so much of hot summer nights at my grandpa's farm.  I moved around a ton as a kid, and with different places, routines naturally change.  There are very few things - especially non-church related things - that I would identify as "stuff we always did".  Watching/listening to the Twins when we were at Grandpa's is one of them.  
  • "Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for a friend."  I'm entirely certain that taking an errant 90 mph fastball to the shin or the elbow falls into this category.
  • There's just something about baseball.  Football is fine, it's great in the fall - it's perfect for falling asleep in front of.  But it's  There's no romance to football, or even hockey.  The sounds of football are the sounds of a car accident - helmets and pads crashing together, leaving people buried under 1000 pounds of...each other.  But the sounds of baseball...the crack of the bat, the way a hard-hit line drive snaps into the glove...the "whump" of sliding into third base...the infield chatter and the dugout chatter...the lone "I got it" that rises from a group of players all huddling under a popup...
    • You know what?  Times are tough.  Money is tight for everyone, and baseball isn't what it used to be.  There are more statistics than you can shake a stick at (does anyone really care if Alfonso Soriano has an OBP of .162 if there are less than 2 outs in the 4th inning when facing LHPs who were born south of the Mason-Dixon line, and the starting game time temp was between 65° and 84°?), managers change pitchers with the same frequency that I stand up to stretch my hips that are cramping up from sitting in a seat that is smaller than an airplane seat, and beer costs more money than my car, practically. Advertising is ubiquitous, and the unholiness that comes from mind-boggling amounts of money being wrapped in...anything...hasn't left baseball alone.
    • But scrape together the bucks - or heck, find a AAA or AA or even a semi-pro or high school team, and play hooky some afternoon.  Load up on the sunscreen (see, and my mom thinks I don't listen to her), and go take in a game.  Go early, so you can watch batting practice, and maybe even collect an autograph or two.  Don't forget to take your glove!  What if a foul ball or home run comes your way?  Buy a hot dog, for crying out loud.  And keep score!  Always, always keep the score!  Stay late, and watch as the players collect their kiddos from the stands and walk through the outfield with them, just me-'n'-dad, trudging out to touch the ivy at Wrigley. 
  • There is a hope, and an optimism, that comes naturally with baseball.  I think, perhaps, because the opening of the season mirrors the slow warming trends of spring and summer, because the days get longer, and the sun shines brighter, and there's this sense that, yes, the world is still good.  There's the hope that comes from the sheer odds that, over 162 games, somebody is going to get something right, eventually.  Got swept by the Cards?  Well, you'll see them again next week, and everybody gets another shot.  Didn't watch the ball all the way into your glove, and so the routine grounder to third rolled right between your legs?  Embarrassing!  But get your head back in the game, and hey! look! Here comes another one, good, got it this time!    
  • I think this is why they call it America's Pastime. Because we hold these truths to be self-evident- that all men are created equal.  And in baseball, everybody's got a shot.  This is a game where kids barely old enough to drink the overpriced beer at the stadium are going head-to-head with guys who could be their dad.  Grizzly old veterans looking for one more year, one more game, one more shot at greatness are sitting on the same bench as starry-eyed teenagers who can barely believe this is for real.  Preppy white kids who grew up in rich suburbs on competitive teams with participation fees higher than their parents' mortgage payments are up against guys from the poorest countries in the world who have one wooden bat to their name and dreams of a visa to come play in America.  Even the fat old guy in the bleachers and the little kid just learning tee-ball both have a chance at the same foul ball.  And it's anybody's guess how it's all going to turn out.  
  • So this spring, and summer - dig out your old tshirt or jersey from the bottom dresser drawer and put it on.  Go soak up some Vitamin D.  Pay too much for a beer.  Snag a foul ball, and if you're feeling nice, give it to the first-grader sitting in front of you.  High-five a stranger.  Remember that amidst all of the junk this world has to throw at us, life is still good.  (If you're a Cubs fan, memorize Romans 5:3-4 before you go.☺) Put your hand over your heart and look at the flag during the national anthem.  Sing loud during the 7th inning stretch.  And for heaven's sake, buy yourself some peanuts and crackerjack!

Friday, April 26, 2013

"...and this is what I am going to proclaim to you!"

So…the more I think about this (and I’ve been thinking about it a lot) – I really firmly believe that we are living in a “pre-Christian” age.  

I know, I know, the prevailing narrative of our times is that we are in a post-Christian world.  And in one sense, that is true.  As Europe was Christianized and then brought Christianity, more or less, to the New World and to other parts of the British Empire, “the world was Christian” – especially the West, or developed, world.  This is kind of an over-romanticized, simplistic version of the truth, but as a basic summary, I suppose it suffices.  

And so now, when much of the developed world including Europe and North America, is falling away from Christianity, or at least Christendom as we’ve romanticized it according to our visions of the Middle Ages and/or the 1950s, we talk about being in a post-Christian world.  People – society – the world used to be Christian, and now they’re not.

But…claiming to live in a “post-Christian world” assumes that most people in the world today have heard the message of Christianity (or even a reasonably orthodox approximation thereof), have sincerely evaluated it on its merits, and have rejected it.  We blame it on the Enlightenment, or the heathen Baby Boomers, or “taking prayer out of schools” or whatever.  We used to be Christian and now we’re not.  

Except, well…I just don’t think that’s true.

Instead, I think that we are living in a pre-Christian age.  I think that the vast, vast, vast majority of people living in the developed world today have not heard the gospel and rejected it; rather, they have never really heard it in the first place.  We aren’t dealing with individuals who need to be called back to the faith that they know but have left, we are dealing with individuals who need to be catechized in the first place. 

This is the “nones”.  In all the recent surveys that ask (especially younger) people what religion or faith tradition they hold to, when given the option of choosing from among various forms of Christianity or other world religions, a great number are now choosing “none of the above”.  And what we hear of “the nones” is that they “are good people”, are “spiritual but not religious”, care about “helping people and doing justice”, and so forth.  They aren’t hardened atheists, they are just sort of spiritual drifters, pulling together bits and pieces from a variety of traditions and sources, seeking after their own wisdom, trying to make their way in the world.  

And I don’t know about you, but this sounds an awful lot to me like, “…as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.  So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship…” (Acts 17:23).  

Further, beyond the “nones,” I also believe that in identifying the pre-Christians among us, that we’re also talking about a whole lot of people who would check the “Christian” box, because it is still sort of culturally expected (particularly in certain locales), or because they go to church on Christmas Eve.  But these people, despite attending on Christmas, and possibly even getting their kids baptized, wouldn’t know Christianity if it bit them in the armpit.  I don’t say this to be mean or judgmental – I just say it because it’s true.  Lutherans argue that the basics of the faith are “the six chief parts” of the Small Catechism – the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.  The writer of Hebrews claims they are “repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”  And let’s be real: a very significant number of people in the pews each week couldn’t give a 30 second overview of the Scriptures if their lives depended on it.

But let’s lay off the guilt trips.  Again, this isn’t about judging people or making them feel bad for not knowing this stuff.  We could blame this on poor catechesis by the pastors of yore, or heathen Baby Boomers who didn’t take their kids to church, or suburban youth athletics that require Sunday games/practice, or whatever.  But that doesn’t solve the problem.  It doesn’t catechize the ignorant, and it doesn’t introduce Christ to the pagans, so it’s a waste of time.  

Look at the rest of the Acts story – the second half of Paul’s sentence:  “So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.  (emphasis mine)  And then he proceeds to do so.  Verses 24-31 constitute a fabulous Christianity “elevator speech”, that I think is worth memorizing, or at least, adapting to our own contexts and then memorizing.  

We Christians, and especially those of us who are “Christian public leaders”, live amongst “nones” and “just-shy-of-heathens, not-even-baby, ‘fetal’ Christians”, and we need to know how to teach the faith to these people.  We need to know how to introduce them to it, and how to teach them the basics, and how to teach them to teach others the basics.  

We are not in a post-Christian era, where people who know this stuff need to be called back to it.  We are in a pre-Christian era.  Without getting too big for my britches, we Christians (“public leaders” and non-pl’s alike) are like the Apostles.  We know this stuff, and a relative handful of other people do as well, but to the rest of the world, we are the stuff of myths and legends, we appear to be either crazy or awful, or both, depending on what rumors have been circulating in a particular neighborhood.  

Thinking about it like this has changed the way that I think about ministry inside and outside the walls of the congregation, and it’s definitely changed the way I think about evangelism.  We don’t live in some “Christian nation” that needs to recover its own values, or around people who are “backsliding” just because they’re terrible people.  We live in pagan freaking Athens.  They need to hear the story, and be told the Gospel.  They don’t know it.  They know they need something…but what that is, they can’t quite…or can only barely…put their finger on.

A lot of us – and I include myself here – look at the passing scene and want to “do something” – things are horrible, the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket, and people need to shape up!  So we say things like this:

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  God “will repay each person according to what they have done."  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:5-8)

Or even, if we’re feeling a little more Gospel-y than Law-ish, we might go this route:

“Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:1b-5). 

But those sorts of messages are only helpful for people who are actually already Christians, who have been well-catechized, who “get it,” and need to be reminded of it.  It doesn’t work with people who really have no idea what you’re talking about it.  

Shouting Romans 2 or Galatians 3 at somebody who comes to church on Christmas – or never – is a little like yelling at me for not following the rules of lacrosse.  Well, one, I am not trying to play lacrosse, and two, I have seen a total of probably 30 seconds of the game being played, mostly if I flip to ESPN looking for baseball.  (Is that right? Are the two played during roughly the same season?)  I (think I) know that it’s big on the East Coast, played mostly by preppy white kids from the richy-rich suburbs.  I have a couple friends that I think used to play, but to tell the truth, the 30 seconds I’ve seen on TV makes it look hard and exhausting, and the uniforms aren’t even all that suitable for checking out players’, well, anyway… ;)  So don’t yell at me about lacrosse.  I will just stare at you like you’re crazy, wonder why you’re yelling at me, and then walk away to go find a good book.  

It’s my contention that we have an awful lot of people who don’t play lacrosse in this world.  There are an awful lot of people who worship statues to an unknown God, who need to hear this:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said,‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Yes, some will sneer (see verse 32), and we can’t control that.  But some will want to hear more (we can’t control that either).  We need to give people the chance to hear it.  Give them the opportunity to want to hear more.  

I don’t know about you, but “and this is what I am going to proclaim to you” sounds like a pretty awesome, adventurous challenge.  How will you answer it?  What is your Christianity elevator speech (or as Peter might say, the ‘reason for the hope that you have within you’)?  Do you agree that we’re pre-Christian, not post-Christian?  

Talk to me, people!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Of Cabbages and Kings

The biggest “life breakthrough” I’ve made in the last year has to do with my health.  I mean, my overall health, not just this new IIH thing.  Because, ever since I can remember, I’ve been the “chubby” and “chunky” kid.

The one looked at suspiciously for taking second helpings at the dinner table, or snagging a piece of candy in the middle of the afternoon.  (“Do you really need that?”)  The one veritably forced into “exercise”, because, “it’s good for you.”  The disobedient one – for daring to be, well, not a size 6. 

I have heard lectures about dreaded diseases that come from “being fat” and when I’ve politely asked the lecturers to butt out, I’ve been told that this harassment is “for your own good” and “because we love you.” 

I have seen the shame in my family’s eyes at the fact that I “refuse” to “take my weight seriously”, at the fact that I wear a size 14, at the fact that they have to live with a fat person.

I have heard how all of my problems will be solved if I can just “drop some weight”…that the reason I’m not married, not successful in my career, not athletic enough to make the team, is because no one likes to have fat people around. 

I have been conned into buying clothes a size too small because “it looks ok, but it will look even better if you drop a few pounds.  You are trying to do that, aren’t you?” 

I’ve even heard, “You’re so good at everything else you do, surely if you apply yourself to this, you can be successful in this area as well.”

And for years – decades – I lived with this shame, embarrassment, and stigma of not being the skinny one.  Because skinny = healthy.  Skinny = obedient.  Skinny = acquiescing to societal norms.  Skinny = “being good.”  Skinny = beauty.  

Bottom line – what society, culture, family, even Christianity says: If you are not skinny, 1) you will never be happy and probably no one will love you, 2) you obviously don’t care about your health because you are basically guaranteed to get heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (again), 3) you simply aren’t trying hard enough, and 4) your body is a temple and you’re sinning by being fat.

For years – decades – I believed this.  I believed that I was “bad” for not conforming to the pictures in the magazines.  I believed that I just couldn’t manage to get my priorities straight enough to beat my body into submission.  I prayed – yes, prayed – for the willpower to be anorexic.  During my years on the campaign trail, the introvert in me hated doorknocking (spend all day having 30 second conversations with random strangers, no thank you), the campaigner in me thought it was great (it does work, at least in places like Iowa), and the shamed fat kid in me loved it (too busy to eat + tons of exercise = campaign t-shirt does fit a little looser, now that you mention it).  I piously “gave up carbs” for Lent (and then made my body completely freak out when I overloaded it with chocolate eggs and hot cross buns on Easter morning).  I counted calories, carbs, and grams of fat, and recorded them religiously in notebooks or even online.  I ate more Splenda than any human being should ever look at, and made pretend ice cream with ricotta cheese.  

If all of this sounds completely f-ed up to you, then congratulations.  You are seeing what it took me decades to see.  

Last summer, I was cyber-introduced (by the Holy Spirit) to the writings of Ragen Chastain, who blogs at Dances With Fat, and who, one post at a time, revealed to me just how f-ed up these ideas actually are. 

See, it turns out that basically everything that “everyone knows” about health/weight/dieting is completely and totally wrong.  See, it turns out that health and weight are not the same thing – that weight has almost no bearing on one’s health, and that “dieting” can, in fact, have a negative impact on one’s overall health.  

For the research lovers – did you know that 95% of individuals who attempt weight loss will, within 5 years, gain all of the weight back, plus more?  Did you know that this constant so-called “weight cycling” can have hugely negative metabolic effects on the body?  Did you know that in the last decade, hospital admissions for inpatient treatment of eating disorders in children under the age of 12 have risen 100%? Did you know that BMI is a totally worthless measurement when it comes to determining individual health? 

For the anec-data crowd – do you know skinny people who get diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and all of the other so-called “diseases of being fat”?  Do you know skinny people who eat total crap all the time and still stay skinny?  Do you know fat people who eat nothing but salad and exercise every day, and are still fat?  Yeah, me too.  

Unfortunately, we as a society have so conflated health and weight, that it is nearly impossible for us to believe that anyone who is fat can also be healthy.  But it turns out that this is totally wrong.  Take me, for example.  I am a cancer survivor, an amputee, and I’ve been diagnosed with “high CSF pressure for no discernible reason”.  I’m 5’6”, and according to the dreaded BMI chart, counted as “obese.”  And yet.

And yet, all of the metabolic indicators of my health are perfectly normal.  If anything, my blood pressure is low.  My resting heart rate makes me proud and happy.  My blood sugar is normal.  My cholesterol is in excellent shape.  As previously noted, I do not have a brain tumor or MS.  The contents of my CSF are normal.  Every blood test you could possibly think to run is normal.  I eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables.  I go running 2-3x per week, working up to a 5K, and I’m planning on some Black Hills hiking this summer.  I drink one cup of coffee in the morning, and almost exclusively water thereafter.  I brush my teeth, and usually remember to floss.  Bottom line: I am one of the healthiest damn people you know. :)  And you know what else?  People come in all shapes and sizes, and this is the size I come in.  

This is still a journey, no doubt.  I have so many years of disordered eating patterns to break (it’s been 10 years since I drank milk with any regularity), I’ve viewed “comfort food” as a “guilty pleasure”, by definition loaded with calories and carbs, instead of “what I think sounds good right now”.  I’m trying to practice intuitive eating (learning to hear what your body wants and needs, because it knows) instead of guilt-and-shame based eating.  And it’s hard.  

But it’s also a spiritual journey.  It’s learning to see my body as a good thing, as a gift from God, as beautiful because it was created by my Creator.  Right now, for example, instead of being a lazy body with “bad” metabolism that “needs” to risk life and limb driving to the gym in a foot of snow to satisfy the Health Overlords at Portico or the U.S. Government or whoever, I can recognize: to be able to sit here and type this, my eyes are working, scanning the screen (and even putting up with the way-too-much-screen-time-I-ask-of-them), my fingers are working, and my brain is remembering 8th grade typing class.  My heart is circulating blood throughout my body, and my lungs are dutifully exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen.  My sinuses are draining properly, and my tummy is telling me that I shouldn’t have skipped breakfast.  Thank you, body, for doing all this.  And thank you, God, for giving me such an amazing body that does all these things.  

Actually, it kind of looks like this:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

Of course, it is hard to believe that this is most certainly true, when you (we all) have been taught from a very young age to hate our bodies.  But think about it this way: is there anything else in your life that you hate?  Possessions, personal property, even (I hope not) other people?  Do you take care of those things that you hate?  If you hate your carpet or your car, and can’t wait until you can justify buying something different, are you particularly concerned about stains or flaws or door dings? No, of course not.  

Our bodies may be temples, but we can’t learn to love them and treat them like temples until we first get it out of our heads that they – in and of themselves – are awful and hateful, deserving of shame and mistreatment and ridicule.  This is the temple that God gave me – I can either starve it and mortify it until I decide that it’s really what a temple should look like, or I can love that this is the temple He gave me, and trust that it is already a loveable temple because He says it is.  

And as I said above, yes, I’m still working on this.  But.  From the moment I realized just how f-ed up everything I’ve been told and believed and done all these years really is, it was like a giant weight was lifted off my shoulders.  Despite the emo-blog posts and marginally coherent FB rampages you all sometimes see, actually, my mental health is worlds better.  My failure to “drop a few pounds” hundreds of times over my life is not my failure – it’s how all bodies work - it's how they are designed to work, in fact.  My single state is not because I’m not a size 2 (and even if it is, why would I want to be with someone who needs me to engage in manifestly unhealthy behaviors to warrant his attraction?).  I’m learning to run because I like being active – not because “thou shalt exercise or thou shalt die immediately”.  I’m eating amazingly delicious vegetables and yummy homemade soups because they taste good and are fun to cook – not because they are “low calorie” (hint – when you roast them with bacon, they’re not) or low carb. 

This, I truly believe, is Gospel freedom.  To love what you have been given – your body, and all that preserves it – and to enjoy it, trust that it is good because God says it is, and then to go about your life and your vocation in life secure in the knowledge that God has given you all that you need, your daily bread, and still preserves your life…yeah, that’s freedom.  

It’s hard, sometimes, to step into that freedom.  When you realize that you’ve only had a carton of yogurt and a cup of coffee all day, and it’s 4 pm…when your tendency is to ignore the low-blood-sugar headache and spaciness, and instead congratulate yourself on consuming only 150 calories…it’s hard, and takes a ton of effort to ponder what I really want to eat, what my body really needs right now, and then do the work to make that happen.  

It’s hard, but I’m trying.  And slowly, slowly but surely, God is teaching me to love myself, because He loves me.