Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Thank You, From a Grateful Republican

Mr Obama, I didn’t vote for you in either of your elections.  I don’t share your world view and I don’t agree with many of your policies.  That having been said, I want to thank you for serving our country with grace, character, and dignity.

I am grateful that you didn’t quit sixteen years ago after you lost a local election.  When you were broke and your credit card was being declined.  When the Democratic Party wouldn’t let you into the convention.  Two years later you were speaking at the convention.  Six years later, you were the president.  You persevered.  I admire that.

I am grateful for your service as a community organizer.  I, too, was a community organizer.  In my youth.  In my hometown.  Like you, I stuffed literature bags and knocked on doors.  I made phone calls to get out the vote.  It now occurs to me, that I could become president.  Right now, there is a twenty-something year old doing the grunt work of local politics and dreaming of greater things.  Because of you, he has reason to dream.  That kid might even be black.  He might not know his father.  He might be poor.  But, he has greater reason to hope for great things in his (or her) life.

I am grateful for Michelle, who put healthy eating on the national agenda.  She was blamed because schools chose to serve “yucky” vegetables instead of yummy sugars and starches.  I noticed large amounts of healthy food in school lunchroom trash cans.  But, she made us think about what we are serving our children.  She made us think.  That, in itself, is an accomplishment.

I am grateful for the way you raised your children.  You limited their television time.  You made sure that they were well educated.  You let them have friends and you gave them the space they needed to grow, make mistakes, and discover who they are.  You are the model father and you have earned this father's deep respect.

I am grateful for your faith.  I listened to you talk about coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  You recalled that Rev. Jesse Jackson taught you that politics was temporary but faith is eternal and that you needed to make sure the eternal is taken care of before you focus on politics.  You spoke of being led to the Lord with the sinner’s prayer.  Evangelicals, like me, call that “getting saved.”  In a political culture that looks down upon religious people, that was a brave confession.

I can’t imagine what it is like to tell the family of a serviceman you sent into battle has died.  I don’t know what it is like to endure the feelings of powerlessness after repeated mass shootings in a country where that isn’t supposed to happen.  The pressures, the criticisms, the sleepless nights, and the heartaches must have been crushing.  I am glad you volunteered for the job and not me.  Heck, I wouldn’t want to serve on the school board.

I didn’t have to agree with you to like you.  In fact, I admire you.  Right now, there are people who are working hard at following your example.  I hope they are Republicans.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Thinking about Mike Mazur

He told stories. Many, many stories. He talked about coaches and officials in major college softball programs like they were close friends. I was ambitious and I wanted him to talk about how to get ahead in the craft of collegiate softball officiating. So, he told more stories. When I asked a question I got a story. Often, multiple stories.

 In my relationship with Mike, I mostly listened. I knew that on our ride to a basketball game I would be listening to his stories for an hour to the game and back. Non-stop.

 He would tell the stories as we worked softball. He told them when we worked volleyball. He told them while we worked basketball. He would call me on the phone and spend more than an hour sharing stories. He packed my head full of stories.

 I thought he might answer a question I had by text, if I texted him the question. No such luck. My phone would ring. More stories.

In never answering my question directly, he answered my question. My question was, “What is the one thing that causes umpires to move up?”

 The answer is in the stories. He loved the game. He was willing to travel to the games, camps, and clinics. He loved working games. He was wowed by the talent and athleticism of the athletes. He loved his colleagues.

 Yes, the money is much better in major college sports, but after travel costs, time away from work and family, and other costs are considered, working at that level isn't comparatively lucrative. Unless you treasure the game. And the people.

 And when you love something, you talk about it. When you love people, you talk about them. You tell stories. The answer was the stories.

 I wish I had one more day to thank him.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thinking About Charlotte

I meant to visit Charlotte last night after finding out she had been moved into a hospice facility. However, she passed away in the night. I missed an opportunity that defies the lesson she imparted to me a few weeks ago. “Don't wait to do the things you need to do.” Charlotte practiced corporate law, a life that, for me, represented the road not traveled. I had plans to go to law school, but went into the ministry instead. She was a lawyer with dreams of being a missionary. We discussed our life choices at a time when it was apparent her life would soon conclude. She discussed her mortality with lawyerly detachment. She was dying. That was a fact. There seemed to be no need to anguish over it publicly. “If God has put something in your heart, don't wait to pursue it. You don't know how much time you have.” I am grateful for the advice. I am also grateful to have had those moments with an old friend. Thanks, Char.
Scott suggested we officiate volleyball. "It's easy," he said. "All you have to do is stand there and blow your whistle." As baseball umpires, we considered anything that doesn't involve sprinting to be easy. We attended one clinic and read the rule book once before we began our career as high school volleyball refs. Because of organizational issues in the local volleyball referees association we started as varsity officials. We were, of course, terrible volleyball officials. Volleyball isn't easy. In fact, it is very difficult. Baseball umpires make several decisions during the course of a game. The hard part involves sprinting to the proper position, visually locking in on a play, and then making the call. Unlike volleyball, once the play is over there are several seconds in which the umpire can reset for the next play. Volleyball, on the other hand, requires the referee to lock in on every contact of the ball and stay focused on it throughout the course of the volley. A single volley may involve a dozen or more contacts of the ball. The referee must decide on the legality of each contact as well as the whether the ball has been grounded, and if so, whether it was grounded in bounds. Baseball is physically draining. Volleyball is mentally draining. Volleyball officiating is similar to baseball officiating in that it is easy to do a mediocre job. If an official neither hustles nor carefully watches the play, he or she might still get by. But to do either of them well requires effort. Baseball will make you physically tired. Volleyball will exhaust you mentally. From time to time I will receive a good natured ribbing from colleagues who officiate other sports. I invite them to join me in the volleyball officiating ranks since it is so easy. No one has taken me up on it, yet.
I just finished reading Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by former Denver Bronco Nate Jackson. I am now inspired to come back to writing a blog. Jackson, who spent six years in the NFL as a back up receiver and then tight end, writes with a descriptive talent not expected from NFL (or any other professional sport) athletes. He writes a story of joyful pursuit of an elusive dream that takes away ones self-respect and good health. He has experienced a life that millions of young men long to experience even if for only one day. By the end of the story I hurt for him. Actually, I am reminded of my own constant aches and pains that have come from a life of trying to live like a thirty year old in a nearly fifty year old body. It might be good to review the book here, but frankly there isn't much memorable about the book. I will likely forget the content before the day is out. It was a fun read. I felt like I spent an afternoon getting inside the head of a pro athlete. I am grateful for the chat. I like to know what the experience is like. I often speak with former pros, but rarely for very long.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Win is Important to the Students, Not So Much for Us

1 / 1 High school sports would be more enjoyable if the fans understood its purpose in the lives of their students. As a sports official, I often encounter fans who are so emotionally connected to what is going on that they lose sight of what is important. As a fan, I cannot fathom why anyone would make a teen age student responsible for their personal entertainment. Students do not play for the enjoyment of their parents and community. They play for their own enjoyment. As parents, we want them to play because it helps develop the character necessary for success in other pursuits in life. While the students ought to play to win, the question for us to the students should never be, "did you win?" Winning is important to the player, but not so much for the parents and community. Our questions are; "Did you play hard?" and "Did you play as a team?" and "Were you able to adjust to changing game conditions?" And, most importantly, "did you have fun?" I recently attended a game where the home team fans began yelling at the officials early in the game. While that is not unusual, I also noticed that they were not cheering for their own students. In fact, they were shouting criticisms. Their students weren't playing poorly. In fact, they were playing well against a tough opponent. It was a tough game. The students needed the encouragement of their parents and neighbors. But, at the half and trailing by only four points, their parents sat silently while the team left for the locker room. Eventually, they would lose game to the disappointment of their fans. It would have helped the team to have heard the love and encouragement coming from the home team stands. But, they had lost sight of what was important. They were demanding to be entertained with a win. But, the win wasn't what should have been important. The effort is important. The win is important to the students. To us, it is the value of their experience.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thoughts on Black History Month part 1

Sometime in the early 1900’s, a one-eyed black man named Willie Seymour sat on the steps outside of a church and listened to what was being preached inside. He wasn’t allowed into the church itself because at the time black people weren’t allowed to attend church with white people. Inside the church, a preacher named Charles Parham was delivering a message on the topic of being baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Rev. Parham hadn’t experienced the Pentecostal baptism himself, but was convinced of its truth. Rev. Seymour, on the other hand, while listening on the outside believed and asked God to baptize him in the Holy Spirit. His prayer was answered. William Seymour would go on to preach the famous Azusa street revival that would eventually give birth to every modern Pentecostal denomination. Pentecostal tradition, as I grew up in it, tends to promote the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a personal experience based on the Scriptural pattern found in Acts chapters 2 and 10, as well as 1st Corinthians 12 and 14. Essentially, it is a post-salvation experience in which a person receives supernatural power to be a witness for Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until years after I entered the ministry that I studied the above mentioned passages in enough depth on my own that I realized that there was more to the New Testament pattern. The experience wasn’t personal at all. It was racial. People received the baptism in groups. Each group was thought to be an “outsider” to God’s people. In Acts chapter 2, the group was the followers of Jesus whom the Pharisees and priests had excluded from worship. In Acts chapter 10, it was the gentiles who were baptized. The gentiles were being excluded by the followers of Christ. In 1906, It was the African Americans who were being excluded. As a matter of modern church history, an accurate view of Pentecostal history requires acknowledgment that it was the African Americans who were being excluded. It was an African American who received the experience while being excluded from a worship service. But, it was African Americans who, as a group, experienced the blessing of Pentecost. The modern Pentecostal movement seems to be a direct result of God’s decision to include African Americans into the people of God over white objections. My thought for the day: Which group of people are generally excluded from the church today? I believe that if you can identify that group, you will discover those with whom the next great religious awakening will occur.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Why I "Sub"

I enjoy my “pizza money” job as a substitute teacher. Unlike many who do this, I have no ambition for becoming a full-time classroom teacher (Whenever I feel like finishing my certification, I lay down until the feeling goes away). Instead of “subbing” as a stepping stone, I do it for the enjoyment of it, and for the extra cash. I don’t need to explain the importance of extra money. However, the enjoyment might require explanation since the words “substitute teacher” and “enjoyment” rarely are mentioned together. I sub for teachers who expect excellence from their students and who are well organized. I rarely spend a day showing movies or fighting for respect from students. So, to be fair, many of the problems that substitute teachers face are not part of my experience, anymore. I enjoy teaching students how to learn. I don’t have the advantage of coming to a classroom prepared to teach the material. I usually get 10-15 minutes to read over the teaching plans before class begins. So, when a student needs help, I have to figure it out with them. I can’t say, “let me show you.” I have to say, “let’s figure this out together.” For me, this is fun. Sometimes, the student expresses gratitude, which also feels powerfully rewarding. I enjoy witnessing young people grow in character. The vast majority of students that I encounter enjoy learning. I witness young people showing leadership in helping other students. I see students overcoming problems every day. Much of the cynicism about humanity dispels as a result of being around young students. To be honest, my experience is the result of developing relationships with teachers and schools where I get the most positive experience. The result is that even though my goal is to teach three days a week, it is hard for me to say no to working extra days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why I Ref

Despite the long hours, travel, hard work and sore muscles I wouldn’t trade what I do with anyone else. The life of a sports official comes with many dangers an inconveniences. However, the difficulties do not outweigh the blessing. I enjoy officiating sports because it is fun and because I believe in the good that comes from it. Did I mention that it is fun? I enjoy watching competition of various kinds and levels. I enjoy witnessing a hard fought game played by skilled competitors. I also enjoy competition between competitors who are having fun and doing their best despite a lack of skill. As an official, I am on the court (or field) with the competitors. I run with them. I am actively crafting the game for maximum enjoyment for all. Even after a rough game, I always feel good. Coaches can be unfriendly. I don’t mind because I had fun. Crowds can be unfriendly. It doesn’t matter because I had fun. Besides the enjoyment, I believe in the good that comes from competition. Youth and young adults need to know how to work as a team. They need to learn to handle defeat as well as victory. The skills needed for success in life are taught in competitive activities. Sports is only one of many competitive activities, but it is the one I get to participate in. Because of what I do, young people learn life skills that lead to success. Competition is good for me, too. I don’t officiate in order to stay in shape. I stay in shape in order to officiate. I have to compete with other officials in order to get higher paying games with more talented teams. I have to learn more and practice more. I have to accept criticism. I have to be accountable. I have to keep getting better. Sports officiating is my calling. I enjoy it. I believe in it. I live it.