Friday, August 20, 2010

Blame To Go Around?

The indictment of Roger Clemens for lying to Congress has been the major sports' headline of the week. I wrote the following piece a couple of years ago, in response to the issuance of the Mitchell Report detailing steroid use in Major League Baseball.

I wasn't surprised. Disappointed, yes. Angry, a little. Surprised, unfortunately not.

I'm speaking of the Mitchell Report on steroids in Major League Baseball released yesterday. The long list of names did not surprise me . . . even Roger Clemens.

I've been a Clemens fan since he came up with the Red Sox in 1985. The '86 Red Sox club remains one of my all-time favorites . . . even Bill Buckner! Like Barry Bonds, Clemens was a potential Hall of Famer before he began taking steroids. According to the Mitchell Report (and its voracity seems ironclad to me), Clemens began to "juice" during the 1998 season, while he was pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Bonds, according to the allegations made against him, started his steroids regimen following the 1998 season, that "magical" year when Mark McGwire and Sammy Soso were pursuing and ultimately passed Roger Maris for the single-season home run record. Before 1998, both Clemens and Bonds had already posted numbers that guaranteed their induction into Cooperstown. Clemens had already been awarded 4 Cy Young Awards, as many as any pitcher in history (to that point), and Bonds was already a 4-time M.V.P. Before 1998, both Clemens and Bonds had been in the Major Leagues for over 12 seasons. But, when most players should be satisfied with their careers and looking forward to retirement, Clemens and Bonds were searching for an edge, for something that would keep them competitive for years to come.

Was it for the money? It is a fact that Clemens and Bonds have earned millions more in the years since 1998 than they earned in the 12+ years before. Their motivation to juice could simply be a case of greed . . . wanting an ever increasing series of contracts.

Was it the need for acclaim? It is true that those we place on pedestals often get addicted to the praise and adulation we give them. We've all heard stories of the washed up athlete everyone has forgotten. Does anyone remember Danny White? At one time, he was the highest-rated passer in the NFL. He led the Cowboys to three straight NFC Championship Games. Yet, today, when people think of the Dallas Cowboys and the great quarterbacks that the franchise has had, the list usually includes Meridith, Staubach, Aikman, and, now, Romo. White is conspicuously absent. My point? Simply that our athletes, once they leave the playing stage, are often forgotten. Perhaps Clemens and Bonds could not bear the fact of being pushed off the stage, so they sought to prolong their careers as long as possible.

Was it jealousy? In the book written a few years ago outlining Bonds' purported steroid use, the authors claim that Bonds began his usage following the 1998 season because he was angry and jealous over the acclaim given to McGwire and Sosa, both of whom he was convinced had used performance enhancing drugs. The book claims that Bond was angry that his hard work was being overshadowed by those who, in his mind, cheated. The authors claim that Bonds decided to sell himself out and show that he could outdo anyone. He had done so clean (before 1998), and now he would do so on a level playing field with McGwire and the others.

By speculating as I have, I am not trying to rationalize the behavior of Clemens and Bonds and others like them. They cheated. Major League Baseball should respond accordingly. If I were a Hall of Fame voter, I would refuse to induct anyone who is shown to have purposefully and systematically used performance-enhancing drugs. That hurts to say, because I was as much a fan of Mark McGwire as I have been Roger Clemens. I was never a fan of Barry Bonds, but I acknowledge him as the greatest ballplayer of my generation (and that was before 1998). But, cheating should carry with it consequences.

My larger point, however, is that society at large has helped produced the circumstances that fueled these men in their excesses. Perhaps the publication of the Mitchell Report should cause all of us to pause and reflect on how we put too much emphasis on athletes and athletics. Instead of making the sports stars stand at the pinnacle of our pedestals, why don't we place much of the acclaim we give them to our school teachers, public servants, those who keep the peace and security of the community, and the blue collar workers who have built this country and keep it running?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Life Is Worth the Effort

You know, life is a lot like scaling a rock-climbing wall. Commitment/choice. Effort. Strategy/forward thinking. Concentration. Assistance. Exhaustion. Exhilaration. Failure. Success. All of these are involved in the rock-climbing experience and also with life.

A lot of life is grounded around the choices and commitments we make and don't make. For some, even many, choices can be confounding, perhaps crippling. But, life cannot be taken for granted, we must place one foot in front of the other. Life isn't a conveyor belt. We can't sit around hoping life will come to us (in the form of a great paycheck, a hot date, a thrill of a lifetime, whatever our anticipation is centered on) . . . we have to take a step and go after it. When climbing a rock-wall, you must reach your arm up to a handhold and lift your foot up to a foothold and pull your body up; the apparatus isn't going to do the work for you. You must decide to go!

Effort is certainly a component of life. Life is work. It doesn't come easy, even to those who seem to live on Easy Street. Life is a marathon (actually, a series of marathons); it is not a sprint; it is not a casual Sunday stroll. There will be some lulls along the way. Even moments where we can stop and smell the roses. But, there are gonna be some long, rough slugs as well. Moments (or, years!) when we're trudging up a 9% grade (on a good day!), with the wind howling around us and rain beating in our face. But, there is a summit, and then it is all down hill . . . that is, of course, until we hit the next hill! Yet, I'm told hat with age and maturity, life begins to level out to a more consistent plain. Hills and plateaus, even mountain ranges, remain, but or aptitude for life grows. Our efforts pay off.

Life requires thought. Mindlessness leads nowhere (or, rather, to some serious pitfalls). Life doesn't come equipped with Autopilot, or cruise control, but with big signs, "Lots of Assembly Required," and "Proceed with Caution." Life is much easier and productive when we look ahead to the horizon (and beyond) and set out goal and then plot the course required to reach that goal. In scaling a rock-climbing wall proficiently, the climber looks above and finds the ideal handholds and footholds, she plots her course with a distinct strategy guiding her way.

Pay attention! How many of life's travails could be avoided, or be made much-less destructive, if we simply paid attention to what we were doing, to our surroundings, to those around us, and to the course before us? Effort is not simply a matter of physical application and force, it is a lot of brain power, as well. Was it Lombardi that said, "Football is 90% mental"? Put "life" in the sentence, and it would be as true.

Life is not lived in a vacuum, with merely ourselves and immediate surroundings. No, life is full myriad things, especially those people close and far. A rock climber rarely will set out on his own; to do so can often be suicidal. Someone is needed to hold the guide rope, to help plot the course, to share in the work of setting spikes and giving a helping hand. Life is best lived when in tandem or association with a partner or partners. After all, God Himself, our Creator, declared, "It is not good for man to be alone." Interconnectedness is a key to life.

Life will be tiring, even exhausting at many points along the way, but there will also be ample exhilaration, when our weariness will drop away and new found energy and excitement will rush over. Remember the exhilaration of scaling a high mountain--the course up filled with tightened muscles, thirst (and, in my case, heavy panting!)--and the moment of finally looking out from the peak onto the valley and plains far below. That's a lot like a new mother and father staring down at their beautiful new child in the moments following a very difficult pregnancy. Or, the proud parents applauding a son as he walks across the graduation stage following the many years of the awkwardness and challenges of raising a child.

Success and failure. Failure and success. Life is filled with both. A rock climber is not always going to find the best hold. He may slip a time or two. H may even have to descent before a successful ascent can be mounted. Keep going. That's the key. Learn from mistakes. Observe the success of others. Try, and try again. Life is worth the effort.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Did I Really Stand In 4 States At Once?

I have called the Four Corners region home for the past 6+ years. The region is so-called, of course, because the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah come together at a point, the only place in the country where 4 states meet together. The Four Corners Monument is a popular tourist attraction, and each year thousands of people come to have their picture taken standing on the Monument marker, the point where people are told the states come together.

BUT, the "locals" know that ain't necessarily so, or at least many of us thought it wasn't so. I have told people for years that the Four Corners Monument was actually off by several hundred yards (2 1/2 miles, in actuality). But, the article I found and attached below contains the full story. I'm excited to say, I learned something today, and happy to know that the $3 I paid to the Navajo Nation to stand on the Monument marker was not wasted money (actually, I've been there 6 times and taken guests each time, so the money "contributed" to the Navajo Nation is substantial . . . especially when you include the "marked up" fry bread you can buy at the sight . . . and who can pass up fry bread?).

Enjoy the article.

Four Corners monument not historically correct

April 20th, 2009 @ 10:17pm
By Alex Cabrero

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's a place where thousands of people a year come to have their picture taken. It's also the only place in America where you can stand in four states at once, or can you?

It turns out the Four Corners Monument isn't exactly where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona were supposed to meet.

"Congress established the 109th Western Meridian as the boundary between Colorado and Utah," said Utah Historian Craig Fuller.

In 1878, the surveyor commissioned to map the boundary line between Utah and Colorado from Four Corners to Wyoming recognized the lines where the four states meet happened to be on the top of a steep plateau.

"He thought it would be a lot easier to survey a point on the flatlands," explained Bill Case, a senior geologist with the Utah Geological Survey. "They tried to get as close to 37 degrees latitude and 109 degrees longitude. That was where the corner of Utah was supposed to be."

However, because of the difficult terrain, the current spot recognized as the Four Corners was chosen. It's nearly 2 and a half miles west from the actual spot.

All four states, and the U.S. Congress, recognized the mistake but decided to allow the current boundary lines to be drawn. That means Utah lost some land, while Colorado gained some.

"What is legal is political, not scientific," Case said. "And it doesn't matter if you make a mistake or not."

Since all the states and the U.S. Congress agreed on the boundaries, it is now the official boundary, which means all those families who take their pictures at the monument are doing so in four states and don't have to climb that plateau to be in the historical spot.

"Yes. Legally, it counts," Case assured.

Recently, a survey done by the National Geodetic Survey found the mistake. The group recognized it using GPS technology and satellite imagine.

Chances are, all four states won't ask to have their boundaries changed, but Fuller says it is always possible.

For example, Fuller says in the past two years there was talk Wendover, Utah, would be ceded to Nevada. That way, West Wendover, Nev., could help solve economic problems and allow for more growth for the Utah city. However, because of money concerns, that deal never happened.

Fuller says it's likely Four Corners won't be moved either. The land in Utah is owned by the Navajo Nation, while the land in Colorado is owned by the Ute Mountain Indian Tribe.

"It's been that way for decades, and the current location where the monument is located is the acceptable spot to be in four states at once," Fuller said.

Case says another way to look at it is that now the old survey marker on top of the plateau is wrong.

"If all the states involved and the U.S. Congress get together and say the current recognized Four Corners is the actual Four Corners, then that's that." Case said. "And since they all did agree on it, the current location of the Four Corners National Monument is the correct location."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Much Of Life Is . . . Waiting!

Waiting . . . I'm not very good at it. Usually, I'm downright awful at it. Patience is certainly a virtue . . . that I find very difficult to master.

How much of your life is spent waiting? You stand in a line to order a Big Mac. You wait for the light to turn to green. Your phone call is placed on hold. You are waiting for your pay check. When is that child coming home? When will the boss notice my hard work? Will the Cubs finally win it all this season? You get the point. Much of our lives are spent waiting.

You've been there, I'm sure. You can relate.

But, waiting can be as instructive as it is frustrating. Waiting can help us refine our thoughts, to clear our resolve, to give us time to come up the answers that have been eluding us, to allow for an opportunity for solutions to make themselves known and for resources to be realized. Waiting can build our faith in God, deepen our trust in Him to see us through, to deliver us to a place of peace and wellness.

Waiting can help me realize that rashness is rarely well-grounded.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Some Thoughts on Church Buildings

I am in and out of lots of different church buildings each week as I make visits for Manuelito Navajo Children's Home. It is obvious that Churches of Christ have been in the midst of a building boom over the past couple of decades, or so. I am surprised at the number of new facilities I am seeing. I am impressed by the architecture and practicality of these new structures. It is obvious that there is an intent to make church buildings attractive, accessible, and usable throughout the week and for a variety of activities, and not just Sunday worship. But, I do have some observations to make.

  • To build a church building on the same block as another church building seems wrong to me. You've seen such places, where two or more churches are located on the same intersection. I've seen more than one intersection that has a church facility built on each corner! Does this sight not send a negative message to the community at large? It is certainly not a picture of unity. It is too much like the sight of competing filling stations or fast food restaurants and presents an image of the church that is not consistent with the Gospel.

  • A church building without windows is one of the most unattractive sights I see. Maybe I'm being too particular, but a church without windows suggests one thing to me . . . a group that is closed off from the world about it. Or, put another way, a group that is closed-minded and unwilling to look beyond itself. Now, I know, that architecture is not necessary a reflection on theology, but perception . . . the analysis of those looking at us . . . is important. A church without windows (and a hard to find, or unwelcoming entryway, by the way) is uninviting to outsiders.

  • A church facility that is left to deteriorate and is unkempt suggests a lot to people passing by. A dead lawn, as superficial a thing as that is, communicates . . . and not positively. A few flowers and a kept lawn can brighten up a place as much as, and perhaps more than, a multi-million dollar face lift!

  • When the church building supplants the home as a center of activity, then I think something is wrong. I know many churches where the vast majority of fellowship activities are held at the church campus, so much so that families are no longer entertaining others in their houses. I grew up in a large congregation with a large building, including a youth center that would accommodate a hundred people. And, we had many activities there, BUT the activities I looked forward to were the ones held in someone's home. Those Sunday night devotionals hosted by various families were some of my favorite youth group activities. Sadly, it seems that in many places such activities are a thing of the past. There's a point where our buildings become too practical.

  • It is sad, and I believe sinful, when a congregation mortgages their mission obligations to build a new meeting place. I know of so many evangelistic and benevolent works that have lost much needed support because some church wanted to build a gymnasium. I believe God mourns over these frivolous choices.

I have been in many multi-million dollar places of worship, BUT my favorite places to worship include a rustic log chapel at Pine Springs Youth Camp, Fisher Hall at Quartz Mountain Christian Camp (basically a roof over some hard metal "pews", a lakeside amphitheater at Camp Blue Haven, and a 15-passenger van I once wrote about. I love the words of Jesus, "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18.20). (Yes, I acknowledge that the immediate context of this statement is not worship, but there certainly is a principle implied that guides our worship.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cleaning Up Another Man's Trash

Nancy and I have spent the past two evenings cleaning up a big mess . . . one we didn't create. We have a house in Luther, Oklahoma that we rent out. Our most recent tenant left on July 24, cutting his lease short by 21 months . . . and leaving the house, to put it mildly, trashed out. Every room was literally covered in old clothing, broken toys, busted furniture, wadded up paper, empty (and not so empty) food cartons and containers, dishes, clothes hangers . . . and a few (actually, several) dirty diapers. I won't even begin to describe what we found piled in the storm cellar.

Have you ever cleaned up a mess left by others? If you have lived any length of time, at all, I imagine you have. It is not pleasant, is it? And a bit (or a lot) irritating! And, hopefully, it should cause us to stop and think.

Stop and think, that is, about our own actions and the affect they have on other people. Because, it seems likely (and, sadly, I am speaking to myself as much as anybody else) that at times we have left messes for others to clean up. And, I'm not just speaking literally, but figuratively, as well. Perhaps it was some instance of irresponsibility on our part, when other people suffered because of work we left undone, or underdone. Or perhaps it was when we weren't thinking, when we were distracted, when we were thinking way too much about ourselves than about anybody else. Maybe it was deliberate--we knew what we were doing, and we knew that our actions would adversely affect others, and . . . we just didn't care!

We do not live life in a vacuum. What we do affects other people. Maybe only slightly. Sometimes, and even often times, significantly! Hopefully not to the level of a house filled with stinking garbage, but certainly to the point where we should stop and think about how what we are doing will affect those around us.

Let us all live our lives with the desire to give and not take, to serve and not be served . . . to love and not disregard!

It is so nice to report that our house is now clean and, as of next Monday, newly occupied!

Monday, August 2, 2010

In the Place of Abel

Genesis 4 begins and ends with a birth announcement, the news that a son had been born to Adam and Eve. In v. 1, the son is Cain, at whose birth Eve declares, "I have made a man equal with the Lord." In v. 25, the son is Seth, at whose birth Eve declares, "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him."

The significance of these birth announcements is found in the two responses of Eve. Do you notice a change in attitude as Eve names Seth? Doesn't Eve seem a bit prideful as she names her firstborn son, Cain? "I have made a man equal with the Lord," she declares. This, contrasted with the naming of Seth: "God has appointed for me another child." As she welcomed her first child, she shouted, "I did this!" As she welcomed her third son, she was humble: "God did this."

To understand the birth announcements and the reason for Eve's change in attitude, we must look back to Genesis 3. You remember the story. The serpent tempts the woman, the woman eats the forbidden fruit and gives to her husband to eat, and he eats. God comes in judgment. His words to the serpent are striking: ". . . he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel" (vv. 14-15). What do these words anticipate? They prophesy that the serpent will eventually be destroyed by the seed of the woman.

Might the woman have thought that she could get even with the serpent who had deceived her and cost her so much? Might the woman have thought that her own seed (her son) would be the source of her redemption? Eve's arrogance at the birth of Cain seems to suggest this. She had the view that she had produced the child . . . the seed that would get vengeance. But, then tragedy unfolds as Eve's son of promise kills his brother, Abel, and is driven away to a foreign land. Eve, in essence, is left without a son and the hope of her redemption seems to be shattered.

Then, in the depth of this despair, God blesses Eve with another son, whom she names Seth, declaring him to be "in the place of Abel."

At the birth of Seth, Eve is humble. She says, "This is God's doing." This is interesting. At Cain's birth, she claimed credit. At Abel's birth she had said nothing (indeed there is no reference to Abel being named; see Gen. 4.2). But now Eve credits God withe the birth of her son, one to replace Abel.

Remember, God had favored Abel and his offering, but not Cain and his offering. Is there a connection between this and Eve's hope that Cain would be her redeemer? Consider: the one whom Eve thought was the source of her salvation, her son Cain, was not the one God had appointed; he favored Abel. And, it is ultimately through the lineage of Seth that the redeemer will actually come. Jesus is the promised seed spoken of by God in his judgment of the serpent, the one through whom Eve's (actually, mankind's) redemption will be realized.

With this account of Eve and her sons a theme begins to develop that will continue to be woven throughout the Biblical story. Abel was favored by God, not Cain; Isaac was chosen, not Ishmael; Jacob was blessed, not Esau; Rachel was loved by Jacob, not Leah, but it is through Leah that God's blessing is passed; Judah was blessed, not Reuben; the youngest son of Jesse was chosen, not the eldest; and, so forth.

The significance of this trend: God brings his favor, salvation, redemption by his initiative and doing. Man has no room to boast.

Do we place ourselves in Eve's sandals (or, did she go barefoot?)? She put her reliance in Cain, only to see her hopes shattered when Cain murdered his brother. Can we relate to Eve's folly? To her lost hope? To the despair she must have felt? When we rely on ourselves and the things and power and status we accumulate, we will in time, be disappointed.

Let us have Eve's attitude as she welcomed her youngest son: "God has appointed for me another child in place of Abel."