Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Gettin' Horny

Odd Encounter of the Weeks: Horn

Honking the horn has never been a habit of mine. I have always likened it to cussing, something which I used to never do and now only do when I want to be cool. Cussing expressed my anger in very uneducated terms. Being an English major, I would look down the line of my nosebone and proclaim, "Cussing is a sign of poor vocabulary." I felt I could do better than this. Same with blaring my horn. It seemed a similarly obnoxious, unpleasant, uneducated expression of my anger, so I abstained for the longest time.

Plus, I saw this road rage story on tv one time where a guy got out of his car at a stop light and starting wailing on a car that had just honked at him. Apparently, this gentleman was on his way to the batting cages. This situation seemed embarassing. Its possibility haunted me into silence for years.

Then one day, I got cut-off. Bad cut-off. Already possessing a short-fuse, I knew this was the moment. I was going to honk my horn. With only a moments hesitation, I brushed the horn in the center of the steering wheel of my beloved '93 Honda Accord. As quickly as I jerked back my hand, I might as well have been a 4-year touching the stovetop to see if it was REALLY as hot as Mom said it was.

Having horned for the first time, I waited for the fall-out. Would I feel guilty? Would the guy go Barry Bonds on my car? Would he flip me the bird like Josh Smith in Bobcats Arena?

Then the fall-out came. . . . it felt awesome. What freedom! What liberation! What outlet for my angst! How come no one ever told me about this before?!?!?!

Despite this positive first experience, I still rarely give people the horn in an attempt to control my rage. Plus, that whole baseball bat thing.

Yet, the oddest thing has happened over the last couple of weeks. I am consistently horning people in the same place and at the same time of day.

My "commute" to work takes all of four minutes. I actually ran there a couple of days ago; it's that short. Right as I reach the shopping center though, I have to make an unprotected left at a stoplight - a stoplight which is always backed up with real commuters. I always end up sitting in the intersection until the light turns pink and then quickly scooting out of harm's way before the floodgates open to the x-axis. This is how traffic goes in South Charlotte. No biggie.

Except when the backed up cars run the red light. Now I have no problem running a light that has just recently turned red. p=mv tells us momentum is a force to be reckoned with - or given in to. What bothers me is that these people see me sitting in the intersection and know that I am helplessly at their mercy. Yet, onward they plow, leaving me open to t-bone.

This is beginning to happen quite frequently, so I have responded with the horn. Maybe they just don't see me, and my horn will suffice as a motivator for consideration in later trips. Mostly though, I believe them to be inconsiderate, selfish, and elitist. So I express my displeasure at their attitudes.

Most people use their horn to say, "!@#$ you," a vehicular middle finger if you will. I prefer mine to say, "Excuse me, jolly good sir, you seemed [sip from tea cup] to have engaged in a maneuver that inconvenienced me and put yourself in danger [check the time on chained pocket watch]. I just wanted to remind you to do be careful next time [polish monocle], for my sake as well as yours. Cheery good day to you and your family, sir."

At 7:15 in the morning though, I'm not certain what my horn is saying. All I know is I have to sit on my non-driving hand to keep from clarifying.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Art On!

My comments yesterday on the universal existence of the artist may seem to open the door for subjectivity, that everything must be "good" if one mere eye finds it pleasing. I do not ascribe to this sentiment. I used the phrase "good writing" yesterday, indirectly admitting to the existence of "writing" or even "bad writing." An objective standard exists whether we want to acknowledge it or not. This is why the likes of Homer, Joyce, and Morrison consistently barge into English classrooms. To argue that everything is equal would demean genius. What sadness that would be.

However, the existence of genius should not keep us artistic serfs from expressing ourselves. Simply becauese I cannot write like Eliot or paint like Monet or act like Kilmer (saw "Tombstone" this weekend; Doc Holliday's character is immaculate) does not mean I should abstain from creatively expressing myself. To do so would be to deny a part of my character, a vital part that reflects the image of my creator. This discouragement is what I fear when people narrow the definition of artist.

The University of North Carolina has many great basketball players. It has seen an even greater number pass through; multitudes of jerseys fill the rafters to remind people of this greatness. Every winter day on that campus, hundreds of the common enrolled flock to Woolen Gym to find pick-up games. A lot of these guys played ball in high school but simply choose not to continue their careers in college. Many did not but want to play anyways.

Wayne Ellington is a much better player than, say, me. That still does not keep me from going to get a little exercise, exhausting some excess competitive spirit, and participating in an activity that gives me life. In fact, I would wager to say he would even ENCOURAGE me to do so, just as I saw former UNC player Marvin Williams do when he visited the dorm courts to play with us athletic commoners my sophomore year.

How this response differs from the one I so often receive from the cultural bastions.

My friend (and more importantly, frequent commenter on "Redeeming Prufrock") Jeff has begun posting some works of fiction that he has created. I think this is beautiful. When we express ourselves through creation, when we do art, it really is a beautiful thing. We offer ourselves in a personal, intimate, vulnerable manner - kind of like how we are meant to relate to one another in authentic community. I believe creative expression is healthy and freeing, connecting us to one another. 'Tis a shame that anyone should be discouraged in that endeavor.

I am no Faulkner, O'Brien, or Greene, and I do not claim to be. Have pity on any generation that finds Humphries on the bookshelf next to Hemmingway. Yet, that fact should not keep me from creatively expressing myself and appreciating the beauty I see around me. From arting, if you will. We ought to encourage this expression from people. I think it would be pleasing to our Creator God. We are, after all, small chips off one big ol' block.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Portrait of an Artist

No one has ever accused me of being an artist, and much evidence supports this silence. I do not enjoy opera but will jam out to *NSYNC. I cannot draw anything except for an elephant, but even the last time I did that someone mistook it for a large dog. I do not play an instrument and do not sing outside of the shower. I do not write poetry for fun and cannot tell you the difference between the Grammy's, the Oscars, or the Emmy's. Oh, and I watch lots of sports. I don't think artists are allowed to do that.

Despite this damning mountain of evidence, I assert that I am an artist. And here's my case:

I like to write. I like to read good writing. I like "Phantom of the Opera" and "Shawshank Redemption."

And that's all I got. But I think there's more to it than that.

It seems the word "artist" is one those increasingly prevalent words whose meaning has been highjacked by a group of people for the purpose of isolating themselves. If a person does not fit a set of characteristics or perform certain actions, she/he is not an artist. The painter who masters a canvas can claim the title while a CEO who masters the market cannot. A musician who creates a beuatiful symphony can claim the title while the Bosie St. football coach who created a beautiful hook-and-ladder cannot. Confining the word to certain cultural norms stiffles its broadness, destroys its ability to connect us to each other, and mars its beauty.

The difficulty here is that "art" is such a hard word to define. dictionary.com offers 20 defintions. If we say that the word involves expressing oneself, appreciating beauty, and creating creatively, I don't think it takes any of the qualities I listed at the outset to be an artist. The word beautifully expands, claiming not only painters, muscians, and directors but hairdressers, athletes, and orators. In fact, I will argue that the word will claim a part of all of us. Even a cultural dolt like me.

It seems that most people (I won't say "all" because that is such an encompassing word. . . but I have a hunch) possess these artistic characteristics. We long to express ourselves; our conversation, our journaling, our books, our music, our clothes, all scream to the world, "Hey!!! This is me!" We long for beauty, though it may take innumerable forms - everything from comic books to sports to fantasy basketball (just kidding) to nature to drama. Finally, we long to create, to accomplish, to take ownership of a work - whether it be model cars or scarfs or blog posts or houses or TPS reports or. . . . Our bodies even model this, as we have the biological ability to create more of our own. We are very literally creative beings.

Ultimately, I believe we all can claim ourselves as artists because we are made in the image of our Creator God, a being with an artist's heart. He loves creating, evidenced by our existence and the pleasure he takes in that existence. Not only does he create, but he creates beautifully. The majestic mountains whose beauty even condos and ski slopes cannot hide. The diverse personalities and talents of his people. The great expanse of the sky with myriad of starry lights that made Einstein question atheistic beliefs. The intricate and eloquent expressions of God's character found in the Biblical text.

God is a Creator; God loves beauty; God expresses himself.

I will take the leap and call God an artist. As one made in his image, feeling these same desires to express, to appreciate, and to create, I take the even bigger leap and call myself an artist.

More on this tomorrow.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Weekend Wanderings

Random thoughts heading into the weekend:

-I've had to go into work at 6am a lot recently. This is early, but not demoralizing - until I turn on the tv while I'm eating my Reese's Puffs. Sportscenter is on ALL the time. You can't get away from it. Except at 5:45am when it's not on. That's early. Demoralizingly early.

-A female co-worker of mine also works as an assistant teacher for a local elementary school. The teacher she is paired with is Bill Polian's daughter (Bill Polian is the General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts). My co-worker has a free Super Bowl ticket, as well as access to places that exclude peons, but has to work the Saturday before. She could not find someone to cover for her, so her little brother is taking the ticket instead. At some point, you just have to lie. "Borders, I'm sick. . . ."

-Coca Cola Zero is delicious.

-During the summer after my high school graduation, a friend of mine dated the actress who played the 23-year old blonde with the tumor on "Grey's A" last night. I played third wheel a couple times, going with them to parties and such. You can have my autograph, if you'd like.

-I've been shelving a lot of books about dogs recently at Borders. Is there anything consistently cuter than puppies? I submit there is not. I mean, come on, look at this and this and this and this and. . . .

-The State of the Union address has entered the realm of the absurd. I read an article about the speech's content in Tuesday's "Charlotte Observor." Sound odd? It should because the speech wasn't given until Tuesday night. Talk about bad advertising. That's like giving the final score before showing the actual sporting event (not to mention any names, Olympic coverage). Where's the motivation to actually watch the speech? Maybe it's in Absurdity #2, the incessant clapping or lack thereof. It's like watching second-graders mindlessly supporting friends because they are cool or stubbornly hating non-friends because they are dumb. I suppose the applause shows support or criticism, but it looks like childish pouting to me. Let your voice and your vote speak, even though that may require actual attendance in Congress.

-The best part about watching the State of the Union: the constant presence of Dick Cheney's facial expression. You can just tell that man thinks he's better than you.

-To answer Oakley's question from Tuesday's comments: Winning fantasy basketball gets you pride, personal glory, and the respect of your peers.

And a need to repent, of course.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hidden Truth

"When people who don't regularly attend church think of Christianity, who do they think of?"

That was the question of the night yesterday in the class I am currently attending entitled "Theology and Culture." An interesting list emerged; those of you who read about class two weeks ago will notice that our group is fond of lists. And really, who isn't? This list included:

Joel Oostein
Jim Bakker
Jerry Fallwell
Al Sharpton
Pat Robertson
Billy Graham
Rick Warren
the Pope

I thought of Mel Gibson, Tony Dungy, and anyone running for President.

This opening question led to a discussion on how the media portrays Christians and Christianity. We agreed that Christianity receives less than "mad props," as the kids are saying these days. Mistakes made by prominent Christian leaders are well-documented. The people who "speak for" Christianity are often brash and ungracious. On many issues, the news paints evangelicals as close-minded and intolerant. Whether all of this is deserved or not is for another time.

When we tried to come up with a likeable Christian character on teleivision or in a movie, silence dominated the room. It seems like coniving Catholics and Ned Flanders dominate these arenas.

The cultural powers that be do not seem to maintain a great deal of respect for the followers of Christ.

Rewind: Two weeks ago in this same class, we discussed Christ figures in cinema - basically characters who possessed qualities similar to those of Jesus. John CoffeY (thanks for the edit, Caesar). William Wallace. The old guy from "Lord of the Rings." These characters were all portrayed as heroes for their Christ-like actions.

What's more, movies about Christ rarely ever cast a cynical shadow about him. "The Passion." "The Nativity Story." Even the creators of Monty Python's "Life of Bryan" admitted they toned done their Jesus satire after gaining a respect for his life during their research of it. Very little is said to discredit of the person of Jesus. This stands in stark contrast to what is said about his followers.

The cultural powers that be seem to like Jesus. Jesus is cool.

I think this is partly true because our society has a skewed view of Christ, that he is simply the best social worker that ever lived and was a victim for standing up for his beliefs.

I think this is also partly true because the Bible tells us there is something uniquely powerful about the actual name "Jesus." Try this out: Next time you find yourself in a conversation about God, don't talk about "God" but talk about "Jesus." Watch everyone start to squirm. That's a name with power. Whether acknowledged or not, our culture recognizes there is something different about this name and doesn't want to mess with it.

What all of this reveals is that our culture understands the foundational truths of the Gospel. People hurt themselves and others around them; people are bad - Christians, with Paul admittedly at their head, being foremost among these sinners. Whether or not the media fairly portrays Christians should pale in comparison to the fact that they portray us accurately, as sinners. And no, I haven't sexually assaulted minors or condemned large groups of people like those guys on television. But let me tell you what goes on inside of me, my thoughts, my motivations, my hidden actions. Let me tell you what I'm capable of given certain circumstances.

Conversely, Jesus is good. He is perfectly holy, without flaw, the best of all that is good. Our culture, so often condemned as secuarl and unfriendly towards Christianity, gets this. At least, that's what our televisions and movie screens seem to convey.

Oh, that we would cease to bemoan our cultural image. The points of the Gospel have been plotted. What energy we would have to lovingly create the line segment, showing people the connection between our brokeness and Christ's holiness.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Following Up

Last week, I asked you, dear reader, to pray for Tom Sorenson, a sports writer for the "Charlotte Observor" who had decided to attend church for the first time in a long time. If you missed it and want to get caught up, here's a link.

He wrote about his church experience in a recent blog entry, and I wanted ya'll to have the chance to read about it. Check it out here; it's the second post from the top (the one at the top is fairly entertaining too).

I wrote last Wednesday that I thought Tom was a very good writer. In this post, he writes of genuine community, divine mystery, honest vulnerability, love, unPrufrockian boldness, fruitful prayer, heartfelt thanks, and hope. That, my friends, is beautiful writing.

We have no right to demand to see God's kingdom advancing or to see fruit of any labor in which we may partake; it is a graceful gift that God even takes us along for the ride. All the glory and all the credit for all good belong to God. He alone does great wonders (Psalm 136:4). This makes it all the more blessed when he allows us a glimpse at his work, to see that God in fact is not dead, that he still loves, that the Hound of Heaven still hunts after his beloved. I was utterly encouraged by Tom's post. I hope you all were too.

He writes that he doesn't know where to go from here. God still has great, important, unthinkable places to take him. At the risk of having a blog monopolize your prayer time, please pray for him once more, that maybe this Sunday he goes to church not because of football but because of desire.

Thank you all who cared enough, and believed enough, to pray for him last week.

"Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. . . ."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Sweet, Sweet Fantasy

Odd Encounter of the Week: Question Concerning Fantasy Basketball

No one likes Fantasy NBA. The number of people who like Fantasy NBA is even lower than the number of NBA fans. Yeah, that few.

Part of the reason people don't like fantasy basketball is because of the absurdity of the concept. This follows for all fantasy sports. People choose players to create their own team, then follow the players' stats but not the actual outcomes of the games. In the grand scheme of things, an actual sporting event is irrelevant. That renders fantasy sports absurd beyond words. Furthermore, any fantasy that does not involve dragons, castles, and/or members of the opposite sex has not earned the title "fantasy."

The reason even many sports fans neglect fantasy basketball is because it is not fantasy football. For whatever reason, fantasy football is the pinacle of fantasy sports. My roomate (and, more importantly, blog profile interest) Nate recently asked me if I thought fantasy basketball was better than fantasy football. I responded in the affirmative. Fantasy NBA scores across 12 statistical categories whereas Fantasy NFL is primarily determined by touchdowns. Ergo, fantasy basketball requires more strategy and expertise, making it "better."

Though Nate has taken a lot of junk from me in our ten years of friendship, the look in his eyes and the silence of his response let me know that, at that precise moment, he ceased having any respect for me.

Imagine my ecstasy then to visit "Redeeming Prufrock" this morning and find that a comment had been left asking a legitimate question about Fantasy NBA. Quick, someone take a picture.

My dear friend from Mississippi, Wilson Notthevolleyball, asked the secret to finding satisfaction through fantasy basketball. Someone actually cares! Someone besides my ex-roomate, affectionately called "El G," who used to stay up until 4am making statistical spreadsheets for Bill-Walton-knows how many players. El G knew MY team better than I did. I tell you this because he is a jolly fella and won't mind the embarrassment and shame that should be directed his way for this revelation.

So at the request of Wilson and to the dismay of all intellectual readers everywhere, I relay my three secrets to long-term fantasy basketball fulfillment:

3) Avoid injury. I'm not talking about carpal tunnel here. I mean avoid injury for the players on your team. Zero's in the stat column for long periods of time will destroy your position in the standings, as well as your morale (listen up, Yao Ming and Lamar Odom). Oh, and double-barrelled middle fingers to the crowd as a player leaves the court is not encouraged - although my boy Josh Smith only got a $25,000 fine, not a suspension. He can afford the fine; I can't afford him to miss games.

2) Persevere through the first year. It takes a while to get the hang of it, especially if you come from a fantasy football background. My first year with basketball, I drafted all scorers thinking "touchdowns" were what was needed. Wrong. I got pounded every week, winning the points category but losing just about everything else. I finished 7th that year, was 2nd last year, and am currently in first place. You will improve as you go, and winning breeds contentment.

1) Hold constant vigil. As Wilson noted, you must choose your starters every day depending on which team is playing. Beating people to good players on waivers also helps (Knick David Lee has been a rebound monster for me this year), but you must be fast - especially with guys like my old roomie lurking around. Finally, keeping tabs on your team will hopefully keep them from flipping off 20,000 people. This hasn't been proven yet; all I know is that when I let my guard down, the birds took flight.

(Ed.'s Note: Reason #1 is why I will not be playing fantasy NBA next year, as it breeds an unhealthy lifestlye, bordering on addiction. A good life motto is: Go hard or go home. In this case, going home is the wiser choice).

So there you have it, my three secrets to fantasy basketball fulfillment. Always remember when the world tosses hate the way of fantasy hoops, take heart and comfort from the relevant words of Mariah Carey (with an assist from ODB): Fantasy basketball, it's so deep in my daydreams; it's just a sweet sweet fantasy, baby.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Place Matters

Place is a big deal to us Southerners. After all, we maintain a fierce loyalty to a piece of ground, a place known simply as "The South," with a tenacity rivaled only by those hailing from the pseudo-nation of Texas. Furthermore, our literature consistently exudes themes centered around the importance of place. These places even sometimes become characters. Sweet Home in Morrison's "Beloved." Twain's mighty Mississippi River. Home in Lee Smith's novel "Oral History." Faulkner's infamous Yoknawpatawa County.

For whatever reason, place seems to matter to us.

A Southerner once spent a summer living in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. This Southerner met many new people, and in trying to get to know them better, he would immediately ask, "Where ya from?" Why, you might query? Because this is just what you do, of course. Whenever his new friend from the commonwealth answered with a Bostonian suburb that the Southerner had heard of (or even - gasp! - been to), he would respond with great excitement, even though the fact that two people know of the same town means nothing substantial. His new friends rarely ever returned his excitement, simply gazing at him in confusion and often calling him "cute." The Southerner just loved to relate to others about place.

I spent this weekend in the mountains of North Carolina. While my roomates carved and shredded the half-pipe on their 'boards, dude, I hung around the condo trying to find some peace, doing things like sleeping, reading, praying, and the like. My day looked remarkably similar to many of my days off back in Charlotte. A newly working young male looking for rejuventation by any means available.

Something was different this weekend because I actually found this rest that I had so craved. My times in prayer were more focused than they'd been in months. The two places I read from in the Bible actually possessed near identical themes (it's so coincidental how that happens, don't you think?). Throughout my day, I never felt the oh so familiar urge to take a nap. Something was different.

The odd thing about this weekend was that it should not have been that odd at all. The same people were in my life (that being my roomates). The same temptations to sloth were literally in my face (Mr. Television, I'm looking at you). There was no reason I shouldn't have wanted to nap like usual. Yet, for whatever reason, a patient and peaceful rest met me there in the mountains that I had not felt in a while. The only thing different was the place.

(As a sidebar, I was unable to follow my fantasy basketball team without internet access which was a substantial difference between my Charlotte life and this weekend. Perhaps this is telling. Without my constant vigil, however, my shooting guard Josh Smith felt the need to get ejected from Saturday's game and leave the court with both middle fingers skyward. Classy. What's more important is that this will certainly merit a suspension, slowing the fantasy basketball buzzsaw that is "Ridin' Dirty." But I digress.)

Maybe us backwards Southerners are on to something. Maybe the question, "Where ya from?" isn't irrelevant and worthy of condescending smiles. All I know is that something was different this weekend though the distractions, the temptations, and the main character were the same. I can't explain it.

Or maybe I can. After all, I'm a Southerner. Place matters.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Kickin' It Old-School Again

Some more good stuff from a text written before I was born, the "Heidelberg Catechism No. 1 & 2." Hope ya'll's weekends are exactly what you need them to be.

"Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong - body and soul, in life and in death - to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

Q. What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A. Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Walking Out

One my favorite texts in the Bible tells the story of a paralytic who is lowered through a roof by his friends in order to get him to the feet of Jesus because the crowd is too large to approach otherwise. I've referenced this passage from Mark 2 a couple times in my blogging, even trying to do art with it a couple weeks ago. This was far out of character for me; I have never been accused of being an artist.

I love the fact that the friends tear a hole in an unidentified person's roof to get their friend to Jesus. This is radical. This is love. And, let's be honest, this is fun. Or at least it sounds like it.

I want to be these men who care enough about their friend to take such irresponsible action. I like to think we have a responsibility to care for others, and for Christians, that means getting people to Jesus by any means possible. Prayer is one of the most powerful ways we do this. Thus, yesterday's post.

Despite this role that I want to play, I often am cast as the incapacitated character. This text is a great source of comfort to me because sometimes I just can't get myself to Jesus. Sometimes the crowd is too dense. Sometimes I lack the desire. Sometimes life wears me down to the point of that mental exhaustion that no nap can cure. Sometimes I've been hurt by other people or, worse, I've hurt other people. Sometimes I just can't get off the mat.

I think we all find ourselves in these places more than we'd like to admit - all of us, that is, except perhaps Tom Brady.

"Community" is one of those words that gets tossed around in Christian circles quite a bit. Other people may know a lot of smart things about it, but I don't. Like the effect the Bible has on my life, I can't explain it's goodness. This passage helps give me a bit of insight though. During these times when I just can't get to Jesus, my friends so often can. They tear holes in the roof for me. They listen to me when months of repressd thoughts need to come out. They spend time with me. They pray for me. Simply put, they believe for me when I cannot.

What beautiful words they are that I read: "And Jesus seeing THEIR faith said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'"

I don't know much about community except that Mark 2 tells me it can help get me to the feet of Jesus when I cannot do it myself. I know that I like that.

"The paralytic got up, took his mat, and walked out in full view of them. . . ."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Losing a Bet; Gaining God Knows What

During my few months as a blogger, I've decided that certain topics are inappropriate. Fecal humor, as you all know, is completely allowed and encouraged. Deep personal issues, on the other hand, are not. Those topics must be brought into light and discussed, but with close friends via face time, telephone, e-mail, or some other intimate interaction. Community with close friends is vital. Thus, I hesitate to bring up what I am bring up today. I do it because the information was brought to me via blog and newspaper article, so the subject has already put it out there in the open. Plus, I believe much is at stake.

One of the best parts about living in Charlotte is the availability of the city newspaper, the "Charlotte Observor." A lot of people don't like the Observor, especially conservatives. They claim it leans left, contains bias, the usual. I disagree, as I think it's generally fair to both sides of the political spectrum. What's more, I find it very fair to and even respectful of faith. What I like the most about the Observor, though, is the sports section. They write about teams I care about, and I really enjoy reading their columnists. I think they are calm in their opinions, entertaining to read, and really good writers.

One of the columnists is Tom Sorenson. I've read him for years, dating back to early high school. This past weekend, he made his NFL playoff predictions in his column, gandering a wager with his readers (or maybe himself). If he didn't win 3 out of 4 games, he said, he would attend church. Here's the article, if interested.

This fascinated me, as he created the bet. No one imposed terms on him. What an odd losing obligation, to go to church. People just don't bet that kind of thing unless they wouldn't mind going to church. It creates a no-lose situation. Looking back on it, the bet makes some sense. Sorenson, who calls himself "more spiritual than religious," has noticeably softened his bitter comments against his ex-wife in recent years and has written a lot more about sports not being the end-all be-all of life. This is an unpopular stance for sportswriters, and fans, to take. Judging by his writing, something in life seems to be changing.

Then I open today's paper and he concludes his article on Muhammad Ali's 65th birthday with this: "When Ali was in Charlotte three years ago, I was told I could ask him one question, one-on-one. I considered at least 10, none of them good. Finally I asked, 'What's the secret of life?' He paused, bent down and whispered in my ear, 'Believe in God.' If I could tell Ali one thing on this, his 65th birthday, it would be, thanks for everything."

It's just a hunch but it seems like Sorenson is searching for something. Just a hunch. And Sunday, he goes to church. Here's his blog post about that.

To make this really crazy and personal for me, he came into Borders this week. I got called to the registers to check someone out and wouldn't you know it, it was him. This was a big deal to me, as he's probably my strongest literary influence right now, given that he writes concise articles and I read him all the time - and love it. In the store, he was patient, pleasant, and thankful. Mad props for that. The line was empty by the time our transaction was completed. He was the only person I helped.

I don't know why I was fortunate enough to get to meet him, but I've learned long ago not to believe in coincidence. Maybe it was for prayer purposes. Or maybe meeting another celebrity was just a bit of grace to get me through the day. Or maybe I just don't understand.

Regardless, he is going to church Sunday, and I am praying for him. I'm writing here to ask any of you all out there who do that kind of thing to pray as well. I feel intrusive writing about this, but he put all of this information out there for the world to read. I'm not revealing anything he hasn't already written about publically (except me meeting him, of course). If you talk about going to church, you're going to get prayed for. Sorry.

If you've read me long enough, you know that I believe life is hard in this broken world and that I believe in eternity. Thus, I think a lot could be at stake this weekend. If Tom is searching for something Sunday, I'm praying that he finds it. I hope ya'll will too.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bath, Bed, and Beyond!

My posts usually emerge from random thoughts that I have during the day at work. Shelving books for hour upon hour requires very little mental effort, so something has to go on up there - and contrary to a recent opinion poll of my roomates and other close chums, something usually does. Writing here helps ground what I think about during the day.

I had a bad day at work today, for no particular reason. It just struck me right after lunch that I felt like not working. My thoughts for the afternoon (normally prime thinking time after the hot steam of my coffee burns off the early morning mental fog) went something like this:

"I'm tired. . . . I got eight hours of sleep last night; why am I tired?. . . . Ugh, it's only 2:31. . . . Who put these books back in the wrong order?!?!?!. . . . I hate customers. . . . Pooh! The books fell off the shelf AGAIN!!!. . . . My back hurts. . . . I'm 22 years-old, and my back hurts. . . . Lisa just stuck her cheek in my face and told me to give her a "kissie" (my co-worker Lisa is in her mid-40's, married and a mother of two, and is a real sweetie except on days like today). . . . This stack of books needing to be shelved isn't getting any smaller. . . . Ugh, it's only 2:33. . . . I feel like a turd sandwich. . . ."

That was the PG-rated version for the sake of all the kids out there. And to avoid that pesky "Parental Advisory" stamp, which really cramps my flow, if you're feeling me.

I know I shouldn't complain, and I didn't - outloud. Regardless, these thoughts were put on "Repeat" and accounted for the majority of what I thought about today. Accordingly, I have nothing of substance to write.

Except that I'm taking a bath and going to bed. Tomorrow, my friends, is a new day.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Magic Eye Scripture

A friend recently asked me whether or not we should always be excited about reading the Bible. I don't know, I responded.

I probably should be excited every time I open God's Word. If it is what I say I believe it is, it should be breathtaking. Yet, I often have to discipline myself into reading it despite my desire to do something else. Sometimes I'm not focused and miss a lot of what the text has for me. Occassionally, I'm even bored. While true, all of this, I believe, is to my discredit.

Occassionally, a verse jumps out at me despite my lackadaisical habits and makes me say, "Wow." It's kind of like those old 3-D pictures that you had to stare at really hard for, like, 30 seconds and then a picture seemed to emerge from the page. I would usually respond, "Wow," not knowing how the forever undefined "they" made that happen. It's kind of like that, except I'm usually not looking as hard.

This happened at church yesterday. The verses were from 2 Corinthians 8:2-4:

". . . that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints."

Paul is writing about a group of people from a region called Macendonia. Here are the thoughts that "Wow"ed me:

1. These people gave according to their ability. How rare this is, to honestly look at my finances and give what I know I can.

2. They gave despite "affliction" and "deep poverty." These could've been legitimate excuses.

3. These people gave beyond their ability. I venture this means they imposed poverty on themselves, or maybe more correctly they imposed deeper poverty on themselves, for the sake of others.

4. Who are these people and what's wrong with them?

5. They gave of their own accord, or "entirely on their own," as another translation put it. I suppose this means they gave without being asked. They volunteered to serve. Or more aptly, they paid to serve. Who does that?

6. They "begged" Paul and his contingent not FOR money, mind you, but TO GIVE their money away.

7. They considered themselves "favored" to be able to give their money away. To them, it was a privelege, not a duty, not a responsibliity, not a guilt-trip. At least not primarily.

8. On occasion, I have had to raise money for projects or trips. Each time, a few people have given money, though I know they were experiencing financial hardship. What's more, I had to ask them because they told me, and showed me, they'd be angry with me if I didn't. This text reminded me of these people. How blessed I am to have been around them and to have been loved by them. And to have been taught by their actions.

9. Jesus's message must really be radical, revolutionary even, if it moves people to do something like this.

Wow.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hollywood Shares the Gospel

The other thing that struck me in class on Wednesday night was the prevelance of Christ-like figures in our media. After listing some qualities of Jesus on the white board, we began tossing out films that had characters who fit these traits. The list was diverse, despite the fact that there were only six of us in the room. It included:

Braveheart
Hamlet
Green Mile
Lion King (your welcome)
Blazing Saddles (would you believe it came up twice??? Don't ask me how because I don't know)
Tombstone
Lord of the Rings
Platoon
X-Men
Matrix

My memory of other flicks mentioned now fails me, but this list shows that quite an extensive variety of movies contain, at the very least, arguable Christ-figures. The spectrum runs from the ubermasculine war movie to a child's Disney movie to Western to drama to comedy. Oddly enough, I don't recall a chick-flick being mentioned. Funny how "love" stories didn't make the list.

If we look for him, Jesus seems to be everywhere in movies. This fascinates me, as Hollywood is not known to be a particularly friendly place to Christianity. Yet, Christ-figures pop up in so many of the works. Oftentimes it seems intentional and purposed. The fella in the Green Mile had the name John Coffee, for goodness sake (initials J.C. = Jesus Christ). I bet he was 33 years old too.

One of the most defining features of these characters is that they all sacrifice, and usually die, for the sake of others. This is probably Jesus's most defining work, as he said that the crucifixion and resurrection were the times for which he came. The braintrust in Hollywood seems to have found that this story of sacrifice and love strikes a chord with audiences. We like it. We buy it. They keep putting it out there. Supply and Demand 101.

It makes me wonder if maybe we aren't hardwired to respond to this basic story of someone sacrificing for the sake of others. That if we were created by something, that intangible part of us we often label the "heart" or the "soul" was purposed to be naturally drawn to this story line. That maybe Hollywood's supplying of this demand might reveal something about who we are.

Perhaps the individual human existence turns on this story, that it is somehow part of who we are and who we will be. Perhaps the entirety of human existence turns on this story, that it conveys why we are here. Perhaps it is the most important story of our time.

Perhaps. Just a guess.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Calvary's Green Mile

My friend Tasha currently teaches a class at her church entitled "Culture and Theology." (Expand your bloggygon but checking out her thoughts here!) The class takes a look at how the two interact with one another, and more specifically how Jesus makes his way into our television shows, movies, and music. Last night, we took a look at potential Christ-figures in movies. For blog's sake, we will define these characters as those who seem to have some resemblance to Christ, his works, and/or his words.

Personally, I am more interested in the latter part of the title than the former. Not because I'm a holy-roller or anything like that but because, when it comes to culture, I'm, how should I say this, a dolt. I listen to country music and watch very few movies partly because I don't like spending money but mostly because I can't sit still for three hours. And beyond Grey's A, I watch very little televisions besides sports.

So I'm in way over my head in this class; the examples I brought up referenced "Gettysburg" and "Lion King." Sigh. Tasha showed clips from three movies, "Lord of the Rings," "Braveheart," and "The Green Mile," which arguably had Christ figures in them. I had only seen one of these three. Due to the rabid nature of movie buffs (particularly fans of a couple of these movies) and concern for my self-esteem, I won't reveal which I have seen - and more importantly which I haven't.

Desipte my cinematic indifference, I found myself really moved during the clips from "The Green Mile." For those of you who haven't seen it, one of the main characters possesses the ability to cure the sick by touching them and bearing their illnesses upon himself, thereby healing them. Herein lies one of his Christ-like attributes.

A truth that I have known for so long but have forgotten so often hit me with a new reality watching this film. Jesus bore my illness, my disease, my evil upon the cross; by his wounds, I am healed. I'm not magically healed. It took work, pain, and suffering. I'm healed because he took the ugliness in my life and bore the horrific consequences of it.

I watched this Christ-like character pull a bladder infection from Tom Hanks's character, then collapse on the bed, exhausted by his efforts. I thought of Jesus bearing just one of my sins on the cross and wondered how painful that was for him, how much he suffered for it. Then I thought of all my sins of yesterday and what that must've done to him. And all the ones of my life which must've drained him. And all the ones of the five of us in that room. And not only our sins but also for the sins of the entire world.

I knew this fact, that Christ came to save sinners of which I am foremost, but culture reminded me last night that this is not a philosophical or academic concept. Rather the wages of sin are death - real, excruciating, tortured death. I was reminded that, though I can memorize the Bible verse, I will never understand the magnitude of the statement and of Christ's passion. They are simply too revolutionary, too humbling, too horrific.

And too loving. For greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Novel Idea

Over the past few years, I've had an on-again-off-again desire to write a book. I'd prefer a novel, as it poses a great challenge to me. Making an argument through fiction requires a lot of creativity; plus, stories are generally more fun than essays and such.

I got real excited about this in early June of this year, so excited that I actually begin one. It was going to be about a kid who just recently graduated college and was currently living abroad in an East Asian country (I told you I don't have much of an imagination). The book would chronicle the present but also flashback to episodes from his past. The thesis would have been something about fear and how people choose to respond to it.

My masterpiece made it four pages into my journal before I fell asleep and never touched it again. As with most things in my life, I initially got uber-excited, did some brief work, and, when the newness wore off, stopped. As I read back over it though, those four pages were terrible. Boring and poorly written, lacking creativity. Writing a novel is hard.

I've learned over these past couple months that creativity shouldn't really be an issue because life is so much wierder than anything I could make up. In fact, some of the things that happen to me would be scoffed at as overly ridiculous if I had fabricated them.

Random dude getting his kicks by peeing on the Borders bathroom floor?

Ben, that's too over the top. No one will believe that.

Guy walking into Borders, asking a clerk to help him find a cd, then later stealing that same cd, leaving behind the empty case?

Come on, Humphries, no one would do that. People are either mean or nice, but no one would be that manipulative and demeaning. Plus, employee contact decreases the likelihood of shoplifting

Woman complaining that there is, in fact, not enough explicit material on her DVD?

Come back from Wonderland, Alice, this is Real World South Charlotte.

Elderly man describing what he watched last night at 2am on HBO to me, a Borders employee, in FULL detail (including body motions)?

Preposterous. A serious writer would never make such a thing up.

Yet, I couldn't make stuff up like this with a straight face if I tried. Wierd things happened at college all the time, but that never surprised me. One of the primary purposes of college is to do krazy stuff that you will never have the opportunity and the social acceptance to do again. How surprised I have been to see that the wierdness continues on the flip side, as the kids say. The only difference is that this time they aren't on purpose, and the excuse of youth no longer applies. Which makes them all the funnier.

Life is just plain odd, odder than I ever dreamt it to be. The longevity of my blog testifies to this. I thought I'd of run out of ideas long ago. And yet, the material just keeps coming because life keeps coming.

Maybe my next chef d'oeuvre will be non-fiction because, honestly, in a world like this, who needs to make stuff up?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tuesday Tersenesses

-Overreaching for the sake of alliteration. . . . one of my favorite pasttimes.

-Congrats to Charlotte-native Chris Leak and the Florida Gators on last night's convincing win in the National Championship game. It was a perfect ending for Leak, the MVP, who had many detractors during his stint in Gainesville that included 35+ wins and a coaching change. Unfortunately for the concept of fairness, those same detractors were able to celebrate a National Title today, a championship which he helped bring them.

-On a related note, I'm all for bad puns, but the whole "National Chomps" or "National Chompionship" thing is really, really bad. Not to mention the fact that it's EVERYWHERE.

-During last night's game, I flipped over to pro wrestling during time-outs. I haven't watched in years, but I bet if I watched three episodes, I'd be hooked again. The stuff is terrible - bad acting, bad writing, bad everything. But it's genius in it's addictive nature. I had trouble turning back to the game and actually missed part of it when I turned back too late. Not nearly as bad as when I missed part of this year's Michigan/Ohio St game because I was watching a TiVo'ed Oprah Winfrey episode that showcased the cast of Grey's A, but still bad nonetheless. Wrestling is like smoking. You know it's bad for you, but once you experience it a couple times, it's hard as the dickens to stop.

-Did you know: the most generous state in the Union, measured by charitable gifts per capita, is also the poorest, Mississippi.

-I love Aquafresh toothpaste. Always have. The bad thing about Aquafresh though is that if one drips it on one's shirt, say, while watching Sportscenter before work, it bleaches my, er, one's shirt, flaunting the mistake all day no matter how quickly and intensely one dabs at it immediately after the drippage.

-Hope for all you aspiring writers out there. I noticed today that Nicole Ritchie has a book out. As do wrestlers Kane and Mankind. Kermit the Frog does too - despite the damning rumor in elite bookstore inventory circles that he, in fact, lacks opposable thumbs.

Monday, January 08, 2007

. . . . Until I Stand Alone

My pastor looked lonely yesterday.

Every week, the choir exits right before the sermon begins, and the assistant pastor who does the announcements takes a seat in the congregration. As my preacher starts his sermon, he stands alone in the front. This is how it always is, but this loneliness has never struck me until yesterday. Maybe it was something else.

He began a five-week sermon series yesterday on stewardship. In church jargon, stewardship is usually a code word for "money." The word encompasses a lot more than just that, but if you see that the preacher is preaching on stewardship, NFL pregame shows become a lot more enticing. Even if Michael Irvin's wardrobe is involved.

The reason the word stewardship is often used is because it sounds more pleasant than money. In church, anything sounds more pleasant than money. This is especially true in southeast Charlotte where the most disagreeable thing you can say to a person is, "Jake Delhomme should be the Carolina Panthers' franchise quarterback." Next on the list, though, is telling people what to do with their money.

But this is just what my pastor did yesterday. He dispatched the euphemisms and spoke bluntly. He said things like, "You must question if the Spirit is working in your life if you aren't growing in grace towards others," and "There is no excuse for families in this church to year after year tithe $0." He claimed there were "hundreds" doing just that. Given the number of people in the sanctuary, he wasn't talking behind anyone's back. Moreover, he was talking to a lot of nicely dressed people.

What discomfort it was for all of us. It was that discomfort where you wanted to look around to see how others were reacting but you didn't want to make eye-contact with anyone. Many of us were angry with him for being so blunt. Others pridefully thought he wasn't talking about us. A couple probably realized the Lord was asking more from us. Very few, if any, were comfortable with or excited about what they were hearing.

Herein lies the loneliness. My pastor knew when he got up there that he was going to alienate a lot of people, that he was going to call out folks on potentially the most sensitive issue in our lives. He was going to lower attendance for next week's service, even though he could convey similar ideas in a much more palatable fasion. Yet, he was blunt, and he was clear because much was at stake. Not the power bill at church, mind you, but the hearts of his flock. In the face of our resistance, he spoke truth. Though he may alienate everyone, he still stood. Maybe alone, but he stood anyways.

One of my favorite verses in music comes from an old Jars of Clay song. The line simply goes, "I'll stand until I stand alone." Sunday, my pastor seemed to stand alone.

I want courage like that.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Ben's Top 10 Captivating Sporting Events

Most people who do not enjoy sports hate it when others talk about them. I have run across this on more than one occasion in my life, so I apologize for today's post to those of you who find sports trivial, consuming, or boring. I ask that you graciously humor me for a day.

I've been inspired over the past week to come up with my personal list of favorite sports moments that I have experienced. The sources of inspiration were three-fold: the Boise St./Oklahoma football game, Adam Lucas's article on UNC sports 2006, and my blog-friend Chris Pappa's post from Friday December 22. My list will consist of the ten games that most captured my emotions regardless of whether they made me want to cry, throw something, and yell for a long time. I do this partly because of the aforementioned inspirations but also because goosebumps are never a bad thing.

Ben's Top 10 Captivating Sporting Events:

10. Payne Stewart at Pinehurst - 1999 U.S. Open: One of the first times I ever remember being captivated by a sporting event, and one of the first times I almost cried while watching it. I attended Saturday's third round and watched Payne sink his winning par putt on Sunday while avoiding the drive to camp. Payne died in an airplane accident within the year.

9. Milwaukee Bucks at Charlotte Hornets - May 17, 2001: In Game 6, the Hornets three game winning streak, as well as their strongest bid for the conference finals, ended when Ray Allen was inexplicably left wide-open for three with less than a minute remaining in a tied ball game. I paid $40.00 for a $12.00 ticket just to get in the door. The Hornets lost the series to Milwaukee in Game 7. We lost the team to New Orleans the next year.

8. Duke at UNC - March 6, 2005: Lee Melchioni's 3-pointer gave Duke an insurmountable 9-point lead with 3:00 to go. Marvin Williams's 3-point play finished the Tar Heels's surmounting on senior night. Sean May had 26 points and 24 rebounds that night, and I walked within two feet of him on campus the next day.

7. Furman Paladins at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - June 3, 2005: One of my dearest friends in the world, A.J. Davidiuk, played shortstop for Furman in this 10-inning, NCAA tourny first round game, as the Paladins came close to pulling a George Mason-esque upset. I did not get to see it but spent the better part of 2 hours sneaking away from my summer job to call my parents for updates. The next day against Michigan he went 2-for-3 and got his name on the Bottom Line of Sportscenter.

5a. Miami at UNC - October 30, 2004: The UNC newspaper predicted us to lose 42-3 in this homecoming game. Oops.

5b. NCSU at UNC - October 9, 2004: The defense hadn't stopped anybody all year. No reason to believe they would start now. And then, as I couldn't watch, T.A. fumbled.

4. Carolina Hurricanes at Detroit Red Wings - 2002 Stanley Cup, Game 1: After watching the Hurricanes take Game 1 against the all-world Red Wings, I believed - and drove home listening to "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" by Drowning Pool as loud as my '93 Honda Accord speakers would allow.

3. UNC vs. Oregon St. - June 26, 2006: The Heels dominate the National Championship game but can't get a multitude of runners in from scoring position. A painful throwing error allows the go-ahead run. The curtain falls on maybe my favorite sports team I've ever followed - one day before my birthday.

2. UNC vs. Illinois - April 4, 2005: 12 classes at UNC have experienced a National Title since 1957. I was fortunate to be in one of them.

1. Carolina Panthers at St. Louis Rams - January 10, 2004: Three steps after Steve Smith caught Delhomme's pass, I realized Jason Sehorn was the only person left. I yelled "Go Steve, go Steve," accidently punched my roomate in the face as I pumped my fist, and was giddy for days. The gutty Panthers were advancing to the NFC Championship Game after winning a game I thought they had lost on three separate occasions.

I'd love to hear your top 10 (or 5 or 3 or 1) memorable sports events if you've got them. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Judgment or Accountability?

One of the most biting insults in today's society is to be called a judger. In severity, it approaches calling someone a racist, possessing the ability to utterly humiliate, disempower, and destroy a person and her/his career. The insult implies that one is closed-minded, arrogant, hypocritical, and unbiblical. How often do we hear Jesus's words, "Judge not lest ye be judged," and the accompanying phrase concerning the removal of one's own log before speaking of another's speck. The world certainly loves to assault the church with these verses, as do segments of the church who find other segments to be too judgemental.

This term "judgement" popped up in Tuesday's discussion about Dwayne Jarrett, the junior wide receiver for the Univesity of Southern California. I will cease to refer to football again in this post, as I think the discussion supercedes the superficiality of a game. That discussion spurred some questions in my mind about this concept of judgment though, so that's where I'm headed today.

The question that emerges for me is where does Jesus draw the line between judgement and love. Yes, Christ is very clear that we should not judge others. But neither does he permit us to ignore sin or shrug it off like it's a headcold or a mosquito in our ear.

Josiah read the Law to the Israelite people, condemning their sin and moving them towards uncontrollable weeping. Nehemiah replicates this scene with a later generation. The prophets consistently "judge" Israel for their sin. Jesus pulls a Mussburger on the religious leaders of the day because of their unrepentant sin, only with much harsher language. Even in a moment of unspeakable compassion and grace, Jesus tells the unexecuted prostitue to go and sin no more. Jesus's words even prescribe a process in which we bring to light the sin of a fellow believer. Paul's letters contain rebukes to the churches and yes, individuals, whose sin is separating them from the kingdom. In the last book of the Bible, Jesus shows seven contemporary churches where they can remove sin from their midst.

We are not to judge but we certainly are not to condone sin either. So where does that leave us?

Is it a matter of the heart where rebuking in love is good whereas rebuking in pride is not? Is it a matter of spiritual condition where calling out a sin in a believer is different from one who does not claim Christ? Is it a matter of location where we should wait to acknowledge sin inside the walls of the church? Is it a matter of relationship where with friends it is our place but with acquaintances it is not? I think a biblical case can be made for each of these and all of these and more.

One of the ideas at stake in this discussion is the importance of sin. The wages of sin are death. Sin kills. I've seen very recently how unacknowledged and unrepentent sin has poisoned Christian communities from marriage to apartments to small groups to churches. Sin is a big deal. Jesus acknowledges this with his words on it, using the extreme language of eye gauging and member mutilation when speaking of sin. It has destructive consequences in the here and now, consequences that could help to be avoided by rebuke from fellow believers.

Above all though, the fear for me in all of this is that in our fear of being labeled a judger we forget just how terrible sin is.

And consequently, just how great grace is.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Good, The Brad, and The Potentially Ugly

During the Christmas season, we frequently ran out of specific products at Borders ("You on a Diet," I'm looking at you) which necessitated frequent calls to our sibling store a couple miles down the road to see if they had said product. For me, the results of these calls were relationships, oddly enough, with people I have never met in my life.

My best friend down at the store at Morrocroft is Jeremy. He's my go-to guy; if Jeremy answers the phone, I know I'm in good hands. He doesn't mind chit-chatting before we actually start trying to find a book, consistently has a good attitude even on bad days, and his "Thank you for calling Borders at Morrocroft. This is Jeremy; how may I help you?" is always well-paced. Our relationship is not just restricted to this though. Borders brothers strive for depth. We often critique one another concerning our phone greetings, helping each other to improve our phone answering quality. 'Tis not true friendship if we allow each other to rationalize things which are harmful to ourselves, the customers, and the store.

I was eating at Ruby Tuesday's last night in the same shopping center as the Morrocroft Borders and almost went in to see if Jeremy was working and to introduce myself. Then I realized that I'm not quite that wierd. But just barely. Regardless, for all I know Jeremy may spend his free time tying lit firecrackers to bags of puppies. But at work, Jeremy is the good.

Then there's Brad. Brad also works at Morrocroft and has yet to have a good day of work in his life, at least the days when I have called down there and spoken with him. His phone greeting is monotone, unenthusiastic, and lacks the make-or-break question "How may I help you?". In fact, Brad doesn't even believe in question marks. I have yet to hear him ask a question. When Brad calls us looking for a book, Brad doesn't ask if we have the book; Brad demands that we find the book. Come to think of it, Brad doesn't believe in a lot of things. Like saying "Goodbye." I guess a curt hang-up gets the same result and is more efficient. But then again a dictatorship is more efficient than democracy, and we all know how that works out

When I first spoke with Brad, I was still in my edenic period at Borders. Everything was great. My schedule was flexible and I rarely worked nights. I was hanging out with books all day. Paper cuts had not yet begun to punish my body. After Brad's phone call, I made the comment to a co-worker that Brad from Morrocroft was having a bad day. "Oh, he's always like that," she ho-hummedly replied. Paradise was lost. Few have since had a pleasant conversation with him. He even hung up on one of my co-workers recently. Merry Christmas to you too. Brad is, well, Brad.

I really want to go down to Morrocroft and give Brad a hug. I've never met the guy and maybe he has good reason for being indifferent on the phone. A hug would certainly clear things up though. This is the situation which could get potentially ugly. But the way I see it, he responds to the hug two ways:

a) He realizes that somebody loves him and that turns his whole attitude on its head.

or

b) He punches me. Hard. And gets fired.

We either get a happy Brad or a fired Brad (and lest you think I am too cruel, he could then go find another job which he may enjoy more and thus we end up with a happy Brad). Oh, and Jeremy gets promoted into Brad's position. I think the plan is genius. The only problem is that if I won't even go into Morrocroft to hang with my boy Jeremy, how will I muster the gall to go hug a mean man I've never met?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Dwayne Jarrett and Politics

Dwayne Jarrett is a beautiful football player. I was reminded of this yesterday when he caught a couple touchdowns and 200+ yards against the national championship-worthy Michigan Wolverines defense (Ed's note: the OSU/Mich re-match crowd was noticeably silent this morning in the papers and on television). That performance harkened back memories to his one-handed catch against Notre Dame a couple weeks that was the most breath-taking play I saw all season. Really really beautiful.

Yet, all that was tarnished watching him taunt a Michigan defender on two separate occasions - once pointing at him as he was strutting in for a score and then later on stuffing the ball into the lap of a Wolverine defensive back after making a catch. It's one thing to celebrate after a good play, and I can even tolerate telling and showing us how good you are because either

a) you're pumping up the crowd and, as part of the crowd, I like that
or

b) you're looking ridiculous and I can laugh at you.

But to show up another college student-athlete on national television is unecessary, shameful, and embarrassing, overshadowing great play. Kudos to ABC announcer Brent Musburger for calling him out on it, by the way. A lack of humility really is an ugly thing.

I was also reminded last night why I don't care too much for politics. I found myself entering into a conversation with friends concerning various political issues, and I fled. It's not that I don't care about the issues because I do. And it's not because I have no hope as good things happen all the time. It's because, when politics gets brought up, everyone speaks and acts as if they know what's best, and everyone else is a moron.

I don't believe there is Truth in politics. Many systems and opinions can reach positive consequences which makes the my-way-or-scream tactics of most political talking heads rather frustrating. People become so engrossed in their ideas and the ideologies they represent that they refuse to acknowledge the integrity of other ideas. Listening ceases. Challenges to ideas are thoughtlessly dismissed, not wanting to give the other side a foothold. Heck, we actually create an "other side" when so often we are on the same team, trying to achieve the same goals. Depending on who's talking, everyone is right. Everyone, that is, except for everyone else.

Take, for example, Bush and Iraq. I bet if you were Bush's close friend he would acknowledge to you that mistakes were made. Yet, publicly he won't, and can't, admit this because he would be mauled for the admission by the other side. Because obviously, they've been right all along. This arrogance makes a confession impossible and encourages Bush to counter with arrogance, refusing to admit the mistake. Arrogance reigns victorious. A lack of humility really is an ugly thing.

Humanity's natural bent towards self, your long-lost and rusty blogger included, really is frustrating, stifling, and downright ugly which makes the humility that Christ possessed while on earth all the more beautiful - even in the ugliest of situations.

I was reminded last night of the foot of the cross, the launchpad for the spectators who fired verbal surface-to-air mockery at Jesus, saying, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." For my money, this was the greatest act of humility and self-control the world has ever seen. Though he was the Son of God, though He had created everything including His mockers and murderers, though He was dying for people who hated Him, though he was killing death, though He hurt, He did not come down from the cross. He did not jam the football in a beaten opponent's lap. He did not haughtily show the other side that he was right and they were oh so wrong. Instead, he placed his pride aside and endured the ugly scene of the cross for the sake of others. For the sake of me.

Humility really is a beautiful thing.