Monthly Archives: January 2010

Pastor Dawg

Over the last two days, after I finally decided to go to the “try-out” for the Twin City Dawgs, a semi-pro football team that plays in Chenoa (hoping they change it to Central Illinois Dawgs), I have been blown away by the outpouring of support and encouragement.  There were only three comments on this page, but I had over 30 comments on facebook and two phone calls.

Friends from high school, college, seminary, and a few churches, other pastors, and family have left comments.  There were so many words of encouragemnent,

“In addition to being in shape and being very smart and having football sense, you now have wisdom that only comes with age. You will be impressed yourself with what you can see and foreshadow in the game.  The icing on the cake is that you are a very inspiring person even without all the athletic gifts you will bring on Saturday. I predict you will be a blessing in many ways Saturday and that these will be among your glory days –and God’s (in your life and the team’s).”

Here was another that meant a lot to me:

“Others think of doing stuff like this. You are doing. I think the Springsteen song is also about those who have given up doing and are, as the song says, ‘sittin’ round talking about.’ “

As I was reading all of the comments this afternoon, I was brought to tears.  It was overwhelming to think of how many people were excited for me.  This is something I want to do for so many reasons.  I hadn’t thought of how many people would be excited for me too.  I have to admit though, as I shed some tears, some of themwere from pain. 

I am sore. 

Really sore.  Sarah asked me where I was sore, and I answered without hyperbole, “Only where I bend.”  After the try-out I was literally sore from head to toe.  I had a headache.  My lower back hurt. My abdomen hurt.  My hips hurt.  My knees hurt.  My ankles hurt.  And my big toe was throbbing.  Someone stepped on it, and now my toenail is a different color then it used to be.

Save for my toe, I have nothing that could be considered an “injury.”  There is nothing wrong with me that won’t get better with a hot tub and some ice packs.  And man, do I feel good.  The try-out went really well.  Here’s how it went:

First, we warmed up with running, stretching, and form running.  I noticed right away that there were basically three groups of guys.  There were about 10 big, classic linemen.  They were all taller, bigger, younger and (I hope) slower than me.  Then there were about 30 skilled guys.  They were all shorter, leaner, younger, and faster than me.  The third group were 3-4 scrubs.  I felt like I had no clear home in any of the groups, and was pretty sure that I was not group 3.

Then we broke into stations and did some athletic testing.  There was no strength test.  There was a 20-yard dash.  I was the slowest guy in my group, but I know I was not the slowest guy there.  Then there was a shuttle run, and I received a B grade (most of the guys got Cs, one guy in my group got an A).  The next drill was jumping over a tackling dummy.  I jumped over it 11 times in 10 seconds.  Other guys did it 9-13 times.  The last station was all footwork.  I was pretty good at that – not as good as the skill guys, but better than the other guy in the group that was my size.

At this point, I was pretty sore.  Then we took a break, so all of my loose muscles constricted like a brand new cotton t-shirt in the drier.  I texted my wife, brother and friend that had texted me earlier.  My brother responded with a text making fun of me for texting during practice.

After the break we divided into linemen and skill positions.  I did not know where to go.  In college during my first practice I told everyone that I was a tight end, and went with them the whole first day.  Then the next day the coach came to me and told me that I was a guard.  I don’t want to be a guard.  I want to be a tight end.  I also didn’t want the coach to pull me aside and say, “Hey fattie – you’re a guard!”

There were two QBs and about 20 guys that wanted to catch passes.  I was a little timid at first, but eventually got in line.  It was a simple one-on-one drill.  I lined up with a guy across from me.  I ran a ten-yard curl, turned and caught the ball. It was the only ball thrown to me.  I am glad I caught it.

Later, we went 11-on-11, which is pretty ridiculous without pads.  I was concentrating on just fitting in.  I took more initiative and stayed on the field.  I was one of three tight ends.  One of them is a stud.  He is probably the best athlete on the team and will probably play linebacker too.  So he won’t be able to take every snap as a TE.  The other TE was built very much like me.  He was in my group during agility drills.  He was faster on the sprint, but I did better in the agility drills.  He dropped a couple of balls.  I caught my one.  I’m not saying I’m better than him – without pads, its impossible to tell, but I held my own.

I left the try-out realizing that I could not only make the team.  Unless there are some other guys that I don’t know about, I could honestly compete for playing time.  The team plays a lot of double tight, which means I could be on the field quite a bit.  Its exciting to even think about.

I am nowhere near that point yet.  I haven’t even put on pads yet, and there is no way anyone can know about football until the pads go on.  For the next two months we will only practice on Saturday mornings in a gym, and I am missing the next two practices.  We go outside in March/April and then put on the pads.  Our first game isn’t until May.  The games are on Saturdays, and I cannot let this interfere with my responsibilities at church.  I think I’m sore now, just think how sore I’ll be in the middle of July when I don’t get home until 11 o’clock on Saturday night after playing a football game.  That Sunday morning will be interesting. 

Today I started something.  I don’t know how this story will end, but today I got out there and tried something new – something exciting – something that made me feel good.

Besides catching the pass, I had another highlight. I lined up directly across a guy that is one of the team captains.  A real athlete.  After the play, which was uneventful (though I was open), he gave  me five and said, “Dude, you are terrifying.”  I smiled.  I generally don’t aim to be terrifying, but today, it was the highest of praise.


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Glory Days

I have had a Bruce Springsteen song stuck in my head for a few days.  “Glory Days,” has always been one of my favorite Springsteen songs.  I like it because it so brilliantly combines an upbeat melody with melancholy, almost tragic lyrics.  Like “Born in the USA,” which is often misunderstood to be a hyper-patriotic anthem (see Wrangler commercials and Ronald Reagan), “Glory Days” is often misunderstood to be a happy song waxing nostalgic about good memories.

Instead, it is a biting look at people that are unable to escape their past.  It is about sad people unable to accept their current condition, but waste away pining about their “Glory Days.”

I guess I’ve been thinking about that song because I don’t want it to be about me.  I’ve been working out for the last few months, and I’ve gotten myself into pretty good shape.  I am now stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.  I can bench press 225 pounds 10 times. I can leg press 500 pounds 10 times.  I am still fat, but underneath I can feel and see muscle that had sort of gone away for awhile.  In addition to getting stronger, I have lowered my cholesterol into the safe zone for the first time in years.  My first motivator to get back to the gym was to be healthier, but there has been another motivator in the back of my mind. 

I want to play football again.

Real football.  Should pads and helmets football.  I want to play for the Twin City Dawgs, a semi-pro football team that plays a ten game schedule over the summer in Chenoa and other cities in Illinois.  Last year I was in the press box, doing the PA or doing the scoreboard.  Next year I want to be on the field.

Maybe its a midlife crisis a few years ahead of schedule.  If so, there are certainly worse things that I could do, yet I’m terrified that I’m going to be that guy in the song, “telling boring stories about my glory days.” 

Yet here’s the thing: I never had any glory days.  My glory days were taken from me by an assistant coach that didn’t believe in me.  I didn’t start my senior year in high school.  If it was because I wasn’t as good as the guy that did start, it wouldn’t bother me, but I’ve never believed that.  So I’m preparing 15 years later to embark on a journey that could endanger my very livelihood. Maybe I’m not the one talking about my glory days.  Maybe I’m searching for them.  I know that is not a good reason to endanger myself in a violent, dangerous game.

I also know that I want to be a part of the team.  I want to be a positive influence in the lives of the 50 young men on the team.  I am not going in to convert anybody, but I want to expand my mission field, and reach people that might never otherwise approach a church.  I want to inspire people at my church, especially the young people, to reach for goals that seem impossible.  And yes, I want to prove to myself that I can do it. Is that really such a bad thing?

The try-out is Saturday. I talked to the coach today. There won’t be any pads.  We’ll do some agility and speed testing.  We’ll do break into positions, and we’ll do some 7-on-7.  I am going to see where I fit.  I’m going to talk to the coach, my wife, and my health insurance company, and figure out what I can contribute.

I have no business being on a football team, and I know that.  I might, however, contribute something to the team anyway.  I might contribute something to a young man searching for God.  I might contribute something to the community of Chenoa.  I might contribute something to someone wondering if they can achieve something they have no business achieving.

I’m going to give it a shot.  Say a prayer for me.  I’ll need it.


Filed under Sports

Invoking the name of God

We have spent most of the week hearing the images and reading the stories of thousands of people devastated by the earthquakes in Haiti.  There are many reactions to such a tragedy, but the only Christian response is action.  It is action through prayer, giving, and volunteering.  Today we can only do two of those things.

Unfortunately, some that call themselves Christian made another response. Last week I preached in my church about the danger of grouping people into “us” and “them,” because the next step is dehumanization, and the next is violence.  Today though, I feel that I need to call out evil when I see it.

On the TV show the 700 Club, Pat Robertson connected the earthquake and 200 years of poverty with a pact that Haitians made with the devil.  This statement is historically inaccurate.  It is theologically disturbing and it is morally reprehensible.  I could go into the details about why this is the case, but others have done so with more vigor and tenacity then I have the energy to do.

I have been preaching and blogging about religious violence and the evil in the world that is done in the name of God.  To claim that this earthquake was the wrath of God as punishment for a mythical deal from 200 years ago is an act of religious violence.  It is not physical violence, but it is emotional abuse.  To claim this tragedy in the name of God is shameful.

Instead of invoking the name of God as a cause of the earthquake for some unknown political or monetary gain, let us instead invoke the name of God as the inspiration of our mercy.  Let us invoke the name of God as the source of hope in the midst of chaos and despair.  Let us invoke the name of God as people are dug out of the rubble, as food is delivered to a newly orphaned child, and as we hold a crying mother in our arms.

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Part 3 – 1979

This is part 3 of my blog series based on the lecture of Dr. Martin Marty.  His lecture was titled, “Religion and Violence and the global searches for peace.”  He gave this lecture at Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana.  Part 1 was called, “Why talk about it?”.  Part 2 was called, “What is religious violence?”

There are certain years that just hold a certain amount of power.  People recognize them as turning points.  American history has a few, like 1492, 1776, 1849, 1865, 1929, 1941, and 1963 (in order, Columbus landing in the “new” world, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the California gold rush, the end of the Civil War, the stock market crash, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the assassination of JFK).  On lists like this, few outside of Pittsburgh would include 1979 (the Pirates win the World Series to the soundtrack of “We Are Family).

Yet one event in 1979 began a new era of religion and violence.  After decades of feeling as if the last war to be waged was the one against godless Communism, America was introduced to a new enemy that had their very own god.

The Iranian Revolution sent shockwaves across the world.  Until 1979, there was a general concept in society that, by and large, religion was becoming less and less important.  This was actually seen as a trend since the Enlightenment.  When science and logic ushered in the modern era, most thinkers believed that religion – and all the violence that came with it – was going to slowly die.  The theory of secularization was that society would grow in secularization, and religious fervor and phanaticism would lose its influence.

The Iranian revolution proved the theory of secularization wrong.  In fact, it proved that the exact opposite was actually taking place.  While secularization coninued through much of the world, the result was not the deadening of the extremes, but a push toward the extremes.  Secularization took people out of the middle-of-the-road religion.  Mainstream churches started to die, moderation became a sign of weakness.

At the same time, the extremes started to close rank.  They drew their lines, and more clearly defined themselves.  Taking up the name “Fundamentalists,” they made lists of what is the right way of believing and acting, and anyone outside these definitions were deemed “non-believers,” or “heathen,” or “infidels.”  This was not unique to any one religion.  Fundamentalism took hold in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. 

So instead of dulling the edges, secularization actually sharpened them.  This created a turbulent environment across the world.  In the United States, this battle was fought largely in the 1960s during battles over race and sexuality.  While some would argue that the Civil Rights Movement and the sexual revolution had nothing to do with Religion, I would beg to differ.  Both of these issues were deeply rooted in religion, the image of God, interpretation of the Bible, a sense of the holy, and the nature of humankind.

In Iran, it culminated in the rise of Islamic fascism.  The revolution showed that religious phanatacism was, in fact, an important aspect of geo-politics and national security.

According to Marty, most experts in national security in the 60s and 70s were interested in Communismand the nuclear arms race.  Religious skirmishes in places like Ireland, Bosnia, and even the Middle East, were seen as regional affairs that had little affect on United States national security. According to Dr. Marty, 1979 was the year that the CIA “got religion.”


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