Monthly Archives: June 2011

I want to get punched in the face

So my journey to battle middle age and a bulging belly continues.  Last summer I tried to reclaim my youth by joining a football team.  It was an absurd proposition that turned into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I’ll never forget the feeling I had on the first day of full-contact practice.  I looked around and saw a bunch of guys younger, more fit, bigger, stronger and meaner than me and I wondered, “What the heck am I doing here?”

I was a little worried about how I’d do but it turned out, I held my own.  I wasn’t the most valuable player on the team, but I certainly had value.  I started a few games.  I had some minor injuries (my shoulder finally stopped hurting about a month ago, so I can do push ups again).  I made a lot of friends and developed relationships that opened up dicussions about God and religion.  Like I said before, it was a great experience.

A few weeks ago I had  sense of deja vu as I walked into a boxing class.  As I looked at a bunch of guys that were younger, stronger, more fit, more experienced, and more fit than me, all I could think to myself was, “What the heck am I doing here?”

Since moving this spring, I’ve been looking for a gym and I’ve been intrigued by a multitude of martial arts gyms in the area.  After doing some calling, I finally decided to give a boxing class a try.  A few years ago my wife and I took a cardio kick-boxing class.  We really enjoyed it, and I dropped a lot of body fat doing it.  So I found a boxing class that was fairly reasonable and decided to give it a try.

Let me tell you one thing, this is not a cardio kickboxing class.  I walked into the gym and saw a dozen guys punching, kicking and clutching at each other.  It was a mixed martial arts class that was going on before the boxing class, but I had a feeling I was stepping into something I had never experienced before.  This was not a bunch of people punching bags to the beat the music.  This was a bunch of men and women learning to beat the crap out of each other.

I have never punched another person in my life – at least not with any intent to do any harm.  But there I was on the first day of class going through punch combinations against another person.  Again, we weren’t hitting bags, we were hitting each other.  Granted, I was mostly hitting gloves, but it was still a very strange feeling.  Our coach is Nile Pena.  He comes from a boxing family.  His Dad has had a gym for years and has trained Olympians and world champions.  He knows what he is doing, and he’s a really good teacher.  The hour and a half workout went something like this:

Jumping rope.  The other people in my class picked up the rope and jumped for three minutes straight.  They didn’t miss.  They didn’t pause.  They just kept going.  I would go for awhile, then stop and catch my breath.  Then go for awhile, then try to do the cool shuffling style they were doing, then get tripped up.  The I would go for awhile, and stop to put my arms up to breathe.  They just kept going.

Combinations.  We would go through combinations to try and simulate fighting situations.  We worked on footwork, throwing punches, moving, bobbing and weaving. 

Bag work.  Mostly for strength and conditioning we hit the bag for awhile.

Sparring.  Put on the headgear (they don’t have any that fit me – big surprise), put in your mouth guard and box.  I sat this out for the first few weeks and watched or did bag work.  Guys would box for three minute rounds.  No one was throwing knock out punches, but they weren’t playing paddy-cake either.  It looked like so much fun, but I didn’t have the courage to try at first.

Sprints.  Well, sprints is a relative term.  I keep going, which is the important thing.  I’ll work up to sprinting.

Last night I sparred for the first time.

After watching for a few weeks I decided to give it a try.  There is a guy in the gym that has clearly been fighting for a long time.  That was the guy I wanted to spar for a few reasons.  One, there was no way I was going to hurt this guy.  Two, he was super laid back and really helpful.  I told him to talk to me to let me know if I was doing anything wrong.  I did not want to be the guy the comes and starts throwing haymakers to a guy that could clearly destroy me if he wanted to.

As we started, my heart was racing.  I threw a couple of jabs half-heartedly.  He countered a couple of times and sort of tapped me on the head.  We danced around a little bit, and he told me, “Come on, throw some punches.”  So I started to a throw a little bit more.  He threw some back.  That helped.  When he hit me, I felt like he was giving me permissino to hit him back.  I tried some combinations.  He countered and tagged me in the face a couple of times. 

I sparred two more rounds.  One with another guy who was just as helpful, and one more with the first guy.  There is no question that if we were really boxing, I would have been knocked out – quickly.  But I got some good punches in, and I took a few decent ones.  I’m looking forward to doing it again.  I know it sounds crazy, but I want to get punched in the face.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever do anything more than spar, but it is a lot of fun.

After every class I go home exhausted, soaked in sweat, and feeling really good.  I’ve been trying to get there two nights a week.  Hopefully it continues to be a great experience.  At the very least, it will give me some blogging material for awhile.


Filed under Personal Reflection, Sports

Translators Needed

From Top Left: Winking smiley, the twitter bird, the cross and flame of the United Methodist Church, hulu, The logo for the greatest blog ever written, the Orwellian behemoth known as Google, an iphone, the logo for Riverside United Methodist Church, another winking smiley, Oh My Gosh (cry of astonishment), facebook, youtube, Laugh Out Loud (something people are rarely doing when they type those letters) an icon for a Bible iphone app, Yahoo.

I wonder how many people would be able to look at the picture above and know what all of these pictures mean.  Considering one of the images is the logo from this blog, and another is the logo from my church, I’m guessing that very few would know all of them.  I wonder though, how many from our churches would know what the little blue bird represents?  How many people in our congregations haven’t the slightest idea what a tweet is?   

Many of the same people who are (sometimes proudly) technophobic, digging in their heals against the use of social media, technology, and other new forms of communication, are also despondent about the lack of young people sitting amongst them in their pews.  They talk longingly of the “good old days” when the churches were full and the Sunday school was bustling, and the building was growing, and the budgets were plentiful (never mind that the good old days also included silence on issues like domestic violence, racial equality, and an utter lack of understanding or compassion surrounding gender issues).

Youth culture has always been misunderstood by adults.  That is why it is called “youth culture.”  Youth have a different way of communicating and relating to their friends.  They have a different understanding of what it means to be a citizen, what good music is, and what is funny.  Youth are no longer satisfied with consuming media – they want to participate in it.  Things like twitter, facebook, youtube have given young people a platform to broadcast every detail of their lives.  And the funny thing is – people are listening.  A video of some kid lip syncing a song in front of their computer camera has been watched by millions of people.  Millions!  Big downtown cathedrals that were filled in the 50s might have reached 5,000 – maybe.

All this boils down to this: If you want to communicate to young people, you need to know a new language.  The church needs translators.  In order to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ, people need to be able to speak the language of those we are trying to reach.  And if we are trying to reach young people, you have to at least know what those things are. 

The images above represent vast changes in culture and language.  Google used to be a number.  Then it was a website.  Now it is a verb.  Hulu – and other technologies – have rendered such cultural stalwarts like Primetime Network Programming obsolete.  There are no networks.  There is no prime time.  Facebook has changed the way we think about things like privacy, photo albums, prayer, politics, and even wedding invitations.

There is a new language, and if we are going to translate the language of Jesus Christ – the language of grace, forgiveness, compassion, justice, and love, we need to know the new language.  It doesn’t mean that you have to run out and get a twitter account, but you should at least learn what it is.  Translation however, is about more than facebook pages, blogs, and tweets.  Translation is about taking the time to build relationships.

It is my deepest conviction that the heart of the Gospel message is relationship.  It is about our relationship with God and our relationship with one another.  The best way to translate the Good News of Jesus Christ is to live the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The best way to teach a young person about a faith that changes the world is to go out and change the world.  Jesus Christ has the power to transform lives, but it doesn’t always happen with a well-reasoned argument or an insightful Bible lesson.  It happens when someone who is already in love with Jesus tells somebody else about that love.

We need translators of the Gospel.  We need people who are willing to take the time to live authentic relationships with young people.  And authentic is the key.  We cannot put on airs.  Young people are savvy.  They see through BS.  That is why knowing the language is so important, we can’t fake it.  Translation only happens when people sincerely care.  Translation begins at home.  Young people might rebel, but their most important influence always has been and always will be their parents.

But here’s a warning for you:  If you are willing to be a translator of the Gospel, that means you are willing to put the power of the Bible into the hands of inexperienced, energetic young people.  It means that you are going to open up the power of the Holy Spirit to speak directly to people that might not think about church the way we think about church, people that might not think of music the way we think about music, people that might not think about God the way we think about God.  They might not think of our institutions, our meetings, our buildings, our worship, or our barriers in the same way we think about them.  Young people with the Holy Spirit might not do things the way we want them to because they might stop listening to us and start listening to God (Kendra Creasy Dean, Almost Christian, p.   130).  So be warned.  Translators are needed, but translate at your own risk.


Filed under Christianity, Sermons

Sports schadenfreude

Schadenfreude: Taking pleasure from the suffering of another.

Lisa Simpson taught me this word many years ago. She used it to describe how Homer was feeling when Ned Flanders’ Leftorium was going out of business. It is not a noble feeling.  It mostly stems from jealousy, which is never pretty.  In sports, schadenfreude is pretty common.  In recognition of the Heat’s recent loss, which has to be one of the top sports schadenfreude moments in history, I have compiled a list of other great moments.

10 and 9. Anytime Duke or the Dallas Cowboys lose.  No real reason, I just can’t stand Duke or the Dallas Cowboys
8. Maybe Free Throws should move up on your list.  In an interview on Pardon the Interruption, Coach John Calipari was asked about the importance of free throws.  He responded, in his ever glib manner, “If I made a list of 100 things I use to evaluate a player, free throws wouldn’t be on it.”  A few days later his star player Derrick Rose was at the free throw line with national championship on the line.  A couple of missed free throws later, Kansas beat Coach Cal’s Memphis Tigers and cut down the nets.  A few years later, the Final Four banner in Memphis was taken down.  In light of recent scandals, I’ve actually gained respect for Coach Cal.  At least he isn’t out there writing books about moral values and spirituality.  With him, you know what you get – a few temporary banners to hang in your gym.

7. The Patron Saint of the Sweater Vest resigns.  Under normal circumstances, I don’t take pleasure in someone losing their job.  As unemployment in this country remains over 9%, it seems particularly insensitive to laugh when someone new is added to the list.  But when the guy in question has written a book called The Winners’ Manual for the Game of Life, and he resigns in the midst of a growing cheating scandal that suggests systemic corruption, I can’t help but enjoy his downfall.  I’m not sure if there is a chapter in Jim Tressel’s book about maintaining a culture of lies and intentionally turning a blind eye as his spoiled athletes cheat the system.  I haven’t read it, and don’t plan to.  I think what’s worse are reports from Buckeye fans that are defending this guy.  They are blaming Terelle Pryor for “bringing down” their god.  Pryor certainly isn’t blameless, and he might have been the catalyst for getting him caught, but being mad at him for exposing Tressel is like getting mad at Toto for revealing the Wizard.  That whole good-guy image was just smoke and mirrors.

6. Timeout!  The Fab Five was one of the most polarizing teams in college basketball history.  Love them or hate them, they helped define an era of basketball.  Count me in the group of people that couldn’t stand ‘em.  Looking back now, I can see that much of the vitriol aimed at Michigan was about class and race, but I don’t think that was why I didn’t like them.  I just don’t like Michigan.  So when the Wolverines and North Carolina were playing for a national championship in 1993, I was pulling for the Tar Heels. North Carolina was up 73-71 with 19 seconds left in the game when Chris Weber snagged a rebound.  He awkwardly took the ball up the court, and then got caught in a trap along the sideline.  Fearful of giving up the ball, and unable to find an open man, Weber called a timeout.

Usually that would be considered a good move.  The only problem was that Michigan didn’t have any more timeouts.  With 11 second remaining, a technical foul was called against the Flub Five.  Two free throws plus the ball meant that Carolina won 77-71.

The Fab Five produced two Final Fours, but neither banner hangs in the Crisler Arena anymore.   In 2002, a widespread cash for play scandal was revealed.  There were indictments, forfeited games, and for all those that couldn’t stand the Fab Five, a lot of schadendreude.

5. The Rich Rodriguez Era. When I was in High School I was visiting my brother at the University of Illinois. One of his fraternity brothers taught me a filthy version of “Hail to the Victors.” I didn’t even understand what all the words meant, but I knew one thing: Michigan sucks. Unfortunately, this was more wishful thinking than actually describing the quality of Michigan’s football teams. They (along with Ohio State) have dominated the Big Ten. They’ve won 42 conference titles, and been to 20 Rose Bowls. Seriously, Michigan is the worst. Even their colors are pretentious – It’s Yellow!

After hiring Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia, there were lawsuits, players quitting, an NCAA investigation and mediocrity on the field.  I watched it all with glee.  In three seasons with Rich Rod at the helm, the Wolverines went 15-22 and won only six Big Ten games.  He was fired last year after a 7-6 season and a loss in the Gator Bowl.

5a. The Charlie Weis Era.  For pretty much all the same reasons.  Some think that College Football is better when Notre Dame and Michigan are good.  I’m not one of them.  I hate it when they play each other, I honestly cannot decide which team I want to lose more. The Brian Kelly era hasn’t exactly been stellar either – I still cannot believe he wasn’t punished more severely for his irresponsible actions surrounding the death of Declan Sullivan.

4. The Exception to the Rule: Corey Wooten’s first career sack. When I started thinking about this list I thought to myself, “No injuries.” I have never taken joy out of someone getting injured while playing sports. Then I remembered the exception. I’m not sure if anyone in sports history has ever done so much to lose respect and appreciation without doing anything illegal as Bret Favre. As a Packer, I hated the guy because he beat my Bears so much, but I always respected him. I respected his play, his joy, and his toughness. He seemed like the kind of guy that would be fun to play with and against. Then the retirement carousel began. It was all so narcissistic. Every August for three – or was it four – years, the Favre Watch would start. Would he retire? Would he call a press conference? Who would he play for? It all got so tiresome as he held one franchise after another hostage.

He ended his career with the Packers by throwing an interception in the NFC Championship. He should have ended his career with the Viking the same way. Instead, he came back for another year in 2011. This is how it ended, maybe.

3. One word: “Bartman.” The Cubs may be the lovable losers for everyone else in the country, but to  White Sox fans, only one of those terms applies. In 2003, the Cubs were five outs from going to their first World Series since 1945. They were up 3-0 over the Marlins in the top of the eighth inning of game 6 and held a 3-2 series advantage. Mark Pryor was rolling, and Cubs fans everywhere believed that the temperature in hell had reached the mid-40s. I was watching the game in my living room, sitting on my chair. A Lifelong Phillies and Sox fan, I was actually half-heartedly pulling for the Cubs.Chicago baseball had been so bad for so long, I was ready for a World Series in Chicago.

Then Luis Castillo hit what seemed like a meaningless foul ball. Leftfielder Moises Alou was under it, but against the wall. A Cubs fan, wearing a Cubs hat, ear phones, and a green turtleneck  under a black sweatshirt did what any other fan would have done in the same situation. He tried to catch a foul ball. In the process, he knocked it away from Alou. Instead of being the second out of the inning, Castillo walked. Before the inning was over, eight Marlins crossed the plate. The Cubs lost 8-3. After the inning, I laughed and told my wife, “That is so Cub-like.” In game 7, the Cubs had their ace Kerry Wood on the mound with a 5-3 lead after four innings. Bartman had nothing to do with them losing that game 9-6.

In the aftermath, the ball has been destroyed, Steve Bartman was forced into a semi-exilic state. Bartman will forever be remembered in Chicago. Some will remember him with pain and anguish. Others, like me, will remember him with a light chuckle and a dash of schadenfreude.

2. The Yankees lose.  Ttttthhhhhheeeeeeee Yankees. Lose!

Yankee-hating is a long-standing tradition in America, and for good reason. Steinbrenner, Jackson, Martin, Cashman, Jeter, A-Rod, and a legion of annoyingly arrogant New Yorkers created the original Evil Empire. The majority of the 80s can be added to this list as the Yankees floundered, much to the joy of most long-time baseball fans. In the mid-90s though, the golden era of Yankee-hating ended. In 2004, the Yankees had won 5 of the last 6 league pennants. The Yankees had beaten the Red Sox in seven games the year before. The Yankees owned the Red Sox. The Yankees were THE dominant force in baseball. After getting trounced 19-8 in game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, it looked like another horrible end for the Red Sox. Thus began the greatest collapse in the history of baseball. There was a rare Rivera blown-save, a bloody sock, a bunch of “idiots” with long hair, and David Ortiz hitting what seemed like a dozen home runs, including a two-run walk-off bomb in the bottom of the 12th in game 4

Looking back, Schilling has become more and more annoying, Ortiz and Ramirez have both been implicated in the steroid-era, and the ultimate “idiot” Johnny Damon joined the Dark Side. The Red Sox have their own brand of annoyingly arrogant fans – a sort of Mini-Me to the Yankees Dr. Evil. But at the time, for Yankees haters everywhere, the 2004 ALCS was prime schadenfreude material.

1. LeBron James and the Heat lose to the Dallas Mavericks.

I used to like Lebron. When he was a rookie, I picked him a little early in a fantasy draft. Other managers ridiculed me, telling me he was “all hype.” I believed the hype, and his all-around excellence helped my team win the league championship. He has since developed into what appears to be an unstoppable force. When the Bulls were struggling through the Del Negro mediocrity, the Cavs were my second favorite team. Even after The Decision, I didn’t join in the venomous attacks on Lebron. I figured, he took less money to play with friends and go after a championship – that’s not all that bad. I was afraid a lot of the venom was more racially motivated than people admitted. But the guy just wore on me, and here’s a quick list of why: 1. The team just seemed to whine all season, and never understood why they weren’t liked. They painted a big target on themselves, and then wondered why people were taking shots. 2. “The Chosen One” is inked on his back (chosen for what?) 3. The pre-season self-predicted Seven-Peat (or was it eight?) 4. The early celebration in game two. It was just a pattern of self-promotion and premature celebration. So when they basically quit playing with about 60 seconds left in Game 6, I was in full schadenfreude-mode.

So there it is – my all time Top Ten Sports Schadenfreude moments.  I’m not proud of any of it.  Takeing joy from the suffering of others isn’t exactly “Love your neighbor” kind of stuff.  But this is sports, and part of what makes sports are fun is that it’s a fantasy world.  It’s a world where I cheer for the good guys and everyone else is bad.  It’s a world where I care deeply about the results of adults playing kid games.  It’s a world where I can forget about war and poverty and justice and just enjoy great athletes, great drama, and great joy and great suffering – especially if its the Yankees, Wolverines, Cowboys or Favre doing the suffering.

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Filed under Sports

Vote for Me!

A few weeks ago I threw my name into the hat to be elected to be a delegate for General Conference. At the time, I figured it was worth a shot. All it took was a 100-word essay and a picture. It was simple enough. All I thought was, why not? But now it is almost time to start voting, and I’m thinking that I’d better put a little more thought into it.

Why do I want to be a General Conference delegate?

This comes down a simple statement – I love the United Methodist Church.  I want to be a part of the largest and most important body of United Methodist Christians.  I want to enjoy that kind of fellowship of kindred spirits.  I want to be a part of the legacy that started at the Christmas Conference over 200 years ago.

I know the United Methodist Church is not perfect.  I have seen it at its ugliest.  I have seen it fail to live up to the calling of Jesus Christ.  Yet the United Methodist Church is the place where I have found grace.  It is the Church that has nurtured me from birth.  It is the Church that has shown me what it means to be a Christian, a servant, and a disciple. 

How will I vote?

I probably sound like a politician here, but I honestly do not know how I would vote for controversial issues at General Conference.  there are many issues that face the Church I love, and I want to do what is right for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I can say this: I believe that the slogan of the United Methodist Church: “Open minds, open hearts, open doors,” resonates with me.  I also believe that the word “open” that is repeated in that slogan needs to be understood as a verb, not as an adjective.  

It is my sincerest hope and prayer that none of the controversies that the church faces will create widespread schism.  I believe that the things that hold us together – the mission of Jesus Christ and the loving grace that is offered to all – are stronger than any of the controversies that would tear us apart.

What will you get if you vote for me?

You will get a pastor that is dedicated to doing what is best for the United Methodist Church.  I was ordained in 2010, and am still considered “young clergy.”  This is my first chance to be a delegate, and I believe that General Conference needs as many new people involved as possible to continue to breath life into the church.

I will go with great joy.  I will worship with great passion.  I will vote with my whole heart, mind and spirit.  I will bathe myself in prayer, always seeking the Holy Spirit to guide my decisions.  I will seek to be guided by Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

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Filed under Christianity