Saturday, June 17, 2006

Jim Rome & Jesus

One of my favorite passtimes is listening to sports talk radio. And one of the most entertaining talk shows is "The Jim Rome Show". I have to admit that I'm "a clone" and enjoy being "in the jungle".

The other day Jim was ranting about a particular professional baseball player, a pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers, I believe. This pitcher had begun a program to help less fortunate kids attend Major League Baseball games. (I think it was called the "45 Club" or some such name, in recognition of the players uniform number, and the number of kids he'd pay for each game.)

Sounds great, so far, right? Well hold on a minute. There were a few caveats.

First, the kids were only attending games in which this guy pitched. (He is a "starting pitcher", so he only pitches once every five games.) No biggie, I suppose.

Second, when he was yanked from the starting lineup, "demoted" to the bullpen and turned into a reliever, this great philanthropist YANKED the program. No more freebies for the kiddies! (Apparently if HE'S not pitching, the kids wouldn't be interested.)

Third, when he was reinstated as a starter again, he decided NOT to RESTART THE PROGRAM because, (and this was the point Rome was railing against) HE WASN'T GETTING ENOUGH CREDIT!!

Imagine, a multi-millionaire, who could do a few kids some real good, but refused because people weren't NOTICING WHAT A GREAT GUY HE IS. People weren't paying him enough attention for being generous. The media and others weren't reporting on what a GREAT, and MAGNANIMOUS GUY he is. He wasn't getting any love, any "pub".

"Well" Rome said on his nationally syndicated show, "guess you got some publicity now, didn't you?!" (I didn't see it that evening, but I wondered if he mentioned it on his nationally televised show "Rome is Burning" on ESPN too.)

The "take" about this spoiled, selfish prima donna did make my blood boil. But it also got me thinking:

"How often do I do things for others with NO thought or care about getting 'credit' or drawing attention to myself." Probably not nearly often enough.

Rome contrasted this small-hearted (no-hearted?) act with that of another athlete. Warrick Dunn, professional football player for the Atlanta Falcons, has provided new homes for people (usually single moms, I think). He has been a one-man "Extreme Home Makeover". And he seems to do it without caring whether or not people notice. But they do notice.

Kind of reminds me of what Jesus said about himself to his followers, people who would want to be like him. Jesus told them he "came not to BE SERVED, but TO SERVE, and to GIVE his life as a ransom for many". He also told his followers, "you do that for each other" (after he had modeled the servant's life by washing their dirty, smelly feet).

There are two ways to do life in this world:

1.) Expecting to BE SERVED (even as we give or provide charity)



I'm thankful for people like Warrick Dunn and people like Jesus. Their selfless lives make this world a better place. They make us better people. I pray for strength and love that will help me be like them.

Grace & peace.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

High-Pitched Ring Tones and Unhearing Ears

In the news the last couple of days has been a story about high-pitched ring tones. Apparently young ears are better able to hear certain pitches than older ears. This has been discovered by industrious, young, entrepreneurs who are capitalizing off of this information. They're marketing ring tones to students who don't want teachers to know they're text-messaging during class. They're marketing ring tones to kids who don't want their parents to know they're receiving calls.

"If a cell phone doesn't make a noise can it be ringing?!" Sounds like a deep, philosophical question some ancient, Greek thinker might have asked.

There are a lot of places in the Bible where "hearing" is important. Many times Jesus or others say/write, "Let him who has an ear hear..."

Have you ever reflected back upon a conversation with another person, sort of comparing notes, and one of you says to the other, "I didn't hear that at all"? Sometimes spiritual life is like that.

The spiritual ancestors of my tradition teach us that the ability to hear is a gift. Sometimes we don't hear anything and we think no one is speaking. We assume there is no noise. But maybe we're wrong. Maybe if we haven't heard anything in awhile, (or ever), it's because we are unable to hear. My prayer for you today is that Someone would open your ears, give you a keener sense of hearing, and you'd be ready to pick-up conversations that are happening around you each and everyday.

Grace & peace.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

666 & the Omen

I remember one time when I was growing up, a friend of mine was about to get back $6.66 in change and decided he needed to buy something more/less to remedy the amount of money he was dealing with. 666. "It's evil!" He avoided it like the plagues (pun intended).

Ever wonder what the big deal is about 666? (And why the marketing "geniuses" decided to release "The Omen" on 06/06/06?

It comes from Revelation 13:18. (Revelation is the last book in the Bible. It is apocalyptic literature, [revealing things that are hidden], often dealing with events in the future. However, to be fair, much of what the first hearers understood has little or nothing to how you or I would read it today.)

Revelation is also very image-oriented. You see beasts, a dragon, a Lamb, angels, creatures of mixed animals/characteristics. Bad guys are bad. Good guys are good. All you have to do is hear the description of them and you know who's who.

"The power of a book can be seen in what it does to people, and few books have affected people more dramatically than Revelation. In positive terms, Revelation has inspired countless sermons, theological treatises, artistic works, and musical compositions ranging from the triumphant 'Hallelujah Chorus' (Handel's Messiah) to the gentle strains of 'Jerusalem My Happy Home.'

"On the negative side, it has fed social upheaval and sectarian religious movements that have often foundered and misguided attempts to discern the date of Christ's return." (Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things)

In a NUTshell, many of the nuttiest people who call themselves "Christian" have nested there. Many have made this the playground for boredom or become addicted to "figuring out who the antichrist is". The list throughout Christian history is both scary and hilarious. (God help us if we'd actually ever live like Christ. We'd rather figure out the day he's coming back!)

Within this maze and amazing book appears the number 666. It comes at the end of a description of two beasts. The first beast in 13:1 is a "beast coming out of the sea." It had been struck with a fatal wound but came back to life. (Some similarity with Christ.) This beast slanders God and makes war against good, Godly people, (differentiated from Christ, who never was violent against any person.)

The second beast comes "out of the earth" (13:11). He looks somewhat like a lamb, (a description of Christ), but talks like a dragon (a description of evil, and personified by the devil). The second beast encourages and causes people to worship the first beast, (a form of idolatry [worshiping anything or anyone other than the One, True, Living God]). The 2nd beast forces people to receive a mark or sign of allegiance to the 1st beast, so that people are unable to buy or sell without it.

Revelation 13:18 reads: This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.

For readers in that time, there are several possibilities of the meaning 0f 666. One possibility is that 6 is just short of 7. Seven is often used as a divine, complete, perfect number. Seven days in a week. Seven spirits surround the throne of God (in Revelation). "6" might be symbolic for a person attempting to act like God; the number for idolatry and usurping the place of The Almighty.

Another possibility might be the use of gematria. Letters were often assigned number values, so that a=1, b=2, etc. This was a commonly accepted way of connecting letters and numbers. The story is told of a street artist in Pompeii who scribbled graffiti, "I love her whose number is 545."

This is all well and good, if you know who the person is speaking about. (For instance, "Neron Kaiser" (Hebrew for Nero Caesar) would add up to 666. The writer could have been telling us "It's Nero all over again!!"

However, if we don't know who 666 is, we are left to speculate...which the church has done ad nauseum...with a wildly artistic flare. (For instance, Hitler, Ronald Reagan Wilson, or "computer" can, and probably have, been labeled as such, using various forms of gematria. [So, apparently, can CUTE PURPLE DINOSAUR, as in Barney!] (Koester 133).

So, suffice it to say we shouldn't be freaking out everytime we come across three 6's aligned neatly in a row. We don't need to worry about getting $6.66 back in change at the store, or being the 666th person into a Detroit Tigers' game.

However, I'm not naming my next kid Damien, nor am I going to waste the $8 to see the movie.

Grace & peace.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

The Hyphen - What We Value

Did you see the recent survey (I don't remember who it was by, but MSNBC reported it) that most people would prefer to be POOR than gain a substantial amount of weight? We HATE the idea of being fat. (As one who can speak to this subject with some inside knowledge, it IS pretty crappy.) But choosing to be poor? Not have enough money to buy basic items rather than being judged by others because of the way I looked? (Maybe I'm reading stuff into the survey that isn't there.)

In another, unrelated survey conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, and Harvard University, 76% of black men said being successful in a career is very important (compared with 56% of white men). 70% of black men said living a religious life is very important (compared with 44% of their white counterparts).

Having a sociology degree and having spent some time constructing surveys, I tend to be skeptical of numbers. A poorly asked question can render statistics relatively meaningless. (For instance, in the aforementioned survey, what is "a religious life"? Is it living based upon a set of principles? Is it belonging to a group that adheres to these principles? Is it living by your own set of principles? Does it involve principles at all?!)

Even better proof that poor surveying, or poor interpretation of the data, ends up telling us absolutely nothing, was the title of the article as it appeared in the Ann Arbor News, "Black men both optimistic, pessimistic about selves, nation". Talk about newsless and lacking information!

But all this surveying makes me wonder: If surveyed, what would my life say is important? How can a life be surveyed, you wonder?

It is actually relatively easy to tell.

Pull out your calendar, blackberry, daytimer, whatever. What do you spend your time doing? Watching tv? Working? Playing? Acts of service for others? Gaming? Listening to music?

What people matter to you? Do you spend those times by yourself? With others? Or simply thinking about others?

I recently heard retired professional baseball player, Cal Ripken Jr. speak about how important the 25 minute ride to school everyday has become for he and his child. He looks forward to that set time when they get to discuss the significant events in each other's life and share a little time carved out for just them.

Pull out your credit card receipts or your checkbook. How do you spend your money? Books? Vacations? Clothes? Giving to those less fortunate?

What do you spend your time and energy thinking about? What is the first thought you have each day when you wake up? What are the things that fill your mind when you have a little free time? The next meal? Finding that special someone? Seeing a movie? How you're going to conquer that cool new game? Planning a getaway from the rest of life? How to make life easier for your neighbor or someone who is alone and hurting?

Here's the thing. On any typical tombstone are four items:
1. The name of the deceased
2. The year they were born
3. The year they died
4. A hyphen in between #'s 2 & 3

You have no control over #2 or #3. You have a lot of control with what happens in between. The hyphen is yours! Carpe diem! Live today as if it were your last. Make the next five minutes count. Kiss your wife. Hug your kid. Write that poem. Compose that song. Bring a smile to the face of that friend who's hurting with a card or a phone call. Don't wait. Do it now.

Then after that five minutes is over, find a way to do it again.

May you construct the life you've always wanted by doing what matters most now. Shut off the computer. Close the book. And get on with what really counts.

Grace & peace.