Thursday, May 31, 2007

Miller's Time . . . or at least it oughta be!

Did you see Donald Miller peering out from the cover of the latest issue of Christianity Today? Me either. It's a shame, too. Miller has become one of my favorite authors. His books, Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What and To Own a Dragon have all impacted me. It is entirely appropriate that Miller grace the cover of CT's Annual Books Issue.

Of course, to look at the cover you wouldn't know that he was there. Why? Because the "Annual Books Issue" of Christianity Today has been re-covered with an advertisement for the new movie Evan Almighty.

It is so subtle that I didn't catch it until I had nearly read through the issue. The only difference between the sell-out cover and a typical CT is the upper right hand corner addition of the word "advertisement" in small letters. [See it there above the "a" and the "y"?]

The marketing of CT's cover and the displacement of Miller's mug suggests that we live in a world where movies have supplanted books as the dominant media of our day. That is probably true.

But, as one who loves both movies and books, I still don't like it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My May flowers

My yard is alive with color! After several weeks of off and on planting, my flowers are beginning to bloom and fill an otherwise drab spring with vibrant color. Marigolds were the first to go in the ground. I have one bed that fills up with orange and yellow blooms each year. Their golden orbs nestle beneath a yellow day lily and a black-eyed susan. Beautiful!

Right behind them, on the east end of our porch, are two window boxes filled with red and white begonias. They're a blue flower away from a patriotic statement, but I've yet to find a blue begonia.

There are euphorbia and knautia (I just like saying their names). I've got a purple cone flower and about fifty feet of canna lilies. They're just poking through the warm soil, but by mid summer, they'll stand five feet tall crowned with giant flowing red blooms.

I've potted a red geranium in a hanging basket next to the garden gate, and along the sidewalk in the back yard, there is a mixture of red begonias (in the sun) and red New Guinea impatiens (in the shade).
In the front yard, I potted several gerberas. And, of course, there are a number of petunias in various hues of purple and red.

My most frustrating flowers, though, have been the dahlias. Last year I purchased some incredible dahlias and planted them in the front yard. They loved the southern exposure and bloomed all summer long. I dug up the bulbs and replanted them this spring, but they've been slow to come on. They're just now breaking the surface of the soil. Who knows when they'll begin blooming.

My horticultural endeavors remind me of several truths.
  • Not every flower grows at the same pace. Neither do people. I've seen some folks bloom right away. Others take time and patience. Often it is those who take the most time who seem to bloom the longest and brightest - if I'm patient enough to stick around to see it.
  • Conditions need to be right. It takes the right plant in the right soil with the right light, moisture, and fertilizer to get the really big blooms. Subtract any one of those ingredients, and the result ranges somewhere between disappointment and failure. I wonder if I am too quick to judge a person's failure to blossom when I really need to pay more attention to where and how they're "planted"?
  • Some plants are more fragile than others. My perennials - the knautia, euphorbia, day lily and black-eyed susan - can remain planted through our harsh winters, no problem. But my canna lilies will rot in the ground if I don't get them out by Thanksgiving. They've got to winter over in the basement and be planted again in the spring if I expect a summer color spectacular. Some people are more fragile, too. Perhaps I need to be a more gentle with some folks.
  • A world without flowers is a dreary world indeed, and so is a world without people. No wonder God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." He knew we need other folks in our lives to provide color and contrast.
  • Set it and forget it only works for Ron Popeil. I can set my Ronco Rotisserie and forget it, but my flowers will need my attention all summer long if they're going to bloom. People need attention, too.
There are a lot of other lessons I could learn from my flower beds, I'm sure. Stop by some time, and I'll show you around my color parade. Maybe we'll both learn something.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Arab View of Baptism

I am reading Dore Gold's book The Fight for Jerusalem. It is an interesting account of the importance of the Holy City, both throughout history and in the current political context.

Tucked within the book (on pg. 153) I discovered something interesting about baptism. In 1949
. . . Israelis were denied access to both the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives during the entire period of the Jordanian rule. Jordan further barred non-Israeli Jews from the Western Wall, demanding that tourists present a certificate of baptism before a visa would be granted.
Apparently Jordanian Muslims understand what some of us don't get. It is our baptism which signifies that we are Christians. Interesting . . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A tough call

My son isn't speaking to me right now.

At last night's ballgame his team was down 7-4 going into the bottom of the last inning. I was umpiring the bases (how did that happen, I ask myself). His teammates mounted a two-out rally to close the gap to 7-6.

Little Javey Moreno came to the plate and hit a hard shot to the shortstop. Javey put on the speed and hot-footed it to first while the shortstop struggled to field the grounder. He gathered it in and fired it to first, but over the first baseman's head. Javey sped on to second base.

Just one problem. He never touched first. Nobody saw it but me. The visiting manager and coaches were looking at the overthrown ball bouncing down the right field fence. The home team was looking at Javey running to second. I saw it, though. Hence the tough call.

As soon as Javey touched second base I knew that he, by all rights, should be rung up. What to do? Call him out and the game is over. My son's team loses. I am a goat. Stay silent and . . . well . . . nobody saw. No harm, no foul, right?


It wasn't any fun, but I made the tough call and punched Javey out. Game over.

It's not always easy to do the right thing. It's never easy when you know it will hurt the people you love, especially when nobody will know if you did the right thing or not. But, as I told my son after the game, your integrity is worth more than a tally in the win column.

One thing's for sure. If Javey ever plays Major League Baseball, I'll bet he never misses first base again. And with a name like Javey Moreno, he just might make "the show."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Not in my Wildest Dreamz

Survivor on CBS provided a great teaching opportunity for my three children tonight. Last week Yau-Man won a new Ford F350 Super Duty pickup truck. He used the truck as a bargaining chip with Dreamz. The deal: in exchange for Yau giving Dreamz the truck, when they reached the final four, if Dreamz won immunity he would give the immunity necklace to Yau-Man. Dreamz gave Yau his word and got his truck.

Fast forward to tonight. Dreamz won immunity, and then completely welshed on the deal. Yau was sent packing.

By doing so, Dreamz earned a shot at a million bucks. Of course, the price for his one-in-three shot at the big bucks was his integrity. With tears in his eyes, Dreamz looked into the camera and said how important it was for his young son to see his daddy on national television keeping his word.

Well, he didn't keep his word. He may have a new truck. He may even win the million dollars. But for my money, I would rather be an empty handed Yau than an underhanded Dreamz.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Little League Loudmouths

It's springtime again in Butler, Indiana. On a humid night I can hear the call of the umpire wafting across the railroad tracks as little leaguers stare knock-kneed at their classmates firing baseballs in their general direction.

My son is playing again this year - had a big hit the other night in fact. I am umpiring, too. That seems only fair as many times as I've hollered at the guys in blue over the years. Simply put, we spend a lot of time at Hathaway Park.

Last night I attended my friend Scott's game. He is the coach of the Butler Angels. His son, Tristan, is their shortstop. They were playing a team from another town. I arrived late. The home team was at bat. As I was pedaling my bike toward the diamond, I was surprised at the unusually loud noise coming from the park. The 'hey batta batta" seemed particularly strong.

Parking my bike, I discovered why. The kids in their blue unies out on defense were doing their best impersonation of Ferris Bueler's classic "swing batta." But so were the parents. And the parent's sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I think I even saw a Schwann's man getting into it.

The Butler parents were disturbed by this. My buddy's wife was about to go off. She told me, "Go say something to them!" Sure, you know me, Mr. Non-confrontational.

I walked over among the hollering hoard and leaned against the backstop. The ring leader looked to be about seventeen. He was doing his best impersonation of an up-and-coming meth dealer - silver chain with a dollar sign medallion, straight-brimmed Yankee hat on cock-eyed, shirt down to his knees. You've probably seen him before hanging out at the corner stop-and-rob looking for chicks with driver's licenses.

I stood taking it all in for several minutes. A mother ambled over my way and leaned into the backstop because, apparently, yelling at someone else's kid from twenty feet away wasn't nearly effective enough. I smiled at her. She smiled back. "I've never seen anything like this," I said. "Really?" she responded. "No, this is a first for me." "You mean this is your first baseball game?" "No, I've been coming to little league games for twenty years." I had her hooked. Now she was interested.

Her brow was knotted in curiosity. "What then?" "Well," I said with a smile, "I've just never been to a baseball game where the fans heckled ten and eleven year-olds. I mean, I've heard adults yell at umpires, and coaches, but I've never actually seen grown people scream at someone else's little boy to strike out." (I was still smiling, by the way.)

"We like to support our kids," she ventured cautiously. "I think that's great, but why does supporting your kid mean tearing down another?" As if in answer to my question she tossed her head back to indicate the howling mob, "But they're all my family."

Okay. . .

"See the little guy out there at second? He's my son and we're all here to support him." I smiled again. "I think that's great. I'm sure he appreciates it."

The inning ended and I jogged to center field to turn the lights on.

Our team came to bat the next inning and put up four runs. The heckling stopped. What common sense and casual cajoling couldn't accomplish the scoreboard finally did.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Which "P" will you pursue?

I spoke to 150 high school students and their parents tonight. It was really a blast. The Tri-Kappa Sorority in Garrett, Indiana plans an annual event to honor those who earn good grades at Garrett High School. I was asked to speak to them.

I told them that folks often pursue the wrong "p's." You know them: possessions, power, prestige, popularity, prosperity and pride. All of those pursuits leave one unfulfilled and empty, though.

Rather, I suggested, we should serve people. Possessions, popularity, pride - all these are fleeting. People last, however. Souls are eternal.

Watching these kids, I am hopeful in the generation who will be choosing my nursing home.