First World Problem

This is one of those stories that, even as I tell it, I know some of you are not going to believe me. Or you’re going to say that this was somehow my fault. I know this, because I’m having a hard time believing it myself, and I am living through it.

It all started innocently enough. Back in March, I had to get a new phone. My old Android phone, which was supposed to last for two years, had lasted three, but it was fading fast. So, I finally broke down and bought an iPhone – a 5S, to be precise.

Now, I should tell you that my particular discount phone carrier requires me to buy my own phone, full price, right up front. This is a trade-off I accept, because it means that I get a great price on my monthly phone bill. So, I bought the new iPhone, and called their technical support service to activate this new marvel and get my service ported over to it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but evidently, that’s when the trouble started.

I rocked along for a full month, and everything was great. The new phone performed flawlessly until last Friday when, with no warning, it stopped working. Well, to be precise, the phone part stopped working – as long as I was connected to a Wi-Fi network, all the other functions worked just fine. Music all day long, but no calls. And up in the corner, where the signal strength indicator is, were the ominous words, “No Service.”

At first, I wasn’t too worried. I checked my credit card, and sure enough, there was no charge on the bill for the service. Some kind of a glitch, I thought. I thought it had been on automatic pay every month, but I figured, somehow, that got accidentally turned off. I’ll pay the bill, make sure to set the bill pay for “automatic,” and I’ll have my service back.

Nope.

I tried to use the automatic pay function. It wouldn’t let me in. I tried to go online, and use the “Chat” function to fix the problem. Forget about it. I called technical support. Thirty minutes later, I was still on hold. I was beginning to get annoyed.

I finally got through to a real person, and she told me that my service had been cancelled, and my number voided out, because I had asked to switch over to a different carrier. I tried to explain that that was NOT what I had done at all, that I had simply purchased a new phone, but that I wasn’t looking to change phone companies.

It was about here that the wheels came off.

For four hours, from one supervisor to another, we went round and round. I was getting more and more frustrated. They kept telling me that this was my fault, because I had asked to switch carriers. I kept assuring them that I had not. I finally managed to convince a supervisor that this was THEIR fault, to which she agreed. So I asked if we could please turn my phone back on. The answer was a polite, but very firm, NO. Evidently, my old number has gone into permanent retirement. Maybe it’s in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, with Andy Dufresne, I don’t know, but my number is now out of use, and I can’t have it back.

The best she could do for me was to arrange for me to receive a new SIM card for the phone, and give me a direct number to call her on. When that happens, I’ll get a new number, and my snazzy Apple device will once again be a phone, and not just an expensive portable radio.

I’m trying to learn from this experience. I’m thankful that, in the long run, this is only an inconvenience, and not a serious problem. I’m very grateful to have neighbors, friends & family that I want to keep in touch with, and a job that I enjoy and is fulfilling, and good technology to help me do that. I know that there are a lot of people around the world who would wish that the biggest problem they had was a cell phone that didn’t work. So I’m trying not to whine.

Meanwhile, does anyone know where I can borrow a tin can and some string?

October Blessings

autumn_railroad_by_celem-d5ogfhqI love October. It’s absolutely my favorite month of the year.

I don’t think this will come as a galloping surprise to anyone – I mean, LOTS of people consider autumn their favorite season. But for me, October specifically is my favorite, for several reasons. (And no, I didn’t take that picture; it’s one I found somewhere online. But I love it!)

And okay, yes, full disclosure: my birthday is in October (the 11th, if you’re wondering). I remember as a kid feeling a kinship with others in my school grade who shared October birthdays. I seem to recall that Paul Christian and Carlene Chandler were two in my class who shared this month with me. Later, I learned that my best friend from college, Kurt Stallings, has an October birthday, and my brother Jimmy and wife Christy got married in October. (On Kurt’s birthday, as a matter of fact.)

Of course, once you get over the age of 10 or 12, people stop making a big deal out of your birthday. Still, I enjoy mine. But that’s not the only reason I love October.

Getting to October means that we’ve survived another Texas summer. This is not a small thing. Summers around here are brutal, and September is nothing but a tease. The calendar may say that summer is over, but really, it isn’t – even in late September, the highs can easily reach the upper 90s or more. But October is a different matter – there are still warm days, to be sure, but the evenings and mornings have a delicious chill about them.

Another thing I like about October: postseason baseball. By this time of year, only the best teams are still playing. Playoff baseball is a thing of beauty – even more than the regular season. Big players make big plays in big games. And there’s a reason nobody in baseball is nicknamed, “Mr. April.” (Thank you, Drew Bowen!) So bring on the World Series, and Let’s – Go – Rang – ers!

The changing season means some changes to the menu. I love a good pot of chili, and there’s something about good chili – especially venison chili – that is warm and comforting and satisfying. I don’t know why we don’t eat chili when the weather is hot – we eat other soups and stews – but chili is the ultimate cold weather comfort food. And I know, at some point before the calendar changes again, I’ll be making a pot of it.

October means the holidays are coming, but not here yet. We have the excitement and anticipation of those good things, but don’t yet have to put with the craziness of too many events and too little time to do them all. I can, and do, look forward with a child’s excitement to the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I love the colors of fall: red, orange, yellow, golden brown. Even though we don’t have the brilliance of New England or Appalachia (or even East Texas!), it’s still nice to see the changing colors of leaves, and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.

In some ways, autumn is like a parable. The changing colors can inspire us to glorify God by taking up a new interest and exploring new opportunities to grow. The loss of leaves can remind us that sometimes we need to let go of some things, to allow old habits and destructive patterns drop away.

October is a reminder that nothing is permanent. Seasons change. Life is transitory. Make the most of every opportunity. Summer’s over, winter’s coming, but for now, October is here. And I’m happy about that.

Let’s enjoy it while we can.

Thoughts While Mowing

Let me make this clear: I don’t like mowing.

I realize that in the grand scheme of things, mowing isn’t all that bad. And I’ve heard many people say that they enjoy it – they find it relaxing and stress-relieving, something they can do without having to think about it, to let their minds unwind for a while. That’s fine.

Me, I’d rather be watching trains. Or reading. Or visiting with a friend. Or doing lots of other things. But, mowing is one of those things that we nearly all have to do, and I do. So while I was mowing my yard the other day, I came up with a list of things to be thankful for while mowing.

Rain. This definitely tops the list. In a few more weeks, the West Texas summer will be here with all its searing heat and lack of moisture, and the yard will turn mostly brown. So while it’s green, I will be thankful for the showers.

Health. My health is far from perfect – I’m overweight, I have Type II Diabetes, and I don’t exercise nearly enough. Still, I’m healthy enough to be outside and do this work. Many of our neighbors would love to be healthy enough to mow their own yards, and so for that, I’m thankful.

Space. I have been blessed with a large lot and nice house to live in as part of my job. When I think about how much of the world’s population lives in housing smaller than my bedroom, it seems extremely ungrateful to complain about mowing. Talk about First World problems…

Tools. Along with the house, I have a riding mower to use, and also a push mower for areas where the big mower can’t reach. Again, these are definitely blessings for which I am thankful.

Resources. Of course, it takes money to buy the gas to run those things, and I have been given that. Another reason to be appreciative.

Peace. I can worry about needing to mow, because there are courageous men and women going in harm’s way to protect us. Let us never fail to give thanks for their valor and sacrifice.

Security. The mower was still where I had parked it after the last time I used it, at least partly because we have police officers who protect and serve our community. They are not perfect, and do not claim to be, but I’m thankful for their efforts.

So that’s my list. If I worked at it, I’m sure I could come up with more things to be thankful for while mowing. But for now, I think I’m going to take a break and get something cool to drink and sit in the shade for a while. Besides, I think I hear a train whistle somewhere…

Reflections On A Birthday

From time to time, all of us have significant days – days when we realize that things have changed, that our lives are going to be different. Days when we pause to take stock of our lives, and perhaps think about some things that we are too busy to consider at other times. I’m talking about times such as, the birth of a baby. The death of a loved one. A wedding. A graduation. A child leaving home.

I had a birthday the other day.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, birthdays don’t necessarily rank up there with some of the other life events listed above, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about this one. Partly because of the age I have now reached: 58.

(Insert your favorite joke about getting old here. I’ll wait.)

It’s not that I’m feeling older, because I really don’t. But my grandpa Archie died of a heart attack when he was 56. His father had died at 56, and apparently, several other men in the McMillan family also died at about the same age, mostly from heart disease. I grew up very aware that men on that side of the family didn’t get out of their 50s.

So my first reflection after this birthday is, I’m thankful for good doctors and better medical care. I say this knowing that there are still far too many men in our culture who die of heart attacks in their 50s, or even younger. But I’m thankful for effective medicines to manage diabetes, and better understanding of diet, and all of those blessings. And I’ll tell you, it sometimes feels pretty sad to me to think about all that I still want to do with my life, and to think about my Pa-Pa dying at 56, and how young that seems now, and that I’ve already lived longer than he did, and how much he missed.

And not that this has anything to do with that, but here’s another thing: I’m blessed to be part of a church fellowship that is outward-focused. I have seen too many churches whose primary emphasis is nothing but member-care, and all the programs and activities are designed to pamper and tend to the folks on the inside. Beltway may not be perfect, but I appreciate their focus on missions and growing the Kingdom and reaching out to others. They prove it by the high percentage of their budget that they spend on missions, by their emphasis of projects in service to others – even by hanging on the walls the flags of the nations where we have partners at work.

At a time in my life where it’s easy to settle in, to pull back and become more inwardly-focused, I’m glad to be part of a group that is still going out.

By the same token, I’m honored to work for an organization that has a vision for community. I get to meet neighbors, to build relationships with them, and to help host events in our home that facilitate those things. Jesus said nothing was more important than loving God and loving neighbors, and I am so blessed to get to focus on those things 24/7.

One of the things I like best about my birthday is that it comes in my favorite month. I don’t love October only because of my birthday – that’s just one of many reasons. From cooler weather to changing leaves and so much more, autumn is my favorite time of year.

October means that the holidays are approaching. I’m not trying to rush the season – it still annoys me that Walmart is already playing “Jingle Bells” – but there’s no denying that Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming. Another year will soon be over. And in my head, somehow to me, at least, my birthday is kind of like the start of the holiday season.

The year is not over, but if there are things you need to get done before the end of the year, you need to be doing them. Which brings me to my final reflection –

I’m reminded of the need to make every day count. I’m 58. I hope to have a long time yet, but there is one undeniable fact: I’m one day closer to dying than I was yesterday. And so are you. Paul said we should “Redeem the time, for the days are evil.” In “Dead Poet’s Society,” Robin Williams reminded us of the old Roman adage – “Carpe Diem.” Seize the day. Make every moment count.

God bless us all for a good year.

Enemies, Foreign and Domestic

(Anybody else here a Mike Rowe fan?  I loved “Dirty Jobs” when he was doing that show, and the quality of his voice-over work on “Deadliest Catch” is amazing.  And today, I’m going to reblog something he wrote on his “The Real Mike Rowe” Facebook page, then I’ll make a few comments at the end.  For clarity’s sake, the quoted section is printed in navy blue, with the links presented in a lighter blue.)

Photo: [Bob Reidel: "Mike - Saw you hangin with Bill Maher. I had no idea you were a liberal. Really blew me away. Love everything you do but now that I know who you really are, I won't be tuning in to watch anything your involved with."]Well, hi there, Bob. How's it going? Since your comment is not the only one of its kind, I thought I'd take a moment to address it. Bill Maher is opinionated, polarizing and controversial. I get it. So is Bill O'Reilly, which is probably why I heard the same comments after I did his show. ("How could you Mike? How could you?") Truth is, every time I go on Fox, my liberal friends squeal. And every time I show up on MSNBC, my conservative pals whine. Not because they disagree with my position - everyone agrees that closing the skills gap is something that needs to happen. No, these days, people get bent simply if I appear on shows they don't like, or sit too close to people they don't care for. What's up with that? Is our country so divided that my mere proximity to the "other side" prompts otherwise sensible adults to scoop up their marbles and go home? Back in 2008, I wrote an open letter to President Obama, offering to help him promote those 3 million "shovel-ready" jobs he promised to create during his campaign. (I suspected they might be a tough sell, given our country's current relationship with the shovel.) Within hours, hundreds of conservatives accused me of "engaging with a socialist," and threatened to stop watching Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe if I didn't come to my senses. When I made the same offer to Mitt Romney (who actually responded), thousands of liberals chastised me for "engaging with a greedy capitalist," and threatened to stop watching Dirty Jobs if I didn't take it back. You may ask, "But what did these people think about the issue at hand?" Who knows? They were too busy being outraged by my proximity to the devil. (Poor Ed Shultz at MSNBC nearly burst into tears. "You were on the wrong stage, Mike! The wrong stage!! With the wrong candidate!!!") Oy.Here's the thing, Bob - Profoundly Disconnected (http://profoundlydisconnected.com/) is not a PR campaign for Mike Rowe. It's a PR campaign for skilled labor and alternative education. PR campaigns need ... that's right, PR, and if I limit my appearances to those shows that I personally watch, hosted only by those personalities with whom I personally agree, I might as well start a church and preach to the choir. Point is, I didn't go on Real Time to endorse BM, and I didn't go on The Factor to endorse BO. I went on because millions of people watch those shows. I approached our liberal president for the same reason. Likewise, his conservative opponent. And I showed up on Sesame Street with the same agenda that I took to Congress. Closing the skills gap is bigger than you or me or any particular venue, and Real Time gave me an opportunity to reach 5 million people. I'm grateful for that, and I'll do it again if they want me back. As for Bill Maher off-camera, you'll be pleased to know that the guy was a perfect gentleman. His staff is excellent, and his after-party included an open bar with a spread I've never seen in such a setting. Bill took the time to hang out with his guests and their friends after the show, chatting about this and that for over an hour, and taking pictures with anyone who wanted one. Trust me, that's rare. Yes, he's outrageous, inflammatory, and to many, a jagged little pill. But he's also gracious, generous, engaging, and taller than he appears on TV. Which, frankly, surprised me.
[Bob Reidel: “Mike – Saw you hangin with Bill Maher. I had no idea you were a liberal. Really blew me away. Love everything you do but now that I know who you really are, I won’t be tuning in to watch anything your involved with.”] Well, hi there, Bob. How’s it going? Since your comment is not the only one of its kind, I thought I’d take a moment to address it.Bill Maher is opinionated, polarizing and controversial. I get it. So is Bill O’Reilly, which is probably why I heard the same comments after I did his show. (“How could you Mike? How could you?”)Truth is, every time I go on Fox, my liberal friends squeal. And every time I show up on MSNBC, my conservative pals whine. Not because they disagree with my position – everyone agrees that closing the skills gap is something that needs to happen. No, these days, people get bent simply if I appear on shows they don’t like, or sit too close to people they don’t care for. What’s up with that? Is our country so divided that my mere proximity to the “other side” prompts otherwise sensible adults to scoop up their marbles and go home? Back in 2008, I wrote an open letter to President Obama, offering to help him promote those 3 million “shovel-ready” jobs he promised to create during his campaign. (I suspected they might be a tough sell, given our country’s current relationship with the shovel.) Within hours, hundreds of conservatives accused me of “engaging with a socialist,” and threatened to stop watching Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe if I didn’t come to my senses.

When I made the same offer to Mitt Romney (who actually responded), thousands of liberals chastised me for “engaging with a greedy capitalist,” and threatened to stop watching Dirty Jobs if I didn’t take it back.

You may ask, “But what did these people think about the issue at hand?” Who knows? They were too busy being outraged by my proximity to the devil. (Poor Ed Shultz at MSNBC nearly burst into tears. “You were on the wrong stage, Mike! The wrong stage!! With the wrong candidate!!!”)

Oy.

Here’s the thing, Bob – Profoundly Disconnected (http://profoundlydisconnected.com/) is not a PR campaign for Mike Rowe. It’s a PR campaign for skilled labor and alternative education. PR campaigns need … that’s right, PR, and if I limit my appearances to those shows that I personally watch, hosted only by those personalities with whom I personally agree, I might as well start a church and preach to the choir.

Point is, I didn’t go on Real Time to endorse BM, and I didn’t go on The Factor to endorse BO. I went on because millions of people watch those shows. I approached our liberal president for the same reason. Likewise, his conservative opponent. And I showed up on Sesame Street with the same agenda that I took to Congress.

Closing the skills gap is bigger than you or me or any particular venue, and Real Time gave me an opportunity to reach 5 million people. I’m grateful for that, and I’ll do it again if they want me back.

As for Bill Maher off-camera, you’ll be pleased to know that the guy was a perfect gentleman. His staff is excellent, and his after-party included an open bar with a spread I’ve never seen in such a setting. Bill took the time to hang out with his guests and their friends after the show, chatting about this and that for over an hour, and taking pictures with anyone who wanted one. Trust me, that’s rare.

Yes, he’s outrageous, inflammatory, and to many, a jagged little pill. But he’s also gracious, generous, engaging, and taller than he appears on TV.

Which, frankly, surprised me.

I like his comments.  Very much.  And I want to add a few of my own.

First of all, when and from where did we get the idea that people we disagree with politically are the enemy?  We may have a differences of opinion about what is good public policy, or how the government should or should not respond on a given issue, but that does not make us enemies.

As some of you know, I used to work for Rick Perry back when he was in the state legislature.  One of the first things they taught at orientation was that the job should not be personal.  The guy you were opposing today on issue “A” might very well be the guy whose vote you need tomorrow to help you with your bill on issue “B.”

I used to love to read Molly Ivins, may she rest in peace.  Yes, she was loud, brassy, obnoxious, and as liberal as the day is long.  But she was also outrageously funny, and she made me laugh, and and she made me think.  Molly used to love to tell a story about John Kennedy and Barry Goldwater.  They had served in the Senate together in the 50s and were good friends.  In the early 60s, when it became that Goldwater was going to be running against Kennedy in the 1964 Presidential election, they were looking forward to it, and had already begun having discussions about a sort of traveling debate roadshow.  The idea was for a series of debates, where the two of them would slug it out over public policy before the cameras, then go out for a drink together after the show.

Democrats. Republicans. Progressives. Conservatives. We need to listen to each other.  We NEED each other.  Compromise is NOT a dirty word.  It means recognizing that sometimes the other fellow also has a good idea, and maybe we are not perfect in our judgments and opinions.

Are we so afraid of the weakness of our political views that we cannot stand to have them questioned?  Are we so intellectually lazy that we can’t form a decent argument in support of our position?  Or have we just completely lost all sense of common decency and respect, so that we simply can’t talk with each other anymore?

Standing with our fingers in our ears and yelling “NO” to those who disagree with us is the behavior of a three-year-old throwing a tantrum, but we need to do better as a nation.

Especially a nation whose founders believed in the power of ideas.

The Movies, 5 x 5

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I love the movies. I like movie soundtracks. I love throwing out movie quotes at appropriate moments, sometimes just to see if anyone will catch it. And frankly my dear, I DON’T like much of what has been coming out of Hollywood lately. Not because of the content, although that is certainly bad enough.

No, my complaint is that most directors, producers and screenwriters seem to have forgotten how to tell a good story visually. Twenty-seven explosions in search of a plot does NOT make a good movie, in my opinion. CGI is no substitute for genuine character development, and SPFX cannot take the place of a good, you know, story.

I write this, knowing that I have friends in the movie business, both writers and actors. And truthfully, I don’t object to good visual effects – in fact, I love them. I think the “Star Trek” reboot movies are a good example – especially this most recent film, “Into Darkness.” I thought it had a really good story that was really well told, and for once, the effects – including the 3D – actually ADDED to the movie’s effectiveness. I saw it in both 2D and 3D, and the 3D shot of the Enterprise rising up out of the clouds was simply gorgeous.

And this from a diehard fan of the original Trek TV show, who really wanted NOT to like what these young whippersnappers were doing with my franchise.

All of that to say, I don’t think I’m just being an old curmudgeon, “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” sort of guy. I don’t hate technology in movies. I just think I have a right to expect more than that for my $12.

I got to spend some time with my brother David and his family last week, and we got on the subject of favorites movies. Actually, I like playing a little game with other movie fans. Here’s how it goes: you pick a category of movie, and list your five favorites from that category. Drama. Action / Adventure. Horror. Comedy.

Yes, I know it’s nerdy. And geeky. What can I say? I AM a nerd. And a geek. But you must like the movies too, or you wouldn’t still be reading at this point, right? So here’s how we’re going to play. I’m going to pick five categories of films, then tell you my five favorites in that category – 5 x 5, get it?

You are welcome to disagree, debate about which movies should have been listed, wonder how I could be so dense as to have left off one of your favorites from a given list, or whatever. That’s part of the fun here. And I’m not saying these are necessarily the best movies of these categories ever made, just my favorites.  If you really want to get into it, you can always sign up at IMDb.com, and create your own lists that you can post.  It’s showtime, folks! (Quick: what movie is that line from?)

FIVE ALL-TIME FAVORITES –  These are my favorite movies.  They are not all necessarily “great” films, but all them continue to touch me deeply.  Here’s a link to the complete list of my Top 25 favorites.

  • 5.  The Shawshank Redemption.  This movie meets one of my criteria for “favorite,” which is that I watch it any time it comes on TV.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are a treat.
  • 4.  Tender Mercies.  Talk about redemption: at the end of the movie, when Robert Duvall is throwing the football with his stepson, you have the answer to the question, “Why?”  Incredible movie.
  • 3.  The Quiet Man.  The John Ford Company Players at their best, along with stunning Irish scenery.
  • 2.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  A sentimental favorite because it was the movie Kathy and I went to see on our first date.  Then 30+ years later, we went to see it at the Paramount on our anniversary.
  • 1.  Casablanca.  Is it a war movie?  Is it a romance?  Is it a character picture?  Yes, all of that, and more.  Bogart.  Bergman.  For all sorts of reasons, everybody comes to Rick’s.

FIVE FAVORITE WAR MOVIES – So-called “war” movies are sometimes accused of glorifying violence, but I think a good one has just the opposite effect, showing the waste and futility.  Here are five good ones.

  • 5.  Gettysburg.  Jeff Daniels shines as the speech professor-turned-colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who receives the Medal of Honor for his actions at Little Round Top.
  • 4.  The Enemy Below.  Robert Mitchum and Curd Jurgens are amazing as the American and German captains opposing each other.  Who – or what – is the real enemy?
  • 3.  Saving Private Ryan.  I always wondered what it would be like to be behind a landing craft door when it dropped open.  It ain’t pretty.
  • 2.  Twelve O’Clock High.  Gregory Peck as a good man struggling under the burden what he must do to push his men and accomplish the mission.
  • 1.  The Guns of Navarone.  Another great Gregory Peck role, with another fine cast.  David Niven is terrific.

FIVE FAVORITE JOHN WAYNE MOVIES –  John Wayne is, and always will be, known for his Westerns.  But I think he was often at his best when he took that persona and translated it into other kinds of movie storytelling.  Honorable mention: Hellfighters.

  • 5.  The Shootist.  The Duke’s last movie, playing an aging gunfighter who just wants to die in peace.  All actors should go out so well.
  • 4.  True Grit.  Come see a one-eyed fat man.
  • 3.  The High and the Mighty.  John Wayne is a pilot on a doomed airliner.
  • 2.  Fort Apache.  Watching him work with Henry Fonda was always a treat.
  • 1.  The Quiet Man.  Sean Thornton, home from America, to forget his troubles.

FIVE FAVORITE COURTROOM DRAMAS – Trials naturally lend themselves to good movie making.  Life and death, freedom and imprisonment, right and wrong.  Another of the great ones (even though it’s not on this list): Inherit the Wind, with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.

  • 5.  The Caine Mutiny.  Humphrey Bogart is great; Jose Ferrer is superb.  Fred McMurray is agreeably spineless and slimy.
  • 4.  The Verdict.  This was Paul Newman’s greatest role, in my opinion, as an alcoholic ambulance-chaser looking for redemption.
  • 3.  A Few Good Men.  Aaron Sorkin writes, and Tom and Demi go up against Jack.  You can’t handle the truth.
  • 2.  To Kill a Mockingbird.  All aspiring actors (and trial lawyers, for that matter) should have to watch Gregory Peck’s closing argument to the jury.  This is how it’s done.
  • 1.  Twelve Angry Men.  Oh my, what a cast.  A tense, real-time drama of a jury that votes 11-1 for a conviction.  Then Henry Fonda starts asking questions.

FIVE FAVORITE BASEBALL MOVIES –  I think it’s fair to say that there have been more great baseball pictures, than all other categories of sports movies combined.  This summer’s 42 is also really, really good.

  • 5.  The Sandlot.  Friends and summers and growing up.  And James Earl Jones ain’t bad.
  • 4.  A League of Their Own.  You know it as well as I do: There’s no crying in baseball.
  • 3.  Field of Dreams.  So many memorable lines and moments.  “No, I mean, what do you want?”  “Oh.  A dog and a beer.”
  • 2.  The Natural.  Yes, it’s cheesy and melodramatic at times.  It’s still wonderful watching Redford knock the cover off the ball.  There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.
  • 1.  Bull Durham.  Okay, this movie has some of the dirtiest language ever put on celluloid, and I really can’t recommend it for that reason.  But it captures the joy of the game and essence of baseball in a way few others have ever matched.  The rose goes in front, big guy.

There, see how easy that was? So now, get your Siskel & Ebert on, and come up with some lists of your own. And please pass the popcorn.

Days of Encouragement

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As some of you know, I have spent the last several days at the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association, also known as CCDA. I’ve been here with two dear friends and colleagues from CCC, Laura Herridge and Janet Mendenhall. It’s been a great trip, and a great conference, and I just wanted to share a little bit of it with you.

CCDA was founded by Dr. John Perkins. Dr. Perkins was born in 1930, the son of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi. He left home when he was 17 after a racist town marshall murdered his brother. Vowing never to return to the South, he moved to Los Angeles, carrying all the hatred against white people that you can imagine. But that’s when God stepped in.

His heart was touched by a song that his little son came home singing one day – a song he had learned at church. “Jesus loves the little children,” the song said. “All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” (I sang this very same song myself at VBS when I was a child! Many of you did, too.)

This simple, childish song led to his eventually giving his heart to Christ and later, becoming a pastor in L.A. But God still wasn’t done, and in 1960, he and his family moved back to Mississippi, and he began a community development ministry not far from his old hometown.

What is Christian community development? Well, to use a cliche, it’s a hand up, but not a hand-out. It’s moving into a neighborhood and reaching out to neighbors, but not with the attitude that says, “You’re broken, and I’m here to fix you.” Rather, it says, “We’re all broken, but let’s work together and learn from each other and come out of our brokenness.”

Over the years he marched for civil rights, was arrested several times, was beaten, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, prayed and struggled. God cured him of the hatred in his heart against other races. Eventually, he founded CCDA as a way for like-minded groups and individuals to encourage each other and work together cooperatively.

There’s a lot more to tell about Dr. Perkins, but I won’t go into that. If you’re interested, you should read his biography, Let Justice Roll Down. I will say, we were honored to have him come to our Friendship House in 2010 on his last visit to Abilene, where he delighted in the interaction between the kids and the volunteers who were there.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Reconcile.” Racial reconciliation has been a buzzword for some time now, but this conference has been asking harder questions – is there a way to move beyond joining hands and singing “Kum By Yah,” to really healing the wounds between the races and actually bringing the Kingdom of God, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus?

The speakers have been challenging, and we have explored together the ideaa that we need reconciliation not just between races, but also between economic classes, education levels, generational groups, and in many other ways. The touchstone Bible passage for the week has been 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and behold, all things have become new. Now all this is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation – that is, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them, and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. Now therefore, as ambassadors for Christ, we beg you for Christ’s sake, as though God were pleading through us: Be reconciled to God.”

It’s been a great week, and I’m feeling recharged and ready to come home just as fast as Southwest Airlines and I-20 can get us there. But let me leave you with this: to whom do you need to be reconciled? If God can change John Perkins, and turn him from a race-hater into a world-changer, with whom do you or I need to make peace?

God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus, and in Christ, is not counting our sins against us. Let us extend each other that same grace, and forgive as we have been forgiven. And may we truly be reconciled to each other – breaking down walls of race, income, status, gender and age – so that they world may know we are His disciples, by the way we love one another.

The Sounds of Silence

When I started this blog, it was my intention to write something twice a week or so.  Well, with one thing and another, I have already missed that target.  But twice a week is my goal, and it’s a process.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

So I sat down at my desk this morning to write, but found the noise from the construction site next door to be too distracting.  No problem, I thought, I’ll just go to the coffee shop and get a cup o’joe to sip on while I write.  (Seems appropriate.)  But there was a guy there, holding forth at one of the tables in an obnoxiously loud voice, and happily giving his opinion on all sorts of subjects. (Please, no comments about the pot calling the kettle black…)  I was across the room, and unwillingly in the middle of the conversation.  So I left.

I drove to the library, where I sat in my car waiting for the library to open, and began to read.  A city worker came by with a leaf blower, and it took him three passes back and forth in front of me to remove all the leaves and blow them out into the street.  Your tax dollars at work.  I resigned myself to finding no quiet until I actually got into the library.

So I went in and sat down.  And that’s when my phone rang.  *Sigh.*

Silence isn’t golden.  It’s vanished.

So instead of writing about what I WAS going to write about (I’ll save that for another day.), here’s a thought: I believe we could use more silence.  Somehow, I think our society has associated noise with busy-ness with purposeful activity with personal significance.  Furthermore, we often seem unwilling or unable to simply sit still and meditate.  It’s like many of us are afraid to be alone with our own thoughts.

The scripture does NOT say, “Be frantically noisy and busy, and know that I am God.”  It says, “Be STILL and know.” (Psalm 46:10)  So here’s my resolution to be a little more intentional about seeking quiet time each day to be alone with God.  And to those of us who are already doing it, here’s a (quiet) pat on the back.

Welcome to My New Blog!

Howdy and Welcome.  I hope this will become a place of interesting observations and stimulating discussion.  And since I like to sip on something while I do my thinking, I’m calling this “Sip with Dusty.”

Sometimes these comments will be devotional, sometimes not.  Sometimes they will be brief, other times, perhaps, not so brief.  You are always welcome in this conversation.  We may not always agree, but perhaps we can find some common ground and learn from each other.

Like many of you, I enjoyed watching the recent Olympics.  It’s a bit of shameless theatrics that NBC almost always closed its nightly broadcast with a medal ceremony of some American athlete – swimmer, gymnast, or whoever – standing on the platform, hearing his or her name called, then receiving the gold medal, finally capped off with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.  It makes for great TV, and it IS an American network and an American audience, so why not.

How thrilling it must be to stand on that platform and hear your national anthem.  How satisfying it must be to reflect back on a LIFETIME of training, hard work, early morning practices, pulled muscles, and receive that gold medal.  Finally to silence all those who said you couldn’t do it.  Finally to know that all the discipline, self-denial and hard work was worth it.  Finally to hear your name called.

Of course, we understand that the modern Olympics are based on the ancient Olympics, and similar contests from antiquity, and the idea of a victorious athlete being called up to the platform to receive the prize is nothing new.  And I believe this is precisely the image that Paul has in mind in Philippians 3:13-14.

  • “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” – just like an athlete who doesn’t dwell on the years of training and self-discipline, or even worry about those running beside him or her, but instead, focuses on the finish line ahead.
  • “I press on toward the goal” – not athletic glory, or a wreath, or even a gold medal, but the goal of knowing Jesus, intimately & personally (see 3:10).
  • “For the upward calling of God.” Here I think the NIV got it wrong.  They interpret it as “for which God has called me heavenward.”  That’s not a bad sentiment, but the text literally says, “for the calling-up of God.”  I think it’s an image of an athlete hearing his name called and stepping up on the platform to receive the prize.

May God grant us grace never to stop short of the finish line.