Monday, November 17, 2008

Marathon Review

Well, I know it's a month late, but I need to report on the marathon.

I finished. The first 21 miles weren't that bad, but I thought the last five would never end. I was pretty sore for a couple of days, but it wasn't as bad as I expected. By Wednesday or Thursday afterwards, I was about back to normal. I've got to give a ton of credit to the Marines. For an event as large as this, I thought it was incredibly well organized.

The obvious question my friends an family ask me is "Will you ever do another one?" The honest answer is that I'm not sure. I definitely want to keep running, but training for a marathon is a big time commitment. My wife was so supportive, but I'd hesitate to ask her to do that again. In just a few years, our kids will be old enough to look after themselves for a few hours, so maybe then she and I could train together.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience. If anyone out there needs any advice, please feel free to email me. My address is in my profile.

Friday, October 17, 2008

One week and counting

The marathon is only a week away. I have to admit I'm getting a little nervous. I'm worried about making it within the time limit. You have to get to the bridge at the 2o mile mark on a certain pace, so they can reopen to traffic. If you don't make it by the required time, you can't finish. I've got a lot of family coming, so it would really stink if I couldn't finish.

So far, I've been ahead of the required pace, but not by a whole lot. What if we got inclement weather? Or if I was just off a little that day? Or sick? (A guy at work today was coughing and said he felt terrible. I tried to avoid him as much as possible without being rude.) Anyway, keep your fingers crossed for me. Hopefully, it's just a minor case of pre-race jitters and I'll be over it soon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

You did what?

The prosecutor's office I work in covers three counties. I'll call them counties A, B, and C for convenience. I live in County A but am assigned to the office in County B, about a 35 minute drive away. Yesterday, however, I had to attend some training on our new computer system held in County A, the county where I live. Our County A office is less than a mile from my house. The weather was nice and the dress was casual, so I decided to walk to the office. It took me about 15 minutes or so. Sidewalks the whole way.

People were amazed. You would have thought I was doing something remarkable. What have we come to as a people when the thought of a pleasant 15 minute walk to work is unthinkable to most people?

Look, I'm not posting this to make myself seem heroic or something. I'm as slack and lazy as the next person. And I certainly could stand to drop a few pounds. If the weather hadn't been nice or if I was wearing a suit, I probably would have driven. But we need to do something in this country to encourage people to get out and get some exercise. Next time you're out somewhere, just look around at people. We are becoming an obese society. People drive to places 5 minutes away in a big SUV and then circle the parking lot searching for a close parking space to avoid a slightly longer walk from their air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned store. I bet cardiologists are doing booming business.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Good News

Arrest made in the two arsons that burned the courthouse and office where I worked. It took a while, but hard work and persistence on the investigation paid off. Excellent work by law enforcement. Good cooperation between a lot of different agencies in the investigation.

The defendant is only 17 years old. In addition to the two fires that affected me, he has been charged in a string of armed robberies as well. Very sad to see a young person ruin their life like this. Some early news article are here, here, and here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A French Take on American Football

This video makes me laugh. Julie Coin is a french tennis player who played college tennis for my alma mater, Clemson University. She recently pulled a huge upset at the US Open, beating number one player in the world Ana Ivanovic. Coin was ranked #188 in the world. In the post-match press conference, someone inexplicably asked her about American college football. Her answer is below. She also manages to throw in a jab at our rival the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.

Monday, September 8, 2008

I should have known this already

If you go to a college football game on Saturday and stand around in the hot sun all day tailgating and follow that up with a greasy burger with fries and onion rings for supper, you shouldn't be surprised when your planned Sunday morning long run doesn't go particularly well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I hurt all over

The marathon training plan I'm using (Galloway for those interested) called for me to do 19-20 miles this past weekend. I took the position that 19 was a gracious plenty.

Ugh. I hurt all over. In addition to the usual aches and pains in my legs, ankles, and knees after I finished running, my arms, neck, and shoulders hurt, too. My current theory as to why that was is that I was too tense in my upper body as I ran, especially as I grew more tired toward the end.

I finished 19, but it wasn't fun or easy. I have been following a run 9 minutes/ walk 1 minute ratio on my long runs. Sunday I had to switch to 4/1 for the last couple of miles. It took me a smidgen over 4 hours. Incredibly slow for serious runners, but still a little ahead of the 14 minute per mile pace I need to run at the Marine Corps Marathon to be able to finish. My hope is that DC in late October is bound to be cooler and less humid than South Carolina in August and my pace will improve with better weather. I'm reminded of a quote I heard from a guy who was asked about the so-called "runner's high." He said that the only high he ever got was when he stopped. The high point for me Sunday was definitely when I finally quit running.

Oh, and there is at least one police officer in my hometown that I'm sure is convinced that I'm some kind of nut. I started out running a little before 6:00 AM and saw him pulling into the police department, presumably to start his shift. Over the next 4 hours, I must have seen him driving around five or six times as I ran. (Did I mention that I live in a very small town and that you have to do multiple loops to get this kind of distance?) I waved every time I saw him and the progression of the looks on his face over that time cracked me up. It started as kind of respectful for being out exercising. After an hour or two, he kind of shook his head at me in amusement/puzzlement. Toward the end of four hours I could almost see him thinking to himself "Is he mentally ill? Should I call an ambulance?"

The best news is that the training plan I'm on cuts me back to 8 miles or so as a long run the next couple of weekends before I do another really long one in three weeks. Hopefully I'll be recovered by then.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My New Office

Well, it's not quite this bad, but it does kind of stink. We're in cubicles in the basement of the county office building across the street from the burned out remains of my former office. )For anyone interested, you can read my post on arson 1 and arson 2.) At least I have a place to sit now. For a week or so, we were all basically operating out of our cars.
No arrests yet, but keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Don't Ever Say It Can't Get Worse

Just when you think the worst is over.

As I mentioned in the last post, my office was destroyed by arson Monday. In addition to me, we had offices for two other lawyers and a paralegal in there. But the one sliver of good news was that we had one lawyer and a paralegal in another building across the street.
Well, not anymore. The portion of our office that was not destroyed in the courthouse fire Monday was burned in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning. On the bright side, nobody was hurt. Law enforcement is working very hard to find the person or persons responsible. Some news articles are here, here, and here.
This is shaping up to be the worst week at work ever.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Office

The courthouse where I work was struck by arson very early Monday morning. For anyone interested, some articles are found here, here, and here. Very sad. The courthouse was built in 1828 and even survived Sherman during the Civil War. And of course, the damage to records, files, etc. was extensive. My office was not burned, but part of the ceiling collapsed and I had very extensive water damage. Considering how many people we've prosecuted over the years and how many people had pending charges, the list of suspects is pretty long.
Something like this really makes you feel for people who suffer a house fire. Here I am complaining about the loss of my diplomas and other things in my office, and some people have fires at their homes and lose everything.
Anyway, it has been a very painful week at work

Monday, July 28, 2008

Longest Run of My Life

Well, yesterday I ran 15 miles. That is the farthest I've ever run in my life. I was very slow (a smidgen over 3 hours) but at least I finished. A couple of observations:

1. To get that kind of distance in a small town, you have to do some loops. For me this is much harder psychologically. Starting at my house, I basically ran two 7 mile loops with an extra one mile detour the first time. The whole first loop around I kept thinking "Ugh, I've got to do all this again." The plan I'm running has a couple of runs in the 20 to 22 mile range. I'll probably have to do three loops then.

2. If someone you know sees you running and then sees you still running an hour or two later, you get a really funny look.

3. Water is really important. My previous long run was 13 miles a couple of Sundays ago. While I was more sore physically yesterday, I wasn't as mentally fatigued or exhausted as I was then. I think this is attributable to drinking more water. Two weeks ago I went through two bottles of water while running. Yesterday, I went through four.

4. I don't care how good your shirt claims to be at wicking away sweat, there is a saturation point. For me on a muggy, humid South Carolina morning, that point is about two hours. The whole last hour I felt like I was wearing a wet rag. I tried to console myself by remembering that a regular cotton t-shirt probably would have been like that in about 30 minutes, but it still stunk. I also kept telling myself it has to be cooler and less humid in Washington, DC in late October.

Next weekend I drop back and run 8. But in two weeks I'm supposed to run 17. I'm already apprehensive now thinking about it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Running makes you do crazy things

As I've been gradually increasing my mileage, I've begun to notice the crazy things running has made me do. Take today, for example. The plan I'm following called for a 13 mile run this morning. Now some would say that the whole idea of getting up at 5:30 am to run 13 miles on a day when my wife and kids are out of town and I could have slept late is crazy in and of itself. And I couldn't really argue with that. But it gets worse.

I've been reading about the benefits of an ice bath after a long run to help reduce muscle soreness, so I decided to try it. So at one point this morning I found myself sitting in a bathtub full of ice drinking a big glass of my current favorite post run beverage chocolate milk. (For any of you that actually know me and know what I look like, I apologize for putting that mental image in your head.) I kept thinking if I have a heart attack, please let the ice melt before they find my body.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Chinese Martyrs

Deacon Greg Kandra has posted an excellent homily on the Chinese Martyrs over at his blog The Deacon's Bench. A short excerpt:
I didn’t really know
much about them until I was asked to preach this evening. But again,
as I read their stories, I found myself overwhelmed. The loss was so
great. But so was their courage. If you visit the Vatican website,
there are details about the 120 people who are counted among those martyrs we
remember tonight. Most of them died in the 19th century, persecuted during the Boxer Rebellion.
Reading about them, you’re struck by several things. First, are the ages. So
many were children. Three, four years old. One was ten
months old. Some were
teenagers, like 14-year-old Wang Anna…who refused to renounce her
faith. Moments before her death, she cried out: “The door of heaven
is open to all,” then whispered, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” Seconds later, she was
beheaded. So many of them were also lay people. Mothers and fathers,
even entire families. They were people like 18-year-old Chi Zhuzi, who became a
Catholic at 17, and was disowned by his family. He was eventually captured and
ordered to publicly worship idols. When he refused, they cut off his right arm.
He still refused, declaring: “Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood
will tell you that I am Christian.” He died by mutilation.

Here is my question: Why haven't I ever heard about this? I've gone to church on most Sundays of my life and (at least at most of the churches I've attended) we never discuss the stories of those who laid down their lives for the faith. I know I've said it before, but we Protestants are really missing something important by not discussing the Saints. It's like we have some sort of historical amnesia or something.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Courtesy of Netflix, I finally got around to seeing Bella. It was outstanding. A wonderfully original story and well acted as well. I just can't recommend it enough. Keep the hankies handy, however, because it's tearjerker.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Almost Heaven

I just got back from 10 glorious days in the mountains of western North Carolina with the family. There may be prettier places in the world, but I haven't stayed there yet. We had great weather, hiked a lot, saw interesting sites, and ate way too much food. In short, an almost perfect vacation.

My 11 year old daughter has decided she wants to try to go to as many highpoints of states that she can. We had been to two before last week, Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina and Clingman's Dome in Tennessee. These were pretty, but basically just drive ups and we were there. Last Tuesday, she and I took off on a father/daughter hike to Mt. Rogers in Virginia. This was the first highpoint that was going to require some work to reach. We started at Grayson Highlands State Park and hiked up to the Appalachian Trail and followed it a little way to a spur to the summit. 4 mile hike to get there, so about 8 miles round trip. She was a trooper. We had a little whining about midway, but then she caught her second wind and was great. In fact, on the way back down, she was much faster than me. Apparently, young nimble kids are better at hiking than chunky 43 year olds. Who would have thunk it? :)

As has become my usual custom on vacation, I went to the local Episcopal Church. As usual, it was a beautiful service. Also as usual, I had the same misgivings I have had in the past about worship there. I won't rehash them here, but if anyone is interested, here is a post about my issues. No matter my current qualms, however, I will be forever grateful to the Episcopal Church for introducing me to a more liturgical style of worship.

Oh, and I had the best run of my life. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have made the rather foolish decision to train for a marathon. The first Sunday we were in the mountains, I was scheduled to run 10 miles. This would be the farthest I've ever run in my life. Naturally, I was a little nervous. I went to the Cone Manor which is a park off the Blue Ridge Parkway just a short distance from where we were staying. The run was outstanding. I was slow as Christmas, but I made it. I saw three deer and several rabbits. As someone who usually runs in town on sidewalks, this was quite a nice change. I'm a pretty cynical guy, but it's pretty hard to deny the existence of a God when your out in the quiet early morning in the beauty of God's creation.

The run the next Sunday wasn't quite as great, but I discovered a secret to make the miles go faster. Forget your usual running music and put your Ipod on shuffle. If your musical tastes are as varied and sometimes bad as mine, the tunes that pop up will certainly make you laugh. For example, Sunday I heard the following tunes in succession:

We Got the Beat, the Go-Go's
Mama Tried, Merle Haggard
Rock and Roll All Night, Kiss
This Land is Your Land, Pete Seeger
Baby Got Back, Sir Mix-a-Lot

I thought my Ipod would blow up playing this bizarre combination. But it made me laugh and forget about how sick I was of running for a little while.

Speaking of the song Baby Got Back, below is a pretty funny religious themed take off on it. For the easily offended, let me note that I don't view it as a spoof of religion, but as a spoof of Sir Mix-a-Lot.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Memorial Day in Church

Well, I waited a while to post this because I'm sure not everyone will agree. First a few disclaimers. I love my country. My father was in the Air Force when I was a kid and I spent the first ten years of my life on various Air Force bases around the country and the world. I have tons of respect for the men and women who serve our country in uniform and even greater respect for those that have sacrificed their lives in that service. But here's my question: How much, if any, of a Sunday morning worship service should be devoted to Memorial Day?

At my church on the Sunday before Memorial Day, it dominated the entire service. We usually sing three hymns. All three were patriotic. My Country Tis of Thee, Eternal Father Strong to Save and God of our Fathers. (Though in typical Presbyterian Church USA fashion the title of the last one was changed to the more gender neutral God of the Ages.) The sermon was something along the lines of this: Freedom isn't free, we don't celebrate the sacrifices of military members enough, spend some time this weekend remembering soldiers who gave their lives, and, oh, by the way, Jesus died to give us freedom, too. Now I know that is an unfair characterization of the sermon, but seriously it was probably 80% patriotism 20% Jesus.

As I said earlier, I'm not against patriotism. I just wonder if the pulpit on Sunday morning is the place for it. I'm in a community band and on Memorial Day, we played a concert of patriotic tunes as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston. A veteran gave a very moving speech on sacrifice in the middle. I thought that was great. But at a Sunday service (the only service at our church that day) I just think we need to focus a little more on Christ. Anyway, it seemed like everybody else seemed to enjoy the service very much, so maybe I'm just being a curmudgeon.

I read somewhere once that even though we are created in God's image, we humans tend to create God in our image. I worry when we begin to meld our national patriotic celebrations with our worship of God. It makes it all that much harder when our national values conflict with those of God. And this transcends any left/right dispute. If we constantly celebrate the greatness of our country from the pulpit on Sunday morning, how do pro-life folks respond when told "hey, abortion is the law of the land." And how does someone who believes our involvement in Iraq is immoral and not a "just war" respond in the face of a church that appears to believe God and Country go together just fine and dandy?

And since I'm on a rant that I'm sure will irritate some folks (especially some relatives of mine) one more pet peeve. When did the phrase "God Bless America" stop being a request and become either a command or a declaration. This nation has certainly been blessed, but God should be thanked for that, not ordered to continue. I for one would be happier if politicians would stop concluding every speech that way. I think it cheapens the sentiment. Maybe politicians should end every speech quoting Matthew 5:5.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Baseball in a small town

My little boy is seven years old. He is playing baseball in a league of seven to nine year olds. If you want to see both the best and worst of humanity, I invite you to watch a few games of youth baseball in a small southern town.

First the good. Almost without exception, the kids are great. They play with a real joy that is great to watch. They're having fun playing the game, being with their friends, wearing their uniforms, and all the other things that go with baseball. And for little boys (and this league is mostly boys) 7, 8 and 9 is a great age. They are old enough to basically understand the game, but they have yet to be infected with the attitudes of poor sportsmanship shown by many of the adults in their lives. And for a small, southern town that still has its share of racial divisions, it's nice to see white and black kids playing together. It gives me hope for the future.

In short, youth sports would be wonderful except for one thing, the adults. Why do grown men (and sometimes women) seem to invest so much of their self worth in a game played by kids? I have seen grown men yell at umpires. I have watched coaches verbally abusing kids (almost always their own child) to the point I felt sick. A couple of weeks ago I saw two adults almost come to blows over what one said to the other's child about a play on the field. There was an incident in the league below us (5 and 6 year olds, believe it or not) that resulted in the police being called to escort a parent from the area. What in the world is wrong with these people? And why doesn't it seem that more people besides me are appalled?

Look, I'm not one of those namby pamby guys that think we shouldn't even keep score. I think winning and losing and dealing with success and failure are important things for kids to learn about. But do coaches really need to approach every game like it's the World Series? Here is an example: Our league usually doesn't play games on Wednesday evenings because many people in my small southern town have church on Wednesday night. But a few weeks ago one of my son's games scheduled for Tuesday was rained out and the make-up game was scheduled for Wednesday. A kid on the other team played about half the game and then his mother took him to church. When his spot in the batting order came up, our coaches went to the umpire and invoked a rule that if he didn't bat it should count as an out. (In this league every child bats regardless of whether he is playing in the field or not and I guess the rule is to prevent coaches from having the poorer players skip an at bat.) Anyway, the umps enforced the rule and counted an out against the other team. What a wonderful lesson for the kids.

The frightening thing is that despite the incident I just related, we've probably got some of the better coaches in the league. I've seen behavior from some of the other coaches that would have made me take my son off their team. At least our coaches don't yell at the kids too much.

There is a lot of talk about how money has ruined professional sports and I have no doubt that is partially true. But the boorish behavior by professional athletes is due to more than just money. I think it is a symptom of a coarsening of our culture. When little kids witness adults behaving like I just described, is it any surprise that they turn out to be spoiled misbehaving professionals? My little boy loves sports and I want him to keep playing, but I'm going to have to be a lot more involved in seeing what teams he gets on and who his coaches are. Wish me luck.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Presbyterian History

Every Wednesday night at my church, we have supper and then some sort of program. The topics vary. The adult group just finished a bible study of James and we've now started a few weeks on Presbyterian history. A friend of mine is teaching the course and doing a pretty good job. As part of his description of the history of Presbyterianism in the United States, he passed out the chart above. Here is a link to a PDF of the chart if you want it.
It just makes me sad to look at. The night before he died, Jesus prayed that his followers be one and this is how much of a mess we've made of the one small branch of Christians known as Presbyterians in just the US.
I found the ensuing discussion fascinating. Almost no one had any idea what most of these past disputes were even about. We're separated and practically nobody evens remembers why. When my friend who is teaching the course tried to back up a little and discuss Calvinism, he got even more blank stares. And believe it or not, we're a fairly well educated congregation. Doctors, lawyers, professional folks. And yet, only a few had even the most rudimentary grasp of why we are even Presbyterians. A woman I know insisted that there was no real difference between Presbyterians and Methodists except saying debts versus trespasses in the Lord's Prayer and whether you come up front for Communion or stay in your seat. Of course, considering the fuzziness of the theology in a lot of the mainline liberal Protestant denominations, maybe there isn't a lot of practical difference for folks in the pews beyond style of worship. (I know that there are obviously big differences in church government, but I'm discussing the differences for your average Joe or Jane in the pew.)
Here's what gets me: Jesus prayed that we be one. But we're not and most of us can't even give a good reason why we're not. One day I'd like to hear a sermon take on that question.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Mid-Life Crisis

I'll be 43 years old in a couple of months. We're having my 25 year high school reunion this year. Next month my wife and I will have been married 14 years. In other words, I'm at that stage in my life where men do stupid things.

In that spirit, I've decided to try to train for and complete a marathon. I'm thinking of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC in October. My thoughts are that since the race is about six months off, I'll have enough time to get ready. I'll need it. Right now I run three miles about three times a week. I do the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston every year (including this year) and it's a 10k (6.2 miles) but that's about it as far as distance goes. I'll probably follow the Jeff Galloway run/walk method. A friend of mine from high school followed it to run his first marathon.

Anyway, wish me luck. I know this isn't nearly as exciting as most mid-life crises, but hopefully a lot better for me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A sad note

I mentioned once before that a woman in my church was battling cancer. Well, she died and her funeral was this past Saturday. Very, very sad affair. She was the mother of three girls aged 16, 12 and 8. Prayers for her soul, her husband and the girls would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I'm somewhere in this picture

My wife and I did the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston today. Very slow, but we had a great time. Of course, any good the exercise from the run did me was outweighed by the huge amount of food I've eaten this weekend.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Role of the Pope

There is a good article here on the role of the Pope. I think the best part of the article is here:
What more could we expect from the bishop of Rome than that, like Peter, he
strengthen the whole church’s faith in Christ’s resurrection? How could he
better serve the unity of an Easter people than by proclaiming insistently the
event that brought the church into being: the resurrection of the crucified
Jesus? The pope must also lead the church with the loving authority of a chief
pastor and be a model for all worshipers in celebrating the sacraments. But his
great task for all the world is to announce that Christ is risen. Nothing can or
should ever count against the power and joyfulness of that unique message.
Who else can proclaim this most important message to the world? Sometimes the world needs to hear someone speak for all of Christianity. No one can do that besides the Pope. The world today needs to hear from the successor of Peter and we Protestants should be grateful to Catholicism for providing this voice.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Four Catholic Teachings that just kinda made sense to me

Jennifer has a great blog that I enjoy reading called Et Tu. I highly recommend you check it out sometime. One of her many wonderful posts was one entitled Five Catholic Teachings that just kinda made sense to me. Under the theory that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I give you my own list of four things that kinda make sense to me about Catholicism and are missing from my Protestant upbringing.

Purgatory I've never been particularly comfortable with the notion that when we die we either immediately go into eternal bliss or are damned forever. I know, for example, that there are a lot of things about me that will need purifying when my life is over. I can be self-centered, mean, selfish, and a lot of other unpleasant things I'll spare you. If heaven is a place of perfect peace and beauty, I'll need to clean up a bit before I come in. On the other hand, hell (which I unfortunately believe is real) seems like a pretty severe punishment that a gracious God would reserve for only the worst, most unrepentant sinners.

The Communion of the Saints I know Protestants believe in some form of the Communion of the Saints, but I like the Catholic understanding (at least as I understand it) much better. Why is it OK to ask the lady sitting on the pew behind me to pray for me, but not OK to ask those who are closest to God in heaven? Why would those in the presence of God stop caring about us still here on earth? And the teaching of the lives of the Saints gives us good role models to follow in our own lives. I'm constantly amazed at some of the backgrounds the Saints came from. If some of them can turn their lives around, hopefully I can too.

Confession Of course, I'm not Catholic (yet) so I've never been to Confession, but I like the idea. I do many sinful things in my life. I ask God in prayer to forgive me, and maybe that's enough. But I think I'd do better (and be less likely to repeat the same sins) if I had to tell a Priest what I had done. Hopefully he would give me advice to avoid such actions in the future. I like the idea of being accountable to the larger community. I know the Priest acts as Christ in forgiving our sins, but I'd also like to believe he represents the entire Church as well. Am I too far off in this belief?

The Eucharist The Catholic understanding of the centrality of the Eucharist to worship and Transubstantiation is what is attracting me the most about Catholicism. I talked a little bit about that previously here, here, and here. The short version is that the only place I'm going to get this regularly is in the Catholic Church. (I know the Orthodox might be possibility for some people, but I live in a small town in rural South Carolina. I'm a long way from any Orthodox Church.) I believe the Catholic Church is right when it proclaims the bread and wine are made into the Body and Blood of Christ. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to receive these.

Anyway, just a few thoughts. I realize that the test of good doctrine is not whether it agrees with me and there are some things about Catholicism that challenge me also. But that's probably good for me too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More proof I'm old

As I may have mentioned earlier, I'm fairly new to this whole blogging thing. And there has been a learning curve for me. For example, it was only a few weeks ago that finally figured out how to post videos from YouTube on here. And as you can see, the layout is a little on the plain side.

Well, this weekend, after several weeks of begging, I agreed to let my 11 year old set up a blog. (Side note to my wife or any other panic stricken relatives of mine: She has to show me what she posts in advance and she doesn't use the computer without her mother or I present. And we check her e-mail.) Anyway, within an hour of setting it up, she had figured out how to post videos, she had a poll, and it was generally much more visually interesting than mine. Of course, her blog is mostly about pokemon and other video games, so we're not exactly appealing to the same demographic. Anyway, it made me feel old to find that she surpassed me in techno savvy in just a couple of hours. This must be what my parents felt like when they discovered my brother and I could program the VCR and they couldn't.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to Everyone!!

I was right, my mood did improve a lot today. The service at church was wonderful. We had lunch at my wife's parents and the food was fantastic. The kids behaved and I even got a nap when we got home.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter. My thoughts and prayers are especially with those joining the Church this weekend. Congratulations and may God bless you.

He is Risen!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Maundy Thursday at my Church

My wife, the kids and I went to the Maundy Thursday service at our church last night. First the good. The music was beautiful and moving. I was one of several people who read some scripture during the service and I managed to get through without mispronouncing anything or stumbling too bad over what I read. We had communion via the intinction method. While still not what I'd fully like communion to be, I prefer intinction much more than the usual way we do communion. (For a slightly longer take on my problem with the way we do communion, see here.)

Now the bad. The church was maybe a third full. (And that might be a generous estimate.) And, other than my two kids, there was only one child present. I asked a friend of mine who was also reading one of the lessons where his wife and kids were. He told me that one of our elders had made it clear to him that this wasn't a service for children. As you might imagine, this didn't sit real well with him. He said he wouldn't have come either if he hadn't already committed to read scripture during the service. Sigh. What a sad commentary on our church. We say we want to grow and everybody says they want more young families but here we are telling one of our most active young couples that their kids aren't welcome on one of the holiest nights of the year.

I contrast this with my experience last year on Maundy Thursday. The kids were on Spring Break from school and my wife took the kids to the mountains with her mother. I was being a bachelor and found myself in Charlotte that evening. Sort of on a whim, I went by St. Patrick Cathedral to see if I was near in time to their service. I was, so I went in. The service was beautiful. The main difference I noticed was that the church was almost full and there were tons of kids there. This made for some noise and some distraction, but I'd sure take that any day over the tomb like atmosphere at our mostly empty church last night.

I understand that kids are going to make some noise. And the more kids you have at church the less likely you are to have a lot of silence for contemplation. And, I know I heard more of the beautiful music last night than I did last year in Charlotte. But it seems to me we have to decide what is important to us. My desire for quiet contemplation isn't as important as having children active and participating in the life of our church.

I don't know what the future holds for me, and I'm not sure that the Catholic Church is the answer, but I've got to make a change at some point. I felt like I was in a dying church last night. It was 100% white, probably 75% over 50 and at most 30% full.

Sorry this post was so depressing, but hopefully, I'll be better by Easter morning. In the meantime, prayers for me and my family and our church are appreciated.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Spring is almost here

My seven year old signed up for baseball last week. The season hasn't started yet, but we've been practicing. There isn't anything much better as a Dad than playing catch with your little boy. I know that in a few years other things will interest him and when he gets to be a teenager he probably won't want to take advice from his Dad very often. But right now, teaching him to play baseball is one of my favorite things in the world.

I honor of the approaching spring and baseball season, I give you one of my favorite baseball songs by the late, great Steve Goodman.

Go Cubs!

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Value of Community

I had one of those days the other day. We all have them from time to time. One of the kids brought a note from the teacher home from school (not the good kind of note), the car needed some work and I wasn't getting paid for another week, the dog was sick, etc., etc. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. My plan for the evening was basically to sit around and lament my fate. You know, lots of self pity about how terrible my life was. Then my wife reminded me that we had committed to go to a supper at church. I really didn't feel like going, but my wife and kids really wanted to go, so I went.

When I got there I found out two pieces of news about members of our congregation. First a woman who had been an elder in our church and has a daughter about my daughter's age had been indicted in federal court for stealing money from the bank where she worked. Apparently there had been an article in the newspaper. Unfortunately, I've not seen them at any church function since this all became public. People in the congregation who have spoken to them indicate they are too embarrassed to come. How sad is that? I understand their feelings, but it seems like the church is the place they most need to be right now.

Secondly and even more tragically, we found out that another church member has had her cancer return and that it's basically untreatable and beyond hope at this point. This woman has three school aged children. Her husband is a basket case about this and, as you might imagine, the children are taking it pretty hard. Different groups in the church have begun taking meals to them and we're trying to figure out how best to help this young family as the situation worsens over the next several weeks or months.

Obviously, I felt pretty shallow whining about my little problems when I heard about what these two women and their families are dealing with. But my larger point is not just that I can be pretty self-centered and self-absorbed, but that I wouldn't have realized the depths of my self-absorption if it were not for the community of the church. We all need to be in community. Like a lot of young people, I went through one of those "I can worship God anywhere" periods when I was younger and stop going to church as a young adult. Boy was I wrong. First of all, I wasn't really worshiping God at all. I slept late a lot or engaged in activities that had nothing to do with the Lord. But even if I had been worshiping God, I would would have missed out on the challenges and benefits of being in community. It's easy to read about loving your enemies, but when someone you really dislike is sitting one pew over, it becomes a real challenge. You can think about loving your neighbor, but it doesn't really come home to you until you ponder how to help elementary school kids deal with the fact their Mom is dying.

I live in the south and there is a lot of focus in churches around here on having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." And that is certainly vital. But I wonder sometimes if that focus on the individual and his or her relationship to Christ doesn't take away somewhat from the value of being active and involved in a Christian Community. I keep thinking of the whole idea of there being no salvation outside the Church. Obviously, God can do whatever he wants and save whoever he wants, but if you look at salvation as meaning more than just what happens to us when we die, I think no salvation outside the church may be correct. Maybe I was saved by being drawn away from selfishness and self-absorption the other night. Perhaps I was being saved when I was forced to think of ways to help these fellow Christians who were suffering. Hopefully, I was saved when I hugged my children and my wife that night and gave thanks to God for their lives and health.

Anyway, please pray for these two families and thank God for all your blessings.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Seven Last Words of the Church

In the midst of our current change in pastoral leadership at my church, we've been hearing a lot of sermons on change. How to react, how not to react, etc. I recently heard one that made reference to the so-called seven last words of the church: "We've never done it like that before."

Over the years, I've heard that in sermons many, many times. The point is that as soon as we start to say that in church, we begin to die as a congregation. And I think there is some truth to it. As a church, we can become so stuck in our ways that we begin to worship our style of worship rather than God. (I once heard the following quip: Catholics worship Mary, Fundamentalists worship the Bible, Episcopalians worship their own sense of style. Just a joke, no offense intended to anyone.) But the older I get and the more crazy things I have seen in church, I'm beginning to think saying "We've never done it like that before" is not only not all that bad, sometimes it's required. Take, for example, the Zydeco Mass.

Watching this makes me wish someone had said "We've never done it like this before."

Maybe this kind of thing just points out an inherent problem with Protestantism. There isn't anyone to say no. In churches that are governed congregationally, a majority of the congregation can do just about whatever they want to do. Even in hierarchical Protestant churches, there is a reluctance to stifle creativity. And, of course, the opinions of the hierarchy certainly aren't infallible.

I'm not sure there is any simple solution to how to balance the necessity to be open to change with a respect for tradition. But it seems to me that there are a lot worse things a church can say than "We've never done it like that before."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Ash Wednesday at a Catholic Church

I found myself near Charlotte, North Carolina around lunchtime on Ash Wednesday. I was right next to St. Matthew Catholic Church. Since they were having a 12:10 service, I decided to go. I've been to Ash Wednesday services at Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, but never at a Catholic one. I'm glad I went. A few observations:

The church is huge. I went to a friend's wedding at a huge Baptist church in Dallas, Texas that was bigger, but this was a close second. Our church seats around 200 to 250 (and we're lucky if we're averaging 110 these days), so this was a big change for me. The service I went to was one of four or five that day and it was pretty full, so I'm sure they have a big crowd on Sundays. The logistics of dealing regularly with that many people must be pretty daunting, but I thought they handled everything pretty well. People seemed friendly enough, but no one went out of their way to speak to me. Of course, some of that was my fault, since I was in a little bit of a hurry to leave due to work isssues.

Only two clergy, one Priest and one Deacon, participated in the service. This meant that most of the distribution of ashes and later of the Eucharist was done by lay people. I don't know if this was due solely to the service being one of several that day or if this is the usual pattern here due to a shortage of clergy. This didn't bother me at all, but it certainly contradicts the notion of the Catholic Church being run solely by Priests. I don't see how in the world a church this size could be run without most of the work being done by laypeople.

At the Protestant Ash Wednesday services I've attended, the ashes were imposed with the minister saying something along the lines of "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." At St. Matthew's we were told something like "Repent and believe the Gospel." (I may not have that exactly right, it's been a few days.) I found the difference in emphasis (mortality vs. penitence) thought provoking. Do they always say this at Catholic churches or do they alternate what is said? And when the Eucharist was distributed, it was only given in one form. Is it the usual practice to omit the wine?

Anyway, I'm glad I went. In the midst of our transition in leadership at my church, we did not have an Ash Wednesday service this year. Though perhaps quite appropriately, the first Sunday after our minister has left is the first Sunday of Lent. It was a service and message I needed to hear.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Confessor, My Friend

Good article today in South Carolina's largest newspaper. Sounds like his new church is getting a great Priest. You can read the full article here. My favorite part:

I know Tim’s wise counsel helped me through my divorce and the subsequent years of injury and illness. He never cut me a break, though — he toed the official line on what is considered right and wrong — but he didn’t judge me. He pushed me to do more but to always be true to myself while improving my relationship with God.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Life as a Poll Worker

For the last several years, my father has worked as a poll worker on election days here in South Carolina. You know, the people who sign you in and take you to the booth on election days. This year they were short some people so Dad browbeat me into working. I worked the two presidential preference primaries, the Democratic Party yesterday and the Republicans the week before. It was a very interesting experience to be on the other side of the table on election day. Here are a few observations.

Be nice to the people working the polls. I now have a much greater appreciation for the folks who work at each election. The polls in our sate are open from 7 to 7. I had to be there by 6:30 AM, and the two ladies working with me were already there then. And of course one of them had picked up the machines the night before. We didn't finish closing the polls, tallying up cleaning up, etc. until about 7:45 PM. There was no real time for lunch, but the two ladies I worked with did bring snacks. For this over 13 hour day, we are going to receive the princely sum of $60. (I am told it just got bumped up from $50 to $60) Now I'm not arguing for a raise, because frankly, most of the people aren't working there for the money, but to do a service to their community, but I am saying that everybody should be real nice to the people working there, because they sure aren't paying them enough to put up with any grief.

People were mostly very nice. South Carolina has developed a reputation for nasty, ugly politics. And considering the Bush-McCain race in 2000 and the Clinton-Obama clash this year, it is understandable why this is so. But I think this nastiness is practiced mostly by the professional political class rather than by regular people. The people I dealt with were almost all very nice and friendly. This was true across party lines. People were patient and good natured with lines and other difficulties that arose, and generally seemed happy to be able to be there and participate in the democratic process. I think working these two elections made me a little less cynical about people and I'd recommend everyone try it sometime.

Republican wake up earlier than Democrats. My precinct ended up with over twice as many Democrats casting ballots than Republicans. (I think this is due to a combination of the demographics of my precinct and the fact the weather was much better yesterday than a week ago.) But I wouldn't have guessed that it was going to turn out that way by 8:30. Republicans also seemed to come by themselves or at most with their spouse. Democrats bought the whole family to vote at once, husband, wife, college age kid, cousin, etc. We did seem to have more voter issues out of the Democrats. Nothing serious, but people at the wrong precinct, address changes, etc. I think this was because we had a lot of new voters and voters who hadn't voted in a while among the Democrats. As someone who usually votes Democratic, let me tell you this is certainly understandable. It's been a long time since a Democratic candidate really excited people, especially in this state.

A perfect election is impossible. There is no way on earth to completely eliminate the possibility for human error or fraud in an election. At least not without a lot better technology, a lot more training for poll workers like me, or both. Like most Democrats, I was appalled by the Florida situation in 2000. Having worked an election now, I'm convinced that any vote put under the microscope afterwards would look screwed up. We did the best we could, but it wasn't like we were doing DNA exams on everybody that came up. There's a balance between making sure everyone is who they say they are and making the process so onerous that people just stay home. And you always will have human error. I had to fill in a bubble next to everyone's name when they came in. (Kind of like the SAT, complete with No. 2 pencils.) I think I did fine, but is it possible that I filled in the wrong bubble in the rush of people? Of course it is.

Local results don't guarantee statewide performance. Huckabee won my precinct on the Republican side, which was consistent with his performance in the county, but not statewide. In fact, Fred Thompson almost took second away from McCain, but not quite. Obama won for the Democrats. His margin was even bigger in my precinct than his statewide margin which was huge itself.

Everyone should do this sometime. It was two very long days, but I'm glad I did it. Anyone who can take the time off from work should try it some time. The two retired ladies I worked with were real sweet and I probably put on weight from the brownies and other snacks they brought. And as I said a little earlier, it made me less cynical about people. So try it if you can.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Political Orphans in 2008

There is an excellent piece in the Washington Post today that captures how I feel about the 2008 election. There's not an easy candidate for a liberal who is pro-life like me to support. Here is a quote:

During many elections we find ourselves facing the same dilemma: Which of
our values must take a back seat when we go to the voting booth? Do we let our
moral concern for peaceful resolutions of conflict, the environment, addressing
poverty and aggressive enforcement of civil rights guide our choices? Or do we
stand firm on another important issue of conscience and signal our hope for an
end to abortion? Often, both choices leave a bad taste in our mouths.

You can read the entire article here. Found the discussion of this article at Charlotte was Both.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Changing Pastors

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that my church was having some controversy over our current pastor. Well, things have finally come to a head and our minister is leaving. It's an unfortunate situation, and there is plenty of fault to go around. Several observations come to mind:

The job of a pastor (or priest, rector, minister) is a hard one. You have a lot of different people to please and it's almost impossible to keep everybody happy. (In fact, if you're not ruffling a few feathers, maybe you're not doing your job right.) Every congregation is different and some people might be a great match for one congregation and not for another. Whether the decision is made by one person like a bishop or by a committee from the congregation, it is a very important decision and one that needs serious thought and deliberation. One of our problems was that I think we rushed into the decision too quickly. I understand that we also got some pressure to call this person from our presbytery since he was one of the first graduates from a program they had started to encourage second career pastors. I think he's a good man, but I could tell from the beginning that he was very different from what most people expected and I wondered if he would be a good fit. Time has shown that he wasn't.

The job of pastor's spouse may be even harder. Quite unfairly, most people view the minister's wife as an unpaid member of the staff. If the spouse has a great personality and the patience of Job, she can be a great asset to the minister. However, if she has a prickly personality and not a lot of desire to spend all her free time at church functions, people will grumble. When you've already got people complaining about the pastor, the last thing you need is a lot of griping about his spouse. All theological arguments about celibacy aside, at least in a Catholic church, you don't get people complaining about the priest's wife.

The process leading to the decision for us to part ways went better than I expected. I grew up in the United Methodist Church. As expressed in this blog, I have some interest in Catholicism. I like the idea of a bishop ultimately being able to make a decision in a case like this. I was very skeptical going in of the process we went through. The Committee on Ministry of our presbytery sent "listening teams" to our church. People signed up for times to speak with them about the life of our church and our strengths and weaknesses. They then produced a report for our Session. (The committee of Elders that governs the church for you non-Presbyterians.) I bet my wife (who is on the Session) a nice dinner out that all we would get from them was some sort of touchy-feely report saying some of you like him and some of you don't and you should just try to get along.

Well, I owe her a meal. The report was a detailed and candid assessment of where we were and how we got there. Beyond the question of how the minister was doing, it offered a pretty realistic picture of our strengths and weaknesses as a congregation. Most surprisingly to me, it came right out and recommended that the situation between the minister and the majority of the congregation was beyond the hope of repair and that we should part ways. They offered to help to negotiate a severance package. There are many thing about the Presbyterian Church that drive me crazy, but this went better than I expected. I'd be interested in knowing how such disputes are handled in other denominations.

Anyway, prayers are needed for our our minister as he discerns his future and for my church as we embark on a time of uncertainty as we search for another pastor. Keep all of us in your prayers.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Some pro-life news from the sports page

I saw a bit of good news on the pro-life front today in an unusual place, the sports page. The NCAA passed a rule saying you can't cut an athlete's scholarship due to a medical condition. This would include pregnancy. Apparently, some athletes (including some at my alma mater) were having abortions rather than risk the loss of an athletic scholarship. You can read the article here. It's hard to believe this wasn't already the rule, but better late than never.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

My Life with the Saints

I just finished reading My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ. I thought it was great. A couple of quick thoughts that reflect on my consideration of Catholicism:

First, we Protestants are really missing out by not talking about the saints. I understand that Protestants don't share the same beliefs about praying to saints or their intercessory power. However, I don't understand why we don't talk about them at all. For example, the story of Charles Lwanga and the other Ugandan martyrs should be held up to all Christians as an example of faith and courage. And yet, I had never even heard of the story until reading this book. And the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux should be a help to all Christians in our walk with Christ. The Protestant reluctance to discuss the saints reminds me of our fear of the Virgin Mary. We're so afraid of the Catholic practices concerning Mary that we decide we just won't talk about her at all. This is our loss.

Secondly, I was struck by the diversity of the Catholic Church. All the different religious orders. Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Missionaries of Charity, Poor Clares, etc. etc. And the very different personalities of their founders. St. Ignatius was so different from St. Francis. And he was different from Mother Teresa. It struck me that if they had been Protestants, they might have just started their own denomination. What a strength of the Catholic Church that these different groups with different strengths and weaknesses and points of emphasis are still in communion with one another. I think this is a better Christian witness to the world that the hundreds and hundreds of different Protestant denominations.

Anyway, I really like the book. I'm trying to find some other good reading materials on the lives of the saints. Any help would be greatly appreciated.