Thursday, February 28, 2008

February 27 a Sad Day in the Life...

Wednesday, February 27 was what one of my daughter's childhood stories would have called a "no good, very bad day." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette carried obituaries for two memorable people: Myron Cope, sports writer and announcer, and William F. Buckley, Jr.

As a Pittsburgher-at-heart (and a former resident of Allegheny County), I add my grief to that of those mourning the loss of Myron Cope. I'm lucky to have enjoyed the "glory years" of the Pittsburgh Steelers, way back in the 1970s. You know, the days of "Greenwood, Green, Holmes and White," and "Bradshaw steps up under center, Harris and Blyer are the backfield..." And then there was Myron, with his outrageous blurts over the radio, and the invention of the "Terrible Towel." (Robert Dvorchak wrote a wonderful piece in The Post-Gazette on 2/28.) It was Cope who, at a fan's suggestion, christened the miraculous Franco Harris catch "The Immaculate Reception." And, of course, beyond being the voice of the "Steeler Nation," Cope was a highly acclaimed sports writer. Did you know that Cope gave all of the profits from "The Terrible Towel" to the Allegheny Valley School for hanidcapped individuals; according to the newspaper, that amounted to over 2.2 MILLION dollars. Rob Rogers, the outstanding political cartoonist for The Post-Gazette, captured the sadness of Myron's passing. His 2/28 cartoon showed a fan crying into his "Terrible Towel" and exclaiming, "Tripple Yoi," as the newspaper in the foreground announced Cope's passing.

William F. Buckley, Jr. died on the 27th as well. While I might often disagree with the views of the conservative commentator, author, and television host, I greatly enjoyed listening to him articulate--either verbally or in print--his points so eloquently. His sublime intelligence and mastery of the English language were worth the price of admission. I remember once watching Buckley as a guest on someone else's talk show. The host (whom I don't remember) was badgering his guest with a barrage of criticisms and accusations, at which point Buckley interrupted the rapid-fire diatribe with the question, "Excuse me sir, what is my current offense?" Priceless. Where are the William F. Buckleys today? When I watch the "talking heads" on the multitude of news programs and cable channels today, and hear the "hip" language they attempt to employ (even while reporting a tragedy), I have to wonder what has become of decorum and appropriate narrative? I can only wish I had one eighteenth of Buckley's command of the written and spoken word, and one thirty-second of his grasp of ideas.

Two distinctly different individuals from entirely diverse circles of influence--but Cope and Buckley made life more interesting. Things just got a bit duller around here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Thoughts from the Morning Paper

Did you read in the news lately that a U.S. military spy satellite is about to fall out of orbit in early March? This thing weighs over 5,000 pounds, and they expect that about half of it will survive the plunge through the atmosphere. It is also carrying an unknown amount of a deadly rocket fuel that can kill anyone touching it. Boy, if this thing lands on you, it could ruin your day! The satellite also features a top, top secret imaging sensor that others would like to get their hands on. If you hear a big WHUMP in early March and discover a heightened number of individuals in your neighborhood speaking Russian, Chinese, or Iranian, you had better call the Pentagon.

Now, I realize that the chances of this thing hitting someone (or even land, for that matter, given that the majority of the earth's surface is covered with water) is quite remote. But the folly of the military letting it fall is what bothers me. The military has recently been running ads on TV touting their space program, which the spots say "rivals NASA's." Does that mean they have their own space shuttle? I wouldn't be surprised. For those of you old enough to remember the beginning of the space shuttle program, you might remember that several missions per year were "secret military missions." These suddenly stopped. Logically one might conclude that the military started flying their own shuttle and didn't need NASA any longer. I think the Brass could have figured out a way to rescue this satellite, don't you?

This brings me to my main point here. Not everything the military does is "A-OK." People are everywhere with those "support the troops" stickers. I DO support the troops, but supporting the troops doesn't mean we have to support a pointless war like the one in Iraq or "amen" every action of the armed forces. And supporting the troops doesn't mean we have to like the HUGE percentage of the national budget that goes to the military, especially when "military waste" has become such a daily part of the public lexicon. One wonders if cancer and AIDS could have been eliminated a decade ago if some of this money were spent on research and cures rather than things like the V-22 Osprey, a political and monetary boondoggle at best.

Meanwhile, if you are out walking next month, better take a lead umbrella.

On a different newsworthy note, did you happen to catch the Religious News Service article about a recent Barna poll that indicates "born agains" favoring Hillary Clinton? I am not at all surprised to see dedicated Christian people moving toward the democrats. Modern Christians--especially the younger ones--are taking more seriously the "social ministry" aspect of Jesus' teachings ("love your neighbor as yourself"). They are de-emphasizing the dogmatic, doctrinal stuff that sent the last generation's "born agains" to the Religious Right, and are seeking to DO SOMETHING to make this world a better place. Gee, how truly CHRISTIAN! Who knew?

Interestingly, some were critical of the Barna poll, accusing them of using too "wide" a definition of "born again" when surveying people. The definition they used of "born again Christian" was: "someone who has made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and, based on a confession of sins, believes heaven awaits after death." What is broad about that? Sounds like a pretty good definition to me. In fact, it may be a bit NARROW! While I affirm the concept of a personal affirmation of Christ as Lord, salvation is NOT just a "personal" thing. Paul says in II Corinthians 5 that "God is in Christ, reconciling the world to godself." Salvation is God's action and is a GIFT. Our only response is to say "yes." God is seeking to reconcile the WORLD, not just you and me. I think that some of these "formulas" for what constitutes being "born again" are human efforts to separate the "sheep from the goats." Friends, that is not our job. Our job is to LIVE the Christian life, be disciples, and witness to the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ. God is not a Republican OR a Democrat, but I bet if Jesus were here today he would NOT be a member of the NRA. (Sorry, I just couldn't resist that.)

Shalom, friends.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

First Post--Here We Go

It's the first Thursday in Lent. Still have the dark smudge on my right thumb from imposing ashes at yesterday's Ash Wednesday services. I really like the Lenten season. It is a time for becoming "more real"--growing beyond our hypocritical selves (hypocrites were actors in Jesus' day) into the kind of person we really want to be. Could this also be the kind of person God wants us to be? I hope that is where this is going.

In the Matthew 6 passage, Jesus warns Christians to do our sacrificial stuff in private, and to put on our "best face" in public. This way the rest of the world sees the joy and love, and God witnesses the "giving up" part. Jesus says if we gloat about all of our suffering and sacrifices on his behalf then the world's "adoration" of us will be our reward. If we keep these efforts private, then God "who sees in secret will reward us." Honestly, I think I'd rather have my reward from God than from these other people. Besides, "the world" is tired of professing Christians (or practioners of any other religion, for that matter) trumpeting the "suffering" they are doing or the sacrifices we are making "to the glory of God." Rather than "adore" these proclamations, I think they just see the ones making them as jerks.

What sacrifices are we called on to do in Lent? Don't give up pizza or chocolate and think you're doing God a favor. I bet God sees us as jerks when we do things like that and call it a sacrifice. Now if you eat LOTS of pizza or chocolate and take all of the money you would typically spend on it and give it to a local food pantry, then maybe this makes some sense. This would be a type of "almsgiving," and might be on the right track. But if you are just "giving something up" for Lent and think it blesses God, think again. Where did we get this idea, anyway?

Why not take something UP for Lent? Do something serious to further your personal spiritual growth; go to your pastor and volunteer to start a new ministry or aid one already in progress; get involved in some new type of community service that benefits persons less fortunate than you. Now we're talking.

You know what else might be a project for Lent? Thinking. I don't believe we do enough thinking in our day. We either just jump into things or let others do our thinking for us. Pondering, meditating, day-dreaming, cogitating--whatever you want to call it: Just do MORE of it in the next 40 days. It exercises the mind, might lead to some original thoughts, and for the spiritual seeker, it might even provide space for divine inspiration. If you don't believe people are going off half-cocked today, just observe their driving habits. There's not much thinking going on out there.

Enough for my first post. I don't know if I will have enough discipline to keep up with this; I think I'm one of those adult ADD people. Anyway, feel free to chime in. If you agree with everything I say, I don't want to hear from you. If you take issue with all of it, that might be much more interesting, but then one of us is wrong a higher percent of the time, and my fear is it may be me. Hey, Wesley said we're going on to perfection. It's Lent, so let's get going. Shalom.

What's Next?

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