There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous

How do you think your religion is perceived by others who are not part of the faith?

A friend needed a few people to answer a 10-question survey for a community college religion course she is taking this fall. I figured, why not, I’ll give it a shot. I wondered what direction a “religion” survey would go.

Religion

Question 1: What does religion mean to you?

My response: Religion is a generic term for any belief in God or a higher power. It might be personal, or it might not be.

Question 2: Is there a difference between faith, religion and spirituality?

My answer: “Faith” is my personal belief in God, who is unseen, but who affects my life deeply. “Spirituality” is a hot-button term that means different things to different people. Spirituality includes the supernatural, which may or may not include God.

How am I doing so far? Would you agree?

I have no idea how other people answered these questions, nor does that concern me, because I’m not the one taking the religion class.

“Faith” is something my “religion” talks about often. “Spirituality” is one of those words I try to avoid, because I may try to connect spirituality to my faith, but you may connect spirituality with something else completely. Like the paranormal. Or astrology. Or a different religion. Or crystals. Or New Age thinking. Or palm reading. Or …

Perceptions

Question 9 is the one at the top of this column. Those of you who have a different faith, or no faith at all: How do you perceive Christianity, which is the “faith” I live by?

I tried to put myself in your shoes. Here’s what I came up with:

Many people equate Christianity with a judgmental Republican viewpoint, since some vocal Christians promote that. It’s hard, because the God of the Bible is not like that. Others see it as a list of do’s and don’t’s and are afraid they’ll have to give up fun things if they “convert.”

A judgmental Republican viewpoint. I actually wrote that.

I had a discussion earlier this week with another friend over the immigration issue. He’s a staunch supporter of President Trump, and vociferously defended his keep-the-illegal-immigrants-out policy that Trump advocates.

I responded that while I support most of Trump’s positions, I see immigrants as real people. Most illegal immigrants are fleeing for their lives, literally, I said, and the citizenship process is long and cumbersome. That’s the real issue, I argued. Let’s make it easier to become a U.S. citizen.

My friend didn’t buy that argument. He said for the first time ever, immigration laws are being enforced.

Both of us have a deep faith in Jesus Christ. How can we hold opposing views on such a vital issue?

Many of my more liberal friends also support immigrants, legal and illegal, going so far as to encourage sanctuary cities and support churches that are willing to host illegals to protect them from deportation.

Jesus did not take a stand on such issues. He was not a politician. The people of his day, like many people today, wish he was political. That’s why they shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday. Hosanna is a political term. The crowds were looking for a “savior” to overthrow the oppressive Roman government.

As soon as the crowds realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that – he had a different, much higher, purpose in mind – they abandoned him. And crucified him, almost immediately.

While Republican values generally are more in line with the Bible than Democratic values are, the lines are not that clear. There are exceptions, both ways.

Immigration, in my opinion, is one of them.

Neither side is willing to reason with the other on this, or any, issue.

So we get a judgmental Republican (or Democratic) viewpoint.

Reality

Question 4: What appeals to you about your religion?

It gives meaning to my life. The God of the Bible wants the best for me and for all humankind. No other religion’s leader can claim that.

This is why I struggle with politics. Trump said this week that the published death toll of nearly 3,000 from last year’s hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was not even close. He said Democrats were trying to make him look bad.

Trump cares only about his reputation. Puerto Ricans are pawns to him. “Nobody is singing his praises because we all saw what happened,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told The Associated Press.

GOP activists blame the media for distorting Trump’s record. But The AP is about as impartial as media get.

If you reject published reports and photos of the devastation, then there’s nothing anyone can say to you. Information has never been more widely disseminated. If we pick and choose what to “believe” (the drugstore tabloids don’t count, but that’s my opinion), then we are choosing our own reality, instead of trying to understand what’s truly going on in the world and responding accordingly.

Jesus did not have this attitude at all. Instead, he defended the outcast every time: the Samaritan woman at the well, lepers and other physically sick people, the prodigal’s son, a woman who gave her last penny in taxes, even a demon-possessed caveman. And many others.

I wish Americans thought and acted like that. Many do, often outside the political landscape.

Benefits

Question 8: What benefits to society do you think your religion or religion in general presents?

When lived correctly, Christianity accepts all people. That doesn’t mean Christians agree with other faiths or viewpoints, but we “love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s a real thing. We promote family values, which overcomes drug abuse, teen sex/abortion, addictions, hate/anger, etc. – ie, looking for love in all the wrong places.

There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous. It’s easy to twist “truth” to fit our own agendas.

The church I attend has a three-point mission statement: Love God, love people, live surrendered. We spend the most time talking about the last point. What does surrendering to God and the Bible look like?

Each of us will answer that question differently. But each of us must surrender to God. Not my will, but yours be done, on Earth as it is in heaven, according to the Lord’s prayer.

That’s the key. Not the Republican way. Not the Democratic way.

God’s way.

The God of the Bible’s way.

That’s what faith means to me.

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Beauty and power, in all forms

Early-afternoon thunderstorms frequently pop up in the Rocky Mountains, they said.

Last year when we visited our middle son in the Denver area, we drove up – literally, up – to the Alpine Visitors Center in Rocky Mountain National Park first thing in the morning. After a respite there at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, we started down the mountain, and heard a thunderstorm up there. We never saw rain, but we knew the mountaintop got it.

We weren’t so lucky this year.

There are several roads to reach the Alpine Visitors Center. A year ago we took the narrow Old Fall River Road. This time we went through Grand Lake.

Grand Lake, population 495, has a pretty waterfall that’s a popular tourist destination. As we returned to our rental car from the waterfall around lunchtime, we heard the obligatory thunder.

grand lake storm 3

We watched the storm roll in. Grand Lake didn’t get the worst of it – more on that in a minute. But Grand Lake did get hail. We watched it bounce off the roof of our rental car.

grand lake storm 4 (hail)

That’s not unusual, several locals told us.

The storm

 

After the rain and hail stopped, we continued into the mountains. We drove past a visitors center to the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance, where we would begin the Trail Ridge Road drive up to the Alpine Visitors Center, almost 4,000 feet higher than Grand Lake.

But wait. We saw a “road closed” sign.

The park employee at the entrance booth told us the storm caused accidents on Trail Ridge Road, so the park closed the road for cleanup and to ensure that it was safe for passage. He gave us no details on when the road might reopen.

We turned around and poked into the visitor’s center. A parks employee there was on the phone seeking details. None were forthcoming. “The road might reopen later this afternoon or it might be tomorrow morning,” he said. “You might want to wait a couple of hours and check back.” He gave us a phone number for recorded road updates.

After watching a 23-minute film about the park, my wife, son and I retreated to our rental car, where we played several card games while we decided what to do. We called the number a couple of times.

Finally, after nearly two hours there, the road opened. We learned that a motorcyclist lost control in the rain and sleet, but he was not seriously injured. Once the wreck was cleaned up, park officials waited until the weather cleared to reopen the road.

alpine visitors center rainbow

 

We were glad we waited.

Once we reached the Alpine Visitors Center, we saw a rainbow between the mountains below us.

The drive down the other side of the mountain to Estes Park was beautiful. At one point, we saw a little snow on the side of the road.

When we reached our motel in Estes Park, we saw air dryers on full blast in the lobby. Rain from the storm had flooded it.

We left humid 90-degree weather in northeast Ohio to make this trip. After the storm, the temperature dropped to about 40, with little humidity.

As we left Estes Park the next morning, we stopped at a miniature golf course we enjoyed last year. It was closed this time – due to a lightning strike from the storm.

The storm came up fast and didn’t last long, but packed a powerful punch.

Since this was the third year in a row we’d visited the Denver area, we didn’t do as much sightseeing this time. We hung out with our son and played board and card games. We took the one overnight into Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park.

Baseball

rockies2

On Labor Day, we attended a Colorado Rockies baseball game against the San Francisco Giants. The Rockies are in the midst of a heated playoff race, so we thought we’d see a good game.

We did. In the first inning, the first four Rockies scored – single, home run, double, home run. We saw six home runs in the thin mile-high air, three by each team – including two by Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, good for 5 runs batted in off of Giants starter Madison Bumgarner. (In the photo, Story hits this first-inning pitch from Bumgarner into the left-field seats.)

But it almost wasn’t enough.

In the top of the eighth inning, the Giants did something I’d never seen before: They hit back-to-back pinch-hit home runs to turn a 7-5 deficit into an 8-7 Giants lead.

In the bottom of the eighth, Rockies pinch-hitter Noel Cuevas hit a two-run single to give the Rockies the lead again. After closer Wade Davis struck out the side in the ninth, the Rockies won, 9-8.

Thrilling game.

Denver Botanic Gardens

A couple of days later, we visited the Denver Botanic Gardens, which we had done once before. It’s beautiful. It’s nestled on 24 acres between an upscale neighborhood, a park and apartment buildings. It’s a peaceful, soothing place to enjoy nature and see plants from around the world.

We closed our vacation by watching our son play in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. That’s one of his passions, and he’s very good at it.

We are thankful for family and God’s creation, both of which we enjoyed on this trip.

A new chapter in the book of life

We recently revisited a chapter in our lives that closed six years ago – at the same time as new chapters are being written.

Our youngest son started graduate school this week at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich. In a whirlwind weekend, we helped him move from Ypsilanti to Mount Pleasant, about a two-hour drive, to help him start a new chapter.

We drove up to Michigan Friday night to stay with our oldest son, who also helped with the move. Saturday morning in a drizzle, we loaded up our son’s belongings, then under overcast skies helped him get settled in his new apartment.

On the way, we drove past Michigan State University, where my wife and I met in the early 1980s. The sun came out during that part of our trip. Of course. The sun always shines in East Lansing, right? (Even though we had to take two detours to get from I-96 to U.S. 127.)

Saturday evening, we left our sons in Mount Pleasant (the oldest graduated from CMU earlier and planned to introduce his brother to a few friends to help him get settled). We drove to Saginaw, where our family wrote the longest chapter in our lives.

Reminiscing

We lived in Saginaw for 27 years, by far the longest I’ve lived anywhere. We raised our three sons there. We connected with a church family, our sons’ friends, people we met at their schools, volunteers we met in the community. I had a wonderful job there.

Sunday morning, we attended the church where we served while we lived there. While some people have moved on and new folks attend now, we saw many friends from that chapter in our lives.

We met several of them as soon as we arrived. “We’re having church in the parking lot,” I told the 11 a.m. worship leader, who arrived shortly after we did.

The worship leader and his wife were married the same day we were, the same year. We each raised three children alongside each other. Those kind of friendships last a lifetime.

We reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen in a couple of years, since the last time we visited. We exchanged many hugs and handshakes and smiles.

We didn’t drive past the old house this time, or visit other places where memories were made. The weekend was already full. We drove 600 miles in 48 hours.

As we reminisced with old friends about good times and how life has changed for us all, we focused on the good memories. We do that, don’t we? The good old days. We overlook the hard times and remember the good times. Or, we try to.

Turning the page quickly

My job there was eliminated in 2009, and we left Saginaw in 2012. The chapters in our lives – especially mine – since then became shorter and more numerous.

A little over a year in Rockford, Illinois. A new job in Elyria, Ohio, which lasted 13 months. We’d had enough of out-of-state moves by then, so we’ve stayed here. After an 11-month search, I landed another job – the first non-office job I’d had since I graduated from college. I worked directly with adults with developmental disabilities.

That chapter in my life lasted 2.5 years, ending just a couple of weeks ago. It ended suddenly, but it was time.

I’ve always had a passion for serving my community. Even when I was working full-time and raising three children, I found time to volunteer with several organizations, mostly dealing with children or hunger issues.

In retirement, I dream of becoming a full-time volunteer, doing various things. Here in Elyria, I’ve continued one or two volunteer activities I’ve been involved with for many years. But as with any chapter in life, some doors have closed, and a few new ones have opened.

A new chapter

Now that I don’t answer to a supervisor anymore, a new chapter has just begun.

Our church is opening its third satellite campus in a nearby city. When the recently-hired pastor shared his vision for the campus with those of us who attended an informational meeting, I got excited. His vision is similar to the vision of the church in Saginaw where we raised our sons.

Is this where God wants us now? We haven’t made that formal decision yet. We’re still praying, still considering.

The pastor has organized a weekly morning prayer group at the new location – which isn’t scheduled to open for worship services until next spring, but which is launching other programs even now – to begin connecting with each other and seeing where we each may fit in. Since I’m not working now and I have the time, I showed up on a recent morning.

About a dozen of us prayed. We were done in a half-hour, so we could get on with our day. It was beautiful.

Our church has been trying to open this campus for several years, but the timing wasn’t right. Plans kept falling through. Until now.

I enjoy being a small part of something big, whether it’s a company, a volunteer agency or a church. What’s my niche?

During this transition time for me, I likely will seek new roles, as well as expand current roles.

In the past I liked structure. My primary job was newspaper copy editor. While the news changed every day, the deadlines I faced did not. I knew my role, and tried to do it well. Reporters love the variety in their job – new experiences, new people to meet, not knowing what they were going to write about that day. My job, in the office, was to take those written experiences and help transform them into a newspaper.

News happens 24/7 but a copy editor’s job occurs on a regular schedule, so the paper reaches your doorstep at roughly the same time every day. Everyone at the paper plays a part in making that happen. Everyone – reporters, editors and many others – is needed.

Until newspaper executives started eliminating copy desks, including the one where I worked, to save money. But that’s a different story.

Bottom line: When that job ended, the structure in my life ended too.

I haven’t always handled it well.

An open book

I do have a creative streak in me. Will it come out now? Can I be flexible? Can I be happy doing different things each day?

These decisions don’t have to be made immediately. We will see how God leads me, and us.

The next chapter of my life begins with a blank page. It’s not entirely blank, of course; I’m not starting over completely.

But I am changing direction.

Has God been preparing me for this moment?

Perhaps I’ll have an answer for that question soon; possibly, it will take some time before I know.

Either way, it’s time to start writing.

Witnessing tennis history

My oldest son and I saw a piece of history last week in Mason, Ohio, 25 miles north of Cincinnati.

In between raindrops, we saw tennis superstar Novak Djokovic of Serbia struggle to win three-set matches on Thursday and Friday against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria and Milos Raonic of Canada, respectively, on his way to winning the Western & Southern Open title.

Dimitrov won the title last year. Raonic has a huge serve – he routinely topped 140 mph on his serves, the fastest we saw during our two days at the weeklong tournament.

The men

Djokovic won the Cincinnati title for the first time. He became the first player to win all nine Masters 1000 Series titles – a group of tournaments around the world that rank in importance just below the four major championships. (Djokovic has won all of those as well.)

federer5

On Sunday he defeated Roger Federer of Switzerland in straight sets to enter the record books. Federer had won the Western & Southern title seven times, never losing in the finals until this year. In contrast, Djokovic had reached the finals five times previously, losing all of them – three to Federer and two to Andy Murray of Great Britain, who lost in the first round this year.

This was our third year attending the Western & Southern Open, a tune-up for many of the tennis world’s top players before the U.S. Open, the final major of the year, which concludes Labor Day weekend in New York City.

We have attended Wednesday and Thursday matches because we figure many of the top players will still be in the tournament, and there’s enough matches scheduled on multiple courts to make the days fun.

Of course, there always are upsets. We have yet to see either of the Williams sisters play. Last year, Serena was pregnant and didn’t come, and Venus lost early. This year, Venus didn’t play and Serena lost before we got there.

Maybe next year.

federer4

 

The highlight of our week was seeing Federer play. He didn’t compete in Cincinnati the previous two years because of injuries. At age 37, the married father of four continues to play at a world-class level.

Federer was scheduled to play Thursday night, but for the second year in a row, the Thursday night session got rained out.

aretha

Unlike last year, it rained during the day as well. We walked from our motel to the tennis center, about three-quarters of a mile, in a drizzle that morning. Play was supposed to start at 11 a.m. but didn’t start until about 3 p.m.

During that delay, we learned that Aretha Franklin had died earlier in the day. A somber moment in a dreary morning.

When action started we saw less than one game of a match between Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina and Hyeon Chung of South Korea before the rains came again – only for about 10 minutes, though.

But that was enough to drench the court, and it took the ballboys and others nearly an hour to dry the playing surface.

Eventually, we saw del Potro defeat Chung in the grandstand, then Djokovic play Dimitrov on Center Court. After a couple of rain delays, the public-address announcer said, at about 9 p.m., that the day-session match was postponed until Friday. (The Center Court seats got crowded as day-session and night-session ticket holders decided who would sit where. Since the match was considered a day match, even though it was well past dinner time, the daytime seat-holders took precedence.)

The rainout forced Djokovic, like many players – including Federer, for the first time since 2004, he told the crowd in a post-match interview – to play two matches in one day. Djokovic dispatched Dimitrov, rested for a couple of hours, then defeated Raonic in a late-afternoon match.

The women

Oh, yes: The women played as well. Last year, for whatever reason, the women’s bracket provided the better matches, while this year, the men’s side did. Each tournament is unique, for sure.

On Thursday, we saw two women’s matches. Elise Mertens of Belgium upset Sloane Stephens of Plantation, Fla., and Madison Keys of Rock Island. Ill., defeated Angelique Kerber of Germany.

On Friday – a day with no rain and plenty of good tennis – we saw two more women’s matches. Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic beat Mertens in a difficult three-set match; Mertens easily could have won.

halep1

Later, Simona Halep of Romania, the No. 1 seed and top-ranked women’s player in the world, defeated Ashleigh Barty of Australia. Halep eventually would lose in the final to unranked Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, who won the biggest title of her career.

Takeaways

We saw del Potro play three times in two days – two full matches and a snippet of his middle match, against Nick Kyrgios of Australia, one of the more entertaining players you’ll ever see. He frequently hits the ball between his legs during a match – most of the time landing the ball in play. He also has a wicked serve, but del Potro managed to outlast him.

del potro4

goffin2

After defeating Kyrgios early on Friday, del Potro had to play later that day against David Goffin of Belgium, who I didn’t know anything about until this match. He’s an excellent player and defeated del Potro, then retired in the semi-final against Federer with a shoulder injury. All those rain-compressed matches took their toll. (On Halep too, I would guess – she ran out of gas in the finale.)

In the past two years, we’ve seen far too much rain. This year, Cincinnati got 5 inches of rain on Thursday – shattering the rainfall record for the day. At that rate, I’m surprised we saw any tennis at all.

Rain affects all outdoor sports, tennis more than most because the court must be completely dry for the players. Even a drizzle halts play, making the surface too slippery for the running, sliding athletes.

rain3

I’m always impressed how hard the players hit the ball, both men and women, and how low to the net they keep it. They hit the lines and corners routinely. They serve hard, and place their serves exactly where they want them.

It’s what they do for a living, so they practice a lot. It shows. Many of them get upset when they miss a shot – and give a fist pump when they nail one. Emotions remain just below the surface, until the point ends.

kvitova2

Sportsmanship is paramount, for the athletes and the fans. As spectators we are to remain quiet during play. No cell phones or loud camera clicks either.

Respect for the game. World-class athletes performing at the highest level.

 

Especially in the grandstand and court 3, the spectators are very close to the players. We see their facial expressions, their muscles tense as play begins, the squeak of their shoes as they chase down a shot.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Finding passion in the midst of constant change

Nothing lasts on Earth. Nothing at all.

Is that a good thing?

Depends on your outlook.

If you are adventurous, you like doing new things all the time. You create change. Things that last probably bore you.

If you prefer security, commitment and long-term involvement, then change gets in the way. You might even fear it.

What if change comes, and you wish it wouldn’t?

I’m finding it hard to remain committed to much of anything these days. Maybe I have some secret anger, a restlessness, an insecurity, an impatience with something that keeps me from things that last.

Perhaps it’s none of those things. Perhaps this is just the way life is.

Short-term volunteering

For example, I enjoy mentoring elementary-age students through local schools. Many children these days need a good male role model. If I can help, I enjoy doing that.

Our church in Saginaw, Mich., partnered with the elementary school across the street, and that’s where I first got involved. I showed up at lunchtime and played games with the student, ate lunch with him, and gave him encouragement. Sometimes I helped him with homework that he didn’t finish in the morning.

That lasted a couple of years, until we moved to Rockford, Ill. A month or two after we moved there, I found a reading program through Rockford Public Schools. That winter/spring and the following fall, I spent an hour in a classroom, reading with four students whom the teacher sent to me in 15-minute segments. I assisted them with words they had trouble pronouncing, and I helped with their comprehension – do you understand what you are reading?

We moved away after a year to Elyria, Ohio. I found a lunchtime mentoring program at Midview Schools in nearby Grafton. After a year, that program disappeared and I never heard from the school district again.

So I connected with Greater Cleveland Volunteers, which introduced me to My Mentor My Friend, a lunchtime mentoring program at four elementaries in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  I picked the school on the west side of Cleveland (the other three schools all were on the east side), and mentored three students there in a little more than a year.

Trying to make a difference

My first student there moved away in the summer. My second student, probably a loner like me, seemed uncomfortable with the one-on-one attention and dropped out of the program. My third student also moved away this summer.

That’s the lifestyle of the typical low-income inner-city student. Many live with one parent, or in the case of one of my students, with Grandpa. The parent often rents and moves across town frequently. My last student told me his dad got a job in Arizona, and he was planning to move out there to be with him. Dad said Cleveland was too violent. The student had anger management issues and it wasn’t unusual for him to be on suspension when I showed up to mentor.

Did I make a difference? Only God knows. I will never see the long-term results of any student I have mentored thus far, in any district in any state.

That’s just the way it is.

And now, My Mentor My Friend lost its United Way funding and has ended.

The Cleveland school district might keep the mentoring program going on its own. We’ll see. I’m also looking into another mentoring program in Lorain, which is nearer to my home. Either way, it’s another new start.

Elyria City Schools doesn’t have a mentoring program, a teacher there told me recently, because of the work involved to set up and administer such a program. I get that. When a man wants to work with children, red flags go up, don’t they?

At each school district, I had to pass a background check. In Cleveland, I also faced two interviews, fingerprinting and had to provide references – as intensive as any job interview I’ve had.

A year and a half later, is it all for naught?

Where’s the passion?

I’ve had trouble keeping jobs long-term as well. I had one job that lasted eight weeks. The job in Rockford lasted 14 months. My first job here in Elyria lasted 13 months. My next job lasted 2.5 years, but I got burned out. Without going into details, that job is over too.

I enjoy volunteering in the community. Mentoring, yes, but doing other things as well.

It’s me and God now. I no longer answer to a supervisor.

Will I find work again? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Financially, we are doing well.

And, as I said, I’m burned out. Impatient. Perhaps angry.

I have no home on Earth. I’ve felt that way for a long time.

The Rev. Doug Mater, who is the current pastor of a former church where we worshipped and served, wrote the following in a church newsletter earlier this year:

 

How often do we let our God-given strengths go to waste? We spend so much time trying to overcome our limitations by doing things we are not equipped to do. On the contrary, we should consider our special talents for ministry and focus on doing these things better, asking ourselves if we are trying to do something that we are not equipped to do, just for the sake of thinking I need to be different. …

We must continue to be the best we can at these talents so that others will see us as Christians who care about others and want them to share in the joy that we have in Jesus Christ. So, I ask you to look at your talents and keep practicing them. … Let us excel for God with the talents He has given us for his glory.

 

That’s a great message. Often we focus on our weaknesses and try to get better. Or take a job, any job, just to meet the budget.

Instead, we should emphasize our strengths and do them with passion.

What am I “equipped to do?” Do I have any “special talents?” How can I “excel for God?”

As I face yet another transition in my life, this is a good time to ponder such questions.

The journey continues.

Drivers under the influence of their own arrogance

A local columnist I read recently rightly worries about letting her teen son test for his driver’s learning permit. She tells the story of a driver under the influence of a narcotic who caused a three-vehicle crash not far from their home.

Drivers under the influence of a narcotic aren’t the ones that worry me.

Fright on the freeway

My wife and I late one Friday afternoon were traveling on eastbound I-90. Suddenly, a driver in a black sports car sprinted across three lanes of traffic to reach the I-271 interchange east of Cleveland. I slammed on my brakes and horn at the same time, or I’d have broadsided him – at 60 mph.

Behind me, the driver of a flat-bed semi honked at me for slowing down in the middle of a busy highway. Obviously not paying attention until the last split-second, he swerved to my right, flew past me and cut me off – with his flatbed trailer – then sped on ahead.

This all happened in just a few seconds. I had no time to panic or be afraid.

People die in that situation.

A couple of weeks later, my wife and I were traveling westbound on I-90 approaching the state Route 611 exit not far from our home. Driving in the right-hand lane, we approached a police car with its lights flashing that had stopped a vehicle on the shoulder.

Following state law, I slowed down, since I was unable to move to the left lane due to traffic. A driver in a small car behind me drove up to my bumper. After we passed the police car and traffic lightened a little, he sped around me and jerked in front of me, nearly hitting my vehicle, to get to the 611 exit immediately in front of us.

Seriously?

These are the drivers that scare me. They aren’t under the influence of anything except their own arrogance.

I see them nearly every day. Even though I see police cars all the time, I’ve never seen worse drivers than I have in Northeast Ohio.

I don’t get it.

I have more stories. I bet you could tell some, too.

Cut off in the city

Several times, drivers have swerved past me when I’m in my work van and cut me off just to get to a gas station or convenience store immediately ahead. That unsafe pass saved them three seconds – literally. Do they even know that?

Or, they speed past just to get to the red light a little faster than I do.

I have pity on such drivers. Why are they in such a hurry? Can’t they relax, even a little? Perhaps they need to set their alarm clock five minutes earlier – or actually get out of bed when the alarm goes off.

I drive for a living now. Before I got this job, I enjoyed taking a ride through the countryside just to relax. If I had some down time, I’d put the key in the ignition and go. No agenda, no destination, just a time to see someplace new.

Driving for fun

A few times, instead of the countryside, I toured the city. I visited Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland a couple of times, where my grandparents and uncle are buried. I had a job interview in Sandusky three years ago, and I drove up there a couple of days before the interview just to get a feel for the city and find the building where the interview would take place.

When I graduated college more than 35 years ago, I accepted a job as a reporter/photographer/ad salesman/page designer/newspaper deliverer for a weekly newspaper in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I turned in mileage reimbursement sheets. It wasn’t unusual for me to submit 300 miles of work-related mileage in a week. It was nothing to drive 50 miles round-trip to cover a meeting.

I rarely saw a traffic light up there. Just get in my car and go. Most towns had one – count ’em, one – blinker light.

That was the toughest part about moving downstate to Saginaw, Mich. – traffic. Sharing the road. Stopping at red lights. Construction zone detours.

I learned, because I had to. I’ve never been in a crash, either. It can be done.

It’s called defensive driving. Expect other drivers to do stupid things, so I’m not surprised when they actually happen.

When our three sons learned to drive as teenagers, I impressed upon them the need to get where they were going. No matter how long it takes, get there. Reach your destination. If you’re stuck in a construction zone, for example, be patient. You’ll get through it.

So you think you can merge

Even today, I am amused when construction narrows three lanes to two, or two lanes to one, and drivers think they can beat the system by driving right up to the flashing arrow or orange barrels and hope someone will let them in. We let them in every time, don’t we?

But that slows everyone down. If we all just got in line, that line would flow smoothly – slowly, sure, but smoothly – through the construction zone. Try it sometime.

Chill out, people. Enjoy the ride. Not just for the sake of teens learning to drive, but for the rest of us too.

Whether on the highway or in the city, I don’t appreciate you taking my life in your hands, as well as your own.

(Side note: If you truly liked your car, SUV or truck, you wouldn’t risk damaging it with unsafe driving. Must be nice to have the money to replace your ride often. I don’t. Just so you know.)

Making enemies inevitable

‘Linda never had one enemy’.

That headline awhile ago in our local paper jumped out at me. Linda was a homicide victim in a robbery gone bad.

The headline (and the story) indicated that she was a friend to everyone she met.

That got me thinking: Is that a goal worth striving for?

I don’t want to antagonize anyone. I’m sure most people don’t. Many of us want to get along with everyone we meet.

Getting the job done

Work is a good place to practice that. The boss hires a variety of people in the same office to do the same or related jobs. We have no choice but to work together. Whether we become best buddies outside of work is irrelevant, really. We depend on each other to get the job done.

Certainly, we shouldn’t make enemies at work. That destroys morale, and makes working together nearly impossible. There are ways to solve disagreements.

Not knowing the full story

We say or do things for a reason. I may not know why you said or did that. Even if I’m upset or angry with you, I don’t know your full story. Perhaps you have a very good reason for your reaction. (Perhaps not. I don’t know.)

But does that mean right and wrong don’t exist? Is there ever a time when making an enemy or two is acceptable?

I never met Linda, so I don’t know her story at all. But if she never made an enemy, I wonder whether she got involved in anything in the community. If she did anything meaningful. Or if she just slid through life being nice, never causing a ripple, never standing up for herself.

Say something, do something

Because if she did share an opinion or take a stand – about nearly anything – she’d make an enemy somewhere along the line.

Common courtesy says don’t discuss politics or religion in public. There’s a reason for that. Many people have strong opinions on either or both of those subjects, and rarely change their minds.

enemies 2

Did Linda have any type of faith, or did she have political views? If so, she must have kept them to herself.

Otherwise, she would have had an enemy or two.

While I try to get along with everyone I meet, I don’t always succeed. I have de-friended a few people on Facebook, and I have been de-friended more than once as well. I de-friend or un-follow people when their politics turns to hatred. A few of you on the very far left or the very far right cross that line.

Do my politics or faith create enemies?

Possibly.

Social issues and faith

My blog page is titled “the liberal conservative.” How’s that for being offensive? I get involved in certain social issues, which is my liberal side. My faith tells me the Bible is the inspired word of God and every word in it is true (not always literal, but true). That’s my conservative side.

They go together.

Jesus was very involved in social issues. He healed people and talked about justice. He gave women more respect than any other man in His time period did.

Jesus also challenged the religious leaders of His day, calling them blind guides and hypocrites for the ways they imposed their own rules, not God’s rules, on their congregations.

Because of that criticism, Jesus made enemies of a few very powerful people. He didn’t intentionally make enemies, but He didn’t back down when confronted with tough issues either. Those powerful people eventually killed Him.

We Christians often forget that. We want a calm, peaceful, placid faith that gets along with everyone.

Hell is a real place. Jesus talked about it.

Mercy requires a decision

Jesus was very much misunderstood, then and today. Everyone faces judgment. Jesus offers mercy to all. Not all of us accept God’s mercy, but it’s available to anyone who is willing to receive it. That was, and still is, His message.

But accepting Jesus’ mercy means we follow His way of life – which is the best life we can possibly have. That means we will have to change our allegiance from the other things we worship.

Many people aren’t willing to do that, and get angry when Jesus and His followers say things like: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

You either believe that or you don’t. There’s no nice guys third option.

No wonder Jesus had enemies. No wonder Christians are being persecuted and killed across the world in record numbers today.

https://www.newsweek.com/christian-persecution-genocide-worse-ever-770462

Do I have enemies? None that want me dead, at least to my knowledge, here in the United States where I live.

But when I say I follow Jesus, I’m also saying that I don’t follow any other religion’s leaders. I’m also supporting a certain lifestyle, instead of other lifestyles. Christianity is true, and other religions aren’t. There’s no middle ground. (Other religions don’t leave room for Christianity either if you truly follow one of them, so it works both ways.)

Take a stand

When the headline says ‘Linda never had one enemy’, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. That tells me she never took a stand for anything meaningful.

If we stand up for something – anything – we will make enemies. Do you support the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo? Other people don’t. Do you support spanking children? Many people oppose you. Do you support how your local government spends its budget? Not everyone does.

We must pick our battles. Some people fight too many battles – they oppose every issue that comes up, it seems. I ignore them, for the most part. They aren’t credible.

Think through an issue before you take a stand. Tell me why you oppose it. Or support it.

If I disagree, at least I will respect you for your thoughtfulness and thoroughness. And you will force me to think the issue through to defend my stance.

If we engage with life at all, we will have enemies. That’s pretty much a given.

Don’t let that discourage you.

Stand up for what you believe in.

But again, pick your battles. Don’t fight all your enemies. Many of them aren’t worth the effort.

Justice for all, mercy for some

A few lessons I’ve learned or re-learned through a year-long study of Romans in the New Testament:

  • We discover order in nature, but we can’t learn about sin and salvation through nature.
  • Justified: Acquitted of all charges. That doesn’t mean we are innocent, just not guilty. There are no consequences for what we’ve done. This is grace – an act of God. We do not contribute to it.
  • Justification is a one-time act of God. Sanctification is the process of becoming like Jesus, which takes a lifetime.
  • Law reveals sin, but can’t cure it. A CAT scan may find a disease, but the CAT scan itself can’t cure it. Same principle. Jesus, not the law, is the medicine we need to have our sins forgiven.
  • The Old Testament laws weren’t written down until Moses wrote them – 430 years after Abraham lived. Sin still existed, even though no written laws did. See Adam and Eve.
  • God did all the work to offer us salvation from our sins. He initiated, taught, died and resurrected, all while we were sinners. We don’t have to get it right before God saves us. We accept God’s forgiveness; then sanctification starts.
  • Our trespasses can be counted. Grace is infinite.
  • We also died on the cross and were buried with Jesus, and were raised from the dead with Him (see Romans 6:1-4). Burial means death to sin is final.
  • No one is “free.” Everyone serves someone or something, whether we realize it or not.
  • While Jesus delivers us from the power of sin, it’s not a one-and-done thing. Recognizing this conflict proves that we are His.
  • Sin does not define us. The struggle with sin defines God’s forgiveness and love.
  • We have conflict, but not condemnation.
  • Suffering is temporary; glory is permanent (eventually).
  • Justice keeps us on Death Row. God chooses to give mercy to some people. This is not about us. It’s about Him. We have to trust God’s character, because there’s no way we can understand this.
  • God sent the apostle Paul to people (Gentiles) who weren’t even looking for Him. God operates that way frequently.
  • We are transformed by the renewal of our minds. So often we blame our bodies for sin, but it starts in our minds. Always.
  • All people are far more important than humanists imagine us to be. All people are far worse than humanists suppose.
  • Loving God and others is not behavior modification. It’s a heart issue.
  • Harmony and dissonance: Do my notes blend in with the melody? There are no lone-ranger Christians. My notes, played correctly alongside the in-tune notes of other Christians, will make beautiful music.
  • If we respond to evil with evil, then evil never ends.
  • If we respond to evil with love, we absorb the evil. This is not normal.
  • God is in control of all things. This is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to accept.
  • Following God does not always mean that all goes well. See Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, or Daniel in the lion’s den. Sometimes God brings us through the fire. That often glorifies Him.
  • God establishes authority for our good. Anarchy brings chaos. Even poor leaders are better than no leadership at all.
  • Light shines brighter in darkness than it does in the daytime.
  • The purpose of the law is to help us live together well. We can do this only if we love each other. (The law no longer applies when we die, of course.)
  • Food and drink won’t matter in heaven. Righteousness, peace and joy will.
  • “Accept” means to welcome or receive, not simply to tolerate.
  • The gospel is simple, but it’s not simplistic. The plan of salvation has a few easy steps to follow, but living them out takes a lifetime of learning and doing.
  • Don’t study evil; we know it already. Study God’s word.
  • Avoid people who reject Christ. Don’t argue for the sake of arguing.
  • God has won the war. The battles of this life will end soon.

Shorten the game, permanently

Cleveland Indians reliever Josh Tomlin, left, waits to be pulled during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on June 30, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

 

When was the last time someone pitched long relief in Major League Baseball?

That happened when a starting pitcher got knocked out of the game in the first, second or third inning, and the relief pitcher who replaced him stayed in the game for three or four innings, sometimes even longer.

Long relief.

These days, if a starter leaves the game early, a parade of relievers comes in for one or two innings at a time, draining the bullpen of just about everyone available. But since each of them pitches only one inning (20 pitches or less, most likely), he’s available for tomorrow’s game as well. Flexibility, not performance, is the goal.

If a relief pitcher does his job well, he still gets taken out after an inning or two.

That’s why bullpens are such a crap shoot. If a reliever is having a good day, why not ride him? Save the rest of the bullpen for another day.

Instead, when teams put six or seven relievers on the pitcher’s mound in the same game, at least one of them is likely to have a bad day at the office. Oh well.

No purpose anymore

I did a Google search of middle relief or long relief pitchers. The current definition of “middle reliever” is anyone who isn’t a starter or closer. There’s no such thing as a long reliever anymore, unless it’s Andrew Miller – and, when healthy (which he isn’t at the moment), he pitches at most two innings at a time.

That’s why Josh Tomlin has no role on the Cleveland Indians, and hasn’t most of the season. He flunked as a starter earlier this year, so he became a mop-up guy who pitches only when the outcome of the game has already been decided. As a former starter he’s physically capable of pitching five or six innings at a time. But since that role doesn’t exist in today’s game, he gets an inning here, a batter there, just like any other reliever.

If he gives up a hit or two, he doesn’t get the chance to straighten himself out.

He wasn’t trained for one inning of relief. No wonder he’s struggling.

Baseball experts say he’s washed up.

Perhaps he is.

Or, perhaps he needs a new opportunity with another team, since the Indians no longer have a place for him.

Starters don’t finish

Which brings me to my second point about pitching.

News flash: Baseball games are nine innings long. No one, and I mean no one, associated with Major League Baseball remembers this anymore.

Starters are groomed to pitch six or seven innings, no more. Even all-stars.

MLB: JUL 12 Yankees at Indians

In the past week, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer – both All-Stars this year – pitched shutout ball for seven and eight innings, respectively. Since they reached their pitch count maximum, they were taken out of the game.

The relievers cost both starters a win – and lost the games themselves. Badly.

 

Last Saturday, Kluber left after seven innings with a 3-0 lead. Reliever Neil Ramirez, who has had a good year so far, actually, gave up three runs to tie the game in only one-third of an inning. The game went extra innings, when Tomlin gave up three more runs as the Indians lost. (Five relievers pitched the four innings after Kluber left.)

MLB: JUL 10 Reds at Indians

On Tuesday, Bauer cruised through eight innings and exited with a 4-0 lead over the Cincinnati Reds. The Indians brought on their closer, Cody Allen, to pitch the ninth. He promptly gave up three runs and left the game with the bases loaded. The next reliever gave up a bases-clearing double and another run-scoring hit. After doing nothing for eight innings against Bauer, the Reds scored seven runs in the ninth inning – seven runs! – and the Indians lost probably their worst game of the season.

Protection, not performance

But no one cares, because it’s only July. Got to save those precious All-Star arms for September and October.

That’s the mind-set in baseball. Protection, not performance. No one is allowed to finish what they start. Games are decided by the crap shoot in the bullpen.

That’s why there will never be another 300-game winner. Ever.

The last to do it was Randy Johnson in 2009. I was blessed to see him pitch for the Yankees in Detroit in a playoff game in 2006. He is one of only 24 pitchers to reach that milestone.

Meanwhile, no pitcher reached 20 wins in a non-strike-shortened year for the first time in 2006; this was repeated in 2009 and 2017.

Kluber and Bauer pitched shutouts, and the team lost both games. That’s great for their personal stats, but not for the team.

The Indians have an outstanding starting pitching staff, and one of the best hitting teams in all of baseball. But their bullpen is awful. They should win the American League’s Central Division easily, because every other team in the division is rebuilding its roster and not seriously competing for the post-season.

Not a winning formula

Do the Indians have a recipe that could lead to a World Series victory?

History says no.

The 2013 Detroit Tigers were built in a similar fashion to this year’s Indians. They had an outstanding starting staff led by Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, and a top-notch batting order with Miguel Cabrera at the peak of his career.

But, in the words of Rob Neyer of SB Nation:

 

Now, about the relief pitching. Once the Tigers finally settled on a closer in June, their bullpen was no longer a running joke. Still, Detroit’s relievers did finish the season with a 4.01 ERA, fourth worst in the league and the worst among the league’s postseason teams. By the end, (manager) Jim Leyland didn’t seem to have much confidence in any of his relief pitchers, which left him making changes just about as quickly as the rules would allow …

Ultimately, this was a team that could really pitch (for seven innings) and really hit, but couldn’t do much else at all. Which can work. Which did work. It worked for six months, and given a little luck it might have worked for one more month. But the baserunning and the fielding and the relief pitching wasn’t likely to improve all of a sudden. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera got hurt and stopped hitting fastballs, and Prince Fielder drove in exactly zero runs in 40 postseason at-bats.

When you’re built solely on starting pitching and hitting and you take away the hitting … well, there’s just not enough left.

 

https://www.sbnation.com/2013/10/20/4857258/alcs-2013-detroit-tigers-red-sox-season-review

The Tigers beat the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series, then lost to the Boston Red Sox in the Championship Series.

The Indians of 2018 better keep hitting – all the way through October. Otherwise, the team has no chance to win the World Series.

The starting pitchers aren’t able to finish. The bullpen, as it stands, can’t finish.

And the Indians are one of the better teams in baseball.

That’s the way Major League Baseball is played today.

Many people complain that baseball games take too long. The latest proposal is to institute a time limit.

Here’s another option: Cut the game to seven innings.

Make starting pitching relevant again. And take away the need for long relievers.

God’s affection at Christmas shows up in July

Hollywood would recast the Christmas story … A civilized person would sanitize it. No person, however poor, should be born in a cow stall. Hay on the floor. Animals on the hay. Don’t place the baby in a feed trough; the donkey’s nose has been there. Don’t wrap the newborn in rags. They smell like sheep. Speaking of smells, watch where you step.

“Because of Bethlehem Love is Born, Hope is Here” by Max Lucado, page 131

 

This describes my workplace. Perfectly.

I work with developmentally disabled adults. Some of them are not sanitary, and make it difficult for the rest of us to be sanitary. I won’t get too specific, except this one example: I drive some of these individuals in a wheelchair-accessible van. One individual I drive wets himself, through his clothes and adult Depends, and the bench seat where he sits. He does this a couple of times a week, at least.

It smells in there. I’m constantly cleaning it and spraying Lysol.

I can’t keep a full roll of paper towels in the van; he takes it apart and puts his hands all over it.

Jesus was born in a place like that.

Messy. Unsanitary. Possibly even unsafe.

At the day program where I work, washing my hands is not a simple chore.

This is real life. Some of these folks don’t know any better.

And I stay.

God came to me – and you – in a place just like this. He didn’t arrive in a climate-controlled hospital room like our three sons did, surrounded by nurses and doctors who made sure each was healthy before they sent him home.

Thank God for hospitals.

But Jesus never saw one, and I don’t work in one either.

 

lucado

You, like Joseph, knocked on the innkeeper’s door. But you were too late. Or too old, sick, dull, damaged, poor, or peculiar. You know the sound of a slamming door. So here you are in the grotto, always on the outskirts of activity, it seems.

Page 133

 

I’ve been fired twice, relocated once (I quit first, though), and downsized once, all in the past 10 years. I’m hardly unique. Nobody works in the same job for an entire career anymore: My two oldest sons also have seen their jobs phased out – and neither is 30 years old yet.

Both have landed on their feet. One has landed his dream job; the other has a decent position, but still isn’t where he wants to be.

Both make more than they spend.

Because my wife has a good job, we do too. I provided for our family of five as our sons grew up, but those days are long gone.

I knocked on the innkeeper’s door, but I don’t have the passion, drive and self-promotion to thrive in today’s job market. Nor am I willing to relocate again. AARP asks me all the time about age-related job discrimination. Maybe that plays into it, or maybe it’s just me.

Old, dull, damaged, peculiar … especially peculiar. I don’t have the “presence” that employers are looking for. I don’t come across as enthusiastic with all these great ideas on how to improve your company.

I was a copy editor, for heaven’s sake. Behind the scenes. Making you look good. It’s never been about me.

Even newspaper executives don’t get that anymore, if they ever did.

So, my newspaper career is done.

And I’m in a smelly, unsanitary day program for developmentally disabled adults.

I’m glad I’m there.

Because, hopefully, I can make a difference.

 

You do your best to make the best of it, but try as you might, the roof still leaks, and the winter wind still sneaks through the holes you just can’t seem to fix. You’ve shivered through your share of cold nights.

And you wonder if God has a place for a person like you.

Find your answer in the Bethlehem stable.

Page 133

 

I was looking for something to read the other day and found this Max Lucado book on the shelf. We received it as a gift for a monetary donation we made, obviously around the holidays, to a radio station we listen to.

I’m reading a Christmas book when it’s literally 90 degrees outside.

The timing is perfect.

Fifteen years ago, I didn’t dream about being where I am now. I had a great job in a wonderful town with great friends and plenty of community involvement.

Life happens, as we all know. Society has changed a lot in the past 15 years.

For all of us.

And not always for the better. Right?

Depends how you look at it.

I’ve met many wonderful people in the past decade or so since my life got bumpy. I’ve joined Facebook and LinkedIn, meeting new people and reconnecting with long-ago friends. I’m in a job that tests my patience sometimes, but that’s how I learn patience.

 

It really comes down to that: God loves us. The story of Christmas is the story of God’s relentless love for us.

Let him love you. If God was willing to wrap himself in rags and drink from a mother’s breast, then all questions about his love for you are off the table. You might question his actions, decisions, or declarations. But you can never, ever question his zany, stunning, unquenchable affection.

Pages 134-5

 

This thought is timeless, for all people, for all seasons.

It’s why I get up a few minutes early every morning and spend a little time with God, just me and Him, before the day begins. Get right with God before punching in at work, before reading all your Facebook emotions, before doing yardwork or exercise or whatever else I’ll do today.

Start the day right, and the rest of the day has a better chance of turning out well.

Whatever that means. When something goes awry, there’s a lesson to be learned, a trial to endure or patience to reveal. God’s affection never wavers.

That’s the point of Christmas. And we don’t have to wait until December to experience it.