Monthly Archives: December 2013

Should people care that Robin Roberts came out?

Robin Roberts is the host of Good Morning America and co-hosted the best years of NFL Primetime before ESPN became the talking fathead network. She went through a bone-marrow transplant to fight a disease called Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) and and has also been diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. Under her hosting, GMA has gone to the head of the morning show ratings. She’s a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and has also hosted the Academy Awards pre-show twice. She’s a pretty impressive person.

Robin Roberts came out on Facebook this past weekend. And my first honest response was “I don’t care.”

I guess I consider myself “consentual sexual partner-blind.” It really doesn’t matter to me what consenting adult Robin Roberts chooses to sleep with. It’s none of my business.

I guess it’s the sexual equivalent of being colorbind, which is something I’ve always tried to be. I honestly don’t care who you sleep with or what color your skin is. It doesn’t matter to me.

Recently, I saw a thread on a message board saying that supposed colorblindness could be the worst form of racism. Blatant racists, the sentiment went, are at least honest about it. But the ones who claim to be colorblind are probably lying to themselves about their racism. Worse, they were denying the experience of being black. In other words, it’s a little cavalier of people like me not to care when racist crap still happens.

I have relatives, friends, and acquaintances who are lesbians. Some of them are avid sports fans. I imagine if I were them and if Robin Roberts came out, I would probably care. I guess I’m happy for them. If it means something to you that Robin Roberts is like you–if you draw strength from that, then that’s good.

I’m glad she had people to support her during her health battles. You can’t make it through something like that alone.

But I don’t see her any differently than I did before. I enjoy her work on television when I see it, and I think she’s done a lot in spite of her health problems.

That she’s lesbian doesn’t matter to me. And I’m still not sure that it should.

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In which Jesus makes me feel uncomfortable

So one day I sat down with Jesus and I said, “Jesus, I am a bad man.”

Jesus said nothing, at least not right away. He didn’t rush to my defense, nor did he agree with me. But the way he looked at me, he knew the things about which I talked. He knew them because I knew them. And because he is Jesus.

“What of it?” he finally said.

I shrugged. “I don’t want to be that guy.”

He shrugged back. “Then don’t be. I gave you the power to be whatever you wanted to be. It’s up to you how to use it.”

There wasn’t much to say after that. Jesus can be a buzzkill sometimes. He has this way of holding up a mirror to allow you to see everything, even when you don’t want to see it.

“It’s hard sometimes,” he said.

I nodded, thankful for the out. Jesus often doesn’t give me the out. Instead, he leads me to my own internal contradictions–

“I don’t lead you there,” he said. “You lead yourself there. I just listen.”

Freaking know-it-all. Buzzkill.

“I heard that,” he said, smiling broadly.

When I decide to look into Jesus’ eyes, there’s this incredible warmth, like a perfect summer afternoon that goes on forever. I never see the stormy Rambo Jesus that so many people see there. I don’t know how they can see something so different.

“It’s probably a good thing for you that I’m not like that.” His smile stayed broad, but there was an edge to it, a challenge. Jesus will also finish your thoughts for you sometimes. He likes doing that to me, mostly because it unsettles me.

But as uncomfortable as he can make me feel, I never feel threatened.

“Do you love me?” he said.

I looked away. I can’t lie to Jesus. I mean, the guy can finish my thoughts. How do you hide things from that?

“Do you love me?”

I said nothing.

“You might as well look at me, Chris. I mean, I can finish your thoughts, so it’s not like you can hide it from me.”

I wanted to call him a smart ass, but instead, I just looked at him, at those eyes. The eyes that seem to radiate peacefulness and calm and power at the same time. It’s not something a guy would typically say, and almost never about another guy, but I could look into those eyes forever and not get tired of the feeling that cascades over me.

“You know I try.” My answer sounded like an indictment as I said it. I wanted to shrink away, to run and get as far from this man as I could because I know I don’t deserve to feel the way he makes me feel when I stop and sit still and just look in those eyes.

“I know you do.”

The words weren’t condemning, but they weren’t especially comforting, either. They were simple statement of fact.

“I…I have a hard time with really trusting. With breaking down the walls between me and other people. I want…I want to be better at that. I want to…I just want to be open to other people.”

“You could start with me,” he said.

I nodded.

“For the record, you are a bad man, sometimes. You do things that hurt yourself and other people and I wish you’d stop it.”

I stopped nodding. Suddenly my shirt fit poorly and wouldn’t let me get comfortable. I rolled my shoulders and fiddled with my collar. But it wasn’t the shirt.

“But I can say without reservation that I love you. And nothing you can do will change that.”

It was hard at this point to keep eye contact with him. But I did it anyway, all the while trying to block the way I felt when he looked at me.

“I want to believe,” I said. “Can you help me with that?”

And he was gone. And I was sitting in Panera again, looking over the top of my laptop screen at a little blonde kid. He was with his grandfather, who seemed to think that nothing could beat taking this little boy to get a cookie for breakfast, even if they had to run to the toilet because the kid tried to hold it too long.

The kid was telling a story about another kid named Doogie who fell off his bike, which seemed to be the funniest thing in history. But the story was disjointed and barely intelligible. And still the grandfather didn’t care. He gazed upon the kid with Jesus-like eyes.

He just listened and smiled. It wasn’t much of a smile, except that it was the most sincere I’d ever seen.

And it extended to his eyes.

I don’t remember my grandfather. He died when I was little, but I remember he was the center of my life, the closest thing I had to a hero, I think. And I remember things weren’t the same after he left. I imagined that he used to look at me that way, too. With eyes that radiated warmth.

And he was just a man.


A litany of first-world problems

This morning, just as I was getting ready to pop in my T25 workout DVD into the DVD player so I could work out in front of the TV, the power went out. Again. It’s the second time this week the power’s gone out either just as I started or during a workout. Of the last six workouts, I’ve had an interruption of some sort in three of them.

I mean, seriously? All I’m trying to do is work out. It’s good for me and it’s kind of good for the people around me because I’m less grouchy when I work out. And when I get done with my current workout series, T25, I’m getting P90X3, which is P90X, but with all-new workouts, none of which is longer than 30 minutes. That’s perfect because my good-paying job is kind of pressure-filled these days and a typical work day is a double-digit amount of hours. It’s really a drag and the shorter workouts will be golden.

Last weekend, my family volunteered at Metropolitan Ministries here in Tampa. A lot of areas in this country have an organization like Metropolitan Ministries. It’s the go-to place to help the less fortunate in the greater Tampa area. The holiday tent where they give families dinners and toys for the kids is about the size of a football field and it runs like a well-oiled machine each year, in spite of the fact that most of its staff is volunteers. Many, like me, come for a three-hour shift. Three whole hours!

The Metropolitan Ministries tent

I worked parking last week, which was actually quite a job, considering the number of people coming in with donations, the volunteers, and the people coming for gifts and food. At one point we had cars backed up onto two streets.

You’d think it would be easy to pick out the recipients from the volunteers and the donaters, right? The recipients would be driving the old beat-up cars with primer for paint and the windows open because the AC’s broke. The volunteers and the donaters would be driving the minivans and crossovers–the SUVs and the nice sedans.

You’d be wrong.

A good number of the people receiving assistance last weekend were driving nice cars. Many of them were nicer than mine.

For the record, Metropolitan Ministries is a very good steward of the donations it gets. It has a significant program of checks to ensure the help goes to people who really need it. In other words, those people with the nice cars were there because they needed help. The jobs that provided those cars are gone, with nothing to replace them. As someone old enough to vividly remember watching Happy Days in my youth, it’s a concern I’ve had more than once.

Holy crap, look how old Fonzie is! What does that mean about me? (Yikes!)

Working at Metropolitan Ministries is a good thing to do. And as busy as this year’s been, I felt like one, three-hour shift was a good amount of work.

And maybe it was.

But as I lose patience over the power going out while I do my DVD workout program broadcast on the DVD player and TV in a room that’s basically my own, maybe that’s not a problem. At best, maybe it’s a source of inconvenience.

And maybe a pain-in-the-ass job is a blessing relative to what other, equally qualified people might have. And maybe a word of thanks is appropriate each morning just for having it, even if it could be better.

Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not even really a problem to have a nice car but need to go to Metropolitan Ministries. There are lots of places that don’t have Metropolitan Ministries.

And maybe, rather than getting impatient over dumb stuff, and then feeling bad about getting impatient, it’s just enough to realize a blessing when you have one, be thankful for it, and try to bless others at least a little bit every day.

Or maybe it’s not.


Why Phil Robertson is wrong about God and gays

Lots of people in the entertainment industry have said really stupid things. If I stopped watching their work because of it, I’d have almost nothing left to watch. But if I watched Duck Dynasty now, I’d stop, and it’s not because of what Phil Robertson said in his now-infamous GQ interview. It’s because of this:

They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, god haters, they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless, they invent ways of doing evil.

The problem with that quote–and others like it, often from Christian Republicans–is that it’s being said about people I know and value. I don’t know Phil Robertson, but I know a number of gay people who have been very good to me and to my family. And when you say those things about those people, it’s an issue.

This is why Republicans and Christians lose when they trot out the anti-gay rhetoric. They’re insulting friends and family members. And then they want support. It doesn’t work that way.

At some point in the change in my viewpoint about gays, I thought about what I’d say if my son or daughter came home and announced they were gay. I can’t view them as an abomination. He’s my son; she’s my daughter. They are not abominations.

And to grab a quote from Matthew 7:11, if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him? Put another way, if I can’t sever my relationship with my kids over something like that, why should I believe God would?

Sorry, Henry, you accepted Jesus as your savior and produced fruit just like the Good Book says to, and you were bold and courageous, just like I said you should be, but you had the hots for guys, so off to hell with you! Plus, as a heavenly Creator, I was never that fond of interior decorating and show tunes.

Something tells me not. There’s also something in the letter to the Romans where Paul writes that he dare not even judge himself. If that’s the case, if the guy who wrote much of the New Testament doesn’t even judge himself, why would anyone feel confident judging someone else based solely on who they sleep with?

Jesus never dealt with gay people, but when he was confronted with whores–people many would say occupy the same moral ground as the gays–he didn’t condemn them. When he was confronted with a woman so hated by other women that she had to get her water at noon, when no one else was at the well, he treated her with love and affection.

And when the religious leaders, who were pushing the same type of law that would condemn gays, brought him a whore to stone to death, not only did he make a point of not condemning her, he pointed out to her accusers that many of them had done the same things and they weren’t fit to condemn her.

In short, if God so loved the world that he gave his only son to save the world, rather than to judge it, he can’t hate fags any more than I can hate one of my own children.

So just knock it off, Phil.


You are responsible for workout safety; if you don’t feel comfortable, walk away.

When I do my T25 workouts, there’s a warning that appears on the screen that starts with a bold, underlined statement This warning is not to be discounted. The warning then goes on to say that T25 is an intense workout and if you have a history of back or knee issues or any other significant issue, then there are workouts for you, but T25 isn’t one of them and that if you decide to do T25, you’ve been warned and you’re responsible.

The warning’s probably there because the corporate lawyers at Beachbody, the company that makes T25, insisted. I’d like to think it’s there also because including it is just the right thing to do. After all, T25 is a hard workout and there isn’t someone there overseeing you to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly.

Which leads us to CrossFit. Last month, Outside magazine published an article questioning the safety of this hot workout regimen. CrossFit enthusiasts and corporate employees responded vigorously, questioning the accuracy of any data that exists, saying that it’s scant. The article also pointed out that the organization goes out of its way to tell participants that if they don’t maintain form, they’ll get hurt.

The CrossFit kettle bell swing.

This month, Outside wrote about CrossFit again. A good part of the article seems to be calling out CrossFit for calling out Outside about the previous article. But in this article, the assertion about CrossFit warning participants about form seems to be softened. The article says that the corporate CrossFit entity believes in survival of the fittest, and doesn’t run its gyms–boxes, in CrossFiteese, as typical franchises. The best ones will survive, and the bad ones will fall by the wayside.

The problem with that approach is that you’re dealing with peoples’ health and significant potential for injury. A month isn’t enough to dig up data, but there are concerns. To become certified, a CrossFit trainer has to pony up $1000 and go for a weekend of training. There are concerns to be had with that approach. The coaches can stress form, but they aren’t heavily trained in how your body works. (Neither are Beachbody coaches, for that matter.)

And CrossFit isn’t just a fitness craze, it’s becoming a sport with competitions. And to be honest, if you’ve ever caught the CrossFit games on ESPN, the athletes there are amazing. But there’s concern that the zeal to compete might be taking the edge of the zeal to be safe. And again, the data’s just not there for any hard conclusions. Any attempt to stop people from safely pushing themselves in workouts is something I oppose, having pushed myself.

CrossFit can cause injuries. But so can other forms of exercise. I’ve pulled hamstrings and calf muscles doing Beachbody workouts, and I just took a week off because I tweaked something in my hip flexor. It’s possible that tomorrow I could blow my knee or back doing a T25 move. Then again, I could blow it out jogging, too.

The ultimate responsibility lies with you, the person entering into a workout. First, if someone at a gym or on a DVD pushes you to do something you don’t feel safe doing, walk away. And if there’s an exercise you think might hurt you, modify or skip it. For instance, my hip flexors have been bothering me, and there’s an exercise in T25 where you do floor sprints, where you get in a plank position (like at the top of a pushup) and basically run.

Because of my hip flexor problems, I stand and sprint for that part. It’s about getting fit, not getting injured–and that applies to CrossFit, T25, P90X, or any other fitness program.

I believe in the warning at the front of the T25 workout, even though it’s annoying to read it every time. You are responsible. Do your research. Talk to your doctor. And never, ever, ever do a workout that makes you feel unsafe.

It’s your body, and you need to take the final say, even if your “coach” is yelling at you.

Full disclosure, I am a Beachbody coach, so technically, I may be considered a competitor of CrossFit. I would try CrossFit, but working out in my house on my schedule works for me. You should find what works for you.


Christmas coffee cake

I don’t remember the first time I had Bavarian coffee cake, but I’m pretty sure it was on Christmas morning. I don’t remember when it started exactly, but my grandmother made Bavarian coffee cake on Christmas morning. It’s a coffee cake you make when you roll up dough balls, coat them in butter and cinnamon sugar, then nuts. Then you let it raise and bake it. Freeze it, pull it out Christmas morning, and eat it. It’s actually quite a lot of work, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I stopped going home every Christmas when we moved to Phoenix in the mid-1990s. But over the years, the coffee cake’s been part of our Christmas. It has outlived my grandmother, who passed in 1999, just short of her 80th birthday.

In 2002, when I working in on a 1099 job and worked most of the day Christmas Eve after having been laid off for almost two years, I was sure we wouldn’t have the coffee cake. I was working and my wife had to work at Walgreen’s because the COBRA ran out and the job I had didn’t carry benefits for us. Sometime, she found time to make a coffee cake, and though she had to work Christmas morning, we had it, because it meant a lot to me to have that Christmas morning. I don’t remember much else about that Christmas, but I remember having the coffee cake.

Since then, some years, making the cake has turned into a family project. My wife’s done it a lot of years. I’ve done it some years. But we’ve always had it Christmas morning.

A few years ago, I started making it and taking it to work sometime in December. A co-worker has another really outstanding coffee cake and we each make one and take in on the same day, as a nice holiday gesture.

The first time I made it alone, the dough kept not rising. I made a batch that didn’t rise. Then another batch. Then a third batch. I walked through every step and did every single thing right. I didn’t kill the yeast. I didn’t make the milk to hot after I scalded it. I did everything exactly as the recipe said.

Almost.

At the beginning, when the ingredients are listed, it says 2 eggs. When you combine stuff, it says Add egg. So I added an egg. To me, an idiot (read, a guy), egg is singular. Eggs is plural. If I was supposed to add both eggs, it should say Add eggs. My wife asked what I was going to do with the other egg, if not add it to the recipe. I believe I told her I hate her at that point.

The place I work isn’t always easy, especially not lately. It’s been really hard lately. To help bolster people I’ve taken to baking sometimes. Again this year, we did the coffee cake thing, me and my co-worker. I added both eggs. And like both years before, everyone loved the coffee cakes. I also made my other grandmother’s shortbread recipe and everyone loved that. Work is work, but for a few seconds, it wasn’t. It was people getting together and enjoying good food someone made for them. Like when my grandmothers made their coffee cake and shortbread.

Like I’ve done almost every Christmas I can remember.

My daughter got back from South Africa this year, where she spent a semester abroad. Next year is her senior year in college and we have special things planned. There’s a good chance this is her last regular Christmas home. (We have other plans for next year.)

This week, she asked about the coffee cake. She wanted to make sure we’d have some.

My wife made it yesterday and we had it this morning. She’s not much of a cook, but then I wasn’t when I was twenty, either. If she has kids some day, that same cake might be part of their cherished Christmas memories, too, a fifth generation.

I know it’s still hard for my mom sometimes that her mother isn’t around for Christmas. That’s the way of things. It can’t be changed or fixed. I even feel it, more than a decade later when I see the perfect gift I’d get for my grandmother, even though she’s been gone a long time.

Mostly gone, anyway. Except that my kids look forward to that coffee cake each year. Without it, it’s not quite Christmas for them.

And in that way, my grandmother–Grammy–is still here. Smiling in an expression that reminded me of the pixies she used to like so much. They way she would if she heard the add egg story.

Christmas is bittersweet. When you reach a certain age, there will always be a hollow spot for the people who aren’t there any more. But with each Christmas and the things we do every year, we build the things that will carry us forward, and help our kids and the ones who come after look back on us with fondness because of the things we’ve left them every Christmas.


Yes, Justine Sacco did a bad, bad thing. Should it (and similar bad, bad things) be irreversible?

Until this weekend, no one knew who Justine Sacco was. In the time it took her to fly to South Africa, she made herself the poster child for how not to use the Internet.

Justine Sacco is a former PR executive for IAC, a company that runs websites like The Daily Beast, Match.com, and Ask.com. Before she embarked on her trip to South Africa, she tweeted the following:

If you work in PR, you can’t do this. It’s, uhhh, bad PR. Her employer had no choice but to fire her. You can’t have your PR guru causing your company PR problems. Before you even get to the racial content, you cannot do this if you work in PR for a big company. The racial content paints an ugly picture of what she may be thinking.

Beyond her job and the wrath of the collective Internet, what price should Justine Sacco pay? What price should Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper have paid for his racial slur? What price should Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson pay?

A Facebook friend was saddened over the entire thing, in part because her own Facebook friends were branded as racists for saying that some of the reaction to Sacco had gotten out of hand. According to Mashable, some of the response spilled over to pictures of Sacco’s daughter on Instagram. Many wished that she would actually die of AIDS.

(According to the LA Times, this isn’t the first time Sacco has used horrible judgement in her online persona. She has also posted about a sex fantasy with someone autism. Content like this might work if you’re Howard Stern, but not when you work in PR.)

How is this different from the response to the Dixie Chicks over Natalie Maines’ comments a little more than a decade ago? Maines’ comments were provocative–abhorrent to many. But the response to her comments, including mass burnings of Dixie Chicks’ CDs and Internet-based responses that wished harm on her and those around her, was over the line. There were calls to have her group’s work functionally banned from country music radio stations. And there were death threats. (Jesus was down with that, by the way.)

It seems that we’ve become very fragile and brittle in our response to statements that gore the oxen we hold dear. In other words, it won’t hurt your feelings if Sacco, Robertson, and Cooper never work in their professions again, but Natalie Maines shouldn’t feel any career pain over what she said. Or vice versa, depending on your viewpoint.

In fairness, maybe Justine Sacco’s incompetence should functionally ban her from similar positions.

Justine Sacco is a victim of her own stupidity and perhaps her own bigotry, but that doesn’t excuse people who threaten her life or extend their fury to her daughter. In short, when someone does something reprehensible online, it doesn’t mean you get to do the same. And it shouldn’t remove the possibility of redemption, should they seek it.

Riley Cooper, for instance, hasn’t been the lightning rod many in the media have feared (hoped?) he would be. He went through the crapstorm that his comments brought on, as he should have. But he’s adding value to his team. The jury’s still out on Robertson and Sacco. A certain amount of contrition should occur before any rehabilitation. But that amount should not be infinite.

If people should be immediately and permanently branded assholes for the worst things they’ve said, then I will always be an asshole. Odds are very good that you will be, too.