Monthly Archives: August 2019

The nature of God. Maybe.

At the men’s group I attend this morning, we read the Sunday readings for the Catholic church–the one from Hebrews about God disciplining his children because he loves them. And then the Gospel where Jesus talked about how his people will have to enter through the narrow gate because many will knock at his door, and he will tell them he never knew them, then the wailing and gnashing of teeth occur.

The question we considered was about how harsh God is, in respect to the readings.

My answer was thus:

  • I’ve been alive a lot of years and I can’t think of a single time when God disciplined me. I remember the time when I was functionally unemployed for the better part of two years. I remember the year when my health suddenly went the crapper for no reason while I worked on a project from hell and my boss died of brain cancer. I remember a lot of bad things. But bad things happen. I don’t think God was standing up in heaven thinking it was time to drop me a notch or two.
  • And with regard to knocking at the door, Jesus also told a parable about a person who needed a loaf of bread and persisted at knocking at the door, even though the master of the house said to depart from him. And eventually the master got up and gave the guy bread because he persisted in asking.

In summary, I disagree with the concept of God punishing use here or in the hereafter. I don’t think there was a guy named Job whose life got blown up because God made a bar bet with Satan. And I think while some people may wind up spending eternity in hell, that’s a choice, not a punishment.

We’re made in the image and likeness of God. And that includes our free agency. God isn’t in the business of smacking the crap out of us if we make the wrong decision. I know that runs counter to a lot of things in the Bible, but the Bible was written by people trying to make sense of big things that happen. We still do it. What’s God’s plan? Why does God allow cancer and war and this year’s players weekend jerseys in Major League Baseball if he loves us so much?

Players weekend jerseys for…uhh… umm…a bunch of baseball players on the same team.

This isn’t a satisfying answer, but he allows it because he allows our free will. His direct interceding to eliminate all the bad things would be a violation of that free will. And he’s God, not Santa Clause.

As a parent, I remember when I became really angry with my children–and those weren’t my best parenting moments. I think I spanked my daughter once–and I remember it clearly. She bit her cousin when she was old enough to know better. I picked her up, paddled her, put her on the bed and said that if her eyes moved from the wall, I’d do it again. It was wrath, baby–Khan-style. And it was one of my worst moments as a parent.

Not a model parent.

I also remember when I calmly sat down with them and said that if behavior X continued, there were natural consequences to that behavior–not punishments from me or their mom–just things that naturally happen. And it would be better if they didn’t. That was much better parenting.

And although we use the parental metaphor with God, He’s like nothing we can possibly understand. Look how wrong the Israelites got Jesus. They were expecting a incredible general to lead the Jews in some righteous ass-kicking of everyone around them. But Jesus wasn’t Patton. He was a guy who gave up Godhood to come be with us.

Not Jesus

Finally, what of justice? How can God not punish us for our sins? As a kind-of Catholic, I believe in what’s basically purgatory. In other words, I think before you can enter into the presence of God, you have to face your decisions–and that the moment, you’ll understand the gap between what you were and what you could’ve been. I’ve had times like that here. To quote the great Christopher Walken, that ain’t any kind of fun. And if your gap is huge, that full understanding will be worse than any hell God can impose. But in my mind, He’s gonna be right there while we go through that, waiting on the other side, should we choose to move forward.

Christopher Walken, head angel in charge of purgatory

If not, God’s a gentleman and will honor that choice.

If God is love, then God gives us license to hurt him. But because God is perfect love, he doesn’t lash out in his hurt, or build a wall, like we would do. Instead, he waits and lets us choose. He runs to us and takes in his arms, like the Prodigal Father. And welcomes us home. .

The guy I want to be

The other night at church, the pastor asked who were people who seemed like they had the quiet power that maybe came from God. You got all the obvious answers–Grandma, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa. My answer–and I kept it to myself–was Vin Scully.

Yeah, there’s a little mancrush there, but it’s more than that.

The way Vin Scully did his job was to say less when others would say more. His calls of the last strike in the 1986 World Series and Kirk Gibson’s home run in game one of the 1988 World Series featured minutes of silence–letting the pictures talk for themselves. It’s a trick that most people aren’t comfortable with–excelling by becoming less. Most people need to become more–to expand themselves and make themselves known, rather than completely taking themselves out of big moments so the moments, or the people making them, can speak for themselves.

Vin Scully called Dodger games from 1950 to 2016. After the 1957 season, Scully, a New York native, went west with the team to Los Angeles. It probably broke his heart to leave his home city, where his employer had a deep and special relationship with its customer base, to move across the country. In 1957, moving from New York to California was a much bigger deal than today. Now, you can text, Skype, Facebook chat, and call and it doesn’t cost anything. It wasn’t so then.

In 1981, when Scully and Pat Summerall were competing for the job as the number one NFL play-by-play announcer at CBS, Summerall won because he paired better with John Madden. Scully was miffed, but left CBS on good terms, where he began a legendary (not hyperbole) run calling baseball on NBC. He left on good enough terms that after NBC lost baseball in 1989, he went back to CBS to call the games on the radio.

Somewhere, in an alternate universe…

While he was at NBC, Scully still called games for the Dodgers. IF I remember the story correctly–and I can’t find it online–Scully was late getting in for an NBC Game of the Week broadcast in Chicago. When is cab to the ballpark broke down, he hitchhiked to get to the ballpark. Most announcers would be on the phone demanding a different ride. (Then again, it was the 80s and no one had a cell phone at the time.)

Imagine that! You leave the house on a Saturday for whatever the day holds, only to take Vin Scully to the ballpark. What a kick that must’ve been.

When he retired in 2016, the Dodgers were destined for the postseason–and maybe a trip to the World Series after an absence of almost 30 years–since the year of Gibson’s home run. He determined that his last game would be the final game of the regular season, so as not to take attention away from the team.

In a world where all gestures seem grand any more, where even Texas is no longer big, these anecdotes may seem like a pile of so-what. The aw-shucks facade might seem dated and phony. But given the send-off he had, I don’t think in this case, it was.

More important, that’s the kind of guy I want to be–except I keep getting in the way of that.

I’d like to be the guy for whom less is more. I’d like to be secure enough to have that kind of humility.

Tomorrow’s another day and I may get there then. For now, I’ll just have to accept the rough edges, do my best, and know that God won’t condemn me for that. But if I really believed all the stuff I claim, I’d be maybe a smidge closer to my goal.

I’m free…free!

I didn’t think much of it at the time. I’m trying to get back to something in the neighborhood of my 2014 weight. It’s a work in progress and will be for a long time.

So I got up this morning and hopped on my bike and zipped around the neighborhood for about an hour.

And I left my phone on the counter in the kitchen. Gasp! On purpose, even!

As I pedaled away, I thought the obligatory thing: no one needs me at this time of the morning and today will be the day when someone does.

It didn’t always used to be this way. Sure, you couldn’t check the weather radar at your son’s Little League game. You couldn’t check a recipe at the grocery store to make sure you added all the ingredients to your list. You couldn’t check Google maps or Waze to see if bailing off the Interstate is a good idea given the sudden traffic slowdown.

It used to rain before there was weather radar on my phone. Same as now.

But somehow the world went on without your being able to do those things. Generations of families went to Little League games where it rained. They managed dinner without being able to see the recipe in the store. And you got where you were going eventually.

And I managed a few loops around the lake in our subdivision without the world, or even a part of my world, coming to an end.

And it…felt…wonderful.

I’m no Luddite, but I can see myself selectively becoming one from time to time.  Disconnected, if only for an hour.

There’s nothing in my life so important that it can’t wait an hour. Even if someone dies–if they no one gets ahold of me, an hour later, they’re still going to be dead.

Even NIEDERMEYERRRR will still be dead.

With a few exceptions, we aren’t saving babies. We aren’t preventing war. The world went on without us for millions of years, and it can do so for a few hours.

Reclaim your freedom from time to time. It feels good.

Politically homeless in 2019

First things first. I’m not voting for Donald Trump next year. I didn’t care for him on The Celebrity Apprentice (the words “constipated frog” may have come out of my mouth on looking at him). Whatever remote chance he had to earn my vote evaporated when he got offended that Megyn Kelly asked him a hard question, then said he had no time for political correctness. I didn’t vote for him in 2016. I can fill the Internet with reasons why I can’t vote for him in 2020.

Great? So you’re voting for Biden or Sanders or Warren then, right?

I could vote for Biden. I can’t vote for Sanders or Warren. The policy gap is too large. I don’t believe in their vision for the country.

But you’re stealing a vote from the Democrat. A vote for anyone else is a vote for Tru–

Pull over there, Tex. This is the crux of my problem.

Outside Biden, who sits just inside my I can vote for this pinhead circle, I have no one to vote for.

Both Sanders and Warren want to throw a ton of money at college debt. Forgive it. But they say nothing about the rising cost of tuition, which is odd. The cost of tuition has increased more than CEO pay or medical care over the past couple decades. It’s odd that while the latter items on that list are cause for great consternation, but nothing is said about the first. If you pay off all the debt because there’s so much of it, if I’m a university, I’m going to raise my prices again, because I know my customers’ costs will be picked up again.

You want to earn my vote? Say something about pressuring the universities to get tuition costs in line. Maybe let them know a ceiling is coming of what gets paid for (kind of like Medicare, which Progressives like).

You could also reconsider some of the other stances you’ve taken in the race to see who’s most progressive. Not everyone who works merits $15 an hour (and if they did, $15 in Alabama is a lot different than $15 in New York). Not all non-racists think reparations are a fabulous idea. Some of us really do believe in the concepts or limited government, states rights, and fiscal conservatism–and aren’t just using those words because we can’t say the racist stuff we really want to say.

You could stop trying to disqualify your own people because they (1) used to be a District Attorney or (2) saw issues with busing students across a city just to make sure the demographics were right.

I’m a moderate conservative with libertarian tendencies. I believe we need to help people, but they share that requirement. I believe the law enforcement apparatus in this country, in general, is honest and good–and that we can’t overreact in response to valid issue. I believe that if two people want to enter into a contractual relationship with each other and happen to be the same sex, in a free country, they can do so. I believe that although abortion is not a cause for celebration, you’ll never eliminate it by making it illegal, so maybe we should try a different approach.

I believe there are a number of contributing factors to mass shootings and that any solution that assumes a single enabler is destined to fail. I believe we need to have workable immigration laws and enforce them, both for those here illegally and for those who knowingly employ them. I believe that data’s data and the earth is warming, but human activity isn’t necessarily the major contributing factor. That said, if we can affordably generate less pollution, awesome. We should do that.

I believe that Nazis are bad, but that doesn’t give you the right to wrap yourself in anti-fascism and start kicking the asses of people you disagree with. I believe that white supremacy is horsecrap and that it’s possible for people of color to be racist.

And finally, I believe the purists on both sides consider people like me morally and intellectually lacking because somehow freedom now means passing a full battery of litmus tests.

I am politically homeless.

No candidate gives a crap about my vote–and most of their followers only care in as much as they can browbeat me to spend it according to their wishes.

Honestly, I’d rather be a Jets fan.

The new lingo

I looked on tonight and saw the following headline: Sources: Sale expected to avoid Tommy John. It’s 2019, so you have no idea what people will react to these days. I thought Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale was expected to avoid Tommy John underwear. Who knows why? Maybe they have a 13-star ’76 flag on them. Maybe they’re made with beef byproducts rather than hemp. Maybe cotton offends him.

Of course, that’s not what it meant. Tommy John was a Major League pitcher. He pitched for about 73 years and played for all the teams. (He actually pitched for 17 years and played for six teams.) In 1975, he missed the entire season after he hurt his arm. His injury was normally career-ending, but a revolutionary surgical technique replaced the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm with a tendon from his forearm. He missed the end of the 1974 season and all of the 1975 season. Then he came back and won 90 games over the next five years for the Dodgers and Yankees. It was a miracle of the order of the ’69 Mets.

As remarkable as Tommy John surgery is, there’s a long recovery period before you can pitch again–at least a season. Sometimes, longer.

However, if you look at my Facebook feed recently, there are many, many ads for Tommy John underwear. The selling point is that you don’t have to adjust them when they bind. Or something.

There was also a recent study conducted by Tommy John (the underwear company) that, for some reason, asked how often people changed underwear. According to the survey, 45 percent of Americans have worn the same underwear two or more days in a row without laundering. Thirteen percent have worn the same pair of underwear for a week or more. Guys were, as you might expect, more likely to recycle than women.

Everyone’s had that periodic time when they’ve recycled a pair on a trip or because you got home too late to do the laundry. If you’re on a long camping trip, sometimes you hit the laundromat a day later than planned. But the survey seemed to be more about regular habits. And even then, a week? A frigging week? pair. Were you hoping they’d start walking around on their own and save you the trouble?

Tommy John underwear. Presumably a fresh

Either way, it’s confusing to me. I can keep straight Tommy John the pitcher from Tommy John the surgery. But when you say “Sale expected to avoid Tommy John,: my feeble mind is confused.

Which is probably why they named a company after a pitcher who now has a common surgery named after him–so morons like me would get confused and think of their product.

I can’t wait for Trump Sucks vacuum cleaners*.

Then again, in an age in which we’ve left razors behind for shaving systems, anything’s possible. —

* — Not a political statement, just the first thing that came to mind. You can send your angry emails to Peggy, the head of our customer service department will contact you as soon as possible.

Chris Hamilton;s Stuff customer service. Her name Peggy.

Of blue Chevettes, must-win playoff games, and stories that make the games more fun

The day I turned 23, the clutch on my car, a blue 1980 Chevy Chevette, died. It was a Saturday and I took the day off to drive to a college whose name I don’t remember to take the GREs so I could attend grad school. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Except for some reason, I never fell asleep the night before. I think I got a Coke for the caffeine and then left home in the dark to get there on time.

The hill you climb on the east side of the Hudson River in Troy isn’t insignificant. And then you head into the Berkshires Mountains. My car, which served me well for a few years, got out of Troy without problem, but as the trip continued, it seemed to be working harder than it needed to. It was about seven when I couldn’t coax it any further and it started going backwards on a hill. Time to pack it in. I woke someone up because there weren’t cell phones in 1986. My dad came to get me and AAA oversaw the towing of my car to a garage. If memory serves, the clutch cost about $300. In those days, just out of college, still living at home, and pulling down about $4 an hour, that was about two weeks’ wages.

My dad asked me if I wanted to still go take the test. By then I was going to be late. I was exhausted and upset and just wanted to sleep. I’d graduated five months earlier–the second in my family ever to do so. And though I’d driven all over New York and Vermont looking for a radio job in radio. Grad school was an attempt to make something–anything–happen. It was an aimless time.

The odd part is that I wouldn’t remember the exact date if it hadn’t been the day of Game 3 of the 1986 National League Championship Series. The Mets–my Mets–were in the post season for the first time since I was nine and too young to fully understand.  They buried the National League East, finishing the year with a 9-0 win over the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates. It was their 108th win of the season, twice as many as they lost.

It was well-expected they’d make short work of the Western Division champions, the Houston Astros, then bury the Red Sox or Angels afterward for the sweetest of achievements–a World Series win. But it didn’t happen that way. Game one was a 1-0 win for the Astros–a gem pitched by a former Met named Mike Scott, who may or may not have been scuffing the ball. In spite of the Mets 5-1 win in game two, the third game felt like a must-win affair. especially after the Astros took a 4-0 lead after two innings.

The Mets came back to win, 5-4, on a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth by my favorite player at the time, a scrappy outfielder named Lenny Dykstra. Dykstra, as it turns out, is a bit of an a-hole, his prison time notwithstanding.

All of this came back to me today because a sportscaster named Jack Whitaker died. Whitaker started ABC Sports’ coverage of game three that day with an essay about riding the Seven Train to Shea to see the Mets. I’ve been on the Seven Train. It’s a subway line from Manhattan that goes past LaGuardia Airport to Willets Point in Queens, where Shea Stadium once stood. The New York subway gets you where you need to go–except when it breaks down, which it doesn’t do often. It’s the 1980 Chevy Chevette of mass transit.

But to hear Jack Whitaker talk about it makes you want to jump on the train to Shea, just to see the game.

Jack Whitaker used to be a play-by-play guy for baseball and football. And then he was a studio host. But in my life, he was the guy who called horse races and added quick, elegant essays to some of the events I’d watch. He was the guy who’d make you wish you were in Minnesota in the dead of winter for that Vikings playoff game. Or on the Seven Train riding through Queens on a hot summer day to go see the Mets.

The direction of my life changed on that day in 1986–on my birthday. I never took the test, never went to grad school. But the game that afternoon–and the games a lot of other afternoons and evenings–turned days that should be bitter memories and makes the sweet. And the skills of an elegant, dapper Philadelphian, who was wounded on Normandy Beach three days after D-Day, and survived to tell stories, made the games more fun.