Three New Twitter Followers

You know it’s a big week when you get three new followers on Twitter. Fine, sure, I know that some people get follows in mass quantities regularly. I’m not that cool.

But this week I must have been brought to the attention of some fine folks and they managed to find me in the Twittersphere and therefore I now have my ego stroked enough to last me for a couple of weeks, I’m sure.

Why did I come to people’s attention?

Well, it may have been this recent blog post at the Church at Charlotte blog, “When Everything is Broken, Remember”:

There is something wrong with this world.

We know it, deep in our souls. When we see a 24-year-old young woman on hospice care, we know it. When we hear of refugee children drowning in the Mediterranean Sea as they try to find a safe home, we know it. When a marriage falls apart, when a child dies, when a man is beaten on the street—something inside us says, “This isn’t how it is supposed to be.”

Everything is broken.

Or it might have been this story up at Story Warren this week, “A Man Named John Smith”:

A snippet of Jamin Still’s amazing illustration for my story.

Once upon a time there was a man named John Smith. When Mr. Smith was little, he was very concerned that with such a plain name, he would be lost to history, forever forgotten in a sea of John Smiths down through the ages. If you make it to the end of this harrowing tale, you shall discover that young John’s worst fears were realized. Do not worry, though, I haven’t given the whole thing away—there’s still a surprise or two waiting for you just down the page.

When Mr. Smith was a little boy—(How little, you say? Well, littler than me. And probably littler that the eldest among you, but certainly older than the littlest ones.)—Anyway, when John was a boy, he lived on a farm—(Where was the farm? Indiana. But that really doesn’t have any bearing on this story at all. Now hold your questions to the end or we shall never get through this.)

Or maybe it was the exciting news that I get to present this year at The Rabbit Room’s Hutchmoot 2015. I’ve written about Hutchmoot before, and The Rabbit Room has certainly been formative in my life for the past few years, so I’m utterly honored and grateful to be speaking this time around. And getting to do so with Russ Ramsey on the topic of baseball? Yeah…so cool. I’ll let you know how it goes later!

(See what I did in this post? I turned a “catching up” post into a real one. Tricksy. I may just attain the level of coolness my Twitter followers expect of me someday.)

Catching Up

I have, again, been remiss in posting here, but I do have some recent posts elsewhere. Here’s a bit of a recap:

Saturday: Sabbath

Wondering what the day between the crucifixion and resurrection sounded like.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, my small town had a Chabad- Hasidic Jewish synagogue at the top end of State Street. Newtown was full of historic buildings where George Washington had slept, and most along State Street—the main street of the town—had been converted into boutique shops and restaurants. I lived at the bottom end of State Street, and on a Saturday afternoon, the street and sidewalks between my apartment and the synagogue were crowded with chatting shoppers, hands full of bags and Starbucks beverages.

Every Saturday afternoon, quiet in the midst of the bustle, families, dressed in their finest, their heads covered, their prayer shawls showing from beneath their coats, walked slowly up State Street to worship.

Community and Compulsion

A baseball game and John 14.

And here’s the thing, the risk doesn’t always pay off. Sometimes the person you were vulnerable with proves untrustworthy, sometimes entering into another person’s mess leads to getting taken advantage of.

Earlier this season, in a Detroit Tigers baseball game, Victor Martinez (a.k.a. V-Mart) scored a run from second on a single from Yoenis Cespedes. V-Mart was never the fastest runner, is now in his mid-thirties, had an off-season knee surgery, and had just tweaked the same knee a few days earlier: speed is not his thing. He only made it home because J.D. Martinez, another player on the team, got caught in a run-down between second and third and the opposing players didn’t have time to throw V-Mart out.

I’m Not the Queen

Discovering what it means to be a part of the Body.

A few weeks ago, I sat reading over breakfast at Panera. I watched a woman come in and strike up conversation with the employee behind the register, looking up at the menu to determine her breakfast choice. She paused every few sentences and sipped from the beverage already in her hand: a coffee from Starbucks.

I posted the observation on my Facebook page. I considered commenting on it, but decided to simply post it as a statement: “There’s a woman standing in line at Panera drinking from her Starbucks beverage while she orders.” I had my own opinions on the matter, but I was more intrigued to see what people would say in response.

Writing with Light

photocampLearning about photography and the Author of Light with a crew of teenagers.

On Monday, David Johnson, the Director of Silent Images, presented some initial thoughts on photography to the students. Two of the things he noted stuck with me particularly. He began by asking us to think about the meaning of the word “photography.” I’d never thought about it before, but the root words are “photo”—light and “graph”—writing. Photography is, David said, “writing with light.” One of his rules for the week was “look for the light.”

The second thing David noted which stood out to me was the idea that a photograph tends to be seen as an objective witness to events. He asked us to think about how cameras on our phones have in recent days impacted the course of history. From showing the abuses of corrupt governments to recording a sequence of events in a conflict, a camera in the hands of an individual standing on a street can have tremendous power.

Baseball

It’s Game 7 of the World Series. Though I stopped tracking the postseason baseball closely when the Tigers collapsed, I discovered in myself this evening a great urge to watch it all come together to whatever end.

BaseballBaseball’s always been around. I went to at least one game a year regularly as a child, and Dad typically made sure to catch the World Series, no matter who was playing.

But perhaps one of my favorite World Series memories was in 2004, when the Red Sox were sweeping the Cardinals. I’m as close to a neutral as you can be about both teams—unless they’re playing the Tigers, I don’t have any particular desires for them to win or lose. But the Sox making their run was a wild ride, and I think it may be time for everyone to learn the secret I know: how the Red Sox reversed the curse.

My cousin Stacy, her husband Jeremy, and their kids were visiting the US that autumn. They were missionaries in South America. Stacy grew up in Pennsylvania and Bolivia then returned to the latter as a missionary where she met Jeremy, an Englishman.

Jeremy and the kids hadn’t spent much time in the US, and they managed to arrive at a prime American cultural moment. They’d been in New England during the ALCS, and found themselves staying with Red Sox fans the night of Game 4. The Sox were down three games to the Yankees, and Jeremy watched his first baseball game.

It’s likely you know the outcome of that game. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, that postseason run is the stuff of legend. The Red Sox pulled out a win against the Yankees that night, and for three more games after that. Then they went on to sweep the Cardinals, breaking their 86-year-long World Series championship drought.

At the end of ALCS Game 4, as they celebrated that the Red Sox were still alive against the Yankees, my cousins’ friends turned to Jeremy.
“That was your first game?” they asked.
“Yes, I’ve never seen one before,” he answered.
“You have to keep watching,” they said.

So Jeremy kept watching, as much as he was able. He tuned in to portions of the final three games of the ALCS, and the Red Sox knocked the Yankees out of the running. He kept it up as they went up against the Cardinals. Evidently, though, a few of the intricacies had passed him by, as I discovered when he watched a game at my parents’ house.

We sat in my parents’ family room, my dad, Jeremy, and I half watching the game, half watching the kids play. Stacy and my mom were in the kitchen working on something. Jeremy told us of his curse-reversing power, and we talked of the series currently going. Then came my highlight of the series.

“Now,” Jeremy asked my dad, “If they win this match, how many will they continue to play?”
Before Dad could answer, from the kitchen came Stacy’s voice, correcting her British husband’s terminology. “Not a match, honey. It’s a game.”

Whoever Plays the Germans

The final whistle blew and I found myself trying to parse complex feelings.

I’ve gone on record saying I always root for whoever’s currently playing the Germans. And I hold to that—excepting of course when they’re playing Portugal, or need to beat someone in order to oust Portugal (as a “neutral,” I can be fickle). But I always enjoy watching the Germans play. They have been, and continue to be, a remarkable team.

So, though technically according to my “rules,” I was a Brazil fan yesterday, I was actually looking forward to seeing Germany win. I fully expected they would. Brazil had showed its cracks, and without two key players, I expected Germany to exploit those cracks.

But watching yesterday’s match was like watching a street beating. I wanted to look away, to cry out to the Germans to stop inflicting pain.

The final whistle blew. A mercy. It was over.  And, as they so often have, Germany had sent another team packing.

It was the right result for that match. Brazil fell apart. It was the right result based upon the play of each team during this tournament.  But it was so hard to watch. Could I say I was “glad” to see Germany win? No. Could I say Brazil “deserved” to lose? No. It was more complicated than that.

And then I watched the Brazilian players weeping. And my heart was torn for them.

But then I saw what may have been the most provocative images of this tournament so far: Joachim Löw walking up to Luis Felipe Scolari and putting a hand on his arm. Miroslav Klose moving past a group of Brazil players comforting each other as they cried, on his way to join the German players who were rightfully celebrating their win—and stopping, reaching a hand in to the group to squeeze the shoulder of a weeping man.

He wasn’t the only one.

I mentioned the behavior to my mom in a text a little while later. I said it had impressed me. She wrote back with one word: “Grace.”

Yes. Grace. The wild celebrations are fun. The winners are victorious. But when you see something like yesterday’s game, your heart is crying for a little grace. And the German players and coach offered it. And for that I commend them.

I’ve still got complicated feelings going into the final matches of this World Cup. I want to see the Netherlands finally get a trophy. I want to see Messi’s skill matched with the accolades he deserves (though I’m not certain his current team does). And when the final comes along, I’ll be cheering for whoever plays the Germans.

But I won’t forget their grace.

When The World Cup Rolls Around

I’ve heard many complaints throughout my life that Baseball’s World Series is improperly named. It’s not a battle I feel like fighting, but I’d have to agree with the complainers. Frankly, the United States and one city in southern Canada do not the “World” make.

So, perhaps the complainers are right to argue their point at every turn, but I’d rather put my energy in another direction: focusing on a real world-wide sport: football (or fùtbol, if you speak Spanish; or soccer, if you speak American).

Tomorrow starts the 2014 World Cup. I’m aching with anticipation, but not perhaps like others. Someone asked me today who I picked as a favorite to win and I realized I hadn’t even given that a thought. I responded by saying, “I really want to see some unexpected team rise to the occasion. I love the underdogs.” It’s true. I do.

I had an essay published today at The Curator that I wrote about my love of Croatia, not a favored team. I’ve mentioned my fondness for the Croatian team here before.

And then there’s England. My number 2. Failing to win a Cup since 1966. Yes, the Three Lions have a space in my heart as well.

Both as a quasi-patriotic American and as a rooter for the underdog, I should probably have more fondness for my own national team, but, I admit, they so rarely manage to get any energy going that I struggle even with that. But when they do get some energy, suddenly my national pride finds its way to the fore.

Perhaps the only front-runner I’ve given attention to in recent years is España. They swayed me to their side after my favorites fell in Euro’08 and have kept up the magic since. Or perhaps I just like saying “Iker Casillas.” Go on, say it. It’s fun. Remember, in Spanish the double-l has a “y” sound.

But when it comes down to it, part of the joy of football for me is seeing giants fall. I love to watch those greats play; I love to see the magic of Brazil’s game or the beauty of Germany’s. But, in actuality, unless they’re playing Portugal, if I’m watching those teams, I’ll probably be rooting for the other guys.

 

The Night Cary Grant Hooted

Photo courtesy of Dr. Macro’s High Quality Movie Scans

It started with Cary Grant screaming.

Well, maybe you’d call it more of a hoot. “Squeal” is too high, “scream” too sharp. It’s this startled “whoooo!” sound that’s rather difficult to describe.

It was 2006. The Olympics were in Torino and I was in Alaska. It was February, one of our warmer weeks of that month, and the sky was overcast.

Your television options were pretty limited back in 2006 in Glennallen. There was satellite or analog antenna—which basically meant satellite or nothing. My antenna picked up a fuzzy NBC that cut out regularly.  Sometimes. The rest of the time it picked up nothing. Thank goodness for VCRs, DVD players, the local library, Netflix, and the personal collections of friends. Golden resources for your entertainment needs.

I’d borrowed Bringing up Baby from the library. Videos were typically a better bet from there—the DVDs were regularly scratched. So I was watching it on video when my friend Kristie called to chat. I pressed pause. And we got talking.

Remember how on VCRs, if you put the video on pause, it would hold for about 10 or 15 minutes and then it would start playing again?

I was standing in the kitchen, back to the living room and the TV, deep in the midst of our conversation. And then Cary Grant hooted. Scared me out of my bones. I squealed.

Kristie laughed at me as I recovered myself and explained what had happened. I scrambled to find the remote, this time planning to press STOP. I tracked it down on the couch and pushed the button with the little white square.

And I had TV.

I’m pretty sure those precise words came out of my mouth, actually.

“Kristie! I have TV!”
Her response was just as excited. “You do!?”
And in the instant it took her to say that much, I’d realized what was on my screen. “It’s men’s figure skating! It’s the Olympics!”
Kristie responded with the only logical question: “Can I come over?”

She did, and we reveled in the wonder of television. (Note bene, when you don’t watch TV for a long time, commercials become interesting.) We watched as sport after sport was shown. Bob Costas expertly guided us through the evening’s events.

And then he introduced us to Snowboard Cross.

Photo from AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott

The sport was making its Olympic debut that year. I’d never seen anything like it. The ski and snowboarding events had always been my least favorite parts of the Olympics, mostly because they were races against the clock, not another competitor. If you’re going to race, I’ve always thought, you should see your competition out of the corner of your eye. But here it was: a snowboarding event with four racers at a time.

We watched until they turned off the Olympic coverage that night, and I didn’t get TV again for the rest of its run.

It was one magical night when the stars aligned (somewhere, high above the low-lying clouds*): a good friend by my side, an entertainment treat, and a new sport to look forward to watching every four years. Just think, if it hadn’t been for that night, I might not have discovered Snowboard Cross until 2010.

And I owe it all to Cary Grant’s hooting.

 

*I’m fairly certain that these low-lying clouds were the reason for our serendipitous signal that night. On clear nights, I never saw anything on TV.

New Guest Post at Story Warren

Have you been introduced to Story Warren yet? It’s a delightful place, full of wonderful people who tell wonderful tales and recommend wonderful things. Y’all should head on over and check out one of those links in the previous sentence. Or all of them.

S.D. Smith, who runs the place with his many allies, is a highly enjoyable human being (saving his fault of hating peas). Sam was once described by my friend Laura as “the sort of person who…[will] grow up and be like Dumbledore or Obi Wan or Gandalf – speaking the words that alert you to the power/magic/force that perhaps you were too afraid to hope was real.” I can’t think of a better description. So when Sam wrote me a note and asked if I’d be interested in guest posting for Story Warren, I was grateful for the opportunity and told him I’d ponder what was in my head and see if anything came to the fore. He responded with “Ponder your brain contents.”

So I did. And then something came to me, and I wrote it down, and I sent it along, and Sam liked it, and today it posted over at Story Warren. Go ahead on over and check it out. Then poke around and read things like this, and this, and this. And then like them on Facebook and keep up with them. ‘Cause this is something and you want to be a part of it.

Bent Branches, Straight Baselines

It’s been just over a month now since spring began – slowly this year in Philly – coming at us in fits and starts. I think it has actually arrived now, though there are still one or two trees that are only just leafing out. But the azaleas and the dogwoods have bloomed, so I think it’s really spring.
This slow spring has drawn my attention more than once – trees that often bear the bright of yellow-green in March still showed their naked limbs well into April. It was as if they wanted to say, “See, here’s my structure. These are my bones. You may not have noticed them this winter when your eyes were cast to the ground watching for ice patches. Look up now; see my angled boughs.”
At the beginning of April, my friend David posted a short piece on his blog titled simply, “On Baseball.” In it he quickly and poetically examined the architecture of a golf and baseball, finishing with these words:
Baseball unites heaven and earth: it inscribes a pattern of clean lines, orbs, and diamonds upon the dust from which we were formed and in which we toil, and the lush green in which we find rest. Upon that heaven-and-earth field, prodigal sons set out on barren base paths; and we watch and wait to see if they will make it back home.
The words arrested me. I love clean lines. I love the straight, the symmetrical. There is beauty in a ballpark. But as the trees bared themselves, I had the realization that straight lines are a rare thing in nature. The Creator’s beauty meanders more than man’s.
And when we humans create without the assistance of our man-made tools, our creations are meandering things too, the image of God creating in the pattern of God. As I began to think it through, I realized that the straight lines and measured curves of architecture echo the straight lines and measured curves of the heavenly throne room – and our ideals of beauty find their fulfillment in the descriptions of that place.
Somehow, we find ourselves caught in the middle, loving both the bent branches and the straight baselines. Caught between heaven and earth. Redeemed yet human. Prodigal sons looking for home.
My first inspirations on this topic formed themselves into an essay for The Curator, the web publication of the International ArtsMovement for which I am now serving as an Assistant Editor. 

David’s continued thoughts on the topic have been manifested in a second blog post where he says kind things about my Curator essay and much better things of his own. 

Staking My Claim

Croatian Flag and Football
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Euro Cup begins in two days. In less than a month, the hopes and dreams of fifteen nations will be dashed, and one will be celebrating.

I read an article today that pointed out that in 2010, Americans got on board with the World Cup with the exciting run of the the USA (including Landon Donovan’s fantastic extra-time goal, the furor over which crashed Twitter, Yahoo Sports, and I’m sure quite a few businesses’ servers) and that by the time they got knocked out by Ghana in the Round of 16, we were, as a nation, lost to the enthrall of the beautiful game, and continued watching.

However, the article went on to say, this time around, there is no US team to root for. Even for those who are a little more internationally aware, we’re missing some of the greats, like Lionel Messi and the Argentinian squad. No, Euro Cup is just for Europe – and if we are to watch with any vested interest, we are forced to choose a team from those whom we may have little or no connection with.

I have no such dilemma, however. I love European football. In fact, I fell in love with the sport in Europe, and all my African-MK brother-in-law’s cajoling could not sway me from the continent. I remember watching matches from Euro’96 in bistros, police stations, and corner stores across Central Europe as we traveled through eleven countries in three weeks that June. I will never forget the silence of the streets of Prague the night that Germany beat Czech on penalties in the final. It was a powerful enough moment to root in me a hatred for the German powerhouse that has me rooting for whichever team is currently up against them. I love watching Germany play. I love it even more when they lose.

Four years ago, once my favorites were out of the tournament, I found myself swayed by the magic that was Spain in Euro’08. El Niño swept me along, Iker Casillas made a believer out of me, and La Roja had my full approval when they hoisted the trophy. I joined in their glory again two years later at the World Cup…but that was after England had fallen by the wayside.

For you see, England is my number two. Years of being asked if I was a British exchange student following my year in Hong Kong must have settled into my psyche somehow, for I have a love for the Three Lions. In recent years, I’ve held them as my “favorite” until they left the tournament.

But for the first time in four years, I get to watch my true favorite play once again. You see, I love Croatia, a little team I fell for fourteen years ago in a bistrot in Normandy, France, surrounded by drunk Dutchmen garbed in orange, and I’ve never quite gotten over it. I shall look for the red and white checkered uniforms to take the field on Sunday with rising anticipation that maybe, just maybe, this time they have a chance to repeat their run toward the title from the World Cup ’98.

I have the benefit, as an American, of not expecting much from my own country’s football team. I have the freedom to have three favorites in Europe alone. I have the right to hop from one allegiance to another when a team leaves the tournament, and if it goes poorly for all my teams, I will likely still have the pleasure of rooting for whoever plays Germany.

But I do love Croatia. And I’m glad to see them playing once again.

School Spirit

Late in the fall of my senior year of high school, my friends discovered that I’d never been to a football game. They informed me that this situation had to be rectified before I graduated.

I resisted them. I’d made it through nearly four seasons without attending a football game and had not yet felt the lack. Generally, I am not a football fan – and I knew even less of the game in high school than I do today.
But my friends insisted. It was a high school experience I should have.
I still disputed them. My high school experience was not particularly normal in any sense. I felt no need to pretend it was.
They informed me that there was only one game left in the season, and I needed to support my school.
I said I had no school spirit. My school was actually two schools sharing a campus; we had classes in both with people from both and were only separate for administrative things and sports teams. So my attachment to Canton, my own school, was not particularly strong. Salem had better pep rallies (which I attended because I got out of class), and better sports teams overall (but I’d never seen them play). The final game of each football season was the Canton v. Salem game, and Salem had won for 17 consecutive years.

My friends ignored my protests. They informed me that I was going to attend the final game of the season. They informed me I was going to support Canton.

I tried to plead that one of my good buddies since Kindergarten played for Salem, but my friends would not allow me to root for the “other” team. They dragged me to the game, and I determined I would be neutral.
I really can’t remember much of the actual game. I remember the cold. I remember walking up into the stands. I remember looking down at the field from above and seeing the teams stretched out in formation below me. However, understanding none of the rules of the sport at that point in my life, all I saw was a line of blue and a line of red running into each other at regular intervals. But slowly, as the temperature dropped, the numbers on the Canton side of the scoreboard rose.
And, as the moments of the game ticked away, I found myself growing agitated, interested, and even, dare I say it, excited that Canton was winning. I looked down at the blue Salem bench and spotted my friend’s number on a jersey. I had a moment of divided loyalties, but as the crowd grew noisier, I discovered something: I had school spirit.
When the final whistle blew, I cheered and yelled and smiled and laughed with the Canton fans as I watched my friend fall to his knees as his team lost the game for the first time in 18 years.
Yesterday, I didn’t get to watch the whole US game. I had to go to lunch with friends who are coming as students next year. As I stood in line for the cafeteria, one of PBU’s soccer players was checking people in. A small crowd had formed around her – some with responsibilities, others just hanging. I came up to the table to scan my card, and one of the crowd was giving commentary: “They’re still down 2-1.” She glanced at her phone. “No! Wait! They tied!”
The soccer player cheered, and nearly lost count of the people in line. And I, scanning my card and turning in, felt that strange stirring within my heart once again. I missed the controversial recall of the 3rd US goal, but when I looked it up later I felt a little outrage deep inside.
These feelings make little sense to my brain. After all, I’m rooting for England, right? But, if the US continues to do well, I might just discover that deeply hidden “school” spirit once again.