Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cheaters (like Ryan Braun)

Ryan Braun, MVP baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers, is only the latest pro athlete to be suspended from his sport for using banned performance enhancing substances. Braun was caught two years ago in a related case but got off on a technicality - his "urine expediter" did not get his sample to the lab in a timely manner. Braun accused him of tainting his sample. The sample was positive for steroids but it was disregarded for human error. Not Braun's error but the poor guy whose job it was to get his sample to the lab in time. His career was toast while Braun was the toast of the town. He lived the lie for two years and the fans bought it. We want to believe these guys. We want to believe Lance and Barry and now Ryan. Even when they perform at performance enhanced levels that stretch our imaginations to the brink. These athletes were already good even great. Why the need to cheat to be even better? Is it a human blind spot? Cheating is defined as gaining an unfair advantage through illegal or deceptive methods. Cheating is faking it - making it look like you are who you are not. The classic illustration in the Bible is Jacob who disguised himself to cheat his older brother out of his father's blessing. He became someone he was not to gain an advantage over his brother. Cheating deceives: the fans, the spouse, the IRS, the investor, etc. For the sake of gaining an advantage. To do what we could not do. To achieve more than we are able. Even if we are already able to do a lot. Why do smart people cheat on tests? Why do rich people cheat on their taxes? Why do married people cheat on their spouses? Why do we cheat? What is it that tempts us to look for ways to gain an advantage?The baseball pitcher uses an illegal substance to gain advantage over the hitter. The batter corks his bat (remember George Brett). The infield crew waters down the field to slow the faster team. Why do we feel this need to gain advantage? To become more than we are. It's a desire as old as Adam and Eve who cheated to become gods. David, the man who had everything, who cheated one of his generals out of his wife and his life. Cheating is like the original sin. We all struggle with it, with the desire to want more than we are or have. Since we are not satisfied, we are tempted to cheat, to gain advantage. But, we discover there really is no advantage to cheating. For a time it seems to work. We may actually feel like most valuable persons (MVP's) for a time like Ryan Braun who got the award and the huge new contract after he cheated. It seemed like it paid off. He really could  be more than he was, have more than he deserved. Not for long though, for two years in Braun's case, each case is different. Now his reputation with the fans is in the tank and even his own teammates are fed up with his lies. Braun is only the latest reminder that cheating never pays. We don't have to be who we aren't. Of course, we can't be. There is no advantage to gaining advantage. Cheating is a no win situation. It makes no sense. Sin never does.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Race matters

This past weekend we drove to Birmingham, AL because one of our sons was in the city to take a course for work. We had a great time, ate some great BBQ, and attended a minor league baseball game at the new Birmingham Barons stadium. It was a great place to watch a game. We also visited the Civil Rights Institute downtown across from 16th St Baptist Church. That is the church where a bomb went off on a Sunday morning in 1963 and four young Black girls were killed. There is a plaque outside the church memorializing their lives. It was moving to stand in the city today and think about what it was like then. Inside the Institute we relived that history as we viewed many exhibits depicting the civil rights fight or the fight to keep Blacks from gaining their civil rights. As I toured the exhibits and watched the historic footage of Rosa Parks, the bus boycott in Birmingham, the sit-ins, and children's march that was brutally put down with fire hoses and attack dogs, I was deeply moved. I was a young child in New York when these events took place and unaffected by them. Since then I had studied them and listened to the speeches of Dr. King and other civil rights leaders. But, this past weekend I was standing on the spot, the epicenter of the some of the most climactic events of the civil rights movement. It is said that when tv broadcast video of Bull Connor and his officers turning the hoses and dogs on children, the battle for civil rights was as good as over. Now the nation could see the evil of segregation. As I toured the exhibits with a mixed crowd of white people and black people I wondered what others were thinking. What would it be like as a Black person today to watch those videos, to hear the hatefilled speeches and the just plain stupid racist propaganda that was used to support segregation and to witness again the violence directed at people because of something so basic as the color of one's skin. We have come a long way as a society since the 1960's but we still have a ways to go. The Sunday morning worship hour is still the most segregated hour of the week in most places. In Birmingham this past weekend I was very aware that Race Matters.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Retirement unparadise

It rains as much in Jacksonville FL as it does in Kodiak AK. The difference is that it rains bucketfuls at a time here. Flooding roads and yards and filling creeks rapidly. There is a threat of thunderstorms most days in the summer with heavy downpours. The rain pours down without warning. The downpours are usually short but the past couple of days there has been constant rain. The rain is welcome as it means the heat drops about ten degrees - until the sun returns and it feels like you live in a steam bath. All this wet weather means frogs and there are all kinds of them here. Cute, little frogs come hopping out at night, sticking themselves to the sides of the house, and trying to jump in the house when you open a door. Then there are the big bullfrogs you hear barking in the creeks. Early every morning when I get up it's like a choral song service brought to you by the local frogs. One night when we were working on the house I thought a neighbor was blasting rap music from a boom box. When I went outside, I realized it was a concert of several frog rap groups. Not to put down rap at all; it was quite amazing and wonderful. The wet conditions bring out other marshy creatures, as well. Our neighbor, who is the local termite exterminator, set off some smoke bombs in the back yard yesterday. It was to ward off black snakes, he said. He had seen a couple when he was mowing. It won't kill them, he said, they keep the poisonous snake population under control. And he warned, watch out when you're mowing out back and keep your garage door closed because they tend to come in uninvited. I don't mind the snakes or frogs but there are other insects that bother me, like the flying cockroaches called Palmetto bugs which sounds exotic but they are still cockroaches, and they can get around fast with their wings. There are biting yellow flies and fire ants. Walmart sells shelves of an insecticide that is part of every homeowners insect fighting arsenal. You spray it regularly around the perimeter of the house, outside and inside, as an insect barrier. The ants are up to the challenge. Who ever said Florida was a retirement paradise was not familiar with Genesis 3 (spoiler alert: there is no paradise this side of heaven).