Hey Joe, what ya gonna do with that gun in your hand?

Just replace OCC in Oregon for Sandy Hook in Connecticut. Rinse. Repeat. 

On a Friday less than two weeks before Christmas an American tragedy occurred in Connecticut. Adam Lanza shot and killed twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Then Adam fled the scene to his home where he killed his mother and himself. These cold facts in no way capture the tragedy. The children were six and seven year old first graders who went to school that morning like it was any other Friday. Lanza was just a boy himself, twenty-two years old, intelligent but mentally challenged with a form of autism characterized by difficulties in social interaction called Asperger syndrome. He still lived at home with his mother and often slept in her bed. Obviously something not quite right about that, but also nothing to shine a light on the violence he harbored in his heart.

And then, before that town in Connecticut had even grasped what happened or the parents’ shock had turned to grief, before twenty tiny coffins found solace in cemeteries across the county, there began a political drumbeat that sounded into every corner of America. Gun control. Gun control. Every act of gun violence not involving known criminals moved from the city page to the front page, the lead story, the drumbeat. Gun control. Gun control. From Montana to the nation’s capital children were kicked out of school for pointing their fingers like a pistol at each other, playing cops and robbers at recess like they have since Smith met Wesson. Gun control. Gun control. Presidential inquiries are made of the National Rifle Association about the need for certain types of weapons, but there are no inquiries about an entertainment industry that makes more and more violent movies and games that imitate the very thing Adam Lanza executed. And the President of the United States executes 23 executive orders pertaining to gun laws in a single day because Congress would not heed the siren song. Gun control. Gun control.

So, is gun control the solution to Sandy Hook? No, it is an obfuscation of a social and political failure. It is the new American way. If we despair of winning the fight, we search of something else to focus on, something related to the real fight so it may appear that we are winning.

When we despair of war, hollywood celebrates our heroes in uniform. They are honored at every sporting event. Celebrities put on their patriot hats and make public service announcements about them. These are the same folks who said, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the War on Terror, the only reason young people join the military is because they don’t have an education and haven’t anywhere else to go. This causes some consternation among the preponderance of military officers with a college degree, many with advanced degrees. Yet now the airwaves clamor that these uneducated, desperate military men and women are heroes, and it takes the focus off the missions we are running from or the wars we are flat out losing. Wars and missions, by the way, the soldiers desperately want to complete.

Now we despair of the violence in our society, and gun control is the canard of choice. It misses the point, but someone up there in Washington or over in L.A. can feel good about “doing something.” The tragedy at Sandy Hook is a symptom of our sickness. The disease is the unchecked criminal violence in our country, glorified in our entertainment and media. And the Godfather is good cinema, I agree. It is one of the best films ever made. Only, mafia bosses and drug lords and terrorists are not heroes, even if they play one on TV. The fact remains that we have not been able to check the criminal violence in our cities, and gangs continue to kill each other and their innocent victims no matter how hard we try to make it to own a gun. In Chicago, our President’s home town (or is that somewhere in Malaysia), they have the strictest gun laws in the country and the criminal murders there have never been worse.

But, gun control gun control the drumbeat repeats. If we don’t let people have guns there will never be another tragedy like Sandy Hook. If we disregard our duty to defend ourselves and our families and our neighborhoods and “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” we will live in a gun free paradise where everyone is safe. Just guessing here, but I still think criminals will get the guns they need to perpetrate their nefarious deeds whether it’s against the law or not. They are criminals after all, and that implies a disregard of the law. And innocent people will still be killed by guns, and not just by criminals but by people like Adam Lanza, too. It is no coincidence that most mass shootings, like the ones in Sandy Hook and Columbine, are carried out in “gun free” zones. That phrase, gun free zones, sounds kind of like an invitation to anyone like Lanza.

Now, I do own a gun. It’s a double barreled 20-gauge shotgun that was my grandfathers. I haven’t shot it for twenty years. I don’t even know if it works, and I don’t have any shells for it anyway. I’m not a gun guy. I don’t go hunting. I don’t want a handgun in the house, although the gun control drumbeat of the past weeks has made me consider going to get one and shells for the 20-gauge, too, before it’s too late. It just seems that America has lost it’s knack for fixing the problem. Instead, when we fail, we find someone or something else to blame. Blaming guns won’t help. Franklin Graham says, “it’s not what is in our hands, but what’s in our hearts” that needs to change. And when a six year old boy points his finger at his friend and says, “Stick ’em up,” Sandy Hook is not in his heart.

Before we make laws to control guns, we should remember what we are fighting. I was walking my dogs the other day and Coulton, one of my son’s friends in the neighborhood, was outside and saw me walking by.

“Can Troy play?” he asked me.

“Sure, you should go over there and see,” I answered, trying to maintain my control of the dogs.

He held up the toy Davie Crocket, Kentucky flintlock rifle he had in his hands. “I want to show him the new gun my daddy got me,” he said.

Coulton is not the enemy, neither is his father, and taking the toy gun out of his hand will not solve Sandy Hook.

The Things I Have Not Done

“…the shadows of deeds that were never done…” Theodore Roosevelt, 1916

When the world spins down to its end – a possibility that seems more likely with every day this version of humanity careens along its broken path – each of us, from Adam and Eve to everyone living in that final day, will face judgement. That seems a scary prospect. I certainly don’t want to stand before the throne of our Creator and have Him unfold to the entirety of humankind all I have done wrong. I mean, how many of the Top Ten (that’s the Ten Commandments – you know, Moses, stone tablets, the Book of Exodus – for the uninitiated) have you broken? Murder? Maybe not, but abortion is murder and how many accomplices to that are there in the world today? But what about honoring your father and mother? or lying? or stealing? or choosing a way other than God’s way? You know what your list includes – all the things you tried to keep secret because you know they were wrong. And that means this judgement thing is going to take forever, not that that is a real concern of God’s. I’m not a really bad guy or anything, but even my list would take a good, long time. Imagine the list for the Hitler’s of the world. Any way you look at it, it’s not a pretty picture for any of us.

But, it turns out it’s even worse than we thought. It seems God is not interested in what we did wrong. He knows we’re all screw-ups and that’s what forgiveness is for anyway. No, God is more interested in what we didn’t do right. If we had chosen what God wanted us to do instead of what we wanted to do, what would our lives look like? Would we still have broken our share of the Top Ten? Probably, but what about the lives we would have touched, the hearts we would have changed, the people we would have become? Perhaps he’ll show us what the lives of all those babies we aborted would have been. The Einsteins, the Mozarts, the mothers and fathers.

It makes me weep to wonder upon what I have not done. For fifteen years during the most productive time of my youth I turned from what God wanted. Even now, as I struggle and still fail to follow His path for me, the immense possibilities of those years can not be recovered. That loss is what our judgment will reveal to us. It recalls to mind the quote from Theodore Roosevelt that opens this commentary. Our judgment is not a list of the things we did wrong, it is “the shadows of deeds that were never done.”


Every year I get older. That’s not true, really, not anymore. Now I  see something on the satellite or on the web that makes me feel older every day. There have been a couple of documentaries recently that made my tooth longer. Both are about dead musicians, but not the usual famous, indulgent, overdose tales of woe. Sad none the less, and not simply because I recalled their epochs as much more recent to my memory then they actually were.

The first was A Skin Too Few, chronicling the brief career and death of Nick Drake, a British singer/songwriter of the early 1970s. He only record three albums. None of them were successful. His music did not fit into the acoustic folk tradition of that time, and his lack of audience exacerbated his history of depression. In November of 1974 he died of an overdose of antidepressants. It was ruled a suicide. He was 26 years old. A familiar story in many respects, but the music in the documentary made me pay attention.

I purchased all three of his records – Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970) and Pink Moon (1972). There is a depth to the words and music of these recordings, and a powerful virtuosity to the acoustic guitar.  It is easy to see why Drake was difficult to categorize and promote in the early ’70s. It is hard to categorize him today, a Cat Stevens with a much more complex imagery, perhaps. I was certainly never aware of him during his lifetime. In 2000, a renewed interest in his music was sparked with the use of Pink Moon in a Volkswagen commercial. That song is often the first sited when mentioning Drake’s music, and it is a beautifully melodic bit of song, but it was his second album, Bryter Layter, that hooked me. I had heard the song Fly from this record before, from the the soundtrack of The Royal Tenenbaums. And like that song, this album features a much fuller instrumentation with Drake’s voice floating high above and his intricate guitar anchoring every song.

I have since acquired posthumous releases like Made to Love Magic and Family Tree. They are uneven, but still contain glimpses of brilliance. The somber home recordings found on Family Tree are particularly haunting in their often desperate lyrics, considering the nature of Drake’s death.

The Drake documentary attuned me to other such fare, and it was not long after that I saw The Future is Unwritten. It is the story of Joe Strummer, founder of The Clash. I was not drawn to this because of Strummer’s association with The Clash. I was never drawn to the punk bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The music seemed too one dimensional, almost without subtlety and always angry. Many of my peers raved about London Calling, but my interest in The Clash ended with Should I Stay or Should I Go and Train in Vain.

No, what drew me in was the music Strummer made after The Clash, particularly with The Mescaleros. This oeuvre includes only four albums, the last released posthumously, following his death from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect in December of 2002 at the age of 50. I was also very interested by the songs Strummer identified as influences in the documentary. Songs like Crawfish by Elvis Presley and Corrina, Corrina by Bob Dylan.

Following the demise of The Clash, Strummer recorded Earthquake Weather in 1989. It was a precursor of his later solo work, but it was not what the public or critics expected and led to his release from Sony Records. Strummer didn’t record again for a decade until the release of his first record with The Mescaleros in 1999. Strummer and The Mescaleros recorded three albums from 1999 to 2002.  The jewel of these recordings is Streetcore, a stylized rock album in the tradition of David Bowie or Peter Gabriel. The sampling and world music instrumentation and subtle, sharp guitars are mesmerizing. It not only induced me to investigate all of Strummer’s solos efforts, but to take another look at his work with The Clash. What I found was the seeds of his solo work and a reggae aesthetic apparent, most notably, on Sandanista!.

And, ultimately, this brought to mind the dichotomy in many of my favorite bands. Are you a Lennon person or a McCartney person? Is it Page or Plant? Roger Waters or David Gilmour? The Clash offers this choice as well – two strong musical presences forming the core of a seminal band. When these presences are separated, one of the artists will tend to embody in their subsequent work what you liked most about the original band. Mick Jones was Strummer’s counterpart in The Clash. Jones had great success immediately following the break-up of The Clash with his band Big Audio Dynamite. But I found the music of Big Audio Dynamite encompassed all the things i didn’t like about The Clash. I didn’t realize until I saw The Future is Unwritten that Strummer’s influence was a part of The Clash that appealed to me forcibly.

To demonstrate the legacy of both these artists, Nick Drake and Joe Strummer, and to highlight what I like about them both, I have also posted playlists under the My Playlists tab on this site. I hope they don’t make you feel older, as they did me, but rejuvenated by the music.

Swing His Swing

VOICEOVER: (Narrated by Arnold Palmer)
Swing your swing. Not some idea of a swing. Not a swing you saw on TV. Not that swing you wish you had. No. Swing your swing. Capable of greatness. Prized only by you. Perfect in its imperfection. Swing your swing. I know, I did.

As a golfer, that is the best advice I’ve ever been given. Every time I take a lesson or read a golf magazine or try to swing like I’m supposed to, what I’m left with is so bad even I’m embarrassed to play with me. I’m thinking about the angle I take away the club, rotating my shoulders, swinging inside out, keeping my elbow in, clearing my hips and on and on. It’s mind boggling. And every time I go through that exercise (Because, after all, shouldn’t I be able to crush the ball with ease like the professionals do I watch on TV. That’s like saying I should be able to dunk like Dr. J.), I always end back with my old swing. It’s the only way I can get the club face on the back of ball most of the time. It’s ugly and it’s different depending on what club I’m swinging, but when it comes to golf it is just the way my mind works.

What makes the “Swing Your Swing” advice so good is that it’s not just about golf. This is advice to be heeded about things I’m actually good at doing.

It’s good advice about the way I write. Using sentences that aren’t sentences. And starting sentences with and. And writing down the way I hear words in my head. There is a combination of being an English major and knowing the rules and the experience of writing for advertising and ignoring them in the way I write. There are also all the books I read stuffed somewhere in my head, waiting to sneak out onto the page. But mostly I just swing my swing, or write like I write.

It’s good for the way I design ads and postcards and signs and brochures. I was never taught how to do this stuff. My future wife and a friend of ours started an ad agency. My friend was the graphic artist. I was just a suit. Trouble is, right after we landed our first big client he got in a car wreck, almost tore his right arm out of the socket and he is right handed. He couldn’t work on the computer for three months. So, every day I would sit in his chair in front of his computer and he would tell me what to do. That didn’t make me a graphic artist, but it gave me a swing.

It’s good for the photographs I take. I don’t have a big bag full of cameras and different lenses I wouldn’t know what to do with anyway. I have a digital SLR and one zoom lens that lets me see up close and up to several hundred feet away. So, I take a thousand pictures and find the few that are photographs. Now if I could just focus.

There is a problem with all this, however. When I swing my swing on the golf course, I shoot 90. That’s not going to make me any money on the PGA Tour. My swing has made me a living with writing and designing, though, but I want more. I want to be the guy talking about his new book on Oprah (well, maybe not Oprah). Okay, on Ellen (not really Ellen, either). But that’s the idea. I want everybody to know what I’m doing, like every golfer knows the guys playing golf on TV. And the harder I try to make that happen, the more frustrating it gets. It’s like taking a lesson or trying a tip from a golf magazine. It is supposed to help and maybe it does for a few fleeting rounds, but in the end it’s right back to my swing and obsessing over why I can’t shoot under par like Arnold Palmer.

And then I relax and start swinging my swing again. Because it’s okay to want more. It’s just that the “more” I want may not be the “more” I get. Because MY plan just isn’t THE plan. Most folks have heard Philippians 4:13. It says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” But I have a ball marker that’s engraved PHIL. 4:12. That’s the verse with the right swing thought. It says, “in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Because God isn’t interested in our swing at all. He wants us to swing HIS swing.

The Football Team

September 13, 2014 – All sanctions on Penn State football have been lifted by the NCAA. The crew on ESPN College Gameday hailed that decision as the right thing to do. On the same show, the same crew declared, rightfully, that every university should have a zero tolerance, no due process, stated policy for athletes who abuse women. Such hypocrisy is baffling. Apparently, abuse of women makes you ineligible for college athletics. It should. However, the systematic sexual abuse of young boys by a coach, with the knowledge of the coaching staff and the school’s administration warrants some sanctions for a couple of years. I wrote the commentary below shortly after the sexual abuse of young boys at Penn State became public. My position then is the same as it is now. Penn State should no longer be playing football. That they are is a weekly reminder to every young man who was sexually assaulted by a Penn State coach that football is more important than the abuse they each suffered. It is an indictment of the shifting moral ground of a society that knows better, or at least should.

November 30, 2012 – I like Rick Reilly. He’s a sportswriter, if you were wondering. He can make me laugh, and he even turns a phrase, sometimes, that sticks with me. (I can’t think of any of them now, but I did remember. For a little while, anyway. Promise.) I don’t always read his stuff, but I did today. My wife told me about it. She knew it would make me mad.

Reilly expressed a seemingly prevalent point of view, at least in the sportswriting community. At least in the northeast. Apparently this group thinks Penn State should be honored because they are playing football. The team is a monument to the power of football beyond the field, or some other grandiose nonsense. He even waxes quite eloquently about it to make his case for Bill O’Brien, the Penn State football coach, as the National College Coach of the Year.

“Into the teeth of the worst college football scandal in American history, into a sex-scandal mess the National Guard couldn’t have cleaned up, Bill O’Brien pulled off a football miracle: He made you forget Penn State was radioactive.

O’Brien went 8-4 in the middle of nuclear winter. He kept popping open umbrellas while it rained bowling balls. He made a numb town feel again. That’s why he’s either the coach of the year in college football this season or you melt down the trophy.”

As if any of that matters. But if you live in Reilly’s world it does. Every Penn State football game this season has been on national TV (ABC/ESPN). The only other team that can boast that is Notre Dame, and that’s because they have their own network (NBC). Every week there is some feel good story about a Penn State student or athlete on one of the sports shows. But I don’t know if Penn State wins or loses, or what the stories are about. Because in this house Penn State football games are never on the TV. Because when there are highlights or stories about Penn State football we change the channel. Because Penn State shouldn’t have any football players. Because Penn State shouldn’t have a football coach.


And I’ll tell you why. Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s defensive coordinator and heir apparent to Joe Paterno, was suspected of sexually abusing children through his The Second Mile football camps over 20 years ago. Everybody in the administration at Penn State knew about it. He lost his status as heir apparent, but he stayed at the school. Twenty years later, when another coach saw Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in the Penn State athletic facilities shower, everybody knew about that, too. The head football coach knew. The athletic director knew. The head of the university knew.

And they covered it up, again. Because of the football team. What a member of the Penn State fraternity was doing to young boys, and had been doing for over 20 years, was deemed less important than the football team.

So, how do we punish such a school when all of this becomes public? Take away what was most precious to them. The football team.

No, not the football team. What about the kids, the football players? These are the same kids that were living under a regime that condoned the sexual abuse of children, right? The same kids whose parents found out about what was happening and still let them stay in that environment. The same kids who would have been welcomed to any other university in the country if Penn State no longer had a football team.

No. Instead, according to Reilly, we honor them.

“Last week, just before that final game versus Wisconsin, Penn State did something chilling and emotional and real. It put the 2012 Nittany Lions on the ring at Beaver Stadium that honors Penn State’s greatest teams.”

I guess in this strange, sad, sick world, what was most precious to Penn State is more important after all. The football team.

Walking in Wakisi

[ Uganda, Africa Mission Journal – Entry 9 ]

JINJA, UGANDA – MARCH 17, 2012 – It is our last day in Uganda. We are going to the Mashah Village one more time and this time, taking a walk through Wakisi. Jill and I want to meet more of the people that live outside the protection of the Elevare umbrella. We want to see where they live and how they live. Everyone in Wakisi has benefitted from the presence of Elevare – the well, the road, the investment in money and time and love – but most of the people in Wakisi still live the hard village life.

Before we leave from Surgio’s for the village, some in our group suggest we solicit Christopher, the village headman, to walk with us. He can protect us. When we get to Mashah, Pastor Joseph takes three others from our group into Wakisi and says for anyone who wants to come to follow along. Jill and I linger a few minutes with the children and then follow through the gate. The others are already out of sight so we start off down the road alone. We don’t hurry to catch up. There is nothing threatening about this place. Neither of us has ever felt unsafe, no matter where we’ve been this week. Not walking home alone from shopping in Jinja or among the stalls at the market. Maybe in the crush of traffic in Kampala, but that was cars, not people. And certainly not walking in Wakisi.

Safe, however, would probably not be the feeling if we were walking alone in the streets of the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit or Chicago or even Houston. There’s a reason for that. In Wakisi they are poor, but they are content. They don’t want to be poor. They strive to make their village a better place. They do whatever they can to make their lives better. But they are happy in their struggle, and they appreciate help when it is given. That is not the way it is in our cities. We have substituted entitlement for appreciation. And when anyone feels entitled to what someone else has, they will never be content until they have it, and “it” is not an attainable thing.

Am I thinking about all that when we are walking through Wakisi on our last day there? Probably not. I am thinking about the children who come rushing out from their home shouting, “Sweetie! Sweetie!” as we come to the first bend in the road. No we don’t have any sweeties we tell them and that’s okay. They still swarm around us, eight or ten of them from two to twelve years old. They want hugs and kisses and love. They want me to take their picture with my camera and show them what they look like. I don’t know if they’ve ever seen what they look like before. Perhaps as a reflection in the river. As we are playing with them their mother comes to us and touches my arm.

“My husband is sick,” she says. “You pray, please.”

She invites us into her home, through the front door made with sticks and tied together with rough twine, into their living room that is smaller than the closet where we keep our coats at home. Her children follow us in, all eight of them. The last two have to stand outside in the doorway because there is no more room.

Father pulls back a torn sheet that separates the living room from their bedroom and joins us. He is a tall man. I put my hand on his shoulder and ask, “Are you sick?”

“Yes,” he says. “My chest. Can’t breath.”

I ask him what his name is, and “Gusulwani” is what it sounds like he says. I repeat the name back to him and he nods, and that’s the name I use when I pray for him. It is a short prayer that calls for God’s Spirit to wrap its arms around him and his family and protect them. But it is not the prayer that matters, it is the moment. It is the spirit that rushes in through the door with the breeze, the smiles and the thank yous from Gusulwani and his wife, and the faces of the children staring up at me in wonder as we leave the house. It is the invitation to “Come back. Come to our home, please,” as we wave to them and continue our walk into Wakisi.

We see many families and their mud or clay brick homes as we walk down the red dirt road. We see mothers and their daughters carrying water up from the river. We see babies sitting by the fire playing in the dirt as their mother cooks. As we get down to the river we see young men spreading the silver fish from their nets on the ground with a hand made sweeper. And all along the way the children rush out to meet us and want us to take their picture. Some even follow along with us after we’ve passed their homes.

It is a great way to end our trip here, and we continue to wave and talk to the children we saw on the way as we return to Mashah. When we get to the last bend in the road, Gusulwani’s eight children come rushing up to Jill. They don’t ask for sweeties this time. They know we don’t have them. This time they just want the hugs and love.

Back in Time

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
                – from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Last night I watched Skyfall again, on the new EPIX movie network. As I was watching, I could still hear the whispers of things I believe are true. That makes this review something more about how time manipulates us than the movie, about how technology fights a battle with experience that only one can win.

This Bond, Daniel Craig in his third film in the 50 year old series, is older and he sometimes fails. That sounds familiar to all of us who began watching Bond decades ago. We are older and we have sometimes failed. We have been rushed along the rapids of the internet and the laptop and over the waterfall of the smart phone and Facebook and we are still here. To most of us, to me at least, new technologies are challenges to be overcome, mastered. I’m not sure anyone born in the last thirty years sees technology that way.

“I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field,” the new Q, played by a very young looking Ben Whishaw, tells Bond at their first meeting.

All these new toys are part of this generation’s every day life. I was born, however, on the cusp of all this. Too young to be caught up in the tidal wave of cultural change that washed the first Bond away in the late 1960’s, and too old to believe that any technology fundamentally changed me, or the world. My grandmother went to town in a horse-drawn cart when she was a girl. Before she died, men talked to her through a piece of furniture with a picture tube from the moon. But those technologies weren’t there during the depression when her husband died and she had to raise four children by herself, and that experience molded her more than a man on the moon.

I’m not saying that technology isn’t good or we don’t need it. We couldn’t live our lives today without it. We reject it at our own peril. And the Bond of Skyfall, the old dog, knows his job better because of his experiences, but he may not be as good at it because the technology he needs to do it now is not part of who he is, like it is part of the new Q.

These were the whispers I heard while I watched the movie. They were drowned out, occasionally, by other voices, voices that asked why so many recent spy thrillers have a list of deep cover agents that’s been stolen. It’s a fall back of the story telling somehow, like the machines taking over in so many science fiction movies. Actually, it’s the rise of the machine in Skyfall, too. But they haven’t taken over just yet.

No, Skyfall is a harbinger of the old, when men were men and women were Bond girls. Much of that feeling is due to Daniel Craig. I thought Clive Owen would have been a better choice when they selected a new Bond three movies ago, but Craig has been a revelation. I had been caught up in the savoir-faire shell Bond had become, mostly a caricature of Sean Connery’s James Bond. But I am glad to see, finally, a Bond to match the original. Someone a little uneasy in the halls of power, almost a gentleman, but grittier. And the three Daniel Craig Bond films, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, are the best three consecutive Bond films since the first three, Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger.

Judi Dench as M tells us why this new Bond is better when she quotes the Tennyson lines above. After she speaks these lines, the Bond we always knew was there reveals himself anew. This Bond will not yield, his experience will not let him. So, when M asks him, “Where are we going?”

Bond answers, “Back in time.”

On the Nose

When I see an old black and white photograph of Roberto Clemente at the plate in Three Rivers Stadium, I want to read what it’s about. I saw him play at the Astrodome when I was a kid. For 50¢ a ticket my dad would take me and my brother to sit in the bleachers on Sunday afternoons to watch the games. Clemente was one of my childhood sports heroes, along with Johnny Bench and my favorite Astro, Cesar Cedeno. Everything Clemente did just seemed so perfect, so cool. It was how he moved, how he did things. And when he was at the plate, I could see the sharp, angular lines of his face all the way from center field.

So, when I saw that photo on ESPN.com the other day, I clicked through to the story. It was an excerpt from a memoir Kevin Guilfoile has written about his dad. Bill Guilfoile was the public relations director for the Pittsburgh Pirates when Clemente got his 3000th hit in 1972. I’ve always thought there was some sort of cosmic justice in him getting that hit, late in the season. And whether there was anything cosmic in it or not, it’s always been linked in my memory with the story of the plane crash that killed Clemente on New Year’s Eve of that same year. I can always see the pictures of the burning wreckage of the plane (or maybe that was burning rubble in Managua where Clemente was headed) in my mind and hear the voice of Dave Ward, one of Houston’s local news anchors at the time, reporting that the plane had been full of supplies for the earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

The story Guilfoile is writing is not about how Clemente died. This is about the other part of Clemente’s story, the 3000th hit part and the bat he used to get it. But I read something early on in the piece that was the heart of the story for me. It’s just a couple of paragraphs about Bill Guilfoile and Roberto Clemente and about Kevin Guilfoile and another famous Pirate, Barry Bonds. I think it explains what it means to be in the Hall of Fame.

This first story showed me what it meant to be Roberto Clemente:

As my father arrived for his first day on the job with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he had been intercepted by Dick Stockton in the parking lot of McKechnie Field, the Bucs’ spring training home in Bradenton, Fla. Stockton is a first-tier play-by-play announcer now, but in 1970 he was a Pittsburgh television sports anchor, and he asked whether Dad was the team’s new public relations director. When my father said he was, Stockton said he would like an interview with Roberto Clemente. My father explained that he’d been on the job only a few minutes and that he hadn’t even met Clemente yet. Nevertheless, he would see what he could do.

My dad has Alzheimer’s, so I can’t ask him what happened next, but when his memories were still present, he took out a yellow legal pad and wrote down many of his baseball stories. In these pages, he describes his first encounter with Roberto. Dad introduced himself as the new PR guy, and in the next breath asked whether Clemente would do an interview with the sports director from KDKA-TV.

Roberto reacted with a three or four minute outburst, combining English and Spanish, to let me know exactly how he felt about Stockton. Apparently he and Dick had had a falling-out some time ago over something Stockton had said on the air.

Then Roberto paused, regained his composure, and looked at me with a little smile. “Would it help you if I did the interview?” he asked.

“Well, it’s my first day on the job and I’m trying to get off on the right foot,” I said. “Yes, it would help me if you would talk to him.”

Clemente nodded and said, “Ok. For you I will do it, my friend.” He finished dressing, walked out on the field, and gave an interview to Dick Stockton for the first time in years. — Bill Guilfoile

Roberto Clemente had 3000 hits, on the nose. He died December 31, 1972 on his way to help people he’d never met. He never came to the plate again, but he used baseball as a platform to help anyone who needed it, even unto death.

Guilfoile’s story about Barry Bonds, however, showed me something different:

I was a 20-year-old American studies major making $500 a month as an intern in the Pirates’ media relations department. Barry Bonds was a 24-year-old leadoff hitter, a player with huge potential, but he wasn’t yet the superstar he would be a few years later. In the season I spent with him, Barry had a respectable 19 home runs and an impressive 32 stolen bases, but he batted just .248. No one was calling him a future Hall of Famer yet.

On a typical day at Three Rivers Stadium, I did research and helped with media inquiries and wrote articles for various in-house publications. During games I worked in the press box, basically as a gofer. And every morning I would get a list of names from the community relations department — sick kids in hospitals, mostly, or other charity and management requests — and I would walk down to the clubhouse with a folder of glossy photos to get autographs.

Most of the ballplayers treated me with kindness, or at least respect. A few probably even hoped their name would be on one of my Post-its — the fact that some kid had asked for their autograph being a good sign for their careers. Others thought of me as a minor nuisance that could be disposed of with a few seconds of effortless Sharpie wielding.

And then there was Barry Bonds.

Barry wasn’t the kind of jerk who was nice to people only when he needed something from them. As far as I could tell, Barry was pretty much an ass to everybody all the time. Instead of berating me directly or just ignoring me, Barry would sometimes talk about me like I wasn’t there. Sometimes he would tell Bobby Bonilla, who had the locker next to him, that I was lying to them and these autographs weren’t for fans and that I was just selling these pictures to professional dealers, that I was another no-talent white man exploiting black men who possessed real ability.

There are many statistics that say Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame, all the home runs and the seven MVP awards. There’s also the conviction in 2011 on obstruction of justice charges in a case dealing with his use of performance enhancing drugs. We haven’t seen Barry hit a baseball lately, either, but unfortunately hitting a baseball is all he’s got.

Some things matter more than any statistic, and it’s those things, those non-baseball things, that reveal why Barry Bonds should never have a place alongside Roberto Clemente.

Because one of these men is a hall of famer. The other one isn’t.

On a Journey

Last year about this time, Jill and I went to a village just north of Jinja, Uganda. We helped build a playground for an orphanage cradled in a bend of the Nile river. I still think of the children there every day, and about the place. I will never forget it. I wish I was there now. In fact, I wanted to stay then. There has been in me a lifelong longing to go and see, a longing I have not often been able to satisfy in my life. But that place was not where God intended for me. He had in mind for me and my family another mission. And it didn’t involve going and seeing, but of being here and doing.

I have been a member of Houston’s First Baptist Church since 1974. I haven’t always attended, or even lived in Houston for all that time. Still, it has always been my church. But my church is not very close to where I live in Houston. Where I live is so far away it isn’t even called Houston any more, it’s called Cypress. The distance didn’t stop us from going, though. We made the drive every Sunday (or most Sundays at least), and all the while our children were getting older. And then they were old enough to start wanting to be with there friends in Sunday school, they even started doing things with their friends from school at their local churches.

That’s when we started looking for a church closer to home, somewhere we could get more involved. We tried a church in Jersey Village and one in Fairfield and another one right here in Cypress. It was the at church in Cypress that we learned about the orphanage in Uganda. I’m sure God had something to do with that, too, but the church still wasn’t right for us, for whatever reason. None of the churches we tried were right for us. So, we went back to First. It was our home.

It didn’t take long to understand why we were back at First. It was just another Sunday. The only difference was we didn’t sit where we usually do. And from that new vantage point Pastor Gregg told us they were planting a new church, like the one they had planted downtown the year before. A new church in Cypress. They had even chosen a pastor for the new campus, Jason Swiggert. No significance for us there, unless, of course, it’s okay to count the fact that Jason married my wife and I in the chapel at First Baptist or that he baptized our daughter, Grace.

For my wife it was a thunderbolt, the answer. I must admit, though, I wasn’t quite as sure. No, my name is not Thomas, but Jesus was going to show me the holes in my thinking. I just didn’t like the idea of “satellite” campuses for big churches. There is another church in town that does that in a big way, and it always seemed to be about the church’s leader, some sort of cult of personality. I wanted a church that stood on its own. I love Pastor Gregg. His spirit and insight in the pulpit (a stage really, now, no pulpit required) is probably the main reason we never really felt comfortable anywhere else. But if we were choosing another church, that meant choosing another pastor. I didn’t want to lose the light of Jesus in the shadow of a man. So, I needed a little convincing.

The convincing didn’t take long either. This wasn’t about Pastor Greg extending his reach. It was about Jesus extending a hand into Cypress. We would set up a church in Smith Middle School on Fry Road every Sunday morning, and we will be new witnesses for Him in Cypress. We would still get Pastor Gregg on the big screens we set up and that makes it, for me at least, the best of both worlds. Heck, I watch him on the video screens now, even though he is right there in front of me on the stage.

Bottom line, this isn’t going to be a “satellite”. It is a new church with it’s own staff and it’s own volunteers and it’s own mission to teach Jesus to all who will hear. And just to prove the point, I got an email from Jason. He wanted me to help. I met him at a coffee shop (okay, it was a Starbuck’s) near the main church, we call it The Loop now since it is located at I-10 and the 610 Loop, not downtown or in Cypress or in Sienna. I told him I’d do anything he needed, but Jill and I really loved being with the children when we were in Uganda and helping with the kids might be a good things for us.

Jill and I are now the 1st and 2nd Grade Bible Study teachers.

I asked him if they were keeping a record of how the Cypress church first came together.

Now I take my camera whenever I go to some planning meeting or event for the new church and help to keep a record of it’s birth.

I didn’t tell him I wanted to help with the physical set-up or tear down of the church every Sunday, the classrooms and the cubicles and the stage and the lights and projectors and the sound.

But Jason needed me to help on the Production Team (fancy name for A/V guy, you know, the geeks at school that pushed around the projectors on carts), and so I’ll be there every Sunday morning at 6 a.m. to help set things up.

And suddenly, this became my mission. Not so far from home as an orphanage in a bend of the Nile river. And my longing? It is still there. That’s how lifelong longings are. But I am on another journey now.

National Coming Out Day

Yesterday the Congress of the United States held over 4 hours of hearings to investigate the assassination of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. citizens during a terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. The President of the United States and other members of his administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, and Press Secretary Jay Carney all indicated in the days following the attack that the violence was caused by a 15 minute YouTube video defaming Muhammed, the Muslim prophet.

The following information was uncovered during the hearings.

1. Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, head of a 16-member military team assigned to protect the Ambassador in Libya, requested additional security personnel on several occasions but was denied additional support directly by the deputy assistant secretary for international programs, Charlene Lamb. In fact, even the 16-member team was removed from the field in August. That’s August, the month before September which include the 11th day of September, a day most Americans will never forget.

2. In the year preceding the attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, there were upwards of 250 incidents of violence against foreign diplomatic personnel in Libya. Two attempts were made to kidnap or assassinate the British Ambassador to Libya, and there were two IED explosions at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Perhaps Colonel Wood’s request for additional security was warranted.

3. The State Department knew, in real time, that the attack on the consulate was a coordinated terrorist attack. Video surveillance at 8:30 p.m. on the evening of September 11, 2012 shows the consulate to be calm and secure. No mob, no crowd, no spontaneous gathering to protest a video or anything else. The same surveillance shows a hundreds man fighting force with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades attacking the consulate at 9:30 p.m.

Armed with all these facts, at the ceremony to honor the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others upon the return of their remains to the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still bemoaned the tragic deaths caused by an amateur video on YouTube. Five days after the attack, Susan Rice, The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, talked on four separate Sunday news shows about the spontaneous protest caused by the video that turned to violence. The President of the United States, fully two weeks after the attack, told the ladies of The View on national, network TV that they were still investigating the attack and the video certainly had something to do with it. All of these, and many other statements by administration officials, are in direct conflict with the facts known by all of them at the times of their statements.

None of this, however, is what this post is about. This morning, I wanted to see how the national media was addressing this tragic story and the reaction of our government in the face of these revealed facts. Nothing. There was no mention of the hearings on the front page of any online network news site (except FoxNews.com), The Washington Post online or The New York Times online. Our government failed to protect a U.S. Ambassador despite repeated requests for more security and this administration blamed his death on a video that dissed Muhammed which had nothing to do with the coordinated Al Queada terrorist attack that led to his capture and assassination, and it was not news.

Instead, some Chinese author named Mo Yan winning the Nobel Prize for literature seemed to be the most important news of the day. And on ABCNews.com, the first thing you see, the first headline under the Good Morning America banner is. Are you ready for this?

National Coming Out Day: Moments in LGBT History.

WOW, that is news. Certainly more important than the murder of a U.S. Ambassador and the government’s attempts to obscure his death’s cause.