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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 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, 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, 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.

What Does It All Mean?

[ Uganda, Africa Mission Journal – Final Entry ]

HOUSTON, TX – MARCH 20, 2012 – My final note on our trip to Uganda is going to be a reflection on what I learned about myself and what I learned about the world God has given us to live in.

Let’s start with the least important. That would be me.

I am a very emotional person who forms a deep bond with people and places, but that emotion is not manifest in my demeanor. Outwardly I am an observer. When my father died – wow, almost eight years ago now – I was the one they called to make all the arrangements for his services in Arkansas where he lived. I rubbed my head and paced the floor and did all the things I needed to do. Inside, however, I was filled with loss, with the feeling I had never done enough for the man, that I had disappointed him too often. When we got to Hot Springs and I saw Dad, I hoped he knew how much I loved him. That’s kind of the way it was with the orphans at Mashah. I wanted to grab every one of them as they ran by and put them on my knee and kiss them and love them, but I sat on the steps of one of their houses and watched them. Instead they ran into the arms of those that reached out for them and giggled at their caresses. But when they did come to me, curious, as all children are, and I held them in my arms, I hoped they felt the love that had been there for them all along.

I am also a pretty organized person, but not a rigid one. I like things to be the way I like them to be. But when they’re not, that’s okay, too. I kind of let things slide when they don’t happen the way they were supposed to happen. I may grouse about it, but in the end the way things are at any given moment are just the way they are. So, I’m always reorganizing my plan based on the ever-changing circumstances. I think this was an essential attitude in Uganda, from losing our bags to deciding and then changing what we did every day. It was essential because we were on African time. African time means if a school said they were bringing kids to play at 10 a.m., it really meant they would start getting the kids ready to come at ten and they would be there sometime around eleven, maybe later. If we were going to work on the playground at 7:30, we’d get there sometime before ten. It is just a rhythm of the place, a rhythm I actually like quite a lot. It says, “Today we will do what we can do today, and tomorrow we will begin again.”

Now let’s talk about the world God gave us, and what we’ve done with it.

We’ve perverted it. I think that’s the simplest way to put it. We have given precedence to what we can get over what our souls can give. We have made self-worth a monetary term. And we have forgotten that happiness is never found in something we can hold with our hands. What I saw last week was happiness abounding. Was it a happiness of ignorance because they did not know of all the great things they might could have? When they learned other people had cars and electricity and fresh water and they didn’t, would they never be happy again? No, happiness does not come from such things. And that’s the perversion; we think it does. Happiness is the peace that passes understanding whatever the circumstance may be. Just read Philippians 4, and then read it again. Read it in the King James. Read it in the NIV. Read it in the New American Standard. Let it be a light unto your soul. Because happiness is what we all have sought since the first man put pen to paper, and it can only be found in one place.

What it all means is this. I am convinced that our lives are wasted when we pursue our selves and not the good of others. Please God, do not allow me to waste mine any more.

Moving Day

[ Uganda, Africa Mission Journal – Entry 8 ]

JINJA, UGANDA – MARCH 16, 2012 – In golf they call Saturday “Moving Day”. For us, moving day was Thursday. Jill and I spent our first night in Uganda in one of the outer bungalows, a giant round room with a king size bed in the middle. Sweet. They next day we were quickly moved to one of the regular cottages. Still sweet. We stayed in that room three nights. In the meantime, The Haven rented out our rooms, which Loren had booked for the entire week, to a group on photo safari for Thursday and Friday. Not so sweet.

We had a choice, we could sleep in tents for those two nights in a field out by the bungalows and move back into our rooms on Friday or we could go elsewhere. Luckily Jill’s bags finally arrived Wednesday afternoon while we were in the village and the group decided to move into town to Surgio’s Pizzeria and Guest House. Loren had stayed there before and on the way into the market on Wednesday, the guys checked it out. They had room for all of us and the place looked great. The stone-fired pizza was even better. It was just past the dam where the Nile begins to flow out of Lake Victoria in Jinja, the largest city in eastern Uganda. It was a little farther away from Wakisi, but it was all on paved roads (or what passes for paved roads here), no dirt paths.

That meant, even though we had just gotten Jill’s luggage, there was no unpacking Wednesday night. Jill just went through her bag to get the stuff she needed. The rest stayed right where it was.

[Okay, this is an aside about Jill. So Jill if you’re reading, skip this paragraph. After a few panicky moments when we realized the bags weren’t there and the next morning when we still didn’t know if they had found our bags or if they were coming at all, Jill was remarkable. She had one extra pair of pants and one extra t-shirt in her carry-on bag. Every morning she would wash what she wore the day before in the sink with a packet of Tide she got from Beth, and wear the other change of clothes. Thursday morning was the first day she could wear something new.]

As Jill went through the bag she realized there wasn’t much there she really needed after all. But there was a week’s worth of clothes in there that were going to waste. Maybe we should just stay another week. Just kidding Grandma and PopPop, and Mimi.

Thursday was moving day at the village, too, finishing the playground and bringing in the first kids to play there. It was a long, luscious, hard, satisfying day. And at the end of it, the entire group’s bags were on a flatbed truck headed for Jinja to Surgio’s. We followed them in the van and I can’t be sure, but I think Jill watched closely to make sure her new bright orange bags (bright orange so we would be sure to see them at baggage claim) didn’t come flying out. They didn’t. We all arrived safely at Surgio’s, people and bags.

The next day we were back at the village for the second day of the Grand Opening of the Mashah Community Playground. We had over 150 students from two different schools, but it was a much more orderly day. That doesn’t mean there were any fewer smiles or hugs or squeals of delight on the swings. It just means we had learned from our mistakes from the day before. We got back to Jinja in the early afternoon; the Smiths had to get ready for their flights back to Houston.

Jill and I spent the last few hours of the day being tourists, shopping for souvenirs. We got Grace a…and Troy some…Nope, we want it to be a surprise. Pastor Mathias even took us on a little sight seeing tour. We saw the Port of Jinja (a boat dock), the charcoal distribution center (dozens of people putting charcoal in hundreds of huge bags to be sold as fuel for cooking fires and the like), and Jinja’s only golf course. It was right on Lake Victoria at the source of the Nile.

There were no golfers, and storks were making themselves at home on the fairways, but the yellow flag on the final green was rustling in the wind. Must be moving day.

Not a Dull Boy

[ Uganda, Africa Mission Journal – Entry 7 ]

JINJA, UGANDA – MARCH 15, 2012 – The first half of the day was all work. The second half, all play. Jack is not a dull boy.

We got to the village early to finish the playground. We still had a lot of work to do, and the children were coming at two. Everyone was working hard right through the morning and into the early afternoon. I didn’t see how we were going to finish in time. The older children from Peter’s Primary School were scheduled to come at two o’clock. As two rolled around, the sand arrived and the Bobcat leveled the playground area. The kids were late, but it gave us time to finish. African time, we’ve learned, is approximate and the children came walking up the path in their school uniforms just before three.

We had lots of activities planned for them – games, crafts, snacks, and, of course, the playground. Jill and I were in charge of the snacks, fresh, bottled water and cookies. We greeted the kids with hugs and love, told them what we had planned for them, and separated them into groups for each activity. After we had served our first group of kids their snack, which they received with a bow or a curtsey and a thank you, a second wave of children arrived on a bus from the school. It was that second wave that made our well ordered plan more of a guideline. The games became an impromptu soccer match, the lines for the temporary tattoos and friendship bracelets became burgeoning groups trying to be next, and the snack bar was inundated with thirsty children. There was never not a line for another cup of water. Most of them wanted more cookies, too, but the crumbs at the corners of their mouths told us they had already had their snack.

But everyone was having fun, even the overtaxed Elevare crew, and the smiles on the children’s faces as they ran through the playground to climb the rock wall or swing or attempt the monkey bars made it all a joyous time. We asked the kids before the festivities started if they had ever been on a swing set before. None of them had. So, they lined up to take their turns in the swings, their eyes wide with wonder. They all had the kind of smiles only children have. And the squeals of exhilaration as they flew into the air and back again lifted up through the village.

I finally got a chance to escape the snack stand (sorry Jill, but they asked me to go over there) and watch the children play. When I got there one of the boys was standing off from the others. I went up to him and asked if he wanted to swing. He nodded that he did, so I held his hand and led him over to one the lines for the swings.

“You can go next, after this girl,” I told him. He nodded quietly, but he was nervous.

Before his turn, he pulled on my arm and I bent down to listen to him whisper, “I don’t know how to do it.”

“That’s okay,” I whispered back, “I’ll help you.”

I gave him a little push and in the seconds it took for his legs to reach up to the sky and tuck back under him as he cam back down, he was an expert. And I could tell he thought he was flying from the shear look of amazement on his face.

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