Thursday, May 31, 2012

Smoke on the Water

For an early Father's Day present, my wife and mom got the family season passes to the local water park. Being a stay-at-home dad, trophy husband, I was thrilled as it's not easy to come up with activities for a three-year old that typically have to be inside because I don't feel like spending large amounts of time in the 95+ degree heat we'll have from Monday until late September.

So last weekend, Yes Dear, the little guy and myself all went to the water park where we spent a lot of time trying to convince the little guy to do down the kiddie slides. Eventually I convinced Yes Dear to let me go on one of the adult slides a few times.

Getting to the top of the stairs to wait my turn, I look to the back corner of the park and see what is probably the saddest place on earth. Maybe not literally, I mean it is a water park after all. But I saw a sad place.

Standing in the corner on what can only be described as "well manicured grass" were about 8-10 adults ostracized to the farthest reaches of the park. Smoking cigarettes. I don't smoke. Never have. Never saw the appeal. Therefore, I can't really speak to the power of nicotine addiction. But it's sad to me that someone would be so dependent on a substance they'd willing stand out in the hot sun sweating buckets just to fix.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Second Chances

Rich Thompson was a pinch runner for the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night. This, in and of itself, isn’t exactly noteworthy. Pinch runners are a fairly routine aspect of baseball. The manager decides he needs someone fast on the bases, so he sends someone in to replace the guy on base.

Making it somewhat noteworthy is that Thompson was making his season debut for the Rays. Again, this is fairly common as players are called up from the minor leagues all the time to replace an injured player or to fill in for a struggling veteran. So making your season debut in the middle of May isn’t really anything to write home about.

Unless you’re Thompson.

Thompson last played in the major leagues in 2004. He had exactly one at-bat during his time in the Big Leagues. It wasn’t exactly the stuff legends are made of. He grounded into a double play off a guy who normally plays catcher but was pitching because the game was a blow out. For the next eight years, he toiled in the minor leagues riding buses from Lehigh Valley to Indianapolis, playing with prospects who would go on to play on the biggest stage or alongside aging veterans who were trying to hang on for one last shot in the Majors.

Thompson was fortunate (due, in large part, to his willingness to keep playing when others would have quit long ago.) He got a second shot. The same could not be said for Adam Greenberg.

When I first heard of Thompson’s story, I immediately thought of Greenberg. He was a 9th round selection of the Cubs in 2002 from UNC-Chapel Hill who made his major league debut on July 9, 2005 against the Florida Marlins. In the 9th inning, Greenberg was substituted in as a pinch hitter and to make his major league debut.

Years of playing catch in the back yard, batting cages, little league games, high school, college and three years in the minor leagues and finally, Greenberg had reached the pinnacle of his profession as a major league baseball player.  

It didn’t last long.

On the first pitch he saw, he was struck in the head by a 92 mile per hour fastball resulting in a concussion. He was removed from the game and sent back to the minor leagues to rehab. Sadly for Greenberg,  the effects of the concussion were so bad that he had to sleep sitting up and would get dizzy just bending down to tie his shoe.  He was released by the Cubs a year later and was signed and then released by the Dodgers, Royals, and Angels. He never again played a Major League game.

Greenberg is one of only two players in baseball history to be hit by a pitch in his only major league plate appearance and never take the field. (Fred Van Dusen of the 1955 Phillies was the other, but I wasn’t watching that game, so I’m not writing about him.) Every now and again, especially when I hear a story like Thompson’s, I wonder what happened to Greenberg. Maybe when they remake “Field of Dreams” in 75 years, they’ll replace Moonlight Graham with Adam Greenberg. 

I didn't get to cheer for Greenberg long. Hopefully I'll get to cheer for Thompson a bit longer.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I'm Never Doing Cat Fancy Again

After an exhaustive analysis that included linguists, animal specialists, propaganda experts and even that guy from "Lie to Me" who could read facial expressions to determine if you're lying, researchers have determined that the editors of the "Meow Mix" brand cat food commercials have been making up the words the cats in the commercials were saying in a blatant attempt to manipulate viewers into purchasing their product. Now, for the first time anywhere, we (well, me) here at Expecting the Spanish Inquisition are revealing the truth about what the cats have been saying.

"People of Earth, we are being held here against our will to produce this bit of propaganda for the so-called 'meow mix' cat food. The truth is we don't really like this stuff. In fact, that 'Fancy Feast' stuff is really good, so if you could get some of that for us next time you're out, that'd be awesome. 

"Also, while we have your attention, a few things we should mention. We don't always land on our feet, so if you could get your 12-year olds to stop testing that theory, we'd appreciate it. We know you're mocking us with the laser pointers, but we don't care, they're fun. 

"We've spoken to Tom. He and Jerry actually get along great and just did all that stuff to see how easily your children could be amused. It doesn't take that much. Your adults also seem easily amused as that damn musical about us just won't die. And really, does your 'Tube of You' or whatever you call it need to be populated with so many videos of us?

"Finally, if you could send in Cat Team 6 to come save us, that'd be really cool."

Reached for comment, the people behind the Meow Mix advertising campaign said "If you think that's bad, you should see what we do with those talking babies in the ETrade commercials."

*The title for this blog came from one of my favorite ESPN commercials. My brother and I still occasionally still make references to it. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The day(s) before love comes to town

Among the many great friends I met during the little more than two years I lived in North Carolina were Bill and Ted.* Both were (and I assume still are, we've only been a few months since we moved   back to Georgia) active not only in the church, but in the community as well. From civic organizations and charity work to adopting two incredible little boys from foster care, fostering another little boy the same age as my son to doing untold hours of work on the children's room at the church we attended. Basically they took my "40 Good Deeds for Lent" and do that every day.

*Not their real names. I didn't ask if I could write publicly about them, hence the name changes. 

That's not to say they are perfect. Ted, after all, is an Appalachian State grad.

They also happen to be gay and were married in New York last fall. And the state I previously called home just passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. Presumably, this is to protect the biblical sanctity of marriage. 

If you want to believe in that, by all means, I have no issue with that. But I have an issue when you take your religious beliefs and codify them into law for people who may not believe the same as you do.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that all my North Carolina friends who publicly stated their position on the amendment were in favor of equality. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

We're One, But We're Not The Same

Normally this is a place for me to write (hopefully) humorously about whatever tickles my fancy. This is not one of those times. It won’t hurt my feelings if you choose to skip it. However, you’ve already clicked, on here, so you might as well stick around.

 Every four years, delegates from the United Methodist Church gather for their quadrennial convention to reexamine the church’s Book of Discipline which contains the laws and doctrines of the worldwide denomination totaling roughly 9.5 million people. Proposals are submitted, debated and voted on, because if a popular vote is good enough for American Idol to pick its winner by, it’s certainly good enough for a church seeking to interpret the word of God.

This year, a couple of votes were particularly disheartening to me. First was the statement “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all –– that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” which sought to be added to the preamble Social Principles section of the aforementioned Book of Discipline. This is essentially restating Romans 8:38-39 in which Paul writes ““For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This didn’t seem all that controversial to me. While I subscribe to the belief that the Bible, Paul’s letters included, need to be interpreted through the prism of the time, culture and intended recipients of the writings, nothing in this statement seems to be specific to a certain culture that would prevent it from being a larger truth applied to humanity. And yet the motion only carried by a 532 to 414 vote. Assuming the General Conference delegates are a representative sample of the larger church as a whole (something I haven’t tried to verify), when I’m in church on Sunday and look at the five people to my right and five to my left, there’s a good chance four of them will believe there is something that can separate those in the service from God’s love.

I have no problem if that’s someone’s belief. I’ll freely admit I don’t have all or even most of the answers. There are times I’m not even sure I have any answers. But I find it strange that someone who professes to be a Christian and a United Methodist would be opposed to including one of the prevailing belief’s of the founder of the Methodist movement into the Book of Discipline. I find it even more disturbing that 40 percent of the church believes this. If I had to guess, I’d say that 40 percent were thinking of one issue when they voted.
The second issue arising from the General Conference I’m struggling with is the church’s inconsistency when it comes to implementing biblical teaching in regards to homosexuality and divorce. As I mentioned earlier, I believe the bible should be read through the lenses of the time, place and culture it was written. Even more so with the writings of Paul, who believed Jesus would return in his lifetime. When Paul said “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” in Ephesians 1:2, I think he was just giving a greeting to the church. I’m not sure he expected it to be studied 2,000 years later. Sometimes a greeting is just a greeting.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton co-sponsored an amendment to the Book of Discipline that essentially says “hey, the United Methodist Church is struggling with this issue. Some feel strongly homosexuality is a sin while others see the biblical statements about homosexuality in the same way they view statements about polygamy, slavery, ect . We’re going to agree to disagree on this issue in love.” While you can argue the statement goes too far in accepting homosexuals or, in my case, it doesn’t go far enough; it resonated with me as an accurate description of the current state of the view of homosexuality in the United Methodist Church.

Shortly after settling on a church in North Carolina, this issue came to the forefront as a gay couple was accepted as members of the church. People left the church, stopped donating money and did all they could to force the pastor out. Even if you accept that homosexuality is a sin, to leave a church because sinners were accepted as members seems like you’re missing the point of what a church is for.

So the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality is that it’s a sin and incompatible with Christian teaching. Jesus was silent on the issue, but for the sake of moving forward, we’ll go with that, acknowledging that some may disagree with the church’s stance. Jesus, however, was not silent on divorce. In fact, he was pretty clear on it. From Matthew 19:3-9

 3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

I’m not a biblical scholar and despite being an ordained minister (thank you internet), I don’t have a background in theology. But that seems like a pretty clear teaching of Jesus. So let’s go look at what the United Methodist Church says on divorce.

God's plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved and are concerned about high divorce rates.

It’s possible to view the scripture’s messages on homosexuality as timeless law while Jesus’ teaching as simply a teaching  for those in that time, culture and custom, much like the church views Jesus’ teaching on slavery today. It doesn’t make much sense to me to view these two issues in that light, but apparently to the United Methodist Church, it does.  
As I mentioned earlier, I’m far from a biblical scholar or theologian. However, I do think I have a decent grasp on what the whole Christianity thing is supposed to be about. I’m pretty sure we’re just supposed to be excellent to each other and love God. Instead, the church I grew up in is voting on if we can be separated from the love of an all-loving God or how certain acts don’t line up with our incomplete understanding of who God is. As U2’s Bono wrote, “We're one, but we're not the same. We get to carry each other.” If the church is willing to do that, it’ll be fine. If not, the church is in trouble.