American as Mom, Baseball, and Apple Pie!

I just got back from the College World Series tent-camping for $11 bucks a night with my youngest son, Caleb. We had a great time. I love all college sports but baseball has a special place in my heart. Unlike a lot of sports, it’s still so pure. Very few players on the teams have scholarships. Most will never play in the Majors. They just love the game. There’s a fresh naiveté about it every season.

I can hear the crack of the bat, the ball hitting with a heavy thump into the catcher’s mitt, the sound of a swooshing slide across home plate. I can see the sheer beauty of a diving catch, a perfectly turned double play, or a 12/6 sinking curve ball. Every time I go to a baseball game I experience the little bit of heaven portrayed in the Kevin Costner classic, “Field of Dreams.” I can hear James Earl Jones’ voice as Terrence Mann talking about baseball consistently marking the passage of time as other things have changed about America. Catch a replay and savor the moment! I cry every time – can’t help it.

This game has remained largely unchanged. The numbers still count. Slugging percentages, On Base percentages, E.R.A’s, R.B.I.’s, R.I.S.P., and batting averages all play their part with the added bonuses of baseball’s quirky antics and superstitions to which no other sports can hold a candle. Seventh inning stretches and singing “Take me out to the Ballgame” is a beloved ritual. The cracker jacks don’t come in boxes any more, but I just had a bag with a prize inside the other night. All this is to say that the adage about the U.S. being all about Mom, baseball, and apple pie is pretty darn true.

Caleb and I had a great time together at the ballpark and at Lake Manawa State Park. I was able to read two N.T. Wright books: Simply Christian and Simply Jesus. They were excellent. I did my share of catching up on some favorite novel authors that mix history and mystery. It was pretty hot during the day and we weathered a couple of rough storms. The nights were cool enough to have a campfire. It was good, simple yet profound. Classic!

I’m refreshed to be back on site greeting new clergy and thinking ahead to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. I am grateful for a few days of Baseball Bliss in Omaha, Nebraska. Play Ball!!!

Don’t Let Worry Kill You, Let The Church Help!

My Daddy was a worrier. He had his reasons thanks to barely being a survivor of the Great Depression. He had a long list of concerns, but in retrospect he was pretty much an optimist. After having to quit school in the 8th grade to help his family earn a living, he ended up in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He learned valuable skills and earned a little bit of money to send home. He took a chance and learned how to auction and scraped together enough money to go to Reppert Auction School in Decatur, Indiana. He did well with his big risk. He took chances all his life when I think about it – too many to chart right here. Having 3 sons was one of his biggest!

But, you know what gave him the most worrying fits – University of South Carolina sports. Gosh, Daddy would get so worked up over a game that sometimes by the time he got to the stadium he would be so nauseous from his nerves that we had to take him home. It’s one of the reasons to this day that we’re early birds to sporting events and most everything else. You’ve got to have enough time for unexpected contingencies so you can go home and make it back to the stadium in time for the game to start!

And here I am just back from Annual Conference and about to head to Omaha for the College World Series. Sure I could sit at home and watch it on TV, but I’ve been every time USC has gone under Coach Ray Tanner – 6 trips. In the last 2 years my youngest son Caleb and I were there for the duration as the Gamecocks brought home back to back National Championships. So here we go again about to get in the car. Our tickets will be at will-call and I have campsite #33 at Lake Manawa State Park reserved. I’m a bit frugal so the $11 a night fee isn’t too much of a stretch.

The side benefits include Father’s Day with Caleb, good baseball, and lots of time to read and reflect before Jurisdictional Conference starts on July 17. Since this isn’t the first time I’ve been the conference’s Episcopal nominee I do know what to expect. I know it will be both stressful and exhilarating. I trust the Lord and the process, but it’s scary. Going to Omaha is just what I need. If I stay at home the fear factor may kick in. I would imagine that some of you can commiserate with me about worries and stress.

They say it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you. Imaginary or not, fears can catch up with us. Fear can be paralyzing. One church sign was frighteningly near the truth: “Don’t let worry kill you, let the church help!” It’s almost not funny! For clergy, worry and church can often go hand in hand. What do we do with our worries? Do we bury them, or let them bury us? Do we have enough faith to take risks for God?

One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking a corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked, “How’s your cotton coming?” “Ain’t got none,” was the answer as he continued, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid of the boll weevil.” The visitor then asked, “Well, how’s your corn?” The farmer replied, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid o’ drought.” The visitor continued his line of questioning, “How about potatoes?” The reply was familiar, “Ain’t got none. Scairt o’ tater bugs.” The stranger finally asked, “Well, what did you plant?” “Nothin’,” answered the farmer. “I just played it safe.”

Playing it safe can be downright disastrous. Divine motivation demands our willingness to go out on a limb. Fear has to be defeated. Some of us anticipate the worst and don’t try anything. God wants us to put on our wave-walking shoes and get out of the boat of our comfort zone. I know that we all fear the unknown. I like routine as well as the next person. I’m infamous for ordering the same dish in restaurants. It’s simple really. I don’t want to be disappointed, but if I’m not willing to try something new, think what delights I’ve missed.

When a person fears the worst will happen, their own thoughts may help bring it about. Someone once wrote, “Fear is the wrong use of the imagination. It is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.” The story has been told about a salesman who had a flat tire while driving on a lonely country road one dark and rainy night. He opened the trunk and discovered that he didn’t have a lug wrench. He looked around and could barely see a light coming from a farmhouse. With relief in mind, he started walking through the driving rain toward the house.

The salesman began to think all kinds of thoughts. He thought, for instance, that the farmer would surely have a lug wrench that he could borrow. Next he thought about how late at night it was, and, of course, the farmer would be asleep in his warm dry bed. Maybe he wouldn’t answer the door. And even if he did, he’d be angry at being awakened in the middle of the night. And so on and on his thoughts went as he was walking to the farmhouse. Being soaking wet didn’t help his thought process, either.

He pondered that even if the farmer did answer the door, he would probably shout some rude vulgarity at him. This thought made the salesman mad. After all, what right did the farmer have to refuse him the loan of a simple lug wrench? He was stranded in the middle of nowhere soaked to the skin, and the farmer was a selfish clod! Fuming, the salesman finally reached the house and banged hard on the door. A light went on inside, and a window opened above. A voice called out, “Who is it?” His face white with anger, the salesman called out, “You know darn well who it is. It’s me! And you can keep your blasted lug wrench. I wouldn’t borrow it now if you had the last one on earth!” Anticipating the worst can become self-fulfilling prophecy. With fatherhood, sports, and the workings of the church, let’s give God a chance and stop worrying! Look for me in Omaha! I’ll write another blog when I get back. Catch me on Twitter and Facebook and Go Gamecocks!

For Love of the Game

Wow – This is the longest that I’ve gone without blogging. Where have I been? Good Question. On the Wednesday after Annual Conference, Caleb and I headed to Omaha, Nebraska to watch great baseball, and to follow the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. This is my fifth trip since 2002. We usually do things on the less expensive side so we usually stay at Lake Manawa Stake Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Well, God bless the people up and down the Missouri because the flooding this year has been the worst in decades. Lake Manawa and it’s $11 a night fees was shut down because of it. We ended up staying at the West Omaha KOA for around $30 – still better than the $375 a night accommodations near TD Ameritrade Ballpark.

Just like last year when Caleb and I said that we would stay as long as the Gamecocks did, we ended up being there for 13 nights, went through horrific storms, tense close games and watched one extraordinary play after another to see South Carolina win back to back National Championships! Wow! Man, the 13-inning marathon against Virginia and getting out of bases-loaded jams was UNBELIEVABLE! We may not have had the best of anything except what won it for us – scrappiness! These guys have grit and they love the game. College baseball is the closest thing to a true sport in my opinion. Only a handful of players get any scholarship money. Most will never play for the Big Leagues. So why do they play? They play for love of the game.

Goodness, what if everybody did what they did for the love of the game – whatever the game, the calling, the job,  the hobby. Mediocre is not USC Baseball. Mediocre doesn’t make you just one of 6 teams to win back to back championships, or set a record for CWS or NCAA wins. “Medi” means “middle.” “Ocre” means “mountain.” Therefore, “Mediocre” means “halfway up the mountain.” My Daddy would have said it another way and, boy, was he a Gamecock fan! Nobody needs to settle for mediocre. Halfway doesn’t cut it! The Gamecock Baseball Team proved that ordinary can be extraordinary if  one gives their all, for love of the game! Go Gamecocks!