Author Archives: Joseph
I’ve been thinking about Easter since this past Sunday, and about the message of Easter. I taught my students this weekend that Easter is all about hope – hope for salvation through Christ. I talked through John 20, where we see the stories of Mary Magdalene, the Disciples, and Thomas specifically, as well as through the story of Peter’s denial and restoration. I focused on how encountering the resurrected Jesus changed each of them:
- Mary’s grief over Jesus’ loss turned into hope that all would be well, that those we lose aren’t really lost.
- The Disciples’ fear for their lives turned into hope for salvation, both for themselves and for others.
- Thomas’ doubt and disappointment turned into hope that Jesus was greater than what Thomas thought he was.
- Peter’s shame over his own mistakes turned into hope that his story didn’t have to end with failure.
It was a good message, and I was glad to be able to speak it into students’ lives at our Easter services this past weekend.
Then yesterday my wife pointed out the new South Carolina licence plates. To be honest, I like almost everything about the old ones better – the swatch of orange fading into blue behind the palmetto tree, evoking a beautiful South Carolina sunset; the silhouetted terrain at the bottom; even the palmetto tree itself. Side note: I did not like the “travel2sc.com” advertisement at the bottom; it was tacky.
But the one thing that I truly love about the new license plates is the inclusion of our state motto at the top. Officially, the South Carolina state motto is Dum Spiro Spero, which translates from Latin into English as While I Breathe, I Hope. I’ve lived here 10 years now, and I didn’t know that.
What a great motto, and what a great message to put on every single car in our state!
You’re probably aware of this, but 2015 was a pretty tough year for South Carolina, especially in the arenas of racial tension and violence. We saw a political fight over the Confederate Flag turn into quite a bit of ugliness on both sides, had a nationally publicized incident of a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man who was running away from him seven times in the back, and had to deal with the horror of a white man sitting through an entire bible study at a black church before pulling a gun and killing nine people. With the possible exception of the kerfluffle over the flag, I must say that we acquitted ourselves nicely.
I have to believe that part of why we were able to come through such a difficult year in the manner that we did is because of hope. #CharlestonStrong started popping up everywhere as a way for people to say, “We are united and strong, regardless of race, color, creed, nationality, or religion. We cannot be broken by one broken person, and we will not succumb to an agenda of fear and hopelessness.”
I’m proud of South Carolina, and I’m grateful for the hope that Jesus’ resurrection brings us. I do hope that we can find a middle ground between the colorful artistry of our old license plate and the statement of hope on the new one, but that’s a discussion for another time…
Peace. And hope.
I have some nerdy friends who, along with some other nerdy friends, started a nerdy website called Nerds on Earth. If you’re into nerd culture, it’s the place to be on the internet.
If you’re not into nerd culture, maybe still check out this post on what I believe to be the greatest X-Files episode ever. It’s my debut piece over at NoE, and hopefully the first of many. I’m excited to be a part of the crew, in whatever small capacity I’m able to contribute.
And we’d all be excited to have you check out NerdsonEarth.com and be a part of the conversation!
By way of a transition… What’s your favorite X-Files episode of all time?
[DISCLAIMER:] I’m an idiot, and I’m a little embarrassed.
I recently wrote a post on this blog about dialogue in our political system, and how we seem to have lost the knack for it as a culture. I went pretty hard after our current crop of candidates for clownish behavior, and trying to score a rhetorical knockout instead of actually debating the merits of their positions.
The sad irony is that my post was extraordinarily ill-considered, and for a variety of reasons. First off, it crossed the line into being crass – I basically did exactly what I was saying I didn’t like about this election cycle. Second, I didn’t consider my audience – I wouldn’t say things the way I said them to anybody that I know in person. Thirdly, I didn’t consider my platform – 3a is that I’m a pastor, responsible for shepherding people’s spiritual growth; and 3b is that this blog is called “The Pursuit of God,” for goodness’ sake, and my previous post didn’t do anything to pursue God or lead others in that direction.
So, for all of those reasons, I apologize.
I’d like to try again, because I do feel strongly about the importance of being able to hold a civil dialogue. And I do believe that it’s an important skill if you want to pursue God in a deeper way. Read the rest of this entry
Every year during MLB’s spring training I re-watch the amazing Ken Burns documentary Baseball. It’s a long tradition, meaning both that I have been doing it for a long time (this is year 7) and that it takes a long time to complete (the whole series is 22-23 hours long). But every year I do it, and every year I experience the same reawakening and rekindling of my love for the game. I get thunderstruck all over again by the beauty of the game, the depth of its history, the import of that history alongside the history of our country, and the fun of it all.
I am also reminded every year of what a huge tragedy it is that some of the greatest players who ever lived were never afforded the opportunity to receive the recognition they deserved. Because of the “gentlemen’s agreement” between white baseball owners from 1883-1947, many people have never heard of some or all of the following greats.
Leroy “Satchel” Paige is arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, bar none. He actively played professional baseball consecutively from probably 1926 (records are a little shaky…) until 1953, making his major league debut in 1948 at the ripe old age of 42. After 1953, he left the professional game until being called back into service in (and I swear I’m not making this up) 1965. It was a publicity stunt, but he pitched three scoreless innings – at age 59.
His official MLB win-loss record is 28-31, mostly as a reliever. He did start his MLB career at 42 years old, mind you. And, even though his official Negro League win-loss record is 103-61, he pitched in probably hundreds of barnstorming games that were never even recorded. We truly will never know the full greatness of Paige, or what a joy it would have been to see him pitch against the Yankees’ “Murderer’s Row” of the late 20s in his prime.
Josh Gibson was a power-hitting catcher who died all too young at the age of 35, the victim of a stroke or brain hemorrhage. He was a very good defensive catcher with a strong, accurate arm, but was best known as a tremendous hitter. Baseball hall of famer Monte Irvin said of him, “I played with Willie Mays and against Hank Aaron. They were tremendous players, but they were no Josh Gibson.”
Legend has it that Josh Gibson hit a home run all the way out of the old Yankee Stadium. That story hasn’t been verified, but there is a documented occurence of him hitting a 480-foot home run – when he was just 18 years old.
Andrew “Rube” Foster was a pitcher, manager, and eventually owner and founder of the Negro National League. He gained his nickname after out-pitching the great Rube Wadell in an exhibition game. Legend has it that Foster was hired by New York Giants manager John McGraw to teach his fadeaway (screwball) pitch to Christy Mathewson, one of the all-time greats in part because of his fadeaway pitch.
Between his on the field exploits, and the impact he had on the game in the form of organizing all-black teams into the Negro Leagues, his contributions to the game cannot be overstated.
James “Cool Papa” Bell was a switch-hitting center fielder from 1922-1946. His calling card was his unbelievable speed. Like, truly unbelievable. Contemporary players joked that he would turn off the light switch at night and be in bed covered up before the room was dark. Satchel Paige said of him, “Once he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his ass sliding into second.” Another Negro League great, Buck O’Neil, when asked how fast Cool Papa Bell was, would always answer, “Faster than that.”
With speed and hitting ability like his, he would certainly have been a 3,000-hit guy in the major leagues. He slapped the ball all over the field like Ichiro. He stole bases like Ricky Henderson. And he played for almost a quarter of a century.
John Henry “Pop” Lloyd played shortstop from 1907-1932. He was undeniably one of the greatest Negro League players in history. He was a slick fielder with great hitting ability and speed, often compared to Pittsburgh Pirates great Honus Wagner. Wagner himself said, “It’s an honor to be compared to [Lloyd].”
Babe Ruth, when asked to name the greatest Negro League player of all time, stated that Pop Lloyd was his choice for greatest player of all time – period, without distinction.
His career batting average of .340 is 12 points higher than Wagner’s, and only 2 points below Babe Ruth’s.
And the truth is that there are dozens more Negro League players whose names and baseball exploits we remember even less. The fact that these players were systematically prohibited from testing themselves against the Major League’s greatest players is a shame and a travesty. Because as rich and vibrant and colorful and deep and important as the history of baseball is, it could have been more.
Yeah, yeah… I know the original Andy Williams song is about Christmas time. Whatever.
There are two “most wonderful” times of the year in my book. The greater of the two is October, at least when it comes to sports – NFL football, college football, no basketball to speak of, PGA playoffs (and this year the Ryder Cup!), and most importantly MLB playoffs.
The (only slightly) lesser of the two is late February all the way through March – MLB Spring Training!
I tend to get super philosophical and emotional about the start of baseball each year. Like, to an embarrassing degree. But whatever… Baseball was and most likely always will be my first love when it comes to sports. So in that spirit, here is one of my favorite quotes of all time about baseball.
Baseball has nearly all the qualities and the narrative that the country has. It’s competitive; it’s spirited; it’s got the joshing; and it’s got the intellectual side, the great students of it. It’s also got labor unions, and management, and gimmicks, and promotion, venality; great public fools in baseball, and great public heroes; and great self-serving people and generous people. And it has pride and unity of town and of country, and it’ll do for a figure for the American system. – Charley McDowell
You just can’t say all of that about any other American sport.
So, God rocked me pretty hard yesterday. In a good way, but rocked nonetheless… You can read the whole thing after the jump if you want, but here’s the short version – I had a really potent and acute experience of God’s love and forgiveness. I was sort of pushed out of my comfort zone a little bit, and God showed up in the uncomfortableness. I think it was probably something I really needed, and it was good.
So, it’s been quite a while since my last post of any sort on this blog. If you’re out there in internet-land and you’ve been sorely missing regular posts here, I have a few things to say:
- Are you okay? Do you need some help figuring your life out?
- Are you aware that there are many better blogs out there for any number of purposes that this one might have filled?
- Thank you.
- I’m sorry.
That said, here’s my cannarf review of the new movie Zoolander 2. What’s a cannarf, you ask? Well, it’s essentially a completely subjective scale where you rate things from -10 to 10 based on how it was vs. how you expected it to be. Ergo, it’s all about expectations.
For Zoolander 2, I’ll be honest – as much as I dearly love the first movie (and when I say love I mean “watch it at least once a year and still laugh out loud” love…), expectations were pretty low for this one.
The best new material in this movie mostly involved Billy Zane, Sting, and Kiefer Sutherland. Let that sink in for a minute.
The Billy Zane connection with Zoolander goes back to just one scene in the original, but that scene had a certain quality about it that just resonated. I remember watching the original Zoolander and only knowing Billy Zane from a crappy made-for-TBS movie that he did in the late 90s. Didn’t matter. “Put a cork in it, Zane!” was still an amazing line from the movie’s title character.
Kiefer Sutherland’s parts in Zoolander 2 were even better because of the seriousness with which he approached them contrasted with the ridiculousness of the situation. He basically played a version of himself, combined with Jack Bauer, with a healthy dose of emotional trainwreck mixed in. He sort of stole the show.
And, after the whole, “I guess one of my role models would have to be Sting. I’m not really – I don’t really listen to his music, but the fact that he’s out there making it… That inspires me” bit from Hansel in the first movie. The (SPOILER) revelation that he is Hansel’s father in this movie was a really nice touch.
Oh, and KYLE MOONEY! His character is possibly the most memorable and (hopefully) quotable one in Zoolander 2. The whole “Aw, man! You guys are so old and out of touch! You’re dinosaurs, and look like fools. I hated everything about what you did. You’re awesome,” schtick was what my wife and I walked out laughing about the most.
What Didn’t Work
Basically everything else. The formula for a movie like this has to be the same as a male model walk-off, right? First movie walks, second movie duplicates and elaborates… There’s never enough elaboration in comedy sequels 10+ years after the fact (see Anchorman 2, Dumb and Dumber Too), and Zoolander 2 was no exception.
There was a real missed opportunity to build the legend of Derek Zoolander, too, in my opinion. Part of Mugatu’s rage in the original is directed at how Zoolander’s signature looks (Ferrari, La Tigra, Blue Steel) are all just the same look. There’s a moment in Zoolander 2 where another character mistakenly identifies a look on a deceased celebrity’s face as Blue Steel. Zoolander objects that it’s a different look called Aqua Vitae, and they use advanced computers to detect “over 14,000 facial variations” between Aqua Vitae and Blue Steel. The implication is that Zoolander is, in fact, a genius with a massively expressive face the likes of which mere fashion mortals can never understand, but only hope to appreciate. However, the joke never went farther than that.
Outside of that – Fred Armison was weird; Kristen Wiig was not very funny; and all of the other celebrity cameos (outside of the ones mentioned in the “What Worked” section) felt like, “Oh, there’s so and so… Hmmm…” And, in relation to Armison and Wiig – I’m speaking of their characters, of course. I think they are both very funny, and probably did the best they could with the mediocre script.
Verdict – 0 Cannarfs
Zoolander 2 was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be. No surprises, no disappointments. If you’re thinking about seeing it in theaters, I wouldn’t. Unless you’re a die-hard Zoolander fan (like my wife and I are), or you’re buying your tickets with someone else’s money (gift card, baby!), you’ll probably end up thinking you wasted your money.
But what do I know… Have you seen Zoolander 2? What was your take?
Someone will tell you, “You have to be able to forgive yourself.” But that isn’t possible. What is possible is to open your hands without fear so the other can blow your sins away. For perhaps it isn’t clammy coins, but just a light dust which a soft breeze will whirl away, leaving only a grin or a chuckle behind. Then you feel a bit of new freedom, and praying becomes a joy, a spontaneous reaction to the world and the people around you. Praying becomes effortless, inspired, and lively or peaceful and quiet. Then you recognize the festive and the modest as moments of prayer. You begin to suspect that to pray is to live.
-Henri Nouwen, ‘With Open Hands’
I read this laying in the hammock this afternoon, and it made me think that laying in a hammock on a gorgeous afternoon is probably a great time to pray.
It also made me think of something Bob Goff wrote in his book Love Does. Bob is a lawyer by trade, and he writes that his first instruction to clients going into a deposition or the courtroom is to sit with their palms up, hands open. The reason is that he finds it next to impossible for people to get defensive when they’re in that posture.
Try it sometime. Sit with your palms up, hands open, and see if you can get yourself worked up about something. I’ve tried it. As soon as I got upset or angry, I noticed that my hands had flipped over and we’re gripping my knees pretty tightly.
Try this when you pray, too. When you’re confessing and asking forgiveness, assume this posture of surrender and release. It might make a huge difference.
Growing up in non-denominational Christian churches, we barely even talked about Lent, much less observed it. Lent was for Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and various ‘others,’ but not for us. We didn’t have anything against it; we were just more focused on telling people about Jesus in a way that was attractive to people who were turned off by ‘high church’ traditions.
But lately I’ve been reading some stuff by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch catholic priest who wrote absolutely beautiful things about love, grace, God, community, etc. One thing in particular jumped out at me a few weeks ago – a passage about Lent, guilt, and which way our focus turns.
Nouwen contrasts Judas and Peter – two disciples of Jesus who both betrayed him in his final hours. The difference lies in which way their focus turned afterwards. Judas’ guilt spiraled in on himself, leading him to despair and ultimately his death (presumably apart from God, regardless of which death narrative you hold to). On the other hand, Peter’s guilt led him to refocus outward, towards Jesus, and not on his own sinfulness. As a result, he was forgiven, restored, purified. These two clearly illustrate the truth of 2 Corinthians 7:10, which says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Then today I was reading in James 4, and ran across another passage that led my thoughts once again back to Lent and the frame of mind I believe Lenten observers should strive for.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
– James 4:7-10
It’s the last sentence that really sets it off for me, for two reasons. First off, the repentance, forgiveness-seeking, and purification that go on during Lent should always be about our relationship with God, and not about fulfilling an obligation, obeying a tradition, or seeking approval from people. Secondly, I believe the purpose of Lent is to voluntarily go through a little bit of discomfort, to deny and humble ourselves before God, so that we can fully experience the joy that comes through the resurrection of Jesus. Like Jesus, who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…,” we need to go through our own time of humility and obedience to death in order to fully identify with the victory over death.
It’s a beautiful, difficult truth, I think…