Our Trip to San Diego (It Wasn’t Bad)

Recently, my wife and I paid a visit to her sister and family in San Diego. I realize that already I sound cool, because I know someone who lives there and visiting people in exotic places sounds like something I can just do.

Unquestionably, San Diego has gravitas. Nobody who hasn’t been there knows anything about it, other than the city has been endowed with Heaven’s climate. Flawless beach weather everyday where you can walk outside naked and feel physically comfortable.

Other than that, what does this place have to offer? To me it was just Anchorman scenes and a bad football franchise that ain’t even there anymore. Well, I learned there’s indeed more to this place than I thought.

Shortly after exiting the airport, we were greeted by the picturesque bay and harbor, filled with sails and yachts, flanked by scores of palm trees, all with the backdrop of downtown high rises. What would’ve made for an incredible poster was indeed the handsome reality of Southern California.

Upon greeting our sister Andrea, her husband Taylor and our new precious nephew, Jackson, it was off to drink beer.

After all, San Diego has one of the greatest craft beer scenes in the world. I think my family there thought all I wanted to do on our trip was visit breweries, which is an excellent assumption, but not entirely true. All I wanted to do was visit breweries with the baby. Enjoy the new nephew on our terms at our fun places; that’s how we Millennials do it.

So on our first day, we headed to Ocean Beach, one of the last remaining surf towns in Southern California. We first visited Belching Beaver, because if you can fit “belch” and “beaver” into your business name, you’ve won. Afterward we walked to Ocean Beach Brewery and enjoyed a dinner of fresh fish as the sunset over the Pacific. Oh, what a horrible time. Then, a friendly fellow who may have been high asked me to smell a flower. I declined, only because the flower was so small I was concerned his fingers would go up my nose, and I didn’t fly 2,500 miles for that.

The following day, I got up for an early run. The Reeves live in North Park (you’re cool if you know where that is), so I didn’t have to go far before I reached Balboa Park, the great city park in San Diego. If only I could run somewhere new and beautiful every day, gosh, I’d probably be in slightly better shape than I am today. Later that morning, I had the pleasure of driving though the city to pick up my other sis-and-law and her fiancé at the airport. People say people in San Diego drive crazily. But people say that for every big city. I think there are just bad drivers everywhere, because hey, we’re all operating metric tons of steel moving at 80 mph. Yes, it’s freaking crazy.

In the afternoon, we had fish tacos by the harbor. Meh… Just kidding, it was terrific. My best taco had octopus. I’m glad we’re putting the octopi to good use. After lunch, I walked off my octopus at Point Luma, a historical site featuring a lighthouse and panoramic views of San Diego and its bay.

The day only got better, as I emptied a gift card to buy lots of So Cali beer and then watch my beloved Wolfpack whoop hiney in prime time, i.e. 5 pm PST. Watching sports on the West Coast is so money. The best part of all of this was doing silent cheers so we wouldn’t wake the baby. Silent cheering and dancing is really fun. It would be great for a whole stadium to do it as a thing, like a blackout or the wave.

The next day we hiked Torrey Pines National Park. More beauty and wonder, and more exercise to mitigate my rapidly expanding octopus/IPA gut. That afternoon, we explored North Park, enjoying great ale and reggae at Rip Current Brewing and an outstanding burrito at Lucho Libre, a hilariously pink joint celebrating Mexican wrestling. Then it was on to the Reeves’ neighborhood brewery (Thorn Street) where we watched the US triumphantly defeat Panama in their World Cup qualifier, with the blessed ignorance of the proceeding nightmare match. Then back home for burgers, fire pit, cigars, blah blah blah best day ever.

Next morning, we went to the harbor-side market and bought a fish—a huge, newly dead 16-pound skipjack tuna to be precise. Then it was onto to Little Italy for their Farmers Market, where we tried poke-stuffed uni. That’s raw tuna inside a sea urchin. Good golly listen to what we humans are doing. Then, just when I didn’t want to have any more fun, we visited Ballast Point Brewing, Liberty Station, and Stone Brewing. Yes, I got to visit my favorite brewery in the world. I sampled four delicious beers beside a coy pond and even bought a corduroy hat. That was a pretty good day.

All in all, it was one of the best weeks of my life, and our time with family and our new nephew was simply splendid. I definitely recommend San Diego, unless you are against fun, beauty, and factually the greatest city in the history of mankind.

In Memory of Lilly

On August 17, 2017, our sweet Lilly passed away. Though words cannot sufficiently express our sadness for her death, nor the memories she gave us, nor the joy that she brought us, I’m going to try. Because what would be worse would be to stay silent, something old ‘Lil would’ve never stood for.

What Lilly stood for most was, of course, food. Literally, on her hind legs, stretching her diminutive yet plump frame to the extreme to extend her snout over anything holding grub. Lilly may not have been a purebred beagle, but her head and her stomach couldn’t have been more pedigree.

Lilly lived to eat and had a knack for finding food. While she did have a good sense of smell, any of us could find food if we spent our whole lives sniffing for it. When we were in the kitchen, so was Lilly. Like a night watchmen on patrol, Lilly paced back and forth surveying the scene with faithful vigilance. Often she would position herself directly beneath us while preparing food, and she didn’t seem to mind that we were always tripping over her.

But she was keenly aware of when her favorite foods were out, accentuating her puppy face for carrots (her healthy favorite), popcorn (her favorite to catch out of mid-air), and any meat imaginable. I never saw a deeper sense of purpose and urgency in Lilly then when I would pick the carcass of a rotisserie chicken. As her generous keeper, I’d always drop her the disgusting part.

But more than anything, the prospect of food led Lilly to incredible mischief, from the hilarious to the infuriating. On her first Christmas, she found and ate Uncle Billy’s entire fruit cake, then pooped in his room. One Easter she ate a bag of chocolate candy, then spent the night howling and racing around the Gnisci’s backyard while Charlie held the leash, watched her frantically poop, and prayed she didn’t die. Then there was the Thanksgiving where Lilly ventured upstairs during dinner, came down and moseyed under the table, and then hacked up a Brillo pad she’d seized from the laundry room. I have witnessed Lilly jump on a table to eat a stick of butter, a wedge of cheese, and a plate of cinnamon rolls. I’ve witnessed Lilly overturn a trashcan to eat a sweet potato, a bratwurst, and a whole chicken drumstick. We learned that true rage ensued when we attempted to remove something delicious from her mouth. Over time, we simply followed the sage words of Cousin Eddie: “It’s best just to let her finish.”

Lilly’s mischief extended to her love for adventure. She didn’t stop being a hound dog when she ventured outside. I loved letting her out on spring days when there was a rabbit or two in the yard. She would put her nose down immediately and begin zigzagging at the scent, then blast off like a greyhound as the rabbit took off. The rabbit would always find its way through the fence and into safety.

But a fence didn’t always stop Lilly. Half my yardwork over the last decade has been patching holes she dug to exit the premises for an excursion. Sometimes she’d be gone for a few minutes, sometimes for a few hours. She typically returned with a grin, panting and ready for water, often needing a bath due to something awful smeared on her coat.

She loved the outside and her fellow creatures. We’ve watched her run squirrels up trees, bark at hawks in the sky, and come face to face with a groundhog. A week before she passed, I had let her outside in the morning to do her business. Minutes later, Danielle awoke to what sounded like barking and scratching under the house. I went out to inspect and opened the crawlspace. As I peered in, there was Lilly (how did she get under the house?), pawing at an open storage container. I stepped in to the crawlspace, approached the container, and tapped it. Slowly and creepily, two black ears rose above the container and immediately alerted me to what Lilly was so excited about: a raccoon. I whisked Lilly out of there, and thankfully the raccoon found its way out too through the hole Lilly had dug under the A/C unit. It was a disaster averted, with the end result being a little bit of duct repair and cleaning up some poop Lilly left behind in her excitement.

While she was definitely a Snoopy dog, Lilly broke the mold with her zest for swimming and retrieving. When she was young, we took her to the beach to fetch sticks in the ocean with her friend Boone. Lilly was a natural, and simulated an otter swishing through the water, using her tail as a propeller.  So arduous was her effort that she suffered a sprained tail, which sadly couldn’t erect for a few days. In our backyard, we’d have her run down sticks, tennis balls, and the occasional frisbee. Occasional because when she flagged down a frisbee, she ate it.

But there was one thing that Lilly loved more than food and adventure: people. No, not people outside of the house like joggers, bikers and UPS men—she barked like hell at them. But Lilly loved her people. She’d let us know it when we returned home, jumping on her hind legs and moaning with glee as we pet her. She loved to be with us, whether it was under the dinner table, on our couch, or in our arms. She loved to be pet and scratched, and she loved a good belly rub. Even after the rub down, she would still slide back and forth on her back, then jump up, sneeze, and shake it all out. It became a ritual she sought out, often turning over immediately on her back when we went to pet her.

Lilly loved Hudson and Ella Jane. On her last night with us, when she lacked the energy to move about, she mustered the strength and voluntarily came into the room to say good night to the kids. She let them hug and kiss her, and even stayed in their room for a moment as we put them down. She was a best friend, unto the end.

We miss Lilly and are reminded of her, or her absence, every day. For one, we have to clean up any food that falls on the floor, something we haven’t had to do in 10 years. As I walk around my yard, I chuckle at my beat-up fence and all the rocks and twisty-ties serving as barricades. Mostly, we are reminded of Lilly in the quiet. No sniffs, barks, growls, jingles or scratches that we’d grown so accustomed to.

Lilly lived an incredible 10 years. That’s a good life for a dog, but a really good life for Lilly, considering all the messes she got herself into and, remarkably, got out of. If all dogs go to Heaven, then I’m sure Lilly had a good shot. Perhaps she’s feasting at the Lord’s table, or more accurately, on top of it. Wherever her soul is, there is laughter there.

No, Lilly never caught a rabbit. But she was a damn good friend of mine, and of all of us. She’ll forever be treasured as our first family pet. We’ll miss you, sweet girl.

 

Why I Care So Much That #LeBron Is the Greatest

iThere I was about a fortnight ago, lazily sprawled upon my couch, watching the NBA Finals and witnessing greatness. 

It’s funny to witness greatness from your couch. I mean, a short hundred years ago you had to put clothes on and travel to some distant venue to witness an athletic triumph. Now I vege out on comfy cushions for two hours, even propping up my arm to maximize remote efficiency and minimize human effort, while LeBron soars like a pterodactyl to make the greatest block of all time, and I’m like “I’d clap, but my arms are asleep,” so instead I acknowledge the remarkable human feat with a barely audible grunt. So I witnessed greatness.

Not only was I pulling for greatness, I was pulling for LeBron. There it is, I said it! Drag me out into the public square and hack-a-Shaq me to death. Cry foul just like the whining superstar whom you can’t fathom how I could appreciate. Really, unless you’re a Clevelander, pulling for LeBron is taboo.

What’s not taboo (though it should be) is the litany of cliches about why LeBron isn’t great, or at least not one of the greatest. He’s not a closer like Mike. He shrinks in big moments. He gets all the calls. He’s built like a fortified steam engine, how could he not be great? I mean, if he were 6 feet and had little muscles he wouldn’t be so great. Right, because then he’d be me. 

So I try to be objective, but LeBron haters (and there are scores of them) generally won’t have any of it. It’s like he could score all 150 of his team’s points and someone would say he’s a ball hog. He’ll never win the minds of those people.

So when I hear the foolish arguments, I notice my pulse go up a tick and and my brain telling me to take deep breaths. I feel the anger brewing inside of me. If LeBron were here he would tomahawk slam a basketball down your esophagus. 

Equally, my conversational adversary is also getting worked up. Their voice raises and their cheeks redden. Then I say something incendiary like, “LeBron would eat Jordan’s lunch,” and watch the incensed volcanic eruption of incantations spewing from their mouths. “You’re effing nuts! Do you watch sports?! You’ll burn for this, Spigot. Burrrrrn!”

In the midst of these arguments, I wonder why we are so defensive about something that has absolutely zero bearing on our lives. LeBron is as present in my life as a North Pole elf. Yet I talk, read and think about him more than than I do my own family. Why?

Ron Gant raises his fist after he hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning to beat the San Diego Padres 4-1 Tuesday night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Photo taken May 21, 1991. (Frank Niemeir / AJC staff)

Do you remember as a kid, you would proudly proclaim to the other kids who your idol was? My idol was Ron Gant. Who the hell is Ron Gant you ask? Well that’s a fine question.

Ron Gant was an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves. He was a good player, but not great. But something about the way he played left me enamored. I watched his every at bat. I collected every one of his baseball cards, outnumbering Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ken Griffey, Jr. cards combined. I wrote him letters and sent him pictures to autograph—which I never saw again—but you can bet your baseballs I gave Ron Gant the benefit of the doubt. He was just way too busy enjoying the awesomeness of being Ron Gant.

Now, I’m going to make an extremely rash assumption that Ron Gant was not your idol. But I’m going to make a less rash assumption that you had one. It could’ve been another athlete like Michael Jordan, a pop star like Michael Jackson, or a Commy politician like Mikhail Gorbachev (no?).

But as we aged, we stopped caring about who was the greatest shooter or guitar player. We stopped giving the benefit of the doubt to our idols who made poor choices. We stopped fawning over people and getting all neurotic when we actually saw them in person.

Or did we?

Perhaps our infatuation with stars is not as overt as it once was, but is it any less passionate? No, I’m not physically falling over and worshipping stars, but don’t I get all cranky and flustered on the inside when they’re struggling in a game, or flopping on stage, or being ripped by a media personality?

The truth is, we defend who we love. We defend our spouse, our kids, our best friends, and of course, John Stamos. If someone attacks them, we unleash the claws like Wolverine.

lebron-crownWait, wasn’t this post about LeBron? Yes. In fact, I love LeBron. Which sounds really stupid when I say it. I don’t know him at all. I’ve never seen him in person. He is just a big, great basketball player in my TV. But more than that, he is the greatest player of my generation. He is an athlete I strangely take pride in. Like he is some small part of my life. Like I cling to his legacy as if it were my own. Like way deep down, I just want to marvel at his greatness.

Or, do I just desire to marvel at someone great, period? What is this part of me that infatuates itself with other humans who are the same species as me? It seems weird. It seems misplaced.

I can only conclude that my desire to marvel at and ascribe greatness to someone is because I was created to do so. But when that someone, that idol, a being as temporal as myself, is elevated to the throne of my affection, is it any wonder I am left with such emptiness?

What if I was made to marvel at something greater? Indeed, if I was made at all, by more than a chaotic and fortuitous conglomeration of stardust, would I not esteem that Maker? Could it be that the amazingness of me, you, LeBron and every human are simply reflections of our more amazing Maker? And wouldn’t I desire to marvel at that Maker, to behold Him, to love Him?

Possibly. Yet I find myself much more easily captivated by greatness that is obvious, observable and tangible. Why toil to pursue something more abstract, uncertain and non-empirical? Quick-fix greatness witnessing is readily at my disposal.

I don’t even have to get off my couch.

Why I’m Done Being a Good Guy

When I was a boy, I spent one week every summer at the YMCA summer camp. It was an awesome time to play games, do arts and crafts, and occasionally run into very naked, very old men in the locker rooms before swim lessons. I’m sure today there’s a tad more vigilance.

Anyway, the Y gave out superlatives at the end of the week. The crown jewel was “Honor Camper,” rewarded to the best camper of the week. More than anything, I hoped for that superlative. I’m not quite sure how I pulled it off, but I won the thing twice and was immensely proud of myself.

Truly, I won because I was a good boy. There were no prizes for rebels. If a bully picked on me, I let him (or her) do so. No way was I gonna fight and risk my chance of Honor Camper. (Life ruiner.)

As I’ve grown, the desire to be a good boy, or good guy, has followed. I think most of us strive for some moral ideal.

I’m just not sure it’s working. 

I mean really, why do we call people “good guys”? What does that mean? I consider all of my friends “good guys.” I even put myself in that category.

But why am I a good guy? It can only be because there are bad guys. What concept have we of good if we have no concept of bad? When people say “Carson is a good guy,” I think they mean I am likable, friendly and seem to care about others. But I can fit almost everyone I know in that category. There’s a crapload of good guys.

It seems the real reason we’re good guys is we are rarely overtly bad. I don’t punch kittens or steal bananas or get wrapped up in man slaughtering. I’m not a jailbird or a  conniver or an asshole. I obey the law and go on my way.

I like to think by not being overtly bad, or physically afflicting my neighbor, I’m in the higher eshelon of guys. But I must be fair in my comparisons. If I take a look at who’s beneath, I should certainly look at who’s ahead.

And darn if there aren’t many.

Pastors, rabbis, imans, Dhali Llamas, social workers, philanthropists, special needs teachers and Salvation Army bell ringers are trumping me on providing welfare to the common man.

So now, I’m like, maybe in the upper middle tier of good dudes. But honestly, why do I even care where I stand on the moral ladder?

Because I am constantly observing other men for validation. 

In a strange way, their goodness is a threat to me and there badness is a comfort. If I see a jerk cuss out a grocery bagger, I’m thinking “some day he’ll get his.” But if I see a man feed a homeless guy I just passed, I worry “on what day will I get mine?” This constant vascillation of affirmation and concern is so ingrained in my thinking I hardly notice it.

But when I do stop and think of it, and realize I attribute “good guy” to other good and not so good men, I’m really left quite unaware of where I stand. What to do?

I could fall back on karma. After all, I’m acutely aware of where the other guys are screwing up. And it’s satisfying to believe they’ll get what they deserve. Convenient really, until I think about when I’m gonna get what I deserve. There were times I sucked today. Am I really impervious to bad karma?

Who’s dishing the karma out to us good guys and sorta good guys anyway? Some detached cosmic force perfectly rewarding our goodness and unforgivingly punishing our badness? What a vacuous, impersonal atrocity that would have to be.

Maybe more goodness or less badness than others isn’t the standard. What if the standard is perfection? What if I should be striving to be the perfect being? What’s left for me if I fall short? The only seemingly perfect being in history I can think of is Jesus, and even he rebuked a man for calling him good! “Only God is good,” Jesus said.

Perfection seems as distant to me as another galaxy. I fear that I’m a lot closer to the opposite. Damn. Well shall I compare myself to a real baddy? How about Hitler? I’m not as evil as that dude was.

But what if I’m a helluva lot closer to Hitler than Jesus? As far as I know, I’m light years away from complete goodness and a modicum from utter depravity.

In my strivings to be a good guy, I’m left to feel hopeless in my pursuit. My ranking system seems to be unreliable at best and damning at worst. I have zero clue where I fall in the order of good guys. What if I come in 109,000th place of all time? Pretty good considering the many billions who have ever lived. But will it leave my judge impressed?

Good guyness is fool’s gold. Most of us who pursue it are unpleasantly rewarded with pride or self-pity. The gold, I think, is grace.

An acknowledgement that I can never measure up to the perfection I was created for, and the outrageous peace of knowing I don’t have to.

An acknowledgement of a radical truth that I can be a crappy guy and am still loved.

An acknowledgement that I can stop toiling to climb the moral ladder—because it doesn’t freaking matter—and come to my Creator as an empty vessel of a man that He can pour His goodness into.

I want to be a graced guy.

How to Be Optimistic Right Before a Panther Mauls You

Statue-ThinkerImagine for a moment that one day things go horribly wrong and you find yourself in a small room with a large panther.

There is a door in the room (thankfully) but the panther is ensconced in front of it (crap). In all likelihood, your rationality kicks in and you assess the situation. A predatory jungle cat is in a room with you, you are not a jungle cat tamer, and he (or she—it really doesn’t matter) is quite capable of killing you. So you have assessed the situation as a realist.

Now if you’re a pessimist, you’re in a really bad spot. You’re not assessing whether or not the panther will kill you, but how exactly you’ll be mauled and devoured, and if your cut-rate life insurance includes “accidental death by panther.”

But if you’re an optimist, you’ve already started to think about how you can get through that door. And for some inexplicable, perhaps asinine reason, you actually believe that you will get through that door.

I guess what I’m asking myself these days is this: Do I see life as a panther waiting to eat me, or an obstacle in the way of my door to freedom?

Growing up, I’d say I was an immature optimist. My optimism served as a way to protect me from accepting bad things would happen. Basically, I never even entertained the possibility of being trapped in a room with a panther. My life hadn’t seen many panthers, and I was pretty safe in my home and anywhere I went. Surely, I would just have the kind of life that existed without panthers. I was naive.

When we grow up and become fully responsible, positive thinking alone doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. Being positive can often be quite silly.

“Oh, Billy’s choking. It’s OK Billy. That thing will dislodge itself, I’m sure.”

“Wow Jean, never seen wheels just fall off the car like that. But at least you still have that unicycle.”

“Today my best friend kicked me in the face. Twice. Hooray for not three times!”

Those were ridiculous examples of course, but in reality being positive often seems downright inauthentic. As the bad experiences of life pile up, I think we get more and more pessimistic. We just expect bad things to happen, like a face kick or Billy choking. And eventually, when we find ourselves in the midst of the proverbial panther, we can’t possibly envision how we’ll avoid our leg being chewed off within five minutes. Where is there room for optimism?

I’ve come to find that optimism is not particularly the expectation of things going well, but the belief of things going well. If you’re a man interested in an attractive woman who appears to be totally out of your league, it can’t harm you to optimistically believe you can score a date with her. Because then, you might get a haircut, take a shower, spray on some Axe, rehearse your proposal, and who knows, she may just respond favorably. You could’ve been pessimistic and remained stinky and lonely, but your optimistic thoughts set you up for success. Now, she might find Axe repulsive and your face repugnant, and feed you some prevarication like she’s about to leave the country forever, but you would’ve absolutely never had a shot if you didn’t institute a modicum of hygiene in the first place.

But what about something serious, like our proverbial panther? Perhaps you’re without a job or you’ve received a troubling diagnosis. What if you simply can’t see a way to move past the panther and through the door? There’s a good chance optimism by itself won’t do. I wonder if the thing that’s better than optimism is hope.

The problem with hope is that it’s irrational. Hope doesn’t help me understand how to get out of a mess. Hope involves trust, trust in an outcome I can’t see but believe to be true. What’s scary is that if I just go on believing that I, myself, can find a way out of my dour predicament, I’ll be quite troubled when I rationalize that I have no ability to do so. Then what’s really scary is that I realize I need something else to help me. When no person in the world can rescue me from the panther room, where do I place my hope? In karma, in the universe, in a god?

Personally, I have to live my life believing that something, someone, will open up the door and save me from panther mauling. The idea of true optimism rooted in hope is terrifying—until we try it. Sure, it’s still hard, but when that first door is opened for us, just as we hoped it would, the way we live really begins to change.

Or at least it should. I’m still a work in progress.

Are you a pessimist? Optimist? Irrational hoper in something seemingly nebulous? I’d like to know.

When Having an Idol Isn’t Cool Anymore (#FantasyFootball)

Have you ever wondered why you love fantasy football so much?

I sure have. I was a fantasyholic. And when I discovered why, it was one of the main reasons I stopped playing two years ago and became a recovering fantasyholic.

First though, let me be clear that one of my reasons to stop playing was not that is wasn’t fun. In fact, perhaps it was too fun. There was a time when few things exhilarated me more than watching my flex RB run for 150 and 2 TDs on a Monday night to eke out a fantasy victory. In my head I would throw a little party celebrating this dreadlocked, steel-muscled machine of a man who was great at carrying a leather ball and running away from angry men. I ate that stuff up like Refrigerator Perry at a calabash buffet. But why was I so enamored?

The easy answer is pride.

I pick better players than you. On draft night while you were scouring your cheat sheet for top-10 kickers I was taking a flyer on a rookie wide receiver and pasting your tail with him in Week 8.

I also start the right guys. Every week. I sat my number one receiver because he was gonna be on Revis Island, and I started a waiver wire white boy named Pete Pickles who went for 179 and a score. I own you like a Jerry Jones oil field.

So pride provided some fugacious happiness until I lost and had to make excuses for what went wrong. They stacked the box against MJD. Foster had a groin flare. My whole starting lineup was on a bye week and I had to start a guy on my bench who happened to be missing a leg. There was almost always an excuse for not winning; my pride was at stake.

Yet pride was not what drove my complete attention to this little game. Sure, it was a factor in why I would obsess over my lineup right until the 1 o’clock kickoff. But there was a deeper, more insidious problem I had with playing fantasy sports. This problem actually made me think about fantasy sports 24/7.  If pride was the hors d’oeuvre that readied me for my fantasy meal, this problem was the midnight buffet binge on the Carnival cruise.

Some of us may jokingly refer to this obsession as a man crush. Rightfully so. But a more serious label, that defined my experience, was idolatry.

Well what does that look like? For me, it looked like staring at my roster and admiring each athlete for his special talents for minutes on end. It looked like watching a game and not taking my eyes off a player, no matter where he was or what he was doing on the field. It looked like watching one of my guys get hurt and having my heart sink with fear and worry of losing his talents (points, really). It looked like sitting in bed and contemplating my players’ greatness, and falling asleep to visions of Megatron dancing in my head. Frankly, it looked like sitting in church on Sunday and fretting over my guy being a game-time decision. I was worshipping the Father, Son, and Adrian Peterson.

So who cares? A few man crushes are pretty harmless, right? Not for me. And maybe not for you, either. You see, I found it very natural and exciting to become so infatuated with a hero. I am so driven to praise something. Yet, how empty I felt when my guy went down, when my team lost, when the season ended. Once again, my idolatry ended in disappointment. It wasn’t wrong to praise something. That’s innate with all of us. It’s praising the wrong thing that is wrong. It was praising everything I wasn’t meant to praise while ignoring the one Thing that I was.

I’m not tying to get you to stop playing fantasy football (as if you’d listen to me anyway). In its purest state, it is a harmless, fun little game. My problem was I couldn’t keep it that way. In a world replete with things to praise, I chose something (or some men) who were unworthy of the cloying admiration I heaped on them with my heart. No amount of fantasy points was worth that.

Why I (Almost) Didn’t Do the #IceBucketChallenge

plastic-food-bag-ice-bucket-liner-8-x-4-x-12-1000-bxWhen I was called out to do the Ice Bucket Challenge, naturally some chilling thoughts surfaced:

I have to do this or I’ll look like a party pooper.

If I do do this I’ll begrudgingly have to nominate others and feel like a jerk.

This is gonna hurt the wallet.

I’m not sure I have a readily sanitary bucket.

You see, when some good friends benevolently challenged me and my wife, I got that uneasy feeling like I was sitting across the table from a used car salesman with a bad tie and dirty mustache. Not that I’ve ever faced that but I imagine it’s horrifying. And it wasn’t anything my lovely friends did. It was the whole thing in general.

Honestly, it felt like getting the digital age version of the chain letter. Remember those? Respond to this need to feed hungry beagles, donate a dollar, send it out to five more people and we’ll send you a certificate and a doggy biscuit. But if you don’t respond, no biscuits and seven years of bad luck. So it felt a little chain lettery to me, but the problem was I couldn’t ball it up and move on. Everyone was watching. Every virtual friend I ever had was waiting to see in the next 24 hours if I’d be man enough to accept or if I’d turn it down for some lame-o reason and be the guy who halted everyone’s fun train.

This is ridiculous of course; but who is thinking rationally when summoned to devise a bucket-of-ice-water-over-head-with-brief-speech-while-managing-toddlers-and-not-ruining-iPhone scenario? Not me, obviously. Really though, why not do it?

For one, I’m against compulsory giving. The challenge presents a “give or else” directive. Not mean-spirited, definitely for a great cause, but still compulsory. I know you don’t have to participate. But in this social media world, where Facebook sees everything, isn’t it hard not to feel obligated to accept? The pressure, whether real or perceived, is still pressure.

But I would acquiesce, of course. It’s harmless right, even if the challenge itself (not the cause) challenges my principles a bit. So I realize I’ll have to reach out and compel others, summoning my inner snake oil salesman. So I ask friends first if I can challenge them. A few agree, but one good friend hits me with the respectfully declined invitation due to the fact that the ALS organization, in some form, supports embryonic stem-cell research. I chihuahua. I do care about that sort of thing, though I admit I’m not perfectly studied up on all of it. And I’m not a right wing bag of nuts, if that’s what you’re wondering. I mean really, would I not give to a great organization with a meaningful cause for the simple reason that their research may be contributing to the prevailing sentiment that it’s okay to destroy what I and many others consider to be life, for the purpose of medical intelligence? Well, no, I might not. But it’s an ethical question that deserved pondering.

When I got home, I was 22 hours into being challenged and all of the haze and uncomfortableness made me think I wouldn’t do it. But my son had already heard rumors he was going to get to dump something on Daddy’s head, and there was really no turning back from that. So how could I do this thing with a good conscience and in some small way help the ALS community, which was whole reason for this spectacle anyway?

First, I wouldn’t join the spectacle on social media. Just didn’t sit right for me personally. Perhaps I didn’t want old high school Facebook friends I haven’t encountered in 15 years to see that my hair has receded slightly. But really, I could dump the hashtag along with the bucket of ice water.

Secondly, I would encourage nominees to consider giving somewhere, but not specifically to ALS. Nothing wrong with the thousands who have given there; I’m glad there is so much funding going towards finding a cure.

Lastly, I would encourage prayer for those who suffer from ALS. Certainly, it’s a different kind of gift, but a disease that casts hopeless prognoses could use some hopeful petitioning.

After all was said and done, my son wasted no time dumping the ice water on me and my wife. So the chain was passed on, my underwear was cold and wet, and an ethical decision had been made. Perhaps I thought way too hard about it. I could’ve just knocked it out unwittingly and carried on with my life.

But that’s not how we were made. Our conscience and our ethics are two waters in which we should always delve deep. I suppose, sometimes, the waters are more chilling than we would like.

According to Jules: A Gangster’s Belief in Miracles

YaycpTlO5FgThroughout my life, I’ve vacillated quite significantly on what is, in fact, a miracle.

One reason may be that there are a lot of people in this world (most without actual miraculous experiences) who have a different definition of what a miracle is. And I don’t know if even at this point in my faith journey I can say what one is. But I can say what it is not.

 The character Jules (played by Samuel L. Jackson) in Pulp Fiction has something to say about miracles. This comes after he has just bullet-riddled several low-key gangsters, only to find himself looking down the barrel of gun. But at close range, all of the bullets miss him (miraculously). The death-defying experience shakes Jules up pretty good, certainly a diversion from his usual cool self.

Jules determines he has witnessed a miracle. After failing to convince his partner Vincent that a miracle happened, he says this: “Whether or not what we witnessed was an According to Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is I felt the touch of God. God got involved.”

I used to love this quote. I’d post it on my AOL away message, so proud that a dirty gangster flick actually had something positive to say about God. But does it?

I won’t pick apart Jules’ quote here and try to prove why it’s all theologically bogus. I don’t know that it is. Perhaps some of it has some truth. But lately, the “God got involved” part hasn’t been sitting right with me.

First, I’ll acknowledge God getting involved in our lives is pretty amazing. It’s incredible to think an infinitely massive Creator cares a lick about little ole me. But I believe He does. Now, is it a miraculous thing for him to get involved in our lives? Maybe. Certainly I believe the spiritual realm exists outside of science. The spiritual realm cannot be measured, nor can it be subject to the laws of the very world it created. We understand miracles as existing outside of the scientific realm, particularly because miracles are initiated in the spiritual realm.

Notwithstanding, I’m not certain Jules is paying God a compliment in this context. When Jules says God got involved, he seems pretty shocked by this and has seemingly not experienced this before. Perhaps it was difficult for him to encounter the divine in a world where people regularly blew other people’s faces off. That would be understandable. But to say God got involved like it was abnormal is a very Deist way of looking at things, as if God is usually sitting on the sidelines and decides to come play in the game on rare occasions.

Instead, what if God is always involved? What if he is always present, always acting, always working for the good of those who love Him? My experience is that he is certainly not idle. Scripture tells us that for thousands of years He prepared the world for His Son, and thousands of years after His Son’s coming He is still moving, still saving, still involved.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Jules. Maybe he really was impressed by God. But if we are waiting around to see something miraculous to prove to us that God is involved, we may be missing the point. I think God is always involved, and for that I’m in awe.