2015 And Promises From “Back To The Future”

05031617A-thumb-800xauto-2672015 is around the corner.

And I have been waiting for this my whole life.

It seemed so far from my grasp when Marty McFly went back in time. Well, and into the future, which is what seemed so far away to a 10-year-old boy in 1987.  Going back to 1955 was pretty cool, but when he went into the future 30 years to the year 2015, that captivated my imagination.

I began counting off the years on my fingers until I discovered that I would be 38 years old the year that all of this cool stuff would be in my life. Yet that was older than my dad was. I never thought I would be that old.

Hover boards, tennis shoes that laced themselves automatically, flying cars and a lot of amazing stuff caught my imagination and whisked me into another time, a time of possibilities. Now, the futuristic things mentioned earlier have yet to come into practical usage by the public But some things have worked into our everyday life. We have seen TV with 500 channels which still blows me away that we can create content for that much television. And in this coming year, I am sure much of the future will be here. Surely. At least some of the newfangled things and predictions.

Some seem so possible. Some not as much.

Still, the most far-fetched of all their futuristic ideas was the World Series marquis that read Cubs and Angels. For a long time, I saw that as comic relief in a movie not rooted in reality but in fun and adventure. To me, a boy from Chicago who also lived much of his life in Orange County, these are my teams. And until 2002, I thought, this to be one of the most unlikely of all match-ups. The Angels were a laughing stock of an organization choking away their best chances in 1986 in drastic flame-out fashion and 1995. 1995 when a bunt turned into a game winning home-run propelling the upstart Seattle Mariners into the playoffs for the first time.

Okay, the Angels who were depicted by a Disney film needing actual Angels to help them to victory seemed like they really needed fantasy to be on their side. The marquis with their name had to simply be slipped in by a writer or producer with a soft spot for his hometown team. It was pretty unlikely to see them in the World Series, right. But they did make it once and won it all in 2002. And from that point, they have played competitive baseball most years. They are no longer longshots to play in the Series. 201 with the Angels in baseball’s World Series could be.

But the Cubs?

The Cubs have found incredible ways to bust the hopes of their fans on the few occasions they have had any chance of winning. Beyond that most years they embody their moniker of the loveable losers. They play, have fun and everyone loves them. Baseball on the North Side of Chicago has become more about hanging out with friends than goals of winning. Few people if any were alive the last time the Cubs won it all, so winning has turned from a distant memory to a dream. One has to dream to even think of this team winning as they have gone more than a century, that’s right a century without winning it all. 1908 seems further and further ago when we watch today’s highlights on an iPad or lowlights on our smart phone. There wasn’t even radio the last time the Cubbies one a World Series ring.

There wasn’t even radio, that simply boggles the mind. Maybe we should fold the sport, because we don’t still do many things that we did before the advent of radio.

The Cubs or the Flubs as many cynics like to refer to them seem as the most unreasonable team to put on a marquis. However, if that happened, you know it would garner big ratings. People would stop to see this most unexpected feat—The Cubs in the World Series. It may not have the Cache of the Cubs against the Yankees or against the Red Sox, the team that Theo brought back from the throes of another curse to win their first pennant in decades.

But to see Wrigley field host anything more than a meaningless summer game, would be beautiful. And for this fan boy, to see them host the Angels of Los Angeles in Anaheim would be the thing of dreams coming true. Only a few months ago, I thought the joke of Back-to-the-Future putting these two teams together in the coming year was as ridiculous as seeing flying cars go by my house next year. Well, they have missed on something that seemed so plausible, but they seem to be within reach for the former.

What seemed like  an Oasis in the desert , a figment of my mind’s eye, might be more likely now, no certain to happen as predicted by an insightful and forward thinking trilogy.

When the Cubs landed the coup of the offseason in Joe Madden, the mad-scientist of a genius baseball leader, they found their way toward respectability. Now, with a couple of trades and free agent moves, they have a team ready to compete filled with veteran stars, Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, Starling Castor and more and loaded with young talent. A few more minor tweaks, and they could meet last year’s team that boasted the most wins.

The Angels and Cubs not only could meet in the World Series, They will meet there. It is meant to be. Just ask Marty McFly. It is without a doubt. Biff has the sports book that guarantees it.

And when my two worlds collide, and the Cubs play the Angels for baseball’s championship, we can all believe in time travel.

Tell me why it won’t happen.

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Exploiting The Pain

divided1-300x225After reflecting on the Ferguson story that once again has arrested the attention of our nation, or at least the 24-hour news cycle this week, I have some thoughts, some deeply felt thoughts.

On Tuesday, I was riding home from the class I teach at Life Pacific College. On my ride, I like catching up on the news of the day, at least the news that KNX, the am radio wing of CBS which broadcasts pretty straight down the middle news has to say. What would the news be on this day? Well, a lot of coverage of the Ferguson story, or the boiling protests and bubbling anger within the black community.

What made me more than a little frustrated was not a sense of reporting, but a sense of exploiting I picked up from the news. And this is not the sensationalistic, splashy, frenzied Fox News or MSNBC. No, this is the straight-laced, professional, broadcast news. They had multiple reporters on the scene covering the several hundred protesters marching around South Los Angeles through much of the city. On Monday, these protesters marched for three hours.  On Tuesday, they were prepared for the same thing.

But our attention spans are so limited, we don’t have time to have our news actually listen to both sides and have a conversation. We don’t have time to listen to the concerns of what people are feeling. We get sound bites. We get the most loud, bombastic, and impassioned people to talk for a moment. We don’t get the news asking the black families what has them so scared, angry and disenfranchised. Why is this case in Ferguson creating a spark that spreads from Time Square to Martin Luther King Jr. boulevard in LA? Why is a nationwide movement taking place. Nope, we don’t have time to ask those questions or to connect the dots. But we do have time to be on the scene in case things go south. We’ll be there for the big story, the ratings, the gossip.

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We get the news in there to play their part in drawing out the extremes on both ends. The extreme finger pointing on both ends. The most divisive on both ends. We have the news ready to report when the story gets juicy enough, but not there to give us the back story, to share the depth of pain that people feel over this story which is just one more in a long line of injustice, or at least perceived injustice. And perception is reality.

But we have the news on the scene.

These reporters kept talking about how polite the protesters were, how civil. It was almost disappointing to the reporters as if they were hoping for a better story, more drama, something that would bring ratings.

This quickly made me relate in my mind the awful nature of our news which is more about ratings—if it bleeds, it leads. We are an exploitive society. And that saddens me. It was like we had cameras and microphones as close to these hurting people simply waiting for a match to be lit and a firestorm to start. I thought of the humanitarian organizations that take pictures of children in slum communities to raise money for the organization. The poor children get splashed across the internet, social media, and into fund-raising newsletters in order to bring in more money.

To me this smells of one word. Exploit.

And all we are doing is perpetuating a problem. The black community feels not only hopeless and stuck, but without a voice into the process. They are not simply poor, but have little power to affect change. They feel like they are getting the short end of the stick once again. They have so much pain and frustration, and yet all we can do as journalists is to escalate a difficult situation into a worse story. We as the American media racing to keep up with so many channels and an oversaturated sense of content and information to tell a bigger and more dramatic story. Yet, the powerless and hurting people in the inner-city continue to be disenfranchised and have the faces played across our television sets.

At the same time, those that have not walked in their shoes shake their heads with disbelief. They ask, what is the big deal? Why are there so many angry black people?

I was talking to one of my friends, who pastors a church in the inner city. He said, he just doesn’t understand why people don’t get what they don’t get.

This makes me sad. We have a segment of our society that doesn’t get it and another that is simply hurting and wishing they could make it clear. Now, we end up having a lot of seething, white hot anger over this situation. We can get camera’s onto the most outspoken on either side to show how divided, how far apart we are from solutions. It simply saddens me.

We have a tragic story, a story that should not have happened. And now what is lost in the middle is the actual truth. No one will accept a real story. Now, we have perceptions, misperceptions, and lots of emotion. Rather than truly being heartbroken as a nation over a tragic story, a loss of life, a precious life no matter what is said. We as Christians should know that more than anyone. Every life matters to God, and his redemptive nature is always working to make something beautiful out of our story.

But rather than a nation moved to tears, we are moved to anger.

If you have a friend who comes from the black community, simply listen to their story. Ask them what they hear from all this noise. Ask them what they see. Listen. Cry with them.

I know I am, and my heart breaks for a community that has been looked at with prejudice for far too long. I pray that we do not simply keep an endless cycle of sensational stories that remind us of the divide. I pray that the next time something tragic happens, we can find healing in the waters of misunderstandings. I pray that we can be proactive and go across racial and socio-economic lines to befriend one another. I pray that rather than extending the divide with story after story, we can find ways to reconcile.

For me, I will start by listening more? I want to know what they see, what they feel, what hurts them? I want to feel their pain more. I want to empathize. I want to see the humanity in their story, their life.

I feel hopeless at times, but I know there is hope. I know we can do better.

What are some of your thoughts from this overly public story?

Two Sides To The Same Coin

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 11.51.04 AMOutrage and glorification.

Oh, I wanted to write so many thoughts on the controversy that is “Ray Rice” or domestic violence. The outcry that was muted early but grew exponentially when the video came out publicly, the many sides to a complex issue that often get boiled down to talking points in the mass media, the many emotional and personal issues that bubble to the surface when a lightning rod issue like this pop up. Oh, I hadn’t the guts or the articulate skills to handle this issue here, so I have steered clear.

…until now.

Now, I am shocked and chagrinned, flabbergasted even when it comes to Halloween. I guess I shouldn’t be. Each year, there are costumes that push the envelope, sensationalism strikes at the most outrageous in our society. Popular sells even if the popularity comes from a negative angle. Really, controversy sells and sells big.

A hurricane becomes wall-to-wall coverage on the weather channel even when there is still other weather to report. Outrageous trials become all that the 24-hour news channels will talk about for days on end when they are sensational enough. And in a social media/sensational driven society, we see the most incredible things, especially in the Halloween season. As long as it stirs conversation or stimulates dialogue, it is fair game.

The first side: Outrage

The same issue that incensed many, so many that the commissioner of the most powerful league in all of the United States is now sitting, maybe squirming  on one of the hottest seats in executive positions worldwide. The story of Ray Rice has gained great traction, and maybe he will escape yet another controversy of public opinion. Perhaps? He is still employed, but for how much longer. Why? Because of an outcry of the public.

Now, the other side of the coin—glorification/sensationalism.

Halloween with its ever growing appetite for the sensational has struck again. Who do I blame for this, the public, individualism, the holiday, some one person, or the dark side in all of us? I have no idea, but this almost makes me more outraged than a penalty (two-game suspension) that was too light to the first guy they ever penalized in the history of the “League” for the issue of domestic abuse.  Should I be outraged when a public figure knocks out his fiancé? Surely, the answer is yes. Should I be outraged for the cover-up (allegedly) that the NFL employed for a little CYA when it comes to public perception, maybe…but I am not sure. That however, is a whole different issue that this post has no time to get into. But when the private becomes public, why should the public debate the private? I don’t know, when am I supposed to judge?

Now, people are creating costumes on their own to play off the unbelievable story of Ray Rice, unbelievable that it still holds noteworthy status, unbelievable that it happened, and now, unbelievable what some people are doing to get their pictures shared all over the place.

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Should I however, judge this: a costume for trick-or-treating or costume parties on this most crazy of all holidays that depicts an NFL player dragging his beat-up wife around with him? Everything in me wants to say yes. This is an outrage. I should stand up as a decent human being to say this is unjust, this is glorification of the most heinous stuff. Who has the kahunas (not sure the spelling) to go around dressed like this? Who has the gumption to make money off of this? Then again, should I as a Christian, instructed to judge with strict limitations, should I even jump into the fray.  I struggle with this issue, and I struggle with where our culture has gone.

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” (I Corinthians 5:12-13)

I know we, Christians love to judge the world with condemnation, and for that I apologize on behalf of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Why we feel we should have a say over how those who do not live according to our standard do, I am not sure? Why we feel compelled to hold people to a line that they have not agreed upon, I will never understand. We’ll never guilt people into changing their behavior.

But can I step out from the little box I get put into as a Christian and make a stand on the grounds of common decency. Can I speak for all those who will not that this costume simply violates common courtesy to those who have struggled with issues of abuse? Why glorify it, why put this in the public eye even for the sake of humor or irony, or most especially to make a buck.  I hope this costume remains something only seen as an image online and less as something worn out in public.

I could say so much more of my disgust for humanity over such despicable displays of crass and crude illustrations of our deteriorating society. But then again, there is too much to complain about. This too will pass, and maybe we should focus on ways to help those with internal scars from abuse rather than scolding those that mock the seriousness of this issue.

I am curious, what do you think? Of all of it?

Voicemail Instructions And The Silliness Of Them

Let me continue to step into this new category for my writing—things that make you go hmmmm. This one however, makes me want to get a little vocal in the moment. Only in the brief moment, and maybe for a few moments as I write this post. You will think it is silly at first. And maybe a little outdated on second thought, because who really cares anymore. I am talking about voicemail. And not the topic of voicemail no, I am talking about the voicemail prompts that cell phone companies created to help people know what to do with technology.

man-with-phone-troubleI barely have time to make phone calls, much less for somebody to not pick up the phone. Now, if I wait through all of that and still have something essential enough and long enough that it requires more than a text message to convey, I have to wait another moment for the lady to tell me what to do.

Hold on. I know… I know; that sounds a little sexist, but usually the voice is a manufactured female voice that explains the procedures of voice mail. Which if you think about it, who needs to be given the procedures of voice mail in the year 2014. Maybe learning a VCR was hard, but don’t we know how to use voicemail by now. Wait for the beep. Yes, that is the key. Wait for the beep. Wait for that thing that indicates the recording will begin…now. And at that point, go. Begin saying anything you want. Okay, that seems basic enough. Is this still new for people? Is it important enough to still be included in the beginning of voicemails? And yes, I know that the instructions go further than informing people of the beep that is coming to indicate the point in which a message can be left. And maybe some of my angst in these special prompts comes from the fact that it is harder to fake out the incoming caller that you are actually picking up their call. Perhaps the instructions serve one if muted, vital service to the community. All righty then, After the beep instructions, there are other things that can be helpful. Now, when you are satisfied with your message, you can either hit a button to do more things with your message or merely hang up. It might be nice to have options for how to leave your message, urgent, important, hilarious, serious, Quixotic or whatever options these newfangled cell phones do with my voice mails.

Questions: How many people even use these options when leaving a voice mail? And Does anyone pay attention when they are   given an urgent voice mail. Shouldn’t every voice mail I leave be urgent for my friend, family member, co-worker or random person I met at the meeting from yesterday? I mean I have important information to pass along. At least it is important to me. But I don’t have time to push a special button to convey the urgency of my message. Okay, so there are unnecessary, but interesting options that I can be informed of regarding my voice mail. And there might be one helpful one. This is what to do when I am not satisfied with the message I want to leave, which happens a lot. Okay, Okay, there might be a slight but unessential need for the voice mail manual. I might want to know what to do when I leave a rambling, unintelligible voice mail. In that case, why can’t we get something uniform, so that every direction can be the same. Press 2 if you are interested in changing your voice mail. Then we could get it into the common practices of every one using the phone. Maybe this is why the kids these days are bypassing voicemail altogether and going straight for texting.

Maybe.

But really, the time wasted waiting for the menu of options and instructions on how to use a simple piece of technology could be used for far better things in this world. If we added up all the time flushed down the drain while we wait to leave a message, we could probably quantify the number as unimaginable, which raises other far more important questions. Questions of the utmost importance beginning with this one. What could we do with this time:

  • Save the world
  • Stop sharks from being over fished for the fins.
  • Put an end to terrorism.
  • Bring down the price of higher education.
  • Produce renewable energy.
  • Pass out shoes to everyone in the inner city in need of shoes.
  • Find healthy families for the growing number of unwanted kids in our country.
  • And the list goes on.

I mean we could do some incredible things if we did not have to waste our time waiting to leave a message. Oh, but you say, you can push a button to skip those instructions. Can I? First, I have to wait to listen to what number I can push, if that cell provider even offers a short cut key. Then I have to memorize which number works for which company, and which friends use which providers. This is just too much work. I want to begin something new. I want to change the world. And this is where I am going to start. Could we start a movement that would call for the elimination of pointless instructions?

What else is overly pedantic or pointless when it comes to instructions?

Things that make you go hmmm…Dress Shoes

I want to begin a category on the blog that maybe answers no specific question other than those little things in life that make you go hmmm.

Let me illustrate through this post.

Dress Shoes.

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What is the deal with dress shoes? I am not talking about the dress codes or formal events that bring the requisite nature to these shoes. I don’t even mind dressing nice or looking the part. Well, I should not fully say I don’t mind. I like looking the part, but by the end of the day I loathe my shoes, or at least my feet do.

This has gotten me wondering, wondering several things in which all come back on the maker, proprietor or inventor of these shoes. And ladies, don’t even worry. I know you have it way worse with your shoes than us men will ever have it.

Nonetheless, I want to ask the question on every medium I can, or at the minimum this one, who thought dress shoes was a good idea?

For starters, I can’t even fit my foot in my shoes without cramming, jamming and even using extra utensils (shoe horn) to get my foot squeezed into these fashion-conscious, dress-appropriate footwear.

Who thought it was a good idea to make a shoe that takes such vigorous work to get onto the foot?

Okay, but good things come to those that wait. I get that. Having a difficult time getting into something should not on its face make it a bad invention or creation. I get that. But the lack of ease to sliding on a dress shoe only begins the questioning.

Beyond the fight to put on the shoes I don’t like, once it fits onto my foot, the clock starts ticking . With my silly feet and chicken legs, I only have so much time I can wear them. I choose not to say comfortably as it is not a limited time of comfort I have. It is a limited time of well-being. I am starting to think of how I can utilize the stool more in the classroom, sit more often in the office, or simply stay off my feet that do look so handsome with these fancy shoes. My feet and legs just can’t take too much. The other day, after changing out of my shoes into my flip-flops, I wobbled around for about 10 minutes as the strength came back into my muscles and ligaments and stability into my joints.

Is it possible that the man or woman behind the dress shoe is really a sadist? Surely, they are a capitalist.

No one can deny the money-making that flows in from dress shoes. Who do “they” aim the dress shoe market at but business people, professionals, and fancy-pants men of all makes and models. In other words, they aim the shoes at the people who can afford to pay for the shoes that have little practically to offer beyond fashion and appearance of professionalism.  Thus, they are not marking down prices to help the blue-collar worker, or the student scrapping by. No, they mark it up for the white-collar guy. Interesting that the clergy gets the white collar even as they make far less money, but that is a story for another day.

Here is one way to illustrate what I mean about the ability to afford shoes. My dad worked for Motorola who suggested a professional attire. However, most people wore comfortable tennis shoes or loafers. When my dad asked if they would provide dress shoes that looked the part and wore comfortably (a rare find indeed) he was told no. When he countered that they provided work shoes for the factory workers, they did not budge. The factory workers boots needed to be up to specifications for safety sake. When safety gets involved, corporations will spare no expense. But dressing up can be afforded by those who make the money to look the part.

So with the reality proven sufficiently that the designers of dress shoes are sufficiently capitalist, I still wonder if they are just messing with people.

Do they laugh at home behind closed doors at what uncomfortable shoes people are willing to wear day-in-day out. Do they collaborate with one another on how to make it worse and not better. So many questions and so little time.

Maybe I am just a professional in a beach bum body wishing to get away with flip-flops. Maybe, I just need to shop more to find better shoes? Or maybe as I am getting older, I am feeling the aches and pains more.

Finally, WWJD? Would Jesus have worn dress shoes?

Well, I think I have sufficiently scratched the surface of one of those things that makes me go hmmm.

Help me understand this thing called dress shoes?

Learning Fast

My daughter doesn’t fit the mold, and maybe that is because she is growing up with me.

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Usually, children have no idea what to do around me. They look at me and see normal eyes. They do not understand that my eyes might look normal and even track with them, but in reality I do not see anything.

Often it takes until children are around 6-7 years old until they can get the abstract concept of blindness for me. They think, hey, if his eyes are open like mine, he can see what I can see. And they do things like throwing a ball at my head assuming that I will catch it.

The thing is my optic nerve died do to LHON. Like the cable between the video camera and the TV, my optic nerve should carry the picture to my brain. Well that cable doesn’t work any longer, and all I see is a dense fog, no colors, no distinction, no shapes, only light and dark and vague forms nearby.

With that in mind, I am always blown away with how easily my daughter handles my blindness. She knows how to take me by the hand to bring me where she wants me to go. Mind you, she is only two-and-a-half.  She knows that I don’t catch her facial reactions. She knows how to get my attention. And it doesn’t bother her in the slightest. I am her Daddy.

The other day, she stood out to me. Maybe her feat of greatness went unnoticed by others, but she simply amazed me. I would say I was left speechless, but that is a bit harder to do.

We were travelling back from Montana and spending a three-hour layover in the Denver airport. As we waited to begin her 50th flight (that’s right, she grew up as a missionary kid), we played and ate food. At one point, I needed to take her for a diaper change. We had the privilege of using the special bathroom for her changing. We had plenty of space to ourselves in the handicapped bathroom, and changing table bathroom.

When everything was finished, and my little princess was ready to go, I swung her into my arms. I grabbed my cane with one hand, and the sopping wet diaper in the other. I spun in one direction looking for the trash spot. I know they are usually near the door or in the corner near the sink.

I looked to one corner, and Ellie said no.

I looked to another corner.

And Ellie said no, other way.

I turned to a third corner.

And Ellie said yeah! Right there. Her excitement that I found the right direction neared my enthusiasm when Jay Cutler finds an open receiver for a first down. It was like she was playing the game Hot-and-Cold.

Then I leaned towards where I estimated the trash to be. I estimated too low and heard a quick reproof from my daughter.

She said, no. Up, dada.

I went up a bit.

And again she said, up.

I went up more.

Again she kindly said, up.

Finally, I dropped the diaper in the trash receptacle, and she shouted with glee, Yeah!! As if Kobe Bryant hit a game winner in game 7.

I wanted to shout from the mountain tops how incredibly intelligent my daughter was. I wanted the whole world to know how quickly my daughter has adapted to me. She has entered my world with the ease of an expert, and she is a toddler. She has already become a huge help. I can’t wait to see how much more she helps. As we grow together.

One of the keys in helping someone with any need, be it blindness, a learning disability, a new language, financial management, tutoring, or whatever, is finding a way to enter their world with ease. My daughter constantly teaches me how easy it can be. And she does it without making me feel special for her going out of her way to help me.

What other traits are important in helping people with special needs?

Reentry and Friends

Returning from cross cultural work brings so many emotions and culture to process. As I muse on one aspect of change, I love one analogy that helps us figure this deal out about reentry. It goes like this. You leave from a Green culture to live in a Yellow culture. When you return you are blue. After working to fit into another culture, you don’t realize how much you have changed no matter that you won’t fully become like your host culture.

When we returned after six years, it is hard to anticipate the changes, mostly in us. But let’s not diminish the fact American culture changes too. Many people do not realize the way culture changes. It is like when you visit a relative or long distance friend’s child you haven’t seen in years. You notice the change much more drastically than the family does.

For us, all of our friends in America became long distance friends for six years. As we landed back in the States, we wondered what it would be like to reconnect with friends. Friends who have continued maturing and growing in the path they walked while at the same time, our life was completely changed through our experiences and development in another culture. For me, I started thinking of some of my best friends and peers in ministry; I started to realize how they moved on. The realization struck me as Christina and I were walking around LA. We started talking through the friends we looked forward to reconnecting with as we noted how many moved to a new part of the country. We had more than a few of my friends move out of the area. We look forward to redeveloping friendships from a new foundation. We have time as we process who we are and how we fit in this place. We are taking time to make our move process slowly.

I am also so glad to see how God is orchestrating the taking of acquaintances to deeper friends.