Try not to get kicked in the face

When I was a freshman and my brother was a junior in college, I decided to join him on the intramural soccer team. Not since our youth had we played soccer together, so this was fit to be a bit of an adventure.  I played goalkeeper and my brother was a “sweeper” or full back.  This means he was the last defender before the ball got to the goal.

On one particular game, my brother got beat by a forward and I was left to defend the goal by myself.  This was a rare occurrence, I might add, considering he was lightening fast and ridiculously competitive).  I ran out to greet the striker in a one-on-one dive whereupon I lay out horizontally and attempted to steal the ball from the opposing player. 

The plan was sound.  The execution was costly.  As I flopped onto the ground the forward wound up and kicked at the ball.  Since I had arrive a bit quicker than the opposing player had anticipated the ball was in my hands and his foot ended up kicking me in the ribs.

Silence.  I had never had the wind knocked out of me like this before.  I remember gasping for air like I had just landed on Mars.  Of course, once I was able to take a breath, I inhaled as deeply as I could only to cause my broken ribs to make me cry like a little schoolgirl.  Man alive, that was a lot of pain.

My brother, seeing me gasping for life and riling in agony on the sparse turf looked me in the eye and asked the necessary question, “Are you alright?”  To which I responded with a headshake and tears.  Mind you, I was 19 years old.

My brother picked me up and carried me to his car.  He buckled me in as I awkwardly hunched forward and moaned.  He drove me to the hospital.  He stayed with me the whole time and made sure I made it back to my dorm room, six hours later.  He never said a sarcastic word.  He never laughed or taunted me.  He simply was present and loving.

I will never forget his fatherly compassion.  I will never forget the look of genuine concern on his face and the immediate move toward action.  It pays to build healthy brotherly relationships.  Trust me, I know.

Family can be weird and dysfunctional sometimes.  It can be the source of tension and frustration.  It can be violent and hurtful. But it can also be a glimpse into salvation.  Remember to call your brother or sister this week and secure the roots of healthy relationship.  You never know when that might come in handy.


Moonwalking with MC Hammer

I was a huge Michael Jackson fan when I was kid.  I even took tap dancing lessons when I was in fifth grade.  Somewhere out there is a photo of me in black stretch pants wearing a peach sequence vest and matching peach sequence hat.  Did I mention it was peach…and sequence?

My friend Josh and I were so excited about dances in junior high, we used to practice moves in my parents basement.  I am not kidding.  It takes two by Rob Base was a particular favorite. We would listen to songs that we thought might get played at the dance and choreograph moves.  Like I said, I am not kidding.

By my freshman year I had won three dance contests to MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This. The trophies usually consisted of a six pack of soda and the attention of a number of beautiful junior high girls.  I know what you are thinking, “Doug, what is your secret?  Teach us the ways of your zen mastery in pre-pubescent extra-curricular groove.”  Or you are thinking, “What a dork.” It gets worse.

High school was more of the same.  I attended dances regularly.  My mom and I were the stars of the Mother-Son Father-Daughter dance whereupon we fearlessly twisted the night away.  In college I was hypnotized at freshman orientation and did a full lip sync to Michael Jackson’s Beat it.  Many friendships were formed that night based on side splitting laughter and disbelief in my ability to moon walk.  Since then, things have slowed down.

My kids are the proud owners of Just Dance 3 and 4 and I just can’t seem to let myself participate. The game is incredible.  It promotes incredible physical activity for people while having all the fun of a dance party in your living room. So what’s my deal?  I think I have a theory.

Somewhere I let myself slip into a “been there, done that,” mode when it came to dancing.  It is much easier to smile from the bar with your drink then get out on the dance floor.  It is much easier to disengage the present and dwell on the past. Yup, thats it.

I let myself dismiss the newness of every opportunity to encounter music and movement because I equate it with my adolescence.  The experience for me seems childish and I feel like I need to put away childish things.  How many of us do this with our faith?

“Oh I went to church when I was a kid because my mom made me.”  “I used to go to youth group when I was a teenager, it was cool, but I grew out of it.”  “Yeah, I used to take part in service trips when I was younger…”  And so on and so on.

A faith life just like dancing is not childish, it is child like.  We all know what the Lord thinks of being child like.  If you need a reminder read Matt 18:3.  Let make faith be a priority this year.  Maybe sit down and remember childhood joys and re-discover them.  Maybe your childhood encounter with faith was weak or ill formed…be an adult about it and discover a deeper richness in a more mature way.

MC Hammer ended up becoming a minister after all of his musical stardom faded away.  Maybe he and I were more connected than I had thought.  I should send him some soda. One of my new year’s resolutions is to dance more.  I will not practice. I will not smirk at the invitation.  I will rip up the floor to Call me maybe and Final Countdown!


My wife has a crush on a guy named Edgar

Edgar Martinez won the award for best designated hitter in baseball so many times that they named the award after him.  He has a lifetime .312 batting average, .993 OPS and .515 slugging percentage.  If you are not a fan of baseball you should know that those numbers are amazing.  My wife is not the biggest baseball fan, but when Edgar was playing she thought he was ridiculously handsome as well.  This was great for me because I could get her to watch games.  This was not so great for me because I look nothing like a curly haired Puerto Rican.

Edgar came into the league in 1982 as a third baseman for the Mariners.  Wearing number 11 his entire career, Mr. Martinez hitting ability quickly began to surface as his greatest asset.  He became a full time DH.  In other words, he hit for a living.

In 1973 the American League introduced the position of designated hitter into professional baseball.  The idea is that the pitcher does not have to hit and an extra player on the team can contribute offensively.  The cool thing about the position is that is doesn’t dismiss the bottom of the batting order during a rally.  For example, if you have a couple guys on base and the pitcher is due up, you don’t have to kill your rally.  Pitchers average a .115 batting average nationally.  This means they usually cant hit worth a hill of beans.  Managers love the DH because it opens up all kinds of ways to put the game in motion in the bottom of the batting order.  Of course, I am a Mariner fan and in 2012 we carried four starters that hit under .200.  Just saying.

Why am I telling you all of this.  Edgar Martinez is on the ballot for entrance into the Hall of Fame this year.  The controversy is that many baseball purist feel the “designated hitter position” does not make one worthy of entrance into the hall.  Having receive the Roberto Clemente Award in 2004 for outstanding service on and off the field, I am not sure how Edgar could be more qualified.  Are we going to deny David Ortiz entrance as well? Here is what I am getting at.

When you take a job, you are usually asked to do the best you can.  Is there anyone alive who’s job stays exactly the same their entire career?  Usually multiple additional tasks are asked of them and success is determined by their ability to adapt and overcome challenges.  From a McDonald’s fry guy to a professional athlete, your role at work will change.

It is in how we deal with change and how we rise to the occasion that defines us.  Edgar Martinez redefined a position in the great game of baseball.  When it was determined that he would no longer be a starting third baseman, the position that Martinez loved and had played his entire career, he took to the batting cages.  Edgar would write words on tennis balls and load them into a pitching machine.  As the balls flew by him at 100 mph he would read the words.  That is intense.  It is also the self-discipline of wanting to become the best at what the game of baseball had offered him…well into his 40’s.

No matter how our jobs have been redefined, lets make the best of them today.  Look at the differences in your work place from say five years ago.  How have you changed?  How has your job changed?  How will you change your approach to your job?  Oh, and, get out their and vote Edgar into the hall.  If their is one man that has exemplified the human spirit and the will to overcome, its him.


He Man and the moron youth minister

My first year as a parish youth minister I actually created a puppet show using my old collection of  He Man figures in which the story of creation was acted out behind a make shift curtain on folding tables.  He Man was, of course, God and She Ra was Eve. If these names mean nothing to you, you simply missed out on one of the greatest cartoon story lines of the 80’s…or so I thought.  The puppet show…was for juniors in High School.  I….was a moron.

I was 22 years old and thrust into a position where I had been given the responsibility of helping form the faith of hundreds of teens.  I thought I could be extremely entertaining and maybe dabble in a bit of content. My credibility was shot with the youth and adults in the room in one night. Quite frankly my ego was a bit fractured.  Why was I doing this job again?

When I started out in youth ministry with my pony tail and sandals, I was convinced that I was the best at what I did simply because I wanted to be the best at what I did.  My personal spiritual life was a joke and my understanding of day to day parish life was a bit of a fantasy.  I was good at being with young people, but completely inexperienced at planning anything.  My understanding of youth culture was based solely on my memories of being a youth and my education, I believed  some how entitled me to authority…I thought.  My charm would have to be enough.

Oddly, it sort of was.  You can get away with being fun loving and easy to get along with in ministry. You can be the young adult that makes youth laugh and completely accepts the quirks of the culture with a smile and a ,”Thats cool, no worries,” type attitude.  Your impact, however, will be shallow and short lived.  It took me a long time to learn this.  I was much more concerned about being accepted in the youth culture than being a messenger.  I thought it my job to be a positive influence in the lives of youth rather than a disruptive voice on behalf of our risen Lord.  Both are important.  Simply being positive, however, is not the way of the cross and certainly not the model laid our for us by the communion of saints.

My career as a minister has been a bit of a mountain ascent.  It has mostly had its ups but they have come at a price.  The cost is always hard work and forcing my self to walk the extra step to gain ground in m spirituality and personal formation.  Along the way I have a stumbled a ton.  With every bruising step, I have a choice to make.  My own spiritual ascent can either form me or frustrate me.  I can let my career in ministry change me into what God wants me to be or simply attempt to climb a corporate ladder.  The choice is mine, but the result will impact everyone around me.

This is the way of service.  I am not in my twenties anymore, and am glad for it.  I do not make the same mistakes I made as a younger man…thank the Lord.  I take my own spiritual formation extremely serious because I want young people to do the same.  This is the seed of success who’s fruit I may never reap.  But it is a path much more attune with the Gospel narrative and the path of discipleship.


Fistfight faith formation.

I only got into one fistfight with my brother.  I stole his bike when I was in sixth grade and let my friend Scott ride it.  When Scott and I returned from our tour de neighborhood, my brother looked at me with disgust and couldn’t believe what I had done.  I dismissed him with a typical adolescent scoff and he proceeded to let me know that my commandeering of his choice vehicle would not go without punishment.  Being in front of a friend, I thought I would show off a bit and take a swing at my rather large brother who out weighed me by 25 pounds.

He literally caught my fist in his hand. Like something out of a Jason Statham movie, he looked me dead in the eye as if to say, “I see that you have attempted to take the matter to another level.  This level will no doubt produce an unwanted reaction by me which will in turn leave bruises on your face.” He then proceeded to pugilisticaly pummel me.  I only remember getting a couple hits in.  Okay, none.  And I am sure my brother didn’t actually think all those things.  He was probably just pissed. 

He was a big guy.  After beating the crap out of me, my brother carried me to my mom and informed her what he and I had done.  Telling her the story of the bike, my friend and my saucy attitude. My mother looked at me with my slightly bloody nose then looked at my brother with his sincere eyes and determined intent.  She then proceeded to punish me.  Can you believe it?  I was the one in trouble!?!  Mr. perfect youngest son was getting sent to his room over a bike?  Have you seen my face?

It was a great moment in my adolescence on a number of levels.  First, I learned about my brother’s limits.  I never crossed them again.  Never.  He and I had our differences, but never went to blows. We grew up sharing a room most of our years and could not have been a more different pair.  My brother is a scientists and I am, well, not.  He is a well thought out and well spoken Dr. of Geochemistry and I am, well, a youth minister.  You get the picture.

Second, I learned about integrity.  You can act all you want based on your own moral understanding.  You can convince yourself that your actions have merit and will be judged true because of your own intentions.  However, when your actions affect another person and their will…there are consequences.  My parents probably lectured me on this a thousand times.  I never really understood it until my brother’s fists took me to school.  I had learned my lesson regarding moral relativism and decided to stick with absolute moral norms instead.  Better said, I began to subscribe to the power of the informed conscious and a life of faith formed intuition. There would be way less hitting for me.

There is truth and there are lies.  There is right and wrong.  Human relationships our in a balance because these things are beautifully God given.  Thank God. When we act out of social pressure or selfish need, imbalance can seem justified but usually only ends up driving us into a place of self induced timeout or…worse.

My brother is a father of six children, a husband and a professional.  I love him dearly and still look up to him as a friend and as a man.  Honestly, I am thankful for the lesson.  It probably saved me from entering into a number of unwanted moral dilemmas.  Needless to say, I never took his bike again.  Now, his car on the other hand…