Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sandusky Aftermath: Breaking The Cycle

With the guilty verdict of Jerry Sandusky of 45 counts of child abuse comes a great sense of relief. It's step in restoring the feeling of justice that we all long for. I know that God has written into us the deep seeded notion that justice must be met and right will win over wrong. I've been reading comments about the case and one thing is for certain is that it brings out a deep anger with which has its own ugly side. Calling Sandusky a monster or predator is one thing, but hoping he gets raped or beaten to death in prison is another thing. Given my past I feel that deep conflict of knowing that justice needs to be served but also having hopes that he gets what he dished out. This case has opened such deep wounds that the city of Sandusky, OH has had a drop in tourism since the case began and some serious name confusion. Once again, God's way is different from ours. I know that God desires for even a child abuser to find healing, forgiveness and fellowship from the Father. Jesus came to save us all. There is no "worse" sin. I know that we all at times have a hard time reconciling this.
2 Samuel 12:13
"Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”"
I have an odd request to anyone who reads this who has abused someone in the past. I am speaking as one who has been on the other end of the abuse and through it I have a message now that I am in a better emotional state (thank you, Jesus!). My message is this: "Step up and take responsibility." From what I see, abusers have somehow isolated those they dominate over and are great at hiding their actions. Bring your actions into the light. I would commend you highly if you would even turn yourself into the police if the abuse warranted it. Another action to take: seek professional help immediately. You need to find out why you behave as you do and fix that. It would be your gift to mankind to help break this ugly cycle. I know that many if not all abusers have been on the receiving end of abuse. Please find healing from that. God has a way of fixing what seems to be hopelessly broken. It is a painful process that will require you to face your hurts and those you hurt. But taking responsibility has a way of freeing us.
Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
To those survivors (you're not victims) who were brave enough to stand up and testify reliving such horrific times in your life, I stand and applaud you. You are the very definition of a brave man. You have stood up in the face of fear, shame and public spectacle. Bravery is defined as facing something even if it taps into your worst fear. You have done this. To all of us who have been through similar experiences. I pray for you to find healing. I was bullied to an extremely painful level. I'm sure that getting beaten or sexually abused is far worse than what I experienced. Again, I pray that you will find healing. Seek out good counseling and yes, face the pain. Feel the deep hurt. It is the path to healing. Talk to some good friends or others who have survived what you have went through. Mostly, find times to know who God is in your life. He is the ultimate healer. He is the safety that we all long for. As the prosecution said, Sandusky took part of each victim's soul. I know that God can restore your soul, heal your heart and more. He loves you more than you can imagine.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The King's Speech

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Rodney King. His life and choices have been under the glare of a judgmental public eye for about twenty years. I'm not sure many could bear what he has been through and come out OK from it.
His choices were definitely wrong on the night of March 2, 1991. He was driving drunk. He could have killed someone or himself just because of that foolish choice. Beyond that, he resisted arrest and did not cooperate with the police. From there, things got horribly ugly. I don't know fully the reason for him receiving the beating he got from the police, but it was awful to see and clearly excessive. This incident has plenty of people to blame.
Later in life, King battled substance issues continually and it seems that he never could find the strength to conquer some of the torment that followed him the rest of his life. Again, can any other person survive what he went through and receive the judgement that surrounds him without deep hurt? It is sad to hear that many who were close to him speak of him as a deeply caring individual who they were rooting for and that he had a kind a generous side that the public ignored.
Yet he carried the burden of being the lightning rod of the LA Riots.The anger there was equally horrible and unjust compared to what King endured at the hands of the police. Again, so many are to blame for what has happened.
What I really want to convey is that despite King's issues and under such deep criticism he gave in my opinion one of the most important speeches on race. It is one that beckons us to look towards a Healer. I find it offensive that people have used his statements in a condescending way. For some reason, people of all colors seems to find his words naive, foolish and even stupid. Yes, it wasn't eloquent, but is had a lot of honesty and heart. In that moment, Rodney King stepped up and changed the world. To that I feel he took responsibility and deserves a positive place in history.
God desires for us to heal. First our hearts need to be healed through reconciling and humbling ourselves before a Savior. Second, we need to heal the hurts that occur between us. Racial conflict at its heart is the same issue that plagues this fallen world: sin. We need healing. Rodney King's speech spoke to step two. May we all find step one and only then will step two truly happen.

"I just want to say - you know - can we all get along? can we, can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids? And... I mean we've got enough smog in Los Angeles let alone to deal with setting these fires and things... it's just not right - it's not right. And it's not going to change anything. We'll get our justice; they've won the battle, but they haven't won the war. We'll get our day in court and that's all we want.
And, just, uh, I love - I'm neutral, I love every - I love people of color. I'm not like they're making me out to be.
We've got to quit - we've got to quit; I mean after-all, I could understand the first - upset for the first two hours after the verdict, but to go on, to keep going on like this and to see the security guard shot on the ground - it's just not right; it's just not right, because those people will never go home to their families again. And uh, I mean please, we can, we can get along here. We all can get along - we just gotta, we gotta.
I mean, we're all stuck here for a while, let's, you know let's try to work it out, let's try to beat it, you know, let's try to work it out."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day Gift

With Father's Day upon us, I wanted to offer my gift to fathers and future fathers. Beyond the cards, well wishes, striped ties and prime rib dinners I hope that I can offer you something that will last. Understand you have been given one of the most influential roles on earth. It is a role that can change the course of so many lives and has been ordained by God to be the agent of blessing and power in this world. The message you may be getting is that men, fathers and masculinity are archaic, unnecessary or even worse abusive. This is a lie. You are most under attack because the Enemy knows you are the most powerful.

Revelation 22:3
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
First I offer you to be free from the shaming that permeates the world. We live in a results oriented, critic focused, sound byte world where it is so easy for one to be blamed for things. With that environment comes shame. What's worse is that many of you will attend church where your pastor (with good intentions) will preach a message of what's wrong with dads. It will ring of things such as what we are lacking, what we don't do and why the world is screwed up because of it. It's shame preaching and it may produce a short term change but nothing permanent. It also gives us a more callused heart as we get more obligations piled on us. I say you are free (FREEDOM!!!) from that. Your heart is good. You have a Father who loves you and is proud of you. Let that sink in to the deepest parts of your heart. You are free from the curse so you are free to make mistakes. God knows your heart.

Matthew 11:28
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
You have permission to rest. Actually, in the Old Testament you are commanded to rest. We need to recharge and relax. We need time to reconnect with our true Dad. So yes, hit the links, read the book on your front porch, play the Stratocaster (really loud if you'd like), ride the Hog (or in my case the Vmax) on some winding road to nowhere, just take your Father with you. See if you find Him in a thought or an experience. He desires for you to enjoy things and He wants to enhance it with His presence. We sometimes are shamed into feeling guilty enjoying things when in actuality carving a few hours out once in a while is a healing and growing time. If you're having trouble finding what gives you rest, ask the question (it may take several times before you come up with it): "What do I want to do?"

Obi-Wan: "You must learn the ways of the Force if you're to come with me to Alderaan."
You are not alone on this journey in life. Don't live it out in isolation. My prayer is that you have a great dad or mentor who will show you the ropes of life. There seems to be this implied (again shame oriented) view that if you don't know it, you're an idiot if you ask for help. That's a complete lie. We need help, guidance and direction. Seek out someone who will step into that role for you. You deserve it. Also, every man can be Obi-Wan to someone else. In an "iron sharpening iron" sort of way God has placed us in the position to be mentors. If you're a teen, mentor your siblings or that lonely kid down the street. If you are in your twenties, I'm sure that there's a youth group or a street ministry who would love to have you involved. If you're in the "middle" you either have children or there are other children, teens and young adults who desperately need you to fill the role of Obi-Wan. For you mature men please, we need you the most. You have a lifetime of wisdom that will bless any younger male. I know that I am still seeking that mentor.
I'm sure that you may be feeling inadequate for such a role. Understand that you are in process just like the rest of us. You will make mistakes. You may face rejection. That's OK God is much bigger and has your back. He cares more about the process then the results.

James T. Kirk "Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human. "
Finally, I give you the gift of brotherhood. We are not to live this life alone. You need a band of brothers who you can be real with, share with and enjoy the bonds of masculine love. I'm sure this sounds a bit dramatic or even a little weird but we need to break free from the conditioning that isolates us. It is freeing to have others who can listen, care and empathize. We have all been through the ringer and need someone to talk with. We need to be known and accepted. I pray that you find that with a few peers who will walk through life with you. For me, I meet with four co-workers who are also my friends. We talk a lot about what's really going on inside of us. It's so healing. I also have friends from my childhood, college and churches I have attended over the years that I can turn to. I am truly blessed to have this and hope that you will have it to. Having brothers in Christ will get you through so many tough times and will make the good times ever better.
I have given you some fairly abstract gifts. I understand that some of it may seem impossible to attain or just plain idealistic. To that I offer that if you are truly seeking to find any of these gifts and they seem elusive, first read more of this blog as I hope to be addressing this in other articles. Also, you are free to contact me and I'll offer you what I have. I'm far from perfect and most of what I know comes from years of doing life wrong.
Finally, you are not called to go at life alone. You have a Heavenly Father who is actively involved in your life. You are blessed and He is proud of you!
Happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Of Basketball Camps, Rick Barry, An Old Baseball And A Well Worn Wallet

Fox and I spent this weekend attending the University Of Tennessee Basketball Camp with his team the Knoxville Ambassadors (I coach the JV team). We played five games in two days and had a lot of time for the team to hang out. I think it's such a great experience to have teammates to compete with, learn from and grow in friendship. The challenges and triumphs of sports really is a great thing for young men to experience. Obviously, when fallen man gets involved there are so many ugly parts that can come out, but there's so much to gain that with the leadership of men of integrity great growth is accomplished. Since we now live in a culture that greatly separates dads from their sons, sports is one of those activities that can help reconnect us to our sons. For me, the challenges of bridging the gap between me and Fox can be difficult. Both of our pasts and hurts are continued challenges for me to find ways to grow together and bond.

This weekend the team got to shoot around and play Gotcha on the Thompson Boling Arena floor. I'm sure it was a great thrill to play hoops on the very same spot that the players they look up to carve out their legacy. They also got to meet Coach Cuonzo Martin and players Yemi Nakanjuola, Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and local product Skylar McBee. Even if you don't recognize the names, just understand they are the sports stars of this area. These are the men that boys around East Tennessee look up to. It was so refreshing to see them be so available and gracious to the team.
The team did very well as the continue to develop as basketball players and as a group. What they also found out is that basketball as in life, you can go a long way in growth and yet still have a long way to go. Fox continues to grow into the role of point guard. Going from scorer to play maker takes a lot of maturity. I'm so impressed with how far he has grown in this area.
 Although this was my time for Fox it was cool that during the camp, I was able to keep up with Ariel and her job interviews, Samantha and her time on jury duty, Ron in his transition in life and just missed Amanda a few times (she called me during one game. I was really tempted to take the call, but knew it wouldn't look good having a coach on his cell phone during a game). Amanda and I did catch up Sunday evening. Somehow, God has given me a pretty full quiver over the years. He has blessed me with so much that I don't really deserve. Even more amazing, He somehow trusts me with all of these lives when in fact I mess it up time after time.
This weekend I couldn't help remember some of my past. Basketball has been a sport I've loved for a long time. The hoop in the front yard of my youth still stands today and is where I spent hours trying to perfect my shot and imagine moments of hardwood glory. Where I connect to this is thinking about a time when I was ten and got to play in an all star game at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum (now known as Oracle Arena). I still can feel what it was like. We played three quarters before the game and the fourth during halftime. The Warriors beat the Buffalo Braves (remember them?) that night. I remember being in a large dressing room and then we walked down an endless maze of corridors up to a black curtain. I remember my heart pumping about 1000 BPM as I walked out of the runway into the bright lights and sitting down on the bench that Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond sat. The floor looked about 100 miles long. I remember my throat being completely dry after running up and down the court just a few times. I can remember making a short shot in the paint during the game and feeling like the greatest basketball player in the world. A funny thing was when we spilled ice on the ground around the bench, it melted immediately. I guess there's a lot of heat generated from those attending the game and the bright lights shining on the court. Somewhere along the way we got autographs of Rick Barry.
I think of that time and wonder just how memories stick with us while others so easily fade away. How many times do we hope for our kids to see something as significant and they seem to miss it while other seemingly small things become life long memories. My hope for this weekend is that each of the players had a life long memory but who knows if that will happen or not?

Joshua 4:4-7
 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

God spends a fair amount of the Old Testament having the Children Of Israel constructing remembrances. He obviously knew that somehow we needed reminders of the great things that are in our lives. We have Salvation. We have available to us the intimate relationship with an all loving Creator who went to all lengths to save us. We have our families, and friends. We live in a world that has majestic mountain, waterfalls, laughter, motorcycles, sushi and goofy large breed dogs. How much of this do we take for granted? I'm sure God was trying to get us to practice remembering.
Personally, I realize that I actually put remembrances into my life naturally. There are two that I came up with and both are quite common objects, but mean a lot to me.

The first, is a dirty brown baseball. The significance is that my dad set it aside to teach me how to pitch. Now obviously I never became that great at pitching but it means so much to me that my dad took the time to teach me the mechanics of pitching. When you ask a man what he remembers about his father, he will almost always say "He taught me to..." or "We did...together". Shared experiences and the learning process that comes through it is the powerful way in which men impart things to their sons. The sight of a father and son side by side fishing, wrenching a car or doing algebra sums it up well. I know that my dad cared enough to impart something special to me. The end of "Field Of Dreams" when Kevin Costner plays catch with his dad really hits me hard. Playing catch is one of those activities that connects dads with sons. I'm not sure I can explain why, but it truly does. I found the ball many years after I moved out of the house on the same shelf that we stored it. I still toss it around to myself when I sit in the loft at my house and remember those days in the backyard pitching to him after dinner.
Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you
Jim Croce

The second is my wallet. It's a plain black wallet that is well worn (it's over 16 years old). Loved ones have offered me gifts of wallets over the years, but I have resolved that this is the last wallet I will ever own. The reason is that it's the last gift my mom got for me. About a year after that she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I sometimes wonder why God would not allow her to be around for so many things in my life. She has never met five of her grandchildren. She didn't get to see Ariel get married. She wasn't around for either of Ariel or Amanda's graduations or how they have grown to be amazing and beautiful young women. She never knew the delight of meeting Fox. I know that God has a merciful answer for why He took her from us so early and that I will someday understand His reason. Until then, I know that I have a part of her that was there for all of these events. This wallet has also been to Guatemala, Toronto, Japan, and amongst the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. It also has been to all of the family vacations, the day the girls legally changed their name to Nakamura and even every trip to the grocery store. One of the coolest things is that the wallet is a prop in the movie Beretta. It's Amanda's award winning student film. She needed a wallet for a close up so once again, my mom is there! (If you ever want to see the film, let me know. Proud dad's are always ready to brag about their talented kids!). When I take the time to reflect on the wallet, it's reminder that I can savor the times I did have with my mom: her feisty temperament; her silly "Lucille Ball" sense of humor and her holiday creme puff desserts.
So perhaps an autograph, a funny moment, or a memorable sequence on the court from this weekend will trigger something powerful within each of these boys. It is my hope that this experience will bring them to a point of praise to their Father or an expression of thankfulness to a lifelong friend.
Remembrances can be anything. Significant and exciting events or something hidden in the mundane of life. My hope is that we all can remember what makes each of our lives special, full of color and beauty and that God desires for us to remember and savor the amazing life that we all are living out. We are truly the crown achievement of His creation and He is the one who loves us deeper than we can ever imagine!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Champ, T.O. I Am Your Father

With the news that Terrell Owens has been cut by an indoor football team it would be easy for many of us to feel smug. Owens has acted like a self centered, team chemistry destroying, irresponsible child. That would be the easy way out, but for some reason I felt very deeply sorry for him and those around him. Yes, he has hurt many people and angered many fans. He has four children with which he has failed to take care of, parent, and even just pay for their child support. I'm sure Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia feel a bit vindicated after the treatment Owens has subjected them to.
Amongst all of that stands a man who I know must be deeply wounded inside based on the behavior he exhibits. It's a true tragedy. I have a level of compassion for him in the sense that he acts like someone who has lacked the direction he needs to mature. Sadly, to an extent we are in the same boat as he is.
To contrast him, I present to you George Foreman. Today, he is a smiling grandfatherly figure who has that wonderful self deprecating sense of humor. He has made millions of dollars pushing car repair shops and hamburger grills. He's a pastor and from what I can see, a good father. The odd thing is to know George Foreman of the 70s you would never think of him this way. He was a surly bully who seemed angry at the world. That rage was unleashed on his opponents in the boxing ring with a frightening level of power and punishment. Through it he rarely smiled. He seemed angry at the world. In some ways, he had the same level of hurt that T.O. has.

Where did that come from? I know one source for both of these men.
For Owens, as a young teen he was interested in an older girl in the neighborhood. The father of the girl noticed this and went to talk with him. Now usually, this would be the usual "stay away from my little girl" talk that every father has felt the need to do. This talk, turned towards the shocking. The man did tell him to stay away from his daughter. The strange part, is the reason: the girl is Owens' sister! Can you imagine the shock of finding out this neighbor is your father?
Likewise for Foreman, while he was the champ, a random man named Leroy Moorhead walked up to him and introduced himself. In a chilling "Empire Strikes Back" manner, this man told him that he was his father. That would be a shock to the system.
These stories are tragic. Where were these "fathers" when they are needed? Why aren't they standing up and truly mentoring and guiding those whom they fathered? To me, doing this is the one thing that can truly stem the tide of all that is wrong in our society. T.O. is only a product of a broken system that continues to perpetuate itself. The only difference is his fame and fortune so we get to all see it on a national stage.
My sincere hope is that T.O. will find his true Heavenly Father, feel his deep healing love and step up to become the man he was created to be.

Exodus 12:24-28
 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.

As for George Foreman, one thing that seems to get lost in his transformation from bully to smiling pitch man is his faith. He has found the love of his Heavenly Father and lives it out - not perfectly, but in a daily transforming way. The angry, snarl is gone. He is proof that God changes us. No matter what our past is, we can still make a difference.

As a footnote, there's a joke about the fact that all five of Foreman's sons are named George. The joke rings of the sound of a dumb palooka who has no clue how to come up with any other name. In fact, it is something heartwarming and brilliant. Foreman's shock at meeting his father inspired him to be sure of one thing, all of his boys would know who their father is. They in fact will carry the name of their father, good, bad or otherwise. This is George Foreman standing up and saying, I'm your father and you will know it from day one.
May we all find ways to step up like that.
T.O. I'm praying for you.