Monday, October 29, 2012

Good Vibrations

I know that many have had the pleasure to see "their" team win the championship so my experience is not unique. I write this to get it off of my mind and in case you are a Giants fan, can share in the joy. Last night the San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series. My team is the champion of baseball!

I think that more than any other team, in any other sport the Giants are so closely ingrained into my life. Candlestick Park was where I got to see my very first professional sports event. It was at a time when the outfield wasn't enclosed, Willie Mays was heading into the twilight of his brilliant career and I was an impressionable child who saw the magical game of baseball. I remember seeing the green grass and larger than life stars of the day. I still can picture in my mind's eye Mays at the plate, McCovey's long stretch for the putout, the flamboyant Tito Fuentes flipping hit bat before stepping in the box. That sort of bond can last a lifetime. The players have changed, the stadium changed, but the game and the team are the same.

I remember being a fan when it wasn't cool. Those lean years of the Stoneham family trading off its stars (May, McCovey, Perry, Maracial, Maddox, Foster, Sarge Matthews) was such a trying time. There were some bright spots, Vida Blue became my favorite pitcher, Joe Morgan's home run kept the hated Dodgers out of the playoffs in 1982. After the horrible 1985 (100 loss) year, Roger Craig  and Will Clark brought on a great period of prosperity. I was just out of college, had season tickets and my team was winning:
1987 NL West Champions
1989 NL Pennant (my first playoff games, and my only World Series experience: the earthquake game).
1993 brought on the Bonds era with the last great division race, after that a baseball labor dispute and some up and down years. 2002 brought another pennant and a nightmare game 6.
I see that through all those years, I grew up, went to college, got a job, went to Cooperstown,  got married, had kids and even bought a campground. The one thing that was missing: a championship.
2010 fixed that:

46 years on earth and I finally got to see it happen. The Giants are champions! Stud pitching (Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Wilson) and timely hitting (Huff, Ross, Uribe and most of all: Edgar Renteria) characterized this team. Lots of unknowns stepping up along with a staff of arms that could be lights out. I strangely feel like in some weird way I can die in peace now.
Fast forward to 2012:

Even better pitching (Zito, Bumgarner, Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong and Romo) with some clutch hitting (Sandoval, and Scutaro) and you have another championship. So today, I'm ecstatic. I'm wearing my Giants jersey to work. All those cold nights at the 'Stick, seeing Willie Mays traded, all those lean years, the embarrassment of the steroid era, the 2002 debacle, losing on the last day in 1993 for now all background noise drowned out by two championships. The joy of baseball is back and I'm again that little kid wide eyed and loving the good vibrations of it all.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Christ The Action Hero

Late August is a cool time to have a birthday. When I was a kid, it was a last hurrah before "back to school" became a sad reality. These past few years, those at Lionsgate have decided that late August was the perfect time to release The Expendables and its sequel, the creatively named The Expendables 2. It means that the question "What do you want to do on your birthday?" is any easy answer for me. I want to see a loud movie with some good old buddies from the past: Sly, Arnold, Bruce, Jet, Dolph, Jean Claude, Chuck and Jason.
The premise behind the Expendables is about as subtle as a jackhammer. It involves killing, explosions, killing, fist fights, killing, automatic weapons, killing, blood, killing, gore and killing. The plot is about as deep as puddle of water. Half of the stars have heavy accents (Jet, Arnold, Dolph and Jean Claude) that make them completely unintelligible the rest mumble and grunt their lines in an equally unintelligible way. I love it. For some reason, it gets my blood pumping. It's great to see bad guys meet their gory demise at the hands of some steroid pumped middle aged maniacs. Perhaps the simplicity of knowing who's the bad guy and who's the good guy can be refreshing in this post modern world we live in. What I also realized is that on the most basic level it has elements that all men crave for. We all need to belong with a bunch of like minded guys. We crave adventure (loud exploding and combative adventure) righting the wrongs of the world. We like having command over powerful things (grenades, Uzis, rocket launchers). I think that deep down we know that there's a fight to be fought and an evil to conquer and talking about our feelings isn't always the answer.

In looking back in cinema, even if the hero isn't a life sized action figure, Hollywood seems to have connected with that deep need in men's lives. The 80's had Rambo, John McClane and The Terminator. Going further back there was Dirty Harry, John Wayne, The Lone Ranger, Superman and one of my favorites Humphrey Bogart. The window dressing changes with the times, but each of them had something fierce within them. When looking at Christ I'm beginning to see that this is an ignored part of His character. Sadly for men, it weakens the appeal of the most important man to walk the earth. This in turn has seriously damaged the church. If we continue to see Jesus as a bearded guy in a white dress, it will continue to turn men away from the One who can truly engage us as men.

One thing that all these action stars have is some sort of code of ethics. Around our house I'm apt to ask "What's Gibbs' rule number nine?" This is in reference to the TV show NCIS whose lead is played by Mark Harmon. Gibbs' life is directed by a set of rules (by the way the answer is "Never go anywhere without a knife."). That's a rule that I want all my kids to follow. It means to be prepared (sound familiar?). A code is a great and simple way to find direction since life always has surprises.

I've read that Clayton Moore who is best known for playing the Lone Ranger was so deeply impressed with the character that he took on the Lone Ranger's code of ethics for his own life:
"I believe...

  • that to have a friend, a man must be one.
  • that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
  • that God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
  • in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
  • that a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
  • that 'this government of the people, by the people, and for the people' shall live always.
  • that men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
  • that sooner or later...somewhere...somehow...we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
  • that all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
  • in my Creator, my country, my fellow man."

That's pretty darn impressive. I'm considering using this one from the movie "Kingdom Of Heaven":
"Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright, that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong; that is your oath."
Best of all would be to find something from Proverbs or The Sermon On The Mount as this is pure wisdom. A life verse of course works well too. I love Hebrews 12:1-3:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Like I said before Humphrey Bogart is one of my favorite actors. Although he's played the bad guy, the crazy guy, and the coward, he's most famous for his heroic characters: Rick from Casablanca, Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, Charlie Allnut in The African Queen and Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. There's a sense of cool about him. He's the smartest guy in the room. He knows how to talk his way around things, shoot his way out of things and punch his way through things. There's a quiet confidence about him. I heard one guy lament how he wished he could have that sort of air about him. Not a phony facade, but a deep and settled peace that affected others. When I read the gospels now, I see that in Christ. No, he didn't punch people out, but he knew how to confront and even trash some scenery. Deep inside of Him is a fierce, tough confidence that should connect to all men. He feared no one and commanded respect. That's cool!

Back to the Expendables, I continue to marvel at how satisfying it is to just go out and kick butt. My therapist once said that I needed to find ways of being more of a bada** (he is a Christian by the way). Whether it's Jet Li doing some serious kung fu, Arnold cracking skulls, or Stallone raining bullets from an assault rifle, there's something really deep (and dare I say spiritual) about action. God has called men to confront evil. Sadly we're wrongly taught to only be nice boys who get along with everyone. There's a time for that and a time to fight (I think Solomon said something like that). What would happen if we let our sons and young men be fierce for Christ? If we instead of relegating them to virtual Xbox battles had them go out and really engage the world? Would it be scary, messy, dangerous and at times choatic? You bet! I also think that we would have stronger churches and Christ's power would be far more obvious to the world. Let's find ways to break free from our cultural norms!

Perhaps it would be a shock to many that Christ was the ultimate man. He was tough beyond our imagination, a "manly" man who could take on anything. He is nothing like the bearded guy in a white dress that we see so often in the church. Knowing that is a game changer for me. Beyond "little baby Jesus", the suffering Savior, and the Lamb Of God, He is a Warrior, and a Lion. I got to be up close with a lion once and it scared the life out of me. This was an awesome creature that possessed the power to crush and kill me in about a second. That is the One I want to be on my side in a fight: cool, fierce, grounded, tough and in command.