Monday, May 25, 2015

On this Memorial Day, We Want to Pay Honor to Those Who Serve

All kidding aside, my sincere thanks and respect goes to all those who have answered their country's call to defend and protect us.  I would also like to thank the families who have sacrificed and lost loved ones in order to make and keep this country strong.  We are in your debt.

No matter how certain military actions have been viewed or supported, these brave individuals do not have the luxury of asking questions.  They just answered the call.  Respect should be given to them from EVERYONE.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why I Could Never be an Atheist

The Fountain of Eternal Life, Cleveland Ohio
Don't let the title fool you. I am not out to bad mouth those without faith.  I am merely telling you why I cannot be one of them.
"For in my faith, I stay connected."
I have been a Christian just about my whole life.  I realized more recently that even when I was doubting and searching, I was still in the fold of God’s mighty hand. That is one of the things that is so amazing about Grace. God's Grace was sufficient - even in my doubt and anger.

It dawned on me this morning how thankful I should be for that.  For in my faith, I stay connected.  Connected to God, humanity, and to those I love.

There was a time recently that I wanted to break away from my faith.  I felt a need to cut off ties to an unfair God, and to join the masses of God detractors. I was ready to take my place in the grand ostrich paradigm of spiritual reality.  You can read about it here.

I am so glad that God's Grace was bigger than my doubts and resentments. For by that grace, I am still connected.  I am grateful that there is not a storm so fierce that it can overcome the divine walls that protect His children.

A mother's love is not made of this world nor dissuaded by wound or strife. 
No house, no city, no world can contain it 
Nor can the constraints of this life.

This thankfulness hit its PEAK on the morning of Mothers Day. I lost my mom last year.  Because of the role she had in my life as parent, dependent, and best friend, she gave my life meaning. At some point after a period of serious grief, I realized that if we were on our own with no God, we would be permanently disconnected with our parents, our spouses, brothers, sisters, grandparents and friends that have passed on before us. It would be almost as if they had never existed at all - or had the same reality of a movie we once saw.

What if you lost a child or the baby in your womb?  There would be no connection; no present reality. We would have to pretend that temporal things or beings could give our lives significant meaning rather than not being any different than the roadkill we pass on the freeway on our morning commute.  
In atheism there is the admission that we cannot disprove the existence of God.  However, we must also admit that the faithful cannot prove that He does exist - not in a transferable way. Whichever way we go in matters of the spirit, we must have faith in the path that we choose.  

I had a preacher one time who loved to say "If I could take Jesus out of my heart and put Him into yours, you would never give Him back."  The older I get and the more I grow in faith, the more I understand that.  That is the nontransferable proof that atheists lack.  But even if I did not have that, I would still choose hope, because no pretending in the world can keep connections with those we love if we profess that those connections could not possibly exist.

So, I would still choose faith and hope because of love. My parents, grandparents, and other dear family and friends that have gone ahead of me are counting on it.  I count on it, too.

Brothers and sisters, we want you to be fully informed about those who have fallen asleep in death so that you will not be overwhelmed with grief like those who live outside of the true hope. --1st Thessalonians 4:13 (the Voice)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Mom, Just Mom . . .

Yesterday was my mom's 80th birthday. I made her a cake.

First I got some fried chicken and made up some mashed potatoes.  Mom loves drum sticks.  As she got older, the legs were something she found was suited just for her.  She could hold on to them, there wasn't a lot of work involved and no unnecessary bones to dodge.  That and some good mashed potatoes made up the ideal meal for Mom - as long as she had a dessert!

That is where the cake comes in. It was chocolate fudge with milk chocolate icing. In the cake batter, I added some peanut butter.  That was my hack because my mom always loved the chocolate peanut butter shakes at Sonic. I also added a packet of Dream Whip to the batter because I know how important a moist cake is.

When everything was ready, I sat down in my empty house.  I ate two chicken legs, a little mashed potatoes, and for dessert I had peanut butter-chocolate fudge cake custom made for the woman I owe everything I have sweet in my life.  I love you, Mom.
The following message I have is widely considered a platitude.  People tend to smile thoughtfully and nod their head.  Then, most go on their merry way without it.  But let me urge you to take it with you and hold onto it tightly.  Let it become apart of your values and who you are:


Monday, May 04, 2015

The Blog that Relaunched a Thousand Words (or more)

What a great time for a blog launch – or in this case, relaunch.  There have been some things happening to me lately concerning my writing that makes it an exceptional time on a personal level, but that isn’t the only reason. This is an interesting time we are living in. With politics and other news, sports, and just everyday craziness that is afoot this season, there will be enough things to explore and laugh at for some time.  By the way, it is also a great time for you to go and “like” the PW page on Facebook!
Presidential campaign season is officially underway. Both parties should provide some interesting blog fodder.  On one hand, we have Queen Hillary and the Pips.  And what’s a discussion about the Democratic Party without the mention of socialism?  Thanks, Bernie Sanders!
On the other hand, the Republican primary seldom disappoints when it comes to providing a fascinating cast of characters and this year is no different.  YET ANOTHER Bush wants to fill out a change of address form for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  In addition, the field includes an ousted business woman, a retired surgeon, a really thirsty guy, and a couple of guys with really bad hairdos. We could discuss for hours.
Then there is the rash of police/minority issues that have plagued the country the past couple of years.  This page will have plenty to say about that.
One thing that none of us can escape is the influence of God in our lives OR how the lack of a belief system puts those of us without faith on a specific path.  This blog is always concerned about this aspect of life.
In addition, PW will look at some sports issues.  Traditionally, there hasn’t been much of that here, but lately (for those that have been perusing the site) that has changed. With the NCAA tournament recently closed for the 2015 season, all fan eyes are looking at transfers and reloading for the upcoming season.  This site will touch on many teams, but be primarily concerned with Indiana University.  Baseball and football are also gearing up at the pro and  college levels.
There will be something of interest for most people (if not one post, perhaps the next one).  Some of you will agree with what you read; others will be irritated.  Then the following post may have the opposite effect.  As always, comments are always welcome - at Psychosomatic Wit  and on the Facebook page.  I look forward to responding to comments.  Without interaction, I will never find out that I am wrong!
So, what do you want to talk about?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Should Christians Call for the Death Penalty for the Boston Bomber?

Recently, I read and reviewed Unoffendable, by Brant Hansen. Written from a Christian point of view, it deals with anger and, of course, being offended. You can read the review in the previous post. In it, Hansen talks about the MYTH of righteous anger and how it has no place for a follower of Christ.  I wondered in light of the Boston Marathon bombing and the guilty verdict that was reached against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, how this “righteous anger” principle applies when considering the concept of capital punishment – especially for the Christian.  The trial is in the sentencing phase so I think this is a timely topic. The issue now is whether Tsarnaev should be put to death for his part in this horrible crime. 

When people think of a capital offense, this surely would be a good fit. Tsarnaev and his brother used pressure cooker bombs to destroy the lives of race participants and a crowd of onlookers.  When the smoke cleared, three people lost their lives and 264 people were injured - some very seriously including the loss of limbs.  Yes, it stirred up a great deal of anger from all over the country and the world. Here are some examples of that anger that I picked up in news stories and comments:

“Fight the good fight prosecutors and give this child-murdering Islamic terrorist the death penalty he so richly deserves.”

Just kill the scum and get it over with Boston”

So the Boston bomber kill 4 and injured over 200 and we are gonna give him a quick death? If it was up to me I would water board him”

These are natural reactions, aren’t they?  Christians and nonbelievers alike are sickened by such a crime.  However, how does God expect His followers to respond to this, with capital punishment?  Apparently 75% of conservatives and half of Christians say, yes. I would guess that for evangelicals, it is much higher since the Catholic Church is against it.  
God has authorized capital punishment all over the Bible . . . oh wait, or is it just in the Old Testament?  That is troubling, isn’t it?  Christians don’t like it when nonbelievers throw Old Testament laws in their face.  Old Testament laws bring up death penalty for any number of things including prostitution, and being a rebellious son.  If we are going to let the Old Testament be our guide for our capital punishment views, how can we ignore other Old Testament rules and punishments?

Christians like to look at the New Testament instead because it is about Grace.  Christ fulfilled all the rigidity of Old Testament rules and laws and if we hitch a wagon to his star, then we can rest in that Grace.  So shouldn’t we also extend that grace to others?  Should not that be our model? Does the new Testament support the idea of capital punishment?

The simple answer is no. Christians like to point at a passage in Romans that tells us to be willingly subjected to government authority. The other passage is one in Acts where the apostle, Paul, subjects himself to government authority even if it means his death.  Nowhere did it say that capital punishment is right and just under grace.  If Christians use this verse to justify their clanging for capital punishment, then they also have to admit that slavery is justified also because it is a comparable element under the law.  Just because Roman law had the authority to put prisoners to death does not mean that the practice was endorsed by God. Only the authority of the government was endorsed.

Getting back to Unoffendable, Hansen doesn’t discuss capital punishment at all but here is what he did say:

“(Vengeance is) His, and it makes senses, too, that we’re not allowed vengeance. Here is one reason why: We stand as guilty as whoever is the target of our anger.  But God? He doesn’t. . . . Whatever anyone has done to me, or to anyone else, I stand just as guilty. People have lied to me, but I’ve lied too, People have been unfaithful to me, but I’ve been unfaithful too, People have hurt me , and I’ve hurt them. I get angry toward murderers, and then here comes Jesus, telling me if I’ve ever hated someone - and I have  I am the murderer’s moral equal.”

Does this concept not ring familiar?  In John, chapter 8, the Pharisees and Scribes brought a woman to Jesus. She was caught red handed in the act of adultery.  The law was clear.  This woman was to be stoned.  Jesus told them that whoever was without sin should cast the first stone at the woman.  The Temple officials departed.  Since all of the accusers left (because they were not clean themselves), Jesus pardoned her.  Keep in mind, Jesus was the ONLY one that had the authority to cast that first stone.  He chose to extend grace, instead.

How then can Christians be for capital punishment?  Where’s the grace?  I am not saying that horrible offenses shouldn’t be addressed.  There are many reasons that, as a society, we cannot allow the offenders to walk freely on the street.  However, doesn’t the death penalty take that concept too far?  Apparently, Jesus thought so.

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes were recently married. They each lost a leg during the Boston Marathon bombing.  They made this statement regarding a potential death sentence for Tsarnaev, “We must overcome the impulse for vengeance.”

Also Jennifer Lemmerman, the sister of an M.I.T. police officer who was killed by Tsarnaev, said she thought that the death penalty would bring neither peace nor justice. She wrote on her Facebook page, “Whenever someone speaks out against the death penalty, they are challenged to imagine how they would feel if someone they love were killed. I’ve been given that horrible perspective and I can say that my position has only strengthened,’’

I don’t know if Kensky, Downes, or Lemmerman are Christians, but they sound more like what I would envision someone being influenced by Jesus Christ, rather than those with torches and pitch forks that tend to shout some modern day version of, “Crucify Him!”

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Can We Be Unoffendable?

If you just look at the title of Brant Hansen's Unoffendable- How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better, it appears to be another self help book designed to teach the reader how to develop a tough skin.  That assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

The book is written from a Christian point of view, but even skeptics will be able to get something out of this book and enjoy it in the process.  Hansen isn't preachy or teachy. He doesn't even come off as an expert on the subject.  In fact, each page is laced with humility which is very appropriate for the subject matter because through the pages, we discover how important humility is in being unoffendable.

The author exposes “righteous anger” for what it is, problematic and even an illusion.

I used to think it was incumbent upon a Christian to take offense. I now think we should be the most refreshingly unoffendable people on a planet that seems to spin on an axis of offense.

Forfeiting our right to anger makes us deny ourselves, and makes us others-centered. When we start living this way, it changes everything.

Hansen chides those that want to cherry-pick scriptures justifying their anger and has a firm answer to them, but of course he does it without taking offense.

The unoffendable message is given to the reader packed with humorous and heart touching stories told in Hansen’s quirky, but charming way.  He draws on Christian authors and artists and isn’t shy about picking on evangelical culture, as much as he does himself.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about the book going into it.  Sure, I bought into the premise  - which perhaps puts me a step ahead of the crusaders in our midst, but I wasn’t sure about the pragmatic quality of the thesis.  In other words, while I agree anger and offense aren’t good ideas on many levels, there doesn’t seem to be a choice in the matter for most of us.  I thought of it as a traveler going down the road looking for Unoffendable City.  If he stops at a local filling station to ask for directions, he would probably get the unhelpful response, “Sorry, buddy, but you just can’t get there from here.”

Hansen agrees with me AND also disagrees:

 And while I thought the ideal of choosing to be “unoffendable” was ludicrous, I’ve tried it.    And I'm not perfect at it, but I’m much, much better than I used to be. I just let stuff go.  I go into situations thinking, I’m not going to be offended.  No matter what.

What I found out as I approached the end of the book was that Brant Hansen is right.  I was not as prone to be offended in my daily life as I was before reading.  Sure, I had times where the gut reaction of offense wanted to surface, but from reading the book being unoffendable wasn't quite as difficult as it was before and will probably get even easier day by day unless I turn loose of the concept.  I do not plan to do that because I prefer peace in my life rather than strife.

I whole-heartedly recommend Unoffendable by Brant Hansen. Although it helped me a great deal, it doesn’t come off as a self-help book.  It is more like a memoir or an amusing conversation with an interesting friend at a coffee shop. It was so enjoyable that I was always ready for another cup.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Thomas Bryant Answers the Call from the Hall

As a follow up to my previous post, Will Thomas Bryant Help Crean Keep His Job at IU, 5-star prep standout Thomas Bryant is officially taking his talents to Bloomington.  Coaches, fans and most of the team are celebrating.  However, those players
on the bottom of the totem poll are probably biting their lips about now.
Do you love me THIS much, Coach Crean?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Will Thomas Bryant Help Crean Keep His Job at IU?

Perhaps the fate of Tom Crean at Indiana University rests in the hands of a 17 year-old man-child.  Of course, I am talking about the program's latest crush, Thomas Bryant.

Bryant is a 6-10, 240 pound center out of Huntington Prep, Huntington WV.  He is a four-star prospect rated 27th in this coming recruiting class.

It looks like it is a two-horse race between Syracuse and the Stripes to obtain Bryant’s services.  Two things that make me think that he is leaning toward Syracuse is that A. He still talks about them despite the fact that they haven't contacted him in a couple of months; and B. this comment that he made to Inside the Hall, about his Hoosier recruitment included, “They send me a ton of damn letters,” In addition, the Crystal Ball from 247 Sports also has the Orange edging out IU for Bryant's services.

With all the axes falling on coaches around the country, Crean's job security is still ambiguous at best. IU AD Fred Glass seemingly gave Crean an endorsement to remain the coach of the Hoosiers, but pay attention to what he actually said to the Indianapolis Star last week (bold emphasis mine):

"My goals for this program are to perennially contend for and to win multiple Big Ten championships, regularly go deep in the NCAA tournament and win our next national championship - be elite, if you will. As a lifelong Hoosier and IU basketball fan, alumnus and current AD, nobody wants that more than me.
"Coach Crean's status should be based on his ability to achieve those goals going forward, not what he has or hasn't done in the past. Because I believe in the team he has assembled and is assembling, his leadership of it and their ability to start achieving our program goals, I continue to support Tom Crean as our coach."

This statement by Glass looks carefully crafted.  When he claims that he “continues,” that implies “at the time of the statement.”  He didn’t say, “I will continue . . .,” nor did he give a time frame or include the words "next season" in that statement,  It seems that Crean’s ability to “achieve those goals going forward” and the team he “IS assembling” necessarily involves Bryant, or at least a similarly qualified big man.  If not, IU is destined to have another undersized, under-performing team.  

Bryant is poised to make his decision by next week. It just may be that if Crean wants to keep his job at IU, he needs to do more then send Bryant “a ton of damn letters.”  If Crean survives the Bryant recruitment without signing a quality big, then the next chapter of this saga may take place the first week of July, when the coach would be paid $4.5M less than if he was terminated today.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Indiana University Basketball is a Passion Play: The Fate of Tom Crean

This time of year is filled with passion. The NCAA tournament brings it all out.  Underdogs and big dogs show up to flash their wares to fans in arenas and to the millions at home that are surfing the four channels carrying the games.  Like every good passion during Lenten season, there must be a crucifixion.  Tom Crean, Indiana's beleaguered coach, is this year's sacrifice.

I like Tom Crean.  He seems to be nice guy.  He cares about his players.  He brought IU back from the disaster that was the Kelvin Sampson fiasco. He was the Moses that brought the program out of the bondage of  NCAA sanctions and a pillaged roster to the edge of promised land of basketball prominence.  But just like Moses, Crean is not to take them across that river.  That position is reserved to IU's next Joshua - whoever that turns out to be.

IU fans are rabid.  That is good and bad.  They care about their school and particularly the basketball team.  No one would ever debate that.  However, their rabidity can sometimes be unjust.  Crean isn't the villain many of them would have you believe.  He took a team that was full of walk ons and eventually turned it into the number one team in the country. He did the program a great service.  He should be thanked, given a cake, and be told that he is always welcomed back in Bloomington . . . as a guest.

If Coach Crean has been that effective with the program, why should he be shown the door?  It is a fair question.  Every good thing that he did for the program was a double edged sword.  Sure, he had a number one team with two NBA lottery picks.  BUT, he couldn't make it passed the Sweet Sixteen with two NBA lottery picks on his team - and an impressive supporting cast.  Syracuse beat the Hoosiers with a stifling zone in that sweet sixteen game. Red flag courtesy of the Orange.  Okay, that happens.  However, the very next season Syracuse beats them again. Coach Crean didn't change or adapt to win the game. He tried to beat Syracuse with the same failed game plan that bounced them out of the tournament the year before. That was another red flag.

From that point on, IU sank into mediocrity.  They lost important players either because they were ran off, left for the NBA, or transferred on their own,  They also had players get into legal trouble. One was even hurt in an incident that should never have happened.  As the team traveled through the shards of a damaged program, the coaching suffered.  The team had atrocious defense and seemed to lack discipline. They even appeared to lack respect for their coach.  After a strong start to the season, they slid finishing 5-10 with those five victories being over sub par teams. Still, they backed into the NCAA tournament because apparently the selection committee isn't  allowed to use the calender when determining who is allowed to get in.

Still Tom Crean will not be fired.  I think he will walk away of his own accord.  The IU job comes with a lot of pressure. Coaching in the shadow of those five National Champion banners can be daunting.  Although Crean seems to handle pressure okay, himself, it seems that his family has felt the weight as well.  Crean describes his wife as having anguish when it comes to Tom's and their son, Riley's games.  Riley is a player for a local high school.  I guess that is illustrated with the "Tom Crean Sucks!" cries at Riley's games when young Crean takes the floor. Tom, the Christian family man, probably is through with subjecting his family to that kind of atmosphere while trying to win back a fan base that used up all their patience the first few years of Crean's tenure. He also probably realizes that a civil, dignified departure is a lot better than sacked which would probably be coming sooner rather than later.  I believe he will negotiate a decent severance package and move to a school where basketball is just another sport.

Don't be too sad for Coach Crean.  He will be given a chance to coach at a decent school and he will arrive at his new digs with millions in the bank.  It is unfortunate that he couldn't make it in the basketball capital of the world.  However, coaching jobs are usually fleeting.  It comes with the territory.  It is a rare program that has a coach for the long haul.  Even then, it sometimes ends badly. Hoosier Nation certainly knows about that.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Maybe There Is Hope For Us All

Something this week has kind of given me a renewed hope that there is still good in humanity.  I have to thank my friend Emily Suess for this.  Emily and I have been friends forever.  We were catching up on our lives when I told her about my sister, Cheryl.  She was touched.

A couple of days before Christmas, my sister had a stroke. It was her second one.  It was a perfect cap of one lousy year - a year that included the passing of our mother. This stroke has really been something else.  It took most of her eye sight and caused a great deal of confusion.  I won't get into too much of the details, but you will have access to get some more later in this post.  Just know that she has been placed away from the family.  If her condition wasn't scary enough, she has to do it without as much family presence.  She is alone, probably scared, confused and undoubtedly depressed.

Emily was so touched that it motivated her to action.  As fate would have it, this week happens to be Random Acts of Kindness Week. She started a campaign to get people to participate in sending her cards, little gifts, and words of encouragement.  She wanted Cheryl to know that despite her current situation, she has worth and she has a lot of friends supporting her - even if she has never met a lot of them.

I am dedicating this post to my sister, but also to Emily who has shown me that people still care about each other in the age of smart phones and selfies.  Please read Emily's post and do what you can to help out, if this story touches you, too.  Even if it is just to pass on the story to your friends and followers, every little bit helps to put a smile on my sister's face.