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Monday, September 29, 2008

A few important thoughts...

Hello gang...
Not breaking the hiatus just yet. In fact the only reason I took the opportunity to post is that I am right now sending some financial summaries to a lender for a friend of mine who is developing a neighborhood here. That and I am sending resumes out by the dozens, but there have been no bites. Tell the government I need a bailout too. Not 700 billion. a few thousand would be nice.
Two thoughts on my mind today. One is Matt Bryant. Matt Bryant is the kicker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I am not a Bucs fan and until yesterday I had never even heard of this guy. But he kicked three field goals yesterday including the game winner over the Green Bay Packers. Now that wouldn't normally be something to write about because, after all, that's what he gets paid for. However, Wednesday morning his wife went into the nursery to wake their little 4 month old son only to find he had passed away in the night. No cause of death is known just yet, but SIDS sounds likely. They had the funeral Saturday and on Sunday, Matt a desperate attempt to find something that felt normal and to honor his little son, went to work, held up under pressure, blew kisses skyward every time he kicked a ball, and made us all remember what is really important. Far beyond the score or the sounds of the crowd, or the money or fame, there is a shattered family and a mom and dad who won't be the same ever again. This man did what a lot of dads do when the world falls apart...they find one thing that is still the same as it was before tragedy struck and they go do that thing. He needs to be strong for his family and maybe the only escape he has right now is on the field of play with the game riding on his shoulders. In an era where one miss will get your locker cleaned out and the collective psyche of an entire city is riding on the strength of your leg...finding solace in that pressure speaks volumes about how much he must be hurting. God bless you Matt Bryant. You are forever in my prayers.
Item two...election year.
I have a friend here in Nashville who has just been making the rounds of all the talk shows radio programs in an effort to raise support of the pro-life candidate in this years election. She has the single most compelling story anyone has ever heard in that she is, herself, a survivor of an abortion. Her mom had tried to abort her and she survived the process, being given "the gift", as she says, of Cerebral Palsy in the process. She is amazing and inspirational and heroic. But my worry...and my that she will be swept under the rug of mainstream conservative media until the next election cycle, once November 5 rolls around.
Why is abortion only discussed in depth every four years? Why does the pro-life argument only get ratcheted up into the public discourse when the presidential office is on the line? Why is my friend's story not as important in non-election years as it is right now? Why?
The first president I ever voted for was Ronald Reagan. The cornerstone of his election was anti-abortion / pro-life ideology. He did his part, giving us a conservative, constructionist Supreme Court for the first time in about 15 years back then. And what have we done? Nothing?? We once again sat back and expected government to change the hearts of people. It doesn't work that way. We don't pray, we don't weep, we don't do anything at all to keep this crucial topic at the front of the public agenda. It should be of far greater importance in school board elections and local governmental offices than the presidential debate. Why? Because that is where the public opinion is formed, not in the White House. The White House is occupied by the end result of the public psyche, not vice-versa. We elect a candidate that reflects who we are as a country at the time, we do not elect a candidate who reflects who we should become! I wish my the Conservative Christian world out there would understand that and stop looking to the President to do what only God can do by changing hearts. The effective prayers of Christians who really believe that abortion is wrong can render abortion clinics useless and close Planned Parenthood forever without ONE law being changed. Roe v. Wade could become an afterthought in a long forgotten social war if we prayed like it really mattered, and loved like it would really make a difference. But we want to decry the other side as the worst kind of humans, and wait for the government to make them act like us. The same government that can't balance it's own collective checkbook. We need to stop viewing the other side as something less than humans. It's awful what abortion does...but the fact is that both the baby and the mother are destroyed in an's just that the mother lives on. They need some measure of kindness in Jesus name.
I've done my heavy share of stupid things in Jesus' name. I've acted harshly and signed Jesus' name to it. But the recent situations I find myself in and around, have taught me otherwise. Give me love, first and foremost. 99.999% of all people already know they screwed up...that's why they lie or make excuses instead of just coming out and admitting they screwed up first. They so desperately need to know we will love them anyway that they won't admit what they did without first trying to whitewash it so you and I won't hate them. They are screaming inside with the twin voices of "I messed up everything!" and "Please don't turn your back on're all I've got".
They don't need hatred and they surely don't need rhetoric. They need the kind of love that will make this very important issue just as important next January 21st as it is January 20Th.
I'm so disgusted I hardly care who wins anymore. God is bigger than either of these men. He doesn't need our congress or our courts to end infanticide. He needs people who believe what they say they do...regardless of where it is in the election cycle.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A favorite excerpt from Brennan Manning

I just dusted off a copy of "Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus" by Brennan Manning. Manning is one of my favorite authors and this is one of his best volumes.
This story is actually a quotation he used from another author. it illustrates the points of compassion and restoration...
..."Laurens Van der Post relates the story of two brothers. The elder brother was strong, tall, intelligent, an excellent athlete. Sent away to a private school in south Africa where the family lived, he became an admired leader of the student body. His brother was some six years younger. Neither good looking, nor capable, he was also a hunchback. But he had one great gift. He had a magnificent singing voice. (Ven der Post notes; 'I found it easy to identify with this story as I was such a younger brother, even though I couldn't sing')
Eventually the younger brother joined the older at the same boarding school. One day in a cruel outbreak of mob psychology, a group of students ganged up on the younger brother, jeered him, and tore off his shirt to reveal his hunchback.
The older brother was aware of what was going on. He could have gone out and faced the crowd of sadistic students, acknowledged the strange hunchback as his brother and put a stop to the whole sorry mess. Instead he remained in the chemistry lab completing an assignment. he betrayed his brother by what he failed to do.
The younger brother was never the same again. He returned home to his parents farm where he kept to himself and sang no more. Meanwhile the older brother had become a soldier in World War II, stationed in Palestine. One night, lying outdoors and gazing into the starlit night, he realized what he had done to his brother in his school days. His heart told him that he would never have peace until he went home and asked his brother for forgiveness. And so he made the incredibly difficult wartime journey from Palestine to South Africa. The brothers talked long into the night, the elder one confessing his guilt and remorse. They cried together, embraced, and the breach between them was healed.
Something else happened that night. The older brother had fallen asleep and was startled awake by the sound of a full, rich, mellifluous voice soaring into the night. It was the beautiful voice of his younger brother who was singing once again."

I love that story. Such is the power of the forgiveness and restoration of God in our lives.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jim McKay...The wide World of Wonder

Big long exhale...
I was working out this morning and the bulletin came across the TV monitor that the great Jim McKay had passed away at age 86.
It is really and truly difficult to put into words what an enormous and integral part of my life Mr. McKay was.
He was there for virtually every single great sporting moment of my childhood. Not the obvious ones like baseball and football and the like, but the more obscure sports that me and my friends would eventually try to emulate in the summer heat and the icy blast of winter.
Jim McKay introduced me and my generation to cliff diving from Acapulco, and barrel jumping from some frozen lake in Wisconsin. He really and truly invented "up close and personal" as a method of delivering the story and so I learned about guys who toiled in garages or drove trucks by day and then piloted ice sailboats on frozen weekends. I knew about the guys who braved the elements and real danger to race motorcycles on tracks formed in the ice of lakes in Minnesota with spikes on their tires for grip. I saw him and Jackie Stewart, (faaymuss scawtish rrrace cairr drrrriverrr) go to England and document Jackie getting fitted for a custom made Purdee shotgun. I knew who Al Oerter was, (I would bet not ONE 10 year old kid in America right now could name a single discus thrower, much less a decathlete) I knew about the great Vasily Alexiev but more importantly, I learned about his tiny wife who cooked him the prodigious amounts of high protein food that fueled the energy it took to become the greatest power lifter of all time. He made me want an Alexiev poster on my wall. I knew about the special, shrimp laden diets the Sumo wrestlers ate and McKay made me want to try some of it. Heck...I knew about Sumo at all because of Jim McKay.
Arm Wrestling, Iditirod, curling...long before it was fashionable because of the blonde hottie at the last Olympics, target diving from Marineland, flat track racing, (He introduced me and my generation to Jay Springsteen) motocross, before the X games found it (remember Roger DeCoster, The "Flying Dutchman"?) you name it...if it was a competition Jim McKay would cover it and had the supreme knack for making it very interesting. He accomplished this not because he sold me on the sport itself, but because he went just a little deeper beneath the surface and introduced me to the people who threw javelins, and hurled hammers, and tossed cabers, and dove off of cliffs in Acapulco.
He made jockeys interesting and turned target divers into heroes. Guys who drove to the events in the family station wagon, paid more to participate than the sport was ever going to pay them, and went home thrilled that Jim McKay had asked them about themselves and their sport and now the world knew that you actually could jump 17 industrial drums on ice skates if you gained enough speed. You went home essentially anonymous afterward but somehow you were immortalized the next frozen Saturday by thousands of little boys like me and my friends who would strap on ice skates, find something to jump over and, with one guy playing the part of sportscaster, the others would try to jump it and be that anonymous guy we had watched last weekend. Jim McKay did that for us.
This sounds strange to say I guess, but if Jesus had chosen to come to earth as a sports journalist instead of a carpenter, He would have been Jim McKay. Jesus spent His time on earth seeing the people and not the world spinning around them. Five minutes with Him and you forgot that they dragged that woman to him out of her adulterous lovers bed and you saw deep inside the woman.
Thats what Jim McKay did every time he reported on a sporting event. You no longer noticed how silly it was that a small Mexican guy was jumping off a cliff with a rock jutting out far enough that if he missed his mark he'd splatter. McKay made the guy so darned interesting, so darned human that you rooted for every last one of them. Yeah that towel thing those huge sumo wrestlers wore around their waists was really silly looking, but once McKay introduced us to them, those guys were cool. Alexiev may have dispatched his competitors with ruthless surgical precision, but at home with his tiny wife and kids, with Jim McKay eating potato soup, he was a big lovable teddy bear and, hammer and sickle aside, he was a heroic giant and you just had to love him. Jim McKay could have broadcast a report about real, to-the-death jousting, and it would have become compelling human drama. Sure, these guys are about to risk being impaled by a 3 inch thick shaft with a spear head on the end that could gaff a whale...but you should see them with the kids at the orphanage.
If the NHL could find a guy like McKay to do journalistic essays on the players and the game and the traditions and the special language we hockey players all speak...the game would quickly move up in viewership.
Of course, there were plenty of more mainstream sports covered by Jim McKay. I was 9 when the tragedy unravelled at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich. Honestly, it was the first I had ever even heard of The Holocaust. McKay had done a brilliant piece, only days before the tragedy, about the concentration camps, the death, and the healing that had begun.
As the events unfolded, there was Jim McKay, looking tired and weary and unshaven, refusing to relinquish his role as our host for the games, even in this horrible hour. He had a sense of history and a sense of journalistic responsibility and I will never ever forget his famous words; words which became the headline for a thousand newspapers when the announcement came in about the shootout at the Munich airport..."They're gone...they're all gone". He delivered the news with the same somber tone that your dad might have done if it was a family member, and he was telling you in your living room.
Wide World of Sports was Jim McKay's domain. make no mistake. Without him it was just another sports show. "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" was their byword. Jim McKay knew full well the truth about sports. That the athletes who compete would gladly trudge through the agony of defeat 99 times if it meant tasting the thrill of victory even once. He was the poet laureate of dog sledders and beer league softball players and ice boat racers. He made me want to try every sport. And he introduced me to a collection of interesting people that spurred me to adventure and imagination.
He was a giant and a giant part of my life.
The bible occasionally mentions the death of a saint in the following way..."and he died old and full of years". I think Jim McKay was very very full of years. What a magical wonderful life...and what a gift he gave us.
Rest well Mr. McKay

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's no fun without you Daddy...

Saturday afternoon Morgan and I were at a pool party for a group of budding hockey players I had the privilege of helping to coach this spring.
I love coaching hockey. Almost as much as I love playing. In that I think about it, maybe I love coaching more in some ways. My playing skills are very limited and they always were. But for some reason, maybe because I became such a student of the game in hopes of improving, I have had some real successes as a coach. I got such a late start playing the game and even later getting any real coaching. I grew up in an area where the game was very new and nobody knew the game. We taught ourselves and you can only go so far doing it that way. But these kids are young and they love the game and they have resources available that I never did at their age. There are 4 rinks within 30 minutes of my area. There are coaches who have played the game. So when I take the ice with these kids the possibility exists within every one of them that they will go much farther than I ever did. I have coached several boys who went on to play in college as I did, some who played in Juniors, and one who played in the NHL, although I had pretty much nothing to do with his success at that level. But it does reflect well on the level of play I was coaching at to say that he came out of that system. These weren't all newbies just learning to skate.
Anyway... we were at this pool party Saturday and I was hobnobbing with the parents and hanging out. Not really wanting to go in the water because it was cool and crowded with kids. They were having fun and I was enjoying getting to know the parents of the kids I coached this spring and would be coaching this fall.
Morgan came up to me and asked me plaintively..."Daddy come swimming with me". I turned down her request a few times because I was caught up in the adult chit chat. She asked me a few more times and I was going to just convince her I wasn't in the mood for a swim when she said "It's no fun without you Daddy". Bulls eye! She didn't need to say anything else to me. I got my swim trunks on and jumped in and spent the next 2 hours just goofing around in the water with her.
I don't know how many more years I'll hear her say "It's no fun without you daddy". Someday it'll probably morph into "it's no fun with you around daddy!" But for now I am still her hero, and I am still the most fun person she knows. Life has taught me that the moments I have with her, being the most fun person she knows, are few to begin with and can be gone in an instant. Life has also taught me that without knowing it, she is paying me an enormous compliment when she says that to me. And life also taught me what it feels like to have never once said "it's no fun without you daddy".
That keeps me jumping in the pool on hot summer afternoons.

Go have some fun with someone who thinks you are the funnest person in their little world.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ted Kennedy Part deiux

Little something to lighten the mood and maybe send the senior Senator from massachusetts some good wishes.
Ted is a lifelong Red Sox fan, of course. Perhaps that is the one and only thing I have in common with the guy. In addition, his grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, was a founding member of the Royal Rooters, probably the first Red Sox fan club, memorialized in the Dropkick Murphys brilliant song, "Tessie". The Murphs are the best thing since The Clash broke, up I think.
Enjoy the clip...even you jtf. (I know you'll quickly tell me about the 20 some wirld titles the Yanks have one, but this year...they couldn't win a triple A title.) My dream for this year...a Phillies / Red Sox World Series...Ryan Howard wins it with a walk-off in the bottom of the 19th.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More thoughts on Phantom Dan Federici...

It's funny really how someones death can evoke emotions that you don't expect.
I never met Danny Federici. Never came close to him, never sat on the same plane or passed him in an airport. But the guy was a part of my life for that last 30 or so years in a strange way. It isn't like I bought Springsteen albums or broke the piggy bank to buy a ticket from a scalper so I could hear Danny's organ work or see him dazzle on the accordion. But without him, something would have been horribly wrong with the E-Street band. In a hockey analogy, he was more like the Zamboni than he was a player. Not that he didn't play...and do it well. But his being there lent an environment to the overall sound that was unmistakable and if it wasn't there the entire band would have suffered.
Name me ten great rock and roll organ solos. Heck name me five. I'll spot you that drug fueled mess on "Light my Fire". That's famous only because it was The Doors and it was probably the first of it's kind. But I detest the Doors so no points for that one. Okay Steppenwolf has one on "Born to be Wild" anyone else??? Anyone? Hungry Hearts was probably the first organ solo in a good 6 0r 7 years, (there's on on a Boston tune but I forget the name) and if I'm not mistaken it's the last on of note. Danny's work on Hungry Heart was remarkable. And to think Bruce had it in mind to give that song to The Ramones. Dan's lingering, ghostly fade out playing on "Racing in The Streets" literally made that song for me. The lyrics are spent and the drum keeps on ticking like a clock and Phantom Dan's rolling, sad sounding organ carries on ad infinitum. Maybe those two never do stop racing.
He added fun to the songs as well. Ramrod wouldn't sound complete without his bouncing, roller rink soundtrack bopping along in the background. And his signature sound on "Glory Days" jumped right off the vinyl and into my feet. Yep...the guy was the Zamboni. He ran through his job in modest humility and made everything around him seem better. me one other rock accordion player, that actually had a serious contribution. (thus eliminating "weird Al".) I don't know what was more genius, Bruce incorporating an accordion into rock music or Dan playing the accordion like it was a rock instrument. Let's call it a tie.
For me this hits like losing a family member. I have been a die hard Springsteen junkie for 33 years now. And while I have lately grown weary of his political nonsense, and frustrated with his constant insistence on tinkering with the recipe, I will always be loyal. His recent raving about supporting Obama aside...c'mon Bruce...He shares the same vision of America as you? Really? If America was what Obama said it was, (a) nobody would have enough money to BUY your albums, thereby reducing you to still jumping onstage at The Stone Pony with Southside Johnny, (b) we'd all be forced to feel really bad for poor Clarence who is obviously outnumbered by all those racist honkies in your band (c) He is a Harvard Law Grad and lives in a mcMansion on Lakeshore have a private jet and welshed on a deal to by your daughter an $850,000 about you write a song about MY America for a change.
But this is about Danny and so I'll drop the spleen vent.
The E-Streeters are like an extension of family for me. I knew who "Little Steven" was long before he wore that hairpiece and pouted into the camera as Tony Soprano's consiglierie. I knew who Maureen Van Zandt was long before she was Gab Dante. I've driven past Garry Tallents house here in Nashville. My Uncle Jacks' best friend's sister was "Sister Joan" who once stuffed Bruce Springsteen in the garbage can in the third grade. I have history with these people.
I will miss Phantom Dan more than I realize right now. And sadly, it marks the passing of time for me as well. The first of my beloved E Street band have passed. Time waits for no man. Not even legendary accordion players from Flemington N.J. who quietly lend stability and solidity to the greatest Rock show on Earth.
I remember hearing the news on my car radio that Stevie Ray Vaughan had died. I pulled over and wept. I loved that guy. He grabbed me with his playing and with the honesty of his struggles.
Today I was watching the various fan tributes and the official video on Bruces' site where Danny plays "Sandy" for the last time. I wept too but it was different. Watching these guys playing with Danny for what they obviously knew was the final time. Seeing the emotion that a stoic Bruce tried to hide, no doubt to encourage his friend. Hearing the crowd yelling "Dan-ny" and seeing Federici at once moved by it and embracing it and yet seemingly not wanting to let it get the best of him and thereby maybe admit the end was near. It was all so sad and so permanent.
Rest in Peace Phantom Dan. You are missed and you are loved.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

R.I.P. Phantom Dan

Phantom Dan Federici passed away 4/17. To a Bruce fanatic like me, losing an E Streeter is like losing a brother. Danny is the first of the band to pass away. I feel old today. He was a quiet but unmistakable force in Bruce's music. without him, those great boardwalk sounds just don't exist. "Sandy" doesn't sound like you are at the beach without Dan's accordian, and Hungry Hearts' organ solo is one of the all time greats. He was as much a signature sound as Clarences sax or Little Stevens growling whining background vocals. He will not just be missed...he will be mourned.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Father's Heart

It is 7:30 in the evening as I write this.
I have been thinking of a new blog topic for a few days now. It's been really good for me to write these and I had forgotten how much I love writing. I don't think it is a stretch to say that communication is one of my gifts. And I am thankful for that.
Tonight is a typical night for me. I miss my daughter immensely and I can't do anything about it.
I can't call her, I can't go see her. Can't tuck her in tonight and listen to her recap her day and say her prayers.
I miss that a lot because my daughter is truly powerful in prayer. At 9 years old she has mastered the fine art of trusting God totally and completely that what He says, He means...starting with "whatever you ask in my name, believing, you will receive."
I could list the litany of prayers she has offered and the miraculous responses God has granted, but that would take all night. From bringing back a lost cat to daddy getting a loan closed that didn't look very promising...she has gotten through to God when I didn't think it was possible.
It's amazing what kind of faith can be built into a child when her parents start early. Morgan loves God with all her heart and it makes me very happy.
I miss her tonight. She needs her daddy these days. She is going to be 10 in a few weeks and she is prepubescent and starting to become very aware of changes that are just around the corner for her. She is so smart! She already knows and understands what is happening with her and while it scares her a little, she is basically ready for it.
But she is also at an awkward stage right now and I think she needs some extra love and reassurance from her daddy, and these are the moments when I miss her the greatest and this divorce hurts the most.
She has gotten braces recently. She inherited her uncle James very crooked and crowded smile. I have a crowding issue too, and am getting braces of my own, but Morgan's were very severe.
She is such a good natured kid that she never said anything at first but over the last year she has begun to verbalize her discomfort with the appearance of her smile and her glasses. She used to love her glasses, now she talks about contacts.
Under it all is my little girl becoming a little woman and needing her daddy to make sure she knows she is beautiful. And her daddy has to be so careful to define beauty as God sees it and not as the world sees it.
Years ago my friend Kim sang a song called "Charm is Deceitful", based on Proverbs 31. Kim has the most beautiful, distinctive voice I have ever heard and her rendering of the song is deeply moving. I heard it when it first came out in the late 80's. Now 20 years later, knowing Kim as I do, and knowing that she truly embodies the woman she sings about, I appreciate the song even more.
I have been working on a jewelry box for Morgan and I found a place that will transcribe Kim's song into a real old fashioned wind up music box player with the little metal wheel that plucks the tiny steel rods and makes that distinctive music box sound. I hope to give it to her this next Christmas.
Thinking about my daughter always makes me think about God and His fatherly relationship with us. I miss her so much when she is's palpable and painful. I believe God feels like that toward us. Especially if we miss spending some time with Him. He longs to wrap His arms around us and hold us closely in His arms and run His fingers through our hair and notice our sweet childlike features and smell our baby powder smells. He wants to listen to our silly stories and help us dream our dreams. He longs to feel our head on His shoulder and our breath on His neck as we fall asleep in His embrace. Why else would He reference Himself so frequently as our Father? He certainly could have used a different analogy. But He chose to call Himself "Father"..."Abba"...(some cultures use the word "Pappa"). And in turn, we tend to relate to Him as we relate to our earthly fathers. If our dad was mean, distant, cold...we view God in those terms and don't approach Him boldly in childlike faith...or even at all.
If Our father was greedy and unapproachable and selfish, we see God as wholly uninterested in answering our prayers. It may instill some mythical self sufficiency in us on earth, but it renders us useless in prayer. We approach the throne in trepidation and defeat, convinced before we open our mouths, that God doesn't wish to get involved, the answer is "no", and we must handle it ourselves.
But if we have a father who loves us, who adores us, who lets us know that we are the single most important thing in his world and his every breath is spent in loving and providing for us, then we see God as He longs to be seen. Passionately in love with us and eager to answer our every request in the way that is best for us.
This is why it is so important that dad's do it right when it comes to our children. I have to walk a fine line between giving her everything she asks for and saying "no" too frequently and exasperating her. When it comes to correction I have to walk the even finer line between controlling her will, and nurturing her spirit. If you do that backwards you ruin a child for life.

I want my daughter to approach prayer the way she approaches me. I want her to think, down in her soul..."God says He is my fact He says He is a better Father than my Daddy".
I want that to be a great realization for her. I want her to instantly think, in the moments when she approaches God in prayer, that her Heavenly father is anxiously awaiting her request, head cocked, ears attentive, hands ready to move on her behalf, with a heart overflowing with abundance just waiting for her to ask Him. I want her to envision a God with answers to her questions, solutions to her problems, provision for her dreams, and protection for her hopes.
I want her to know that, while she may one day be too big to crawl up in my lap and let me love on her, she will never get to that point with her Heavenly Father. And I want to set such an example that she knows this truth and acts on it every day of her life.
When she read the verses that say "If you men on earth, being human and having a sin nature, would never hold back any good thing from your child, how much more will your perfect Heavenly Father not hold back from His children?" I want her to have a reference point of my love for her. I hope she is almost bewildered to think that God could love her more than I do, because she is aware that I love her so much. Of all the legacy I could pass on to her, that would be the greatest. what a Father's Heart is like.