Friday, July 18, 2008

Good, Evil & Shades of Gray

One of the enduring memories I have from the terrorist attack on 9/11 is the fact that when people were escaping Lower Manhattan it did not become the "every man for himself" free-for-all Hollywood has been selling us for years. Instead the world was flooded with story after story of heroism after the attack. Fire fighters were willing to walk up 100 stories to rescue people. Strangers helped disabled workers climb down stairs. Ordinary folks lent a hand to help those who were injured. I was reminded of those stories while watching the new movie The Dark Knight.

So often in the world of comic book good guys and bad guys everything is light and dark. The good ones are always good and evil is always bad. But life does not work that way. The reality is that all people are simultaneously sinner and saint. We are made saints through the blood of Christ but are still sinners capable of the worst atrocities. The Dark Knight shines a light on a world where not everything is so cut and dry... it is a world of many shades of gray... a world we know all too well.

Now when it comes to a villain like the Joker, its pretty clear he is pure evil. But where the Joker goes wrong is that he is certain that everyone else is as evil as him. Yes through his murderous mischief he does expose the darker sides of Gotham's most heroic figures, but he fails to understand that just as people are not all goody-goodies, they are likewise not simply all psychotic killers like him either. Instead people are shades of gray: capable of great harm and great good at the same time. People are a whole lot like the people in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001.

There are moments in the movie when the hero, Batman, struggles mightily with the shades of gray. What's best for him, the people he loves, and the 30,000,000 residents of his fair city? He learns something that we all can learn. And believe it or not, its a Christian lesson. Batman learns the same lesson that was modeled by the prophets in the Old Testament and was definitively lived through Christ: doing what is right will cause people to hate you, and even want to kill you... but that doesn't mean you stop doing what is right. If Batman holds on to that lesson there is hope for Gotham. Because Christ lived that lesson there is hope for us.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Goodbye Tiger Stadium

Tiger Stadium was the best place I ever watched men play baseball. When I was a teen my family lived near Detroit and during those years in the 1980's I not only learned to root for the Tigers, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, Chet Lemon and Sparky, but I learned to love their home park: Tiger Stadium. Of the 100 or so games I went to at Tiger Stadium, I sat in the upper deck for just about all of them, right on top of the action. Left handers like Gibby and Darrell Evans were a treat to watch. With what seemed like little effort they would pull a fastball up into the right field porch, sometimes clearing the roof. Old pictures of Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, and Philadelphia's Shibe Park look a whole lot like Tiger Stadium: double decker stadiums where the upper deck was right on top of the action. The former three have been lost to history forever decades ago, an now, foolishly Detroit is tearing down their treasure.

There was a time I would be red hot with anger and sadness because of what's happening, but now I feel more nostalgic for the past and sorry for my old home than bitter. It's up to the people who live there to decide what to do with the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Detroit today is an economic disaster. Homelessness and helplessness effects too many people there. They need hope and need to both hear and experience the gospel. My prayer is that the Spirit will guide my brothers and sisters in Detroit to a brighter future. If tearing down Tiger Stadium is a step in that direction, that's wonderful, I am skeptical of that however. But of course God can turn the skepticism and cynicism of people into miracles. The Pharisees were nostalgic about their old time views as well and pretty skeptical about Jesus' gospel.

Goodbye Tiger Stadium.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Oh Say Can You See CC?

I've taken vacation this week and have been considering various ways I could spend my time. CC Sabathia was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers a few days ago and pitched for the Crew last night. I made sure I watched that on MLB.TV. I can watch every baseball game on MLB.TV. Every day there are over a dozen games available to watch from noon to midnight. I can watch the Red Sox after lunch, the Indians after dinner, the Brewers of course, and then finish the night out west watching the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now that's day! It could be every day if I wanted it to be.

But of course I can't watch a dozen baseball games everyday because I belong to Netflix. They send me three DVDs in the mail and after I watch it I mail it back so they can send me more. Right now I have The Golden Compass, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and Sweeney Todd just waiting for me.

I would get right on those if it wasn't for the fact that my brother got me the entire collection of the television series Arrested Development on DVD for my birthday. 53 half-hour episodes in all. That would only take a full day, with no breaks, to watch. But when will that day come? It will have to wait because I've been itching to watch the three Lord of the Rings movies, which I own. Add those three director's cut movies together and you're talking a good 11 to 12 hours of viewing pleasure.

This week was not supposed to be about watching things on TV, however, it was to be about doing stuff in Chicago that I hadn't gotten to do before. For weeks I've been thinking about going to the Chicago History Museum, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Sears Tower, the Brookfield Zoo, tour some of the architecture in the Loop, the Frank Lloyd Wright stuff in Oak Park and Hyde Park, Graceland Cemetery, and go for a walk along the lake front. Oh, and there are about 100 restaurants I would like to try and the free concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center and the Grant Park Music Festival.

Man, what a burden to be limited to 24 hours per day. What a burden to have so much stuff available to entertain me. For the past week the Bible lesson from Matthew I mentioned in my last post has been stuck in my head. I keep thinking about my heavy burdens and Christ's light yoke. Some burdens really? Poor Tony. I'm sure you feel sorry for me. The saddest thing about these so called "burdens" of mine is that there have actually been moments when my inability to tackle all this stuff has gotten me down. How pathetic really. Yes Lord, your yoke is easy, your burden is light, and best of all picking up your cross is actually meaningful.

I didn't plan it this way, but I discovered something this past weekend that I have grabbed a hold of for the rest of this week: real joy and refreshment comes when I focus my time on my family instead of the stuff I can do and watch. Yes I did get to the Lincoln Park Zoo and saw WALL-E today, but it was with my wife and son. It's been great: walks to the playground, playing Hot Wheels in the living room, sitting in the backyard watching Preston on his little bike. Now I'm not saying my burdens or my "cross" has been all that amazing... but learning to love and do something for others instead of consuming and do stuff only for myself has been pretty cool.

I still haven't gotten to those Arrest Development shows, and my goodness there are baseball games going on right now that I'm missing as I type this, but that's okay and will stay okay as long as Christ calls me, and his Spirit helps me see that focusing on others is a real joy. You discover something the more you give and the more you serve: his yoke is actually easy and his burden really is light. In Christ you actually do find rest.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Heavy Burdens

God has blessed me with some vacation time this month. My wife and two oldest children are away right now which has left me alone here with my four year old son Preston until Tuesday. He's a cool kid and its great to be able to place all my attention on him. It gives us the opportunity for adventure! Today's adventure led us to worship at a church in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, just a few blocks south of Wrigley Field. First of all, we did worship God and hear Christ's gospel and not the Gospel according to Harry Carey. Second, I'm always amazed by all the life and excitement constantly happening around Chicago, even on a Sunday morning. Throngs of young adults were jogging along Lake Shore Drive. The beaches were filling up. Life was everywhere. Some of that life was even in a church.

The preacher's sermon was based on one of my favorite passages from Matthew: "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 (Matthew 11:28-30)." These are words of refreshment and freedom from Christ, but the pastor reminded me that deep down in our souls we don't want to give up those burdens we carry. We hold on to them, sometimes to our last breath, valuing our so called independence over the rest Christ freely offers through discipleship. On the surface the yoke, or cross, of Christ looks terribly painful; but after some soul searching we realize Christ's cross looks painful because we have made our burdens the center of our existence.

After the service Preston and I played for a while at a school playground across the street of the church and had a picnic lunch. Preston wondered where all the kids were. He was the only one around under the age of 10. That's not to say we were alone there in this small, urban school playground. There were dozens of twenty-somethings sunbathing, playing frisbee, walking their dogs, seeming to have lots of fun. I wondered if any of them were burdened. I wondered if they were curious about the music coming out of the old church across the street.

Yes, today was a good day. My parents celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary with two of my kids. Marriage is a great example of how blessings come to those who let go of their burdens and learn to love selflessly. Fatherhood works that way too. My days would be a whole lot different if Preston was not here with me. They might even be different if I wasn't married. Not that I would be sunbathing... but I might join the dudes who were gathered around the benches watching the show. To the young and single that's what life is all about. Husbands and fathers know better. They have learned through experience that life's greatest blessings come through giving your life to serve and love others. I know I've experienced that and maybe, just maybe, I can indeed see that Christ's yoke is easy and his burden is light. Real freedom and rest comes through faith. I wonder what adventure Preston and I will have tomorrow?