Saturday, January 24, 2015

Upward Devotional: Looking Inside, Underneath

As I noted before, it’s the start of a new year, and that means part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. The Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season is well underway here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeeprs, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for today, inspired by the story of a an alumnus of the college where I work …

Hello, everyone, and thank you for being here today for the kiddos ...

There's an old, old saying that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And that's true, really ... too many people rely upon outward appearance, not taking the time or the effort to find out what's underneath, whether it's a book, or a car, or a person.

I work at Midland College, and over my years there, I have met some good people, had some good experiences, and heard some good stories ... one of my favorite stories involves a young man who came to Midland College to play basketball.

Anthony Webb was born in poverty, in the Dallas, Texas area. From an early age, he enjoyed playing basketball. He was quick, and he could really jump. But he was also short ... too short, many people said, to play basketball. He might never have gotten a chance to play even junior high basketball if two other players hadn't failed to meet exam requirements.

When he played, he played well. But over and over again, he had to work hard to prove to the skeptics that he could play basketball at the next level. He graduated from high school with an impressive varsity basketball record, averaging 26 points-per-game. But colleges - certainly the big schools - weren't interested ... except for Midland College, a two-year junior college, out in the middle of nowhere West Texas.

So, what happened? A national junior college championship for the team, and an MVP award and write-up in Sports Illustrated for Webb ... all of which attracted the attention of Coach Jim Valvano at North Carolina State University ... a chance for Webb to continue his education and his basketball at a four-year school.

The pro's came next .... with many scouts finding him too short to play professional basketball. But he was finally drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Anthony "Spud" Webb played well enough to start for the Hawks, to be selected for the NBA All-Star game, and even compete in the Slam Dunk Contest ... which he won.

Not bad for someone who is five-foot, seven-inches tall.

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Don't focus solely on outward appearances.

In the second book of Corinthians, we read ...
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NKJV)

Not a bad idea for basketball or anything you do in life, and what lies beyond ...

Thank you, everyone. Enjoy the game!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Upward Devotional: Good News

As I noted last week, it’s January, and that means part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season is underway here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeepers, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for today, inspired by the fact that bad news here, in my part of western Texas - a motor vehicle accident that claimed ten lives, and effects of the continuing decline in oil prices - made it into national headlines this past week …

Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for being here today, rooting for your kiddos, and all the youngsters on the court ... another good day of Upward Sports here in Midland. And that's good news for our community.

You know, I used to make my living as a news editor, reporter and photographer, here in Midland and Odessa, and across West Texas. I'm not in that business any more, but I still follow the news closely ... Reading the newspapers, watching television and visiting websites.

Sometimes, that can be depressing ... terrorist attacks in Paris, airline crashes in Indonesia, and politicians in Washington bickering like children.

And, really, you don't have to go to the other side of the world for troubling news. Is it me, or is the local news filling more and more with stories of crime, and auto accidents, and fires, and hardship?

It's not a bad world we live in ... it's a good world ... BUT, it's a good world where bad things DO happen, and who can blame people for being cynical, depressed ... even afraid? I know this ... and you know what? God knows this, too. When our minds and our hearts are troubled by the bad things going on around us, when we're afraid, God has our back ...

In the Book of Isaiah, we read ...
"Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous hand."
– Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)

And remember ... GOOD things happen, too. Has anyone seen that report about those two young men who climbed up the sheer cliff face of Capitan, in Yosemite, with nothing but their hands and feet? Wow! And there are a lot of good people, and a lot of good things happening under this roof, in this gym, right here, right now. Let us all look for ways to do good, and to encourage others to do good, around the world and right here at home.

Thank you, everyone, enjoy the game!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Upward Devotional: Happy New Year!

It’s January, and that means part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. It’s the start of the Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeeprs, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for today …

Good afternoon, everyone … and happy new year to all of you! Let me have a show of hands here … how many of you made New Year ‘s Resolutions for 2015? … okay … now, how many of you are still keeping those resolutions?

Resolutions — looking at ourselves, looking around us and thinking, “this could be better … I could do better” — resolutions are a good thing to have … for ourselves, for our family and for our community. And while resolutions have become a customary part of celebrating the new year, they are a good thing any time of the year. On a Thursday afternoon in November, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke to a crowd at a cemetery in Gettysburg Pennsylvania, honoring the soldiers who were buried there, saying “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

And you know what? God approves of resolutions, too … encouraging us to put the past behind us, and move toward a better future …

“Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.” – Isaiah 43:18-19 (CEB)

That kind of resolution could make for a great future … let’s all resolve, all of us, right here-right now, across this great nation and around the world, let us to meet that future together.

Thank you, everyone, enjoy the game!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Added to my bookshelf ... "Futures Near and Far

More than once I have added a book to my shelf after reading one of Lisa Hura's reviews on the "When Falls the Coliseum" blog. "Sure would be neat to do something like that," I thought ... so here we go ...

We all have our reasons for reading science fiction. Me? I have at least a couple, and I found them both - well, eventually, at least - in Dave Smeds' collection of short stories, Futures Near and Far. The title is appropriate, really, since some of the futures Smeds presents are far-off indeed, while others are quite near ... maybe a little TOO near for comfort.

When I read science fiction, I look forward to a chance to sit back and speculate on "what if?" Where might future developments in science and technology take us, and will we better for the direction and the distance S&T takes us into the future? Smeds' stories offered plenty upon which to speculate upon the first point, with a look at a variety of possible developments ... though with a particular emphasis on nanotechnology.

As for the second (the "we") part, though, I found myself less-than-encouraged by the people who populate these speculative futures. By book's end, however, Smeds' words had me thinking that humans will probably be a mixed bag then (as they are now) ... and that in the end, things will be alright ... that the violent beatings our world will take from extreme cage fighters and callous corporate lawyers will be more than offset by a mother's love, by the support of a dedicated sensei, and by the awakened spirit of an interstellar homesteader, among others.

If only we could dispense with the introductions to the stories! Some are short, some are long, and none seem to contribute much to the story that is to follow. Don't get me wrong ... introductions CAN be useful, and add to the enjoyment of the story ... Arthur Clarke proved that in Tales from the White Hart, and Isaac Asimov did as well in his HUGO Award Anthologies. Such is NOT the case in Futures Near and Far. But in the end, that is a small thing, really ... and I highly recommend the stories themselves.

One more thing ... Two of Smeds' stories, which revolve around the future of martial arts and artists, their practice and competition, get high marks from my son, who has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do ... sugo ha shasim nida! 

ADDED NOTE: Futures Near and Far was added to my virtual bookshelf as a free Early Reviewers Copy from

Thursday, December 25, 2014

THE Christmas tradition ... Luke transcribed it, Linus shared it, I believe it

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2
King James Version (KJV)

And now a word from ...

White House Image
• Weekly Address: Happy Holidays from the President and First Lady

Ezra Mechaber

WASHINGTON, D.C. In this week's address, the President and First Lady wished Americans a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and thanked our brave troops for their service ... The President and First Lady asked everyone to take some time this holiday season to visit and find out how to give back to the men and women in uniform who have given so much for all of us.

"Our family will join millions across the country in celebrating the birth of Jesus – the birth not just of a baby in a manger, but of a message that has changed the world: to reach out to the sick; the hungry; the troubled; and above all else, to love one another as we would be loved ourselves ..."

Read the full text of the President and First Lady's message, and watch a video ...

BBC Image
• Queen's Christmas speech emphasises reconciliation

Staff Report
BBC News

LONDON, ENGLAND The Queen has used her Christmas Day broadcast to highlight the importance of reconciliation between people.

She spoke of the impact of the Scottish independence referendum, and also paid tribute to the moment German and British soldiers put down their weapons and met on Christmas Day 1914.

"Sometimes it seems reconciliation stands little chance... but the Christmas truce reminds us peace and goodwill have lasting power," she said ...

... The Queen described how the life of Jesus Christ was an "inspiration and an anchor in my life".

"Christ's example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none," she said ...

Read the rest of this BBC report and watch a video of the Queen's message ...

Vatican Photo
• Pope condemns religious violence in Christmas address

Staff Report
BBC News

VATICAN CITY Pope Francis has denounced the "brutal persecution" of religious and ethnic minorities, in his traditional Christmas Day address.

In his second "Urbi et Orbi" - to the city and the world - Christmas message, the pontiff highlighted the plight of victims of conflict in Syria and Iraq.

"Too many people are being held hostage or massacred" in Nigeria, he added.

Pope Francis also urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and condemned Taliban attacks in Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people turned out on St Peter's Square to hear the Argentine Pope deliver his annual message ...

Read the rest of this BBC report ...
Read the full text of the Pope's message, and watch a video ...

However you mark this day, a very Merry Christmas! May this find you and yours happy and healthy, this holiday season and in the new year to come!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Did you know ...

That today was "Four Chaplains Day" in the United States?

No? Well, you're not alone. The 71st anniversary of that fateful night when four U.S. Army chaplains gave their lives that others might live, caused barely a ripple today. It has come and gone quietly, and largely unmarked ... including by yours truly.

And I might have remained ignorant fo the fact were it not for a stop by Wikipedia's home page, where I perused their "This Day in History" column. A link in that column took me to a Wikipedia page where I learned that, in 1988, the United States Congress established February 3 as "Four Chaplains Day." And get this ... Congress acted unanimously in doing so ....ah, those were the good ol' days!

The page went on to note that some state or city officials commemorate the day with official proclamations, sometimes including the order that flags fly at half-mast in memory of the fallen chaplains. In some cases, official proclamations establish observances at other times: for example, North Dakota legislation requests that the Governor issue an annual proclamation establishing the first Sunday in February as "Four Chaplains Sunday."

Notice the frequent use use of some variation or another of the word "some."

The day is also observed as the "Day of the Dorchester Chaplains" in the lectionary cycle of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. And there are memorials to the four chaplains - one Catholic, two Protestant, and one Jewish - in a variety of media around the country ... stained glass windows, stone monuments, postage stamps, building and chapel names ... and wax ... at least once upon a time.

I was reminded of a visit my family made to Washington, D.C. back in the sixties, while my father was posted to nearby Quantico, Virginia. One of our stops that day was to the National Historic Wax Museum. I don't recall the other exhibits ... but I remember the one devoted to the four chaplains, their commitment to their faith and their answer to their calling. It was a large exhibit, with the movement and noise that suggested a ship at sea, all set in a pool of water. The display - and the museum itself - is long gone. But I did find a picture ... ya gotta love the internet!

It is reported by the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation that during the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the USAT Dorchester was torpedoed by a German submarine in the North Atlantic. The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks.

The foundation reports goes on to note that the chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship, and helped guide wounded men to safety. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.

As I post this, there's less than five hours left of Four Chaplains Day 2014. Yet there's something about their story that could be/should be observed, cherished and shared with others throughout the year. May we never find ourselves in the desperate situation they faced ... but may we have at least a small portion of their courage, their love and their devotion for whatever life brings us. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Men of faith, men of steel

Earlier this week, in the course of an evening prayer gathering with @dreampcusa on Twitter, one of our partners offered up a prayer for the priests in Kiev. We joined in with that request, of course ... but part of me was wondering, "what's that about?" Once our gathering closed, I went and Googled "priests Kiev," then clicked on the 'News' option for search results ... and I found out exactly what he was talking about, and praying for.

The fact that there were protests in Ukraine in recent weeks was not news ... but it seems that the story had receded under the onslaught of more pressing news items ... Mr. Sherman's AFC Championship rant ... Justin Bieber's Miami vice ... the latest political scandals or rumors-of-scandal ... and, YES, some genuinely serious news items as well.

My Google search at that time produced few reports, the best of which appears below. In the last couple of days, a LOT more stories and images have appeared ... and that's a good thing. These are stories and images of people with the courage to step between warring factions, and stand firmly-but-peacefully between them, separating them at least for a moment, urging everyone in the streets of Kiev to listen to 'the better angels of their nature.'

Priest moves to stop Ukranian protester from
throwing Molotov cocktail at riot police.
The images being generated by the priests' intervention on the streets - and the emotions they generate within us - would be the stuff of dreams for  Hollywood directors, who would be hard-pressed to capture the setting of a battered and burning street scene, the flickering light of bonfires, the hoarse screams of protesters, and the lines in the faces of a bearded, cassocked priest with crucifix in hand (looking for all the world like a centuries-old icon) who has kept watch through a freezing night, praying and chanting, and keeping wtch over the opposing battle lines. It is something far, FAR removed from West Texas ... but very, VERY close to the Christian heart! To borrow from that now-ubiquitous phrase ... we can talk the talk, but can we walk the walk? Can we walk into harm's way as they are, with eyes and hearts open?

And honestly ... I don't think you have to be a person of faith and/or religion to admire the courage being shown by these men … and there are some women, too, doing this on the streets of Kiev.

God bless them, and keep them ... in Jesus' name ... Amen.

Orthodox priests in Ukraine step into line of fire to stop deadly protests

By Carol Kuruvilla
New York Daily News

KIEV, UKRAINE - Holy nerves of steel. A group of Orthodox priests stepped right into the line of fire to stop clashes between protesters and police in Ukraine.

The priests braved bullets and walked into no-man’s land between pro-European Union integration protesters and President Viktor Yanukovych’s riot police. ‘I’m here to placate the violence,’ an Orthodox priest said.

read the rest of this story, with photos

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Did’ja hear the latest about Carnival? … probably not

A little over a week ago, I was sitting at the bar on Deck 5 of the Carnival Valor, listening to a story about what had caused that ship to be late in its arrival at St. Maarten a couple of days earlier. It was an interesting piece of information, and I thought it would certainly prove newsworthy … unfortunately my nose-for-news is no match for the prominent proboscises one finds in America’s major news organizations.

Carnival File Photo
According to this report on the Wall Street Journal’s website (with a PRNewswire byline), “the Carnival Valor rescued five mariners from a pleasure craft that was sinking in inclement weather. Following the rescue, the five adults were brought on board Carnival Valor and evaluated by the ship’s medical staff, and provided with food and water. Two of Carnival Valor’s deck officers sustained minor contusions during the rescue effort.”

I cite the WSJ report because there really aren’t all that many reports to cite … at least from what one might consider major news media … WSJ, and USA Today. Oh, sure, there are the reports from PRNewswire, Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor and some cruise industry newsletters … but there readership is not as broad or (at least in some respects) as far-reaching as a CNN, an NBC News or even a Fox Noise.

True, a story about something going right does not have the same interest for news producers as something that goes wrong … the February 2013 Carnival Triumph cruise, for example. Want to know more about that? No problem … just Google “Carnival cruise from Hell” and you’ll find a TON of reports … including some that document that the cruise was not nearly as bad as was reported by the media and some selective sources.

If it bleeds, it leads … I first heard that forty-some years ago, during one of first forays into a newsroom as a writer/producer, and it still seems to hold true today (though there seems to be as much preference for stories that bleed the mind and the spirit as much as the body). But when you think of something like the Carnival Valor responding to a distress call on a stormy night in the high seas – honoring an old tradition of seafaring – and then saving five lives? C’mon … couldn’t we have trimmed a minute from the latest Miley shenanigans, or still another detailed analysis of what Washington ISN’T doing?

More than once, people have asked me something to the effect of, ‘could you ever sail Carnival again?’ Well, yes, because of stories like this. I’m glad I was on hand to hear first-hand reports, and that my family had a chance to meet the captain and bridge crew who participated in that rescue.

For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share the news with you.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Prayer and Praise for Firefighters

It’s been more than thirty years since I took the field as a substitute forest firefighter … but that brief service left me with a deep appreciation for the profession, and for those who embrace it. There remains to this day a place in my heart and my prayers for firefighters, which hasn’t diminished one bit over the decades … in fact, it grew some on ‘9/11’ … and it grew once again with this week’s tragic news from Arizona.

In the summer of 1980, I was working a seasonal job as an archaeologist with the National Forest Service in Sequoia National Forest, in the mountains east of Bakersfield, California. Our team was posted to the Greenhorn District, and we shared accommodations with NFS Engine Company 5-2. There wasn’t much to do in our off-work hours, so Chuck and I – both college students from the University of New Mexico – studied with the crew chief, familiarized ourselves with procedures and equipment, tested, and were eventually ‘red-carded.’ We were sub’s, available to fill-out the crew when they were short-handed, and each of us ended up rolling on a few fires.

In the course of my service, I came to know some ‘hot shots’ and to watch them at work. There was about them a swagger, an attitude that they were rough and tough and scared of nothin’. Some might have called it arrogance … I know that I did, at first. But over the course of my own service – watching them go into a fire on direct-attack, knocking it down and watching them come out – I came to the conclusion that their attitude was merited … even after one unfortunate incident when a hot shot expressed his contempt for ‘engine slugs’ and almost started a fight between our crews.

Like I said, that summer – watching REAL firefighters at work, my brief service with them, and my own close call with wildfire on one occasion – left me with an indelible impression.

In his book, Report from Engine Co. 82, New York firefighter Dennis Smith suggested that there was good reason for the use of fire in images of Hell … as anyone who has been burned could tell you. I remember my training during that summer in California, and learning to prepare the ground around me and deploying my personal, emergency fire shelter in the event that the blaze shifted and trapped us … and I remember hoping that I never found myself in that kind of situation. Those who do find themselves in such a situation, on more than one occasion, and keep coming back? Let’s face it … it’s natural for people to rush out of a burning building - or a collapsing World Trade Center - in a mindless panic … but then there are those who mindfully, purposefully rush IN.

May God bless them and keep them, comfort their families and their friends, protect them and uplift them in their life, and welcome them in their passing. Amen

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Seeking a 'field of dreams' in Colorado

The young men who comprise the Midland College Chaparral baseball team truly are the 'boys of summer' this year. At a time when most students are pursuing ventures off-campus - recreation, work, whatever - the team has remained on campus and at work, getting ready for what lies ahead. It's been two weeks since commencement exercises brought an end to the 2012/2013 academic year at our community college in Western Texas, and it will be another week before we kick-off the summer semester. It's a quiet time around campus ... unless you're a baseball player. They returned to Midland just a few days ago with a regional championship trophy in hand - the first ever for MC Chaparral baseball. And now they're in Grand Junction, Colorado for the JUCO World Series, the National Junior College Athletic Association's national championship tournament.

JUCO World Series-bound Midland College Chaparrals, 2013 NJCAA Region 5 Champions
This will be their first-ever trip to the national tournament. And while they have reached unprecedented levels of success, a difficult path still lies ahead of them, with the best junior college baseball programs in the nation standing between them and a national. But, you know what? I think they could do it ... I really do. They are a fine bunch of young men, good athletes, and we have a first-rate staff of coaches and trainers. They really could do it this year.

 And, no, I don't have the stats, the percentages or the research to back that up. Honestly, I'm not the baseball fan I was forty years ago ... and even then, I was out-of-sync with most of my friends and neighbors. The pro sports franchises that warmed their hears were mostly in Philly, just a two-hour drive south of my home near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. But my heart was warmed by franchises at the west end of the Keystone State, on the banks of the Monongahela where Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Steve Blass, Manny SanguillĂ©n and the rest of my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates pursued America's pastime.

But even after all these years, and even after I've embraced 'the dark side' and begun following soccer more, I still enjoy a ballgame. Sometimes, I think I've been fortunate to have spent most of the past 35 years in areas where minor league ball is played ... in Albuquerque, NM with the Dukes, and in Midland, TX with the Rockhounds ... the venues are more intimate, the seats are affordable, there's an unusually high percentage of friends and acquaintances in the stands with you, and the players seem to be more concerned with playing than posturing as they work their way up to the majors.

In the time that has passed since the creation of "englische Base-ball" (or whatever), it still remains a favorite pastime ... and for all its appeal in other parts of the world, still a popular American pastime ...

It's like that line from "Field of Dreams" (one of the better speeches ever committed to film), adapted from Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe" (a great book on baseball, its magic and its appeal) ...

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again."

... it reminds me of the fun I've had in the stands, which I later shared with my boys. And how the wife and I would whoop-it-up from the sidelines when their rec teams took the field. I hope they'll share it with their kids someday ... if not, Grandpa will be standing by!

In the meantime, I regret that we will not be able to make the drive up to Colorado this weekend, to watch my 'Chaps' play ... a Memorial Day break in the hills and mountains of Colorado, watching aspiring young players take their best shot at the title ... I can think of worse ways to spend a weekend.