Monday, August 23, 2021

A Good Day at the Old Ballpark

The crowd of nearly 30,000 let out a huge groan. Cubs center fielder Rafael Ortega had the ball in his glove, but it popped out, allowing yet another run to score. The Cubs had scored the previous inning, cutting the Royals' lead to 5-1, and now they gave that run right back.

"I don't understand why we even came today, dad," a ten-year-old boy lamented to his father in the stands. "I don't even know most of the players that are out there right now."

"Son, there's more to attending a game than whether the Cubs win," the father replied. "It's about enjoying the warm summer weather and spending time with those you love."

The boy looked around. The seats that actually did have fans in them were filled with people wearing lots of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber jerseys. "I just don't understand why they had to get rid of all those guys. Especially Baez; he was my favorite player. He made so many cool plays. Why did they have to send him to the Mets?"

No one could blame the boy for being upset. The Cubs had lost 12 straight games at Wrigley Field and, with the home team down 6-1, it became all the more likely that they were about to endure unlucky loss #13.

"Well, son, unfortunately baseball is a business above all else. It's good that you learn that now. When I was a kid, I idolized Sammy Sosa. On the day that they traded him to the Orioles, it ripped my heart out."

The boy seemed unmoved. "And what about all those Baez cards that you bought me? What am I going to do with those now?"

"Well, you don't have to get rid of them. You can hold onto them. You can still like Baez. At least you'll have all those great memories of watching him play."

The two turned back towards the field as the conversation paused for a moment, and they blankly stared out onto the field as the Royals added on another run to make it 7-1.

The father tried to turn the conversation in a positive direction. "Son, I wish you could have been around for the great home run chase of 1998 between McGwire and Sosa. The whole country was caught up with baseball fever. It was unlike anything I've ever seen."

"I'll bet that Wrigley was a lot more fun place to be back then," replied the son.

"Oh, it was rockin'. And, I know you're not really old enough to remember 2016 well, but man, this was the place to be. The seats were filled every day. The Cubs couldn't lose. And then..."

"Well, they almost blew it in the World Series, didn't they?"

"Yeah, the comeback. The Indians thought they had it won after they took Game 4. I would give anything to go back and relive those days. I wish you had been old enough to appreciate it, but that's okay. At least we have lots of great memories to look forward to in the future together."

"When do you think the Cubs will be good again?"

"I hope it's soon, son. But we'll see."

The two sat in silence for several more minutes before the son broke in again. "Did you hear that the Cubs will be playing the Reds in the Field of Dreams game next year? Do you think we can go, dad?"

"Well, I'd love to, son. I heard tickets were really expensive this year. Plus I don't know right now whether I'll be able to get it off work. We'll have to see."

It was a hot, humid day in August, with the home team losing big. There were plenty of reasons to be frustrated, but at least a father and son were able to bond and spend some quality time together at the old ballpark.

With the Cubs losing 9-1 in the bottom of the ninth, and much of the paying crowd having departed for the day, the two looked around the stadium, taking it all in. "You know," the dad resumed, "It won't be too long before it will be freezing cold out here and there will be snow covering the field. Let's just enjoy these final moments that we have before we gotta leave for good."

"Thanks for bringing me today, dad."

"You're welcome, son."

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Would God approve this message?

I was watching a baseball game last night, and there was a commercial in which someone was advocating getting the COVID-19 vaccine. In the commercial, the speaker was inside a church and quoted 1 Corinthians 13:13 in support of the vaccine: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." The speaker was talking about how getting the vaccine not only helps you, but shows that you care about other people as well.

My initial reaction was outrage. They've tried just about every tactic to pressure us into getting this vaccine, and now they're using religion too? I thought about it some more and wondered, would God really approve of us using His Word to support this?

Now, I'm not against vaccines. I do believe that science should be used for good whenever possible. I believe that God created ways for us to combat disease and that, once we discover them, we should use them to our advantage. My problem is that, at least in this case, His Word was being used as part of a larger plot to try to scare us into getting this vaccine. Would God approve of this?

While I believe in the power of science, I also do not believe that the Lord intends for us to live in fear. The Bible mentions this in quite a few places. For example, 1 John 4:18 reads, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." Further, 2 Timothy 1:7 says, "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline."

Again, I believe that we shouldn't live carelessly and just trust that God will take care of us. I believe that we should take precautions to protect our health as much as is possible; that is part of what it means to follow Christ, in my opinion. I just don't like the fact that God is being used in this situation to scare people, as this whole situation that has been going on for the past year and a half has been all about fear. Perhaps you disagree with me, but I do not believe that what is happening now comes from God, but rather is evil.

If our society truly cared about following God's Word and loving our neighbor, then why are we so obsessed with fighting COVID-19 while not addressing the other issues in our society? What about hunger, for example? Every day, thousands of people die of starvation. What are we doing about that? Think about what we could do about hunger if we put half the effort into feeding the hungry that we have in trying to get people to get this vaccine. We could be so much better off.

I think we know the answer to that. The media can't scare or divide people over hunger, or any other issue that our society is facing, the same way that they can when it comes to COVID-19. People get upset about masks and vaccines, on both sides of the issue, but there's no money to be made or fear to be mongered over hunger.

Again, you may disagree with me, but I do not believe that God's Word is intended to be used to try to guilt people into getting the COVID-19 vaccine. I believe that we are to love others and that we are supposed to take care of each other, but I don't think God approves of this use of His Word. If you see this commercial, or any other religious pleas to get the vaccine, remember Isaiah 41:10: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

We may be going through difficult times right now, but God is always there. And I will choose to lean on that.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

What kind of world are we living in now?

Over the last several days, I've seen lots of memes, statuses, and other posts regarding the whole mask wearing and getting vaccinated thing, and I've seen a lot that I agree with and have been tempted to share. It's just so sad what this world has come to and I felt like I needed to share some thoughts.

Now, I'm not writing this as either a political expert or a medical expert. I'm just an average citizen who is concerned about what I'm seeing. In March of 2020, we shut everything down because we were told that we had "14 days to flatten the curve." Then in July of 2020, at least here in Michigan, we were given a mask mandate and were told that we would knock this virus out in 4-6 weeks. That mandate ended up lasting about a year. It's a slippery slope that we've continued to slide down.

And after all the damage we've done to our society through shutdowns and mandates, it appears - at least we're being told - that we still don't have this virus under control. Even with all these people being "vaccinated," we now have a new "variant" that is doing damage. How could we let an illness inflict so much damage upon our society?

Now, I do believe that COVID-19 is real and that it is a serious issue. However, what has it caused to happen to our society? We're losing our freedoms, and that should concern everyone, regardless of political affiliation. The fact that so many people are just blindly going along with it is alarming.

What happened to our freedom to choose what is best for us and our families? Many people are being forced to get this vaccine or to lose their jobs or to lose many other freedoms that we have taken for granted for so long. This vaccine has been shoved down our throats by the government and the media without knowing what the long-term effects are and whether it really is even effective. If you make the personal decision to get the vaccine, I have nothing against you for that. But to force people to either get it or to lose their freedoms is just insane. I can't be the only one who thinks this.

And as for wearing masks, again, this has been going on for over a year. The science is dubious, at best, regarding whether they actually work, while at worst, wearing them causes many other health problems. Yet even assuming that they do work, how long is this supposed to go on for? Why are we forcing small children to wear them at school all day long? On the surface, they are a minor inconvenience, yet they aren't referred to as "slave muzzles" for nothing. They symbolize our helplessness at the situation we're in.

It's just unbelievable to me what has happened to us. The worst part is that we are so deeply divided over these issues, even accusing one another of killing each other. We're all tired and frustrated, and personally, I'm wondering how much longer all of this is supposed to go on for.

We've done everything we've been asked to do yet are being told that things aren't getting better. We shut everything down, which caused grief to millions of people. We wore masks for a year. People have been getting this vaccine. And now we're still being told that things aren't getting any better. What comes next? I'm afraid to find out.

The good news is that there is hope. Now, every time a new crisis comes up, we always remind each other to trust in God, that He has things under control, but what exactly does that mean? I've been thinking about how that applies to the mess we're currently in, about how we keep being told, "Just do this and we'll knock this virus out" over and over again. First of all, I'm reminded of what a wicked world this is and how all greatness comes from Him. I guess we shouldn't be surprised by anything that this world throws at us.

But what does God ask from us, compared to what our government and media are asking of us now? They keep asking us to do more and more for the good of society, many of their promises turning out to be empty. God only asks one thing of us: to accept Him as our Savior. That's it. He doesn't say, hey, do this, and you'll receive eternal life, then pull the rug out from under you and ask you to do something more cumbersome. Nope. Just trust Him and your eternity is assured.

I don't know about you, but for me, that's a great assurance. I'm choosing not to put my hope in a face mask or a vaccine, but in God. I may have to put up with a lot of terrible things in this world, but I know there's so much more than what we see here. And that's a good feeling.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Cleveland Indians or Cleveland Guardians -- How important is it really?

The Cleveland Indians announced earlier this week that they are changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians, ending a tradition of over 100 years of being named the Indians. Much of the social unrest regarding racial matters prompted the name change, and whether you like the name "Guardians" or not (and it seems like a lot of people don't), we're pretty divided on whether it was a good idea to change the name in the first place.

(I have to give them credit for coming up with a name right away, instead of doing what the Washington Redskins did and change their name to the "Washington Football Team" while they take two years to come up with a new name.)

Reading around the internet, people of all races are on both sides of the debate. Native Americans even seem to be divided; some are glad that the name is gone because it was racist, while others dislike getting rid of the name because they feel that it erases lots of tradition and that the name paid tribute to the Native Americans. Therefore, there's no easy answer to whether this was the right move to make or not; it seems that many people will be upset either way.

I can see both points of view, but my main question is this: How important is it really?

I'm not Native American, so I won't claim to understand their point of view on the issue. But this is a sports team name that we're talking about here. Will changing the team name -- or keeping it the same for that matter -- do anything to stop all the hatred, violence, and killing that is going on in our world today? In the grand scheme of things, will the Dixie Chicks or Lady Antebellum changing their name really make that much of a difference? Sorry, but I don't think so.

And this is coming from someone who is a huge baseball fan. I'd rather we take actions that will actually solve some of the problems that we are facing today. Changing a team name not only divides us more than we already are -- and we're pretty divided -- but it distracts us from the real issues. And that's a big problem.

So, it's okay to have an opinion on the matter. And I can even understand why it's important to some folks. I just don't think this is something that we should get that worked up about. I'd rather work to heal the division in our nation and to save innocent lives than get caught up in something that doesn't mean all that much in the first place.

I'd like to think that people will soon let this go and that we can move on. But given how easy it is to get distracted and work people up over things that aren't that important, I'm not confident that will happen.

Why I write -- and why it matters

I'm trying to recall when it is that I first discovered that I like to write, and that (I'd like to think) I'm pretty good at it. I wrote for my high school's newspaper and thought I wanted to pursue a degree in journalism. For several different reasons, that didn't materialize, but I still enjoy writing to this day as often as I can.

I feel like I have a lot to say through writing. I've written three books and written numerous articles for several websites and publications. This might come as a surprise to people who meet me in person. The first thing that stands out about me is that I'm quiet and don't really say much, at least initially.

I'm an extreme introvert -- and personality tests that I've taken confirm this, though I don't feel like I needed one to figure that out. One common characteristic of introverts is that we like to think things through and carefully craft what we want to say before we say it. That's difficult to do during an in-person conversation because that involves quick thinking.

My brain doesn't quite work that way. That's not a bad thing; that just means that I'm different. When I want to share my thoughts with other people, I like to sit at the computer and really put some thought into it, carefully considering every word and reading it through over and over again to make sure I get the exact message out that I want.

Writing is a good release for me because I feel like I have plenty to say; I just am not good at saying it in person. That's one good thing about the internet and social media: For all the negative that comes with it, it gives introverts like myself a voice, a chance to get my thoughts out to the world. With modern trends such as email, Facebook, and web pages, we've all had to become good at communicating through the written word. And I think that's a good thing.

Over the past several months, for various reasons, I haven't done much writing. And I've missed it. I enjoy sharing my thoughts with others, but more importantly for myself, I enjoy getting those thoughts that have been bubbling in my brain out into the world. It's something that everyone needs to do in one way or another. Some people like to do it through in-person conversation. This, however, is my preferred method.

So, in the coming weeks and months, I'm going to try to do a lot more writing and share it with all of you. I hope you'll find what I have to say both interesting and informative and that both of us (myself and you the reader) get something out of it.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Review of Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell

The story of Richard Nixon is one of the most tragic - and also one of the most important - stories in our nation's history. There's so much that can be said, and that has already been written, about him. John A. Farrell attempted to encapsulate Nixon's life in his recent book, Richard Nixon: The Life.

Though the book is over 700 pages long, I feel like it only scratched the surface of Nixon's story. The book's biggest strength is its insight into Nixon's complex personality. Farrell describes him as a man who was both tough and ambitious, but also troubled and insecure. He wanted power and for people to like him, yet he also was introverted and seemed to dislike most social situations. He entered politics as a defender of our nation's old-fashioned values, yet Farrell also portrays him as someone who would do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals, usually while also doing what he thought gave him the best chance to win the next election. Indeed, his actions, particularly on economic and social issues, were moderate compared to his more "conservative" contemporaries, including Ronald Reagan.

Farrell does a great job of showing how Nixon's conflicting personality traits would appear throughout his life, as he rose quickly from his service in World War II to become a U.S. Representative, Senator, and Vice President in less than a decade. After suffering a tough defeat to John F. Kennedy in 1960, Nixon won election as our nation's 37th President in 1968, taking advantage of a fractured Democratic Party and narrowly defeating Hubert Humphrey.

Other reviews of this book that I have seen suggest that Farrell was overly critical of Nixon, but I didn't find that to be the case. Farrell gave lots of credit to Nixon for his foreign policy achievements, including his role in bringing the Vietnam War to an end and achieving a breakthrough in U.S.-China relations. In terms of his capability as a Chief Executive, I came away with the impression that Nixon was talented and accomplished a lot.

Farrell is not so kind when discussing Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal, and I suppose that's fair. I don't feel that Farrell did enough to chronicle Nixon's involvement in the cover-up, though that would have been difficult to do in a book of this scope. I was also surprised at how Spiro Agnew, Nixon's first Vice President, received nothing more than a couple of brief passing remarks. It goes to show how difficult it is to give Nixon's life the full treatment it deserves in just one volume.

The most significant part of Nixon's legacy is that, due to what happened while he was in office, Americans lost faith in their elected officials more than at any other time in the nation's then 200-year history. I would have liked more analysis on this, but again, that's likely outside the scope of this book. The reader will likely come away from this book with the conclusion that Nixon could have been a great President, but he let the destructive parts of his personality get the best of him, throwing it all away due to ridiculous pursuits like a break-in into a Democratic office.

While the book was informative and loaded with information, it still left me wanting more. If you want more information about, say, the 1960 election or the Watergate scandal, you'll want to consult other sources after reading this. It certainly will not be the last source I consult on Nixon's life, but it was an interesting read that I'd recommend to anyone who likes Presidential biographies.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review: The Unexpected President

Chester A. Arthur has to be near the top of any list of the most obscure U.S. Presidents. Among those who actually know anything about him, he is probably best known for those long mutton chops instead of any actual achievements while in office.

Scott S. Greenberger recently undertook the daunting task of chronicling Arthur's life in his book, The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur. (Click here to see the listing on Amazon.) We know so little about Arthur, largely because there were no events of major significance during his time in office (he was President from 1881 to 1885), he was a relatively private man who tried to keep his family out of the public eye, and because he had many of his important archives destroyed before he died.

And yet, Greenberger attempts to show that despite Arthur's relative anonymity in our history books, his Presidency was a consequential one. Arthur has to be one of the most unlikely men to ever hold the office. During the late 19th Century, instead of voters selecting a nominee for their party in primaries like we do now, state parties would send delegates to a national convention and they would vote over and over again until someone reached a majority. In 1880, the Republicans were in danger of splitting over those who favored the spoils system of rewarding loyal party members with government jobs (referred to as Stalwarts) and reformers who thought this system was corrupt and wanted to pass laws that allowed for the selection of such positions based on merit.

As the son of a strict abolitionist minister, Arthur showed a lot of promise as a young man, including defending a black woman against discrimination in New York's public transportation system as a lawyer. But he became involved in the New York Republican Party and worked up the ranks to become one of the most prominent members of the Republican "machine," using government influence to control appointments to important government posts and solicit money to help Republican political campaigns. He loved his family, though Greenberger portrays him as a man who cared even more about his growing career and lavish lifestyle. Arthur's wife, Nell, became ill and died at age 42, and while he took it hard, even that didn't seem to slow down his ambition.

With Reconstruction over and the next big war still a few decades away, civil service was the big issue of the day in 1880. When none of the top candidates could get a majority of support at the convention, the delegates eventually chose James A. Garfield as a compromise. To satisfy the Stalwarts, who still wielded a lot of power in the party, the Republicans tucked Arthur away as the Vice Presidential candidate. Though this office had relatively little responsibility, he was only one life away from holding our country's most important job. And just a few months after Garfield took office, a disgruntled government job seeker shot Garfield. After an agonizing few months of clinging to life, Garfield died and Arthur was suddenly President.

No man, before or since, may ever have assumed the Presidency as unpopular as Arthur was, well known as a political "hack," as Greenberger refers to him. Many even suspected that he was behind the more reform-minded Garfield's murder so that the Stalwarts could stop any attempts at civil service reform. But if Arthur's loss of his wife didn't force him to have a change of heart, Garfield's death seems to have been a turning point. He was distraught, not only over the President's untimely death, but also because almost everyone in the country viewed him unfavorably, and he took the suggestions that he was behind the assassination hard.

When Arthur took office, he was unsure of himself. But when he became President, he suddenly saw himself, no longer as a leader of the Republicans, but rather as a President for all people. And with the encouragement of a series of letters from an unknown young woman, Julia Sand, President Arthur pleasantly surprised his detractors by standing up to the Stalwarts who inevitably tried to control him and led the effort towards civil service reform. Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law in 1883, and though it didn't resolve the issue entirely, it was a big step forward to ending political corruption and using merit to fill government positions. Though that might be a boring topic to learn about in today's history books, it was an important accomplishment in our nation's history.

Greenberger took on a challenging task of writing a biography on Arthur and probably did about as well as we could expect any historian to do. Besides Arthur's father, there is little description of the rest of Arthur's family. While the author hinted that Arthur's political ambition was a strain on their marriage, there aren't many details in the book on this. It appears that Arthur did a good job of shielding his family from public scrutiny. Besides this, Arthur ordered many of his important papers burned after he left the White House, ashamed of his past as a Republican crony who did whatever he could to keep the party in power.

Indeed, Greenberger is not generous towards Arthur when it comes to much of his political involvement. But one important historical lesson we can take from this book is that Arthur, as he watched his own wife die partly from his neglect and President Garfield die because of the evil effects of the spoils system, was able to change his heart towards the end of his life. His rough lifestyle even took a toll on his own health, as he died at age 57 less than two years after leaving office.

For a topic that may seem a little dry to the average reader on the surface, I had no trouble reading this book and it held my interest the whole time. Greenberger writes with clarity and ease, and he brings Arthur and the other prominent people in the story to life. I would have liked a little more detail about Arthur's personal life, as well as more on his effort to bring about civil service reform. And it was a little frustrating that the latter part of the book relied so heavily on the letters from Sand; indeed, they were quoted at length several times.

But again, with so little to go on, Greenberger may have done as well as he could have. If you don't know much about Arthur - or this era in American history, for that matter - I recommend reading this book. It should provide some new perspective on the American Presidency.