Boondoggle for Free

boon-dog-gle: (noun) work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy.
free: (adjective) provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment.


Ash Wednesday contemplations...

Our church offered a very brief (25-minute) Ash Wednesday service this evening. We had some corporate, responsive reading of Scripture. A super-brief homily. A little singing. And the imposition of a cross of ashes on our foreheads as we were reminded, "From dust you were created, and to dust you will return."

One common objection to Christianity, or complaint against Christianity, is that Christianity is arrogant and exclusive and divisive because it makes truth claims and therefore says that those who don't agree with those claims are wrong. (Obviously, this objection could be leveled against any system that makes exclusive truth claims.) The objection continues: claiming that others are wrong necessarily involves devaluing and dehumanizing them, as well as likely leading to intolerance, hatred, and potentially even violence. Heck, look at the Inquisition, the Crusades, and Westboro Baptist.

The common response to this objection is that pluralism is just as much of an exclusive truth claim. If you say that "there is no one truth," or even, "we can't know if there's one truth," such statements are just as exclusive as saying "there is only one truth." If you say, "there is no one truth," then you are excluding those who make truth claims from being right. And so on. The idea behind this response to the objection is to change the question from "Are there truth claims?" to "Which truth claims are right?"

But, I would rather take issue with the objection itself. After all, Christianity doesn't just make random, contentless truth claims. It makes particular truth claims. So, are the truth claims of Christianity arrogant, exclusive, and divisive? Well, without detailing all of them, it's clear that some of them, some of the most basic, are not.

For example, the Christian claim that there is only one God may theoretically be viewed to exclude those who are polytheists or atheists. But in reality, it doesn't. For what that claim entails is that there only one God, and I am not Him, and neither are you. It puts us all on equal footing.

But the Christian claim goes further. It is not just that there happens to be one God and here we happen to be in this corner of the galaxy. The claim is that God created us intentionally and specially. He took some dust of the earth, formed a man, and breathed His life into Him. In doing so, God made the man like Himself. Then God made a woman out of that man, so that the man and woman would be counterparts to each other--different persons but of the same substance. And together these man and woman, and all their offspring after them, bear the image of the God who created them. This puts us all not only on equal footing, but also on special footing. This image-bearingness that you have and I have and everyone has means that all of us are special, inherently, by our very nature. Our very existence displays the glory of God, even before we do or say or believe anything. Therefore, any action or attitude or word that would seek to exclude or divide someone else from the glory that it is to bear the image of God cannot be consistent with the Christian truth claim--no matter what the one doing or thinking or saying it claims. And perpetrations of hatred or aggression can never be the outflow of a truly Christian truth claim.

So when a cross of ashes on the forehead reminds us of the Christian claim that "from dust you were created and unto dust you will return," it is not done so to devalue the life and dignity of human beings. Rather it reminds us that of all the things that God could have done with the lump of dust that makes you up, what He chose to do was create you. He chose to create you to bear His image and display His glory in your part of the world. No matter what you have done and no matter what you believe, you cannot erase that image from your existence. It may be distorted; it may be overwhelmed and hijacked and enslaved by sin, but it cannot be eradicated. And in that cross we see the extent that God would go to in order to restore and redeem and free you to bear His image fully.


trade deadline thoughts...

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is approaching in about a week (July 31). With that in view, what follows are a few thoughts/links inspired by that turning point on the calendar:
  • The St. Louis Cardinals should trade last year's 1st-round draft pick, Shelby Miller, along with a current major-league-ready player or two (e.g., Brendan Ryan, John Jay, and/or Allen Craig) for Houston Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt. Miller may become a great pitcher for years to come, but Oswalt is a great pitcher now (and will probably remain so for 2 or 3 years) and he would make the Cards the clear favorite for the National League pennant.
  • The San Francisco Giants should trade for Kansas City Royals outfielder Jose Guillen, but only if they don't have to give up much. (Getting Corey Hart from the Milwaukee Brewers would obviously be even better, but he would almost certainly cost too much.) The Giants have strong pitching, but they need some more pop in their lineup if they're really going to make a push for the playoffs. However, they don't want to mortgage their future in order to make a run this year, because with their pitching and some of their up-and-coming position players, I think their future is bright.
  • I am willing to trade starting pitcher Dan Haren and a reserve offensive player from my fantasy baseball team for a starting power-hitter and a middle reliever.
  • American Idol should trade Simon Cowell for Rick Rubin, or someone like him who actually knows music (and, while they're at it, trade Ellen DeGeneres for someone like Queen Latifah, who actually knows music). I don't watch the show anymore, and I don't know what Rubin would be like on t.v. (he seems weird, which could be good, and I'm pretty sure Queen Latifah would be great), but with speculation of people like Donald Trump or Howard Stern taking over for Cowell, I think the show would do well to get away from spectacle and back to music, as well as broaden its musical repertoire (and thereby broaden its audience). With Rubin producing everything from rap and r&b to hard rock and pop rock to country, I think he would fit the bill.
  • The next time you shop for "fair trade" coffee, realize there's more to the story than what is printed in the ad blurb.
  • Even if you don't agree with Matt Ridley's evolutionary presuppositions (as I don't), his observations and extrapolations of the uniquely human practice of "trading" are worth listening to. [Really--it's worth stopping reading this drivel and moving on to Ridley.]
  • Here's a list of some strange trades in the history of sports.
  • This kid should just keep trading.


Fantasy Baseball Draft: 2010...

My strategy going into this year's draft has 3 simple steps: 1) get the first pick, 2) get Albert Pujols, 3) get a bunch of other guys. Now, should step one of that plan go awry--all bets are off, and I'll have a built-in excuse when I don't win the league this year.

I have played fantasy baseball every year for almost 20 years. I believe I was 12 the first year I played, but I could have been 11, which would make this the 20th year. Even though fantasy football is much more popular in general in America (and I've played that nearly as long, if not as long), fantasy baseball is by far my favorite. I usually play in a league or two with my dad and brothers, and/or with friends. For about 10 years, however, I've also joined a public league on Yahoo, and played with strangers. I usually consider this my "main" team, and devote most of my fantasy-sports-related energy toward managing this team. And this is the team I'll be drafting for tonight.

I do have a few ideas of what I want to do in the draft. Some are based on personal preference, and some are based on things I've learned over the years or advice I've gained from fantasy baseball experts. (Yes, amazingly, there are fantasy baseball "experts," and even more amazingly, I seek out their advice.) Depending on where my slot in the draft order is (there are 12 teams in the league) I can usually get two frontline offensive players before I draft my first starting pitcher. Offensive players play nearly every day, whereas a starting pitcher pitches (at most) every five days. So offensive players are far more valuable. You really can't afford to miss on your first pick--picking a guy who has a bad year or gets injured can really screw up your season (I've had both happen).

One thing that I usually struggle with is getting enough guys who can steal bases. So I'm trying to keep that in mind in order to address that this year. I'm also learning that I usually pick a closer (a pitcher who finishes games and earns "saves") too early. Closers fluctuate for teams so regularly throughout the year that even if I don't get one of the big name closers, I'll probably be able to pick one up later as a free agent. And finally, even though I know it could potentially be problematic, I always give some preference to Giants and Cardinals players. The Giants are my favorite team, and I watch a lot of Cardinals games (either on TV or at the stadium), so it's fun to be able to follow those players.

Well, I'm going to log in on the site now and see where I'm picking. Wish me luck...

(8:43pm) I've got the 5th pick in the draft--not bad, but I won't get Pujols. Evan Longoria (3B, Tampa Bay Rays), is the 5th rated player on my list. My top 10, in order, are: Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley, Longoria, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Ryan Howard, Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira. Hopefully someone ahead of me will do something dumb and I'll get to take one of my top 4 players.

(8:56) Almost time... By the way, my team name is "Bugeaters".

(9:01) First pick: Ryan Braun (OF, Milwaukee Brewers). Changed my mind at the last second, and switched Braun and Longoria. I think I downgraded him because I hate the Brewers and he's as bad as any of them. But this is fantasy baseball--no room for feelings and stuff.

(9:06) Second pick: Pablo Sandoval (1B, San Francisco Giants). One of my favorite players--"Kung Fu Panda". My bias for the Giants may have played a factor, but not a bad pick.

(9:08) Third pick: Chris Carpenter (SP, St. Louis, Cardinals). I just really really hope this isn't the year he gets old.

(9:12) Fourth pick: Ben Zobrist (2B, Tampa Bay Rays). Should get me some steals. I thought about taking Brandon Phillips (who would probably get a few more steals), but Zobrist plays for a better team so hopefully his numbers will be better.

(9:16) Fifth pick: Cliff Lee (SP, Seattle Mariners). I probably should have taken an offensive player, but I wasn't happy with my choices at this point.

(9:20) Sixth pick: Chone Figgins (3B, Seattle Mariners). Lots of stolen bases--very happy with the value at this pick.

(9:24) Seventh pick: Torii Hunter (OF, Los Angeles Angels). More stolen bases--not real happy with this pick. This very well could be the year he gets old.

(9:29) Eighth pick: Asdrubal Cabrera (SS, Cleveland Indians). No comment.

(9:31) Ninth pick: Alex Rios (OF, Chicago White Sox). Hopefully this is the year he lives up to his potential.

(9:37) Tenth pick: Jason Kubel (OF, Minnesota Twins). I have no idea what I'm doing.

(9:42) Eleventh pick: Jair Jurrjens (SP, Atlanta Braves). I like this pick here. I'm also on track for the team with the craziest names.

(9:47) Twelfth pick: Rick Porcello (SP, Detroit Tigers). Big upside. How long can I go without drafting a catcher?

(9:49) Thirteenth pick: Mike Napoli (C, Los Angeles Angels). Two minutes; that's how long.

(9:55) Fourteenth pick: Chad Qualls (RP, Arizona Diamondbacks). This is the problem with closers: he may be the closer all year for Arizona, but how many games are they gonna win?

(10:00) Fifteenth pick: Jorge De La Rosa (SP, Colorado Rockies). This is a murky area of the draft.

(10:05) Sixteenth pick: Franklin Gutierrez (OF, Seattle Mariners). How did this guy last so long? He was pre-ranked really low by Yahoo, and I think that everyone else, like me, just didn't notice him. This was a great pick.

(10:10) Seventeenth pick: Bobby Jenks (RP, Chicago White Sox). If he stays healthy, he'll produce.

(10:14) Eighteenth pick: Erick Aybar (SS, Los Angeles Angels). It was time to start filling in my bench.

(10:20) Nineteenth pick: Tim Hudson (SP, Atlanta Braves). I heard a report that he is pitching really well this Spring after coming off of Tommy John surgery. I was hoping I could take him with my last pitching slot.

(10:24) Crud...someone just took the guy I was going to draft next--Ryan Doumit (C, Pittsburgh Pirates).

(10:26) Twentieth pick: Colby Rasmus (OF, St. Louis Cardinals). Hopefully he breaks out this year.

(10:30) Twenty-first pick: Cristian Guzman (SS, Washington Nationals). Meh.

(10:35) Twenty-second pick: A.J. Pierzynski (C, Chicago White Sox). It's helpful to have a backup catcher, I guess.

(10:40) Twenty-third pick: Magglio Ordonez (OF, Detroit Tigers). He used to be good.

(10:49) Well, I think I'm happy with my team. Hopefully nobody will stink unexpectedly (except for players on other teams). But if they do, there's always next year...

(next day) I didn't feel like writing out my lineup last night. But since I'm at work now, and I've got nothing better to do, here it is:

C Mike Napoli (Angels)
1B Pablo Sandoval (Giants)
2B Ben Zobrist (Rays)
3B Chone Figgins (Mariners)
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians)
OF Ryan Braun (Brewers)
OF Torii Hunter (Angels)
OF Alex Rios (White Sox)
UTIL Jason Kubel (Twins)
UTIL Franklin Gutierez (Mariners)

SP Chris Carpenter (Cardinals)
SP Clif Lee (Mariners)
RP Chad Qualls (Diamondbacks)
RP Bobby Jenks (White Sox)
P Jair Jurrjens (Braves)
P Rick Porcello (Tigers)
P Jorge De La Rosa (Rockies)
P Tim Hudson (Braves)

BN Erick Aybar (Angels)
BN Colby Rasmus (Cardinals)
BN Cristian Guzman (Nationals)
BN A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox)
BN Magglio Ordonez (Tigers)



Almost exactly a year ago, I posted a set of resolutions for the then-new year. Let's look both backward and forward.

First was: Develop a regular weekly exercise schedule.
Grade for 2009: F-

Not only did I not use the treadmill that we owned, but eventually we gave it away. When they built a new, super nice, YMCA, just a mile or so from our house, we joined. But after the initial visit to join, in early December, I haven't been back.

For 2010, I'm keeping this same resolution, but hopefully I have a better plan. Starting tomorrow morning, I'm heading to the Y for a workout. I've got my clothes ready, my toiletry bag packed, and my mp3 player loaded with The Brothers Karamazov. Also, I decided to give Nutrisystem a try. I've known for a while that changing my diet is a necessity, but I'm too lazy to try to figure it out myself. With Nutrisystem, I've ordered a month's worth of meals, and along with some fresh fruits and vegetables as sides, that's all I get.

My next resolution was: Blog regularly.
Grade for 2009: F+

You might think that 15 blog posts in 2009, mostly grouped toward the beginning of the year, would warrant a solid F. But the plus was earned because I almost doubled the number of posts from 2008. Way to go me!

I'm not even going to carry this resolution over to this year. It will be what it will be.

Next: Read more.
Grade for 2009: C

I only read 11 books in 2009 (plus I skimmed 1), which was well short of my goal of 20. But, I finished the year reading two books that I've almost finished. And, for pretty much the entire year, I was pretty much always reading something. So, I'm moderately satisfied with my reading last year.

I'm renewing this resolution at the same level for 2010: 20 books.

Next: Watch less t.v.
Grade for 2009: F-

The minus is because I probably watched more t.v. in 2009 (as a percentage of my free time). Does it make it any better that I'm usually watching with my wife?

This is just a hard one to kick. I need to pick out what I want to watch in advance each week, and then watch nothing else. For some reason, this is easier said than done.

Finally: Commit to daily time in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and biblical meditation.
Grade for 2009: C-

I wouldn't say I was successful at this daily. But I think I made strides in this area that I would like to continue improving upon in the upcoming year.

So, that's that. I guess I have 4 resolutions for 2010--all of which I also had in 2009. Here's to hoping I earn fewer F's this year! If you're a resolution-maker, let me know if there are any that are particularly important to you.


Where the Wild Things Are...

The world we live in is a place where we wish things were different. We wish we weren't sad and lonely and frustrated and suffering from injustice. To make things worse, so often, we arrive at the realization that we don't have the ability or power to change things to be how we want them. In other words, we don't have control--control over our world, over our relationships, or even over ourselves. Adults know this, but kids, who don't even have the illusion of control that adults sometimes maintain, really know it, and that includes Max in Where the Wild Things Are.*

One of the truths of human experience in this world that Max and his Wild Things understand is that what we want is for a King to come and make things right. We want a King who will provide for our needs, give us important things to do, and protect us with a shield that keeps out the sadness and the loneliness. When Max pretends to be that king, things don't work out how he promised or his friends wanted. But that's not surprising, for all of us, at times, have pretended to be king of our world (or our part of the world), and our parents were doing the same since our first parents rejected God's rightful kingship--and doing so hasn't worked out for any of us.

The best we can do of ourselves is realize (as Max does) that our own struggles and flaws and griefs--our brokenness--are shared by everyone around us, and we are as difficult to live with for other people as they are for us. Realizing that, we may be able to find the humility and compassion to live in some measure of peace with others, at least for a time. Such a realization does not solve our fundamental problem of brokenness, but may help us cope with it, at least for a time.

The good news is, however, that we don't have to settle for merely coping with our brokenness. What Max and the movie do not understand (or at least the movie doesn't get to it) is that this broken world is not all that there is, and the True King has not left us by ourselves without hope. In fact, the longing that we all have for something better, is actually an indication that things were meant to be better. And our King has actually come close to us, not just to take control (which is rightfully His) but to serve us. He came once to begin the work of making our world, and ourselves, right, by taking the worst consequences of our brokenness upon Himself. And He will come again--finally, and forever--to finish making all things right, restoring the world to the way it is supposed to be, and removing all sadness and loneliness and injustice. In the mean time, He calls us, and leads us, to live with and for each other, in accordance with that coming new world, where he is the rightful and recognized King, rather than continuing to insist on being pretenders to the throne.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ...[Because,] our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:12-14, 20-21)

*This isn't meant to be a review of the movie, but rather a meditation inspired by it.

G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."