Thursday, March 31, 2011

Born again

It is almost 1 pm here in southwestern Ohio, just an hour away from the return of a regional tradition that many of us can hardly wait to come around for one more year.  It might not be as good as Christmas morning, though some would argue better:  The return of Cincinnati Reds baseball. 
Ever since I was a kid there was always something special about the Reds, especially going down to old Crosley Field for a game.  Big stuff, indeed.  As I think I mentioned here on The Back Porch before, in summer bedside night prayers I often bargained for a Reds’ win for the promise of some good work tomorrow.  I can almost hear Waite Hoyt calling the game through my prayerful thoughts.  I  mean, the Reds are us.  They are southwest Ohio.  They are part of the glue that knits the tri-state together into our home region on the planet.  And they are our boys of summer.
I sure hope they have another good season.  I hope the pitching holds up and the offense stays on the ball.  I hope Joey Votto has another MVP season and Jay Bruce has more hot spells than cold.  I hope Bronson Arroyo doesn’t miss a start and Coco Cordero gives us an easier time for our hearts.  I hope Brandon Phillips flashes splendid leather and earns another Gold Glove and Hernandez and Hannigan combine for an even better batting and throw ‘em out at second average.  
It promises to be a good year.  Here’s hoping it turns out that way.  Good for the hometown Dayton Dragons, too.
It’s time to put on my Reds hat!
A special thanks this week to all my Facebook friends who sent me birthday greetings.  Forty-five birthday notes were received.  Can you believe that?  Forty-five.  Amazing.  Thanks so much for the kind thoughts.  
What do you know about vacation timeshares?  
They’ve always intrigued me, promising a pretty-much-paid-for beach break annually for years to come.  But then you hear about buyers who never get reservations, always seem to be short on points -- so can never stay there, and then the lousy customer service after the sale.  (translation:  Nobody returns phone calls.)
Well, we just about bought into one of those last week on Hilton Head Island, but decided after a ninety minute session with three different salesmen that we really wanted no part of it.  
Still, I’ve talked with the Marriott Vacation Club folks and they seem to be pretty attentive.  We’ll see.  After all, it is a Marriott. 
We sold ourselves on the idea of having a week on the beach every year and a half or so.  Spring or fall would work.  As long as breezes were warm enough to keep a long walk down the beach at sunset reasonably comfortable.    
I’ll tell you, I’ve seen Cindy Lou absolutely blossom at the beach.  I’ve always known she loves the sun and the winter got her down.  I didn’t quite understand the power of sun with sand, I guess.  
The first time I saw the transformation was at Fort Walton Beach many years ago on spring break.  Cindy laid out every day for a couple of hours and colored up nicely.  I don’t know that the dinner conversation changed, but a softness appeared in her face that was absolutely noticeable.  It was very cool to see.  
I’d love to give the girl the beach every now and then.  Timeshare seems like a reasonable way of promising that trip to ourselves.  
How can that be bad?  

Today’s elder idea:    Players make their own success.  Mangers only put them in the position to do so. 
Reds’ manager Dusty Baker

Monday, March 14, 2011

March birthdays in Ohio

for Mary and the rest of us
At times I’ve been jealous of folks whose birthdays fall in the summer.  
They get to have picnic parties and hang out on the patio until 
well after dark, sipping drinks and talking to friends around the fire. 
They even get their names printed up on the outfield message board
at Dragon’s games.  March babies?  No such luck. 
Our birthdays are often gray and brisk, if not downright cold. 
We might see snow fall on our birthday.  Or sleet.  Or freezing rain. 
Some mighty nasty storms can be blown up in the March sky. 
Dayton’s big flood in 1913 came in March.  ‘Nuf said.  
Then again, we might get a mild day, a day to wear sandals. 
An early March birthday might see crocus making first emersion 
in a flower bed out back, or notice of the yellow haze 
willows put out when the sap starts to flow. 
By mid-month, daylight savings begins already, the culprit 
that causes late sleepers to curse the concept of spring ahead.
Morning persons loving the earlier sunrise will be plunged back 
into darkness for another month until earth’s tilting catches up. 
March birthdays are almost always spent indoors where it is still 
warm and dry and safe from the weather.  But as Pisces flows into Aries,
the promise of a re-greening world reaches into us and re-awakens
some sense deep in our core that the season has been weathered
and the true beginning of a new year is upon us.

Tom Schaefer
6 March 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Grand Isle one more time

Back in late January I wrote a blog entry about a short trip we took to Grand Isle, Louisiana.  Time magazine’s webpage ran a story earlier this week about Mardi Gras on Grand Isle and gave some crucial updated details about life and work for the locals down there.  It’s a worthwhile read.  See:

For a different take on post-spill Gulf problems, see this chilling piece from today's Al Jazeera English:

Gulf Spill Sickness Wrecking Lives

Image:  Carmen K. Sisson / Cloudybright
Caption:  Revelers throw strings of beads during a Mardi Gras parade in Grand Isle, La, on March 6, 2011.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I’ve established here on The Back Porch in prior entries that, as far as faith is concerned, I figure myself to be more Christian agnostic than anything else.  You know, I’ll believe it when I see it.  And with Lent finally starting this week, I thought an entry on personal spirituality might be in order.
I was raised and steeped in Roman Catholicism and thought I knew all I needed to know with meatless Fridays, plenary indulgences, rosaries at the shrine, and the responsibility of getting to church every Sunday.  I learned there in both the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed that I was part of the one true Catholic and apostolic church.  
Later, as a teen, I was surprised to learn that the majority of our fellow earth dwellers were not, in fact, Christians, and as unbaptized souls, they would never be able to achieve heaven.  That conundrum shook my faith hard.  If you believe what I was taught in the 1950s, God would not reward others with heaven because they did not commit to Jesus Christ in baptism.  Didn’t seem socially just to me.    
By the time I reached my twenties, following acknowledgment of other serious reality-check flaws in church teachings, I questioned if the whole church thing was bogus.  I mean, what proof is there of one true religion?  And for that matter, what solid proof was there of one GodHeaven?  And without those realities, what is Truth anyway?  
Such has been on my mind much through the years.  I have come to understand that I, alone, am responsible for myself.  I’ve learned that the intention of my actions makes all the difference.  And I have a responsibility to see to it that my brothers and sisters are getting along okay, too.  If not, I owe them some help, whether by doing something myself or insisting the government, on behalf of the rest of us, provide assistance.  
I have since come to conclude that our universe is a wonderfully complicated place with myriad ways of explaining all of the stuff nobody can fathom.  Just so happens I was born into a Western tradition with roots that reach back to the Romans and Greeks.  My logic, philosophy, language, and native religion all emanate from that epoch of human experience.  Other folks from other parts of the planet following other thinkers and spiritualists would, then, have different world- and God-views.  Somewhere in there I concluded that there was surely no one particular sect had the inside track on defining a one true God.  Christian creeds had clearly overreached their positions.
So over the last third of my life, I have come to sample elements of Eastern religion and philosophies.  Zen has taught me to be present in the moment and to accept the beauty of every moment and every breath.  All we have is the present, so the teaching goes.  Yesterday is past and tomorrow is beyond our control.  This moment -- this breath -- is all I/you/we really have. Be present for it.      
Hinduism has taught me that the source of human pain is our need to want.   Whether love, cars, baseball gloves, or money, if a person wants something, pain is inevitable.  Solution?  Do not want stuff.  And don’t forget to take care of the poor. 
Following the three-year long meeting of church leaders known as Vatican II in the 60s, the Roman Catholic church made some subtle but important changes.  We were then taught that those not baptized were not, in fact, condemned to hell.  God would reward the righteous.  You still had to be Catholic to go to communion and women were still relegated to subservient roles, but things were changing.  Many of us were glad to see the church liberalize a bit.  We hoped to see more change down the line, but creeds still ruled. 
Then in my forties I got a divorce and an old church teaching took on new meaning: If one is an unconfessed sinner, one is not welcome at the communion table.  Divorced and remarried?  You’re a sinner, dude.  Murderer?  No problem.  Go to confession and you’re back in the fold.  Divorced and remarried?  Sorry, man.  You’re a sinner.  You are actively living in sin, to be exact.  One Bible teaching Catholic authorities like to highlight is that if a man marries a divorced woman, he makes her a prostitute or something horrible like that.  We all know that’s a bad thing.  
So I came to be a churched guy who didn’t really have a church.  My lovely Cindy Lou, however, was attending Christ Episcopal downtown, and after some time going to church with her I came to feel very welcome there.  I also came to learn a more Protestant, and I think healthier, definition of sin.  With Catholics, the big thing is commission.  If you did a bad thing, you are a sinner and you need to confess your sins to a priest.  The implication was that if you avoided bad stuff, you could avoid being a sinner.  I rather liked thinking of myself as a good guy.  
Protestants?  Their idea is that human nature makes us all sinners.  Everybody make mistakes.  We goof up.  Can’t really avoid it, so just accept the fact we’re all sinners.  Nobody’s perfect, after all.  
I have a hard time with creeds.  I hesitate at speaking the phrase ‘I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth....‘  I mean, really?  And an only begotten son?  I have trouble with that one too.
I have come to accept, in my words, a Spirit of the Universe that is alive and present in everyone and every thing:  pine trees, chipmunks, red-tailed hawks, little kids, the Grand Canyon, and in the galaxies only the Hubble space telescope can see.  We are all star stuff.  The cells of every body blew out of a star some long eon ago.  
Is star stuff, then, God stuff?  Now that makes more sense.  To me, the God-force is so much bigger and wonderful and unknown than any creed a council of bishops could write. 
Still, though I struggle with church creeds, I continue to attend regularly despite the apparent contradictions.  Why you ask?   A big part of it is being part of a community of folks gathered together who want to make the world a better place.  And I’m all for that.  
Today’s elder idea:  A few years ago when I thought I had a Marianist brother cornered on some God contradiction I concocted, he replied, “Do you think everybody believes in the same God?”  Well, yes, I guess I did. 

image:  from Casting Out Nines blog at WordPress