Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What does it mean to be "saved"?

I'm taking a Disciple Bible study course called 'Christian Believers', which is a study of theology and why we believe what we believe.  The current chapter is on salvation.   One of our readings is from Georgia Harkness, a Methodist theologian who died in 1974.  She writes about the change in our life that results from the experience of salvation:  "Sometimes the change is so radical that it seems miraculous.  Sometimes there is a gradual ... almost imperceptible, change in values, motives, feelings and modes of responding to situations.  If there is no difference at all, regeneration has not occurred."

Salvation is one of those 'churchy' terms that means little to non Christians.  I grew up outside the church.  I was 30 years old when I accepted Christ as my savior.  But what does that mean?   The common definition is that Christians believe we are given eternal life, in heaven, with God.  I believe this to be true, though I dare say I don't pretend to understand what that life will look like.  However, to me the Christian life, and the saving grace that Christ offers to all of us, is so much more than some intangible future reward.  John Wesley writes that salvation is "a present salvation.  It is something attainable, yea, actually attained on earth by those who are partakers of this faith."  He writes that salvation "implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment."  To me, salvation frees me to fully experience all the joy that God means for us to enjoy today, on this earth, now.

When I became a Christian, I did not experience a radical, overnight change in my life or my general outlook.  I was not magically transformed.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation."  Since I didn't have a sudden overnight transforming experience, I occasionally wondered if that meant my conversion was not real.  But over time, I did start to notice subtle changes in my outlook, and in the way I treated others.  As I studied the Bible, and took part in small groups at church like Disciple and Sunday School, I learned more about what it meant to be a follower of Christ.  It's not just a question of saying "I believe in Jesus" and saying I am sorry for my sins.  In an earlier chapter of the course I am taking now, we talked about "cheap grace" being the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.  Sacrifice of self is required.  Acts of service toward others is required.  But the great thing is, that if you spend time in prayer and study and worship, you find yourself wanting to do these things.  It is part of a natural (if in some cases, gradual) transformation!

So, Harkness nails my experience exactly, and reassures my own doubts about my salvation experience.  It doesn't have to be an overnight change.  One of the greatest compliments ever paid to me was when my dad, who is not a believer, told me he thought that I had become a better person since I became a Christian!  Salvation (and sanctification - a whole separate topic!) is an ongoing process.  The goal is to become more like Christ every day.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Baseball Playoffs are here

The baseball playoffs are here! Tis the season for exciting pitching, great hitting, climactic moments ... most taking place well after my bed time! How I long for the days of daytime postseason baseball, smuggling a transistor radio into school (or the office)! The greatest example was 6th grade in 1969, the year of the Miracle Mets against the powerful Orioles, when Eddie Zelkovsky (sp?) had a radio in his desk with a wire under his shirt and into his ears. We were doing fine, passing notes after every inning, until all of a sudden Eddie leaped out of his chair and yelled "Clendennon (Mets 1B) hit a homer, Clendennon hit a homer!" The teacher was on to us, but her only question was, "Eddie, what is the score"?!

I have been a Dodger fan all my life, save for the few years when Rupert Murdoch owned the team and traded Piazza and forced Lasorda out and tried to erase all Dodger tradition. Over the 20+ years in Atlanta, the Braves have supplanted the Dodgers as my favorite team, but some Dodger blue blood still courses through my veins. This year's team has some exciting players, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Rafael Furcal, Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf among them. There is also some guy named Manny, about whom I have very mixed feelings. I want to root for the guy, even when he was in Boston, but he makes it tough with his "me me me" attitude and of course his steroid abuse. Still, I hope he gets hot, because without him, the Dodgers don't advance.

In the A.L. I am for anybody but the Yankees! Go Twins! Overall, I am rooting for the Red Sox, if only because I just bought a Red Sox hoodie to stay warm when I was at Fenway last week! No, I have always liked Boston, especially Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and of course YOUK, Kevin Youkilis.

My picks ... my head says Cards over Dodgers, but I am going with my heart and picking LA; I have to go with Philly over Colorado, and I am going with my heart again and picking the Dodgers over the Phils. In the AL, much as I would love to see the Twins knock the Yankees off, I don't think it will happen. The Red Sox - Angels series could be a classic; I am picking Boston to win. That leads to yet another Boston - New York ALCS ... Boston owned the Yanks early in the year, but in the second half, no one could beat the Yankees. I HATE to do this, but I am picking the Yankees to win the AL pennant.

So that leads to a traditional Dodgers vs Yankees World Series. I just finished a book on Jackie Robinson, and a great WS between the 2 that year (of course the Yankees won). Again, my head says you gotta go with the Yankees to win it all; my heart is with LA, but if I had to be real money, I'd pick the Yanks. They are just too strong.

So bring it on! Who needs sleep! The Dodgers game starts at 9:30 tonight!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sex, Religion and Politics

Sex, religion and politics. These have always been the 3 things that you don't discuss in polite company. I am pretty good about staying away from talking about sex; however I am not as successful at staying away from the other 2. I have never been afraid to share my Christian faith, as I feel it is my obligation to talk about the impact that Jesus Christ has had on my life. Regarding politics, I have always enjoyed a good give and take with someone who approaches things differently than I do.

That kind of person is not hard for me to find! I consider myself to be slightly left of center on the political spectrum (of course, we ALL think we're moderates!). Between my friends at church and my co-workers at EMC, most of the folks I see every day are conservatives. I would consider many of them to be very right of center, but then again they probably see me as a "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wing" fanatic! In fact, I do not drink lattes or eat sushi and I do not have any body piercings!

Since I have so many friends who are conservative, I can attest to the fact that there are good folks on both ends of the spectrum. Being a Democrat does not mean that you are Godless and being Republican does not mean you are heartless! Through personal experience I know that Republicans can be compassionate and service oriented and Democrats can be spiritual and place a strong importance on personal responsibility.

The problem is that these political discussions can sometimes get personal. I try to remain "above the fray" but I can start to feel defensive when I feel that I am being personally criticized for my beliefs. This has happened to me more often in the past year than ever before. My conservative friends were energized by the election last year, particularly after Palin was named McCain's Veep choice (which was also the precise moment I made my decision to support Obama). They remain fired up by the greatly expanded government intervention in society (I think we can all agree that government is more intrusive than ever, the disagreement comes when we discuss whether this intervention is necessary to turn around the economy and whether it will be temporary or permanent). This has led to an increase in the number and intensity of discussions.

It doesn't help that there is no longer one version of the truth. We can no longer even agree on the same set of facts! There are so many media and internet outlets available that you can choose to listen only to people with the same beliefs as you. I think it's important that we try to get both sides of issues that we care about. I get most of my news from NPR, Time Magazine, AJC and CNN, which conservative friends think are all liberal mouthpieces. I would agree that many of the reporters for those outlets probably tend to be left leaning, but I also believe that they all make sincere efforts to represent both sides and they all employ and feature very conservative columnists / talking heads. I intentionally seek out and read conservative columnists like George Will, Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks, specifically to get a different perspective. I happen to be a big fan of Brooks; we often disagree, but I appreciate his thoughtful approach to most issues and he does not see Democrats as evil people conspiring to take over the world!

So the dilemma for me is whether to continue to participate in political discussions. I have felt somewhat 'ganged up on' for the past year since I am so badly outnumbered in my daily interactions. I think that is wearing me out, in addition to having had several discussions recently that turned personal. At various times I have sworn off discussing politics, at work, at church, in email or on facebook! That usually lasts a week or two until some big issue (like health care reform) rolls around or someone else initiates the discussion (I truly believe that I am one of the very few 'liberals' that many of my friends know and they often look at me like I have 2 heads!)

I think I am probably incapable of shutting down that part of my life. But I think it's time to take a break. I am going to do my best to avoid talking politics for some (undefined) period of time. Of course I will remain interested (I am a political junkie) and will continue to read, but I promise that from now on I will only send politically tinged emails to like minded friends.

What have your experiences been? Have you noticed an increase in the emotional content of political discussions?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

No pain, no gain

Not long ago I was asked what my passion in life was. Other than God and family, I thought for a moment and answered cycling. While I am by no means an 'avid cyclist' (prior to my herniated disk diagnosis in January 2008 I averaged about 1000 miles per year; I know lots of guys who do 2 and 3 times that), I still receive great pleasure from a good bike ride. The strength and rhythm of a good cadence over a flat stretch, the sense of accomplishment after a decent climb and the sheer exhiliration of going downhill at 35 miles per hour ... these are feelings I can get nowhere else in my life. After a ride I always experience the 'runners high' affect (without the sore knees!), and my energy level and enthusiasm for life is greatly increased.

That is why the disk issue has been such a downer for me. Last year I was limited to less than 300 miles, virtually all of it from rides of just 13 miles. My goal was to get back to rides of 30 to 70 miles, and to participate once again in the annual Multiple Sclerosis 2 day fundraiser ride in September (65 miles each day). Earlier this summer I was making progress, getting in several rides of 30 to 36 miles. However, every time I ride, I have to stop and stretch every 12 - 17 miles because the pain in my back and down my left leg make it impossible to go on. This alone prevents me from doing any group rides, no one wants to stop and wait while the cripple works out his back problems!

So all this leads to an interesting dilemma. On Saturday mornings I like to get up and have a leisurely breakfast, drink coffee and read the paper. I also want to go for a ride before it gets too hot. However it can be difficult to get up the motivation to ride when I know how much it's going to hurt. My wife is great, she encourages me to go, partly because she knows how much better a mood I will be in when I finish! If I can convince myself that the pleasure will outweigh the pain, then I can get up the energy and desire to go. This puts an interesting spin on the line that our high school gym coaches used to yell at us ... "No pain, No gain"!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back pain sucks

I am writing this not (just) to whine about myself, but because I know that back pain is a near universal experience that most of us can relate to!

My history with back pain started on December 8, 1980. I remember that I played racquetball that morning with my good friend and coworker David Fryer (he was 'Da Fly' just as I was 'Da Mule' -- there's a funny story or two there but I will save that for another blog). I don't remember a specific play where I got hurt, I just remember that I was in quite a bit of pain most of that day. I was annoyed because I had to stay up late to watch the Monday Night Football game; I ran the weekly football pool at work. I remember the date vividly because, late in the game, Howard Cosell announced, in as dramatic a fashion as only Howard Cosell could muster, that John Lennon had been shot in New York City. I immediately (tried) to jump out of my recliner (the typical post college recliner with holes in the fabric), but instead fell flat on my face because my back would not cooperate. I literally crawled to the radio and turned it on to try and get more news about Lennon's condition.

So that began a lifetime of on and off pain in my lower back. I managed to work and play through it, with the help of my good friend Advil, until January or February of 2008. I suddenly started to feel severe pain in my left hamstring and calf. When this did not go away in a week or so, I made an appointment at the Emory Spine Center. Long story short, I had a herniated disk (L5S1) that was pushing on my sciatic nerve. I realized that I had been experiencing similar pain for a couple of years when riding more than 30 or 40 miles; I just attributed that to muscle pain and took Advil, but I realize now that was probably also due to the disk leaking out over time.

So, today, after a series of cortisone epidural injections and a year of resting and doing cores, I am mostly better. My cycling is still severely limited; I did manage 25 miles 2 weeks ago, but this past weekend I was in pain after 13 (I was in the middle of a 20 mile ride). I still have bad days however, which is why I am writing this blog - yesterday I sat at my desk in my home office for 5 hours catching up on email (I was out 2 days a month ago and had not been able to catch up!); then I drove an hour over to Marietta for a meeting with CCE (Coke bottler). Then I sat for 3 1/2 hours in this meeting (I did stand up to stretch several times); then I drove home in Atlanta traffic, which took an hour and a half. I was in pretty bad pain most of the way and had to stop and stretch mid way through. I got home, lay flat on my back for about an hour (made great progress in the book I have been trying to finish since March!), then did my cores. I felt better, but was still in enough pain to pick a few pointless arguments with my wife.

Now to the universal experience portion of this blog - pain in general can really sap your energy, but it seems to me that back pain is all encompassing. It's hard to do anything when your back hurts. I have several friends dealing with this now, one is about to undergo surgery. I was lucky to avoid that, but at one point last year I would have welcomed it if I thought that it would cure me. I never really 'felt old' until last year; I am hoping 2009 will be my 'rebirth' year and I can get back to where I was in '07. My dream is to ride in the MS ride again (I did 11 in a row from 1997 to 2007). That's a 65 mile ride 2 days in a row. It's in September, so I need to start building miles now. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 19, 2009

My dad

As Father's Day approaches I once again am stymied as to what to get my dad. I'll figure something out in the next day or two, but in the meantime, now that I have officially joined the blogosphere, I feel it is appropriate to dedicate a blog to him!

The best thing I can say about my dad is how much I always respected and admired him; my goal in life was to earn his respect and to one day be a husband and father that modelled him. Dad was not the kind of father to yell and scream and threaten us; I rarely if ever heard my mom say, "just wait until your father gets home." However, when I messed up, all he had to do was look at me with resignation and tell me how disappointed he was in me. Those were the words I most dreaded!

My dad is a product of the generation that came before women's lib; I don't believe he shared equally in the domestic chores around the house. What he did do was to get up every morning and go to work (I don't recall him ever 'calling in sick'). He did this without complaint; in fact I remember many mornings when the teenage me would be up moping over breakfast and he would give me a cheerful 'Good Morning!'; I would mumble something back and he would scold me for being morose and disrespectful. He modelled a very strong work ethic, and he exhibited airtight integrity. My brother and sister and I have very different personalities, but we all work hard and keep our word - if Jeff or Lisa tell me anything, I never have to wonder if they are being honest with me. To be sure, our mother exhibited these same qualities, so we had a double dose of good role modelling to learn from!

I am sure that there are many fathers of my dad's generation that practiced strong work ethics and high integrity; the "more unique" (that's for you dad!) aspect of my dad is that he is unafraid to show love and affection. He and mom were always very affectionate; even after 40 years of marriage their love for each other was plain for all to see. All us kids learned from them, and on my best days, I try to model that (unfortunately I inherited the 'fiery' side of my mom's personality rather than my dad's serene demeanor!). He has never been afraid to hug his kids, to this day we hug each other when we say goodbye.

I am so blessed by the parents I was lucky enough to have! Dad, I love you more than I can convey in words. Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I've joined the blogosphere!

This is my first blog - yes, I am that last person on earth who is not yet self-published! At least not until I publish this posting.

So what am I supposed to write about? I used to fancy myself a pretty good writer - heck I won a play writing contest in 8th Grade! We even got to stage it for the whole school and they gave me a cameo part (I am definitely NOT an actor). My first major in college was journalism, until I figured out that I didn't want to be writing obituaries for the Peoria Post for 5 years. I think I would have been a good reporter - maybe a war correspondent, or, better yet, a sportswriter! (I identified with Oscar Madison on the Odd Couple!). Recently I thought I might become a religious writer when I retire from my day job - maybe write Sunday School lessons. Who knows?

When I realized there was no money in journalism I switched my major to computer science (I have always been very practical). Back then, Ohio State was one of the first colleges to offer a computer science degree in the business college. I was a hot property after graduation; I tried to start a bidding war between IBM, Hewlett-Packard and NCR. I ended up at NCR and eventually made my way to EMC. A few years back I thought I was burned out and needed a career change, so I attended some sessions of the Crossroads Career course at church; I did enough surveys and skill assessments to learn that I should be doing something that combined social activity in a technical field ... which, as a pre sales consultant for a storage vendor, was exactly what I was doing! So I decided to bitch less and focus on the positive. To a large degree, I've been successful.

So no one really cares about my background, which brings me back to my opening question - what do I write about? This isn't Twitter, so I don't want to tell you that I had cereal for breakfast (again!). This isn't Facebook, so I don't want to tell you what my status is ("Brian is trying to write a blog"). However, I am fairly new to FB, and just joined Twitter this week (I have 2 followers, even though I have yet to tweet!). This is my 'going public' phase, I guess. The cool thing about Twitter was watching the #iranelection discussion the past few nights, with all the tweets out of Iran, and the links to YouTube videos of protesters getting beaten up.

So why a blog, why now (my wife wants to know)? I've thought about this for quite awhile, but just never got around to it, never had the time, etc (still don't). This morning on NPR they were talking about the new rules for job seekers; for example one hiring manager said that if he gets a paper resume and cover letter folded neatly inside an envelope he just throws it away. If it's not electronic, it doesn't exist. They said that many contacts are made through professional networking sites like LinkedIn (I'm on there but I don't have any recommendations). Then there was the throwaway comment that if you didn't exist online and if you didn't have a blog, then you were suspect. So that was the excuse I needed to start one!

Time will tell whether this is my last blog or whether I will actually post on a periodic basis. Right now I have to decide if I'm going to post this link on Facebook or just let it sit in the ether and see if anyone actually stumbles across it (maybe the slightly crude blog title will "attract a few flies" (sorry - bad pun!).

Thanks for reading!